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RIP: Ras Al Khaimah’s Saqr Al Qasimi 29, October 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in The Gulf.
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Sheikh Saqr al Qasimi of Ras Al Khaimah, one of the longest surviving Monarchs in the world, has died. In his early 90s, the Shiekh has been gravely ill for some time. He has been succeeded by his son and Crown Prince, Sheikh Saud who has essentially been ruling the Emirate since 2003.

Earlier this year there were rumors that Sheikh Khalid, the former Crown Prince, was making a bid to regain the title of Crown Prince. In 2003 Sheikh Khalid was ousted in a coup supported by Abu Dhabi. The reasons for the coup are murky at best. Notions that Khalid was too staunchly pro-Iranian and anti-American, including allegedly leading an anti-war protest during which an American flag was burned, abound but, in truth, the real reasons are unknown.

What made this story all the more interesting and intriguing was that Khalid employed a high-end PR firm from California to – essentially – get him back in power. Californian Strategies instigated a successful 21st century campaign replete with a website, propagating what amounted to an ‘anti-Saud narrative’ and high-profile meetings for Khalid. While none of this should really come as a shock, somehow – frankly – it just did; I just  didn’t previously associate the typical Royal court machinations of a Gulf Emirates with multi-million dollar PR agencies. Given the money involved, however, this was clearly naive.

Sheikh Khalid is currently contesting the decision to anoint Saud as leader. In a You Tube video, he said that he would

accept the outcome of a constitutional vote, not a decision taken by others for their own economic benefit.

However, as in 2003, today Abu Dhabi is firmly behind Saud; it appears as if Khalid’s attempts to gain the throne will have to wait. Not only does Abu Dhabi want to avoid the controversy of changing Crown Prince/Sheiks at such a time (just think what kind of precedent that would set) but they want to resist ‘giving in’ to an ‘American’-inspired, PR campaign.

Update:

One of the Gulf’s best analysts, Simon Henderson at the Washington Institute of Near East Policy, adds – as ever – a few interesting bits of info. He notes that Sheikh Khalid is

effectively under “palace arrest,” with newly installed concertina wire encircling his compound and UAE federal security forces with armored troop carriers serving as guards, preventing him from attending his father’s funeral.

and that the UAE Embassy in Washington sought to revoke his position as an ‘official delegate’ of the UAE this past year.

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Dubai marriage advice: talk then “whip her gently” 29, October 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in The Emirates.
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Abdul-Aziz Al Hammadi is a marriage counsellor at the Dubai Court family guidance and reconciliation section. He is clearly a sensible and measured man who is angry at the way that some men seek divorce over trivial matters.

One sought divorce because his wife telephoned him during football and another because she was late in bringing a glass of water. These are, Al Hammadi judiciously notes, “ridiculous and impractical reasons”. Quite right too.

He cautions that Shaira law has set, specific limits which govern divorce proceedings. Sharia demands that a husband is “councilled to adopt a civilised and productive method.” Al Hammadi explained his philosophy:

We call that…the gradual edifying reconciliation method…whenever a husband notices a bizarre behaviour from his wife

with women what behavior isn’t bizarre!

he can advise her

reasonable, sensible, caring, jurist advice

then avoid sleeping with her in one room

that will surely ‘learn her good’. She’d surely do anything to avoid such a fate given that all women are all plainly so desperate for hanky panky.

and if that doens’t work out

surely not?

then he can whip her gently in a matter that makes her understand the situation

Indeed, sage advice.

Whip her “gently” in a way to ensure understanding. I really think this whip of understanding ought to be used more in society in, say, schools. I’m not talking about corporal punishment – that would clearly be savage! – but a gentle whipping you see. The whipping of understanding.

It takes practice, of course. Many may simply lash the other in the typical – like so last century – kind of painful, whippy like way; welts, blood and all that.

But, in these civilised time, Al Hammedi the kind sage of Dubai, as he perhaps should be known, proposes a far better solution: more than the humanitarian whipping (for that could simply be an old fashioned ‘for her own good’ kind of whipping, you see); a clarity-inducing, clearing the woods from the trees type of whipping.

Good luck to Al Hammedi in all his travails and even better luck to women’s rights activists in the Middle East. I think that people in the West can see women driving cars (in places), going to Universities (in places), being represented by strong women (in places) and even wearing at times daring clothes (in places) and think that women’s rights are ‘one the way’.

