Sunday, December 31, 2006

Arabia 2006: Another Financial Bubble Bursts, A Sectarian Cold War Is Waged

Gulf Financial Markets-2006:
Reports indicate that Arab financial markets sustained heavy losses during 2006. Some estimates put total losses in market value of the Gulf GCC shares for the year at over $ 440 billion, exceeding 150% of the total oil revenues of the six states. The biggest losses were in the Saudi market, where the index declined by more than 50%, the UAE market which lost 41% , and Qatar (35%) and Kuwait 12%. Oman was the only market that gained (14.3%), while Bahrain’s index was up by less than 1%.

During the year 2006, the Saudi market, which was established in 1985, achieved its highest lever when the index broke through then 20,000-point level in February. The index reached 20,635 points, growing by 24% during the first 50 days of the year, before crashing down through the rest of the year to reach a low of 7,600.

Most Saudi traders and analysts seem to blame market mechanisms and regulatory measures rather than fundamentals for the decline. Much of the blame is put on changes in marker rules that deal with such issues as commissions/fees, periods of trading, allowing stock splits, etc. The analysts in this case are dealing with small ‘bugs’ while ignoring the huge elephant in the room. These are clearly improbable factors for the huge decline in the share prices. A 53% decline in the market index can only be blamed on fundamentals: a combination of company financial performance and perhaps macroeconomic factors.

Persian Gulf Sectarian Tensions and Saddam:
Some Arab media, especially in the Gulf region, have tended to interpret Saddam’s execution in sectarian terms. Saudi Arabia, perhaps aiming at leading a possible Sunni line of defense, against what, it is not clear yet,. was also critical. The Saudi media, as always following the official line, were severely critical. The media in Jordan, the country where Saddam was the most popular, much more popular than in Iraq, was also critical.

The Saudi official line, as well as its accommodating media, criticized the insufficiency of the trial period- three years, probably longer than the trial of Goering after World War II. They criticized the process itself- yet Saudi Arabia chops off people’s heads in public squares, mostly the heads of poor people and foreign laborer convicts, after speedy trials, often with no recourse to appeal. Kuwait, having suffered invasion and genocide by the Iraqi Ba’ath Party, welcomed the execution- they are still turning up remains of Kuwaiti captives from 1990-91 in Iraqi mass graves.

2006 was also the year that ‘moderate’ Arab regimes and their media chose to start a public sectarian cold war against the Shi’as (Shiites) in their midst. By so doing, they have fanned the flames of once-dormant sectarian suspicions and hatreds. There has always been discrimination against the Shi’as in the Persian Gulf region, with the most flagrant violations of their human rights being committed in Saudi Arabia, where they sit atop the country’s vast petroleum fields abut are denied the basic educational and economic rights that the dominant Wahabis are granted.

This new approach of subtly demonizing the native Shi’as has been clearly a deliberate policy, led by Wahabi extremists in Saudi Arabia who control much of the Arab satellite televisions stations and major newspapers published from overseas, particularly London and Beirut. It started as a reaction to the end of Sunni-Ba’ath dominance in Iraq, but was fueled by fears of growing Iranian influence in Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. Saudi-owned newspapers like Asharq Alawsat, Al-Hayat, and Alarabiya TV are full of stories of Shia’s converting people from Sunni countries to their “faith”- as if there are certain rites of conversion from Sunnism to Shi’ism, as if Shi’as are not Moslems. The latter is probably what some actually believe.
Arab rulers have always instructed their ubiquitous censors to single out pro-Israeli, or just plain Jewish, works of media and art. Now they seem to have added works about the history and the faith of Shi'ism as subversive as well.

So far the offensive in this war of the media has come from the Sunni side, mainly Saudi religious leaders, as well as some of the media. A few reactive pot-shots are taken by some Shi’a media which cannot match, in terms of resources, the massive funds available to the other side.
Cheers & Happy New Year

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Gulf Financial Markets: Fundamentals vs. Conspiracy, Deutscher Zollverein in Arabia

Saudi Markets:
A report in the Saudi daily Okaz hints that foreign capital movements may be responsible for the consistent Saudi market decline. Others have come up with their own explanations, which include:
1)The authorities have started new trading and transparency measures at the wrong time. (Note: it is always the wrong time to start reforms and changes).
2)The poor quality of professional advice, and the low quality of media analyses.
3)This is the most interesting. An analyst and financial journalist claims that foreigners using Saudis as fronts are responsible for the market weakness. The report hints at dark conspiracies as part of a psychological war against the kingdom. It did not specify who these foreigners work for. Could it be the Zionists in Israel or the Shi’a mullahs in Iran? Or perhaps both. I can imagine some Wahabi/Salafi sheikhs scrambling to whip out their well-thumbed mass-market editions of that venerable best seller of the Tsarist Okhrana ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’.

Some have called for the activation of the Equilibrium Fund that was ordered by King Abdullah earlier this year, with the goal of maintaining market ‘stability’. Others urge that the country’s oil surpluses be invested in the domestic stock market. They claim that even the World Bank has recommended such measures. I am doubtful that the IBRD would recommend such steps, not unless it has been relocated from Washington to beautiful downtown Riyadh- which would require replacing Paul Wolfowitz for obvious reasons which we will not discuss in this age of the New Middle East.

GCC Currency and Customs:
Some reports indicate that Oman has opted out of a unified GCC Gulf currency because of failure to establish a customs union. A UAE official has pointed the finger at Saudi Arabia as the main force behind this failure. He claims that Saudi Arabian trade policies are highly protective, that it imposes extra tariffs of up to 15% on about 300 products, including steel and textiles, when the rate should not be more than 5%.
Another pint of contention is that Bahrain and Oman have signed agreements with the United States on lowering tariffs, something that is controversial to other members of the GCC.
It now looks almost certain that the Gulf currency union will be postponed beyond 2010.
Perhaps the potentates of the GCC, or at least their monetary and economic chiefs, should go back and take another look at the history of that old arrangement, the Deutscher Zollverein of about, oh, 150 years ago. They should learn some important lessons of the ABCs of customs and currency unions.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Arming The Gulf Arabs: War Among The Corrupt and the Bribed

Corruption in the Gulf:
A war of words has been raging among the Gulf Arab rulers and their media surrogates about corruption. It concentrates on Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and was triggered by the British Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigation of bribes paid over time to senior members to the Saudi royal family by BAE, a major arms manufacturer in connection with the huge, $84 billion, Al-Yamamah deal. The report was ignored by most 'moderate' Arab media, especially in the Persian Gulf states, but was reported extensively in Aljazeera, stationed in Qatar, as well as some Arab newspapers that are printed in Europe. Saudi-owned outlets, including offshore Saudi media giants such as Alarabiya TV, Alhayat and Ashaq Alawsat newspapers predictably declined to report.
British media agree that the government's recent decision to abort the investigation has saved a pending GBP 20 billion deal for 72 Eurofighter Typhoon jet fighters: the Saudis had brought immense pressure to end the investigation, threatening to cancel the contract. The Times of London reported today, in a typically British understatement, that "The SFO investigation is understood to have deeply embarrassed members of the Saudi royal family."
A British delegation was attending a United Nations conference on fighting corruption in Amman, denouncing sleaze and corruption 'wherever it can be found', when news broke out that the British government has decided to abandon the SFO inquiry into the bribery case 'in the interests of national security'. The Economist has a leader this week titled " Bribe Britannia".
(Q: are these huge payments of bribes tax deductible?)

The Saudis have countered with allegations of corruption and kickbacks among Qatari sheikhs. Given the tense diplomatic/foreign relations between the two countries, it was natural that the Saudi allegations picked the Qatari Foreign Minister as a target.
Nobody actually denies specific allegations of being corrupt, but each one tries to show that the other is corrupt as well, perhaps even more corrupt if at all possible. Most people in the Gulf GCC states are stoic about the whole thing: they know that corruption and kickbacks (often called commissions and paid to influential potentates, their children and their wives) are part of life in the oil era; just like death and taxes (the taxes would be in the West, of course).

Gulf Economics:
Saudi Arabia's finance Minister has finally said that it is possible that the unified GCC currency will not become a reality by the appointed date, 2010. Oman has already publicly opted to stay out, and this may have encouraged others to balk. It now looks like the currency plan will be postponed beyond 2010.

Iraqi and Arab media reports that former Minister of Electricity Ayham Al-Samarrai has escaped jail with the help of hired foreign security experts, alleged to be Americans. He was in prison on charges of corruption and embezzlement while he was minister under former prime Minister Ayad Allawi. Al-Samarrai is reported to hold dual U.S and Iraqi citizenships.

Presidnet Ahmadinejad has suffered a moderate defeat in local and council elections. In response, he went out and claimed again that his country is now a 'nuclear power'. (Who is his Karl Rove?)
University students in Tehran seem to be gearing up for some confrontation with him because of alleged meddling in university affairs. The United nations Security Council may be getting closer to an agreement on sanctions, probably a much weaker resolution than the United States and her Arab allies would like.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Late Changes in Iraq? Whip of Arabia, Moslem-Jewish HIV Cure

A New Strategery for Iraq?
One option under consideration is to increase the number of troops to a level sufficient to crush the insurgency and weaken the militias in Baghdad. But they are talking about 20,000 to 30,000 troops, and that is a far cry from the Powell Doctrine, and perhaps it is too little too late. Massive overwhelming force should have been used in 2003.

Saudis Crack the Whip:
U.S media reports (e.g. NY Times Dec 12, CNN) indicate that Saudi King Abdullah reprimanded Vice President Dick Cheney during his visit about a possible shift in U.S policy in Iraq. The newspapers also seemed to hint that Mr. Cheney was called to Riyadh.

So, let us get this straight: the most influential vice president in the history of the most powerful nation on earth was summoned to a dressing down by the aging absolute monarch of a kingdom with one foot in the 20th century and other foot in the 9th century.

The same media also report that the Saudis warned Cheney that they would intervene in Iraq if the U.S withdrew- something the Saudis denied earlier having threatened. They are also reported to have warned against a U.S rapprochement with Iran. A security advisor to the embassy in Washington and to the government, Nawaf Obaid, was even recently sacrificed because he foolishly said as much in an Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post last week (if he was fired because of the poor quality of the piece in the Post, then it was punishment well deserved). Now the Saudi Ambassador Prince Turki has resigned suddenly and left for, or going, home. Some reports claim that he has not been as effective as Bandar in gaining influnece in Washington, others claim that he might become the next foreign minister.

