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CCTV used Top Gun footage in news report 31, January 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in China.
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The BBC reports that China’s state broadcaster – CCTV – has used footage from Top Gun in a news report on the Chinese air force. See the explosion at 1.11 .

I’m torn on how best to mock. I feel like some combination of a pithy ‘Emperor’s new clothes’ jibe crossed with a witticism on the ‘paper tiger’ theme is in order, but can’t really think of one.


Oman arrests Emirati spy ring 31, January 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Oman, The Emirates.
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Omani authorities have announced that they have ‘dismantled’ an Emirati spy ring that was

targeting the regime in Oman and the mechanism of governmental and military work there…The accused will be presented for trial

This is a most curious development. There have not been any overtly strange or interesting incidents involving the UAE and Oman recently even though this incident appears to stretch back to the summer.

My first thought would be that this is some kind of industrial espionage gone awry, but the story indicates that it was the government and military that was targeted. The notion that the UAE wanted to know more about Iranian-Omani relations is plausible but unlikely. I doubt that Oman knows that much that Dubai with its strong Iranian links does not know.

Perhaps we’ re simply left with the typical sort of intelligence gathering operations that countries undertake in one’s region. Even friendly relations, I am sure, from time to time, spy on their neighbors. Also, as I have noted several times before, the relations among the Arab Gulf States are significantly more fraught that one is led to believe. I think that this is simply further proof of this.

Qatar to host 2015 Handball Championship 30, January 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar.
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Qatar may well have secured the rights to host the largest sporting tournament on earth in 2022, but now they’ve got the one that everyone really wanted: the 2015 Men’s Handball World Championship. Denmark won the rights to host the woman’s version, though their competition was less stiff: they were the only bidders.

Where were you on the day when… 29, January 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Egypt.
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At the tender age of 28 years old, I can only really claim to remember two events in the ‘where were you when?’ category. On 11th September 2001 I was about to go to work in the Rusacks Hotel in St. Andrews to confront tens of bewildered and worried Americans and (trivially, by comparison) when Diana died I had just returned from a holiday in Turkey. Somewhat shamefully when the Berlin Wall came down, despite my mum’s protestations that ‘you’ll want to remember this moment’ I was just nagging her to go out as planned.

Perhaps the last week of January 2010 will become one of these synonymous events that reverberates for decades. It is certainly looking that way.

I am not an Egypt expert and do not claim to be so, hence my lack of posting on the topic (though this leaves me in the minority). I will just make a few notes:

– The notion of dominoes falling is ahistorical. We seem to have this inbuilt notion that an event in one country usually cascades around a region. This is simply not the historical record, especially so without any kind of supra-national involvement. However, it seems that the domino effect is actually coming to pass in Egypt. This will be an issue that intrigues Middle Eastern scholars for generations.

– Thus far, so far as I have seen, there has been essentially no Islamist involvement in this proto-Revolution. However, clearly the Muslim Brotherhood have a commanding organization network which will advantage them in the future.

– Al Jazeera’s role in this is interesting. At first they desperately avoided televising the burgeoning revolution. Clearly they were under some kind of orders not to exacerbate tensions by broadcasting events in Cairo and elsewhere. Indeed, there was some kind of accommodation reached by Al Jazeera/Qatar and Mubarak in recent months where many believe it was agreed that Al Jazeera’s coverage of Egypt would be toned down. Only when the elephant in the room reached epic proportions did they then cover it and since they have covered it extremely well.

– To follow events you must follow: @SultanAlQassemi  @nolanjazeera  @arabist  @shadihamid  @bencnn @themoornextdoor

– So where’s next? I’d not be sitting pretty if I were in Jordan and Yemen, that’s for sure. Saudi Arabia? I doubt very much that there are enough angry and unhappy Saudis willing to put in the necessary graft to instigate some kind of reform. Bahrain would be the only other of the GCC countries that I could at all see having issues but there too I’d be surprised if much came of it.

– One of my great fears about these revolutions is that people seemingly automatically expect things to get better. Don’t misunderstand me, I think it is a good thing that Tunisia and Egypt are in the process of seemingly throwing off their dictatorial yoke, but how exactly people think things will ipso facto get better I just don’t understand. Essentially, you can’t eat or pay the rent with democracy.

