Ringing in the New Year

December 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

happy_New_Year_s_hat_5The time has come to bid adieu to yet another year. Countries around the world, from Russia to Japan, will ring in 2012 with the pomp and pageantry befitting of a new year. However, for many, bidding farewell to a passing year and welcoming in another one is mere ritual. For others, saying goodbye to 2011 gives reason to pause and reflect on the past twelve months. Nowhere is this truer than the Middle East where the “Arab Spring” was born and continues to take baby steps to freedom and democracy. Albeit through infinite tears and immense bloodshed.

Countries in the region ring in the New Year differently. In Kuwait, the celebration is limited to private parties and the odd buffet meal at a five-start restaurant. In Saudi Arabia, it is largely ignored since following the Islamic calendar, as opposed to the Gregorian one, takes precedent. And in countries like Egypt and Syria, there will be little reason to celebrate given the tumultuous political environment that rages on with little end in sight. There is one country, however, that always has a New Year’s Eve celebration that rivals even the grandest of celebrations in the West. And that’s Dubai.

The tiny United Arab Emirate’s municipality of Dubai holds one of the biggest New Year’s Eve celebrations in the region each year without exception. And this year, event organizers have promised a bash bigger and better than ever. The tallest building in the world, Burj Al-Khalifa will take center stage as a larger than life pyrotechnical display with shake it to its very core and illuminate the skies in a sea of colors. The nearby building Burj Al Arab will also have its own fireworks display at the stroke of midnight.

Resorts, hotels and nightclubs in Dubai have a host of activities that start well before midnight and will last well into the morning hours of New Year’s Day. One of the most unique celebrations will be held at the Fairmont Hotel where an acrobatic performance of “Charlie and the Cirque Factory” will be held. Guests will be treated to dessert and candy at the stroke of midnight. Another notable celebration will be held aboard the QE2 ocean liner, however the black-tie affair is by invite only and is being touted as the most exclusive New Year’s Eve event in the entire world.

A slew of celebrities have descended upon Dubai this past week to ring in the New Year with their entourages. Indian mega-star Shah Rukh Khan and British actress Amy Childs are just two personalities that plan to welcome 2012 in Dubai. American actresses Lindsay Lohan and Pamela Anderson are also confirmed to be participating in the QE2 festivities.

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Houstonian Corner (V13-I45)

November 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Needs Outweigh Resources for State Infrastructure

Former Transportation Secretary calls report ‘blinding flash of the obvious’

The message was clear from two committees reporting to the Texas Transportation Commission on Thursday – there are no one-size-fits-all solutions to the state’s infrastructure needs and the wants and needs for creation and maintenance of highways throughout the state are much greater than the state’s ability to finance them.

In addition to the committee reports, the Commission also heard an update on the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) ongoing modernization plan. “The process is beginning to move forward,” said Eric Gleason, TxDOT’s Director of Public Transportation. He said implementation of some of the projects is coming into focus and “the pace is quickening.” However, Gleason, noted that human resource availability to put some of the recommendations into place timely while continuing to fulfill day-to-day operations of the agency is a concern.

Three members of the Strategic Research Program Advisory Committee testified before the Commission Thursday. According to Rick Collins, director of the Research and Technology Implementation Office at TxDOT, the committee is charged with making recommendations to TxDOT regarding research topics that should be explored relating to transportation in the state. Those research projects will be awarded to universities throughout the state who respond to an upcoming request for proposals. Through these topics and the research, the committee will help prepare the department for some of the challenges the state and TxDOT will face in the future.

The committee held its first meeting in August and told commissioners this week that they quickly realized there was a lack of sustainability for maintaining and creating new infrastructure.

Committee member Mary Peters, former U.S. Transportation Secretary, said the committee’s report might appear to be a “blinding flash of the obvious.” She said it would be important not to reinvent the wheel but to “bring data to bear and focus on where this industry and the state can get more money” for its transportation infrastructure needs.

Another committee member, Ken Allen, told commissioners that as the committee was putting together its “wish list” for research projects that might result in a better way to use transportation funding for more projects, it narrowed the scope to three subjects, which he said were “deliberately kept very broad for the researchers.”
 
Among the topics was what he called “demand leveling,” or getting the most out of existing infrastructure, as well as innovative financing options and “managing the decline,” or prioritizing the use of limited funds. Regarding funding, Hall said the question becomes “how to best spend the money we have,” which he said would have to be “spent incredibly wisely.”

Similar messages were brought to the commission by Tim Brown, Bell County commissioner, who serves on the I-35 Advisory Committee.

