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Ben Affleck defends Arabs 11, March 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations.
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Keep the automatic Said-inspired sneer at bay until you’ve watched the clip. Ben Affleck can’t be blamed for the title of the video and, indeed, makes a good point (though it is, of course, bordering on tragic that it needs to be made in the first place).

Some woman: “Obama is an Arab”

John McCain: “No he’s not. He’s a good guy”

IDF accused of asking 9 year old Palestinian boy to open suspected explosives 11, March 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
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A second indictment has been handed down to two Israeli Defence Force (IDF) soldiers accusing them of asking a 9-year-old Palestinian boy to open packages that they suspected contained explosives during the 2008 Operation Cast Lead. The earlier indictment accused two other soldiers of looting. Whilst this crime is insidiously cold, one must cling onto the fact that at least they are being tried for the crime as some small sliver of a white lining.

Israeli ad campaign parodies Dubai assassination 11, March 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
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Various news outlets are reporting on a new Israeli TV ad campaign for a supermarket which mimics the CCTV surveillance footage of the assassins that killed Hamas commander Mahmoud Al Mabhouh. Wearing tennis clothes, hats and disguises, the ad follows the protagonists via grainy CCTV throughout the shop as the assassins were followed (subsequently…) by Dubai police before promising “killer prices” at the end. Surprisingly, in a region known for its sense of humor, many people are not amused.

America’s useless Iran sanctions 11, March 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Iran.
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The NYT has an excellent in-depth article analysing America’s sanctions against Iran. The Iran Sanctions Act was established in 1996 to deter companies investing more than $20 million in Iran by threatening, for example, to ban them from tendering for US contracts. However, in its 14 years the act has not been used once.

Moreover, the act is being prodigiously flouted by companies based in the US and abroad. The NYT calculates that:

the federal government has awarded more than $107 billion in contract payments, grants and other benefits over the past decade to foreign and multinational American companies while they were doing business in Iran.

The majority of this money went – unsurprisingly – to developing Iran’s energy sector which is closely allied to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

The NYT identifies 74 companies doing business with Iran and the US of whom 49 have no plans to withdraw from Iran. The following examples are taken directly from the NYT article.

  • South Korea – Daelim Industrial: 2007 – $700 million contract to upgrade an Iranian oil refinery. 2009 – $111 million contract to build US military housing in South Korea. 2009 – $600 million deal announced to develop part of Iran’s South Pars field
  • France – Total: 1998 – President Clinton declines to prosecute them for dealing with Iran
  • UK/Holland – Royal Dutch Shell: 1999 – $800 million deal to develop two oil fields. Subsequently Shell has won around $11 billion worth of contracts from the US Military. Shell has recently announced that it is stopping gasoline sales to Iran though this will not affect its exploration there.
  • Japan – Inpex: $2 billion investment Iranian oil field. No sanctions at all
  • Brazil – Petrobras: $100 million invested in exploring Iran’s offshore fields. Received a $2 billion loan from US for development of oil field off the coast of Brazil
  • America – Honeywell: British subsidiary works on Arak refinery in Iran. Received nearly £13 billion worth of federal contracts since 2005
  • America – Ingersoll Rand: Various ‘minor’ subsidiaries working in Iran & still receives US contracts, though they have announced that they are now pulling out of Iran
  • America – Haliburton: Used subsidiaries to work in Iran whilst receiving huge US contracts

Hat tip: Abstract JK

Qatar to appoint first female judge 11, March 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar.
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Qatari authorities have announced that they will appoint their first female judge soon. This is squarely aimed at “empowering women in the country and making their presence stronger in the executive, the legislature and judiciary” according to the Assistant Director of Legal Affairs at the Qatar National Human Rights Committee.

This decision comes at an interesting time. Qatar is intrinsically a conservative country. Societal, familial and tribal ‘pressure’ or norms – not laws – dictate that women usually wear a black but often stylish abaya (or at least cover up) at all times in public. Society is also, obviously, patriarchally based and it is frowned upon for Qatari women to meet other men without some kind of chaperone. Nevertheless, Qatar’s second most prominent ‘personality’ is Sheikha Moza, the Emir’s second wife who was the first Arab Gulf wife to be seen on official business with the Emir some years ago. She is also very vocal and visible in her promotion of education to name but one of her myriad of causes. Also, the President of Qatar University is female, so women reaching senior positions in Qatar is not unheard of. Moreover, female students make up nearly 75% of Qatar University’s student population and typically attain class prizes. One must wonder what the entrance of this generation of intelligent and hard-working women into the Qatari workplace will mean for Qatar’s ‘traditional’ society.

Qatar Airways to drop First Class on some flights 11, March 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar.
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It has been announced that Qatar Airways is eliminating First Class seats from some of its new airplane orders. Whilst First Class is, generally speaking, never an airline’s most profitable section, this is still a curious move.

Firstly, Qatar is, according to various GDP per capita figures, the richest country on earth. Ergo, presumably a reasonably high proportion of its citizens can pay for First Class. Secondly, Qatar is one of only six 5 star airlines in the world, for which one presumably needs to have a full range of classes. Moreover, more generally, given the wealth evident in Qatar and the feel and impression that one gets from the country as a whole and Qataris specifically, getting rid of First Class is simply really rather unexpected.

In purely financial terms, the decision makes more sense; Business Class is where the real money is at in international aviation. Also, I’d be exceedingly surprised if they got rid of First Class on, for example, Doha- London or Doha-New York routes.


It’s been kindly pointed out to me that in fact Qatar Airways haven’t had First Class on DOH-NYC/LON fights for some time now, and that the business section is just much bigger. I assumed that monied Qataris would ‘demand’ first class to such destinations. One learns something new every day…