Category Archives: Middle East

On Bushehr Nuclear Power, Zaroastrian and Royal Pagan Rites on my Gulf of Madness……..

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Iran has condemned the “negative” position of the Gulf GCC which had criticized the Iranian “provocations” toward some Arab states in the Gulf. The spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, Ramin Mehmanprast that the “regional policies of the Islamic Republic has always been one of mutual respect, good neighborliness, and noninterference……Regrettably some have waged a campaign against Iran…….. He considered that the GCC ministers expressing their deep worry about developments in the Iranian nuclear issue” an unnecessary thing……..

Okay: the “GCC” ministers have criticized Iran’s nuclear program, just as the new Bushehr plant is now providing electric power. The Iranians interpret the IAEA reports different from the way Western powers interpret them (the glass half-full vs. the glass half-empty syndrome). As for me, I have no idea if the glass is half-full or half-empty: there is an important difference, depending on which half is empty and which is full and taking into consideration one of Newton’s Laws. I do hope the Iranians are right and there will be no nuclear weapons in the Middle East (except in Israel), but I have my doubts on this issue. I would dread the prospect of a nuclear arms race between the mullahs in Tehran and the potentates in Abu Dhabi. I also wonder if mullahs would lie to us? In any case, nuclear technology has a logic of its own, sort of like when……..oh well, no sense getting obscene here.
What is

intriguing in this brief and ordinary report from a daily newspaper in my home town on my Gulf, is the unrelated picture and the caption it added to this report. This picture below is captioned with the words “Iranian Zaroastrians perform their religious rites at the Temple
of  Fire in Tehran”.
    Also sprach the mullahs?
To

foreign eyes it looks quite innocent, maybe even quaint and cute (as it does to me in fact in a different context). Now WTF does the photo have to do with the nuclear program? This is something that divisive semi-official Saudi media outlets like Alarabiya or Asharq Alawsat often publish, not a daily that claims some remnant of the old bygone pre-Salafi liberalism of my hometown. In the Gulf of Madness, such photo and caption only serve to fan flames and divisions these days. Before you know it, there will be retaliation: some Saudi princes will start bowing to al-Lat or Hubal of the good old pagan Jahiliya days, or some Egyptian expatriates who have gone native will start worshiping a Pharaoh again (that era may be over now but there are plenty of princes available). In this age of confessional and sectarian tensions stoked by irresponsible potentates and their retainers……………..
(I found the photo rather cute: men and women performing their common rites. WTF is wrong with that?)

Cheers
mhg



m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

United States of Paranoia? Imported Baggage, “Native” Baggage, Pakistani Beaver Hunters……………..

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Ten years after the 9/11 attacks, America’s Muslims have become the country’s internal enemy. Conservative forces have seized upon the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” as a rallying point. Amid all the hate, Americans have lost sight of the real problem: the fact that their country has become paranoid………. Indeed, Gabriel, who emigrated to the US years ago from Lebanon, is America’s siren on all things Islamophobic……… Gabriel’s position can be summarized as follows: The US is suffering from terminal cancer and is infected with rampant Islamist cells that are eating away at the country, its liberties and its constitution. “Our enemy,” writes Gabriel, “is not an organization of people living overseas plotting to attack. Our enemies are the neighbors next door, the doctors practicing in our hospitals, and the workers who share our lunch break. Our enemies are terrorists driven by a dangerous ideology and clothed in deception who operate under cover and laugh about the advantages our sensitivity training, gullibility, and political correctness give them.” Some 300,000 copies of Gabriel’s first book, which contains these sentences, have been distributed. TV stations now set aside ample airtime for her and her ideas. She has been invited to give presentations to US Senate committees, the FBI, the US Special Operations Command, the Joint Forces Staff College, the Republican Party, the Tea Party movement and Christian conferences…………….

