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Brookings Doha: essay competition 2010 18, October 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar.
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The Brookings Centre Doha is launching its 2010 essay contest aimed at young Arabs (21-30 years old). The question is:

What do you consider the most important political, economic, or social change that would create a better life for your country’s citizens? Please suggest policy recommendations that your government can take to help bring this change about.

And it’s worth winning too. The winner receives some $2000, second place is a non-paltry $1000 and an honorable mention will net you $500.

More information can be found at the Brookings website.

Please do pass this competition on to anyone eligible that leaps to mind. Best of luck to everyone.

UAE court: beat your wife and kids but don’t leave a mark 18, October 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in The Emirates.
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The highest court in the United Arab Emirates has decreed that a man may beat his wife and children as long as he leaves no physical marks.

Expect sales of rulers and yellow pages to go through the roof.


Kuwaitis attack TV station over Royal insult 18, October 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Kuwait.
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Reuters reports that a mob of Kuwaitis attacked a local TV station over the airing of a satirical comedy show mocking members of the Royal family. At least 10 members of the station staff were assaulted and injured by the protesters, some of whom carried pistols and knifes.

The writer and director of the show and owner of the TV station in question, Fajer al-Saeed, has been questioned by police over accusations that she was trying to overthrow the government through the medium of a satirical comedy show Sawtak Wasal (Your Voice has been Heard). Al Saeed also received death threats.

On a talk show on Saturday night, Zain wa Shain (Good and Bad), Al Saeed accused a member of the Royal Family who works in the Information Ministry of accusing her of seeking to undermine the government in her satirical show aired in August. This (so far as I can work out) was the immediate precipitant of the mini-riot.

In one episode aired in the summer, Sawtak Wasal made a joke about “privatising and exporting Kuwaiti democracy” which has been construed as a direct attack on Kuwaiti institutions.

Certainly, privatization in Kuwait is a sensitive subject. Ordinary Kuwaitis fear that privatization of industries or companies will only drive up prices for them and enable the directors to make large profits. These fears are not without basis. In most cases, given that government-run services are provided below cost, were a profit-making business to take over, then they would have to charge the (higher) market rate. There have also been countless high-profile cases in the past few decades of corruption.

Yet, rich as Kuwait is, it cannot afford to continually avoid privatization. Indeed, where this has taken place, for example, in the telecommunications market, Kuwaiti brands are succeeding and expanding far abroad.

Sitting here in the UK which has a rich tradition of often bitter, harsh ridicule of leaders (Spitting Image, Private Eye etc), it is curious to see such a reaction. Yet, one must remember that this mob was only 150 people strong and must not be taken as representative of Kuwait as a whole. While many Kuwaitis are somewhat skeptical as to the levels of freedom of speech and see ‘liberalisation’ as some kind of a threat to traditional Kuwaiti values and traditions, I would estimate (please feel free to disagree) that these people are in the minority; albeit a vocal one.


In case people don’t read the comments, the following quotes are insightful and pertinent contributions from two of the Gulf Blog’s most celebrated readers and commenters. Thanks very much to them.

A bit of context here..

The undersecretary of MOI is from the Al-Malek branch of the ruling Al-Sabah family, and he has accused Fajer Al-Saeed of undermining the government, whatever that means, which is ironic considering she is related to the Emir on his mother’s side

Her brother Talal, on his show Saturday night, brought up a long-forgotten incident from the late 1950s in which members of the Al-Malek branch – who had up till then been unrecognized by the Al-Sabahs! – marched into town with tanks (or just the one tank) and attempted to overthrow the Al-Sabahs in a botched coup attempt… Talal accused them of being the original instigators against the family on his show and that must have been the last straw

It’s all rather embarrassing really.

Thanks Zaydoun at Kuwait-unplugged.com

And, for the following, thanks to Abu Arqala at http://suqalmal.blogspot.com/

A couple of members of the Royal Family – Al Malik Branch – have been summoned to assist the police with their investigation into the attack on Scope TV’s premises, damage to broadcasting equipment, and arson on the main set.

Shaykh Faysal Al Malik – Ambassador to Jordan and his brother, Shaykh Abdullah – Director of Research at the Airport.

Here’s the report from Al Watan newspaper – owned by the “nautical” wing of the Al Sabah family. (But not pleasure boats!)


Qatar considers sponsorship system 11, October 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar, The Gulf.
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Bahrain and Kuwait have already announced that they will alter their kefala sponsorship systems. While neither are wholly getting rid of such draconian systems, the fact that conversations on reform are at least being heard is a good start.

Qatar too is beginning to have its own debate. The government is said to be considering moves to guarantee workers’ pay and gratuities. Despite the fact that most manual and domestic workers are paid a pittance, their wages frequently fall in arrears. Within a week of arriving on Doha I heard of two large-scale instances where workers had not been paid as the employers were away on their holidays. The groundsmen at Doha hockey club, for example, would turn the sprinklers on as we were about to start playing to ‘vent’ their anger and, I suppose, to try to get the players to agitate on their behalf.

On the more fundamental question of Qatar abolishing its sponsorship and exit-visa systems, progress looks grim. The Qatari Chamber of Commerce has successfully lobbied to retain both these facets of Qatari labor law, despite the growing understanding that they are outdated, unfair and contribute to workers’ rights being abused.

Although the trend is gradually turning against the sponsorship and exit permit systems in the GCC countries, Qatar’s private sector says it would continue to back the above rules.

Of course the Chamber of Commerce backs such laws! In much the same way that a Turkey will never vote for Christmas and the Catholic Church isn’t going to vote for a gay Pope, a lobbying group whose role is to make things as pro-employer as possible will never willingly vote for human rights over profits.