– Sky news: it’s not Tahir Square, it’s Tahrir Square

UK to scrap £4.1 billion new spy planes 27, January 2011

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As a part of the UK Government’s cost cutting, £4.1 billion worth of brand new spy planes are to be destroyed and sold for scrap.

The Nimrod MRA4 reconnaissance aircraft were designed to patrol the Atlantic searching for submarines. However, one expert notes that the electronics in the planes [once again, I note that these are literally brand new plane] are

already out of date. You wouldn’t put them in last year’s Playstation


The Ministry of Defence says that it will save £2 billion in operation costs by axing the Nimrods. It would not be cost effective, they note, to mothball the planes as not only would this cost a fortune but they would be yet further out of date when they returned.

Couldn’t we sell them, I hear you ask. Nope.

the most expensive aircraft ever made for the RAF [the Nimrod] has almost no commercial value.


So scrap metal it is.

As much as I blamed Cameron for this seemingly absurd decision, it actually appears to be the right thing to do. What we need to do now, however, is find out which genius at the MoD ordered these planes and shoot him.

Are there any nuts and bolts from 100,000lb (45,000kg) of hardware that can be salvaged, re-used, or sold on?

…the BBC reporter asks finally.

“Not a great deal, I’m afraid…there’s nothing there of value bar scrap aluminium.”


In defence of the US Government 27, January 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations.
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While I am most certainly not in receipt of any US Government cash nor am I American or do I usually agree with the folk in the White House that much I feel compelled to offer a quick defence of said Government.

Seasoned commentators, old hands, angry bloggers, erudite analysts et al does not really believe that much that the US Government says. They know and understand that the Government diplomatically says what its says to tow the Party line and to play the long-term game of international politics. They realise that the US Government stresses democracy and other such goods but everyone is aware that this kind of stuff must be said as a kind of rhetorical cover as, for one thing, the US is based on notions of freedom. In reality, everyone is aware that the game of real politik takes place and relations are based on power, not on nice, friendly, whimsical notions of freedom and self-determination.

I’d say that the majority of mainstream commentators and blogging heads would agree with the above statement.

However, in recent weeks there has been a false outcry based on the assumption that the US actually means what it says. This is gross hypocrisy. Those who know perfectly well and have written numerous times in the past on the gap between rhetoric and reality in US policy suddenly become amazed in bouts of mock outrage that the US is not living up to its ideals and staunchly supporting protesters around the Arab world.

What do these people expect the US to say? After a day’s protesting: ‘we want Mubarak out’? This false surprised mockery really grates with me. No one is surprised that the US is trying to be noncommittal over Egypt’s future. Of course the White House spokesman would not be drawn on any ‘guarantees’ towards Mubarak!

Pretending otherwise strikes me as an immature stunt for a cheap shot and a false sense of outrage.

More ‘Qatar to buy Man Utd’ rumours 24, January 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar.
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Rumours are surfacing once again suggesting that a Qatari consortium is in discussions to buy Manchester United. The current owners of the English Premiere League club, the American Glazer family, are thought to want some £1.5 billion. Though the price is high, Manchester United have been Britain’s most successful football club for over a decade now and are consistently ranked among the very top earners in the sport.

Notions of Qatari backing make sense. Not only is Qatar one of the richest countries on earth but they have a penchant for high-priced often British blue chip companies. Manchester United would fit well into their burgeoning portfolio. Also with Qatar hosting the World Cup in 2022, Qatar seems intent on increasing its profile in the world’s most popular sport. The Asia Cup is currently underway in Doha, the Qatar Foundation recently signed a sponsorship deal with Barcelona football club and Abdullah bin Nasser Al Thani has recently bought Malaga, a side in Spain’s top division.

On the Al Jazeera Israel-Palestine leaks 24, January 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
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When I tell people that I am doing a PhD and researching generally on bits and pieces to do with the Middle East, more often than not, if they have any interest in the topic as a whole, I will be asked about Israel and Palestine. Will a peaceful solution ever be found? Don’t I think that Arafat/Sharon is the greatest/most evil man ever? And so on.

