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Gaddafi insults Qatari Emir 27, March 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in North Africa, Qatar.
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Libya’s national embarrassment Leader has taken a decidedly underhand jibe at Qatar’s Emir Hamad Al Thani. Gaddafi opened the Arab summit which he is hosting in his home town of Sirte in Libya proclaiming that Arab citizens are “waiting for action, not words and speeches”. The irony that he said this in a speech clearly being lost on him.

Later on when Qatar’s Emir stated correctly that Arab leaders have achieved too little, Gaddafi replied that his guests – including 13 heads of State – would not do much better. He then said of the tall and heavy Emir that he is “better than me at filling a void” before laughing uproariously at his own joke. As soon as he finished laughing there was a barely audible sound of every Libyan cringing with (yet more) shame as their glorious leader humiliated their country for the n’th time.

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Brazilian President to visit Tehran 27, March 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Iran.
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The Brazilian President Luiz Lula da Silva will visit Iran in mid May. Uskowi quotes Lula stating that he’s going to Iran to tell President Ahmadinejad

I am against you building nuclear weapons, but I am in favour of you enriching uranium like Brazil does, to produce nuclear energy.

Why, exactly, Ahmadinejad will care what the Brazilian President says is unclear. Iran has close links with Venezuela, yet these are based on gas and on their mutual anti-American stance. Neither of these commonalities applies in the Brazilian case.

Lula has made it clear in recent years that he seeks a more prominent role in world affairs commensurate with Brazil’s size. There’s no better place to start than Tehran. Perhaps this is Lula placing himself cleverly as a ‘honest broker’ between the two countries, with good relations with both but a significant stake in neither.

Kuwaitis seeking to gentrify their names by adding ‘al’ prefix 27, March 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Kuwait, The Gulf.
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Understanding tribal politics in the Gulf is exceedingly tricky. Whilst one can relatively easily identify numerous tribes and establish that they are originally considered to be bedu (historically quasi-nomadic people) or hadar (more settled people, often by the coasts) or from Iran, aside from generalized notions or clichés of Bedouin tribes being considered ‘less civilized’ than their hadar brethren, one is still mostly in the dark. How important are tribes today? What do tribes ‘do’? Are tribes little more than informal networks and the source of entrenched nepotistic practices? Do tribes still matter today when one no longer needs a tribe for physical protection?

Alas, as yet I can’t really answer too many of these questions, though I expect to get some answers this week.

The reason I bring up this topic is that I’ve come across a curious article about tribes in Kuwait. Seemingly many families are adding the prefix ‘Al’ to their names as they believe that this “gives them an advantage in business”. The survey reports that roughly 16,000 Kuwaiti nationals have does this in the last two decades to gentrify their family names to make them sound more regal and important. The author continues to conclude that Kuwaitis are doing this to follow the example of the ruling families of the region, the Al Sauds, the Al Sabahs and so on.

It must be said that the author doesn’t inspire confidence by writing

“Al”, meaning family…

as the basis of the article. It doesn’t. It means ‘the’. I realise perfectly well that if someone is called Abdullah bin Aziz Al Dosari, this ‘means’ Abdullah, son of Aziz of the Dosari family. In this sense, therefore, the ‘al’ does denote the family name. Yet surely no Arabic speaker would ever write “‘Al’, meaning family”.

I think that there’s a more technical problem too between ‘Al’ as in, for example, Al Attiyah (or any other non-royal name) and ‘Al’ as in Al Saud or Al Thani. As you can plainly see in English there is no differences between the two, yet this is not so in Arabic. The ‘Al’ in Al Attiyah is spelt ال whereas the ‘Al’ in Al Saud is spelt آل. The only difference is the little squiggle over the ‘a’ letter (the non-curvy one). Here I look to an arabic expert to confirm, but I think that this type of ‘Al’, known as an Alif Madda, is reserved for royal families only.

Nevertheless, ignoring this technical gripe, it’s an interesting article which argues against clichéd and stereotypical Gulfy notions of the ‘inviolability’ of one’s name and the prominence of family, for I would have thought that changing one’s family’s name would be an almost sacrilegious act.

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Saudi & Abu Dhabi in naval skirmish 27, March 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Iran, Saudi Arabia, The Emirates, The Gulf.
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In a worrying development for regional security, naval forces of Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi have been involved in an exchange of gunfire in disputed waters. Reports indicate that Abu Dhabi naval forces opened fire on a small Saudi naval vessel which had strayed into what they considered to be Emirati waters injuring two Saudi sailors and forcing their surrender. Captured Saudis were handed back to KSA authorities earlier this week.

Given that this was seemingly such a minor incident and the Saudis were handed back relatively quickly, it is tempting to assume that this was simply a quasi-game of harassment gone awry (just like with the RAF and Russian bombers that I reported earlier this week).

This incident has caught many by surprise. Whilst boundary disputes between the UAE and KSA are well-known, there have been no such clashes in recent memory. Saudi unsuccessfully sought to block Qatar building their Dolphin pipeline to the Emirates claiming that their agreement was needed as it passed through Saudi territory. Even though Abu Dhabi is essentially the richest city on earth and Saudi easily has the world’s largest oil reserves, neither side wants to forgo the potential oil under the disputed territory.

America will be displeased to see such an obvious clash between two key members of its putative coalition establishing a united front against Iran. Particularly so given that Doha hosts a conference on maritime defense early next week including speeches by Saudi and Emirati naval commanders.

The Gulf has an unfortunate combination of latent and overt tensions combined with – as far as defense is concerned – seemingly unlimited liquidity. It is, therefore, unsurprising to find that 5 Gulf countries are in the top 10 of world defense spending as a percentage of GDP. The Emirates are only behind India and China as world’s largest weapons importers. Furthermore, both countries receive some of the most up to date military hardware from the US, with the Emirates being the first country in the world agreeing in principle to purchase America’s THAAD defence system. More generally, America agrees to the massive build up of arms by Saudi and the UAE thinking that they will bolster their defense, their deterrence and balance the power of Iran regionally, not so they can take pot-shots at each other, much to the amusement, no doubt, of Tehran.

It is also interesting to note that this incident appears to have been largely hushed up. This is unsurprising. Despite this incident, KSA and Abu Dhabi are generally cooperative allies and are united in their mutual antipathy and suspicion of Iran. I very much look forward to seeing whether Abu Dhabi’s The National newspaper covers this story, for it is clearly newsworthy, yet clearly a sensitive topic. This is, in short, a perfect test for their level of independence, or lack thereof.

Update:

I’ve changed a few words of this article. I misunderstood a few facts such as about the number of Saudi’s injured.

Abu Dhabi SWF fund manager Sheikh missing 27, March 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in The Emirates.
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The brother of the President of the UAE who is also ruler of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Ahmed bin Zayed al Nayhan is reportedly missing in a glider accident in Morocco. Ahmed Al Nayhan is the managing director of one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds, Aida. He also sits on the Supreme Petroleum Council, Abu Dhabi’s primary oil regulatory body.

Estimates vary as to Aida’s net worth from a paltry $4oobn to nearly $650bn. Established in 1976 Aida recently invested in Gatwick Airport in London, Citigroup and Hyatt Hotels. It scores a lowly 3 out of 10 in the SWF Linaburg-Maduell transparency index.