Brown told the Commission that his group initially came up with little more than a list of projects. However, he said that illustrates that there is no one-size-fits-all solution because the solution changes from one geographic region to another.

Saying a variety of rail components will have to be part of the future solutions for the I-35 projects, the county commissioner said it became glaringly obvious that “we’ve got to find some more ways of funding those projects.

“Funding seems to be the common denominator we keep coming back to,” he said. Brown noted that the committee came up with “appropriate solutions, but no funding stream.”

The challenge for the committee, he said, is to “identify what needs to be done” and then come back to try to find ways to fund it.

“Transportation is so important that we’re going to have to get serious about funding,” said Brown.

In other action, the Transportation Commission took action to add Interstate 69 to the state highway system, allowing TxDOT officials to label the first Texas stretch of the nearly 1,000-mile interstate since I-69 received federal high-priority route designation more than a decade ago. This action will allow TxDOT to add the concurrent designation of I-69 to a 6.2-mile section of US 77 between I-37 and SH 44 in Nueces County without additional funding, right-of-way or construction because the existing highway already meets interstate standards.

Well Attended ICNA South Central Region Conference

Theme: Quran – The Scripture That Saved The World

picturehouston

Sheikh Omer Suleiman Speaks at the Sixth Annual ICNA-MAS Conference at University of Houston

Thousands of Muslims from the US South Central Region (Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kansas) attended the 6th Annual Conference of the Islamic Circle of North (ICNA), and the Muslim American Society (MAS) at the University of Houston, on Saturday October 22nd.

Theme of the conference was: Quran- The Scripture That Saved Humanity. A parallel Youth Conference was organized by Young Muslims (YM), on the subject of “Peer Pressure – Peer Power”.
Prominent speakers and scholars spoke, including Sheikh Nauman Ali Khan, Sheikh Omer Suleiman, Imam Khalid Griggs, Qari Qasim Mazhar, Dr. Mohammad Yunus, Mustafa White, Hafiz Tauqeer Shah, Dr. Shahid Rafiq, Dr. Mohammad Shalaby.

Speakers were quite interactive and their presentations were practical, inspirational, and made the people happy.

Some of the subjects that were discussed and presented included: “Islamic Sharia: A Divine Legal Framework for a Prosperous Society”; “Speaking to Your Lord”; “Quran: Theory and Practice”; “The Vision & Mission”

In the Youth conference, the various themes that were touched included: “Jumping on the Bandwagon”; “A change is gonna come”; “What about you?”; “Take-home Message”; and “Will you be Missed?”

At the eve of Eid-AL-Adha, the bazaar at the conference had many Islamic Garments and Gifts stalls.

By the Grace of God, a successful fundraising for ICNA was done by Sheikh Omer Suleiman, where around $100,000 were raised for the Learning, Dawah and Community Services funds of ICNA.

For more information, one can visit www.ICNASouth.Com

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Crescent Moon, Waning West

November 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The decline of Western power in the Arab world

ShowImage.ashxAFTER a slow summer, the Arab spring has turned into a turbulent autumn. The past few days have seen the gruesome end of Muammar Qaddafi, the more edifying spectacle of an orderly and open election in Tunisia (see article) and the death of Saudi Arabia’s ancient crown prince Sultan amid demands for the kingdom to modernise faster. Egypt, by far the most populous Arab country, is poised to hold its first proper election next month. Revolts and civil strife continue across the region, from Syria to Yemen and Bahrain.

For the West, whose ties to Arab dictators once gave it great clout in the Middle East, events in the region have spun way out of control.

That fact was underlined this week by the Iraqis’ insistence that all American forces must quit the country by the end of the year. Yet the West should not regret this turn of events. The power that it has lost in the short term should, in the long run, be replaced by influence born of good relations with decent governments.

On balance, the Arab world is in far better shape than it was less than a year ago. For sure, the economies of all the countries affected by the democratic upheavals have slumped. That is true even of Tunisia, which has the best education and skills in the region. But dictatorship and state control suffocated the Arab economies—even those awash with oil. Once Arab countries’ borders open up and their governments become accountable to their citizens, they are likely to grow faster. And that will not happen until they have put in place a system of government that gives a far wider degree of participation than before.

It is beginning to happen. Tunisia has led the way. Egypt promises to follow, though the generals in charge of its transition have been horribly inept of late, raising fears that the country may slip backwards to disorder or military control. But a parliament is due for election next month. It is to choose an assembly that may take a year or so to write a constitution providing for the election of a new Egyptian president. Libya, too, should have elections within a year.

