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World’s largest clock ticks in Mecca 15, August 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Saudi Arabia.
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Saudi authorities have ‘opened’ the world’s largest clock overlooking Mecca. Bearing more than a passing resemblance to the tower housing Big Ben in London, it will be much bigger: the clock diameter will be 151ft across.The building itself will be the second tallest building on earth.

Islamic scholars have mooted the idea that now ‘GMT’ should begin in Mecca, not Greenwich, London. They will, I’d have thought, have a hard time making this idea stick. Some Islamic scholar, bolstering Mecca’s claim for the new ‘start of time’ said that

If someone travels to Mecca or lives there, he lives longer, is healthier and is less affected by the earth’s gravity…You get charged with energy.

Does he not realise how absurd he sounds?

More generally, I am fairly appalled by this whole development. Whilst I am no Islamic scholar, I simply can’t believe that it is in keeping with the notion of an Islamic pilgrimage – the arduous trek [the pilgrimage itself] being a test of faith etc – that the new 6, 7 or 20 star hotel in Mecca will have a chocolate sommelier. It just seems wholly wrong to me.

(In the same way, to me, it is wrong that you can now fly into Lourdes: again, missing the point: it is the journey not the destination that is the whole point of these things.)

Al Jazeera up for International Emmy 15, August 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Al-Jazeera.
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Al Jazeera has been nominated for an International Emmy award for their coverage during the Gaza War.

Such an accolade may go towards bolstering its reputation. In the West it has a reputation, among some at least, for stoking Palestinian flames and an anti-Israeli stance. Those in the Arab world charge either the same or that it is simply an organ of Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Arab-Persian Gulf shenanigans 15, August 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in The Gulf.
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Shiraz’s mayor (in a desperate bid to ingratiate himself to Iranian hardliners) has called “for action” against Bahrain’s Gulf Air for…have a guess…not using ‘Persian’ in the name of the Gulf.

He insists that Iranian passengers have been complaining about the name. Who can imagine the mental scarring that such a travesty causes them? Poor lambs.

Airlines have been the source of constant issues. Qatar Airways got in trouble earlier last month for using the wrong name for a city in Iran. All Gulf airlines sporadically cause issues as they do not call the body of water the Persian Gulf but the Gulf or the Arabian Gulf. The temerity.

Qatar, Saudi and Israel in investment venture 15, August 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Qatar, Saudi Arabia.
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An Israeli conglomerate will be joined by Qatar and Saudi Arabia to invest together in emerging markets.

Under the auspices of Credit Suisse (in whom the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) are the largest shareholders: 10%) the troika will launch a $1 billion fund for investment. The Saudi side, the FT reports, that it is led by the Olayan Group, one of the longest established Saudi business families. QIA is leading the Qatari end and IDB controlled by Israel’s “most powerful businessman” Nochi Danker who has a 3% stake in Credit Suisse, plays the Israeli role.

It appears as if this has been led by Credit Suisse and is not some kind of ‘statement’ by Qatar and Saudi Arabia in choosing to work with an Israeli partner. A QIA spokesman, for example, gave the refreshing answer that he had “no idea” about any of this.

Whilst Qatar has been seeking to reopen the Israeli trade office in Doha in recent months in a quid pro quo for access to Gaza and might well look for other opportunities to work ‘with Israel’, the same cannot be said for Saudi Arabia. Israeli relations for Saudi Arabia are a taboo. Whilst there have been mooted meetings at conferences and summits, these are usually pleasantly deniable.

If certain actors in the Kingdom decide to pick this story and highlight it, this venture will fall flat quickly. While the erudite, well-traveled Saudi businessmen will have no problem in such a deal (an Israeli’s money is as good as anyone else’s) the accompanying press coverage may be highly unwelcome.

Kuwaitis trying to reestablish links to the past 15, August 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Kuwait.
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Every summer since 1986 groups of young Kuwaitis have returned to the pearling beds for 10 days that were a mainstay of their country for more than a century. They dive looking for pearls in an effort to retain a link to their past. From the late 18th to the early 20th century pearling was one of the key drivers of the Kuwaiti economy. At its height it employed over half of all Kuwaitis and affected every aspect of life.