P.S: are the rumors (swirling in my head) true: that Prince Bandar will be brought back to Washington, not as a Saudi ambassador but as a part-time American National Security Adviser, a role Bob Woodward claimed he was performing anyway?

Iraqi media report that the White House had to intervene to control escalating tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iraq. This was in the aftermath of the reported Saudi intervention threats, and especially after declarations issued by 38 Saudi religious leaders that contained derogatory and inflammatory language against Shi’as and accused them of cooperating with the 'crusaders' in Iraq to put down Sunnis. And I thought these 'crusaders' launched their invasion of Iraq from Saudi Arabia (logistics, communications, and air), Kuwait (land and air), Qatar (planning, air and communications) and UAE, Bahrain, and Oman! Yesterday a Saudi offshore station reported that Abdulaziz Al-Shaikh, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia condemned the declarations of those religious leaders.

Saudis have promised that they will not support the insurgency/terrorism in Iraq as long as the United States forces remain in that country. On this matter: Iraq’s Finance Minister Jawad Bulani has complained at a conference in Bahrain last week that money flows to the terrorist Jihadists from ‘rich sources’ in the Gulf region, and that could not be , say Yemen, Sudan or Jordan. The Associated Press reports that many influential Saudis, including some princes, are funnelling millions of dollars to the insurgents in Iraq.

An Iraqi newspaper Al-Nahrain (Two Rivers) quotes from The Times of London that a meeting was arranged and held in Ayad Allawi's palace in Amman between terrorist/insurgent leaders and U.S officials, including ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. It claims that the meeting failed because the insurgents demanded thay they gain control of the military and security forces....just like in the good old Ba'athist days.
One thing about the Baker-Hamilton ISG report on Iraq: it has something for eveybody to hate- which probably means that it is not a bad report.

Iran Elections:
Reformists are trying for a comeback in the next municipal and regional elections in Tehran on Friday. The results will be a test of the strength of moderates who largely boycotted the last two elections. It will also be a test of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was elected on a platform of improving the economy, but got sidetracked by regional and international crises, some of it of his own making. Ahmadinejad’s sister is a candidate.

In Iran, the final say in most policy matters rests with the Supreme Leader- he can at least make life difficult for a president he disagrees with, as the last reformist president Mr. Khatami found out quickly.

Note to Tony Snow: If Iran was part of the Axis of Evil under the mild and moderate Khatami (circa 2002, just after it was reported to have helped with the Afghan incursion), then what is it now under the current definitely-no-so-mild and un-moderate president?

You Figure It out (Miscellaneous):
A study by the National Institute of Health (NIH) seems to confirm results reached earlier in South Africa: that male circumcision reduces the danger of contracting AIDS (HIV) by 50% in cases of heterosexual intercourse. I believe it is likely that Jews and Moslems have much less risk of HIV than other infidels, and not just because they (we) are too uptight about sex (Philip Roth's early novels notwithstanding).

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Gulf Finances, Yemeni Counter-Terrorism, Tehran Holocaust

GCC Finance:
London-based Al-Hayat quotes a report about financial markets in the Persian Gulf states that estimates market capitalization losses during 2006 have exceeded the combined GDP of these countries. The decline is estimated at about 160% of GDP. Now banks form about one third of total market value of the listed stocks, with telecommunications taking second place. SABIC, the huge Saudi petrochemical conglomerate, has lost about 66% of its market value. The report also claims that the markets are now close to bottoming out. The report claims that the GCC market losses were the largest in the history of emerging markets...that is, if these markets are indeed emerging from somewhere.
The report contains interesting data that should be confirmed- it claims that the UAE market losses reached 254% of the GDP, while for Saudi Arabia it was 170% of GDP. The losses were bad across the region, with the total reaching $ 907 billion (total GDP is estimated at $ 565.7 billion, presumably based on some average of oil prices for the year). The rerport also indicates that margin financing may have exacerbated the impact of market declines.

During the last GCC summit in Riyadh, Oman declared that it will not join the regional unified currency that is slated for 2010. It is now very likely that the project will be postponed.

Iraq Politics:
Iraqi newspapers, both Shi'a (al-Sabah) and Sunnni (Azzaman), and others in the region, report that a new parliamentary coalition might be formed in Iraq. The reports claim that this new alliance will consist of SCIRI of Abdulaziz al-Hakim (the Shi'a leader who met with Mr. Bush last week), the two main Kurdish parties, and the Iraq Islamic Party of Mr al-Hashimi, the Sunni vice president who will meet with President Bush soon. The reported goal is to patch together a new government to replace al-Maliki's cabinet and leave Muqtada al-Sadr out in the cold. Perhaps it will work, but is it wise at this stage to push al-Sadr completely out of politics, and back toward his renegade commanders on the ground?

Yemenis Use Marriage as Counter-terrorism:
In Yemen, authorities have revealed a novel way for dealing with their citizens who join terrorist organizations such as al-Qaida: they marry them off. The goal is to create an atmosphere of social stability that would keep them away from fundamentalist organizations. (And presumably divert some of their energies toward more....creative pursuits). The head of the Yemen Mukhabarat Secret Police has revealed the new plan, which can be called, perhaps somewhat unoriginally, 'Make Love not War'. He claims the plan has kept many young men from returning to their bro's bent on killing and mayhem. The Yemeni official did not elaborate on the sources of the brides, and how they get them together. Perhaps something like e-harmony in Arabia Felix...very felix indeed. Osama, let us see you come up with a counter-plan: perhaps you can get one of the shaikhs to issue a fatwa upping the number to 73.
Yemen seems to look at matrimony as a solution to many problems: last week it was revealed that they are testing a plan to marry off men and women who carry HIV to each other- not a bad plan come to think of it, provided that they do not create new offspring.

A new cabinet was formed in Bahrain or, rather, the old cabinet is back with a few new members. For the first time one of the deputy prime ministers is a Shi'a (Shiite). That this has made regional headline news tells you where things are coming from (Shi'as form over 70% of the population of the island nation). Twelve of the 23 ministers are from the ruling family, al-Khalifa, which gives them a nice majority if they ever need it. This is a tiny step. Now, perhaps something can be done about those neglected villages where Shi'as live in hovels.

Iran and the Holocaust:
The only places where doubts are still cast about the veracity of the Holocaust are in the Arab World and in the halls of the Iranian government. And perhaps in the deep dark recesses of some skinhead dens across Europe, both old and new.
Sixty researchers have started a conference on the whole thing in Tehran. Among the participants, all of them fringe elements from across the world, several of the prominent ones have served jail terms in Europe for anti-semetic activities. Iran's Foreign Minister said that 'the goal is not to prove or deny the holocaust, but to answer questions raised by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad', whatever they are. No indication if they will try to answer any questions raised by the man's statements about his own condition.
Iran's diminishing Jewish community has condemned the conference. The only Jewish member of the Iranian Parliament, Maurice Mutamedi, has said that the conference is an insult to all Jews around the world.
One thing about the little Iranian president: he sure knows how to win friends and influence people around the world. He can write his own book on the subject. Every time he opens his mouth he gets it in deeper. And speaking of which, reports say that he was heckled by students at Tehran University two days ago.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Iraq Against Baker-Hamilton, The Sectarian Side of Saudi Education

Iraq Again, Naturally:
New York Times 12/9/06 Reports: "Iraqi officials are near agreement on a national oil law that would give the central government the power to distribute current and future oil revenues to the provinces or regions, based on their population, Iraqi and American officials say. If enacted, the measure, drafted by a committee of politicians and ministers, could help resolve a highly divisive issue that has consistently blocked efforts to reconcile the country’s feuding ethnic and sectarian factions. Sunni Arabs, who lead the insurgency, have opposed the idea of regional autonomy for fear that they would be deprived of a fair share of the country’s oil wealth, which is concentrated in the Shiite south and Kurdish north. The Iraq Study Group report stressed that an oil law guaranteeing an equitable distribution of revenues was crucial to the process of national reconciliation, and thus to ending the war."

Anyone who expects an oil agreement to end the insurgency/terror campaign against Iraqi civilians must be commpletely ignorant of the Arab World and its sectarian passions, especially in Iraq and the Persian Gulf states where most of the money to fund the terror originates. Whoever heard of a bloody, fierce and genocidal insurgency being fought for oil revenues? Or for a couple of more cabinet posts (for the Sunnis in this case)? While sharing oil revenues among regions is important for long-term Iraqi stability, it is not as important for short term security and stabilization as Westerners hope. The terror war in Iraq is not waged for oil or cabinet positions: it is a war for rolling back the results of the U.S invasion and the Iraqi elections, and re-establishing Sunni hegemony. Except now a new Salafi Islamist element is thrown in as well, which further complicates matters.

On the other hand, Masoud Barzani, Persident of the Kurdish region, has strongly rejected the Baker-Hamilton idea of revising the Iraqi constitution- presumably with a view to watering down the enshrined regional autonomy rights. This is one issue that the Kurds and most Shi'as of Iraq probably agree on. The issue of Kirkuk is another point where the Kurds disagree, strongly, with the Baker-Hamilton conclusions. The Kurds do not want a referendum on the future status of the city postponed. They want Kirkuk as part of their autonomous region. President Talibani also accused Baker-Hamilton of treating Iraq as a 'colony'.

The Riyadh summit of GCC rulers called for an end to foreign intervention in Iraq, and by doing so, they intervened in Iraq. They also called for a joint peaceful nuclear program for the member countries.

In any case, Iraq is clearly on the cusp of a new era. This is comparable to the early 1920s, when Iraq was being patched together by the British occupation. Ultimately, the British opted to hand power to the Sunni minority, who seemed at the time quite pro-British. At the same time, the Arab region was undergoing other changes: The Kingdom of Najd was ruled by Abdulaziz al-Saud, who was already eying the eastern region (al-ahsaa') as well as Hashemite-ruled Hijaz. Jordan did not exist: TransJordan was a part of larger Palestine before the British decided to reward Prince Abdullah with his own desert kingdom. It looks increasingly likely that the eventual outcome for Iraq will be a loose federalist state composed of semi-autonomous regions. The eventuality of this outcome is strengthened with each mass suicide-killing, and with each sectarian genocide in Baghdad and its environs.

