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Compulsory Arabic for Israeli pupils 25, August 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
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Authorities in Israel are introducing a programme making it compulsory to study Arabic in state schools. The test will run in 170 schools in Northern Israel.

It is hoped that it can foster something of a ‘cultural bridge’ to promote tolerance between Jews and Arabs. The BBC further notes that Arab students are required to learn Hebrew.

Kuwaiti MP wants subsidy for second wife 25, August 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Kuwait.
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In a country with subsidies for gas, electricity, water, medical care, fuel, food, loans, education and housing where the state guarantees jobs in the bloated public sector where wages have gone up 22% per year since 2000, one might think that there are no other possible benefits that a Kuwaitis could bleat for. However, one would be wrong. A Kuwaiti MP has put a proposal in front of Parliament for Government subsidies for men to get a second wife.

This proposal, which is designed to reduce the “problem” of the number of unmarried women would be  – presumably – in addition to the $14,000 that men get for marrying in the first place.

What’s next? Subsidies for having sex?

Saudi nails maid as punishment 25, August 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia.
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Reports have emerged of a Sri Lanken maid in Saudi Arabia whose employers hammered 23 nails into her body as punishment for not doing enough work. Not too much else to say about that particular story, really.

Whilst this example is particularly extreme, the torture and abuse of maids and other domestic servants is a thoroughly endemic problem in many Gulf States. As I have said before, pick up a Kuwaiti newspaper are you are guaranteed to find examples of Maids running away from their employers brutality or clippings of maids having killed themselves.

When I returned to Kuwait in August 2009, the first newspaper I saw had three such stories. The first maid killed her self by jumping off a balcony. The second maid killed herself by swallowing bleach. The third maid attempted to kill herself by taking a massive drug overdose.

I think it’s worth repeating: these stories are daily occurrences in Kuwait and, I suspect, Saudi Arabia.

Just try to imagine for a second just how atrocious her life must have been where swallowing bleach seemed to be the better option.

The Tea Party DC Guide 24, August 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations.
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Blue: You can travel safely in this area without encountering immigrants, Africans, homosexuals, automatic weapons, or homosexuals with automatic weapons. If you avoid the Green and Yellow Metro lines. And buses. And coffee shops. And restaurants. And taxis

Red: You will encounter people in these areas who have never been to an Applebee’s in their lives. USE CAUTION. Especially if they try to talk Mexican at you.

This map is to help those patriotic hicks people off to see Sarah ‘just a Hockey Mom’ Palin and Glenn ‘I just love my country so damn much’ Beck in Washington D.C.

Before you think that this map is just some mean, snide, liberal attempt at mockery, this map is actually based on information given by a Tea Party supporter offering advice to those arriving in the Capital.

Here’s my favorite excerpt:

Safety and Mores

DC’s population includes refugees from every country, as the families of embassy staffs of third world countries tend to stay in DC whenever a revolution in their homeland means that anyone in their family would be in danger if they went back. Most taxi drivers and many waiters/waitresses (especially in local coffee shops like the Bread and Chocolate chain) are immigrants, frequently from east Africa or Arab countries. As a rule, African immigrants do not like for you to assume they are African Americans and especially do not like for you to guess they are from a neighboring country (e.g. Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia) with whom they may have political or military tensions. It’s rare to meet anyone who gets really offended, but you can still be aware of the issue.

Many parts of DC are safe beyond the areas I will list here, but why chance it if you don’t know where you are?

If you are on the subway stay on the Red line between Union Station and Shady Grove, Maryland. If you are on the Blue or Orange line do not go past Eastern Market (Capitol Hill) toward the Potomac Avenue stop and beyond; stay in NW DC and points in Virginia. Do not use the Green line or the Yellow line. These rules are even more important at night. There is of course nothing wrong with many other areas; but you don’t know where you are, so you should not explore them.

Gulf Arabs: own a third of all yachts 23, August 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in The Gulf.
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I just read that Gulf Arabs own a third of the world’s yachts. I confess I’m jealous. But at least they work hard for all their cash…

Wikileaks founder charged with rape and molestation 21, August 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations.
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Julian Assange, the founder of the controversial Wikileaks whistle-blowing website, has been charged in Sweden with rape and molestation. He has denied the charges.

