Skilled Labor?

October 22, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service Middle East correspondent (MMNS)

hand-holding-diploma The economic boom and unprecedented growth of the Middle East over the past several years has made it a lucrative venue for employment seekers. Barely scathed by the global economic turndown, that has brought the rest of the world to its’ knees, most Middle Eastern countries continue to ride a wave of economic independence and expansion.

As a result of the sheer speed of growth, an increased demand for skilled workers has evolved. Doctors, nurses, teachers, IT professionals, architects and engineers are just a few of the careers that are in high demand in the Middle East region. However, not everyone seeking a job has the proper credentials and, unfortunately, many people who have already acquired high paying jobs in specialized fields have done so with fake university degrees.

Within the past few months, the extensive reliance of unqualified persons utilizing the services of fake degree mills has come to light. The Spokesman newspaper in Washington State recently published a list of more than 10,000 names of people who have already purchased fake university degrees or were in the process of doing so. The majority of persons on the list were Arab Americans who now face possible criminal charges from the US Department of Justice.

What is most surprising is that the majority of the wealthier Middle Eastern countries like Kuwait, the UAE and Bahrain offer free university education for their nationals. So, it is not necessarily a matter of someone being denied access to higher education but actually it is often about someone lacking the initiative to attend university for the required number of years to earn full accreditation.

With the problem in the international spotlight, some Middle Eastern countries are taking swift action to punish anyone attempting to utilize a bogus university degree to get employment. The United Arab Emirates has launched a stellar campaign to crackdown on anyone currently employed or seeking employment by presenting a fake university degree. Violators face a lifetime ban from working or even entering the UAE and face up to 24 years in prison. In the State of Kuwait, the Public prosecution has received several complaints from employers regarding job seekers presenting phony academic certificates. Most recently, this past week, 19 potential teachers were ordered held for prosecution as their educational certification was proven to be counterfeit by the Ministry of Education.

Obtaining a fake university degree is not difficult. A short trip to Southeast Asia or even Hungary can help someone achieve a PHD or CPA without spending a lot of time or money in school and for a fraction of the cost of a long stint in college. However, the odds are against such persons once they are on the job and cannot fulfill the work that their forged certification claims that they can do. Such was the case recently in Kuwait when a man went to the Ministry of Education seeking a job as a teacher. His forged university degree came from Hungary. However, he could not speak Hungarian or even English and simply claimed that he studied with the aid of a translator.

Unscrupulous degree dealers can be found all over the Gulf region offering a variety of degrees for under $1000 and in less than a month. A local reporter in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia recently exposed one such degree dealer. The dealer advertised on the Internet and communicated exclusively by email or mobile phones to elude detection from Saudi authorities. He promised the reporter “you name it and we provide it”. The degrees for sale bore the name of “Buxton University” in the UK and could be made to order immediately.

The real losers in this scam are the people who hold authentic university certification and now find themselves having to prove that their degree is worth the paper that it is printed on. Degree cheaters have forced most Mideast governments to cast out an overly wide net to root degree violators out, unfortunately authentic degree holders are getting caught up in it as well.

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House of Mirrors

October 1, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) Middle East Correspondent

plant For many people a broken mirror is steeped in the superstitious belief that the injurious deed will be followed by seven years of bad luck. However, for Lidia Al-Qattan, a renowned Italian artist in Kuwait, a broken mirror would be the inspiration to set her upon the journey of a lifetime. As the wife of the famous Kuwaiti artist Khalifa Al-Qatten, Lidia was often inspired to create her own works of art to impress her husband after he returned from trips exhibiting his artwork in various locations around on the world.

On one such occasion back in the Sixties, Lidia’s husband was away in the USA as part of a collective art exhibition in Washington, D.C. Prior to his departure her husband had completed a wooden cabinet that he created with his own hands. All that was left to be done was a couple of coats of paint. However, after Lidia was unable to procure some paint she came up with a brilliant idea to really make the cabinet shine. “I then remembered I had some pieces of a large mirror somewhere in the house where my three year old daughter, Jalila, had broken sometime ago which I decided to keep.” Lidia set to work affixing the broken shards of mirror to the cabinet with some heated wood glue. However, the edges of the glass were still very sharp and dangerous with a child in the home. After completing her design, Lidia mixed together some plaster cement and water to fill in the gaps and make the edges of the jagged mirror smooth. Once dry, Lidia further filed down any remaining rough edges. The result was very pleasing to her eyes. However, the real judge would be her husband as he was set to return home.

house Fortunately, Lidia’s husband was very impressed with her work. And so began her transformation as she evolved into an artist into her own right and used her very own home as her canvas. Over the course of several years Lidia has painstakingly ‘bedazzled’ every inch of her home with broken mirror pieces in every shade of the rainbow. Today it is a popular tourist destination and museum with visitors taking guided tours every day.

The tour begins in the kitchen, which is called ‘My World Hall’ and features designs relevant to the mystery of science followed by a walk through ‘Planet Earth Hall’, or the living room, which is designed along the lines of our Earth and nature. Next, visitors are led to ‘Zodiac Hall’, which is Lidia’s now grown daughter Jalila’s bedroom, and it is covered with sparkling galaxies, planets and all the signs of the Zodiac. Visitors walk through a hallway with a dual theme. Known as both ‘Shark Hall’ and ‘Corridor of Nations’, the journey of shimmering reflected light goes on to enthrall guests with sharks and other wonders of our world. The tour climaxes with breathtaking designs featured in ‘Sea World Hall’, ‘Universe Hall’ and ‘Knowledge Hall’, which also serve as a bathroom, bedroom and library.

The tour begins to wind down once guests reach the ‘Stairs to Inspiration’. The staircase, which features gilded birds in flight, leads to the first floor that houses separate art galleries for both Lidia’s and her late husband Khalifa’s work. Many people in Kuwait call her home the ‘House of Mirrors’ But for Lidia her home holds greater meaning, “I call it the fulfillment of a dream.”

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For the Birds

September 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) Middle East Correspondent

racing pigeon

The hobby of pigeon raising in the Middle East goes back several years. Enthusiasts spend a great deal of time and money acquiring rare and beautiful birds. The supplies for housing pigeons are also very expensive. Pigeon owners often build elaborate cages on their rooftops or in their gardens. Each cage typically holds around thirty birds. A devout pigeon master often pays more attention to his birds than he does to his own children, because one sick bird can destroy the entire lot. For many enthusiasts, they have turned a mere hobby into an exact science.

There are so many rare varieties of pigeons, each varying in color, sheen and ability. The most popular in the Gulf region include the Sherazi, Sudani and Baljiki. However, the favorite pigeon amongst enthusiasts is known as the ‘flipper’. The reason it is so popular is because of its mid-flight aerobics that it performs at great heights, flipping full circle without losing speed. Exquisite and unique pigeons are much sought after by wealthy hobbyists who are often willing to pay thousands of dollars to acquire a prized bird for their collection. It is not uncommon for buyers to trade their expensive luxury cars and watches for a single bird. Most of the time, however, a lump of cash is enough to seal the deal.

Pigeon raising is also a lucrative sport. Enthusiasts gather to race their pigeons in competition with other birds. Most competitors will select their top five pigeons to perform in endurance races against the wind. The competitions are primarily held during the months of September and October when winds in the open desert often exceed 60 kilometers per hour. Each bird’s flight is measured in terms of resistance.

Come March, prize-winning pigeons are tucked away into their cages with equally alluring mates. The offspring of award winning pigeons can fetch even more money than the ‘contender’ bird himself. Newly hatched birds are also very easy to train for an optimum life span of racing and bringing joy to his master’s eyes. 

