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The nadir of Egyptian conspiracy theories 9, December 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Egypt.
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As many of you will know, the Middle East is riddled with conspiracy theories. Perhaps the general untrustworthiness of the press in the region and the lack of government transparency fosters such a ripe climate for such theories.

The latest one to be doing the rounds states that the recent spate of shark attacks in Egypt is actually some kind of diabolical Mossad plan to destroy Egypt’s tourist industry. This theory was recently given credence by the governor of South Sinai.

Yes. I agree. Words fail.

 

 

 

Egypt & Qatar: a quick background 3, December 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Egypt, Qatar.
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One of thegulfblog’s esteemed readers and frequent commentors asked for a quick background on Qatar and Egypt. So voilà. If anyone else wants any brief background pieces, in case I gloss over things too quickly, please just drop me a line: if I know enough, I’ll give it a go! Thanks:

Nasser in the 50s and 60s made Egypt the most important and leading nation in the Arab world. However, it has been downhill since they were wholly mullered by Israel in 1967 (yanni: beaten very badly). Though nominal pride was restored in 1973, Sadat’s visit to the Knesset in 1977 wholly finished off Egypt as a regional power.

Mubarak and indeed ‘all’ Egyptians long for the time of Nasser; when it mattered what Egypt said and did, when it was the leader. While in recent times they – by virtue of their history and their population size – still try to throw their weight around as if they were preeminent, they are not and what is worse is that they know they are not (and they know that others know that they know that they are not – if you see what I mean);)

So, when little – if not microscopic – Qatar comes along in the late 1990s and hosts a TV channel that repeatedly slams Egypt, they are less than amused. At a profound level, Qatar’s power (growing ever since; at its apogee now) really annoys Egypt as they are in many ways more powerful than ‘mighty’ Egypt. (Why did Al Jazeera repeatedly slam Egypt? Cause it was easy, fun and, most importantly, great, salacious TV).

Egypt’s anger has erupted frequently over Al Jazeera. One of the worst breaks happened in Jan/Feb 2009 when Qatar held parallel peace conferences after Israel’s Cast Lead operation. This was seen by Egypt and other ‘traditional powers’ (Saudi) as this little cheeky state once more trying to usurp the natural order: they didn’t get to call conferences!

(Incidentally, Egypt views Al Jazeera as little more than the publicity department of the Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs: which is essentially wrong.)

A couple of interesting snippets emerged from the Wikileaks cables. The Emir or HBJ (I can’t remember) said that he believes that Egypt is purposefully not seeking as fast a solution to the Palestinian question as they want to prolong their time ‘in the spotlight’. He also said that he would close Al Jazeera down for a year if Egypt facilitated peace in Palestine!

Qatar 2022 and the future of the Middle East 3, December 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar.
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It matters not if you are a pauper or a Prince; from time to time everyone suffers from the green eyed monster. Until its spectacular demise, Dubai grew covetous glances from around the region. Since then Abu Dhabi and Qatar have been quietly vying to fill the space. Abu Dhabi hosts the über luxurious and glamorous F1 Grand Prix and promises a whole island’s worth of cultural delights. Qatar led with an emphasis on education and a cultural approach, trumpeting its American Universities, Tribeka film festival and a stunning Islamic art museum.

Kuwait meanwhile has been too busy infighting to agree on any strategy to compete, Saudi Arabia is hamstrung by a repressive social atmosphere and Bahrain does not have the cash to compete meaningfully; their F1 Grand Prix being something of a hang-over from the ‘good old days’.

Yet by winning the right to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar has catapulted itself to the top of this imaginary league. In terms of a global audience and prestige, nothing but the Olympics comes close. This is a coup of epic proportions for Qatar and – make no mistake – is a seminal moment in the entire history of the state.