Everywhere risks lapsing into bouts of chaos and strife. But this trio of north African states looks set to give a democratic fillip to other Arab countries, including those such as Syria that seem destined for a time to be soaked in blood while they strive for liberation.

The rise of political Islam is not necessarily cause for alarm among democrats in the West and the Arab world. In Tunisia an Islamist party, Nahda (“Renaissance”), that was brutally banned for decades has won a stunning victory at the polls. Egypt’s Muslim Brothers are likely to do well too. In Libya the Islamists may also be gaining ground. This rattles secular-minded Arab liberals and many well-wishing Westerners.

But a more open and tolerant brand of political Islam better suited to the modern world seems to be emerging, especially now that its proponents must compete for the favours of voters who admire the Islamists’ hostility to corruption, but dislike the sectarian and conservative attitudes that many of them expressed when they were underground.

No one can be certain that if Islamists gain power they will give it up at the ballot box, but secular rulers sometimes fail that test. And, on the whole, the threat of religious extremism with which strongmen used to justify repression has not materialised. Barring a few ungoverned pockets in Yemen and on the fringes of the Sahara, al-Qaeda has failed to benefit from the democratic wind.

It’s a local show these days

The strength of these revolutions is that they have been almost entirely home-grown. Those in Egypt and Tunisia had no outside help.

Syria’s brave protesters are on their own and may, in time, triumph.

Libya’s new rulers could not have succeeded without NATO’s bombers, but the absence of Western ground troops and of proconsuls telling the locals what to do has been in salutary contrast to what happened in Iraq eight years ago, where democracy was crudely imposed on an unprepared people (see Lexington).

After the deaths of some 150,000-plus locals and around 5,000 Americans and other foreigners, Iraq has a freely elected government. But it has not developed the habits of tolerance between communities and the independent institutions that underlie all truly successful democracies. A decade of American hard power has been less effective than a few months of peaceful protest in setting countries on the road towards representative government.

Partly because of the Iraqi adventure, America—at least its foreign policy—remains heartily disliked by Arabs across the region. That is only slightly less true under Barack Obama than it was under George Bush. America’s unpopularity stems partly from its backing of Israel and the continuing humiliation of the Palestinians, partly from its willingness to use force to get its way and partly from its history of supporting useful Arab dictators. Prince Sultan’s death may make this last point particularly salient. If the reactionary Prince Nayef becomes the crown prince and de facto regent, America may struggle to maintain an alliance with him alongside friendships with the Arab world’s nascent democracies.

Yet in the decline of Western power lie the seeds of hope for healthier relations in the future. Although the Arab world’s revolutionaries in general, and the Islamists in particular, are unlikely to hail the West as a model, they seem to be moving towards open political and economic systems. Nobody in Egypt, Tunisia or Libya is arguing for a Saudi Arabian, Iranian or even Chinese model. Arab students, businessmen and tourists in their thousands still choose to go to the West for their studies, their deals and their fun.

The prospects for Western influence in the Arab world are good. But in the future it will be won through education, investment and, when requested, advice on building up institutions. Such levers do not work as quickly as those that were forged from deals with unpopular and unstable dictators. But, in the end, they are likely to prove more reliable.

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Questions Abound over Iran “Plot” to Kill Saudi Envoy

October 13, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Alistair Lyon

2011-10-12T013728Z_261663125_GM1E7AC0QST01_RTRMADP_3_USA-SECURITY-IRAN

Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the United States Adel al-Jubeir speaks to the media at the Mideast Peace Conference in Annapolis, in this November 27, 2007 file photo. The United States accused Iran on October 11, 2011 of backing a plot to kill al-Jubeir, escalating tensions with Tehran and stirring up a hornet’s nest in the Gulf, where Saudi Arabia and Iran have long jostled for power.                    

REUTERS/Jason Reed/Files

LONDON (Reuters) – You couldn’t make it up — or could you?

U.S. allegations that an Iranian spy outfit attempted to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington in a convoluted plot involving a U.S. informant posing as a member of a Mexican drug cartel seem bizarre to say the least.

Still, Washington says the drama justifies new international sanctions against Iran and Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief insists that “somebody in Iran” must pay the price.

“The burden of proof and the amount of evidence in the case is overwhelming and clearly shows official Iranian responsibility for this,” Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal said.

The potential consequences are dire in a tense region where the United States and Israel reserve the right to attack Iran to stop it acquiring a nuclear bomb, a goal Tehran disavows.

For starters, the row could throttle any slim chance of resuming negotiations to settle the nuclear dispute.