Assange seems to be of a rather paranoid frame of mind, spending much of his time travelling from place to place, not wanting to be resident in any one place for too long. Though, given some of his recent revelations, perhaps this is not that bad an idea. CNN reports that he does spend a significant amount of time in Sweden thanks to their robust privacy laws.

His most recent 76,000 page release of secret documents pertaining to the Afghan War further aroused anger in America and elsewhere. Many people, charging that he is too cavalier with secret information that may cause harm, may well be happy to see this turn of events if it leads to the slowing down of such leaks in the future.

Bahrain: ‘US can’t attack Iran from Manama’ 21, August 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Bahrain.
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The Bahraini Foreign Minister, Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifah, has stated that Bahrain will not allow America to use its military bases in Bahrain to attack Iran. He further stated that Bahrain’s military agreements with America were purely for defense.

The U.S have an enormous and expanding Naval Base south of Manama’s downtown. U.S. Naval Central Command and the 5th fleet is based there. There is also an airfield ran by the Navy at Bahrain’s International Airport.

Bahrain has a complicated history with Iran. Many Iranians believe that Bahrain is technically a province of Iran. Only in 1971 did Iran officially recognise the Al Khalifah as independent rulers of Bahrain in a quid pro quo for ‘understandings’ regarding the Abu Musa and Tunb islands that Iran subsequently took from the Emirates. Yet, sporadic statements emanate from Tehran reiterating their claims to the islands. Such instances terrify Bahrain and other smaller Gulf States. Iran dwarfs the smaller Gulf States in strategic terms. Only with their U.S. umbrella can they retain their independence.

This situation is worse for Bahrain with its Shia majority ruled by the Sunni minority. Insidious notions of Iranian or Shia 5th columnists acting as internal rebels perhaps along a Hezbollah model are of acute concern in Bahrain (and elsewhere in the Gulf). These fears are made worse by the slow but sure ending of Bahrain’s rentier bargain. With oil all but finished, the Manama government can not simply doll out welfare in all its numerous forms to, essentially, buy the acquiescence of groups in society, as the other Gulf States do as a matter of course.

America’s guarantees and the stationing of its forces in Bahrain are, therefore, central to Bahrain’s security. However, Bahrain and not America has to live with Iran but a few hundred kilometers across the Gulf. They can not employ the hard US line towards Iran; they must seek some kind of accommodationist, working relationship. This can also be very clearly seen with Qatar. Only yesterday, a press release emerged of the Qatari Foreign Minister in Tehran uttering the usual platitudes regarding Iran’s peaceful nuclear programme whilst visiting Ahmadinejad.

It is exactly the same for Bahrain here. They are well aware that the American presence in Bahrain antagonizes Iran quite seriously. Though they are not willing to countenance getting rid of this umbrella, they are willing to make such rhetorical concessions. By insisting that American troops are there for ‘defense’ purposes only and by saying that offensive strikes cannot be launched from Manama, they are simply trying to placate Iran; to make their day-to-day life easier.

Also, one must not forget that all politics is local; there are elections in Bahrain soon. Such a statement might resonate well with a significant minority in Bahrain who see Iran in a positive light.

In reality, it would seem to be an empty gesture. The notion that America’s Navy would not be involved were there to be a conflagration with Iran is unrealistic. Moreover, it would seem highly unlikely were there some kind of clause in the basing agreement dictating what America could and could not do with its forces.

Saudi’s Lebanese links 20, August 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Saudi Arabia.
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It is no secret that there are numerous links between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon. In the last few days I’ve come across a couple of interesting examples.

First, is the ever Angry Arab, who, despite being Angry and implacably anti-Israeli, comes up with a few interesting nuggets. He recently mentioned, for example, that

When a new president assumes office in Lebanon, he received a cash payment of $5 million from the King of Saudi Arabia (and another $5 from the UAE ruler). A new prime minister receives $15million.