In Saudi Arabia, where pigeon raising is a part of local traditions, there is a special pigeon market held every Friday in the city of Medina. The market opens right after the dawn prayers and bustles for several hours to around mid-morning when the heat of the desert sun becomes unbearable. Bidding wars are common during the auctions held for the most sought-after birds and often get heated as the passion for pigeon rearing usually defies all reason.

However, not everyone has the bankroll to fund an elaborate pigeon pen plus fill it with expensive birds, then feed and pay for the medicines often needed to keep the birds healthy. In the state of Kuwait, the love for pigeons is a public affair. Right in the center of Kuwait City is what has come to be known as ‘Pigeon Square’.  Hundreds of pigeons descend upon the square around the clock, often mingling with shoppers and spectators alike. The area is lined with small grocery stores and meat shops.

It has long been a Kuwaiti tradition during the Holy Month of Ramadan to take the children of the family to visit the pigeons of Pigeon Square right before the Iftar meal. The grocery stores often see a rise in business as visitors often buy bread to feed the pigeons. In return, the pigeons ‘dot’ the landscape with their droppings, which the very same shop owners must clean up. Many locals have longed for the square to be turned into a tourist destination complete with refurbished structures, restaurants and cafes.

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The Ramadan Soaps

September 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) Middle East Correspondent

soapjpeg

The Holy Month of Ramadan heralds in a veritable wave of traditions, which are quite often tied to heritage and culture. This can be in the clothes worn during the month, or the food that graces the Iftar table. While most traditions in Ramadan are religious in nature, others are not.

Even before the crescent moon of Ramadan was sighted in Saudi Arabia, advertising placards for the newest Arabic soap operas began sprouting up in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon and several other Middle Eastern countries. For many Muslim viewers, it simply would not be Ramadan without having a salacious soap opera to watch during and after the daily fast is broken. And for corporations who payroll the soap operas, Ramadan is a golden opportunity to generate some much needed revenue.

Make no mistake, the Arabic soap operas have nothing to do with the principles of Islam, such as prayer or fasting, but rather focus on the evils of society that are perpetrated by misguided souls. In one recent drama that aired in Kuwait this past week, a wealthy businessman chases his single secretary at work all day professing his love for her and asking for her hand in marriage. Meanwhile, his wife is at home tending to the housework and stumbles upon a diamond bracelet he has purchased for his secretary. The drama switches to another married couple that seems happy enough. However, a male suitor promises to win the heart of the wife and if she won’t agree he vows to destroy her life, which he does in the next scene. He places a call to her husband who in turn throws her out of the home, to her despair.

The prevalence of Arabic soap operas during Ramadan have had a detrimental effect on worship. Increased acts of worship and welcoming guests in the nights or visiting the homes of others take a backseat to catching the next installment of the serial. Last year alone it was estimated that at least 64 new soap operas appeared on Saudi television, around the clock during Ramadan. The soaps were stacked upon the hour so that viewers could tune in at any time of the day. Coveted ad space was stuck in between each plot as it developed–with commercials hawking everything from soap to cooking oil. In fact, it is the ad space that fuels the soaps, as viewers view each commercial as they wait for the plot to thicken.

Before, most Muslims in the Middle East would gather in the nights of Ramadan to worship or to discuss matters related to the deen. After all, the region is the cradle of Islam and the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad (s). However, these days many Muslims gather to watch soap operas together, gossip about what happened in the current installment or speculate what will happen in the one to come.

It is encouraging to note that not all Middle Eastern countries streamline a barrage of juicy soap operas during the Holy Month. In Turkey, the television programming is geared towards Islamic history, living the deen of Islam and Q&A shows where callers can call in to have their questions about Islam answered live on air by a reputable sheikh. Locally produced and aired music channels in Turkey also pull their programming during Ramadan in favor of airing Islamic nasheeds.

Storytelling is an age-old tradition. However, Ramadan is a golden gift that should be seized by every Muslim that is willing and able to receive the blessings that come with it. Being glued to the TV and rapturously eating up all the human folly portrayed there definitely tarnishes the reality of  what Ramadan is all about.

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Community News (V11-I37)

September 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Razi Imam, CEO, Landslide Technologies, Inc.

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Razi Imam, is the CEO and president of Landslide Technologies. His company builds software to codify the sales process. His is a classic rags to riches story. His father worked as a laborer in Kuwait and his career prospects appeared dim. But he persisted and got a job at the Kuwait University library. There he taught himself programming by reading computer manuals.

He later went back to Pakistan and studied at the Karachi University majoring in Physics, Mathematics, and Statistics. A self starter he wrote programming code by hand to create a search program for the yellow pages of Karachi. His success lead to a job at Wang.

He moved to the US and thrived starting up successful tech businesses before launching landslide.

The basic principles that Imam imparts to his daughters are the importance of a solid education, good communication skills, and a willingness to work hard. “The beauty of the United States is that you can work hard and have success. In other places, you can work hard but be frustrated because the opportunities aren’t there.”

New Jersey mosque to organize national prayer meet

ELIZABETH, NJ–The Darul Islam mosque in New Jersey is organizing a national day of prayers and Islamic unity on Capitol Hill on September 25, 2009. Organizers hope that more than 50,000 worshippers will participate.

About 400 people are expected from Darul Islam mosque, which is raising money from donors to help pay the cost of the event, expected to surpass $200,000.
The event will be open to the public. However, there will be no political speeches or placards.

Muslim students accommodated for Ramadan

COLUMBUS, MO–Muslim students at Missouri State University feel relieved after the Campus Dining Services has extended dining hall hours and included more breakfast items on takeout menus.

“Campus Dining Services has accommodated Muslim students during Ramadan in the past by working with the students on an individual basis,” CDS Director Julaine Kiehn told the Campus newspaper.

Kiehn said this year, more options will be available to students on the whole instead of individually.

Muslim Student Organization spokeswoman Nabihah Maqbool said the accommodations were a “huge step forward.”

“We’ve been working with dining services, and they’ve been so helpful since we’ve brought it up as a concern,” Maqbool said.

Muslim students launch Ramadan food drive

SALT LAKE CITY, UT–Muslim students at Utah universities have launched a campaign to collect 2,000 non perishable food items in the month of Ramadan. They will then be distributed to needy families of all faiths in the city.

“By encouraging and participating in community service, we hope to not only achieve our goal of providing the most basic of necessities to the vulnerable, but also demonstrate the emerging, positive influence of Muslims in American communities,”  wrote one organizer of the event on her blog.

Supporters of the cause, including the Muslim Student Association at the U., come from various backgrounds, religions and ethnicities.

To learn more visit: muslimsunitedagainsthunger.blogspot.com.

Planet Ozone to stock Halal products

TAMPA, FL–Planet Ozone, one of Florida’s first “green commercial building, officially opened yesterday. Among many of its unique features is the availability of Halal food products. The project is a dream project of Mohammed Hussein.

In what he plans to be a 24-hour cafe and takeout restaurant, Hussein and his wife will cook Mediterranean and Lebanese dishes. Italian dishes will be prepared by an Italian chef. Customers also will be able to buy freshly made natural juices from the juice bar.

“We want to price it in the $6 range and have large portions of protein, as well as carbohydrates and vegetables, so you’re getting good quality,” Hussein told the newspaper when the store was first announced. “That’s what we are focusing on: price and quality.”

Instead of beer, the large bank of coolers in the grocery area will be stocked with natural and organic juices, produce and natural meats that meet strict Halal dietary guidelines, said the report.

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Back to School?

