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Qatar’s record: worst miss in history of football 18, November 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Random.
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The worst miss in the history of football? Step forward Khalfan Fahad of Qatar.

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On Saudi succession and the new generation 18, November 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Saudi Arabia.
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Back in the day when interpreting the whims and mood of the Kremlin was of obvious importance the pseudo-science of Kremlinology emerged. When the Politburo went to the Bolshoi Ballet, was this a sign that all was well or a sign that they were trying to present a normal facade because everything was really going wrong or it was a triple bluff in that all was going well but they wanted to present the notion that it wasn’t and they knew…etc etc etc.

The nadir of Kremlinology was, of course, the whopping lack of predictions of the fall of the Soviet Union. (Though a stout mention ought to go to a female American scholar whose name I’ve forgotten who published a wholly bogus if well received book charting the intricate ties between the Kremlin and any and all guerrilla movements around the world, proving Soviet perfidy in a rather Robert Ludlum kind of way.)

Kremlinology of yesteryear is today concerned with the machinations of the Saudi court and the central question of who will succeed King Abdullah.

Simon Henderson is, so far as I know, the leading expert in this mysterious field. He first wrote on this topic many years ago with the monograph succeeding Fahd and has sporadically continued to this day. I’ve already commented on his latest piece which contains the sage and immutable cliché that those who know anything about Saudi succession don’t talk; those that do the talking don’t really know.

King Abdullah is an old man in his 80s, even if he is not particularly frail. Yet his recent absence from officiating over the Umrah in Mecca has sent Saudi court speculators into another bout of frenzied speculation. Here’s a (very) brief and not very informative recap.

What is of more interest (to me at least) is that King Abdullah recently named his son Prince Mitaeb as a member of the council of ministers and the head of the national guard. Previously, Abdullah himself had been its head since 1962. The guard itself is today believed to have nearly a quarter of a million (or 150,000, depending on what source you believe) well trained, well motivated, well equipped and competent soldiers. Their duty is strictly to protect the Royal family. The guard is also seen as a counterweight to the Saudi national army.

Most (if not all) Gulf States have several standing ‘armies’. They are typically led by different factions within the ruling family. Each draws on their army for support and as an obvious sign of prestige and protection.

Abdullah’s – or now Mitaeb’s – guard is a Bedouin-raised army, following in the tradition of previous Saudi Kings.

The Saudi National Army is not as highly regarded and is headed by Crown Prince Sultan and his son and Defence Minister Prince Khaled. Though Sultan is slated to assume the throne when Abdullah passes away, he is, so it seems, in far worse health than Abdullah and would be unlikely to take the throne.

It is expected that Prince Naif – no spring-chicken himself – would take over instead, having been promoted to third in line.

Yet it is the question of generational change that is the most interesting in the Kingdom. Clearly Mitaeb, Khalid and Naif’s son, Mohammed, will be among the contenders. As to how it will all pan-out, I’ll have to leave that to greater minds than mine; those that can read the proverbial tea-leaves or summon up great insight from seating-plans at Royal Saudi banquet.

Update: Simon Henderson on the week’s events.

On Qatar’s World Cup ‘risk’ and the absurd Qatar Tribune 18, November 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar.
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Compare and contrast the following headlines and excerpts.

This one is taken from Bloomberg

Qatar is Only ‘High Risk Candidate Among Nine Bidders to Host World Cup

This one from the BBC

The full report is also a blow to 2022 bidder Qatar, which receives a high risk rating in the overall operational assessment

This one syndicated from the Press Association Sport

The report, which has been seen by Press Association Sport, also looks to be highly damaging to Qatar’s hopes of hosting the 2022 World Cup as the Middle East bid has been given the only ‘high’ overall operational risk rating among the nine bidders for the two tournaments.

This one from ESPN sport

Among the 2022 bidding countries, Qatar is given a high overall operational risk rating.

And contrast them with this headline from the Qatar Tribune

FIFA places Qatar in low-risk category for 2022 World Cup

Hmm…let me think…

Firstly, it is important to note just how cringingly embarrassing this is for the Qatar Tribune and, to a larger degree, the notion of press freedom in Qatar. Yes, most people know that the domestic press in Qatar is hamstrung by a pervasive sense of self-censorship. Here and forever more is surely the best and clearest example of this in practice.

This kind of bilge is usually associated with Pravada, the Soviet Union’s ‘patriotic’ paper or the absurdly sycophantic press-release repeating national press agencies in the Middle East.

Reading the report, the Tribune’s take on the summary is monumentally blinkered and partial. While it is true that they have not outright lied – there is no section listing ‘high’ and ‘medium’ risk countries – they have woefully and purposefully misunderstood and miscommunicated the essence of the report.

As the NYT notes, there is a lot of ‘risk’ to go around, but it is deciphering between the risk that is the key. For example, England’s bid was cited for insufficient training facilities (how this does not apply to Qatar too, I’ve simply no idea…). Compare this to Qatar’s bid which poses a risk to the health of everyone involved in the World Cup from players to spectators!!

Manifestly, no bid could get a clean bill of health with no problems at all else they would simply have to win. So while this picky and frankly absurd problem with England’s bid is one thing, a health risk caused by the climate is wholly another.

Qatar can continue to trot out as many famous football backers as possible, with Alex Ferguson joining the throng last night, but this, if this report is to mean anything, will mean nothing whatsoever.