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Purile student protests in London 30, November 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in UK.
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I’ve already made clear what I think about the issue of student fees in the UK. But – frankly – this is my blog and this gives me the luxury of, well, moaning on about the same thing again.

This afternoon I was in central London where there were small crowds protesting the rise in University fees. Seldom have I seen such an absurd, juvenile, immature and vaguely thuggish group of motley protestors.

Their key method of protest today was to chant vile slogans and to generally make a noise. “Fuck the government” they screamed when prompted. “Down with society” one curious fellow suggested, though that didn’t really take off. As they walked from Trafalgar Square in dribs and drabs towards Parliament, their swearing increased and they began to innovatively start giving passers-by – mostly tourists – rude gestures while screaming obscenities: who knew such people could multitask. Amazing.

Incidentally, many stopped off in McDonald’s en route for a quick burger before continuing to decry western capitalism amongst other revolutionary new topics. Truly not a shred of comprehension or irony was visible.

When they reached the police line at Parliament they informed the police there that they were “nob-heads” and “wankers”.

I felt 100% sorry for the police: they just stood there in the cold for hours on end waiting to be abused by a bunch of angry children who had no real idea why they were there. I spoke to a few of them.

The first told me to “fuck off” when I asked what his rationale was for demonstrating. The second and the third were similarly devastating in their verbal reparti and eloquence of argument. I asked the fourth if she expected a world-class education for free. After 30 seconds of umming and arring (she was giving out the leaflets: think she might know their gist) she launched into a bitter tirade about how her mum had been paid to go to University with grants and even rent-help.

‘Mine too’, I replied,’but is that it? You’re here because you’re jealous of your mum? The past is, well, gone…things change and if the money is not there the money is not there’, I suggested.

‘Yeah well…corporation tax is…umm…you know…banks take our money….fucking Tories…’ and it generally descended from there.

Not one coherent sentence among the lot.

The majority – today at least, and by looking at the TV pictures of previous demos, the majority then too – were there purely and simply for a chance to skip school/class and to swear at police and saunter through central London spouting profanities because they could get away with it. This was it: their raison d’etre. Barely a brain-cell between them. Just an embarrassing, utterly and profoundly juvenile bunch of petty-minded idiots.

To cap it all off, it seems they spent some of the afternoon desecrating Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square. Charming. Even were I one of those ‘students’ who wanted fees to be scrapped and say I was on the demonstration, one of the last things that I would do is desecrate a national symbol: I’m fairly sure that I didn’t need a University education to teach me that such an act would be perceived rather poorly by the general public to the determent of ‘my’ cause. Clearly, the ones that did this – painted revolution on the column – don’t actually have a cause and are there, once again, for the vandalism and yobbish opportunities that such a demonstration affords.

 

 

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Cablegate: on reflection 30, November 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Opinion.
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Before analysts get too self-congratulatory about how the cablegate leaks have ‘proven’ how they ‘have been right all along’, there are a few important caveats.

1.       Just because a diplomat said something doesn’t mean it’s true. Ordinarily, one would never have to make such an obvious statement, yet I think that this is being forgotten in this debate. Many of these dispatches are Americans briefing other sections of their diplomatic establishment on, for example, Gulf countries. They therefore espouse the ‘party line’; the image that they [the authors] want the one who is going to x region to carry on.

2.       Yes, diplomats often have very good access. But when one is written by an Ambassador about an interview with a Crown Prince, for example, we must not forget that the Crown Prince in question is not necessarily telling the truth. Again, just because it is meant to be a private ‘off the record’ conversation doesn’t necessarily lend it any more validity. A Crown Prince in the Gulf has a vested interest in deepening and prolonging American support for obvious reasons. What is the best way to do this? By highlighting the Iranian threat and as a key corollary, ‘their’ important on the U.S. side against them too.

3.       The establishment in the Gulf, it must be forgotten, are not necessarily any kind of bell-weather of public opinion at large. They are mostly unelected, after all. While in some instances, I’m sure they do accurately reflect their peoples’ opinions, this must not be taken as a given, as, I think, it often is in this case.

4.       What has been leaked is but a fraction of the whole. There are supposed to be hundreds of thousands more documents to come. As I noted yesterday, Assange picked and chose these pieces of information for a reason. What reason? Publicity, probably, but who knows. Don’t for get this.