August 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

School Bus - Cartoon 7 The photo spreads in local sales circulars in Kuwait bear all the familiar ‘back to school’ images of kids wearing cute outfits complete with backpacks swung over an arm. The ‘back to school’ sales placards cover the storefronts over most businesses that are competing for each sale as the global downturn continues to dig in. However, despite the familiar images, there is nothing ordinary about this school year that is set to start in only a few days.

The H1N1 virus, known as the ‘swine flu’, has cast a dark shadow over the Holy Month of Ramadan and impending school year that is set to start on the first of September in all Gulf countries. More than 1,100 people in Kuwait alone have already been diagnosed with the H1N1 virus, and while almost all of the patients have recovered, three people have died as a result of the H1N1 virus. The Kuwaiti government has been vigilant in providing public service announcements, via various media, since the spring when the first few cases were reported in Mexico and later America. The H1N1 virus ahs spread to all regions of the Middle East as each country can only count as the rapidity of infection rises.

In Kuwait, in particular, many parents have been sounding the alarm as the summer holidays have slowly begun to fade away. Concerned ministries, primarily the Ministries of Health and Education, met this past week to discuss the possible closing of schools to avoid the spread of the H1N1 virus. The results were less than fruitful. The joint decision as of press time is to only postpone the start of Kindergarten classes in both public and private schools for 10 days. Regular classes are set to resume as usual on September 1st.

The Kuwaiti government has also this week developed a swine flu plan, which is supposed to be put into effect by school administrators in the tiny Gulf state. Desks will be positioned 1 meter apart and congregating, in the cafeteria or at the playground, will be forbidden. Health Minister Helal Al-Sayer further announced that, in the event that a single student comes down with the H1N1 virus, the entire class will be closed indefinitely. He also said that if any school reports more than 5% of the student population are infected with the H1N1 virus then the entire school will be closed.  Individual students, who are suspected of having the H1N1 virus by teachers while in class, will be quarantined until health officials can properly diagnose their affliction. Al-Sayer further announced that 120 schools would be outfitted with special clinics specifically for the treatment of students suffering from the H1N1 virus.  The remaining schools in the country have no such facilities and it remains to be seen if health officials will monitor each school individually.

Kuwait is not the only Middle Eastern country to take ‘back to school’ swine flu precautions. Several private schools in Dubai have also postponed the start of the school year by several days. However, no Gulf country has taken as drastic measures as Oman. The country has cancelled the school term for both private and public schools until mid-December when the H1N1 vaccine, expected to be available in September, will have immunized pupils from the deadly virus. So far 5 people have died in Oman from the H1N1 virus.

When asked about the current decision the Kuwaiti government has made to continue with the start of the school year as normal, a Pakistani housewife and resident of Kuwait who wishes to remain anonymous said, “ What’s the point in closing a class after a student gets sick? The whole class will already be infected. I can only pray that the Minster will change the decision before school starts.”

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Saddam’s WMD Strategy

August 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

Monterey–August 21st –Ibrahim Al-Marashi from the IE University of Spain currently a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Monterey Institute of International Studies here in Central California talked about his research from the so-far retrievable Iraqi archives on what was accurate and inaccurate about their accused WMDs.  Many myths were exposed and some truths were confirmed by his study on these papers on why we and Britain went to war against Baghdad in 2003.

What he found in the Arabic documents was ambiguous language to disguise any possible WMDs.  The first documents were captured in 1991 by the Kurdish opposition in the North.  They were handed over to Human Rights Watch, an organization close to the US government, for propaganda purposes.   Others were seized in Kuwait during the 1991 War.  Most of the previous documents were produced in the 1990s by the Iraqi governments.  One of the primary causes of this were that Hussein held back his best troops, the elite Republican Guard on the Iraqi side of the border, and the lesser trained troops were thrust toward Kuwait City. 

During the Second Iraq War, the various international forces were under joint command, and retrieval of documents was done by several various armies.   The secondary-primary source was the interrogation of Saddam Hussein himself after his capture.

During the blockade before the second war, there was a lack of paper to record the archives.   Yet they were documented in detail on alternative materials. 
Ibrahim went into the history of Iraq, starting with the first king installed by the British after World War I. 

Between the World War periods, the Army stayed out of politics,  but after the second war, began to intervene in the body politic.  Coups and counter-coups  ruled the period.  The Leftist Baath Party finally took power in ‘68, and  ideologized the Army.  The Baath Party led, and their Military Establishment followed.  

Saddam Hussein came to command in an internal coup in ‘79.

In the 1970s the Iraqis began their WMD program.  The Weapons were never named directly but in a disguised manner.  Chemical weapons became special armaments.  Their Chemical “Mace” became a special resource that led to the 1987 attacks against  their Iraqi Kurdish citizens.  Many of the assailed residents of Kurdistan suffered excruciating blinding.

Although Baghdad utilized chemicals in their eight year War with their eastern neighbors, Iraq urged their former enemy, Iran, to join them to exploit their mutual chemical capabilities against Israel, but there were no documents that specially alluded to the scud attacks upon Israel. 

In 1991 the Iraqi forces did not use Weapons of Mass Destruction against the Coalition.  Saddam was not willing to use his WMDs (basically chemical) against the US Army for fear that the Americans would retaliate with their own overwhelming gas and / or nuclear capacity.  Curiously, though, the Iraqi Army was not even issued gas masks, but the Baathists felt the United States was deterred by their (potential) Weapons of Mass Destruction during 1991, but, on the other hand, during the 2003 assault, the Allies were prepared for WMDs to be applied against them.     

The American military objective in Iraq was to achieve (Iraqi) State security.  The rumor of Weapons of Mass Destruction impacted Civilian-(U.S) Military relations.  The ethnic conflicts made political communications difficult, too.

Dr. Al-Marashsi studied docs that were written between 1990 through 2003.  He started on his project in 2002.  It took him seven years to go through 100,000 transcripts so far.  Yet his team has not had a chance to index the papers!

High ranking Baghdadi Generals forged manuscripts for personal gain selling them to Western scandal tabloids.  Ibrahim Al’Marashi was able to debunk most of them, but an academic paper of his was plagiarized, and was used as “proof” for the British Government to attack Baghdad in 2003.  A discussion of the relation between academia – honestly and dishonestly—and security policy is a tight one.  Ibrahim ended his presentation with his conclusion that the U.S. and the U.K. should have done more research before they attacked the Middle East!

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Hell Hath No Fury…

August 20, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) Mideast Correspondent

jahra As William Shakespeare wrote, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

Those words came to life this past week in the state of Kuwait as a raging fire engulfed the tent of a wedding party that was in full swing following the nuptials of a young groom and his beautiful new wife. The swiftness of the blaze took everyone by surprise as the tent–where bride, female guests and children were celebrating–was turned to ashes within three minutes.

There was little chance for victims to escape as the burning tent collapsed on those who were unable to find an exit, then the electricity failed, thus cloaking any rescue attempt in darkness. More than 20 fire trucks and emergency personnel were dispatched to the scene. But it was already too late. Anyone who did not get out at the start of the blaze was shrouded in what remained of the melted tent. Even more victims died in the stampede to get out of the engulfed tent. The death toll stands at 46, with more than 80 injured with severe burns. Authorities expect the death toll to rise, as many victims remain in critical condition. The bride managed to escape, but her mother and sister both died in the blaze.