The introduction of the cultured pearl in Japan and the great depression in the 1920s and 1930s decimated this trade across the Gulf. Though other Gulf countries like Qatar suffered far worse, Kuwait too was adversely affected. The discovery of oil in 1934, whilst a sign of things to come did not actually help for the Second World War intervened. Oil was finally exported from Kuwait in 1946.

From then on Kuwait never looked back. The welfare state was rolled out from the 1950s onwards and the majority of Kuwaitis soon began working in the public sector which became more and more bloated and distended as the century progressed. Life for Kuwaitis became easy as they became richer and richer. Any links to the hard work of their past was lost.

The massive benefits that oil has brought Kuwait has also fostered concerns in older Kuwaitis. They fear younger generation growing up in AC and – essentially – luxury know neither about their past nor notions of ‘hard work’. Bluntly speaking, there is no real need for a Kuwaiti child to work hard in school. No matter what his qualification (or lack thereof) he will get a well paid job in some Ministry or other along with a whole raft of other subsidies. This is the modern Kuwaiti way. Whilst, of course, many Kuwaitis work diligently in school and progress to University, nevertheless, there is a pervasive fear or concern in Kuwait that a whole generation is being spoiled.

These ideas of entitlement are corrosive. Kuwait has the most responsive and democratic Parliament in the region. However, political parties are not allowed. This means that MPs must get elected ‘themselves’ without a party’s broad platform to fall back on. Many MPs get elected on a ‘service’ platform i.e. by promising the continuation and expansion of subsidies from the state. It is no coincidence, for example, that public sector pay has risen on average 22% for each of the last 10 years.

A population which grows up on a generous welfare state is, understandably, reluctant to let it go. MPs in Parliament reflect these wishes. Privatisation, which will cause redundancies, raise prices and force Kuwaitis to…well…work, is vehemently opposed. Agreements to work with foreign companies, to attract their investments and expertise are rejected for fear that Kuwaitis’ money will either simply go to foreigners or to a Kuwaiti elite. A telling sign of just how much Kuwait does not want foreign interference in their economy is in Foreign Direct Investment rates. The graph below shows the scale of the problem: Kuwait attracts a preposterously small amount of FDI.

(Hint: Kuwait is in Green; the flat line on the bottom).

Strictly speaking, this is not a problem at the moment. Oil is here for a century or more (how long such demand will last is a different question) and so Kuwait can continue to run its hideously inefficient public sector. However, a time will come when this will change; when foreign expertise is needed to forge new industries to replace oil and subsidies will need to be toned down.

On the former questions the key issue is that other GCC states, in similar predicaments but with different attitudes, have been forging such industries for, in some cases, decades. Airlines, petrochemicals, tourism, financial services and a raft of other ‘possibilities’ are being explored. By the time Kuwait realises that it needs to change or prepare the change for its economy, these other industries – the natural choices for Kuwait – will be highly advanced in neighboring countries fostering high barriers to entry: Kuwait will be decades behind their regional neighbors. On the latter matter, whilst it is just a matter of a population changing their attitudes, this is far easier said than done, particularly after generations of state handouts: who will vote for someone pledging to reduce those?

Kuwaitis are so concerned about their younger generation being lazy and having such an easy life that they are currently debating whether to introduce conscription to instill some kind of discipline. A relatively extreme measure such as this is needed. Attitudes towards money, work and foreign expertise need to change in Kuwait.

Hat tip: NTY Article, Abstract JK

‘No censorship in UAE’…you sure? 15, August 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Media in the ME, The Emirates.
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UAE’s vice-President and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashin Al Maktoum recently said that

authorities in the UAE do not impose any restrictions on information or news about economic and financial issues.

Which is strange given the blatant censorship in UAE media over various internal matters. Perhaps he was confused. Or it slipped his mind. The pulping of the Sunday Times, leaps to mind as a relatively recent example.

Hat tip: CMD