These leaks are both fascinating and useful: I don’t want to be too scrooge like about them, but at the same time, I think a brief pause is perhaps necessary to contemplate exactly what they are and where they came from.

 

On the England World Cup bid and Panorama 29, November 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in UK.
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Tonight on BBC1 there is a Panorama (an investigative show) examining corruption in FIFA, football’s world governing body. This comes in the week before the host for the next two World Cups is to be held. England are hoping to host the 2018 tournament.

The BBC are being pilloried in the UK for the timing of this programme with many fearing that by highlighting examples of corruption in FIFA England will be punished when the voting comes.

I am ordinarily the sternest defender of the BBC. I think that it’s a wonderful service and one of the best things about the UK. However on this occasion, I just can’t understand what they are doing. Surely this is guarantees to cost England votes when there is already stiff competition?

The fact that there is corruption in FIFA is up there with journalistic scoops like “Pope is a Catholic” and “Gaddafi in some absurd announcement”: everyone knows that its a mire of vote-buying and general malfeasance.

What’s worse is that England are due a world cup. Though I’m English and would like to see the WC in England, by any standard measure, England ought to have a very good chance: world class stadia, proven ability to handle such events, a fanaticism for football, guaranteed pay-day for FIFA, well placed for the majority of football fans in the world, being the country that gave the world the game but has not held the tournament since 1966 and so on: England are due and, while I hope I’m wrong, I think that the BBC have just lost England the tournament.

Iranian nuclear scientists assassinated? 29, November 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Iran.
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Though reports are sketchy, it appears as if there were two successful assassination attempts against two Iranian nuclear scientists this morning.

Dr Majid Shahriari and Fereydoon Abbasi were, according to one Iranian newspaper, ‘distinguished members of school of Nuclear Engineering at Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran’ and members of the Iranian Nuclear Association. Both also – allegedly – had close connections with the Ministry of Defence.

This is either the third of fourth such assassination this year, depending upon what sources one believes.

It takes no imagination whatsoever to imagine that Israel and America would be interested in carrying out such assassinations. However, barring another spectacular diplomatic breach, we are unlikely ever to know exactly the cause of these deaths.

 

 

Egypt elections, Qatar & Abu Dhabi 29, November 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Al-Jazeera, Egypt, Qatar.
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An interesting snippet from the Angry Arab.

Husni Mubarak visited Doha, Qatar after years of a feud between the two rulers.  (Of course, Mubarak stopped in Abu Dhabi first: the Emir of Qatar told me that Mubarak receives a blank check from the ruler of UAE in every visit–a blank check, literally).  Mubarak wants to make up with Qatar during the “elections” because he worries about AlJazeera coverage.  Unfortunately, his plan will work: Aljazeera’s coverage softened greatly after the rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.  Arab rulers can make up while sharpening knives behind the curtain.

How has the Al Jazeera coverage of Egypt’s election been? Anyone..?

Qatar in the cablegate relases 29, November 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations.
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Iran

As with most of the cables, we did not learn anything overly new but had existing suspicious confirmed. Qatar maintains a close relationship with Iran to safeguard its “trillions of dollars of potential wealth”. Nevertheless, the Head of the Army noted that “while we’re neighbours, we’re not friends” and HBJ (the Foreign and Prime Minister) bluntly states that “we lie to them, and they lie to us.”

Regarding Al Udeid, it was noted that the U.S. pays no rent, Qatar funded 60% of the improvements on the base and would not allow it to be used as a base for “kinetic operations” [what a phrase!] against Iran [as the Emir also noted in a recent interview]. Only a “permanent USG security guarantee to Qatar, to include its offshore gas fields shared with Iran” could (perhaps) persuade Qatar to change its position.

U.S. relationship

When U.S. Deputy Secretary thanked HBJ for Qatar’s support for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, he replied that “We might have our own Katrina.” An allusion, it was suggested, regarding potential crises in the Qatar-Iran relationship and the Qatari reciprocal need for support [quid pro Clarisse…etc].

The Head of the Army, to whom the responsibility falls for maintaining a strong U.S. military relationship, complained that Qatar had been “disapproved” of the Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (LAIRCM) system as an add-on to their purchase of c-17s. (It is an automatic counter-missile system). Others in the region had been granted this system.