As the story unfolded the following morning, with some saying that it was just an accident possibly caused by the air conditioners used to cool the tent, it was difficult for even investigators to be sure of exactly what happened. That was until the arsonist turned herself into the authorities. She turned out to be the first, and recently divorced, wife of the groom. So far her name has not been released to the media, however the 24-year-old woman fully confessed to the crime based on the ‘bad treatment’, which was meted out to her by her husband and his parents during the marriage. In her confession, the first wife said that she only intended to disrupt the celebrations. When the police told her that more than 45 people had died and that it was one of the worst disasters to ever hit Kuwait in the past 40 years, she collapsed in tears. Eyewitnesses have since given the police more incriminating evidence. The woman’s housemaid said that she had seen her carrying a large bottle of gasoline and had asked the housemaid to bring her the day’s newspaper. Authorities now believe that she soaked the newspaper in the gasoline and then ignited it outside the tent.

In her confession she revealed that she took two separate taxis to the venue of the marriage. She hid outside of the tent and doused the gasoline around it before lighting a match and fleeing. The arsonist also revealed that she had exchanged SMS messages with her former in-laws during the day and was further incensed by their replies. She even told her ex-husband that she would burn the wedding tent down, but he did not believe her.

Doctors specializing in the treatment of burns have already arrived in Kuwait from Britain and Germany. And the Ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Kuwait has offered to transport victims of the fire to Bosnia for treatment or dispatch a team of doctors from his country to Kuwait. In a new development both Kuwaiti citizens and expatriates have rallied together to donate much needed blood to the victims. An estimated 1,100 people have donated blood at the country’s blood bank since the fateful incident.

Family members of the victims have already buried their dead in local cemeteries with many praying openly that the arsonist will receive the full punishment from authorities. Kuwait Airways has also stepped in to offer immediate flights for family members of the hospitalized victims, who are on vacation in different parts of the world, to help them return to Kuwait as quickly as possible. His Highness the Amir of Kuwait has sent condolences to all of the victims and their families. The Amir has also said that he will not receive congratulations on the upcoming Eid-al-Fitr holidays to show solidarity and express his remorse for the victims.

It remains to be seen what justice the arsonist will receive as she has not yet been put on trial. However, her vengeful actions have forever changed the course of innumerable lives, including her own.

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The Terminal

August 6, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) Middle East Correspondent

terminal Academy-Award winning actor Tom Hanks wowed audiences back in 2004 with his movie ‘The Terminal’. In the film he portrays Viktor Navorski, an eastern European immigrant coming to America so that he can fulfill a wish of his late father. But things take a turn for the worse as his homeland breaks out into a civil war and is no longer recognized by any government while he is en route. Not only is he stateless by the time he lands at New York’s JFK Airport, but he is also stuck in a political limbo which forces him to make the airport his new found home as he waits for the US government to either grant him entry or send him to another country to seek refuge as a political refugee. The film has innumerable funny moments as Hanks struggles to communicate his needs for money, food and clothing in his native language and broken English. It also has many heart rending ones as the audience is gripped by the plight of a stranger in a strange land.

For many Southeast Asian immigrants that descend upon the Middle East each year to work as laborers in some of the richest countries in the entire world, living in an airport terminal is often a reality that they have no choice but to accept as they embark upon a new phase in their lives to serve others as chauffeurs, office boys, janitors and housemaids.  In almost every Gulf State, there exists a sponsorship system, which states that no foreign immigrant can live independently within the country. All immigrants must have a citizen sponsor to vouch for them and co-sign on their residency documents. Herein is the problem . Out of the sponsorship laws has grown a new breed of criminals known as ‘visa traders’. They lure unsuspecting immigrants from agencies in their own homelands to the Gulf with the promise of a better life. The visa traders sell thousands of visas per years and it is a booming business.

Immigrants pay the traders thousands of dollars for their sponsorship that translates into a work visa. The moment the transaction begins and the cash changes hands, the immigrant is at the mercy of the sponsor. Many sponsors have developed the habit of leaving the new immigrants at the airport for days on end. They are either too busy or heartless to care. For this reason, many airports in the Gulf have developed special waiting areas specifically to cope with the influx of immigrants waiting to be picked up by their sponsors. The areas are well away from paying passengers view but are filled with human cargo simply left to wait. Men and women are mixed together often sprawled within close proximity as they try to sleep on the cold hard floors. Most immigrants only arrive with the clothes on their backs and not even a blanket to shield them from the central air conditioning that is pumped throughout the terminal around the clock. They have nowhere to shower and can only utilize the airport bathroom. As for nourishment, they are at the mercy of whatever the airport can provide.

maids It is common to see women crying and begging airport officials to simply go back home. Many of the immigrants do not know Arabic and yet the airport requires that they fill out processing paperwork in Arabic. While others make futile attempts to call the recruiting agencies that hired them or their individual sponsors. In most cases, the sponsors eventually do show up either several hours or several days after they were supposed to pick up their charges. The sponsors are not reprimanded by airport officials and suffer no ill consequences. Once again, the immigrants pay the price as they are not compensated for the wasted time and are usually forced straight to work without even a chance to rest after the long ordeal.

Many residents in the Gulf have long petitioned for an end to the sponsorship system. Nowhere have the voices been raised as loud as in the State of Kuwait, with even citizens publicly declaring shame that their own country would be a willing collaborator in the exploitation of others. This past month the Kuwaiti government has given hope to thousands by pushing for the annihilation of the sponsor system to curb visa trading and improve Kuwait’s standing on human rights in the global arena. The Kuwaiti government also promises to develop a new set of laws to deal with visa traders fiercely and decisively.  Other Gulf nations are expected to rethink their sponsorship systems as well so as to be seen as champions of human rights by the rest of the world and not exploiters bowing to the almighty dollar.

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‘Coalition of the Willing’ Comes to an End in Iraq

August 6, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

War now truly an American-only effort after Britain and Australia pull out

By Chelsea J. Carter, AP

2009-07-30T165015Z_01_LON708_RTRMDNP_3_BRITAIN-IRAQ

John Chilcot, the chairman of the Iraq Inquiry, listens during a news conference in London July 30, 2009. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair will be asked to testify to a panel investigating the Iraq war, the head of the inquiry said on Thursday. Former civil servant Chilcot said the inquiry, set up by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, would look at British involvement in the war, covering the period from the summer of 2001 to the end of July this year.

REUTERS/Matt Dunham/Pool

The war in Iraq was truly an American-only effort Saturday after Britain and Australia, the last of its international partners, pulled out.

Little attention was paid in Iraq to what effectively ended the so-called coalition of the willing, with the U.S. — as the leader of Multi-National Force, Iraq — letting the withdrawals pass without any public demonstration.

The quiet end of the coalition was a departure from its creation, which saw then-U.S. President George W. Bush court countries for support before and after the March 2003 invasion.

“We’re grateful to those partners who contributed in the past and we look forward to working with them in the future,” military spokesman Army Lieutenant-Colonel Mark Ballesteros told The Associated Press in an e-mail.

At its height, the coalition numbered about 300,000 soldiers from 38 countries— 250,000 from the United States, about 40,000 from Britain, and the rest ranging from 2,000 Australians to 70 Albanians. But most of the United States’ traditional European allies, those who supported actions in Afghanistan and the previous Iraq war, sat it out.

It effectively ended this week with Friday’s departure of Australian troops and the expiration of the mandate for the tiny remaining British contingent after Iraq’s parliament adjourned without agreeing to allow the troops to stay to protect southern oil ports and train Iraqi troops.

The U.S. military, though, said the withdrawals did not mean it was going it alone in Iraq.

“We haven’t lost our international partners. Rather, there are representatives from around the world here in various capacities such as NATO, military advisers, law enforcement and construction workers,” said Army Colonel John R. Robinson, a military spokesman at the U.S. headquarters outside Baghdad.

