Category Archives: Middle East

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



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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




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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




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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


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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

Hamas and Bin Laden……………

     
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Al-Qaeda and other Salafis never cared about the Palestine issue, at least not publicly. Salafis are too obsessed with killing “the infidel” and with worshipping living, well-paying, kings to worry about the thorniest problem of our region. During the 2006 Israeli attack on Lebanon, al-Qaeda and other Salafis joined the absolute tribal Arab monarchs in siding, nearly openly, with the Israelis against the Lebanese.
Now Hamas, a somewhat milder, even gentler, fundamentalist organization, never a friend of al-Qaeda, comes out condemning the killing of the Salafi master terrorist and mass murderer. They sure know how to shoot themselves in the foot.
Cheers
mhg

m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

The Battle for Iran: the Arab Factor, La Marseillaise………….

     
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Que veut cette horde d’esclaves         What do they want this horde of slaves
De traîtres, de rois conjurés?                Of traitors and conspiratorial kings?
Pour qui ces ignobles entraves              For whom these vile chains
Ces fers dès longtemps préparés?           These long-prepared irons?
Français, pour nous, ah! quel outrage        Frenchmen, for us, ah! What outrage
Quels transports il doit exciter?                What methods must be taken?
C’est nous qu’on ose méditer                    It is us they dare plan
De rendre à l’antique esclavage!
             To return to the old slavery!……La Marseillaise

Iranian sources report that the dispute (s) between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the conservative clergy led by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei continues. Apparently Ahmadinejad has his supporters among some parliamentarians and within the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC). Two recent developments highlight this dispute: (1) the removal of Mr. Mashaie as chief of presidential staff and (2) the removal then reinstatement of the minister of intelligence. Mr. Mashaie is a suspect among the more conservative clergy and politicians: he has been accused of pushing Iranian nationalism and culture over the Islamic identity (probably a good election position among mullah-weary urban Iranians). The minister of intelligence (Mr. Moslehi) was forced to resign by Ahmadinejad but the more powerful Khamenei has reinstated him. Some exile media report that Ahmadinejad has been boycotting cabinet meetings since the reinstatement of Moslehi.
Mr. Mashaie is almost certainly the favorite choice of Ahmadinejad to run for president in 2013 when he has to step down. He will have a hard time now if he decides to run. He may get approval from the clergy to run, but his chances depend on who, if any, is running on the reform or ‘opposition’ side. It looks like that after the Khatemi experience and the 2009 election dispute, the senior clergy may vet potential candidates more carefully. That would insure the election of a conservative president but it would also increase the pressure among young Iranians yearning for change and more freedom.
A year or two ago, silent docile Arab peoples looked at the Iranians protesting in the streets and wondered: why not, why not us? Just as they did during the Iranian revolution in 1978-79. Now the Arabs are having their revolutions, with the reactionary Arab forces led by the al-Saud and their allies trying to stop and subvert them. Now the Iranians may start wondering as they look at the Arabs: why not, why not us, again?
Cheers
mhg

m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

My Disagreement with Ayatollah Khamenei………..

        
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Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said on Monday that there is no difference between the uprising against tyranny in Bahrain with other Arab countries such as Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia or Libya. The Leader, who was addressing a large group of people in Mashhad in the first day of Noruz (the Persian New Year), said this claim that Iran is supporting the Bahrainis because they are mostly Shia is absolutely false. Ayatollah Khamenei said Iran has been supporting the Sunni Muslims in Palestine over the past 32 years and this shows that Iran makes no difference between Shias and Sunnis. The Leader said those who are trying to interpret the Bahraini people’s uprising against despotism as the conflict between Shia and Sunni are in fact doing the “greatest service” to the United States. “Do not turn the anti-despotic movement of a nation into a Shia-Sunni problem,” Ayatollah Khamenei warned. “We will not make a differentiation between Gaza, Palestine, Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia,” the Leader asserted……..” Mehr News (Iran)

I don’t agree with Khamenei on many issues: the idea of Wilayat Faqih (rule of a supreme cleric), on theocracy, on secularism, on free speech, on the death penalty, and on many other issues.
But this one is different. Apparently Khamenei is pissed (putting it succinctly) that the vast Saudi official media dominating the Arab waves, and its surrogates in the Gulf states, are painting the Bahrain uprising as primarily a Shi’a-Sunni conflict. I happen to agree with Khamenei on this point, as do most Arabs, almost all Arabs, outside the sectarian-divided Gulf region. The rulers of Bahrain and their partners in Apartheid have been using this Shi’a-Sunni rift, enlarging it shamelessly for their own purpose, dividing the region and inflaming it. The Saudis and some other tame and controlled Gulf media have been aiding and abetting this shameful sectarian approach. On this one I agree with Khamenai, even though I disagree on many others.
Cheers
mhg

m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com