Shi'as (Shiites) in Saudi Arabia:
An article on the website of the Saudi-owned Alarabiya TV, written by Salih al-Turaiki, deals with the issue of discrimination against the minority Shi'as (Shiites) in Saudi Arabia. This is the first time that I know of the mainstream Saudi media dealing with this issue, albeit it is on a TV station that operates from outside the country. Saudi Shi'as concentrate in their ancestral homeland of al-Hasa (al-Ihsaa') along the oil-rich east coast, what is officially called the Eastern Region.
To give the reader an idea about the depth and range of discrimination, I have decided to translate whole portions of the article, while trying to preserve the nuances of the expressions used in the original Arabic. It starts by questioning the criteria and standards used for admissions at Saudi Universities and Colleges. This is a somewhat unusual article, trust me on this one- the italics are my own explanation or summary of some phrases:

"A high higher education official at the Najran region (Southern Arabia) commented on the criteria used to admit people to universities. She asserted that universities prevent many from obtaining higher degrees, mainly because the candidates came from an undesirable sect or from the wrong region. These particular applicants (presumably Shia's) are interviewed by special admissions committees, and usually they are asked questions that are not faced by others, questions unrelated to academia such as about their religious sects and about their opinions of certain people and current events.
"I remember when I was a (soccer) player, often some of my Shi'a (Shiite) friends in the Eastern region thought that I could mediate for them to be admitted at universities. When I tried to help them, many others would advise me not to bother, that I shouuld not use up goodwill and lose face in an endeavor where no one would help me. Whenever I asked someone to help a Shi'a friend, I met with almost legendary stories full of rumors, a natural thing when society and all doors are closed in one's face. All my attempts to help failed, even though each one of those Shi'as had scored 85% and more in their tests, much higher than what the universities required.
"Universites should make their own decisions about admissions, and should not let these decisions in the hands of committees whose members have absolute power (to discriminate). It is unjust and harmful to society to discriminate among citizens, and these attitudes were developed by the close-minded among us who were allowed to lead our society. I also know that tribalism played a role in determining who got admitted at universities.
We all see that the Middle East region is inflammable now, and now is the time we should unite and re-organize our society. The criteia for admissions to universities and jobs should be purely based on ability and performance, and not based on the sect and the tribe.
Societies are led by educated elites, and they are usually created by universities or they also teach at these universities.It is time for our universities to assume their role and lead society, and not the opposite whereby the universities allow the prejeduces of society to lead them. Our unoversities must be open to people of all sects and races......."


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Iraq and the Delusion of Reasonable Concessions. Yemeni Cure for HIV, and Jacob-ed in Arabia

The Arabs and ISG of Baker-Hamilton et al:
Arab media have been anticipating the ISG report on Iraq for days now, and most of them have considered it as some sort of admisson of American defeat. So does the Iranian media especially: perhaps this is part propaganda spin and part wishful thinking. The media of U. S allies are clearly unhappy with the anticipated report (already out today) because of its implications for regional security and for the feared role it might allow for Iran. Some of the normally anti-American media, pan-Arabs as well as Fundamentalists, seek a pan-Arab or Islamist arrangement to fill the expected regional 'power vacuum'- and fast, before the Iranian mullahs and their allies do that. Of course there is no Arab consencus on what to do about Iraq, and there is no legitimate avenue for direct outside intervention by autocrats in a country with an elected government, one of two elected governments in the Arab World. The foreign ministers meeting at Cairo this week called for disarming the militias, but did not condemn the Salafi-Ba'athist terror campaign that has pushed most Iraqis toward tolerating these violent militias. They condemned foreign intervention in Iraq, but did not propose anything tangible to improve life in that country.

There has been much talk of concessions to the 'insurgents' in Iraq: but does anyone really believe that the Jihadists and Ba'athists are fighting to secure a couple of more ministerial positions in the Iraqi cabinet for the Sunnis??? Has a terror/insurgent campaign ever been fought with that kind of limited goal? Can anyone be that naive??
Of course all this talk of withdrawal is a delusion- there will be no power vacuum: most influential American politicians are not foolish enough to abandon the Middle East to its fate. The simple reason is that the Middle East, especially the Arab part of it, has not yet shown any ability to manage its own affairs.

The King of Bahrain has appointed the unelected half of the legislature. Of the 40 appointees, 20 are Sunnis, 18 are Shi'as. The most interesting are the last two members: one Jewish woman and one Christian woman. Jews served in the legislatures of Iraq and Egypt in the old monarchic days, up to the 1940s or early 1950s when these countries had large Jewish populations. Iran's parliament still has a seat reserved for Jews (and one for Christians), Ahmadinejad's anti-Israeli and anti-semitic diatribes notwithstanding. Perhaps we will see seats reserved for a Jew and a christian in a future legislature in Riyadh?

Yemen Cures HIV:
The head of a university in Yemen has claimed that he has discovered a cure for HIV-Aids. Al-Jazeera reported yesterday that Shaikh al-Zindani has called on the United Nations, world organizations and othjer interested parties to send representatives to learn the secrets of this new cure, which is purported to take days to cure the disease. Could it be 'qat????

Saudis do a Rachel-Leah Switch on their Jacob:
A Saudi man had a 'Jacob' done on him, as in switching Leah for Rachel. The man wanted to get married, but in Saudi society girls are under the Bur'qa'a and cannot be seen by other men, at least not while they are in the country. As is customary the man sent his mother around, looking for a wife. One family introduced her to their pretty daughter, and claimed she was available. It was agreed, and the wedding took place. Now, the man could not tell what his wife looked like before the wedding- he had never seen her. The mother could: she had seen her, and the daughter in-law after consummation looked quite different from the daughter in-law pre-concummation. The attractive girl, who is married with children, was used to get her much-less-attractive sister married. Now the man and his mother are demanding the right to return the merchandise back to the family, except that it has been unwrapped and used. They are also demanding the return of the exorbitant dowry he paid her family, and that her sister be prosecuted for impersonation and fraud.
History can repeat itself.


Thursday, November 30, 2006

Saudis Threaten War- An Infidel Legion, But no Beau Geste

Saudis Threaten War:
A ranking advisor to the Saudi government has threatened, in an article in the Washington Post no less (Nov. 30), that his country might intervene in Iraq in the event of an American withdrawal. The author, a Mr. Nawaf Obaid, started by extolling the wisdom of Saudi royal officials, from King Abdullah, to the Prince Foreign Minister to Prince Turkey the Ambassador to Washington. He then stated abruptly that if the U.S withdraws from Iraq, then “the first consequence will be massive Saudi intervention to stop Iranian-backed Shiite militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis.” The ’Iranian-backed’ adjective was no doubt thrown in for the benefit of American readers. Then the article, clearly not up to the usual standards of The Post, reads like a propaganda piece in a local Saudi newspaper.
The author also claimed that Saudi Arabia can afford to increase oil supply greatly and strangle support for the militias. Yet a few years ago, partly because oil prices were low, the Saudi regime was considered in peril. It still is not out of trouble. He argues that the Kingdom ‘can cut oil prices in half’, and still finance its current spending, and presumably still be able to allow the thousands of royal princelings and other potentates to live in their accustomed style.
Perhaps the Saudis, when they intervene in Iraq, will make sure that they will have enough boots (or is it Najdi sandals?) on the ground. Perhaps upward of , oh say 350,00 to 400,000 troops, if such numbers can be rounded up. Or, perhaps they can do the usual and hire expatriates for such a dangerous mission: something that we can call 'The Infidel Legion'.
Whatever happened to the idea of a $12 billion security fence? Won't it hamper the Saudi blitzkrieg, no doubt led by another general or field marshall prince, across the desert into the Shi'a-infested southern Iraq?

Oops, AhmadiNejad Does it Again:
Iran's unique (?) president cannot seem to let well enough alone. Just as it looked like he might escape internationl censure and sanctions, the occasinally incoherent leader has sent another letter to the United States, advising changes in foreign policy. Mr. Nejad clearly believes that his earlier rantings against Israel have gained him support on the Arab street- so he has come back for more. That is the misfortune of those who have to listen to or read these lengthy statements.


Monday, November 27, 2006

A Tentative Three-Pronged Peace Offensive in Iraq, Arab Leaders Fete a Terror Supporter

Iraq’s Arab neighbors have been gradually inching away from the elected but embattled regime in that country. Initially, countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Persian Gulf states were going through the motion of recognition and diplomatic relations, mainly to satisfy the American protector, or aid-donor in some cases. Now, these governments, having smelled blood both in Iraq and at the U.S ballot box earlier this November, seem to be backtracking both on their professed move to democracy and in helping stabilize Iraq.
The clearest example came this past week, when several Arab states, including Persian Gulf states, Egypt, and Jordan, received Shaikh Harith Al-Dhari, en extremist Sunni ‘cleric’ who leads what is called ‘The Association of Muslim Scholars’, a group that has refused to join the political process and supports ‘the resistance’ in Iraq, i.e. the random killing of civilian Iraqis and American soldiers by terrorists.

A few days ago the Secretary General of the Arab League, Mr. Amr Moussa, met in Cairo with Shaikh Al-Dhari, who is wanted by the Iraqi authorities for questioning. The Arab League never meets with political opponents of Arab regimes- it has never met with Saudi, Bahraini, Egyptian, or other Arab opposition groups. Yet it has elevated Shaikh Al-Dhari by granting him a publicized meeting. The King of Jordan met with Al-Dhari yesterday, then warned of 'civil wars' in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. Mamoun Fendi, an adviser reputed to be close to Saudi King Abdullah, also warned Monday of these same expected civil wars. Meanwhile, an editorial extolling the virtues of this shaikh has been making the rounds in the Gulf newspapers- another step toward rehabilitation.

Predictably, reactions in the Arab capitals to the carnage that slaughtered over 200 Shi’as in Sadr city were noticeably mute, but they picked up steam and noise after the uncontrollable Shi’a militias went on their own ill-advised rampage of vengeful sectarian attacks. Arab states rightly worry about the growing Iranian influence in Iraq, but this week, just as they have done for three years, they were silent about the terrorist-jihadist bombings in Baghdad. Perhaps sides are being selected in what some expect to be a decisive phase of Iraq’s ongoing civil non-war.