This Lebanese right-wing chick represents the imported half of American paranoia. She arrives on these shores (well, lands at an airport) with more than one kind of baggage. We all do so, or most of us who arrive from our baggage-rich Middle East. We carry our racial, ethnic, sectarian, and historical prejudices and sometimes hatreds. Whether we come to settle, to study, to medicate, or just to visit. Most of us move on “into America”. Some of us hang on to the old baggage, urged on by ongoing events back home. You can see, hear, and read our baggage, our sectarian and confessional and ethnic prejudices, in our actions and our statements (and our blogs, like this one). That applies to many of us, to this lady and to me, but to different degrees. It seems she is re-fighting a lost Lebanese civil war, re-fighting a lost demographic war, living a Lebanon that did not exist for most Lebanese outside the capital region. But that was a war that also pitted Muslims against Muslims and Christians against Christians. It was a war of the warlords and before it ended it gave birth to Hezbollah.

Besides, there are many benefits to doing the right-wing talk and conference circuit: Sarah Palin isn’t doing bad on the circuit, nor is Glenn Beck and many others who peddle fear-mongering to simple worried folks. Fear-mongering is the gold rush of these people and they have discovered their own mother lode and are milking it for all its worth.

Remember
that old commercial for Salem cigarettes that said “You can take Salem out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of Salem”? We are like that Salem cigarette. Sometimes the baggage and the ghosts await a new generation to throw them in the dumpster.

(Okay,
that was our excuse, but what is behind all these crazy native Americans going paranoid? And I don’t mean “real” native Americans; just the new arrivals of the past three centuries. It takes many born natives to create this mad frenzy and fear by millions of a few hundred ragtag shaggy mountain men, dare I say beaver trappers, in the allied states of Pakistan and Afghanistan.)
Cheers
mhg



m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

Tony Blair Frustrated on Palestine, a Nobel Prize in WMD, Hamas or Fatah………

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“I totally understand the frustrations the Palestinians have. We are all frustrated in this situation. We want to see progress toward peace, toward the two-state solution,” Blair told Reuters Insider in an interview marking the 10th anniversary of the September 11 al Qaeda attacks on U.S. cities. “The problem is you have always got to say, well what happens the day after (a bid for U.N. recognition)?'” the former British prime minister said. “Any gestures that are done by way of unilateral declaration, they are expressions of frustration and they may be understandable for that reason but they don’t deliver a Palestinian state,” he said………

Tony Blair is consistent in his approach to the Israeli-Palestinian peace. He believes in a four track policy to achieving that peace: (1) keep him as the special envoy (btw: whose envoy is he?), (2) stop attempts at UN to declare a Palestinian State, (3) resume negotiations, and (4) start a war against the Iranian mullahs (wtf). I am not sure how another Western war in the Middle East will help the peace process, but Tony is strongly for it and often mentions it. Maybe because it pleases his Middle Eastern benefactors and friends, or maybe he has always had a love-hate, poodle-banshee relationship with George W. Bush and the American neoconservatives. Maybe it is a New Labor thing.
Tony has now joined the Western campaign to stop a United Nation action on a Palestinian state, although he doesn’t say at whose behest. I suspect Tony is also angling for a Nobel Prize (in Peace not in WMD). If the Palestinians, all of them, and the Israelis, all of them, reach a real peace deal, not a half-assed one like in the past two decades. Why, Tony will finally step out from the shadows of W, finally become his own poodle, so to speak.
But he won’t get it, even in the highly unlikely event of a peace deal between the Jewish fundamentalists of Likud and the Muslim fundamentalists of Palestine. (I bet some of you did not know that the PA of Fatah is on its way out, to be replaced with more Hamas types. It is an unfortunate byproduct of the current Arab turmoil. Not that I’ll miss the corrupt schmucks of Fatah anymore than I like the fundamentalist quasi-theocrats of Hams).

Cheers
mhg



m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

Iranians Protest for Water and the Environment ………….

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There have been several demonstration in Tabriz, in the province of Eastern Ajerbaijan, and in Orumieh in the province of Western Azerbaijan. The police have used tear gas and plastic bullets to disperse the demonstrators. According to unconfirmed reports, dozens of people have been injured or arrested. ………The reason for the demonstrations has been the rapid deterioration of Lake Orumieh, which has been drying up, fueling strong reaction from Azerbaijanis and environmentalists alike. Emergency legislation proposed pumping a large volume of water into the lake, but was voted down in the Majles, also prompting angry protests by the deputies from the two Azerbaijan provinces as well as other provinces in the area. Jamshid Ansari, a reformist deputy from Zanjan, said that addressing the problem of Lake Orumieh is a national problem, and if not addressed properly, 18 of Iran’s provinces will be negatively affected. Twenty-two Majles deputy have written a letter to Majles Speaker Ali Larijani stating that the government must take responsibility for the political, social, and economic consequences of Lake Orumieh’s deteriorating state..…………