Despite official congratulations for Qatar, therefore, I have not one doubt that in private there are howls of derision and anger ringing around the Palaces of the Gulf. Outwith this micro-region, Egypt are long-term antagonists if not enemies of Qatar and Mubarak will viscerally hate this little upstart of a country grandstanding and upstaging Egypt so effectively time and again. Those in the Levant will be shaking their heads marvelling at what the money of oil Sheikhs will buy them while the Iranians will be working out how best to use this to their advantage.

Expect, therefore, a flurry of op-eds in the near future offering any number of back-handed compliments.

‘Yes, well done to little, rich, plucky Qatar’ they will patronisingly muse, ‘but hosting such a large tournament in such a small country is madness and they will have to spend tens of billions etc etc’.

It is interesting to note that one of the key reasons for Qatar’s success is the fact that it is hoped that the World Cup can in some way, shape or form, bring the Middle East together. Of this I have no doubt: Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s President will be creating space on his mantle piece for his Nobel Peace Prize.

Yet this optimistic view woeful misunderstands the curiously bitter disputes that riddle the Arab Middle East. Even, as mentioned earlier, among the Gulf States, a broadly homogenous group of people in terms of religion, language, culture, ethnicity and history, there are remarkably prickly relationships in evidence.

While in public, Qatar’s Arab brethren will have to ‘come together’ and support Qatar such will be the public support of having a football tournament so close to them, I fully expect no end of snipey remarks for, well, over a decade.

Does Blatter stand any chance of getting his Peace Prize? Two factors strike me as favourable in this regard.

First, 2022 is a long time away. This potentially allows some long-term-thinking negotiating, offering a natural and unmoving deadline. A skilful negotiator could potentially use this to his/her advantage.

Second, now that Qatar has the World Cup, the only possible greater prize is securing Middle East peace. And I’ve no doubts that they will redouble their efforts towards this aim, again, using 2022 as a categorical deadline.

Clearly, militating against some kind of resolution is the rather obvious fact that this conflict is epically intractable and requires a difficult confluence of peace and politics in the Arab world, Palestine, Israel and America.

Perhaps Qatar would be wise to seek to role together a united Arab front using the World Cup as a truly pan-Arab event to press on the conflict. Yet, as described above, it will be difficult to persuade chauvinistic Arab countries to follow Qatar’s lead at the best of times, let alone when they have just been awarded the kudos-busting largest tournament on earth.

Yet, if one has learned anything from the past few day’s events, it is that one must never bet against Qatar. It is infinitely more than simply a very rich country. Qatar has a wealth of outstanding individuals that are gifted, world-class business people and its newer generations are shaping up to be the best educated Arab generation in history.

While it is crucial to acknowledge the staggering challenges that Qatar still faces in its quest to host a superb World Cup, as its rivals fear, Qatar could well be the future of the Middle East.

Best wikileaks summary so far 3, December 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations.
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Peter Brookes – The Times of London

How Qatar won the World Cup 2022 3, December 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar.
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3 comments

£££

Clearly money paid a large role. There is no denying that the two bids with the most financial backing and the worst technical reports won and that their liquidity played, in my view, a large part in this. But this is the way that it goes. They have nothing to apologise for; they simply did what they did better than the other nominees. Yes, it’s hardly an Athenian spirit of fair play, but that is the way that FIFA have set it up.

Diplomacy

Qatar is a new, rich and tiny country: a ‘pimple’ on Saudi Arabia as one recent article disparagingly described it. The vast majority of the population are ex-pats of one stripe or another who do the vast majority of the work (obviously enough). Add these facts together with a bit of semi-racial profiling and people simply assumed that the Qatari delegates would set about their work smoking shisha, eating hummus, listening to Fayrouz and walking around with a sack of cash, dolling it out.

However, the new generation of Qataris as exemplified by the bid’s director, are well educated, erudite, intelligent, savvy and successful. The fact that Qatar nearly won in the very first round of voting is a truly staggering testament to the success of their pre-vote diplomacy. Yes, of course, having deep pockets allowed grander promises to be made, but I think that it will have needed far more than that. For example, securing the sole rights to pitch their bid at the Confederations of African Football last year – locking out all other bidders – appears to have been something of a master-stroke.