As Mr. Al-Maliki gets ready to meet President Bush in Amman (looks like it is on, for now), Iraq's president Talibani is heading to Iran Monday to discuss the same issues. Perhaps Vice President Cheney met with Saudi leaders last week to discuss the very same issues. So, Mr. Talibani (the Kurd) will be the messenger between Iran and the US, Mr. Al-Maliki (the Shi'a) will play the same role, but coming from the other direction, geographically, that is. It is not clear how Mr. Cheny fits into this, perhaps he is the third side of a tri-lateral exchange. Perhaps he went to Riyadh to give the Saudis a heads up on some bad news, or some good news. The plot thickens.

Bahrain Elections:
The (mainly Shi'a) opposition has won a majority of the legislative elections in Bahrain this week. But don't hold your breath in awe\: the elections are for only half the legislature- the king appoints the other half, all of them. The deck of cards is stacked.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Suspicious Killing in Lebanon, Gulf Currency, British-Saudi Arms Deal and Kicbacks

Is Syria being Framed in Lebanon?:
Do you believe in coincidences? On November 17, four days ago, Mr. Sameer G'ag'a (Gaagaa), a Lebanese militia leader allied with the government of Mr. Siniora warned that cabinet ministers might be assassinated in an attempt to destabilize the government of Mr. Siniora. He was implying the Hezbullah and pro-Syrian agents might undertake such attempts. Today, four days after that statement, low and behold, a cabiner minister was assassinated and another escaped the same fate. Most fingers, as expected, pointed toward Syria and her allies. It is possible that Syria's allies and agents were involved...but things just look too convenient. The assassination occurs at a time when Washington and the West in general is seeking to engage Syria on Iraq and other issues. Would Syria be so foolish as to endanger her new 'rehabilitaion'? It is possible- Arab leaders are not always known for their wisdom- but one just wonders about the timing. Remember Don Corleone's warning against believing in coincidences.

Gulf Currency Delayed:
The Gulf GCC states had agreed to issue a unified currancy for the six member states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE) by 2010. Now the media report that there are differences. Some Kuwaiti, Saudi, and Omani officials have already hinted at disagreements and possible delays in introducing the currency. There seem to be disagreement on the name of the currency: most likely the Kuwaits and Bahrainis like it ot called the Dinar, the Saudis, Qataris, and Omanis like the Riyal (or Rial), the UAE probably likes the Dirham. I wonder if they realize that all these names are either of pagan origin (the Dinar and Dirham) or Christian kaffir origins (the Riyal or Rial). The Dinar 's origins are Roman- the Dinarius was the currency of ancient Rome- while the Real (Royal) is Spanish and Catholic to boot. Of course, there is always the Shekel to fall back on, and it was used by some venerable old Prophets....

There is apparently some disaggreement on whether each state will have its own version (issue) of the Gulf currency, or if it should be all indistinguishable. The former does not make any sense in a currency union, which in turn does not make any sense unless it is a monetary union, which also makes no sense unless there is serious coordination of monetary and fiscal policies.

Saudi Slush Fund:
The British media report that the Serious Fraud Office has been investigating allegations of systematic corruption in international arms deals by Britain's largest arms company, BAE Systems.The Guardian reports that the SFO has also been investigating illegal secret arms-deal commissions involving members of the Saudi royal family. Apparently the BAE, the Defense Department and the Saudis were not aware that investigators were closing in, until recently. Swiss authorities have notified two Arabs that investigators are seeking access to their accounts. The BAE has retained lawyers and the Saudis deny any worngdoing. Apparently the investigation might endanger Al-YAmamah 3, a new multibillion pound instalment of BAE warplabe sales to the Saudis. The newspaper reports that the Saudis have threatened to break diplomatic relations and stop anti-terror cooperation if the investigation proceeds.
The Guardian claims to have seen official British documents proving that the Saudi royal family gets information from MI6 about the situation inside Iran. The Guardian had earlier claimed that the BAE runs a 'Saudi slush fund" and uses an offshore conduit, Red Diamond, to make secret overseas payments. The newpaper claims that one Whitehall document quotes a Britidh ambassador as having reported that the family of Crown Prince Sultan "had a corrupt interest in all contracts".

Uneven and Cruel Justice:
Last week a destitute Asian woman (39 years old) was sentenced by a three judge Saudi Arabian court to death by stoning. Funny how those sentenced to cruel death are always the poor, mostly the expatriates from the third world. The woman had been married to an older Saudi man, and had 3 children by him. After he died 3 years ago they became destitute (in a rich oil country), and lived on charity.
The woman had sought to remarry, but could not because in Saudi Arabia she needs the approval of a male relative to marry. She has no male relatives in Saudi Arabia, therefore no marriage. Nature took its course, an unfortunate thing to happpen to the unfortunate ones in Arabia, and she got pregnant. She gave birth at a clinic which promptly reported her to the police. The court claims that she confessed to sinning (in a country that has no sins) and that she refuses to appeal her sentence, that she wants to be executed, 'in order to purify herself' and go to paradise. (It would be a long jump, from hell to paradise).

Friday, November 17, 2006

Iraq and Democrats, Persian Gulf Fences, Mideast Molotov

Democrats and the War:
The Democratic control of both houses of Congress will mean a gradually reduced role for the Unites States in Iraq. It will also mean that the likelihood of war with Iran has receded even farther. That war was always an extremely remote possibility, the warmongering noises among some of the Persian Gulf media notwithstanding. One Kuwaiti tabloid, Alseyassah, claimed somewhat hopefully on its front page on Thursday that the United States has made a decision to attack Iran- it did not make clear if the decision was post-Rumsfeld's resignation or ante the same.
There is still the likelihood of economic sanctions and even a much less likely blockade. The longest example of economic sanctions in our time has clearly failed to achieve its targets: the U.S sanctions aginst Cuba, which did not weaken Castro. The main effect of the U.S sanctions on Cuba has been to transform Miami and make it a more diversified, more lively place. It also acquainted us with the probably exaggerated discreet charms of the Marielitos, thanks to Jimmy Carter's ill-advised throwing of verbal gauntlets and Castro's penchant for practical jokes. Castro has been in power for 48 years under sanctions. Saddam Hussein under sanctions would have died in office, and succeeded by one of his sons or a crony.

Iran's Nuclear Issue:
Iran's Ahmadinejad stated yesterday that his country will be 'fully nuclear' within a few months, whatever that means. The assertion quickly shifted some of the attention in Washington away from politics and toward the Middle East, mainly the Persian Gulf region, particularly across the Shatt al-Arab waterway. Oil prices rose today since his statement reminded traders of economic sanctions and a possible oil supply cutoff, and also because data showed that U.S fuel inventories fell. Now the ball is in Kim Jong Il's court again: he surely will feel the need to make a statement of some kind to reclaim world attention that was righfully his before the little Iranian upstart hit the world stage.

Good Fences and Good Neighbors in the Gulf:
Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef said that his country will start building its security fence along the border with Iraq next year. It will stretch about 900 kilometers and is aimed at 'keeping Islamic extremists from entering Saudi Arabia'. Perhaps it will also work the other way, keeping Jihadist terrorists and, more important, the oil money from flowing into Iraq and strenghtening the terrorists?
The wall is part of a $12 billion plan that will take up to six years to finish, and is expected to secure the border. The Kingdom is clearly worried about the potential of a civil war in Iraq and possible spillover across the border. I wonder who will get this lucrative building contract and, more important in good Persian Gulf tradition, which potentate is their local representative/agent/dealer?
And to think that Saudi Arabia signed a non-aggression pact with Iraq early in 1990- but then so did Stalin sign a non-aggression pact with Hitler- ok, Ribbentrop-Molotov get the credit for that one. In those same days Egypt-Jordan-Yemen were talked into entering an alliance dominated by Saddam- basically an alliance of Arab have-nots.

Others are now toying with the idea of security fences also, including little Kuwait which has been a target of aggressive moves by various Iraqi regimes since before its independence. The last time was when the Ba'ath claimed that it wanted to 'liberate' Jerusalem via Kuwait in 1990- the rest of that is history that is still unfolding in a bloody fashion.
(It also looks like the idea of a U.S-Mexico fence is dead now, if it ever had a chance: remember, the Maginot Line never lived up to its billing, nor did the Bar-Lev line).

Lebanon is two opposing camps again, with Amal and Hizbullah (both Shi'a) , the President of the Republic (Christian), the Speaker of Parliament, General Michele Oun (Christian) and a few other smaller groups one one side. Most other political parties are on the other side. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and President Emile Lahoud have both called the cabinet now unconstitutional. Unfortunately for the country, given that the Shi'as form the largest group, probably after the Maronites, it looks like there will be either a new Prime Minister or a de facto internal cantonization. Not a good situation for the international peace-keeping forces to find themselves in right now.


Monday, November 13, 2006

Bin Ladin's Women, Salafi 'Facilities', Lebanon

Political tensions in Lebanon intensified. Shi’a ministers and some of their allies have resigned from the cabinet, and the Prime Minister refused to accept their resignations, but he made sure that they remain ‘resigned’ by calling a cabinet meeting that approved a controversial measure about the Harirri assassination. The move has probably doomed the Siniora government, since the Shi’a parties, and a few others, will now refuse to remain in his government. The President of Lebanon, who is by tradition a Christian Maronite, also refused to attend the cabinet session and called the cabinet measure ‘unconstitutional’. Al-Manar TV, run by Hizbullah, said that ‘the pitcher has broken’ between the two sides in the cabinet, which in Lebanese means that they have reached the point of no return.

Thus the stage is set in Lebanon for a new clash between two sides that also represent regional powers by proxy. While one side basically represents the political leanings of the Iran-Syria axis, the other side represents the leanings of Saudi Arabia and her allies and by extension is seen to represent the United States and the West. It looks like Lebanon might be going back to its bad old form of the 1970s and 1980s, when regional and foreign powers moved political events through their proxies.

In Iraq, groups representing Chaldians, Assyrians, and other Christians have asked that they have a semi-autonomous enclave and that it become part of Iraqi Kurdistan. These groups probably foresee an uncertain future, caught between fundamentalist Sunnis beholden to Al-Qaeda Jihadist terrorists and Fundamentalist Shi’as beholden to the militias. The Kurdish region looks attractive by comparison.

