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The Gulf referenced over time in books 17, December 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Random.
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Apologies for the clunky title, but I can’t think of a better one.

The ever wonderful google has made searchable 5.2 million books from 1800 to today. You can go and search for whatever you want.

I looked first – sorry my angry Iranian friends – for Persian Gulf and Arabian Gulf. Though you easily irascible fellows ought to be pleased by the results:

Here is a search for a selection of Gulf countries.

It’s interesting and curious to see that Kuwait – in this selection of books at least – has far and away the most ‘hits’. Its advancement early on in comparison to other neighbouring countries clearly garnering it significantly more attention. Dubai and Abu Dhabi, despite their recent headline grabbing antics, still hasn’t remotely caught up.

And here is terrorism. Seems something happened in the late 70s…

Assange’s online dating profile ‘leaked’ 13, December 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations.
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In a bitter if somewhat sweet bout of irony the online dating profile of Julian Assange, the man behind the explosion of Wikileaks and their Cablegate revelations, has been posted online.

Found online by an American gossip magazine, it contains a cringe-worthy selection of his writings

WARNING: Want a regular, down to earth guy? Keep moving. I am not the droid you’re looking for… I am DANGER, ACHTUNG.

The Times reports that he

says that he likes Russian books, movies and music – but never Russian food. He spends his time thinking about “changing the world” [Hmmm], loves travelling and wild places and could adapt to anything life threw at him, “except the loss of female company and carbon”.

One of his final lines warns

Do not write to me if you are timid. I am too busy. Write to me if you are brave.

What a prat.

Ordinarily, I would say that this is an outrageous invasion of an individual’s privacy. However, in this case, I think it’s simply the most deliciously ironic thing that this egotistical, blatantly anti-US and dangerous man has suffered this way. If, that is, this is not some plant by the US…

Al Jazeera shut down in Kuwait 13, December 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Al-Jazeera, Kuwait.
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In reaction to the recent Al Jazeera coverage of Kuwait political troubles (see here) the Kuwaiti Government has closed down their offices in Kuwait City.

Al Jazeera are used to this. They have their offices shut down across the region from time to time. Typically, the Kuwaiti Emir will make a plea to the Qatari Emir, imploring him to get Al Jazeera to tone down their coverage. The Qatari Emir will insist that he has nothing to do with it. A few weeks or months later and after the dust has settled, the office will reopen.

There are two other possibilities, as I see it.

First, Kuwait might seek some kind of Saudi-eqsue agreement. Al Jazeera had a well deserved reputation for its harsh and somewhat salacious coverage of Saudi Arabia. This was at the time of generally poor and fractious relations between Qatar and the KSA. In agreeing to return a Saudi Ambassador to Doha for the first time in four years in 2008, Riyadh demanded that Al Jazeera’s coverage be toned down towards them, and so it was. There are rumours of a similar deal being done/worked out between Qatar and Egypt at the moment.

The problem for Kuwait is that they do not really have any leverage over Qatar. Their relations are OK generally; nothing really leaps to mind: there is no great reason for the Qatari government to acquiesce to a similar deal.

The second (related) possibility is that perhaps Kuwait might seek to form a quasi-coalition against Al Jazeera and Qatar. If they can get Egypt and say, Bahrain, on board – both with antagonistic relations to Qatar – then perhaps momentum will help them attract more countries to make a joint threat: ‘tone down Al Jazeera’ or we’ll all close our offices. It’s not as if all Arab countries will not be tempted to try to punish Al Jazeera.

It is also worth pointing out that this may not be well received in Kuwait. I would suspect that for the opposition in Kuwait, Al Jazeera is well-regarded and thought of as a useful megaphone for their views. ‘Once again’ they may well moan, ‘the Government is trying to stifle us’. None of this bodes well for the resumption of the relatively pliant and cooperative politics of recent months.

The Barreleye Fish 13, December 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Random.
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Nature is fine with me, I’ve no real quarrel with it: it’s certainly nice, I suppose, but…well…I just don’t care that much.

Until, that is, I come across a picture like this. Apparently this is a real fish. As in it is swimming around somewhere…allegedly. Amazing doesn’t really cover it. Oh…and those green orb-like things are its eyes looking upwards (of course).

