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Gadaffi’s bunker 28, February 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in North Africa.
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I agree with The Arabist. I want a bunker too.

A summer World Cup: decisions, decisions 27, February 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar.
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The question of whether Qatar’s 2022 World Cup will be held in the summer of some other time of year continues.

It was, of course, initially planned as a summer event. But soon after Qatar rather astonishingly won the right to host the tournament, there were several quotes emanating from the great and the good at FIFA (Blatter and Platini) stating that the tournament would probably be moved out of Qatar’s baking and, according to their own technical report, “potentially dangerous” summer heat.

These notions were soon quashed by people from Qatar’s organising committee.

Yet now the Emir, Hamad Al Thani, has once again raised the notion that this might change as he will “ask the people [Qataris]” what they want. The saga continues.

Libya’s new flag? 25, February 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in North Africa.
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I’ve always liked flags and often wonder whether I ought to have been a professional vexillologist.

This is the flag being used by swathes of the opposition in Libya. It is the Libyan flag that was flown to celebrate independence from the Italians. It was finally taken down in 1969 to be replaced by a pan-Arab red, white and black tricolour, according to Al Jazeera. This in turn was replaced by the current all green flag, intimately associated with Gaddafi, in 1977.

The red band on this flag, as ever, signals the blood of those who fought for freedom. The black band is thought to refer back to an older flag, the green band is for prosperity, apparently, [I’d have thought it would be Islam…] and the sickle and start represent the main religion, Islam (too?).

Here’s hoping that this flag can be held aloft at the UN sooner rather than later.


On Egypt’s cancer 24, February 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Egypt.
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I suppose that everyone has a few topics on which they find it difficult to be balanced and polite. For me, I simply can’t help referring to Libya’s delinquent despot as the idiot Gaddafi. I also find it challenging to be civil about Italy’s joke of a leader. Yet one topic which angers me more than anything is undoubtedly the treatment of women in Egypt.

An odd topic you may think. Clearly I have never personally been affected by the legions of gropers and harassers that throng Cairo. Do I exaggerate? Well, ask any – and when I say any, I really do mean more or less any – woman who has, say, studied Arabic in Cairo for any length of time and you will get a litany of tales; most minor, some serious.

Within 6 hours of arriving in Cairo, one woman in my group of Arabic students had been harassed and groped on the street. She was walking by herself, well covered up, incidentally. Harassment of one form or other is a practically daily hourly occurrence. Actual physical assaults are, of course, rarer but will come eventually.

My wife, to take another example*, went the national museum in Cairo by herself. Having lived in Kuwait for a few years and travelled extensively thought the region, she was covered up in a basically shapeless outfit with her hair somewhat covered by a scarf. At the museum she was followed continuously by the security guards who worked there. They ignored the American tourists bussed in from Sharm in hot pants and skimpy tops, and, instead, decided to pursue her throughout the museum. How this cannot be seen as a predatory trait – going after the woman on her own not skimpliy clad women in groups – I just do not know. She was also physically assaulted on the way back from the museum by a random man in the street.

It is also important to point out that it is most certainly not just foreign women that suffer in this way. Egyptian women suffer day in day out, as I have noted before.

I write this now having just read another report of the attack on CBS’s correspondent last week. I did not write at the time fearing that it would just descend into a rant that looks essentially exactly like this… It turns out that as well as being stripped naked, punched, kicked and nearly raped, she was beaten with flag-poles.

This attack is, of course, of a different order to the attacks that I was referring to earlier. Its motivations are largely from a different place but still there is an underlying evil pathology of epic misogyny at play in Egypt that I have not come close to seeing anywhere else on earth. Were I to have a daughter one day, Egypt is – quite literally – the only place on earth where I would not want her to grow up. I’d take Kim Jong Ill and the lecherous Berlusconi’s rule before subjecting her to living in Cairo.

*For what it’s worth, I had a healthy ire for this topic well before this incident.



King Abdullah returns & doles out the cash 24, February 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Saudi Arabia.
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Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has returned to the Kingdom from a long period of convalescence in America. Three days of holiday have been announced to celebrate this auspicious occasion. Additionally, he has sizably increased the benefits for Saudi citizens including a 15% pay raise for lower paid workers all of which will cost some $36 billion.

I see this increase in benefits more in a Kuwait than a Bahrain model. This is to say both of these states recently increased benefits for their citizens. Kuwait did this as it was the anniversary of independence from Iraq and from the British. Bahrain did this in a desperate ploy to try to placate swathes of their citizens in a Middle East rife with revolutionary sentiment. I imagine that the Saudi King might have been tempted to do give out some cash even had Egypt and Tunisia’s regimes not fallen, though I would guess that he has increased the amounts in light of said events.