On the way they may be, but with officialdom represented by Al Hammedi et al they are on the way from the 7th century and the journey could be a damn sight longer than many think.

Hat tip: Graham B

Lawyer summons genie to court in Saudi 29, October 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Saudi Arabia.
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Taking an unusual tack, a Saudi defence lawyer is attempting to summon a genie to court to make him/her/it testify.

The dastardly genie is accused of possessing a judge who was arrested for corruption. Now that is a bold defence argument.

Why, exactly, a genie would make a judge take money or why a genie would then admit such a crime is not explained.

While I simply can’t communicate the truly stratospheric levels of profound derision I have for everyone involved in this case, one must not forget that for a religious person, such absurdities are not – I would suggest – that far away. As for what this says about the Saudi justice system, I suppose we can all draw our own conclusions.

 

 

UCL joins Education City in Qatar 29, October 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar.
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University College London, one of the UK’s best Universities, is to open a campus in Qatar’s Education City. They will offer Masters degrees in archaeology, museum studies and conservation. The agreement was signed on the recent high-level visit of Qatar’s Emir and his most prominent wife, Sheikha Moza, to the UK.

These ventures, while clearly potentially profitable, are also somewhat dangerous. Certainly, these top-tier Western Universities will be remunerated handsomely for going to Education City and will have a beautiful campus built for them. However, their reputation is on the line. As they are offering the same degrees as one can obtain in the UK (or the US) at the home institution, if these are not taught well or if they cannot attract suitable students, then home students are likely to (rightly) complain that the ‘value’ of their degree is going down and their precious reputation could be adversely affected. Weill Cornell in Doha, for example, had problems with students back in the States complaining along these lines.

Similarly, one must never forget the cautionary tale that was the rash of US Universities opening in Japan in the 1980s amid their boom. Many miscalculated badly and left with millions of dollars of debt. [Indeed, one such University is currently ensconced in Education City now. Inshallah, they’ve learned from their earlier mistakes…]

It is not so much importing the lecturers and professors that is the problem as attracting suitable students. Standards dictate that students at the home institution and in Doha pass the same entrance requirements. Yet as the student body is being drawn from such vastly different cultures/areas, even if students can pass the same entrance exams, classes are different. Several Professors at some of the Education City institutions told me that it is simply impossible for them to teach the same curriculum as back in the States. Typically the students, while all certainly very intelligent, simply do not have the same breadth of experiences or knowledge of the topics at hand. Still, it must be recognised that ‘different’ is not necessarily ‘worse’.

Lastly, Western Universities leave themselves open to criticism from ‘home’ that they are treating Education like a commodity. By opening up in ‘non-democratic Qatar’ they are offering – at the harshest interpretation – some kind of intellectual veneer of credibility at the expense of proselytizing the true ‘Socratic method’. Incidentally, I wholly don’t agree with this kind of almost ad hominem attack, as launched, for example, by the President of the Middle Eastern Studies Association in her Presidential address in 2009.

One last complicating factor for UCL is that they are not simply engaged in a bilateral arrangement with Education City but a trilateral one with the Qatar Museum’s Authority as well. This extra layer of sleepy, Qatari bureaucracy could exponentially increase their difficulties in getting things done. I wish them well, hope for their success but don’t envy their task.

UK’s most advanced sub runs aground 23, October 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in UK.
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One of the most advanced submarines in the world and the future of Britain’s submarine force ran aground off the coast of the Isle of Skye. What a joke.

And in a nice little twist, the tug boat that went to rescue it is planned to be cut in the defense spending review.

From The Times

Christine O’Donnell: no clue about the first amendment 20, October 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations.
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I am not American and I have never read the US Constitution nor have I studied American history in any depth. However, I know that the first amendment states the importance of the separation of church and state.

Alas it appears that I know more than Christine O’Donnell regarding the US Constitution as she manifestly has no understanding whatsoever of this founding principle enshrined in America’s most sacred document. Indeed, she confirms her ignorance again and again as the discussion progresses as you can see below.

Surely it is scarcely less than a terrifying thought of someone like her obtaining even a modicum of power.

The Guardian further notes that this is but the latest example of Tea Party candidates caught hopelessly out of their depth.