Australia’s military commander in the Middle East, Major-General Mark Kelly, said Friday the last 12 Australian soldiers who had been embedded with U.S. units were flown out of Baghdad on Tuesday, three days ahead of the deadline. A security detachment of about 100 soldiers will remain to protect embassy personnel.

Britain withdrew its remaining 100 to 150 mostly Navy personnel to Kuwait, though was hopeful they might return.

“We are exploring with the Iraqi Government the possibility of resuming some or all of our planned naval activity in advance of ratification,” the British Defence Ministry said in a statement released Saturday.

The coalition had a troubled history and began to crumble within months of the U.S.-led invasion as many countries faced political and social unrest over an unpopular war.

Critics said the tiny contingents that partnered with the coalition, such as Estonia, Albania and Romania, gave the U.S. token international support for the invasion.

Mass protests were held in many countries, including Spain, which was one of the most notable withdrawals from the coalition. In 2004, a bombing attack in Madrid linked to Islamic extremists helped overturn the political establishment in Spain and the new leadership pulled out the Spanish troops.

By January 2007, the combined non-U.S. contingent had dwindled to just over 14,000. By October 2007, it stood at 20 nations and roughly 11,400 soldiers.

The US military, meanwhile, has increased its focus on redefining its relationship with Iraq under a security pact that took effect on Jan. 1.

American combat forces withdrew from Iraq’s urban areas at the end of June and all troops are to withdraw by the end of 2011, according to the agreement. President Barack Obama has ordered the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops by Aug. 31, 2010, leaving roughly 50,000 troops to train and advise Iraqi security forces.
“Today is a normal day for our forces currently in Iraq,” Col. Robinson said, “because our business is already tied closely to our bilateral partnership with the Iraqis.”

11-33

Amany Jamal On Demoracy in the Arab East

August 6, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

Berkeley–A little over ten months ago, Amany Jamal came to talk to a small group on his work in progress, The Crisis of Political Legitimacy in the Arab World.
It has too often been assumed that the Arab nations do not wish democracy.  This is not true, but the majority of the regions monarchies and republics’ pre-eminent dominant authorities are distrustful of democratic reforms.  The social restructuring towards democratization has not arisen to the same extend as in the second World as yet, and there is a great deal difference to the degree and the liberality that the Arab world desires their democratic forms, and as your author has emphasized before the democracy that develops in any country has to take into account of its traditions, history and the constituencies of the larger geographical zone et al.  The error that the Bush and the Neo-Conservatives made in dealing with the Middle East was to shove down the Jeffersonian tradition in the Near and Middle East and other Islamic zones with the democratic values that had evolved in North America!

A Capitalist economy is not conducive to all types of democracy!   The State should make its own decisions on its own allocations, and not the individual citizens or corporate entities.  Exiting theories to social inequality are emphatically universal.   There are pronounced amoralities within almost every Arab State – except Kuwait.  In most of the topography under study, restrictive legislation is applied toward propping up authoritative regimes. 

“If (a) society is equipped for [democratic] change, it will do so [i.e., change],” further, “…States [do] not necessarily [promote their] society’s preferences.”  Her hypothesis is that “…the elites are worried over jeopardizing their client status with the United States.”  These privileged rules are more likely to oppose democracy.

The more an Arab country lacks development, the more dependent it is upon Washington.  The Arab nations have less bi-lateral ties than they do with the U.S.A.!  Thus, North America has a strong military presence there.   The Arabs, though, are only subordinate partners within the American Empire. 

Today, small Kuwait holds 10 percent of the known world oil reserves, but has one of the highest per capita percentages of militants within the Middle East. The residents in all of the nations are well aware of it potential political weaknesses within the structures of their individual states.  If the Islamists would come to power, they would not necessarily sever ties with the D.C., but there are places where “Anti-American forces are of a concern – such as Jordan” where the Islamists could weaken the Monarchy.  Jordan is considered the most stable realm in the Middle East because of American buttressing.

There still remains a fear among the Iranians that, if the U.S. deserts Baghdad too fast, Tehran will have to cope with a security risk there again.

Amany Jamal finished her remarks of last fall, “…Anti-Americanism has stifled democratization” throughout the neighborhood; therefore, “…The route [towards] democratization lies in addressing the…increase of Anti-Americanism…” within the locale.

11-33

Leading the Fight Against Human Trafficking

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan MMNS Middle East Correspondent

sexslaves2603_468x477 This past month the US State Department released it’s 9th annual Trafficking in Persons Report, which lambasted 4 Middle Eastern countries for their blatant human rights abuses. Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Syria have found themselves strange bedfellows on America’s ‘blacklist’, which means that unless these governments change their domestic policies to meet the minimum criteria for human rights they face a slew of sanctions.

According to the report, the global economic turndown has fueled the flames of an already exasperating situation. As a result, many traffickers in the Gulf region have moved underground to avoid detection and continue the slave trade. It’s no secret that the construction boom that has heralded many countries of the Middle East into a new modern age has been built with the blood, sweat and backbreaking work of poor migrant workers primarily from Southeast Asia. The sex industry is also flourishing in the Middle East, especially in Iran where ‘temporary’ marriages are legal and women are exploited by being denied the rights that a married woman possesses. Underground prostitution rings are present in all four of the blacklisted countries. Visa trading is also a major problem as migrant workers are lured to the Gulf with the promise of high salaries and a better life. However, once they arrive they soon learn that they are only paid a fraction of the salary that they were promised and are forced to live in deplorable conditions not fit for an animal let alone a human being.

This week the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia set itself apart from the other countries on the blacklist. The Saudi government has toughened its stance against human traffickers within its borders. New laws recently put into effect will punish traffickers with up to 15 years in prison and fine of more than one-quarter of a million dollars.

Saudi Arabia has long been fodder for critics accusing the kingdom of ignoring human rights abuses that are often well publicized in the media, but routinely ignored by the ruling government. The kingdom has also clearly defined, in writing, what constitutes human trafficking in the country. Sexual servitude and slavery, forced organ donations or forced medical experimenting and involuntary begging are all instances of trafficking under the new law, which metes out harsher punishments based on the victim of the crime. If the victim is disabled, a woman, child or elderly then the penalty is substantially increased. However, many critics still lament the fact that the definition does not better define the trafficking of children into the kingdom who are forced to work as sex slaves, beggars or street vendors. The new law also makes zero reference to women and children who are exploited or abused within their own family unit.

Following the cabinet meeting that signed the new law into action, the Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz was quoted as saying about the new law, “It embodies the principles of Islamic Sharia law which prohibit attacks on the rights of another human being to protect the rights of citizens and residents under Islamic law.”

The remaining three countries have done little to improve their human rights records since inclusion at the top of the list of human rights abuses. Kuwait, for example, does have a set of laws to defeat human trafficking within the tiny Gulf state. Unfortunately, the laws are difficult to enforce when so many citizens have influence to bend the laws in their favor. The phenomenon of ‘wasta’, or friends in high places, is too often the grease that moves the cogs of society no matter who gets hurt in the process.

11-30

The Kuwaiti Quartet

May 28, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

610xggg Political crisis has marred the growth and development of Kuwait for the past few years as political upheaval has been the order of the day. The entire government has resigned no less than five times and the democratically elected parliament has been dissolved thrice in only a matter of years with the most recent dissolution coming just a few months ago. Even before candidates hung up their campaign posters or voters could go to the polls, there was an air of change floating around in Kuwait. Citizens have long tired of the bickering between the Emiri elected cabinet and the members of parliament chosen by the public. There were more ‘grillings’, where MP’s make accusations against another MP, than parliamentary decisions to pull Kuwait out of the current economic crisis it is wallowing in and put it back on track with its’ neighboring Arab rivals.