A first in the Middle East, as far as I know: a protest that has to do with water and an environmental issue. This type of protest doesn’t get as much coverage outside Iran, mainly because it ‘supposedly’ doesn’t make a direct political point. But it does. It gives us a brief look into two serious future Middle East issues: water and the environment (and pollution). Many people, but not most are aware of the water issue. Hardly anybody worries about the environment.

Cheers
mhg



m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

The Real Battle for Iran and Arabia: Tribe and Nation and Islam……….

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The people of the ancient Persian Empire, which in 500 BC stretched from the Indus as far as Libya and the Black Sea, are believed to have celebrated the Persian New Year festival at Persepolis with their ruler. In recent years, modern Iranian families have also started to gather here to celebrate Nowruz, the festival that marks the start of spring, camping on the roadside for miles around. Some 100,000 people visit Persepolis every year. Twenty years ago it was around 8,000…….. “My son,” Darius wrote in his testament, “pray always to God, but never force anyone to follow your faith. Always bear in mind that all people should be free and may follow their own faith and conviction.”……. However, what is more significant than the bad economic situation is the lack of exciting new ideas, the inability of the clerical nomenklatura to propose new objectives, ones for which people would be prepared to be patient and make sacrifices. Instead, the orthodoxy is fighting a paralysing battle to maintain its hard-won position. One man has realised how dangerous this intellectual wasteland could be for the regime, and he has now become one of the figures most hated and feared by the conservatives: Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, President Ahmadinejad’s friend and chief of staff. Should a theocracy, of all forms of government, be permitted to rely solely on practical power – in this case, armed troops and the secret service – and do without spirituality and visions for the future? At present, the Green Movement is seen as representing people’s dreams of a better future, and the Sufis, who are also combated by the orthodoxy, as the locus of spirituality. Mashaei is feeling his way towards filling the ideological gap with a mixture of rationality and re-ideologisation. He has declared political Islam to be obsolete and its most important symbol, the hijab or veiling of the female body, to be a woman’s free decision. Statements like these are taboo……….

This is not just an Iranian issue, this dichotomy between ethnicity/nationalism and Islam. Islamists across the Middle East have been pushing the idea that “national” identity does not matter, that Islam rules supreme. It is almost a throwback to the European pre-nationalism days a few centuries ago. Yet in reality people identify themselves by other things first: nation, ethnicity, even tribe (as in Africa and Saudi Arabia). In some ‘special’ places like Lebanon people are identified by their faith and sect: Shi’a, Sunni, Maronite, Orthodox, Armenian, etc. Yet there are so many sects that people always identify themselves as Lebanese in the end, especially vis-à-vis the outside world. The ongoing Arab uprisings, from North Africa to the Gulf have tended to strengthen this “national” identity: be it Tunisian, Egyptian, Syrian, Bahraini, etc or just “Arab”. The revolutions of 2011 are called “Arab” revolutions all across the region, never the “Islamic” revolutions. The Iranian mullahs and Arab Salafis (of the Saudi school of thought) have tried to push an Islamic “identity” on the uprisings, each for their own purposes, but it is not working.
Iranians will always be Iranians first and Muslims (or Zaroastrians or Christians) afterwards. Egyptians will always be Egyptians first and Muslims or Copts afterwards. Saudis, somewhat like the Lebanese, are different: they still identify themselves with their individual tribes first, before being “Saudi” or even “Arab” or Muslim. Even the Taliban consider themselves Pushtun first, then Afghans, (or Pakistani?), then Muslims. Most, nay all, Salafis of the Gulf and Arabian Peninsula identify themselves with their tribes first, even as they outwardly push an “Islamist” agenda.
The issue may look somewhat different in Europe, with the growing racism and the difficulties of assimilation and the mosque becoming a spiritual and social refuge in “exile”. Besides, to use a cliche, all Muslims may look the same to many Europeans.
Cheers
mhg