Bin Ladin’s Love Life:
A former close associate of Osama Bin Ladin, the Yemeni Rashad M. Sa’eed, has provided Alarabiya TV with glimpses into the Al-Qaeda leader’s love life. He claims that all Bin Ladin’s wives are usually with him in Afghanistan (in Pakistan now), except for his Syrian wife Najwa who travels to her home country each year, and that includes his Yemeni wife. Bin Ladin has divorced one of his Saudi wives because she refused to join him and remained in Arabia. This means that he has four wives at this time, i.e. he is fully occupied now since the faith allows only four wives at one time. This also means, in the delicate lingo used by Salafi Fundamentalists for such delicate matters, that his 'facilities are not kept idle'. He is not even a quarter eligible. It is still not clear whether he is always ready when the moment is right- if that was the case then perhaps Eli Lilly would have him in their commercials.

The man claims that Bin Ladin trusted him sufficiently to send him to Yemen to find him a new wife, his fifth one, which he did successfully and had her shipped to Afghanistn in 2000. Sounds like an Arabian Miles Standish bit on board the Mayflower. He also says that Osama was not a very sexual person and did not over-marry. He claims that two of the wives are already past 50 years, which in Afghanistan/Pakistan would mean that they are way past it, but that he has not replaced them (it may be hard to replace two wives while on the run). He says that Osama had a large house in Kandahar for all his wives, each with a suite of rooms and a kitchen, and that he took turns ‘visiting with’ his wives each day of the week. He denied reports that Osama had a love relation with a Sudanese poet(ess), or that he was sexually interested in a ‘western’ singer, (some western media had reported that he had the hots for Whitney Houston).

Sa’eed also claims that Al-Qaeda has trained women to be active as support and technical personnel and that they are also trained to fight in self-defense. This last assertion is especially highly unlikely to be true. However, if they wish they can get some shailkh to issue a fatwa allowing such training.
He also said that Osama did not suffer from kidney disease, was not homesick, and that he is quite healthy. Oh, and he also missed his mother.


Saturday, November 11, 2006

Gulf Markets Weaker, Islamic Caliphate in Iraq, Chianti in Rome, and Burning DC

Saudi Market Meltdown:
On Saturday Nov. 11 the Saudi stock market continued its decline, and lost about Riyal 6 billion in market value. The market index lost about 5% for the day, to close barely above 8000, the lowest level of almost two years. At some point the index briefly broke through that psychological level. The President of the Saudi Market Authority (the equivalent of the SEC and the NYSE) claimed the decline was unjustified and did not reflect the ‘strength of the Saudi economy’. Dr. al-Tuweijri was appointed early this year after the sack of his predecessor because the market was ‘inexplicably’ declining. He contended in an interview that the Saudi market is ‘oversold’, a risky thing for an overseer to say about the market. Traders grasped at his statement and invited the government to put its money where its mouth is and start purchasing these cheap ‘oversold’ Saudi shares.

Other analysts claimed that the behavior of the market is a a catastrophic mystery, and an enigma, but they did not say what it is wrapped in. Some have said that the market is ‘out of control’, beyond the influence of the Authority or the Ministry of Finance. A leading economist claims that the market requires intervention by a ‘higher authority’: they mean the King and not divine intervention. Traders and ‘investors’ seem frustrated that the Saudi market has lost 60% of its value even as the overall economy, led by the petroleum sector, has been growing (in nominal terms). Now all eyes are looking at the ‘Palace’ to do something- the problem is that a palace, even the Saudi ‘Palace’, can artificially lift the market only temporarily through politically ‘inspired’ measures. This was done earlier this year in Saudi Arabia, on order of the King, but its positive effects did not last.
In Kuwait, the market followed the Saudi lead and declined sharply for the day. Traders attributed the decline to profit taking and the effects of the Saudi market decline. The Kuwait market has also been plagued with serious issues of lack of transparency and questionable financial disclosure by listed companies.
At the end of the day, all GCC markets declined, but none nearly as deeply as the Saudi market.

ALfayhaa TV, Iraqi owned and operated but stationed in Dubai, reports that U.S military leaders are re-assessing their strategy in Iraq. Meanwhile Iraqi President Jalal Talibani said that the Democrats, victorious in recent congressional elections, will not push for an early withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

Abu Hamzaa al-Muhajjir (his last name, meaning immigrant, indicates that he is supposed to be from outside Iraq), has issued a comment on the U.S elections. Clearly he watches the American media, for he used the term ‘lame duck’ in his statement. He accused President Bush (he called him the fool) of spreading the influnce of the Persian Magian (Magii) Empire over Iraq. He also urged true believers to be patient, and promised that the Jihad will not end until they ‘reach the olive trees of Rome’, and that would be after they blow up the ‘filthy house they call the White House’. He did, however, not promise free Chianti to true believers once they get to Rome. He also said that the first stage of the Jihad has ended and that they have started a new stage whereby they put down the ‘first brick in building the Islamic Caliphate’.

The Sunni Tawafuq leaders threatened to pull out of the 'political process' and resort to force of arms if they do not get what they want.....more power as a prelude to regaining the total power they lost in 2003.

The political crisis started last summer with the Hezbullah-Israel war has deepened suddenly. Hezbullah and Amal movements, the major Shi’a political organizations in Lebanon, have announced the withdrawal of their five ministers from the Lebanese government. This should doom the current cabinet of Mr. Siniora, whom the Shi’as want replaced with a government of ‘national unity’. Prime Minister Siniora has refused to ‘accept the resignations’, whatever that means. on Monday, the Lebanese cabinet met, minus seven ministers and the pro-Syrian president, and approved a document on the Hariri murder investigation. This is considered an escalation by the Shi'a groups and their allies and it probably spells the end of the current government.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Reactions to U.S Elections, Arab Views of De-Rumsfeld-ification and Re-Ba'athification, Wedding Night Blues

Victorious Jews?:
Quote from (Nov. 8, 2006), the website of the Saudi-owned satellite TV station:
"American Jews celebrated the victories of the largest number of their people to reach the U.S Congress in history. The number of Jews in the Senate increased by two, while the number of Jewish representatives increased by four. Jews now total 43 in both houses of Congress....... It is known that Nancy Pelosi, the prospective Speaker, has strong ties to pro-Israeli Jewish groups. She even lives in the Bay Area, not far from Amy Friedkin, her close friend and former president of AIPAC. " Is this a smoking gun or what?
The station did not specify where these Jewish celebrations took place, and I could not find any information on the web. Their worry is undestandable, though, from their viewers' point of view: today 43, tomorrow.......535? The station is noted for the appearances in interviews over the past two years of top U.S officials, the very top officials.
An interesting question: who keeps records of such details? And how do they know who is what?

Recall the Ba'athists:
Editor of the Saudi-owned Asharq Alawsat (Middle East) has welcomed the departure of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, probably the only bright thread he sees in the Democratic sweep of the elections yesterday. He calls (Nov. 9, 2006) for moves by the U.S to re-institute the old Iraqi army and Security Services in order to 'break Iraq away from Iran'. The editor argues that building institutions is more important at this stage than voting. He does not say who would build these institutions and how they are selected for this task. There were many solid institutions under the Ba'ath, including several security services, numerous political prisons, scattered mass graves- but they did not keep the country stable because it got into several major wars within twenty years, and ended up being invaded and ravaged three times. Initiating wars of aggression against neighbors is one sure sign of unstable institutions.
About this editor's proposal to recall the old, very dead, army and security services: is this a call for re-Ba'athification or de-Rumsfeldification? Or is it a desire for de-Shia-fication? What about the North? Will it be de-Kurdified?

Iraqi Reaction:
Azzaman daily published mostly from London by some of the old Sunni political elites (the secular pan-Arabists who dominated the country) welcomed the departure of Rumsfeld, and called heartily for the punishment of 'those collaborators he brought with him' and gave power to. Azzaman did not mention the three elections that brought some of those people to power.
Assabah, closer to the government in Iraq, did not comment on Rumsfeld's departure.
The Iraqi press did however carry reports of a possible change of ambassador to Baghdad. Other Arab media also speculated about replacing Khalilzad, a Sunni, with whom some in the ruling coalition do not get along.

A Little Cheer:
A Saudi man discovered on his wedding night that his bride was not a virgin- it turns out that she had been married briefly (civil marriage) to a man who had recently divorced her by mumbling the mandatory 'I divorce thee' three times. The latest is demanding that she be jailed and that he get back the dowry he paid for her. Another man, an Arab expatriate in Mecca, is also suing his bride for 'lack of virginity' on their wedding night. He is also suing for divorce and return of dowry (sans interest, of course). Perhaps they emphasized safe sex rather than teaching abstinence at her school district. The husband says that he is devastated and has left his family home and checked into a hotel, presumably in Saudi Arabia, to recuperate. In his case a knowledgeable scholar, no not a frat boy, noted that it would be hard to ascertain when if the virginity was lost before or during the wedding night- apparently the bride is contesting the groom's assertion.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

GCC Markets Anemic, Fundamentalists Celebrate in Tehran, Saddam Sentenced

Gulf Markets Tank:
The Saudi market continued its sharp decline that started the week on Saturday (Nov. 4), the first trading day of the week. The market index today broke 8500, its lowest level of two years (last recorded on January 2005). The index closed the day at 8427.22. The decline has been across the board, with few exceptions. Some traders claim that large funds are dumping ‘quality’ shares that are normally part of their core investments, and these include telecoms, industrials and financials. Among the new measures demanded by traders are easing rules for margin lending, as well as activating the role of market makers. Others attribute part of the decline to the delay by some listed companies of implementing new accounting and disclosure requirements of the Exchange Authority that were initiated on January 2006. Most traders and investors seemed stunned by the continued decline, and some have started to predict possible dire consequences on the loan portfolios of banking system. It is likely now that all new public offerings (IPOs) will be halted or severely curtailed. Other GCC markets also declined in recent weeks, but they improved sightly Wednesday.

Fundamentalist Fiesta in Tehran:
In Tehran a few thousand demonstrators, led by some Iranian politicians, mullahs, and other such exciting personalities, recently commemorated the 1979 storming and hostage-taking at the old United States embassy. The fundamentalists who rule Iran apparently consider that diplomat-napping one of the major achievements of the revolution. If there are other major achievements of the Islamic Revolution over the past 27 years, they must be well hidden and kept as state secrets, for they are not apparent to most others, and they are especially not apparent to the Iranian people. To cap the festivities, some mullahs and demonstrators burned the American and Israeli flags, as well as some unflattering effigies of President Bush. It is understood that the American and Israeli flags are now the second and third most popular flags in Iran, after the national colors of course. It is reported that the same two flags are also quite popular in certain regions of Pakistan as well. In the end the revelers in Tehran all sang a rendition of the mullahs’ all-time favorite hit “Marq bar Amrika, Marg bar Israel..…Death to America, death to Israel.” The Iranian and Arab media, however, did not report if they sang it to the tune of Auld Lang Syne.

