Posts Tagged ‘UK’

Facebook Has More Arab Members than All Arab Newspaper Readers Combined

May 25th, 2010 Comments off

A new report says that Facebook now has 15 million subscribers in the Arab world while all Arab newspapers — in Arabic, French and English combined — sell ony 14 million copies.

That link is to a BBC story. You can find the summary from Spot On Public Relations (a Dubai-based PR firm) here. The full report in PDF is here. (And yes, the PR firm is on Facebook.)

Some of their findings from their website:

MENA’s top five Facebook country markets, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, account for 70% of all users in the region.

50% of MENA Facebook users have selected their primary language for using Facebook as English, with 25% preferring French and just 23% Arabic.

Only 37% of Facebook users in MENA are female (compared with 56% in the USA and 52% in the UK). Only Bahrain and Lebanon Facebook communities approach gender equality with female users accounting for about 44% of total users.

The GCC has five million Facebook users, which Saudi Arabia and the UAE representing 45% and 31% of that total respectively.

North Africa has 7.7 million Facebook users, with Egypt accounting for 3.4 million users (or 44% of all North Africa users). Egypt has the largest Facebook community in MENA.

Francophone countries Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia together account for 3.7 million French speaking Facebook users, equivalent to nearly 25% of all MENA users.

As the BBC report notes, the study doesn’t go into how many of these users are using Facebook: political activisim gets a lot of attention but presumably there’s a lot of the same kind of social chatter we see in the West; the Middle Easterners I’m linked to on Facebook seem all over the place in what they post.

And of course, if you equate the sale of one copy of a newspaper with its having one reader, you’ve never been in a Middle Eastern coffeehouse.

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World’s Richest Heads of State

May 21st, 2010 Comments off

Via The Gulf Blog, a list of the world’s richest heads of state, derived from this article at The Independent, we find some surprises.

No, no Arab monarch tops the list. The King of Thailand is, to my surprise, first. The Sultan of Brunei is second, which is not a surprise: he basically rules an oilfield. Then comes the President of the UAE/Ruler of Abu Dhabi, not surprising in itself but ahead of the King of Saudi Arabia, which did surprise me.

Fifth, however, is Silvio Berlusconi. I knew he was very rich in Italian terms, but didn’t know that he was richer than most Gulf monarchs.

The Prince of Liechtenstein is sixth. Huh? Obviously due to Liechtenstein’s vast imperial outreach.

Seventh is Qatar, no surprise. Surprised it wasn’t higher.

Next they list Asaf Ali Zardari, leader of Pakistan, grieving widower of Benazir Bhutto. There are allegations of corruption. Really?

Ninth is Prince Albert of Monaco, who rakes in the take of Monte Carlo.

Tenth is the President of Chile? What’s going on there?

Eleventh, Sultan Qaboos of Oman.

Twelfth, the President of Equatorial Guinea. I think he lists his whole country as an asset.

Thirteenth, is the Queen of England, which shows how the mighty have fallen. The ruler of the UK is not as personally rich as the ruler of Equatorial Guinea, for crying out loud?

The Amir of Kuwait clocks in at 14th. The Ruler of Kuwait is not as rich as the ruler of Equatoral Guinea? Either he hides his assets better or Equatorial Guinea is emerging as a problem.

The rest: 15) Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands; 16) King Mswasi III of Swaziland; 17) Kevin Rudd, PM of Australia (through his wife’s inherited wealth); 18) John Key, New Zealand Prime Minister and rich from his previous career (why are to ANZACs so rich?); 19) Lee Myung-Bak, President of South Korea, who headed Hyundai before politics; and 10)

Okay you guess who number 20 is. If you get it right you might win something if I had any prizes or money!

Nothing so far, so I bid you good night.

And the 20th richest head of state is:

The President of Montenegro. What? I sincerely doubt one American in 1000 knows where Montenegro is. Of Milo Djukanovic , the source reports that “Mysteriously wealthy, he denies allegations that he was involved in a lucrative tobacco smuggling ring.”

