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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.


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.

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.