On Sunday, security guards for Republican senate candidate Joe Miller forcibly handcuffed a local journalist after a public event in Alaska, while Nevada Republican Sharron Angle recently told a room full of Hispanic students that “some of you look a little more Asian to me

Gay Saudi Prince: guilty of murder 19, October 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Saudi Arabia.
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Saud Abdulaziz bin Nasser Al Saud, a grandson of Saudi Arabia’s King, has been found guilty of beating and strangling his servant to death after a systematic campaign of abuse.

The jury only took 1 hour and 35 minutes to reach this verdict; little wonder given the veritable piles of evidence.

His lawyers sought a last-minute injunction to stop details of his numerous encounters with male escorts being released, proving – again, if it were in doubt – that he was gay, but they failed.

It looks likely that he will serve his time in Belmarsh Prison. Given that homosexuality is illegal in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and that he is now one staggeringly colossal embarrassment for the conservative ruling family, it is surely unlikely that he will be returned to Saudi Arabia.

Update:

Saud Abdulaziz bin Nasser Al Saud, who killed his servent after prolonged “sadistic” abuse was jailed for life and lambasted by the judge for telling “a pack of lies” to try to get away with murder. The judge concluded that he didn’t know whether he wanted to kill him or not but that

I think the most likely explanation is that you could not care less whether you killed him or not.

He will serve a minimum of 20 years in jail.

 





 

 



U-turn on Kuwaiti conscription 19, October 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Kuwait.
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Kuwait’s mooted plan to bring back conscription for Kuwait males is to be abandoned. The plan suggested in July was to provide some kind of cohesion in what some feared was an ever more fractured and privileged society. Additionally, it was hoped that some kind of army training would counter the trend of increasingly ‘feminine’ males in Kuwait: a clear threat to something or other.

Yet Army chiefs have said that they would prefer instead to maintain a volunteer force and eschew the

onerous burden of [training] tens of thousands of young Kuwaiti men

This comes as no surprise to anyone who knows anything about the work-ethic in GCC national armies which is generally abysmal. Additionally, a conscript army would exacerbate a problem rife throughout all GCC armies: yes, they have the latest and often best equipment (planes, boats etc) but (surprisingly) often they cannot use them and can certainly not repair them.

One Western Commander noted that one GCC Navy (that shall remain nameless) bought an advanced coastal patrolling ship but stubbornly refused to take it out at night. Firstly, because they were afraid that they wouldn’t be able to find their way back to port in the dark and secondly because the Captain of the boat (or whatever he’s called) had to “get milk for his wife every morning.”

 

 

Bandar Bin Sultan: found 19, October 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Saudi Arabia.
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After a two-year absence Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the son of Saudi’s Crown Prince Sultan, has turned up. There has been a veritable plethora of interesting stories and rumors suggesting that he was ill abroad, in prison in Saudi or otherwise in trouble for fiddling around with Sunni terrorist groups in Syria and Lebanon.

The official version is that he has been in London for two years for medical reasons. Hmm…

 

On Kuwait’s sponsorship system U-turn 19, October 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Kuwait, Opinion.
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The FT has a good article discussing Kuwait’s u-turn on abolishing their kefala sponsorship system. The day after it was announced by the Labour Minister that Kuwait would get rid of the system by February 2011, the announcement was rescinded by the same Ministry.

The key issue is that abolishing the system directly affects swathes of Kuwaitis. Currently, nationals of Gulf States can set up a massively lucrative businesses importing workers from abroad. Given the lack of oversight and the culture sadly prevailing across much of the GCC, wages are regularly unpaid, holidays canceled, gratuities reneged upon and far longer hours of work demanded. Yet, as I noted in a recent post about Qatar’s kefala system, businessmen voting to get rid of this system is like Turkeys voting for Christmas: unlikely.

The repeal of the whole system would redress the balance in employer-employee relations significantly and – essentially – hit (in this case) Kuwaiti businessmen in their pocket. When Bahrain announced that they were abolishing their kefala system their business lobby erupted with anger. The same happened in Kuwait and the same in Qatar. Instead, loop-hole-ridden, half-hearted reforms are enacted that are a shadow of what was initially promised.

It clearly does not matter to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia that they are on the third and worst tier of the U.S. State Department’s watch list for human trafficking: is it truly unfair to say that by definition the majority of Kuwaiti businessmen care more about their profits than the human rights of the workers they import? Alas I’m not sure that that is such an outlandish statement.