That’s it for this topic.

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Egypt & Israel’s … ‘Security’ is complementing …

May 4th, 2010 Comments off

From OxFan [excerpts]

“…. Israel regards Egypt as an important partner, and their strategic and security cooperation is at its highest in years. Nevertheless, there are also points of tension, especially stemming from Israeli perceptions of Egyptian public opinion.
In the absence of full ‘normalisation’ in Israeli-Egyptian relations, Israel has become accustomed to a minimalistic interpretation of peace. Acknowledging limits on relations, it makes the most of military cooperation and a certain level of strategic partnership.

….. Israel regards Cairo’s role as important and complementary to its own interests, since both states share security interests vis-a-vis the Gaza strip and regional stability; and Egypt maintains significant, if declining, regional influence. ….. Israel considers Cairo’s influence on Hamas to have declined …to Israel’s benefit: during its December 2008-January 2009 offensive in Gaza, Egypt stood against Hamas, and it is currently building a wall along its border with Gaza. These policies provoke domestic dissent, but pro-Gaza Egyptian activism faces zero-tolerance security measures….
Israeli-Egyptian security cooperation includes information sharing and border control, particularly concerning smuggling of weapons, people and dual-use goods that may be used to manufacture arms. There is a joint military committee that meets regularly, although urgent issues, such as Israel-Hamas negotiations, are dealt with cooperatively by the highest political and security figures.
Despite some disillusionment with Hamas, the Egyptian public maintains a strong sense of solidarity with the Palestinians as a whole. Israel has become used to state policies and social trends influenced by this:

  • Individuals who wish to visit Israel must attend security investigations before and after travelling.
  • Hala Mustafa, a political analyst at state daily al-Ahram, was publicly chastised after the Israeli ambassador visited her office in September. Other journalists have been criticised, or even banned from writing, for researching in Israel or with Israelis.
  • The actor, Amr Waked, was threatened with boycott in September after working with an Israeli actor in a UK television production, and Ahmed Abdalla, director of the Egyptian film ‘Heliopolis’, boycotted the Toronto International Film Festival last year in protest against its inclusion of Israeli films. In March, a film festival at Cairo’s French Cultural Centre was pressured to remove an Israeli film from its schedule.
  • Professional syndicates threaten to revoke the licences of members who have any contact with Israelis.

Israel has viewed with caution the apparent ‘Islamisation’ of Egyptian society ….. However, the MB has faced a harsh crackdown in recent months in the run-up to parliamentary elections in June and November. Approximately 5,000 are in administrative detention. Senior members are unable to leave the country and are closely monitored. In light of this control, the ‘Islamisation’ of Egyptian society at present poses little threat to Israel. However, Israeli leaders view these developments as potential long-term security concerns.
Israel perceives Egypt’s public as largely unconcerned with Iran’s rising influence. However, tension in state-level Egyptian-Iranian relations is reassuring for Israel, which sees Cairo as key to balancing Iran’s power, and a partner in challenging what it sees as a ‘radical’ axis comprising Iran, Syria and Hizbollah. Though there is no joint policy towards Iran, bilateral meetings stress the shared importance of the Iranian issue. …….. Although Egypt is wary of Iran’s ambitions, it is keen to use the issue to pressure Israel on its own nuclear programme, and will reiterate its call for a region free of nuclear weapons at the UN NPT conference beginning today.
Given state-level security cooperation and anti-Israeli public sentiment in Egypt, Israel places great importance on continuity when the next president takes power. The two most likely candidates, Mubarak’s son, Gamal, or military chief Omar Suleiman, represent for Israel a continuation of the current establishment….”

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Fiddler on the mosque

May 1st, 2010 Comments off


Released this week in the UK is a timely and wholesome comedy that celebrates Jewish and Muslim culture in a way not often seen in cinema. It uses comedy to take a light-hearted look at religion.