Exactly this type of pressure in Bahrain led to the watering-down of their proposed reforms. Instead of allowing all workers to change jobs if they so choose [yes, the rights being argued for are this basic] domestic workers are still prohibited. Also, the kefala system has manifestly not been abolished: today it is the Labour Market Regulation Authority that sponsors workers and not individuals or agencies.

The fact that the Qatari government caved-in to its business lobby highlights just how strong it must be. Ordinarily, one might expect that Qatar would be leading the way on these kinds of topics. In recent years Qatar’s image has been built championing itself as some kind of progressive if not faintly liberal state, promoting values of education, tolerance and openness. This push has come from the three most powerful people in the country: the Emir, HBJ (the Foreign and Prime Minister) and the Emir’s wife. For them, therefore, not to reform such an egregiously harsh and manifestly illiberal blot on Qatar’s image shows the kinds of give and take that needs to go on. Neither can this triumvirate rely on wide-spread public support: such laws do nothing for Qataris themselves; indeed, if they do anything to them it is ‘inconvenience’ them. Until a ground-swell of domestic or international pressure is reached, there is little the government can do.


Kuwait arrests 5 Iraqi fishermen 11, October 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Iraq, Kuwait.
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Kuwaiti coastguards have arrested five Iraqi fishermen for entering Kuwait’s territorial waters. In May, Gulf News reports, 10 Iraqi fishermen were arrested for the same offense.

There have been numerous such skirmishes along the Gulf in the past few years. Borders are often poorly demarcated, not agreed upon, not known or fishing grounds have been destroyed or depleted forcing fishermen to fish further afield.

While technically speaking these are minor incidents they have a history of spiraling out of control: the recent Qatari-Bahraini incidents spring to mind. Yet nowhere is there a keener sense of latent anger than between Iraq and Kuwait. Were the nationalistic Parliaments to pick up on these incidents, the situation could easily be amplified significantly.



Rich Iott’s Nazi photo 11, October 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations.

Rich Iott, a darling of the Tea Partyists, has been outed by an American magazine as a Nazi uniform wearer. He insists that he is just an historical buff that likes to play dress-up.

I’m always just staggered by these things. While there are various pictures of me floating around the web, none are worse than showing me with a goofy, merry smile. I make sure I keep my sordid hobbies private. How can this politician look at a camera like that and smile: truly how dumb is he that he thinks that it’ll never come out?

Shin Bet ‘Jewish Division’ head exposed 8, October 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
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This video shows a high-ranking member of Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security service. The 17-year old Israeli who took this video and posted it on YouTube has been arrested as it is illegal to reveal and publicise such information.

Avigdor Arieli, the head of Shin Bet’s ‘Jewish Division’, lives in a settlement in the West Bank and his role it to monitor extreme right-wing Israeli settlers. Haaretz reports that his identity, despite being officially a secret, is well-known in the area.

As the sage Michael Dunn notes,

if the hardline settlers are out to get him, he must be doing something right.

Hat tip: Mideasti



Kuwaiti policeman converts to Christianity 8, October 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Kuwait.
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A Kuwaiti policeman has filed a lawsuit against the Ministries of Interior, Health, Justice and the Director of Civil Information to allow him to officially change his religion on all his documentation from Muslim to Christian.

At the age of consent – 18 years old – he chose Christianity and has followed its scriptures since.

This can not but cause a problem in Kuwait. Being a Muslim and willingly ‘leaving’ the region is seen – I believe –  as a serious crime in Islam. Given the perennial shenanigans in Kuwait’s Parliament it is surely only a matter of time before one of the Salafi MPs brings this up as an example of the moral decay of Kuwaiti society.

Christians are free to worship in Kuwait though I doubt very much whether they are allowed to proselytize.

Incidentally, I love the title of the first comment in reaction to this story in the newspaper:

Kill the apostate

All this reminds me of :

[do NOT watch it if you are religious and easily offended; it contains mild, good-natured mockery of Islam and Christianity which many people, despite its utter harmlessness, may find offensive.]

On Canada’s military base in Dubai 7, October 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in The Emirates.
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(A – Camp Mirage in Minhad Air Force Base)

Rumors are afoot suggesting that Canada is being forced to consider pulling some of its troops out of its base near Dubai in the UAE. Apparently, the UAE are using the threat of evicting Canada from their base as a means to force the Canadian government to allow Emirates and Etihad Airlines direct access to Canada. Such competition would be severely detrimental for Canada’s national airlines.

The base was established in 2001 in preparation for Canada’s involvement in operations in Afghanistan. Officially, the location of Canada’s base in the Persian Gulf is a secret, though one that is not kept very well: Camp Mirage is on Minhad Air Force Base south of Dubai.

This base is also used by Australian and New Zealand forces.


Talks have stalled and Canada is no longer allowed access to the camp.

Germany and Qatar 7, October 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar.
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Deutsche Bhan, Germany’s über efficient national rail company, as been contracted to build up to 108 subway stations in and around Doha. Yes, 108 stations. In Qatar. Hmm.

One key motivating factor behind it is the World Cup in 2022: such a promised investment in a shiny new, relatively eco-friendly system is bound to act in Qatar’s favour.

The Qatar Tribune reports that it is expected to be completed in “phases over the next six years”. Only six years to rip up 108 massive chunks of ‘greater’ Doha and build stations? I think not.

Eventually, there will be:

  • Around 354km of rails
  • On which trains will run at speeds of 80 to 160kms per hour
  • Over ground rail which will cover 345km
  • These electric trains will run at 220-350km per hour
  • Qatar’s rail is expected to link up to the mooted GCC rail network by 2017

Also, Qatar and Germany signed a $500 million agreement heralding Qatar’s (curiously late) entrance to the Solar energy market.