It has been a mere four years since women were granted suffrage rights and the right to run for parliamentary elections in Kuwait. Female candidates failed to win seats in the past two parliamentary elections. But this past week, history turned one giant page when a total of 4 female candidates won seats in the newly formed Kuwaiti Parliament. A total of 210 candidates, 16 of which were female, vyed for a coveted seat in the 50 member strong Parliament. “Frustration with the past two parliaments pushed voters to seek change. And here it comes in the form of this sweeping victory for women,” Massouma al-Mubarak told reporters following her victory.

Quite notably all four newly elected female MP’s were educated in the USA and hold Doctorates in their specific fields. Massouma Al Mubarak is a political science professor and was Kuwait’s first female Emiri appointed Cabinet minister. Rola Dashti is an economist and activist for women’s rights. She was at the forefront of the battle to win voting rights for Kuwaiti women since it began. Salwa al Jasser is an Education professor and Aseel al Awhadi is a Philosophy professor.

Supporters of the female candidates set off fireworks and feted them in a barrage of wild cheers and congratulatory celebrations rivaling even the poshest of Hollywood after parties.  However, there are several male MP’s who are unhappy with having to share parliament with women. Islamic fundamentalists have made statements to the local media that women do not belong in politics and have insisted that all of the female MP’s wear the Islamic hijab whenever Parliament is in session. Only two out of the four newly elected females MP’s observe the Islamic headscarf.

It remains to be seen if the Kuwaiti Quartet will be able to change the political scene in Kuwait, which has always operated on a crisis-by-crisis basis. Kuwaiti political analysts expect the power struggle between MP’s in the Parliament to continue regardless of gender. If this week is any indication, the Kuwaiti Quartet is already facing an uphill battle in their bid to makeover Kuwaiti politics. MP Massouma Al Mubarak was accused of trying to push through more female politicians into the Cabinet and the Kuwait Quartet were also accused of trying to form their own bloc to stand united against the male members of Parliament.

The State of Kuwait is often referred to as a ‘half democracy’ since only the Emir controls the Cabinet while the public chooses Parliamentarians.  Kuwaiti activists have long petitioned for the formation of political parties and for Kuwait to be a true democracy where the public has the right to choose all elected officials.

11-23

Not Fit For Human Consumption

May 14, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan MMNS Middle East Correspondent

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Bananas with brown spots. Rubbery carrots with wrinkled skin. Tomatoes with black spots and showing the onslaught of mold. These are just a few of the vegetables Reshmi, an Indian housemaid in Kuwait, bought today with her hard earned Dinars. As the global economic crisis takes on an even more alarming pace, those who already live a meager hand-to-mouth existence are finding it increasingly more difficult to put food on the table.

For Reshmi, and hundreds of thousands of poor expatriate laborers living in the Gulf region, eating food that is spoiled or not fit for human consumption is a part of daily life. There is a thriving black market for food that has been rejected for release into the marketplace. The majority of Gulf nations have strict quality controls in place to ensure that food being sold to consumers is of the best quality. The State of Kuwait, for example, is one such country that has a stellar reputation for food safety controls in coordination with the World Health Organizations (WHO) standards.

All edible food that is imported into the country must receive a stamp of approval from the Ministry of Agriculture before it even is brought onto Kuwaiti soil. Unfortunately, some shipments of food entering Kuwait are never inspected. Unscrupulous businessmen use wasta, or influence, to circumvent the food inspection process.  They knowingly purchase food that is overripe or damaged from their suppliers for a mere fraction of the cost of fresh produce. Then they peddle it on the streets of Kuwait to unsuspecting consumers.

At any time of day, peddlers can be seen carting around huge boxes of mangoes on their shoulders. They often go door to door selling the poor quality produce to whomever will buy it. And the buyers are often plentiful, as the cities in which they sell the tainted goods are comprised primarily of poor day laborers. It’s also very common to see the fruits and vegetables slated for sale outside of the mosques. Peddlers set up blankets and await customers just finishing up their prayers.

Tainted food is rife in Kuwait and is sometimes even purchased by restaurants. This year alone, five separate bloggers have reported cases of spoiled food being served to them. In one case, rotten tomato slices were discovered on a sandwich purchased at an American fast food chain and in another a woman found several large bugs stuck to the lettuce in her premade salad. In both cases, the restaurants in question were accused of knowingly buying rotten produce to offset some of their costs. 

Most recently even medications have been found for sale on the Kuwaiti market that have already expired. In the most notable case, a packet of antibiotics was sold to a consumer at a local pharmacy with an expiration date of two years prior. The medicine was intended for a child and luckily the father read the expiration date before administering it.

Authorities in Kuwait have not been as swift in dealing with the problem of the rotten food and medicines that have escaped inspection and are being sold on the black market.

This is surprising considering the code of hygiene that restaurants, coffee houses and other eateries in Kuwait must live up to around the clock. The Kuwaiti government has a zero tolerance policy for restaurants found to be serving rotten food or preparing the food in an unhygienic manner. A group of dedicated inspectors perform surprise inspections at every eatery in Kuwait and their findings are usually published in the local newspapers. Offending restaurants are often shut down within minutes of failing the inspection.

However, cracking down on the spoiled food peddlers is a trickery task given that the target is in a constant state of motion. And unfortunately the evidence is typically eaten in good faith without a thought to its questionable origins. “ I have to feed my family,” Reshmi laments, “and am grateful for whatever I am able to afford even if it might make me sick.”

11-21

Trapped by Indifference

April 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

 

feral cats eat fishHis eyes glaze over as his head droops in defeat. His hair is a dingy shade of blonde. His plaintive wail can be heard all night, up until dawn when an eerie silence fills the air. He lays against a wall, slumped in such a way that it is difficult to see if he is alive or dead. His only crime was curiosity. He is a stray dog who made the mistake of climbing onto the roof of an abandoned building in Kuwait. Now he is stuck there, with little to no hope of rescue.

Unlike in the West, domestic animals like cats and dogs are not man’s best friend. In fact, they are considered to be filthy creatures often likened to cockroaches as carriers of disease. Cats, in particular, are as prevalent on the streets of Kuwait as squirrels are in rural America. They dig out their daily meals from dumpsters, sneak a snooze on the roof of a car and spend their days searching for small puddles of water to quench their thirst in the unforgiving desert where temperatures often well exceed 100 F.

It has only been within the past couple of years that stray dogs have made their presence known on the streets. More and more misguided travelers bring a dog home with them after trips abroad to Europe or the USA. Once back in Kuwait, reality sets in as pet supplies are not always plentiful and walking a dog in the desert heat several times a day is not always a welcome activity. It’s unfortunate that, for many, the best option is to simply open up the front door and let the dog run away to live a life of fending for itself on the harsh streets.

And the streets are brutal. There is a general lack of empathy for animals in Kuwait, which is surprising given that it is an Islamic nation. The Holy Quran gave rights to both man and beast centuries ago. It’s not uncommon to find children torturing a defenseless animal in a vacant lot and reports of building caretakers throwing stray cats from the rooftops down to their deaths is a too often reported crime appearing in the local newspapers.

Thankfully, there are some loving souls that have chosen to give animals the rights that they deserve. Even in the case of the dog trapped on the roof, several local residents have thrown food up to him and some have scaled a wall below the roof in an attempt to reach him. Unfortunately, the dog backs away. He fears humans as probably every experience he has ever had has taught him to do.

There are two primary animal relief agencies in Kuwait. PAWS and Animal Friends League of Kuwait are fighting an uphill battle as the unwanted pet population in Kuwait continues its upward spiral. Both organizations are active in the community, providing food and shelter for unwanted animals. And both have hotlines where members from the public can call in to report a stray animal or animal abuse.

