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Gulf Research Centre Dubai ‘restructures’ 1, June 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in The Emirates.
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There have been rumours circulating for some time now that the various think tanks based in the Emirates were coming under severe pressure from the authorities. Now there is proof.

The Gulf Research Centre based in Dubai is, as it wistfully calls it, ‘restructuring’. Its permit to operate in Dubai expired after ten years in 2010 and it has not been renewed. Clearly, they are doing something right.

This is another nail in the coffin of the liberal dream of the UAE.

Curiously, GRC is relocating its staff to Jeddah(!) and also to Geneva and Cambridge. Best of luck to them.

Qatar ‘not to benefit’ from 2022 World Cup 18, May 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar, The Emirates.
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Citigroup’s chief economist has posited that Qatar will not see any (net) economic benefit from hosting the 2022 World Cup. While this would hardly make Qatar unique, this will not come as happy reading to Qataris concerned about their inheritance being squandered on the mother of all prestige projects.

The Bloomberg article carrying this story focuses on the issue of hotel rooms. Currently, Qatar has around 60% occupancy but has pledged to increase its capacity tenfold. It is perfectly reasonable to ask, therefore, who will be staying in all these rooms after the World Cup. Sure, tourism will pick up somewhat after – inshallah – hosting a successful tournament, but 90,000 rooms? I don’t remotely see where that number of people will come from.

It is the same story in the Emirates. The large hotels on Yas Island, aside from the week per year when they are full with F1 fans and officials, generally operate at less than 10% capacity. How this can continue, I just don’t see.

All of this is a part of the voodoo economics that envelopes the Gulf. Supply and demand? Where? I just don’t really see it in the Gulf. Look at all the empty towers dotted around the region and the new soon to be empty towers currently rising beside them. It often far more resembles a Soviet-esque command economy than anything else. Sometimes this can work, at least for a time. Dubai’s ‘build it and they will come’ attitude did well until its spectacular crash; hardly a good harbinger for the region loosely following some of its principles.

The UAE’s mercenary army? 16, May 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in The Emirates.
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So it seems that the UAE, or more specifically, Abu Dhabi, has been cultivating mercenary armed forces in the desert. Their aim is reportedly to either quell uprisings within the Emirates, act somehow against Iran or to be first responders to a terrorist incident.

All in all it is really rather impressively poorly thought out.

  • So the UAE want to rely on a bunch of paid killers for their security. People who have specialised (particularly in the South African case) in taking money and killing people at the behest of…well…anyone. What a morally bankrupt policy.
  • The report notes that such an army might be a part of a plan, one day, to take back the Abu Musa and Tunb islands from Iran. What a joke. There is no way that the Emirates would be that stupid: that would be a bona fide act of war, however justified historically. And I would not want such a mission to be entrusted to a bunch of mercenaries who couldn’t give two hoots about the lumps of rock in the Gulf: if there’s a good chance you’d die (do you think the Iranians would give up without a fight, or fight fairly for that matter?) it hardly matters how much you’re being paid.
  • A mercenary army unleashed against Emirati protestors? Is that what’s envisaged? This would immediately de-legitimize their mission and cause a fire-storm of protests: ‘Emiratis killed by foreign mercenaries’
  • A bunch of mercenaries as first responders to a terrorist attack? What – exactly – would their rules of engagement be? What role would traditional CT forces play in this? How would they hand-over? What legal authority would they have?
  • Let’s not forget how integral military forces are to the prestige of Gulf (if not most) countries and particularly to the leaders. Deploying such mercenary forces would be a monumental slap in the face for any and all Emirati forces. It clearly and brazenly states – to the world – that every last one of them is rubbish at their job; that they cannot do what they are paid and trained to do: defend their country. I think that the shock-waves of shame would reverberate around the Emirates.

Overall, then, IMHO (as the kids say), this idea…needs some thought.

Update: I’ve just updated all the typos in this article – apologies!

