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.

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