The Infidel is about a Muslim who discovers that he adopted and is actually Jewish. Written by renowned Jewish comedian and author David Baddiel, the film is a timely reminder of the commonality between both religions and goes further than most ethnic comedies.

It champions the Jewish and Muslim everyman, celebrating and laughing at aspects that are both unique and common to both religions. The film is novel in that it shows a normal Muslim family, rarely seen in cinema with the tendency to portray Muslims as radicals. Other ethnic films tend to revolve around the idea of ethnic minority adapting to the dominant culture. This film doesn’t do that, it is about minority cultures.

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Veiling ban in Belgium: It is all about the State

May 1st, 2010 Comments off

The bill proposing a ban on the niqab or the kind of Muslim veil that covers the entire face, passed by the lower house of the Belgian parliament, is not really about religion, crime or even immigration. It is about the primacy of state interests over individual preference.

James Scott in his Seeing like a State argues that modern governments need their populations to be “legible” or transparent. In the UK, it has gotten so you cannot go so much as 50 miles without being photographed on closed circuit television.

The state interest is often asserted in niqab debates by arguing that the police have to know who it is they have pulled over for a moving vehicle violation. Of course that the anonymous citizen is an “other” and coded as dangerous, makes state knowledge of the individual all the more imperative.

That it is not a purely east-west issue or Christian-Muslim one is easy to show. Turkey bans not only the full face veil but even just headscarves on public property, e.g. schools.

Likewise, in 2007, Tajikistan forbade any veiling in public places Of course, in the Soviet period the Muslim-heritage Central Asian Soviet Socialist Republics insisted that women give up the veil. (See the footnotes for works of Northrop and Kamp on this issue). Again, this move was a way of asserting the primacy of the state in a region where kinship and traditional roles like that of the clergy presented strong rivals to government authority. And the Soviet state was a jealous state.

In Egypt in the past few years, the rector of al-Azhar Seminary (among the foremost such centers of Muslim religious study) has forbidden the full-face veil..

Al-Azhar takes this step because its faculty are mainstream Sunnis, and they fear more radical forms of Islam, such as the Salafi refomists or puritanical Wahhabis, many of whom insist that women wear the full face veil. There is something of a rivalry between Gulf lifeways and those of the Levant, as well (many Gulf women and/or their families prefer the niqab, while it is rare in the Mediterranean). So in the Muslim world a ban on veiling has lots of potential meanings, from sectarian competition to a state preference for secularism.

Amnesty International and some Muslim organizations protested the ban as an infringement against individual liberty.

In a way, they are right. This struggle is a way for the state and major social institutions to inscribe themselves on the bodies of women, the very citizens who produce other citizens.

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Chas Freeman: "Israel is useless to US power projection"

May 1st, 2010 Comments off


What follows is an excerpt of a private email exchange reprinted by permission of the author, Chas Freeman, a former assistant secretary of defense …

“… Maher’s account is far from novel on any score but he is describing Japan’s, the UK’s, or Qatar’s role in US strategy, not Israel’s. A few facts to ponder when considering his assertion that Israel is a huge and essential asset for US global and regional strategy:

— the US has no bases or troop presence in Israel and stores only minimal military supplies in the country (and these under terms that allow these supplies to be used essentially at will by the IDF).

— Israeli bases are not available for US use.

— none of Israel’s neighbors will facilitate overflight for military aircraft transiting Israeli territory, let alone taking off from there. Israel is useless for purposes of strategic logistics or power projection.

Israel is worse than irrelevant to the defense of Middle Eastern energy supplies; the US relationship with Israel has jeopardized these supplies (as in 1973), not contributed to securing them.

— US relations with Israel do not bolster US prestige in Middle Eastern oil-producing countries or assist the US to “dominate” them, they complicate and weaken US influence; they have at times resulted in the suspension of US relations with such countries.

— Israel does not have the diplomatic prestige or capacity to marshal support for US interests or policies globally or in its own region and does not do so; on the contrary, it requires constant American defense against political condemnation and sanctions by the international community.