Not only this but instead of England’s notion of setting up a fund which would be spent on the world’s developing countries football infrastructure, Qatar had whole stadiums to give away: many of their stadiums are modular.

The Middle East

Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s President, is – as we say in the UK – no shrinking violet. He adores the lime-light and equally adores the massive amounts of power that his job offers him.

I honestly think that one of the key factors that won Qatar the World Cup is the notion that it could – no, really – bring ‘peace to the Middle East’. However absurd the notion, however much this ignores manifest facts on the ground, however much Qatar winning the world cup would have been celebrated through gritted teeth throughout the region (i.e. intra-Arab rivalry) I believe that Sepp believes that there is a chance that this could be a catalyst for peace. Perhaps he is right?

One thing I will say is that having a date set over a decade into the future might allow negotiations to pick a point in time; a backdrop.

And Sepp, I think, can see himself going to Stockholm, collecting his Nobel peace prize and dedicating it to the power of football. Sepp is stepping down soon, he wants a legacy and Qatar’s bid with this associated ‘perk’ by some distance offers the greatest possible opportunity for fame and, essentially, immortality.

Markets

Russia winning the 2018 World Cup and Qatar the 2022 clearly shows that FIFA are adamant that the World Cup must seek out new areas of the world. The Middle East offers a modest population that already has a keen interest in football, some of whom are exceedingly rich. Moreover, Qatar has exceedingly strong links to the Indian sub-continent and, of course, to the Muslim world at large: this, perhaps, is the key (1 billion+) demographic that FIFA is aiming at.

The bid, stadiums, presentation?

Overall, I think that the presentation in Zürich made no difference whatsoever. England gave what was universally agreed to be the best presentation (including the Prime Minister, the future King and the world’s most famous footballer) and had arguably the best technical report, yet did not make it past the first round. Clearly, by the time of the presentations, all votes had already been decided.

So while Qatar’s presentation was excellent too and their stadiums are stunning, I do not really believe that these contributed significantly.

 

Qatar to host 2022 World Cup 2, December 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar.
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In a truly stunning announcement, football’s governing body FIFA, chose Qatar as the host of the 2022 World Cup.

While Qatar ran an excellent campaign, many assumed that there were simply too many hurdles for their bid to overcome: the staggering summer heat, the lack of a footballing heritage, the lack of a suitable transport infrastructure, the overwhelming lack of stadiums and hotels not to mention what was undoubtedly one of the worst FIFA technical reports. Yet they prevailed and will host the Arab world’s first World Cup.

This is a truly mammoth task that they have set for themselves. Doha will be a building site, or rather more of a building site, for the next decade. Not only this but somehow their football team must improve significantly if they are not going to be massively embarrassed in their own tournament.

Clearly, FIFA decided that they wanted the World Cup to go to new areas of the world, to attract new supporters and to embed football yet further outwith traditional arenas. Yet with Qatar, FIFA have also decided that they want a different type of World Cup. Qatar will have to promote much more of a family friendly atmosphere in lieu of providing huge open air areas for celebration and drinking as proved so successful in Germany 2006.

With both World Cup announcements (Russia were awarded the 2018 World Cup) FIFA have taken a risk in terms of infrastructure. Yet both Qatar and Russia come with the greatest oil and gas backed financial might; no matter what happens in their tournaments, FIFA can thus be guaranteed their return.

Aside from challenges facing Qatar tied to the bid, Qataris need to prepare themselves for a whole new level of international scrutiny: they will need to grow a thick skin. The lack of democracy, the role of women, their treatment of workers and their social restrictions will all come under close examination. What will happen when thousands of drunk supporters descend on Doha after a game is one of the big mysteries of Qatar’s World Cup. Their current method of dealing with this – often a night in the cells for public drunkenness – will need to be looked at.

Yet there are many years to critically look at Qatar’s bid. For the moment, we should all join in, offer our congratulations, and wish them the best of luck.