Saddam Sentenced in Baghdad:
Saddam Husseim was sentenced to death today. Kurdish towns were quietly relieved, Shia' towns erupted in celebrations, and Sunni towns erupted in angry protests. Looks like a very regional and con-federalist set of reactions.



Sunday, October 29, 2006

GCC Monetary Union: (Heathen Roots?), Coup Plot in Iraq

(The Face of Agony & Misery)

Gulf Monetary Union:
GCC monetary authorities are meeting in
Abu Dhabi this week.Among the topics of discussion will be the plan for monetary union between member states. This will be based on the European example, with a central Monetary Authority based on the ECB. Leaders of the GCC had agreed in 2001 to aim for monetary union by January 2010. It is not clear whether the real implications of monetary union are understood by the political leaders, or whether the finance and economic officials understand them to a degree that they can explain what they entail to the leadership- provided that they have the gumption to do so. It is not clear if broad and serious policy coordination steps are being take to make it possible to achieve the union by 2010. Recently some officials have been backtracking about the likelihood of meeting the deadline. GCC officials claim that the union will eliminate the costs of currency conversion and ‘increase trade between members’. Does this mean they will export more petroleum and natural gas to each other?

The issue of a unified currency was first discussed in 1975, long before the GCC was formed- it was originally discussed only between Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, and Qatar. That was before Saudi Arabia came to be considered a 'Gulf' country. Studies were commissioned by some well-known international economists of the time, foremost among them Robert Mundell who prepared the first study in 1975-76 and later won the Nobel Prize (definitely not for that paper). Later, with the inclusion of Oman and Saudi Arabia, currency unification was dropped. At one point in the 1970s even Iraq was included in monetary consultations among Gulf Arab countries, although some of the members resented that. Oman used to be a pariah among the pan-Arabists of the time who dominated the Kuwait foreign ministry for decades (until the Iraq invasion of 1990), because the Sultan was involved in a mini civil war against some guerrillas and had enlisted British and Iranian (under the Shah) help.

It is also not clear what this new currency will be called. The problem in this age of fundamentalism, actually petro-fundamentalism because that is what has been fueling it, is that all national currencies have foreign kaffir (that is heathen to most of you) names. The Dinar (Kuwait and Bahrain) has pagan roots, since it comes from the ancient Roman Dinarius, used over two thousand years ago, since before Christ and before Caesar. The Riyal or Rial (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman) comes from the Spanish 'Real' meaning Royal. So will we use a currency named for Fernando and Ysabel, the conquerors of Grenada- perhaps the very Catholic currency of the distasteful Torquemada who dreamed of oro of los Indios in this world and heavenly edification in the other? As for the Dirham (UAE), it is most likely named after the old Greek Draxma. But don't tell the fundamentalists what they probably know, because if you do, then they might have to do something about it. Some of them probably believe that these currency names came with the scripture.

Iraqi Coup Report (Again):
London-based has Alhayat published a report by one of its columnists about the rumors of a coup in Iraq. The report (10/29/06) says that even though these rumors have been discounted publicly, they are in fact taken seriously within American research centers, among the security agencies, policy advisers and among ‘decision makers’ in Washington. Presumably the initial rumors were spread by U.S agencies as trial balloons, with the possibility of implementing them by suspending the (Iraqi) constitution, dissolving parliament, dismissing the government, and declaring emergency law. Discussion within the ‘Green Zone’ has now gone beyond the ‘if and how’ and it now centers on the persons who will be the front for this coup. US and British troops will defend the new regime against opponents- perhaps they will do a better job than they have been doing so far. The new mantra will be ‘security and stability’ instead of ‘democracy and freedom’. Does this ring a recent bell?

This coup plan includes measures to crush the expected opposition, mostly from the majority Shia’s who stand to lose the most. It also includes plots to assassinate some leaders who are expected to cause the most trouble after the coup. The new regime will be called a government of ‘National Salvation’- not very original, but telling. It is claimed that the Baker-Hamilton group has emphasized the importance of ‘security and stability’ as well- that is, post-coup stability. The report claims that this explains the increased ‘flirting’ as it is called, recently between U.S authorities in Iraq and the Sunni terrorist/insurgent groups. The leaders of the coup will be some high-ranking officers of the old ‘Ba’ath’ military, many of whom have established close relations with the U.S intelligence services and with several neighboring autocratic Arab regimes.

However, the report cautions that Iraqi military units might respond to a coup by siding with their respective sectarian sides, which would effectively mean a classic civil war. The report says that the U.S administration is mainly concerned with extricating itself from Iraq soon, and that some Iraqi politicians (has beens) are encouraging a coup as the only means for them to have a leading role in Iraq again. On the other hand, this will be considered a betrayal by the Coalition of the values and principles that were used to justify the invasion, post-invasion.

Back in Iraq:
Looks like Prime Minister al-Maliki has finally had his inevitable confrontation with U.S ambassador in Baghdad, during which he said that he is a friend of the US but that he is not 'the United States's man in Iraq'. Al-Maliki apparently is as frustrated with the Americans over there as they are with him, and has complained about the confusing array of American commands (military and civilian) that he has to deal with- it is confusing even to most American experts. Reading Bob Woodward's 'State of Denial' is helpful in understanding the roots and the degree of confusion of United States policy 'inside' Iraq, and why it is even more confusing to al-Maliki and other Iraqi officials. Now the Prime Minister and President Bush have agreed to form a team of four high ranking officials to sort things out.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Gulf Finance & Politics, Rafsanjani's Last Tango, Dysfunctional Iraq

GCC Finance & Politics:
A report by the Dubai National Bank warns of a looming serious debt crisis for the middle classes in the Gulf oil states- that would be a serious problem of non-performing loans for the region’s banks. The Kuwaiti banking system went through two such crises, mostly related to stock market speculation and crashes, and the government had to step in and bail out the banks through bailing out the individual and corporate debtors. The Kuwait government had to bail out the banks during 1970s, and again during the 1980s when it ended up owning controlling shares of most of the companies in the country. It had to step in again after the Iraqi invasion in 1990-1991. In a phrase that is purely deja vue, the Dubai report warns that the quality of bank assets in the GCC, including the UAE, could deteriorate noticeably by 2007 or 2008. As asset prices have declined, many borrowers may be unable to pay off their loans, which would put severe pressure on the banks’ loan provisions.

The media in Kuwait is already talking about the specter of a new stock market crisis, as the losses of the local investment companies in the stock market have reached near one billion Kuwaiti Dinar this year (Alqabas: 10/28/06). The front page of Alwatan, whose owners may have their own axe to grind in personal disputes with a major merchant family that also operates the rival Alqabas newspaper, has compared the current situation to a new 'Manakh crisis'- that was when the market crashed in 1982 (Alwatan: October 28). This is part of an ongoing rivalry and political dispute between various political and financial heavy-weights in Kuwait. This dispute dates back to political disagreements and some major financial scandals extending from the early 1980s through the early 1990s, involving the ministries of Finance and Oil.

In Saudi Arabia, the stock exchange will start a new system of one-session trading every day. Under the old system there were two trading sessions each day: one in the morning and one in the evening. This is seen by some as one way to reduce the level of speculation and trading losses by inexperienced civil servants and students who spent their evenings trading (there are not many other known evening diversions in Saudi Arabia). One very likely result of the change would be for government civil servants to skip some work hours during the day and head for the market- this in itself might actually improve the performance of the state bureaucracy by keeping some of them away from their offices.

Meanwhile, the media war continues between Saudi Arabian outlets and little neighboring Qatar, but it is mostly a one-sided war, initiated by the Saudis against Qatar and her policies. Qatar has been the maverick of the Persian Gulf region for some years now, as well as a thorn in the side of the Saudi government. It is hard to classify the country other than a maverick because it has for years rejected the Saudi claim and obvious sense of entitlement to leadership of the GCC. It is home to the most popular and most controversial Arab TV station, Aljazeera, as well as home of the US Central Command regional HQ. It probably has the largest natural gas reserves among Arab countries. It also has the only Israeli 'trade' office in Doha, and Israeli foreign minister Tsipi Livni will make her first visit of the Gulf to Doha next week. Qatar is sort of like France was under General De Gaulle, independent but keeping one foot in the alliance. In fact it is like France is today under whoever occupies the Elysee Palace.

Iran Accused in Argentina:
Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, former Iranian President and still an influential figure in the clerical regime, is in some trouble- or he can be if he ever leaves Iran to travel to the West. The degree of trouble he will be in varies directly with how close he gets to Argentina- if he ever sets foot in Buenos Aires he will be up the proverbial fecal creek. Two Argentine prosecutors have asked that Rafsanjani and other Iranian officials be arrested for a bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires in 1994 that killed 85 people. At the time Rafsanjani was president of Iran. The prosecutors claim that the Iranians recruited Hizballah to do the job. Hizballah does not normally have a geographic interest beyond Lebanon and Israel. In any case, it looks like no more tangos for that ayatollah.

Iraq Dysfunctional:
Muqtada al-Sadr has warned against violence committed by some renegades among his followers, and said that the incidents that occurred between some of his followers and the government forces were the result of ‘disobedience of orders’.

In an interview with Reuters, P.M. al-Maliki of Iraq discounted reports that the US was considering replacing him, and said that would be against the stated American goal of allowing Iraqis the 'freedom of choice'. He also complained that: “As Prime Minister I am the Commander in Chief or the armed forces, but I cannot move a single brigade without getting approval from the Coalition (U.S) because of United Nations authorization (?)” He also said he approves of the attempt to arrest the Sadrist leader Abu Dir’a who was responsible for some sectarian killings, but he objected to the violent method used because it could lead to undoing a compromise reached with al-Sadr.