Quite interesting. Is it true? Who’s to say, but it really wouldn’t surprise me.

Secondly, an interesting hat tip informed me of the symbiotic relationship between Rafiq Harir’s company – Oger – and countless Saudi prestige projects. Today Saad Al Hariri is the General Manager of Oger who were one of three companies awarded the KAUST contract for construction and maintenance worth around $1 billion.

This nexus between politics and business is fascinating and, I’d suggest, not that well understood. Or rather, it’s such a complex intermingling of tribal, familial and wasta related politics that it is, at times, difficult to fathom.

In Qatar, for example, various actors related to the Darfur peace negotiations have been staying in 5 star hotels in Doha for months on end (at least 9 by now, I believe). Given that these hotels are established with a significant percentage owned by eminent Qataris, these negotiations represent a constant government-sponsored cash-cow.

Obviously, I don’t imagine that such a profit-laden motive is the primary (or secondary or tertiary or quaternary…) motive for such a large venture, yet it’s interesting to note. Why, for example, did the actors stay at the Movenpick, the Four Seasons and the Sheraton; what links are there explaining why those particular hotels were chosen? Whilst this is not – perhaps – that important (the Sheraton is the grand-dame of Doha’s hotels and the Four Seasons is huge), it’s certainly interesting.

Hat tip: Abstract JK


Saudis ‘consider’ severing man’s spine 19, August 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Saudi Arabia.
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Determined as ever not to enter the modern moral age, Saudi Arabian courts are “considering” whether to sever a defendant’s spinal cord. In the eye for an eye tradition (that ought to have ended an epoch ago) the prisoner in question would suffer this barbaric punishment after he attacked a man two years ago with a cleaver resulting in the severing of his spine. The victim, Abdul Aziz Al Mutairi has apparently requested that the attacker suffer the same fate.

I love the use of the verb ‘to consider’. Consideration, to me, implies logic and a cool, ‘modern’ rationalism. Should we be glad that Saudi are ‘considering’ medical opinion as to how to do this action rather than just butchering him with a cleaver which would be, if we’re honest, the truest eye for an eye punishment? Perhaps, but this hardly detracts from the vile, inhumane nature of the punishment or pre-medieval logic.

IDF poser: “gladly kill Arabs – even slaughter them” 19, August 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
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The IDF soldier whose photos posed with humiliated, bound Palestinians caused international outrage and criticism from the IDF itself, has allegedly posted numerous hateful statements about Arabs and Palestinians on her Facebook page.

Haaretz  reports that she apparently wrote, only last Thursday, that she would

gladly kill Arabs – even slaughter them


in war there are no rules.

forgetting, somewhat conveniently, that in fact there are a cornucopia of rules governing war. Moreover, if, as Israel, one of your prime complaints is the illegality of the tactics used against you, surely you’d want to stick to the letter of the law to highlight the opposition’s transgressions? (Obviously this doesn’t work…)

Also, she is not what one might call contricious.

I can’t allow Arab lovers to ruin the perfect life I lead. I am not sorry and I don’t regret it.

Yes, heaven forfend that your perfect life might be impinged by gross human rights violations. Imagine the Israeli outrage if this were the other way around…

When asked about how this might harm Israel’s image abroad she said that

We will always be attacked. Whatever we do, we will always be attacked.

Well, yes you and your country will indeed be tarred if you continue to ignore the most basic of human rights, as seemingly evidenced in these photos.

Hitting the nail squarely on the head, Ishai Menuchin, the head of the Public Committee Against Torture commented that

these terrible photographs reflect a norm in the way Palestinians are viewed, as an object and not as humans. It is an attitude that ignores their feelings as humans and their individual rights.

The Guardian helpfully compiled an album of IDF holiday snaps of similarly horrid photos, surely each and every one violating the Geneva Convention not to mention simple standards of decency.

Perhaps not coincidentally, I also read a diatribe against the Guardian in the right-wing MERIA journal on the apparent tinge of rabid, anti-Zionist feelings among commenters. What a shock: people that comment on newspaper stories on the internet are of the lunatic fringe…ground-breaking conclusions there.