(Fear not loyal readers, this post is but an aberration; this thegulfblog will not be turning into some wildlife themed blog…:))

Qatar Foundation to sponsor Barcelona 13, December 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar.
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Footballing links between Spain and Qatar continue to build. Barcelona have announced that the Qatar Foundation will replace UNICEF as their primary sponsor. QF will pay around $225 million for the privilege under a newly signed 5 year deal, the most lucrative in football history.

Barcelona’s manager Pep Guardiola was one of numerous sponsors of Qatar’s successful World Cup 2022 bid. Spain and Qatar, both bidding for different World Cups, agreed to block vote for each other though this was somewhat less successful for Spain.

This deal comes at an opportune moment for both parties.

For Barcelona, though they have been hugely successful in recent years, they have a veritable mountain of debt (some £350million) and need some cash. For QF and Qatar more generally, they can tie themselves to one of the greatest football clubs in the world at a peak of their powers. Barcelona have won stacks of trophies in recent seasons, destroyed their arch rivals and super-club Real Madrid 5-0 recently and are universally regarded as playing some of the most beautiful football ever seen. In their last game, to offer one stat, they passed the ball more times than any other team in recorded footballing history.

Kuwaiti Special Forces ‘beat’ MPs and protestors 10, December 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Kuwait.
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Kuwaiti Special Forces clashed violently with what they describe as an unauthorised protest organised by opposition MPs. Reports indicate that they harshly used their batons to beat protesters, including many MPs themselves, in an attempt to disperse the crowd that had gathered at the house of MP Jamman Al Harbash, one of the key organisers. Numerous participants and MPs were taken to hospital for their injuries.

This rally was the second one designed to bring attention to ‘a government plot’ to amend Kuwait’s 1962 constitution underpinning Kuwait’s brand of Parliamentary Democracy. It also has its roots in the long-standing confrontations between Opposition MPs and the Government, as represented by the Prime Minister (the nephew of the Emir).

One of the key issues at stake concerns corruption in the elite, which is a persistent bug-bear of Opposition MPs (and the population as a whole). Specifically, they wanted to protest the prosecution of an MP (Faisal Mislem) who showed a copy of a cheque for £400,000 from the Prime Minister to a former MP. At the time this caused a huge furore, not only because it was a flagrant accusation of bribery by the (Royal) Prime Minister but also because it was hugely embarrassing for him.

Before the protest, earlier in the day Emir Sabah Al Sabah, had warned that protests could be held within MPs houses or Diwaniyyas (meetings) but were not allowed to spill out onto the streets. This is something of a legal ‘sticking point’. A 2006 declaration by Kuwait’s constitutional court clearly states that rallies may be held without government approval. The Emir is trying to lightly back-peddle on this by suggesting that while this is true, this does not give some kind of carte blanche for any and all protests to take place.

Given such clear backing and instruction from the Emir, it is believed that the unpopular Prime Minister gave the order for the Special Forces to intervene.

MPs plan to ‘grill’ (interpolate) the Prime Minister on this subject today in what will certainly be a heated session. They broke the taboo allowing them to interrogate the Royal PM this time last year. This ushered in a period of relative calm and productivity in the Parliament. Previously, MPs wilfully sought to ‘grill’ the PM knowing full-well that doing do would force the Emir to dissolve the Parliament. A key corollary of this harmful atmosphere in the Parliament was that much needed economic reform packages were consistently delayed. Though they have gone through now in the past 12 months as a sign of improving tensions, many are yet to come into legal force.

There must surely be fears in Kuwait that this latest spat could, once again, escalate tensions between the Government and the Parliament. The fall out of this could be a return to the bitter and acrimonious politics of recent years in Kuwait where the difficult decisions that need to be taken regarding Kuwait’s economy and infrastructure once again fall victim to the febrile atmosphere of partisan politics and dissention.

Qatar acquires stake in German construction company 9, December 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar.
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Qatar is to acquire a 9% stake in Hochtief, a German construction company that was under threat of a hostile takeover by their Spanish arch rival ACS.

Currently, Hochtief has significant work in Qatar and with the World Cup to host, clearly, this business relationship is going to be busy for a decade or so.