Israel does not fund aid programs in third countries to complement and support US foreign or military policy as other allies and strategic partners do.

Japan provides multiple bases and pays “host nation support” for the US presence (though that presence as well as the fact that Japan is paying for a good deal of it are growing political issues in Japan). The air base in Qatar from which the US directs air operations throughout the region (including in both Iraq and Afghanistan) was built and is maintained at host nation expense. So too the ground force and naval facilities we use elsewhere in the Gulf. The US is paid for the weapons and military services it provides to its European and Asian allies as well as its Arab strategic partners. Washington has never had to exercise a veto or pay a similar political price to protect any of them from condemnation or sanctions by the international community. Japan and various Arab countries, as well as European nations, have often paid for US foreign assistance and military programs in third countries or designed their own programs specifically to supplement US activities.

Washington has made Israel our largest recipient of foreign aid, encouraged private transfers to it through unique tax breaks, transferred huge quantities of weapons and munitions to it gratis, directly and indirectly subsidized the Israeli defense industry, allocated military R&D to Israeli rather than US institutions, offered Israeli armaments manufacturers the same status as US manufacturers for purposes of US defense procurement, etc.. Almost all US vetoes at the United Nations and decisions to boycott international conferences and meetings have been on behalf of Israel. Israel treats its ability to command support from Washington as a major tool of diplomatic influence in third countries; it does not exercise its very limited influence abroad in support of US as opposed to its own objectives.

As others have said with greater indirection than I have here, one must look elsewhere than Israel’s strategic utility to the United States for the explanation of its privileged status in US foreign policy, iniquitous as Maher considers that policy to be.”

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Fred Halliday, 1946-2010

April 26th, 2010 Comments off

Fred Halliday, one of Britain’s most prominent authorities on the Gulf and the Mideast generally, has died of cancer at age 64. The Guardian’s obituary says much of what needs to be said. I didn’t really know him except through his books and one or two occasions when we did joint interviews on the phone during the first Gulf War, he in the UK, I in the US, and the interviewer wherever. I don’t think I ever met him in person, though I may be forgetting something.

Halliday’s early works on the Gulf, such as Arabia without Sultans and Iran: Dictatorship and Development, were critiques from the left of traditional Arab monarchies and of the West’s role in the region. Reading them today out of context, you might picture Halliday as a sort of looking-glass version of J.B. Kelly, a well-informed polemicist only from the anti-imperial rather than the imperial school. (He and Kelly were both transplants: Kelly from New Zealand, Halliday from Ireland.) But Halliday was never a simple ideologue. He supported the first Gulf War against Iraq; he backed US intervention in Afghanistan. His critiques were always informed by profound knowledge of the region and its languages. Even when one disagreed with him, it was clear he was making a solid contribution to the field. RIP Fred Halliday.

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Suicide bomber attacks UK ambassador’s convoy in Yemen

April 26th, 2010 Comments off

Ambassador Torlot

Suicide bomber attacks UK ambassador’s convoy in Yemen

Hugh Macleod in Sana’a and Adam Gabbatt, The Guardian, April 26, 2010

The British ambassador to Yemen escaped assassination this morning when a suicide bomber attacked his security convoy as it drove through a crowded street near the embassy.

The ambassador, Tim Torlot, was unharmed, but one person – believed to be the bomber – was killed in the blast. Two local men and a woman were injured.

Torlot’s armoured car was passing through a poor neighbourhood in the eastern part of the capital, Sana’a, when the explosion occurred.

Witnesses described the suspected bomber as a young men dressed in a tracksuit and trainers who was waiting by the side of a busy road for the convoy to pass.

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Al-Qaeda ‘tried to bomb UK envoy’

April 26th, 2010 Comments off

Al-Qaeda is behind a suspected suicide attack on the convoy of the UK ambassador to Yemen, reports say.
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April 14th, 2010 Comments off

“An Israeli tourist office press campaign has been banned by the UK advertising regulator for including pictures of East Jerusalem, part of the Palestinian occupied territories.” (thanks Farah)

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