The $3.7 million Qatari license plate 12, April 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar, The Emirates.
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A Qatari man with far too much money and way too little common sense has bought Qatar’s most expensive license plate. The registration ‘55555’ cost just under $4 million. I’ve never felt the urge to steal a license plate before just to inconvenience someone, now, however…

Still, I am sure that this guy feels hugely inadequate as compared to the Emirati who splashed the practically immoral sum of $14.3 million dollars for the licence plate ‘1’ in 2008.


The endgame in Bahrain: Saudi and UAE troops enter Manama 15, March 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, The Emirates.
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With escalating tensions and increasingly violent rioting on the streets of Bahrain’s capital, Manama, Saudi Arabia sent in troops to ‘stabilise’ the Bahraini Government. The UAE too has responded to the request from the Bahraini government to “contribute to the establishment of internal security and stability” and has sent at least 500 police.

Thus far there is no evidence that Qatar or Kuwait has taken part in this mission, though they have offered strong rhetorical and financial support for Bahrain.

The Saudi contingent is nominally part of the ‘Peninsula (Jazeera) Shield Force’, a multi-national task force of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Established in the mid-1980s to counter any potential Iranian threat, this force was soon beset with command and control issues and it is questionable if it was ever an active or effective fighting unit. By the mid-2000s it was defunct. In 2009, prompted by Yemeni incursions into Saudi Arabia, it was re-branded and re-tooled as a ‘Peninsula Shield Rapid Reaction Force’ though questions as to whether it could ever function as a genuine multi-national task-force remain.

The force’s raison d’etre has always been to preserve GCC security and unity. This explains the particular utility in using the ‘Peninsula Shield Force’ for the majority of the intervention into Bahrain; so it appears more like fraternal support based on mutually agreed common goals and identities than a heavily armed incursion to prop-up an unpopular, minority-based Royal government.

The entry of at least 1000 Saudi troops with armoured troop carriers and other assorted lightly armed vehicles plus the UAE contingent signifies a qualitative shift in the dynamics of the troubles in Bahrain. Until now there has only been stiff rhetorical and financial support from neighbouring governments.

GCC Royal families are, perhaps understandably, severely concerned about allowing any kind of republican precedent. While conditions are different in Bahrain as compared to their neighbouring states, the GCC leadership, particularly in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, appear to follow an ‘Article 5’ mandate: a threat to one Royal family is seen as tantamount to a threat to them all.

The Shia twist in Bahrain too will have contributed to their calculus. Typically, the Sunni-Shia dimension has been lazily applied as a lens to understand Bahrain’s issues. Certainly, it has been prominent, but – until recently – economic cleavages have been equally important as a delineating line in Bahraini politics. Yet the recent troubles have significantly exacerbated sectarian tensions and current Sunni-Shia relations are as bad as they have been in decades.

The key backdrop to this is the insidious notion of Iranian, Shia fifth columnists pervading Gulf States and Bahrain in particular. Certainly Iran has sporadically alluded to such threats in the past and has overtly described Bahrain as the ‘14th province of Iran’, which drew immediate and vociferous Arab denunciations. These Iranian concerns are particularly acute for Saudi Arabia and to a lesser extent present in the UAE.

Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich eastern province is where the majority of Saudi Arabia’s Shia live. There are genuine and deep-rooted concerns in the Saudi government of further uprisings in these areas. On Thursday 10th March police fired into a group of Shiite protestors demanding the release of prisoners and the next day, on Saud Arabia’s ‘day of rage’, there were larger though peaceful protests in  Hofuf and Qatif in the east of the Kingdom. Riyadh is highly motivated not to give these protestors any encouragement from their religious brethren nearby in Bahrain.