It is intelligent and in keeping with Qatar’s plans to attempt to keep as much of the money that it will spend – the reputed $50billion – in Qatar. Given the size of the Qatari market and the industries based there, obviously, much will have to be contracted in, but I expect more deals like this in the near future so that some Qataris profit from the outlay of World Cup costs.

Ahmad Mohamed Al-Sayed, Qatar Holding’s chief executive, said the investment would “cement our relationship with one of the key trading partners for the development of the infrastructure of Qatar ahead of the World Cup in 2022”.

This deal also follows a predictable pattern. Qatar likes to invest, wherever possible, in companies or real estate that are looking for investment and are, to some degree, desperate. This helps to drive down the price and get Qatar a bargain: it has been a long time since unscrupulous Western businessmen went to the Gulf to sell gold-plated Rolls Royces to newly minted and naive Shaikhs.

China creates its own Peace Prize 9, December 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in China.
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After Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, China led a group of nefarious countries (Russia, Cuba, Iran, Afghanistan, Venezuela and Egypt among others; hardly a democracy or human rights loving bunch) in boycotting the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony.

Yet, rather astutely, China has ‘magicked up’ their own peace prize giving ceremony under the auspices of the Confucius brand. In another clever move, not only are they giving the prize the day before the Nobel, but they are giving it to a former Vice-President of Taiwan.

He won out of an eclectic short-list of five: Mahmoud Abbas (God loves a trier), Nelson Mandela (always a favourite), Microsoft founder Bill Gates (the somewhat curious dark-horse), Chinese poet Qiao Damo (a nod to the domestic audience) and the Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama of Tibet (the stooge of Lhasa).

Interesting stuff. It seems that China is aware of the negativity surrounding this Nobel furore and is – despite their size and power which prompts some people to suggest that China does not need to care about such ‘soft’ incidents – eager to repair the damage and bolster its soft power too.

Moreover, I think that this shows an evolution in China’s grasp of PR. A few years ago, they might well have not done anything after such a fiasco or if they had, they’d have called it the ‘Chairman Mao Peace Prize’ and have given it to the Chairman himself, for he was such a peace-loving soul.



Qatar to review recruitment 9, December 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar.
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The Qatari Government has announced that it is to review its recruitment policies to prepare for World Cup 2022. Thus far, there are no specifics on what they will do.

Clearly, to build the stadiums and the infrastructure for the competition, Qatar will need yet more workers from abroad. There are, so far as I see it, two points of concern that they need to be aware of.

At the moment Qatar is on the watch list to enter tier 2 on the US State Department’s people trafficking watch list. The lowest tier is tier 3. In a simple ‘moral sense’ but also for a country as concerned with its international image as Qatar, this is not good enough. I expect that Qatar will be able to use the enormous bonus – this reputed $50 billion – as a carrot to persuade the business community to adopt more humane practices as the government has pressed for in the past.

A second concern is the potential inflationary pressures that such a staggering potential input into the Qatari economy may well bring. Qatar has struggled in recent years with inflation and it has been brought under control only in the past year or so. Though I am no economic expert, I fail to see how such an amount of money in such a small state can but bring on inflation.

Economists’ comments are welcome…


Kuwait’s Ambassador in Iran 9, December 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Iran, Kuwait.
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The Kuwaiti Ambassador to Iran has invited President Ahmadinejad to Kuwait for the 50th anniversary of Kuwait’s Independence. This is yet another example highlighting, firstly, just how fractured the ‘unity’ of the GCC against Iran is and, secondly, the impracticability of America’s notion of using the GCC as a block to isolate Iran.

This is the same Ambassador who, earlier this year and severely contrary to directives from home, stated that the term ‘Arabian Gulf’ is not accurate and that the term ‘Persian Gulf’ is correct and should be used. An example, perhaps, of a diplomacy ‘going native/bush’ if ever there was one.

While practically every week there is a story about the proper name of this body of water, I noticed that recently America purposefully directed its Navy to use the term Arabian Gulf, contrary to their own legal standards, just to annoy the Iranians. Very mature. While the US Navy, in deference to their Arab GCC allies usually uses this terms, officially demanding its use it another matter.