Tuesday, November 24, 2009

GCC Troubles Resurface: Issues of Sovereignty, Independence

The United Arab Emirates has formed a special federal council “Council of Border Affairs”, which means that relations with Saudi Arabia are set to get even more tense on the eve of the GCC summit in Kuwait in December. The measure comes after Riyadh stonewalled about making requested clarifications on certain border issues. The border has been an area of contention since before the UAE was formed. And there have been periodic flare-ups especially over the past year. Saudi Arabia has used trade pressures over the border and other issues, as when it blocked thousands of trade trucks from the UAE from crossing the border twice this year. Once this past summer the Saudis even rescinded a joint agreement that citizens of both countries can use their ID cards to travel across the border. That forced many UAE pilgrims to scramble to go to Riyadh in order to get new papers before they could go home. Some had to go back from the border area. It was a small and bullying type of behavior on the part of Saudi Arabia: it was also stupid because it did not endear them any more to the UAE citizens.

Another issue that rankles the Saudis is that the UAE has joined Oman in refusing to join the GCC Gulf common currency. The project is being postponed (as I expected on the site) and revised because the earlier studies were not sufficient and did not cover many economic and technical issues that are necessary to implement it. The UAE partly objected to the Saudis forcing through the selection of Riyadh as the venue for the future Gulf central bank.

The issue of sovereignty is even more important. Oman has always had an eye across the Arabian Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the Indian Ocean. My impression has always been, from interacting with them, that they were skeptic about deeper integration with the Gulf or the wider Arab world. Omanis are clearly worried now about Saudi hegemony, as is the UAE now. The Saudis have been acting as if Riyadh will be the capital of some form of a united Gulf, which raises serious political issues. For example, Kuwait has an electoral system that imposes certain checks and balances on the ruling family. There are no checks and balances in Saudi Arabia, the name of the country tells it all: it is “Saudi”, which means it belongs to the al-Saud. Politically there is no compatibility. This is not a group of democratic European countries seeking to integrate.

Look for independent Qatar to either withdraw from the common currency or to become even more active in asserting her independence. The Emir of Qatar followed the Sultan of Oman in visiting Tehran last week. He was followed this week by the Kuwaiti prime minister. The smaller states are reasserting their independence, and that is a good thing. The Iranian wolf may still be a wolf, but it is across the sea, not across a disputed border.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Gulf Arab “Intellectual” Opines, But Where are the Half-wits…………..

Kuwaiti “Liberal” writer Sami al-Nusuf called that Egypt become a monarchy again, with Gamal Mubarak crowned king. He said that will guarantee the stability of Egypt and the prosperity of her people…… He said that spain and Greece have gone back to the monarchy system and they have done well……… He also happened to say that Elaph was the best media outlet in the Arab world…..Elaph

Didn’t they call this same guy a “thinker” a few days ago? Now he is a mere “liberal writer”, demoted: which means they are on the right track, but not quite there yet. That “liberal” has got to go. How about “plutocrat”?

Greece never went back to a monarchy system.

Egypt has a king already, and he has screwed up his country real good for 28 years.

What was that old E F Hutton commercial? It can be rephrased: when half-wits talk, Arabs listen, especially in the absolute royal Saudi media………….

I tell you, he didn’t leave much for the rest of us half-wits .

More on this same later…..


On the Gulf: Plutocrats, Tribals, Islamists, et al…….

A political tug of war has been going on in Kuwait. It is essentially a struggle for power between an elected parliament and unelected plutocrats of the merchant families. It is also a struggle for the economic pie.

The plutocrats, the merchant families who control businesses and the media, are pushing for adoption of sweeping packages of major construction projects. They would get the contracts and the benefits from these contracts, and they are salivating at the prospect. This would not benefit the other classes much since the plutocrats usually import cheap labor from Asia and Egypt rather than hire locally. A plutocrat family usually has one or two of its sons manage a multitude of imported cheap labor and a few imported white-collars: that is how they run their businesses.

Parliament, now mostly representing tribal elements and middle to lower classes, is pushing, part of it is pushing, for direct support for the debt-ridden consumers, their voters, rather than to the business classes. They are holding up government projects that would benefit the plutocrats until the consumer issue is resolved.