After Abu Dhabi bailed out Dubai from its spectacular financial collapse, it set about emasculating Dubai’s power in the federation. One result is that Dubai’s ‘perennial’ role as an Iranian-friendly port city is coming under increasing pressure from Abu Dhabi and America. The recent uncovering of an Emirati ‘spy ring’ in Oman, allegedly there to investigate Oman’s Iranian links, further propagates the notion of the Emirates as highly concerned with Iran’s activities.

For Saudi Arabia and the UAE, therefore, this intervention is a calculated risk. Immediately, opposition groups in Bahrain castigated the entry of foreign troops as “a blatant occupation” or even as “an act for war” despite official protestations that the troops are there to protect official installations. Indeed, the soldiers and police from Saudi Arabia and the UAE arrived soon after Bahrain’s financial district, the core of its economy, was closed down by protestors.

There are real concerns that this move in and of itself may escalate the violence. For while the foreign soldiers and police are nominally in Bahrain to protect critical infrastructure, any footage of them arresting, subduing or otherwise harming a Bahraini protestor would be hugely incendiary in Bahrain and similarly provocative in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province. Moreover, the spectre of a proxy war in Bahrain between Saudi Arabia and Iran is apparent now that Riyadh has broken the taboo of direct intervention.

These actions further complicate an already Gordian problem for America. Thus far the reaction has been to simply note that “this is not an invasion” and Washington will surely head off any mooted Bahraini overtures at the United Nations for support. It is also worth noting that Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary, was in Manama on Saturday for discussions with the Bahraini leadership, a critical US ally as the home of the US fifth fleet. The US Administration has denied that Gates was informed about this plan.

The events set in motion carry dark overtones. There is a real sense of fear that in their haste to avoid allowing a precedent to be set and to prevent any potential Iranian interference, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi’s actions may well precipitate these very outcomes. Ominous statements emanating from Tehran and an outraged reaction from the largely un-cooperative opposition in Bahrain, suggest that these actions have further polarised and inflamed an already highly troubled situation. The announcement of three months of martial law by the Bahraini King confirms the deeply worrying trends in Bahrain.

Aside from an ignominious withdrawal by the foreign troops and police, which would play incredibly badly in their own countries, or the dissolution of the opposition, which appears wholly unlikely, the only likely outcome is a delicate stalemate, which is liable to explode at any moment.

David B Roberts, Deputy Director RUSI Qatar

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.

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?

UAE-Canada cold war: now the $1000 visa 4, January 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in The Emirates.
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The cold war between Canada and the UAE continues apace.

It began when Canada’s refused to allow Emirates and Etihad Airlines more access to Canada, both in terms of frequency of flight and destination. Canada refused fearing that the heavily subsidized Emirati airlines would take significant chunks of domestic Canadian airlines’ profits. And who can blame them?

Some key Shaikhs in the Emirates seem, however, to have taken this rather badly. First, Canada was banned from using a military base near Dubai, second, Canadians were required to obtain their visas before departure and as of the 2nd January, a 6 month multiple entry visa for a Canadian will cost C$1000. A clear example, I’d say, of the perils of the personality politics that can afflict the Gulf.



‘A renaissance in Arabic science’…really? 1, November 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, The Emirates.
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The New Scientist has an article discussing what they describe as ‘the renaissance of Arabic science’. It points to various recent ventures in the GCC as evidence.

  • KAUST – Saudi’s $20 billion gamble
  • Masdar – Abu Dhabi’s sustainable city and “innovation hub”
  • Various Qatari efforts: Qatar Foundation, Qatar Science and Technology Park, Sidra Medical Centre

While these ventures are all well and good, surely a truck-load of money does not a renaissance make.

These countries can build the world’s greatest Universities and Hospitals but unless totemic changes are made to education systems in the region, these will be either staffed by foreigners or will become the most expensive white elephants ever built. In Kuwait, for example, on the Corniche, opposite the British Embassy they built a beautiful new, presumably state-of-the-art research center for the study of (something like) diabetes [it’s been a while since I was there]. It stood finished but unused for years because there was no-one to staff it. Please correct me someone, but I think that it may still be empty to this day.