m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

Fighting for Jordan: the GCC and America and Compelling Economics……

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Senior U.S. diplomats have been dropping by the royal palace in Amman almost every week this spring to convince Jordanian King Abdullah II that democratic reform is the best way to quell the protests against his rule. But another powerful ally also has been lobbying Abdullah — and wants him to ignore the Americans. Saudi Arabia is urging the Hashemite kingdom to stick to the kind of autocratic traditions that have kept the House of Saud secure for centuries, and Riyadh has been piling up gifts at Abdullah’s door to sell its point of view…….The quiet contest for Jordan is one sign of the rivalry that has erupted across the Middle East this year between Saudi Arabia and the United States, longtime allies that have been put on a collision course by the popular uprisings that have swept the region……..”

The King of Jordan may have no choice than to move toward a constitutional monarchy. The Arab Spring has touched Jordan, but not as much as many other Arab states. As I commented a few months ago: Jordan differs from, say, Syria in that it (Jordan) is a police state that does not look like a police state (Syria is a police state that does look like one). The Saudis will have to fully integrate Jordan into the GCC, allowing Jordanians full free access to Gulf employment, something that would greatly reduce economic and political pressure on the regime. But that may create problems with other source countries of labor: Pakistan, India, Egypt, etc. Besides, Gulf potentates usually prefer non-Arab labor because the Asians are not interested in regional politics. (Unemployment among native citizens is extremely high by any standards in several GCC countries including Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain: all double digit).
The truth is that Riyadh depends, will continue to depend, heavily on the USA, on American power and, especially, American weapons in its attempt to contain Iranian influence. Saudi hegemony in the GCC region is at least partly based on the sophisticated American weapons to which the massive Iranian military has no access. Instead, the Iranians rely heavily on their own arms industry.
Cheers
mhg




m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

Middle East Peace Index, War Index……………

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Peace indicators:
Level of organized conflict -Armed services personnel -Weapons imports -Military expenditure -Number of conflicts fought -Jailed population -Deaths from conflict (internal) -Potential for terriorist acts -Level of violent crime -Political instability -Military capability/sophistication -Disrespect for human rights -Number of homicides -UN Peacekeeping funding -Number of heavy weapons -Number of displaced people -Neighbouring country relations -Weapons exports -Deaths from conflict (external) -Violent demonstrations -Access to weapons -Perceived criminality in society -Security officers & police.

Middle East compared to others:

Iceland 1
Qatar 12 –  Kuwait 29 –   UAE 33 –   Oman 41 –   Morocco 58 –   Jordan 64-  Egypt 73 –   China 80 –    USA 82 –     Bangladesh 83 –    Congo 98   
Saudi Arabia 101-    Syria 116 –    Iran 119 –    Bahrain 123 –    Turkey 127 –   Algeria 129-  Mauritania 130 – 
Myanmar 133 –     India 135 –  
Lebanon 137 –      Yemen 138 –    Libya 143-     Israel 145 –
Pakistan 146 –    Afghanistan 150 –  
Sudan 151 –     Iraq 152 –      Somalia 153

Cheers
mhg


m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

Following Laika and Armstrong: Abu Dhabi and Iran Head Into Space………

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The world could soon see the first Emirati in space, as the Global Space and Satellite Forum 2011 (GSSF)focused on developing the regional space industry’s experts of the future. During the final day of GSSF, senior representatives from the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) delivered an interactive UAE Space Career and Exploration video uplink to a gathering of aspiring Emirati astronauts and space industry hopefuls. Dr Omar Al Emam, Voluntary Space Technology Advisor, Arab Science and Technology Foundation (ASTF), spoke about the work of the NASA Lunar Science Institute in California and the importance of hands-on space technology for the youth of the region..……..

