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Torture of a Kuwaiti: Minister resigns 17, January 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Kuwait.
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Last week a Kuwaiti, Mohammad Ghazzai al-Mutair,  died in a police station as a result of “excessive torture”. He had been arrested in Ahamdi in Kuwait’s south transporting 24 bottles of Whiskey; something that is wholly illegal in Kuwait.

An opposition MP who investigated the claim said that he had been ‘brutally tortured and had a stick inserted into his anus’ and he arrived at hospital with his hands and feet tied.

The Kuwaiti Minister of Interior, Sheikh Jabir Al Sabah, submitted his resignation after persistent demands, while 5 policemen have been suspended.

While there are many serious flaws with Kuwait’s Parliament and issues with its ingrained rentireism (as I often note), there cannot be many Arab countries where their national print media would have followed such a case and where the national representative body could force the resignation of a Royal Minister.

Tunisia, its future, dominoes and the new media 17, January 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in North Africa.
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It was fascinating following Tunisia’s upheavals via Twitter. The first thing that struck me was how often trending tweets were (completely) wrong. Twitter is great for disseminating information extraordinarily quickly. An interesting tweet can be recycled at the touch of a button and, if it is on a trending topic, the tweet is exponentially repeated. There is only the (at times) gullible judgements of those re-tweeting there to stop a false rumour from being re-tweeted ad nauseam.

The first falsehood that I’m aware of was when the Foreign Minister’s webpage was hacked and a fake resignation letter was posted. Quite the interesting bit of gossip, this was whipped around the twittersphere at pace as news. Then were rumours that the President’s family had left for Malta and that an escape route had been planned for his imminent escape: two days before he finally left. When he did finally leave Twitter was comically bad at predicting where. Malta. Sardinia. Paris. Malta. Qatar. Malta. UAE. Saudi. Sudan and so on.

This is not to criticise Twitter as much as to prompt people to step back for a second and think about what Twitter actually is: a 21st century gossip super-highway.

Most of the tweets on Tunisia’s developments were of a breathless fervor; joyful that the dictator was leaving. While, of course, it is most certainly a good – great – think that Tunisia’s dictatorial leader has left, there was rarely any consideration of what was next. Indeed, many people appeared to simply assumed that things would automatically, ipso facto, be better with Ben Ali gone. While – again – I fervently hope that this is the case, it is far from a given conclusion. Today, looting and vigilantism has become a minor civil war between loyalists and the Army. Next? Who is to say? Even if there is no descent to civil disorder, I fear that peoples’ expectations now are sky-high and no politician operating within the constraints of a country that has gone through such a transition (perhaps badly wrecking one of its key national industries: tourism) can possibly compete.

So will Tunisia’s example lead to sweeping revolutions across the Arab world? History suggests not. Strangely enough we seem to have some kind of innate belief that such events often cascade across regions in a domino effect. Yet this is simply not true. It is worth noting that (Stephen Walt beat me too it) neither the French Revolution, the Bolshevik Revolution, Communism nor the Iranian Revolution led to any kind of ‘indigenous’ sweep of similar revolutions in nearby countries. Where neighboring countries did begin to follow, say, Communism, this was hardly the likes of the ‘natural domino effect’ that we think of but under the Soviet or Chinese boot or extreme pressure.

Moreover, not only have other Arab regimes now been forewarned as to the consequences of such demonstrations, but Tunisia is hardly going to seem like a glowing advert for a post-dictatorial state in the coming few weeks and months.




Free food & over $3500 for Kuwaitis 17, January 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Kuwait.
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Sometimes it can be tricky to come up with a definition of the rentier state; sometimes not.

On the occasion of Kuwait’s 50th anniversary of its independence from the British and its 20th anniversary of its liberation from Iraq, the Emir Sabah al Sabah is giving every Kuwaiti 1000 dinars or $3560 as well as 13 months of free food rations.

Several points now come to mind:

– Given that Kuwait is arguably on the brink (again) of serious issues in its Parliament, this may be a wise decision to try to placate all sides for a (short period of) time.

– I don’t quite understand the food stamps. Aside from simply being given 1000 KD, Kuwaitis have one of the most generous welfare states on earth (guaranteed jobs, ‘free’ loans then loan forgiveness, no taxes, no bills etc etc). Why would such a population who are – let’s be blunt here – very rich need food stamps? Perhaps it is some traditional-paternal ritual that the Emir wants to keep alive.

– Overall, I fear very greatly that these kinds of handouts are harmful for the longer term. Instilling in Kuwaitis more so than is already the case that they are owed free money, food and opportunities simply because they are Kuwaitis and not because of anything that they have done is a grim precedent to set. Emir after Emir will be forced to follow suit dishing out these bonuses for (again) nothing. Eventually, as Kuwait’s oil whittles down and it has to rely ever more on its (substantial) financial investments [for there is no meaningful sign of industrial diversification yet], such bonuses will become costlier and costlier for the Government to give out. Yet a population weened on such gifts will not give them up readily. Essentially, I see Sabah giving out this cash now as storing up huge problems for his great-grandchildren when they come to rule.


NYT on the Stuxnet virus 17, January 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Iran.
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There is an excellent piece of ‘traditional’ investigative journalism in the New York Times. It is a lengthy article, researched over many months and continents, analysing the Stuxnet computer virus that appeared to be targeting Iran’s nuclear enrichment industry.

When the story broke 6 months ago, little was known about the virus. Its aims were not clear neither were its targets or its authors. Like many others, however, given its prevalence in Iran and how the virus appeared to work in certain Siemens systems closely associated ywith Iran’s nuclear industry, I assumed that it was the first clear sign of international cyber-warfare conducted by America and possibly Israel against Iran.

The NYT confirms that this is the case.

The virus was incredibly subtle. It was seemingly designed only to ‘go to work’ when a series of very specific variables were met. Then it apparently ‘recorded’ the ordinary spinning of a Uranium enriching centrifuge and replayed these data back to the controlling stations so that all would appear normal while actually speeding up the spinning process, thus physically destroying the centrifuges. This is their best guess, at least.

Yet, while not wholly successful it does appear to have set back Iran’s quest for a bomb several years, as recently announced by Secretary of State Clinton and the outgoing head of the Mossad.