Northern Iraq should heat up within the next few months. Already the Sunni Fundies have declared it part of their Emirate (apparently they need some oil fields to make it look like a real Arab Emirate). The Kurds and others are bracing for a referendum in December 2007 on whether Kirkuk will join the Kurdish autonomous region- right now it looks like it will vote to join Kurdistan. The Fundies in al-Anbar are certain to escalate and shift some of their efforts north, since they will want to preserve their declared Emirate intact. The Kurds already have some problems with the central government over their oil contracts.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Iraq Coup Rumor, Proselytizing Shi'as, Worried Wahabis

Rumors of a Tabloid Coup:
A Kuwaiti tabloid, alseyassah, claimed again Tuesday that 'reliable Iraqi and Arab sources' (oxymoron?) have revealed to it that the United States and Gulf GCC countries are coordinating toward a military coup that would overthrow the elected Iraqi government. Al-Siyassah, close to some fringe elements in the country's political circles, is not known for its reliable reporting. The tabloid claims that the Ba'ath Party has been contacted through Arab governments and offered a role in the new Iraqi regime. The report claims that the coup will be a joint American-Iraqi effort that would lead to dissolving the parliament and suspending the constitution- and no more New Middle East, birth pangs and all. The paper claims that the governments of Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt have been consulted- not a very good way to keep such a secret plot....secret. Three generals a Sunni, a Shi'a, and a Kurd (cute) are slated to run the country.
Versions of this plan have been repeated in the same newpaper in different forms over the past three months- it is noteworthy that few other media outlets have treated these reports seriously. Apparently the authorities in the four accused Arab countries do not take this report seriously enough to deny it- perhaps they are not good at dissembling.

The Saudi Drums of Sectarianism:
The tightly-controlled Saudi media continues to beat the drums of sectarian conflict in the Arab World. They are now talking as if Iraq is already a lost cause, taken over by Shi'ism and Kurds. They seem to be worried about holding the next line of defense, wherever that might be.
London-based Saudi daily Asharqalawsat reports in a column by an editor of Alarabiya TV, also Saudi-owned, about the dangers posed by the spread of Shi'ism in the Arab World. The report claims that even the Moslem Brotherhood, long nursed by the Saudis in the days when Nasser of Egypt was persecuting the fundamentalist group, has been infiltrated by Shi'ism. The report complains that some venerable Egyptisn media outlets have also been infiltrated by Shi'ism. It is beginning to sound like The Invasion of The Body Snatchers all over again, the older b/w version. The writer argues that this proselytizing is dangerous and unacceptable for some vague reason. Interesting insight. Then again, if this is the case......what about Riyadh? Will we see Shi'a houses of worship as well as churches and synogagues in Riyadh soon? Will we still continue to see Wahabi mosques built in Europe and America, and new converts?

A high-ranking Saudi theologian and thinker, a paid official of the state (they all are), a Sheikh Dr. Salman al-Ouda (aka Suleiman or just plain Shlomo) has warned of the spread of Shi'ism in mainly Sunni Arab countries.
( Sheikh Dr. Ouda the cheerful chap in the pic)

He has said that this is a dangerous phenomenon that is unacceptable (mass lobotomy may be in order here) and that it has spread through some dastardly sneaky methods, including financial incentives. He also told Aljazeera TV that the American occupiers have used the Shi'as in Iraq to destroy the Sunnis, and that they, the Americans, are now trying to create conflict among the people. He also condemned the spread of Shi'a mosques and Husseiniyah houses of worship in many countries like Syria and Palestine. The sheikh did not, however, claim that children's blood are being drunk in secret rites or that water wells are being poisoned- not yet, but stay tuned.

Unrepentant Hamas and Iran Echo Each Other in the Wilderness:
Hamas Foreign Minister has finally settled all doubts about the possibility of peace. He repeated the hardline position of Iran's Ahmadinejad, that Israel is an 'alien body' in the Middle East, claiming that it has no religious, cultural, or historical legitimacy. He claimed that his group seeks a Palestine that will spread from the 'Mediterranean to the River Jordan'. This will definitely not endear him to most of the world, but perhaps it will win him the next elections that are now looming- he is lucky that the 5-6 million Jews of the area he claims will not be voting in the next Palestinian elections. Perhaps he sees the writing on the wall and has decided to go down fighting.
Ahmadinejad had delivered his newest anti-Israeli wisdom after a long silence while world attention was focused on petulant little Kim Jong Il. Perhaps he missed the limelight of his days in New York. But the Iranian president is a close second to Kim, and trying hard, literally coming in from the outside. Yesterday he claimed that his country has increased her nuclear 'capability' tenfold within the past year. His problem, and that of Iran, is that his country is not stuck somewhere on the northeastern edges of Asia. It is in the middle of the world's main supply of petroleum.

New News:
Israel has announced that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni will visit Doha to attend a conference on democracy. This is quite a development in the Gulf region, and it is a sign of the times that it does not to shock anyone. Perhaps Sheikh Dr. al-Ouda in nearby Riyadh (the pic above) will agree to see her.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Sitting Ducks in Iraq, Saudi Succession, and How to Marry a Genie

Iraq Turns Grimmer:
Looks like it is time for someone to finally crack down in Iraq. This week al-Qaeda terrorists have paraded in Ramadi and other towns west and north of Baghdad, while the Sadrist Mahdi militias took over al-Amarah for a while. This is no good. Even in Vietnam, during thr worst days, militias could not parade with impunity in the cities- with the exception of the Tet Offensive- but at the time they did not parade, they fought and got salughtered, and still inched closer to winning the war.

Iraq will never stabilize as long as its government has no authority on the streets. This must be the message of General Abizaid's return to Washington yesterday. But this does not require a trip back to DC, so there must be something big afoot to resolve the security issue quickly. Otherwise there is no sense for the coalition troops to remain as sitting ducks, albeit well-armed sitting ducks, between warring sectarian factions. It is clear now that this is a war that is truly being fought in a half-assed fashion. Doing it this way only emboldens the enemies and sends a terrible message about American resolve to the peoples of the Middle East.
Perhaps later in November, after the political process has played out, when the only remaining unfinished things are the things that really matter.....

A meeting sponsored by the Orqanization of Islamic Conference (OIC) in Mecca has apparently reached agreement on an 'Accord' to stop the bloodshed and sectarian tensions in Iraq. The problem with this conference is that the main sources of bloodshed and sectarian conflict are not represented: Al-Qaeda, the Ba'ath, and Al-Sadr's Mahdi militias have not attended. The Sunni clans are still not convinced that they have lost their political supremacy- otehrwise they would eagerly accept federalism and autonomy. Ayatollah al-Sistani has not attended or sent a representative although he approved of the meeting. That could be because he is not part to any sectarian conflict or because he does not think the agreement will amount to a proverbial American hill of beans on the ground where it matters. If it is the latter then al-Sistani is absolutely right.

Saudi Arabia:
The Saudi ruling family is preparing for the inevitable. The King has issued a royal decree forming Hei'at al-Bei'a, or the Committee of Allegiance (as in pledging allegiance) for the selection of the Heir to the Throne in the future. That is, for the time after the direct sons of King Abulaziz Ibn Saud die off. They foresee, rightly, the possibility of rivalry and conflict within the family once the first line of heirs die off, something that has happened within other extended ruling families in the GCC. The commitee is composed of princes from the family.

Saudi Arabia-The Lighter Side:
Alarabiya TV reports that a Saudi businessman from Jeddah, that would be the Manhattan of Saudi Arabia, fell for a clever trickster. The man was promised an arranged marriage to a daughter of the King of the Jinns- that would be an actual flesh and blood King of all the jinns not Elvis from beyond. This man was clearly more interested in flesh than blood for he paid more than one million Saudi Riyals as dowry and finder's fees. He paid dearly for the chance of coupling with a princess of n-dimensions (n>3) or perhaps no dimensions (n=0). But he was also told that she would help him make over one billion during the first week of the homeymoon (did not disclose the location of the honeymoon). He was promised about ten billion within the first year.
Saudi media report a marked increase in these unusual cases of fraud and scams in recent months. A sociologist attributes this phenomenon to increased unemployment and the pervasive mentality of making a fast buck (that would be making a fast Riyal in this case). He also noted that many of the gangs that practice this type of fraud originate in Africa for some reason. Still, it takes two and there is one born every....


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Terrorism, The NFL and Microbrews

The Department of Homeland Security has notified the NFL of terrorist threats that are called 'not credible'. The purported threats involve dirty bombs at 7 venues where football games will be played next Sunday. Al-Qaeda and its affiliates are probably the only group that would contemplate such acts, and they are not the type that would give false warning, or any advance warning. They would rather have the 'events' speak for themselves. Besides Wolf Blitzer did not look like his hair was on fire when he delivered the news. So, this is most likely a concocted attempt to disrupt the games. Maybe some fundamentalist (not of the Moslem variety) would like all the hipflasks that keep people warm, up here in the Northwest and in other places, on a cold Sunday afternoon expropriated. Perhaps some Viking fan does not wish to see his team shellacked by the Seahawks at Qwest Field. Or perhaps it is a Raiders' fan whose heart can't handle a (0-6) record now that Matt Leinart has been edified as a bona fide Quarterback by outplaying Rex Grossman. I for one will sit back and enjoy the game. Unfortunately I could not get tickets for Qwest Field, so it will have to be from the discomfort of my den at home.

It is wise to take precautions in these cases, if only because there are groups that would love to be able to do just that, get dirty bombs- or even clean bombs (that is how desperate they are)- and blow them up in public. But the most likely dirty bombs next Sunday may be the mini ones produced by tens of thousands of screaming micro-brew-soaked spectators.

Mr. Bush and al-Sadr In Agreement

Defiance and Flirting in Iraq:
Aljazeera TV, by far the most popular Arab news outlet, quotes President Bush that the current violence in Iraq cannot be summarized simply as an insurgency encouraged or fed by Iran- although he said he was worried about Iranian interference in Iraq. The Iranian mullahs often claim that they are worried about American interference in Iraq as well. Bush said the enemy in Iraq is ‘more complex than that’, something that may surprise the folks at some U.S cable news networks. He also rejected the idea of three autonomous regions in Iraq, perhaps echoing regional worries that it is a prelude to partition. It is not clear what this rejection means on the ground. He did not mention the Kurdish fait accompli in the north, which seems to be thriving politically and economically, thank you very much.

In this position, the President finds himself among an odd mixed company, strange bedfellows, metaphorically speaking. These include first and foremost the troublesome anti-American Muqtada al-Sadr, often called a Shi’a firebrand in the media- his people in the parliament refused to support regionalism. They also include the many Sunni politicians who flirt with the insurgency publicly and perhaps go much farther with the insurgents privately. Arab governments, Iran and Turkey also profess strong support for a unified Iraq. Of course there is nothing sacred about a unified Iraq, anymore than was about a unified Yugoslavia or the Soviet Union, or Czechoslovakia (I was not sure I could still spell it), or the Austro-Hungarian state. Most of these strange regional bedfellows like Iran, Turkey and the Arab countries support a united Iraq based on calculations of their own national interests and especially the interests of their current governments.