Space exploration sure has come a long way. Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space. I believe Alan Shepard (?) was the first American in space, although Neil Armstrong is the most known. In addition to so many humans having gone into space, there are many of other species as well. The Soviet Union, the first country to invade space, sent the first dog and first human into orbit in space (not together). Laika, a dedicated communist whom some Russians suspected of being a secret Trotskyite, was the first dog and her name means “barker”, as in woof woof. The Americans also sent many animals over time. The most popular animals for sending into space were your nearest cousins the simians. Which makes sense.
The UAE is hoping to send an astronaut into space aboard an American spaceship. The Saudis sent one of their princes on an American mission during the 1980s. When the prince landed back on Earth safely he was asked what was the toughest task he faced in space, and his answer was typical “I had a hard time determining which way to face Mecca”. The prince was a pilot but apparently he was no scientist. I understand that he was never asked another question again.
Back to the United Arab Emirates: it is not clear who they will send if NASA agrees, some years down the road. Can it be another shaikh? I doubt that Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed al-Nahayn, ruler of Abu Dhabi will go: he is probably too old and looks rather lumpy. Shaikh Mohammed of Dubai looks too damn serious for anyone to be locked up with in a small spaceship. All the other Bin Zayed al-Nahayan don’t look any more cheerful for company. I was going to nominate their foreign minister Shaikh Abdullah Bin Zayed al-Nahayn, Metternich of Abu Dhabi, but then who will run the march of our world toward peace and democracy in his absence?
The Iranians have also been threatening to send a man into space during this decade. They already have some satellites up and will launch more this year or next. They have not announced yet whether their spaceman will be a mullah (cleric) or a ‘civilian’. Ahmadinejad will be out of office by that time, which may mean something in this context, or maybe not.
Cheers
mhg




m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

Shaikh Fatah and Prince Hamas and King Bibi of Palestine and the Gulf…

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Palestine to merge with GCC when liberated. The Palestinian government seeks support from the GCC countries to resolve their long-standing conflicts with Israel and wants to merge with the GCC bloc when liberated. Dr Khairi Al Oraidi, Ambassador of Palestine to the UAE., addressing the media on the occasion of the Nakba or catastrophe day at the embassy premises on Thursday, said: “I believe in the important role which the GCC countries have been playing in the region socially and politically.” So, if Palestine or any other country becomes part of the GCC countries, it will be a great support for them especially for the people of Palestine, the ambassador said. Palestinians mark Nakba Day to remember the 63rd anniversary of ‘Nakba’ or ‘catastrophe’, a term Palestinian refugees use to describe their expulsion from their homes and towns when Israel was created on occupied Palestinian 
territories in 1948……..”

Okay, this should run its course soon. First Jordan, then Morocco, and now Palestine-of-the-future. I do believe the GCC summit in Riyadh opened the door for this new #FunnyGCC laughter-fest, and deservedly so. Time to stop: we already look, and sound, like the idiots of the international community (for elaboration read my blog post of yesterday and other posts of earlier days). The GCC leadership, the secretary general, that close friend and retainer of the Bahrain regime, ought to hold a news conference and explain to the peoples of our region WTF the GCC leaders meant, if anything, with their strange statement about Morocco and Jordan. I joked in one of my tweets that Benjamin Netanyahu may apply as well, but afterwards I realized that he is not an Arab ruler. Netanyahu would have to get the approval of his Knesset and his people first. And he knows it, he is not a total schmuck (that would be Lieberman, both of them). Dommage.
Cheers
mhg




m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

Arab Press Freedom: Same Old, Same Old……….

     
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Freedom of the Press rankings (Freedom House):
I have my doubts about some of these rankings: for example I think Lebanon (109) has more press freedom than several countries that are listed above it. I am also not sure why the US (22) and UK (29) are ranked lower than some European countries. France is ranked 42. Bahrain (159) has no independent press anymore, and should now be at a lower level than Saudi Arabia (178) or Iran (188), closer to Libya. Saudi Arabia (178) should be lower after now because they just passed decrees and regulations that make a mockery of any concept of press freedom:

Finland (1)- Norway(2)-Sweden(3)……
Israel (62)
Lebanon (109)- Turkey (113)- Kuwait (127)- Algeria (138)
Jordan (142)- Egypt (147)- Qatar (148) – Iraq (151)
As for the rest of the Arab states? The less said the better.

Frankly, I am not sure wtf these rankings mean. In many Arab states the press knows a red line when it sees one and would not cross it. It is called censorship by silent intimidation. How do these rankings account for that?
Cheers
mhg

m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com