It is reasonable to assume that this addition was left off specifically for the U.S. to use in a quid-pro-quo. Assistant Secretary of Defence Vershbow, for example, suggests that were Qatar to “bring about a change in Hamas’s behaviour, it could enhance the U.S.–Qatar strategic relationship.”

Qatar’s record on anti-terrorist activity is noted as being conspicuously poor. The NYT records that Qatar is the “worst in the region” in counterterrorism efforts and its security services were “hesitant to act against known terrorist out of concern for appearing to be aligned with the U.S. and provoking reprisals.” Additionally, the leaked (available) cables note that the U.S. is concerned with Qatar’s continuing support of Hamas via charities and the “moral support” that Hamas receives from Al Qaradawi.

This is not the first time that Qatar has been accused by the U.S. in this way. They continually play a tight-rope game between appeasing the U.S. and ‘Islamists’ (for want of a better catch-all phrase). Perhaps they have a similar notional-agreement as was once mooted in Dubai between authorities and ‘Islamists’: ‘use our city for transit or occasional respite, but don’t do anything here’.

Hamas

The Emir believes that Hamas would accept the 1967 border with Israel but cannot currently do so lest they lose popular support. Senator Kerry confirmed that he had heard similar sentiments in Damascus.

HBJ, in another round of the ongoing Egyptian-Qatari tiff, suggested that Egypt has “a vested interest in dragging out Palestinian reconciliation talks for as long as possible.”

Bahrain

The perennially frosty Bahrain-Qatar relations continue. King Hamad voiced annoyance/concern/anger with Qatar on two counts.

Firstly, because of the visit of the Head of the Army to Iran where, he believes, Qatar agreed to too much cooperation with Iran.

Secondly, because Qatar have consistently refused to supply Bahrain with Gas. He claims that Qatar have said that they do not have spare supply but notes new agreements signed with various countries.

I can only assume that this is a simple disagreement over price. Earlier this year Kuwait balked at the price that Qatar wanted for gas. Both expect, I believe, some kind of ‘brotherly’ GCC, wasta-like discount.

King Hamad also suggested that he would like “our brother in Saudi Arabia to send a note telling Qatar not to play like this [re: Iran].” This suggests that Hamad has a rather longingly antiquated view of the Qatar-Saudi Arabian relationship.

Food security

The Embassy in Doha judges that food security is “a key national priority” for Qatar and a growing one for the Arab region. (Perhaps a summation of interest to those with an interest in the ‘widening’ security debate.)

Kyrgyzstan

One of my favorites so far:

In a conversation between the U.S. and Chinese Ambassadors in Bishkek over the topic of the Chinese seeking to offer inducements to prompt the Kyrgyz authorities to not renew the Manas Base, one cable reports that:

Very uncharacteristically, the silent young [Chinese] aide then jumped in: Or maybe you [Americans] should give them $5 billion and buy both us and the Russians out.” The aide then withered under the Ambassadors’ horrified stare.

What a curious outburst. Here’s hoping that he’s not been reassigned to a post in the middle of the Gobi desert.

On the Wikileaks cables 29, November 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations.
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What a mess. The release by Wikileaks of nearly a quarter of a million U.S. diplomatic cables has caused embarrassment for America the world over. Many newspapers even charge that the release will increase the danger for Westeners working in the Muslim world (see any of the British newspapers this past weekend).

While the cables are fascinating they must be approached with serious caveats. The notion that Wikileaks is an impartial organization is a joke. It clearly has a quasi-anti-U.S. stand point and is specifically anti the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Calling a video ‘Collateral Murder’ shows no signs of seeking impartiality.

But the key problem that I have with the latest release is that they are excerpts selected to have been released. We know none of the background to the cables, which ‘diplomats’ wrote them (Ambassador or a junior staffer) or how each individual release fits into the overall narrative. Moreover, surely the ones released are the most media-friendly and salacious? Hardly a judicious or balanced picture.

Having said that, they are undoubtedly a good read and, for a scholar in particular, a fascinating glimpse into what personalities are thinking and saying.

Regarding the Gulf, the key headline is that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and others in the region beseeched America to topple Ahmadinejad. What a shock. This is not news for anyone with a vague interest in the Gulf.

Overall, I don’t think that they are really a threat to US National Security or say anything massively new.