As of press time, the stray dog on the roof remains stranded. But help is hopefully on the way, thanks to the animal relief agencies in Kuwait who have recently been contacted. While there is light at the end of the tunnel for this dog, scores of other animals will most likely have bleaker futures in Kuwait as the indifference to their suffering goes on.

Update:  Animal Friends came and one of their volunteers scaled the wall and grabbed the dog.

11-17

The Crimson Tide

March 26, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan MMNS Middle East Correspondent

Red%20Tide

It sounds like something out of a sci-fi blockbuster. A mysterious red blob suffocates and kills anything that gets in its way as it slithers along, leaving mayhem in its wake.

However, in the case of the current crimson tide washing up in the GCC, truth is stranger than fiction. Known as ‘red tide’, the phenomenon is caused by a thick growth of phytoplankton called dinoflagellates, and it occurs naturally.

However, scientists have discovered that some variants of the occurrence may also be a by-product of human activities, such as development programs to extend land borders by adding fillers to the sea, or the dumping of waste into the ocean. The red tide suffocates fish and other marine life to death. Areas of the coastline affected by the phenomenon are often littered with the carcasses of fish, crabs and other sea creatures.

Typically, the red tide rears its’ ugly head in the spring. However, this year the red tide arrived as early as this past October off the coast of the UAE where it still lingers and is spreading to other GCC States including Oman. This past January the Ministry of Environment and Water in Abu Dhabi appointed a specialized team to develop a national course of action to cope with the problem that has left many beaches in the kingdom empty as well as several dinner plates. The ministry has also launched an intense media blitz to inform the public how to stay safe during the peak of the red tides. While studies have shown that it is safe to swim in the tainted water, being in close contact with the algae can cause severe respiratory problems. As for eating the marine life that is veritably soaking up the contaminated water, it is safe to consume seafood as long as the catches are caught fresh and alive. Officials have warned the public from scavenging through the several tons of dead fish that have already washed up along the coast. A mass clean up effort is continuously underway in the affected regions to collect the decomposing corpses and incinerate them at a public facility.    The government of the UAE also plans to develop a system of satellites to serve as an early warning system for when the red tides begin to roll in.

This past week the State of Kuwait was put on alert as the red tide began looking for its next victim. The Environment Public Authority (EPA) in Kuwait has warned the government to give the phenomenon special attention for the sake of public health. The Kuwaiti government sent scientific expert, Dr. Mona Hussein, to the UAE this week to study the red tides first hand before they make landfall in Kuwait. Dr. Hussein will collect water and dead fish samples to bring back to Kuwait for further studies.

As a result of the red tides, the tourism industry in the GCC has taken a massive hit especially in Dubai where divers from all over the world come to enjoy the crystal blue waters and immaculate coral reefs. The murky waters are keeping tourists away and isolating the public from their own coastline.

11-14

Diabetes Spirals Out of Control in Gulf

March 12, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS

mcdonalds The unprecedented growth of diabetes around the world has raised red flags in the medical community, which is seeing a global spike in the disease in both the young and old alike. Nowhere is this more evident than in Gulf nations where the UAE is rated as 2nd in the world for the most diabetics per capita, 27% of the population is diabetic with the same percentage at risk for developing the disease. Other Gulf nations like Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are also fighting an uphill battle against the illness with more and more of their residents succumbing to a similar fate as their tiny Gulf neighbor.

Diabetes is one of the most common chronic illnesses in the world. It happens when the body stops producing insulin or when the body still produces insulin but is unable to respond to it. The most common treatment is the external administration of insulin through injection. However, many cases of diabetes in the Gulf go undetected until severe signs of the disease become manifest. Unlike most western nations, who are increasing budgetary expenditures to meet the influx of chronic disease within their borders, Gulf nations spent less than 4% of the GDP on the health sector last year that is in sharp contrast with the US who spent more than 11% of its GDP.

Perhaps the most disconcerting aspect of diabetes is the requirement, for some patients, to have a limb or extremity amputated. Diabetes restricts the amount of blood that flows throughout the body thus damaging nerves and often causing gangrene to set in. The only way to save the patient’s life is to amputate and even then it is estimated that the patient will only have 5 more years to live. In Saudi Arabia, where 25% of the population is diabetic, more than 90 foot amputations are carried out each month, which roughly translates into 3 amputations per day.

The increased revenue from years of oil surpluses and a life of ease has created a perfect storm that has swept through the Middle East with a ferocity that has taken many by surprise. With more money in the family budget, many families eat out a few times a week. And the choice of restaurant is not always the healthiest. Fast food restaurants, junk food and fizzy carbonated drinks have for years crept into the hearts of Gulf denizens who often prefer a McDonald’s Big Mac to traditional fare. Add to that the lifestyle in the Gulf, which turns lounging around into a sport and makes ‘exercise’ a dirty word.  Children are the most at risk for developing diabetes before they even reach puberty due to obesity, a decrease in physical activity and an increase in sedentary activities such as surfing the Internet or playing video games.

Diabetes is called the ‘silent killer’ for a reason as many people either don’t know they have it or ignore the treatment to care for it. Eating healthfully and engaging in exercise is often pushed to the wayside in favor of more pressing issues, like earning a living or caring for a family. According to the International Diabetes Fund, there are more than 250 million known cases of diabetes in the world. That figure is set to exponentially rise to 380 million in the next 15 years. And unless the governments of the Gulf take preventative measures now, the Middle East nations will make up a bulk of those cases. For this reason, the UAE based Harvard Medical School Dubai Center (HMSDC) has launched an initiative in cooperation with His Highness Mohamed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Academic Medical Center to make 2009 the year to combat diabetes in the kingdom, educate the public and help doctors to better treat the disease.

11-12

American TV Popular in the Middle East

March 5, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan MMNS Middle East Correspondent

friends There certainly is no love lost between most Middle East countries and the US, where peaceful coexistence is often stormier than two dogs fighting over a juicy bone.  Years of bias, perpetrated by American foreign policy, has left a bitter taste in the hearts and minds of the denizens of the Gulf that won’t easily be washed away by mere ‘sweet talk’ from the Obama administration. However, politics aside, there is a quiet love affair between the East and West that has only grown more intense over the past few years. Regardless of the innumerable ‘fatwas’ issued about the evils of the boob tube or outright condemnations by Muslim clerics, western television and cinema is the daily bread of many Gulf residents, and have  made an irrevocable mark on the social fabric of the region.

Talk-Diva Oprah Winfrey’s show is just as popular in Kuwait as it is in the suburbs of California. Dramas like ‘Desperate Housewives’ and ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ have Gulf dwellers glued to their television screens, just like their American counterparts, on sofas in the UAE, Oman and Bahrain.  And even syndicated shows like ‘Friends’ and ‘Seinfeld’ still resonate with the Gulf audience. And while English is not the primary language spoken in the region, all the programming is made complete with Arabic subtitles at the bottom. A notable side effect of the translation crawler is that many Arab speakers are learning to speak English, courtesy of the western programming.

There are two primary satellite television stations situated in Saudi Arabia and Dubai that send out American programming 24/7 throughout the whole Gulf region.  The media giant of the Gulf is known as the Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC) and is completely financed by Saudi Arabia. The MBC Group has evolved over the years to include 5 separate channels including MBC3 which airs American cartoons dubbed in Arabic, MBC4 which airs American sitcoms and dramas, as well as the newest channel named MBCMax which airs the latest Hollywood blockbusters to grace the silver screen. The second biggest media giant in the Middle East is known as OneTV, which is owned and operated by the UAE. It combines the best of both worlds, to include western sitcoms and movies in its monthly repertoire.