The merchant classes used to be considered the “liberal” classes of Kuwait, but that was way back then. Now they are “liberal” in the sense that they support more opening of the economy and making it a competitor to places like Dubai. That also happens to benefit them mostly. But they have shifted away from their old “liberal” support for elected democracy in order to preserve the old political influence of their class. In the past few years they have pushed for reducing the number of electoral districts, with the goal of reducing the influence of tribal and Islamist elements. They got the districts reduced from 25 to only 5. Still, the tribal-Islamist alliance won. Now they are calling for making the whole country one single district. I doubt that will change things. Demographics are against the plutocrats. The old merchant families are few and they tend to intermarry among themselves, which does not make for a growing political base. Once the tribes discovered the joys and the power of the electoral process, the political goose of the plutocrats was cooked.

More recently the plutocrats have formed among themselves a Group of 26 that has sought to directly influence policy, through lobbying the ruling family. Some are hinting in their media of the need for suspending the constitution and allowing a period of “suspended democracy” in order to pass major legislation through an unelected cabinet. This has been picked up and eagerly adopted by the Saudi media, never supporters of electoral democracy in the Gulf region, or in the larger Arab region.

Kuwait went through two periods of suspended democracy, essentially unconstitutional rule. Both had disastrous consequences. They were characterized by major corruption scandals that did not come to light until after constitutional rule was restored and the media freed from censorship. The last one ended with the Iraqi invasion of 1990.

The goal this time will probably be an interregnum during which the electoral system can be changed. Most likely some will opt for the Bahraini solution, whereby the monarch appoints a second assembly of his choosing that would dilute the powers of the elected one. That appointed assembly will automatically be dominated by the plutocrats who cannot win many elections these days.

But how can the constitution be changed without the consent of an elected assembly? That in itself would be unconstitutional. Besides, suspending the constitution is unconstitutional, by definition.

A dilemma, n’est-ce pas?



Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Squared Shaikh, A Jihad is Declared, Heretics Denounced……..

“Mufti of Saudi Arabia declares soldiers at Yemen border in Jihad situation, calls Houtji thought based on fitna and prejudice. Shaikh Abdulaziz al-Alshaikh said the ideas of the Houthi (Shi’a) Yemeni rebels are perverted and rotten. He, Head of the Council of Major Ulema (Saudi Pope?) said that Islamic countries should reject their heretical ideology. He praised the security forces and soldiers………In an interview with the daily Okaz…..”

The old sheikh has had his marching orders: they all g them at some point. That is the price of hitching his wagon to the oligarchs.

The Houthis are a bit odd on their own: some say they have retro ideas and want the old Yemeni Imamate (monarchy restored). Funny: that sounds exactly like what the Saudis have right now.

But Shaikh al-Shaikh (mathematically he would be called Shaikh squared) is a direct descendant of Shaikh Mohammed Bin Abdul-Wahab, after whom the term Wahhabi is named. He was an ally of an early al-Saud prince in Najd. It was the first alliance between the ambitious theocrat and the ambitious clan sheikh, one that has lasted until today. He must not, however, be confused with the late Mohammed Abdelwahab, the talented Egyptian composer and singer who was not fundamentalist. I preferred the latter.

Friday, November 06, 2009

War of Israeli Falafel Flares, Arabs Eye Gefilte Fish and Yarmulke……..

“Israel steals Lebanese falafel and wins New Jersey prize. An Israeli company yesterday won the top prize in a New Jersey food exhibit with its newly packaged Falafel. Head of the Lebanese Manufacturers Association angrily made television rounds announcing he will send a letter those in charge of the exhibit protesting “the Zionist entity posing as international Falafel salesman….He promised a vigorous international campaign to regain the usurped glory of Lebanon and all Arabs…..” al-Manar TV (Hezbullah)

My two cents: I think it is another lost war. The Falafel is gone the way of East Jerusalem, the West bank, and the Golan. The Lebanese should give it up, that part of their past glory. Maybe they should have had Hezbullah run the Falafel campaign; they seem like the only Arabs who are able to best the Israelis in anything. Although I believe they would be beaten in a Falafel war.

My advice is to start encroaching on traditional Jewish food and call them “Lebanese”. But what would they call Gefilte Fish in Arabic? (געפֿילטע פֿיש, or דגים ממולאים)?

Or they can hit below the belt by usurping the yarmulke…….
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