As some commentators have mentioned, this will be a real test for Arab media on how they report the leaks. So far, most media outlets appear to be grossly failing, but that too is hardly a shock.

Here are some random but interesting snippets that I’ve come across so far:

On absurd levels of corruption in Afghanistan:

When Afghanistan’s vice president visited the United Arab Emirates last year, local authorities working with the Drug Enforcement Administration discovered that he was carrying $52 million in cash. With wry understatement, a cable from the American Embassy in Kabul called the money “a significant amount” that the official, Ahmed Zia Massoud, “was ultimately allowed to keep without revealing the money’s origin or destination.” (Mr. Massoud denies taking any money out of Afghanistan.)

On the basket-case in Libya:

the volatile Libyan leader was rarely without the companionship of “his senior Ukrainian nurse,” described as “a voluptuous blonde.” They reveal that Colonel Qaddafi was so upset by his reception in New York that he balked at carrying out a promise to return dangerous enriched uranium to Russia. The American ambassador to Libya told Colonel Qaddafi’s son “that the Libyan government had chosen a very dangerous venue to express its pique,” a cable reported to Washington.

Interesting to note just how dangerous these types of rulers are: on a whim after public embarrassment they are prone to take extremely damaging moves simply for petty revenge.

“We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours,” Mr. Saleh said, according to the cable sent by the American ambassador, prompting Yemen’s deputy prime minister to “joke that he had just ‘lied’ by telling Parliament” that Yemen had carried out the strikes.

Again, although the fact that the U.S. was bombing Yemen is hardly a secret, having it spelt out so plainly is sobering.

The buffoon-like Italian Prime Minister is (accurately) described as

feckless, vain, and ineffective as a modern European leader

Most of these quotations are from an excellent NYT piece on the topic.

Palin and her ‘North Korean allies’ 25, November 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations.
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Presumed future Presidential candidate Sarah Palin has made another whopper. In discussing the situation on the Korean Peninsula after aiming some really rather exceedingly poor jabs at Obama she stated that America must obviously stand with “our North Korean allies.” She had to be corrected by the radio host.

Really and truly what is this woman like? She simply and honestly comes across as stupid and sadly I think that this is a reasonable reflection of her intellect. I don’t mean this overly pejoratively but quite literally as in she is not very intelligent. The thought of her as President Palin is just plain terrifying. And what a ‘President Palin’ would say about the American electorate doesn’t bear thinking about.

 

The world rearranged by population 24, November 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Random.
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This map is taken from Foreign Policy which, it seems, found it floating around the internet.

The size of each country has been fitted (approximately) to the actual size of each country’s population. So the largest state on earth, Russia, has been given over to the largest population on earth, China.

Tunisia is lucky enough to have been allotted England while Tonga – bad luck – gets Wales. Palestine finally has its own country on the Adriatic. Sri Lanka becomes double land-locked, Bangladesh ironically becomes India, peace-nicks Canada get Pakistan, Germany takes control of oil as the new swing producer, Yemen stays where it (does that mean they theoretically have the perfect population-size ratio?), Iraq becomes land-locked in Africa bordering North Korea, the Falkland Islands move to a more tropical location and the UK sadly seems to have disappeared.

Hat tip: Our old friend Abstract JK.

Fake Taliban negotiator fools NATO 23, November 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Central Asia.
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Much has been made recently of the NATO negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Progress was reported on numerous occasions in ‘talks’ with Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, the second highest official in the Taliban movement. The problem is that the man with whom they were negotiating was not actually who he said he was. Seems he was just a chancer trying his luck, perhaps a shopkeeper from Quetta in Pakistan.

Now he has enough money and kudos to retire for life.

If only those involved had taken Foreign Policy’s top 10 tips to tell if your new ally is actually an impostor.

10. Keeps asking if the peace talks can be held in the Maldives

9. Eyepatch switches sides from meeting to meeting

8. Introduces himself as “Colonel Iqbal from the ISI”

7. Runs up a large minibar tab at the Four Seasons Kabul

6. Wife angling for a spot on “The Real Housewives of Kandahar”

5. Claims to be texting Mullah Omar but is actually just playing Angry Birds the whole time

4. Offers to settle Afghan War with a game of Jenga

3. Turban made of an actual towel

2. Wears trench coat, offers to sell the letters O and U

1.  Offers to trade Osama bin Laden for Justin Bieber