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Qatar and Iran to launch satellite 22, March 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Al-Jazeera, Egypt, Iran.
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MEMRI reports that Iran and Qatar are to launch a satellite together primarily to compete with Egypt’s Nilesat. This stems from a recent decision imposed on Egyptian broadcast networks to stop broadcasting Iran’s Al Alam TV channel to the Arab world. If this venture succeeds (a sizable ‘if’ I’d have thought) Al Alam will once again flood the airwaves smearing Iranian soft power insidiously into the crevices of the Arab World, as Mubarak might put it.

Saudi woman criticizes religious authorities on Gulf ‘pop idol’ equivalent 20, March 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Saudi Arabia.
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The New York Times has picked up on the fuss in Abu Dhabi caused by a Saudi woman’s poetry on the Gulfy equivalent of Pop Idol. The woman, pictured, is now in the final of ‘Poet of Millions’ TV show and has been attacking clerics in Saudi for “terrorizing people and preying on everyone seeking peace.” The fact that such a show criticizing if not ridiculing certain Saudi religious authorities is being televised region-wide to such a large audience has enraged many in Saudi. This is obviously made infinitely worse by the fact that such notions are being espoused by a woman when everyone knows they should be neither seen nor heard. And yes, people have called for her death. I expect the first fatwa forthwith.

Quotes of the year: Biden & Pollack 18, March 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Foreign Policies, Kuwait.
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Today I heard two fantastic quotes.

Vice President Biden, on returning to the US remarked:

…it’s great to be back to a place where a boom in housing construction is actually a good thing.

Without wishing to engage in too much hyperbole, I think that the statistic that David Pollock briefly mentioned in a recent Washington Institute for Near East Policy podcast is simply amazing. Unbelievable at first, after a minute’s searching I corroborated the statistic. It comes from US Department of State website, no less.

…for most of this decade 60% of the territory of Kuwait was devoted to the United States military.

Playboy played on children’s TV & Al J’s birth 18, March 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Al-Jazeera, Qatar.
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There is some consternation in the US at the moment after TV directors mistakenly played Playboy adult TV adverts during children’s programmes last week. Apparently, parents were none too pleased. The reason that I mention this on thegulfblog.com is that a very similar thing happened back in the mid-90s without which Al Jazeera, the Arab world’s most popular TV channel, would not have been able to get off the ground.

[Please excuse my vagueness at times as I can’t remember the technical terminology involved and I don’t have the source book with me right now.]

When Al Jazeera was originally broadcast it was only available to a relatively small number of people. This was because there is only a finite amount of ‘bandwidth’ for all TV channels and there simply was not the space for Al Jazeera. However, fortuitously – so to speak – a TV station broadcasting in Saudi Arabia (of all places…) accidentally broadcast what I seem to remember being described as really rather hard-core pornography during the day during children’s TV shows. Need I say that this really did not go down too well in the Kingdom of the Two Holy Mosques. The upshot was that the TV station in question (French or Italian, I think…) had its license and ergo ‘bandwidth’ stripped away freeing up otherwise rare ‘large scale’ bandwidth necessary for Al Jazeera to reach a far wider audience.

Farming in Qatar: the portable farm 18, March 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar.
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Qatar currently imports well over 90% of its food from abroad. This is not the most sensible of policies and it is currently being addressed by authorities. This excellent little Al Jazeera clip shows one of the possible futures for Qatar and other countries like it. Here, in a ‘proof of concept’ rather than a profitable business idea to be rolled out, Japanese companies have designed a farm in a shipping container growing lettuces.

Whilst ideas such as this may be a bit far fetched, Qatar is seeking to grow more food in its own borders. This necessitates a closed atmosphere for most of the year and far better water management that is currently available. Saudi Arabia, conversely, after slaving for decades to grow its own food recently decided to scrap these policies for it was just too costly in terms of water.

This desire to secure food resources outwith national borders has led to what many describe as neo-colonial land-grabbing in various poor countries across the world. Originally Qatar, like their neighbors, bought swathes of land in, for example, Sudan. Now, however, Qatar appears to have changed policies and is buying up local food companies instead of just the land. Hassad foods in Qatar has been leading this particular charge. Many see this as a far more acceptable way to secure stronger ties abroad without the negative publicity that comes from directly buying the land out from under often impoverished natives. Yet whether there is actually a difference between the two policies is debatable.

Rove on Obama 16, March 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
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Say what you will about Karl Rove but the man’s clearly got a sense of humor. I don’t mean this in a mean, quasi-facetious way either. Just look at this latest quote about Obama’s handling of the recent US-Israeli spat. Clearly, he’s just saying this to wind up the Left to epic levels and to have them choke on their Tofu-Bran Flakes over the morning paper.

I think this is part of a broader problem with the Obama administration. … We saw it in Honduras. Where rather than monitoring the situation, they let a cowboy president try to act in an extra-constitutional way to violate a fundamental principle in the Constitution, all without having done their homework in advance.

Rove ‘proud’ of US waterboarding policy 12, March 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations.
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Karl Rove, the man many consider to be the brain behind George W Bush’s Presidency, has said that he is ‘proud‘ of the techniques such as waterboarding used by US authorities to obtain information as they saved lives. He also denied that waterboarding was torture. However, he is in a seemingly ever decreasing minority, holding that opinion. The journalist Christopher Hitchens, for example, underwent waterboarding in the name of research and unequivocally insists that it is indeed torture.

Waterboarding certainly looks fairly innocuous. All it involves, after all, is a flannel or cloth and a surprisingly small amount of water. Whilst clearly the torture that many human rights groups insist goes on routinely in many Arab (and Iranian) jails involves more ‘wailing and gnashing of teeth’ i.e. more blood, this does – obviously enough – not negate waterboarding as a form of torture in and of itself.

Couple arrested in Dubai for a kiss 12, March 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in The Emirates.
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Authorities in Dubai have arrested and are threatening to deport and jail a couple that kissed in a restaurant. It is also alleged that the man – shockingly – might also have touched the woman’s shoulder and [oh, the horror!] leg during the ordeal witnessed by distraught Emiratees.

It is important to mention at this point that I am not being euphemistic: apparently it was just a kiss; they were not mounting each other in the restaurant or anything of the sort. This case is significantly different from the stupid British couple that had sex on a beach in Dubai some time ago.

The judge also fined them for drinking alcohol in a restaurant where alcohol was served in a ruling exquisitely highlighting his impartiality.

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.