Masdar is the easiest example to ridicule here. While noble in thought, in practice, it is simply a rather grand green gimmick. The UAE, with the world’s highest CO2 emissions per capita, really don’t especially care about the environment. Masdar ‘the car-less city’ (with what will have to be a whopping great car-park on its outskirts) is beset by problems and management struggles. It is no more in reality a leader of indigenous innovation and research than Kim Jong Il is the democratic leader of North Korea.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar appear to me to be the only places with a real chance of fostering indigenous scientists. Saudi are spurred on by their increasing population and the real need to finds jobs for their younger generation. Without the golden safety net of past generations but with the ability to provide world-class facilities such as KAUST, this mix may prompt young Saudis to meaningfully engage in education. The hamartia for Saudi is, of course, the vagaries of succession and the fear that Naif, the presumed arch-conservative leader, takes the reins of power and interferes with KAUST on (spurious) religious grounds.

While Qatar has the most generous welfare state in the world which mitigates against students seriously studying and applying themselves, there appears to be a genuine intent in the Qatari leadership to induce their younger generations into pursuing meaningful academic pursuits. Their school system is changing root and branch, hopefully instilling the necessary scholarly attitudes in coming generations. In Education City today there are some of the best Universities in the world awaiting suitably qualified Qatari students: potentially quite a lure, particularly for female students whose parents may not be pleased to see them studying in the decadent, morally corrupt West. Perennially, however, the problem for Qatar is that  – crucially – no Qatari really needs to work. The state will take care of them for generations to come.

There are, therefore, enormous challenges before the Arab world even remotely begins to instill a culture of scientific learning never mind excellence and leadership.



Dubai marriage advice: talk then “whip her gently” 29, October 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in The Emirates.
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Abdul-Aziz Al Hammadi is a marriage counsellor at the Dubai Court family guidance and reconciliation section. He is clearly a sensible and measured man who is angry at the way that some men seek divorce over trivial matters.

One sought divorce because his wife telephoned him during football and another because she was late in bringing a glass of water. These are, Al Hammadi judiciously notes, “ridiculous and impractical reasons”. Quite right too.

He cautions that Shaira law has set, specific limits which govern divorce proceedings. Sharia demands that a husband is “councilled to adopt a civilised and productive method.” Al Hammadi explained his philosophy:

We call that…the gradual edifying reconciliation method…whenever a husband notices a bizarre behaviour from his wife

with women what behavior isn’t bizarre!

he can advise her

reasonable, sensible, caring, jurist advice

then avoid sleeping with her in one room

that will surely ‘learn her good’. She’d surely do anything to avoid such a fate given that all women are all plainly so desperate for hanky panky.

and if that doens’t work out

surely not?

then he can whip her gently in a matter that makes her understand the situation

Indeed, sage advice.

Whip her “gently” in a way to ensure understanding. I really think this whip of understanding ought to be used more in society in, say, schools. I’m not talking about corporal punishment – that would clearly be savage! – but a gentle whipping you see. The whipping of understanding.

It takes practice, of course. Many may simply lash the other in the typical – like so last century – kind of painful, whippy like way; welts, blood and all that.

But, in these civilised time, Al Hammedi the kind sage of Dubai, as he perhaps should be known, proposes a far better solution: more than the humanitarian whipping (for that could simply be an old fashioned ‘for her own good’ kind of whipping, you see); a clarity-inducing, clearing the woods from the trees type of whipping.

Good luck to Al Hammedi in all his travails and even better luck to women’s rights activists in the Middle East. I think that people in the West can see women driving cars (in places), going to Universities (in places), being represented by strong women (in places) and even wearing at times daring clothes (in places) and think that women’s rights are ‘one the way’.

On the way they may be, but with officialdom represented by Al Hammedi et al they are on the way from the 7th century and the journey could be a damn sight longer than many think.

Hat tip: Graham B