Both media empires compete for viewers’ attention by offering the most sought-after shows without charging a single penny. Unlike the popular Showtime channel, which is the predominant pay channel in the Gulf, and rakes in billions of oil soaked dollars every year from their subscribers. However, thanks to cutthroat advertisers hocking everything from shampoo to cooking oil, the television business is becoming more lucrative in the Gulf  than the ‘black gold’ that lies beneath the land. Advertisers scoop airtime up as fast as it becomes available, much to the chagrin of viewers who have to wait between 4-5 minutes for the commercials to end, with each show having no less than 3 commercial breaks.

Surprisingly, the key to the success of satellite television in the Middle East is censorship, which keeps everyone happy. Scenes depicting intimacy or even a kiss are cut off. Programming dealing with things such as homosexuality or teenage pregnancy is usually not aired. It is really up to the code of morals followed by each country where the stations are based. For example, the MBC group based in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia almost never shows intimate situations, whereas OneTV based in liberal Dubai has been known to allow some kissing scenes to appear on its viewer’s screens. For the most part, there is not a lot of governmental regulation as to what is aired by either the stations airing the programming or the countries receiving the feed.

However, one country has gone to great lengths to block American television and cinema. Iran only allows a handful of approved American serials to be played on the state-run news station. As a result, young Iranians are downloading their favorite American serials from the Internet or purchasing them from video dealers.
With the Middle East region constantly feeling the strain of threat, whether from internally or from abroad, western television offers viewers in the Gulf a chance to forget their problems and indulge in a bit of escapism, resplendent in jaw dropping comedy and breathtaking stuntmanship that could only be concocted in Hollywood and exported to the rest of the world.

11-11

The Bachelor City

December 11, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan- MMNS Middle East Correspondent

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The phrase ‘hired help’ takes on an extreme meaning in the Gulf with just about everyone, who is anyone, employing a bevy of service workers to fulfill their every whim. The majority of the workers are males hailing from Southeast Asia who leave their homelands in the hope for a better life in the oil rich region where they earn a meager living, which they send back to their families. They are garbage collectors, office tea boys, stockists, chauffeurs, janitors and are basically ‘jack-of-all-trades’ in every sense. They do the work that no one else wants to do and keep the Gulf nations running smoothly. Without this source of cheap labor, the current construction and economic boom in the region would come to a screeching halt.

However, the side effect of importing laborers from other nations is that there is an abundance of bachelors residing in residential areas, which often causes problems for families and the community as a whole. Nowhere is this more evident than in the State of Kuwait. According to recent research conducted in the tiny Gulf nation, bachelors are responsible for the bulk of crime in the country with theft and sexual assault topping the list of transgressions. It comes as no surprise that the so-called bachelors have turned to crime when they have limited opportunities in Kuwait, zero chance of promotion in their menial jobs and are lucky if they are paid their salary on time or at all. Some have no choice but to dig through the garbage to earn money from recyclables as their ‘payday’ is unreliable.

The issue of the bachelors has long been a sticking point in the Kuwaiti Parliament with MP’s from every district highlighting citizen complaints about the bachelor’s crimes and presence on the streets into all hours of the night. This past week the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor (MSAL) announced plans to construct a ‘bachelor city’ to house the ever-growing number of unattached men in the country. The first complex will be built in Sabhan city. It will cover 60,000 square meters and accommodate an estimated 3,000 laborers. The second complex, still in the planning stage, will cover 1000 square meters and house an estimated 9,000 workers. Both complexes will contain entertainment facilities and basic service businesses, like mini-grocery stores and barber shops. The governmental aim is to relocate all bachelors from the residential areas of Kuwait into their very own city to limit the opportunities for crime and to appease residents.

However, it remains to be seen if the idea will be a success or a failure with many bachelors up in arms for being forced to leave the only homes they have known since they landed in Kuwait. Many are law-abiding citizens whose only crime is that they are labeled as menaces to society simply because of the actions of other bachelors. The bachelors will be bused to and from their places of work in every city of Kuwait each day and return to their own city at night.

When asked about the plan for the bachelor’s city, Muhammad Amin, who is a Pakistani bachelor and day laborer said, “I think it is wrong to blame all bachelors for the problems of the country. The finger-pointing should be directed to the recruiting agencies who hire us from abroad. Moving us all to one city is not going to solve any problems and will cause anger amongst us for being kept away from society as if we are lepers.”

10-51

The Arab Bailout

October 30, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS

bank-op

Vans line up at Gulf Bank to deliver money to the bank branches.

Photo Courtesy www.248am.com.

When news of the U.S. bailout hit the Middle East newswire, the snickering could most likely have been heard halfway around the World. There is no love lost between the U.S. and most Gulf States as the mass majority of Gulf residents view the U.S. as an aggressor and not the liberator they claim to be. However, no one is laughing now as the very first casualty of the World economic crisis, stemming directly from the U.S. bailout, has fallen right in the State of Kuwait, which is sure to send shockwaves to neighboring GCC nations.

One of the most prestigious and trusted financial institutions in Kuwait, Gulf Bank, had to be bailed out by the Kuwaiti government this past week. As Kuwait’s second largest lender, Gulf Bank suffered losses as a result of trading in oil derivatives and its’ own investors refused to help settle those losses. The Central Bank of Kuwait (CBK) has stepped in and is quoted as saying it, “backs the bank and fully guarantees its deposits.” The CBK also halted trading by Gulf Bank in the Kuwait Stock Exchange and sent its’ own surpervisors to deal with risk management. Bank records will be closely scrutinized to determine the scale of the risks the bank took without the knowledge of the CBK.

From the moment the news broke in this tiny Gulf nation, jittery Gulf Bank customers raced to the nearest ATM’s, local branches and even online to immediately withdraw the full balances from their accounts. All of the branches were swarmed with panic-stricken customers and rioting nearly broke out at one of those branches. By the mid-morning of the first day it is estimated that over $100 million US dollars was withdrawn. By the second day, rumors were rife that the all the Gulf Bank branches were under lockdown and customers were being limited as to how much they could withdraw from the ATM machines.

However, to hear Gulf Banks version of the events over the past few days, one might feel like they’ve entered the ‘Twilight Zone’. According to General Manager for Board Affairs Fawzy Al-Thunayan the reason for so many customers descending on the branches of the bank is because, “It’s the time of salaries … It’s the end of the month.” Al-Thunayan also denied that money from CBK is being pumped into his bank despite reports of several armored vehicles being spotted lined up at many of the main branches. 

Weighing in on the turmoil facing Gulf Bank, an employee of one of their main rivals National Bank of Kuwait (NBK) had this to say, “Our bank has been in business since 1952 and we know how to handle our client’s money. If Gulf Bank is having problems, small investors have the right to withdraw their money and look for other banking options.” As the largest lender, by assets, its not surprising that former Gulf Bank customers have been flooding NBK to open up new accounts.

So far Gulf Bank is the first ever Kuwaiti bank to buckle under the pressure of an increasingly uncertain global economy. Other banks in Kuwait are discussing ways to safeguard themselves from falling into a similar situation. A local Arabic daily newspaper has reported that at least four proposals for mergers between Kuwaiti banks have been received by the CBK. By merging into a larger entity, banks can best weather the current economic firestorm.

While Kuwait is the first country to see the demise of one of its’ banks up close and personal, it is not the first country to guarantee bank deposits. The UAE took the preventative measure of calming down its’ investors and clients by guaranteeing all deposits in the first quarter of October 2008.

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