Nevertheless, the Iraqi parliament last week went ahead and approved a law for autonomous regions within a federal system- which shows that they do not give a ripe fig what foreigners, all foreigners including their liberators, wish them to do in their own country. Which shows that even though many Iraqis may feel miserable, they also feel politically empowered, even with 130,000 foreign occupation troops. Which in itself says a lot about both the potential of the new Iraqi political system and about the occupying power itself.

On the Other Hand....:
Arab media reports that Jordan’s King recently released from prison two errant Islamist ‘elected’ members of parliament who had been kicked out of the legislature and jailed for giving condolences to the family of terrorist leader Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi after his death in Iraq. The two members and the Moslem Brotherhood are now petitioning the King to ‘re-instate’ them in parliament as well. Interesting, elected legislators are asking an un-elected king to reinstate them to the seats to which the people had elected them.
Now that is real executive power- almost unbridled executive power.

Monday, October 16, 2006

An Iraqi Emirate, Persian Gulf War of Words

Iraq- A Declaration of a new Islamic Emirate:
The Mujahideen Shoura Council, consisting of Al-Qaeda and some other Sunni insurgent groups, has announced the establishment of 'The Islamic Emirate in Iraq', to cover parts of northern Iraq as well as the western part which includes Al-anbar province. The new Emir was named as Abu Omar Al-Baghdadi, which is clearly a made-up name with strong implications that the man is a Sunni from Baghdad. No doubt he is a Sunni but he could be from anywhere, including Algeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or Jordan. The news and reports about these shadowy groups indicate that some former Iraqi military officers are allied with the Salafis and Ba’athists. A new name that crops up is Abu Osama Al-Iraqi, aka Khalid Othman, reported to be a former high officer of the Saddam-era armed forces.

On the other hand, it looks like tribal factors among the Sunnis are playing a strong role in exacerbating the inter-insurgent divisions now. It is not clear if the Coalition efforts have had a role in this shift, or if it is a natural outcome of events, given the strong tribal assabiya, the blind loyalty to the tribe and clan that is powerful and supercedes national identity in most Arab countries of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf. Some of the dissidents are criticizing the new leader of Al-Qaeda-Iraq for harming the Sunnis in their terrorist operations. Presumably some of the tribes have been angered that their own members are being killed and injured during indiscriminate operations in mixed neighborhoods.

The announcer of this new Emirate on the web vowed: “We swear by Allah to work and struggle (Jihad) in order to free the captives, lift injustice and tyranny off the Sunna people who are oppressed by the hateful Rawafidhia rejectionists (a term used for the Shi’as, who do not follow the Sunna orthodoxy) and the Crusader occupiers (guess who?).” The announcement condemns the Kurds (agents of Zionism) as well Shi’as (agents of Persian Safawis, a favorite term used by Ba’athists and Salafis for Shi’as). Speaking of which: Aljazeera TV reports the Iraqi government has announced the formation of a joint working team with Iran for ‘security coordination’ between the two countries. Presumably this will involve exchange of intelligence as well as anti-terrorism and border security. It was not reported if they will discuss the Shi'a militias that also plague Iraqi cities.

A New Persian Gulf War (of Words):
To understand the sectarian emotions that Iraq has unleashed in the Arab World, one needs only to look at recent political developments in the Persian Gulf region:

Fear of a continuation of majority rule in Iraq has already pushed many in the Gulf states toward urging an American-approved coup in Iraq- this is almost an oxymoron, any coup will have to be American-sanctioned. These rumors of a coup have been fed by leading Iraqi Sunni politicians and journalists who have established contacts in the GCC states. While most Americans would consider these rumors as absurd manifestations of certain Middle Eastern or Arab peculiarities, they are taken seriously in the Arab World, especially in the politically pre-adolescent Gulf region. In turn, these rumors feed the terrorist insurgency in Iraq, raising its hopes of a return to power.

Many of the elites in the Arab world, and especially in the Gulf, now believe that they were better off with Saddam in power in Baghdad. One can sense it from what is written in some of the media, either openly or between the lines. It is not often clearly expressed because most of these states would not want to irritate or embarrass the American protector, the only power that keeps the big bad regional wolves at bay. These feelings and worries are understandable, given the regional uncertainties unleashed in the aftermath of the fall of the Ba'ath, and given the history of Iraq with her neighbors.

In looking through some of the mainstream media outlets of the GCC countries, one would think that a hot Shi'a-Sunni civil war has already started on the shores of the Persian Gulf. This is especially the case with parts of the Saudi and Kuwaiti media. The website of Alarabiya TV, Saudi-owned but operating from Dubai, last week carried almost daily news reports about alleged mass conversions of Sunnis in Arab countries to the Shi'a sect. Fundamentalist Salafi deputies in Kuwait have accused the token Shi'a minister in the government of distributing pro-Shi'a literature to other cabinet members. Two Kuwait daily rightwing tabloids, al-Watan and al-Siyassah, have hinted at disloyalty among the Gulf Shi'as, as well as reporting that the Mufti of Syria, that country's leading Islamic Sunni scholar and arbiter, has been forced to convert to Shi'ism in order to keep his job. Now it is not known how one converts to Shi'ism or Sunnism, since there are no rites for conversion between sects in Islam. It has to do with how one thinks, what he believes and also on how he or she perceives certain old historical events in early Islam.

The oddest, and perhaps most amusing, report appeared in Al-watan (Oct. 15), where a regular daily columnist published an open letter to President Bush (Oct. 15) telling him that North Korea has developed nuclear weapons only because she fears a 'repeat of past American aggression', urging him to leave North Korea alone and attack Iran and Syria. He said these two countries tend to subvert citizens of Gulf countries. They probably do try to recruit agents in the area, perhaps try to win some hearts and minds, although I can't see how they can win any given the dismal economic and human rights performance of both countries. A piece of advice is in order here: this may not be considered a casus belli (he'll have to look this one up), not by the men and women who will have to do the fighting or their representatives, probably not even by those who will have to give the orders.

The Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) will hold a conference in Mecca to discuss peace in Iraq. A representative of Ayatollah Ali Sistani has publicly urged the conference to include an item discouraging the public use of sectarian language, especially among preachers at the mosques. Some extremist preachers periodically denounce the Shi'as publicly from the pulpit as heretics and encourage others to fight them- apparently the place to do just that is Iraq.

One positive result of these sectarian tensions, and the Iraq war, is that many domestic issues that were swept under the rug will have to be faced now. Still, these are things that can rock a boat, as they say.


Thursday, October 12, 2006

Iraq's Gruesome Insurance, Gulf Markets

Iraq, Syria and Israel:
Iraq's parliament has approved a law on 'Mechansims and Procedures for Forming Federal Regions'. Regionalism within a federal Iraq is supported by most Shi'as and Kurds who control the legislature. Sunnis, who had dominated the country since its creation by the British after WWI, oppose federalism and regionalism. This is a watershed step for Iraq, and perhaps for other unstable and too-centralized states in the Middle East and Africa.
Perhaps three people were instrumental in the creation of Iraq and its current borders and centralized form of government, as well as that of Jordan: Sir Winston Chrchill, Sir Percy Cox, and Miss Gertrude Bell (Ms did not exist at the time. Gloria Steinem was nowhere to be seen, and people were just getting used to saying 'tovarisch' in Russia in those days).

A gruesome sign of the terrible times in Iraq. London-based daily Alhayat reports (10/11) that some Iraqi men now resort to new measures that ensure that their corpses, or cadavers, can be identified in case they are kidnapped and murdered in this atmosphere of sectarian violence. Some men now tatoo their names on different parts of their bodies. Others add the names of family members and telephone numbers on their bodies. Iraqi families nowadays do not wait long after a member is overdue from an outing- they head to the Central Morgue as a first step, before trying detention centers operated by the Iraqi security forces or the U.S military. Tatoos have helped some families identify the mutilated and decomposed bodies of loved ones.

Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Perez has invited President Assad of Syria to visit Jerusalem and talk peace with Israeli leaders. It is highly unlikely that Assad will accept. Sort of like, 'I knew Anwar Sadat, Anwar Sadat was a friend of mine. You are no Anwar Sadat....etc'

Gulf Financial Markets:
Newsweek reports Qatar might try to host the 2016 Olympics. Qatar has the money to build the facilities and after the UAE is probably the only GCC country that could conceivably organize the event. But it does not have the population, not enough of them to pay for Olympic size tickets. Like other GCC states, the majority of the population are expatriate workers and housemaids, who can hardly afford the money or the time to watch international sports.

Kuwait officials are again talking about a future for the country as a world Financial and Trade Center. Both the Kuwaiti Finance Minister and Central Bank Governor have resumed public statements in this regard. So did the old Commerce Minister, among others. Come to think of it, even the Minister of Awqaf and Religious (Islamic) Affairs has talked about this issue at some point. Some Kuwaitis would jest that perhaps even the Nabat Poets Society (a local Bedouin Dead Poets' Society) have opined about this issue. But this is sort of like a deluded middle-aged spinster who still talks of getting married and having children. Except that a much more attractive and younger bride, the UAE in this case, especially Dubai, has taken the only eligible bachelor in town, and in an irrevocable Catholic (gasp) marriage, which allows for no polygamy. Besides, the powerful local Fun-dementa-lists of the Salafi variety do not have much use for monogamy.

Alhayat quotes a report by Abu Dhabi National Bank that the Saudi Stocks Index lost about 45% of its value during the period between February's high and September of 2006. Qatar lost 31.5%, UAE 30.8%, Kuwait 11.5%, Oman 11.7%, and Bahrain 1.7%. During the first 9 months of 2005, these markets achieved huge gains of between 19% (Bahrain) and 116% (Saudi Arabia). These periodic' moderate' corrections, following exuberant rises, are a good thing for the markets in the long term- except few individuals in the Gulf invest in the local market long-term.

Interesting Item(s):
African media report that a man and a woman were discovered having intercourse in a mosque in Nairobi (Kenya) one night last week during Ramadan. When arrested, the man claimed he did it because he was drunk.

Almost Deja Vue All Over Again:
For a few horrible minutes yesterday morning, hearing the news from sounded and looked like deja vue all over again...

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