Though only fools make predictions, all I would say is that the only reason that Saudi need fear to any great degree is on the death of Abdullah. If it comes soon – he is a frail, recovering octogenarian after all – then aside the inevitable hullabaloo over Sultan being overlooked (which he would be; eventually) Naif’s reaction could be critical. If he stays true ‘to form’ then he may react harshly or at best, firmly, against any demonstrating elements. This, I fear, could then be a catalyst for wider demonstrations and – at the worse case scenario – prompt a serious challenge from another power centre in the Kingdom.

Hat tip: JK

Qatar and the UK 23, February 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar, UK.
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The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, was in Doha today. In addition to visiting Qatar University and giving a pithy little speech to members of the Qatar British Business Council, he also signed a £2 billion gas agreement with Qatar.

This one agreement on its own construes 10% of the UK’s annual gas demand. This also does not take into account the huge imports of Qatari gas to South Hook in Wales.

The Times of London notes that this agreement replaces and supercedes previous deals between Qatar and Centrica, which were done on the open ‘spot market’ according to whatever were the prevailing prices.

This, therefore, guarantees supplies for the UK, sales for Qatar and suggests that those who think that there is a gas-OPEC coming may need to re-think. One argument proposed by those fearing such a future was that Qatar’s huge LNG supertankers could be diverted from port to port to seek the best price. Yet, with a long-term contract established, such arbitrage cannot take place.

On a more personal note, the Gulf Blog would like to inform readers that their author here in fact had a chat with David Cameron today in Doha. So, you see loyal readers, you really are getting the latest news from the highest sources. During our hugely long-winded, lengthy, extended and in-depth…err…five-minute chat today we discussed several key issues of central relevance to the world economy if not world well-being. I am sure – rest easy reader – that he is now significantly better informed and will now…err…do loads of good stuff. Or something like that.

Debunking Stuxnet 23, February 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Iran.
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The Stuxnet story has gone through numerous revisions in the last year or so.

First there was confusion with no-one seemingly knowing what was happening. Second was an assumption that it was perpetrated by US and or Israeli operatives to derail Iran’s nuclear programnme. Third came hyperbole-ridden prose, typified by this NYT article, stating that this heralded a new age of cyber warfare etc etc. Fourthly and most recently has come the backlash against such reports. This blog article is one of the most thorough that I’ve come across and it eloquently eviscerates the NYT’s article and poses some serious questions. Draw your own conclusions.

Egypt’s Revolution on Twitter 22, February 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Egypt.
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Qatar too? I think not 22, February 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar.
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A facebook group calling for a day of protests in Qatar on the 27th February has been set up. But, at the same time, let’s not forget that there is also probably a facebook group set up for those who are fans of 1930s Russian telegraph poles.

I would say that the chances of  mass angry protests are slim to nil. Maybe a few people will turn up with perhaps a placard or two: there are always those on the lunatic fringe of every society. The simple fact is that, as far as I see it, the majority of Qataris are more than happy and content with current arrangements.

Wholly aside from monetary issues, I think that there is a genuine affinity among most Qataris towards their Monarchy. Citizens are treated very well and the past 15 years have seen Qatar’s star rise inexorably, which is a source of considerable pride.

Hat Tip: CG


Bahrain…what else? 21, February 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Bahrain.
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Just about everybody expected protests in Bahrain. Most expected serious problems for the Government. Some expected some stiff repression. Few thought that the governmental pay off (over $2500 per family) would sate protesters.  No-one expected governmental forces to open fire on sleeping protesters in the middle of the night.

The Bahrain situation is far trickier, it seems to me, than Egypt and Tunisia. While, of course, in the latter two countries there are many people who are enfranchised by the government i.e. on their side, they were, I’d have thought, in the minority. Yet this is not as much the case in Bahrain.

Yes, I know that a few years ago the statistics were that Bahrain was made up of 70% Shia and 30% Sunni. Yet this has changed. Wholesale importing of Sunni from, well…anywhere, has taken place and this divergence has been, so some degree, redressed. Though specific numbers are difficult to come by, a 55-60% Shia majority sounds about right to me. Moreover, one must not just boil this down to an ethnic issue. Economics is perhaps the key divider, though this does, of course, tend to split somewhat down ethnic lines.

Either which way, this leaves a very sizable proportion of Bahrain’s population – at the very least a third – largely supporting the government. While it is possible to see this as a recipe for a nightmareish civil war, I expect, thanks largely to the shootings, the Government to give in quite some way.

It is hardly as if the Shia or, to put it a better way, those disaffected with the government, have hugely outlandish desires. Sure, some want to get rid of the Monarchy but most just want some kind of equality and – here’s that watchword of the revolutions so far – respect.