Without fail I immediately declare my ignorance on the topic. Though I know a good deal about the history of the conflict and probably far more than ‘the average person’, when it comes to the personality politics of those involved today I cannot pretend to be an expert.  I quite simply do not have the time or inclination to delve into the minutiae of this Herculeanly complex topic. It takes all my time as it is to keep on top of what is going on in the Gulf.

(I note that I am relatively alone in this desire not to wax intellectually on topics on which I would not consider myself well enough informed: witness the amazing burgeoning of Tunisian experts in recent weeks).

With this disclaimer in mind, I feel compelled to make a few comments on Al Jazeera’s Palestinian paper leaks.

– While clearly newsworthy and interesting, it seems rather mean spirited of Al Jazeera to publish these documents. No, indeed, one could hardly expect them to have them and not publish, but still, it has put the Palestinian leadership is a wickedly difficult situation.

– Only one half (the Palestinian half) of story has been leaked. There are no facts from Israel’s side of things.

– These papers will seriously damage the Palestinian Authority and strengthen Hamas.

– No one whatsoever ought to be surprised to see that the PA made concessions. This is what negotiations are all about. Not that this will placate those living in squalor in chunks of Palestine, clinging to notions – fed scurrilously by Hamas et al – that ‘one day’ all of Palestine and Jerusalem will be returned to Arab control and Israel will…err…magically dissappear.

– The release highlights Israel in a highly negative light: manifestly the stronger power, constantly pushing the PA for more and more  concessions (which they get) but none of which are enough. Having said this, one must be aware of point 2: this is only half the story. Don’t misunderstand me, I think that this is overall an accurate picture: Israel in the clear ascendancy, bullying the PA. Also, one must not forget that this is Israel’s ‘job’: to push as hard and as far in negotiations as they can. They can hardly be blamed for this.

– It is only because these documents came through Al Jazeera – a news organisation that I trust (the only one in the Middle East) – that I believe these documents. Ordinarily, they present such a devastating picture for one half of an issue (the PA half) and even come with revelations about British spies (hmm…), that I’d dismiss them out of hand.



UAE: largest scotch whisky consumer 21, January 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in The Emirates.
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(This is just a generic Whisky picture: I, of course, do not condone for one second putting ice in one’s Whisky…)

The Emirates has, according to a new survey, become the world’s biggest consumer of blended Scottish whisky, having just pipped France into second place. This is one pole position that the Emirati Government will not be bragging about.

This article was original posted on Arabian Business but – curiously – their link is now broken. How very strange…Here is what the original looked like (cached in Google cache) and now

Hat hip: Saq

Update: There are allegedly issues as to this story’s veracity. Perhaps it’s something to do with Dubai as a re-exporting venue: i.e. Dubai ergo Emirates imports all this whisky, but then re-export it to Asia and onwards…who knows?

Qatar replaces Energy Minister 18, January 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar.
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Qatar’s Minister of Energy and Industry, Abdullah bin Hamad Al Attiyah, has been replaced by the former State Minister of Energy, Mohammed Salah Al Sada.

The Al Attiyah family are one of the best connected families in Qatar. Indeed, the Emir, Hamad Al Thani, is said to have grown up in their household to some degree.

Al Attiyah has been the architect of Qatar’s startling rise to  dominance in the Liquified Natural Gas market. Indeed, he recently oversaw a huge investment programme lifting Qatar’s capacity to 77 million tonnes-a-year. It is, therefore, something of a natural time for him to go.

There are no indications that this is some kind of demotion as Al Attiyah has been appointed to the head of the Emiri Diwan (the Ruler’s court), a prominent position, and retains the title of Deputy Prime Minister. Given that every other press clipping of Al Attiyah is of him in Japan, China and various other far-flung places in the world, at the age of 59 it is reasonable to assume that he simply wanted to spend more time at home.

The new Minister, Al Sada, had the post of Minister of State for Energy and Industry created for him in 2007 mostly – it is assumed – as a kind of training position for when he would take over from Al Attiyah. He has decades of experience in the Oil and Gas business in Qatar and a PhD from the UK.