Saudi-Iranian acrimony has ratcheted up this year, especially since Saudi troops intervened to help Bahrain’s Sunni rulers crush protests led by the island’s Shi’ite majority and fomented, according to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, by Iran.

From across the Middle East’s Arab-Persian and Sunni-Shi’ite faultlines, Riyadh also accuses Tehran of inciting unrest among minority Shi’ites in its own oil-rich Eastern Province, and has often urged the United States in the past to attack Iran, according to diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks.

The plot suspects are Iranian-American Manssor Arbabsiar, 56, arrested on September 29 in New York, and Gholam Shakuri, said to be a member of Quds Force, the covert, operational arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. He is thought to be in Iran.

U.S. evidence rests mainly on Arbabsiar’s alleged confession that he had acted for men he thought were top Quds officials.

MOTIVE AND MEANS

Yet questions abound over the putative plot, not least the classic ones of motive and means. Many analysts are skeptical.

What could Iran hope to gain from an assassination that would have brought fierce retribution? Why try to recruit a hitman from a Mexican drug cartel instead of using its own?

On the other hand, why would the United States, even with a presidential election looming next year, go public with such accusations unless they were well founded, knowing the impact they could have on an already volatile Middle East?

“Killing the Saudi envoy in America has no benefit for Iran,” said independent Iranian analyst Saeed Leylaz. “Why should Iran create hostility when the region is boiling?

Dismissing the “very amateur scenario” as out of character, he said: “Iran might have conducted some political adventurism like denying the Holocaust, but an assassination attempt, particularly in America, is so un-Iranian.”

It would certainly be a departure for Iran, although it has assassinated its own dissidents abroad since the 1979 Islamic revolution, and it has used Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and Shi’ite militias in Iraq to further its own aims.

Decision-making in Tehran is murky and factional rivalry is rife. But the idea that rogue Quds elements could concoct such a momentous plot seems a stretch. That Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei would authorize it seems more so.

“The United States would not blame the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) without substantial evidence,” argued U.S.-based global intelligence company Stratfor.

“However, this plot seems far-fetched considering the Iranian intelligence services’ usual methods of operation and the fact that its ramifications would involved substantial political risk,” it added.

Former CIA agent Robert Baer poured scorn on the reported Iranian conspiracy. “This stinks to holy hell,” he told Britain’s Guardian newspaper. “The Quds Force are very good. They don’t sit down with people they don’t know and make a plot. They use proxies and they are professional about it.”

CONSEQUENCES UNCLEAR

How this lurid episode in the adversarial relationships between Iran, the United States and its Saudi ally will play out in a Middle East already in turmoil is not yet clear.

Iran’s parliamentary speaker, Ali Larijani, said the “fabricated allegations” were a U.S. bid to divert attention from Arab uprisings that Iran says were inspired by its own Islamic revolution which toppled the U.S.-backed Shah in 1979.

Tehran has watched in glee as popular revolts have ousted U.S. allies in Egypt and Tunisia, even if Islam has not been the overt driving force behind the surge of Arab unrest – it may have more in common with Iran’s own street protests against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election in 2009.

Iran, however, is disconcerted by the upheaval in Syria, its only solid Arab ally and overland link to Hezbollah.

The fall of President Bashar al-Assad would damage Iran’s “resistance” axis and perhaps strengthen Saudi Arabia and Turkey, its main Sunni rivals for influence in the Middle East.

Major General Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force, is already on a U.S. sanctions list for allegedly supporting Assad’s violent six-month-old crackdown on dissent.

Nevertheless, it seems doubtful that any of the protagonists would want to use the alleged Iranian plot as a pretext for all-out confrontation in a region the world depends on for oil.

Given that no one was hurt, Iran, the United States and Saudi Arabia may avert any violent fallout — although Washington clearly intends to push for further international punishment of Iran for its defiance of U.S. policy.

“More U.S. sanctions will be about the limit of it,” said Alastair Newton, a former senior British Foreign Office official and now senior political analyst for Japanese bank Nomura. “The U.S. case hardly looks solid, either, so let’s wait and see.”

U.S. officials have themselves acknowledged that the details of the plot smack of a Hollywood script, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton jesting: “Nobody could make that up, right?”

(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Tehran, Peter Apps and Dmitry Zhdannikov in London, and Washington/New York bureaux; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)

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Head of Arab Broadcaster Al Jazeera Resigns

September 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

DUBAI (Reuters) – The head of Arab TV channel Al Jazeera said on Tuesday he was leaving the network, but gave no reason for his departure at a time when the station’s coverage has played an important role in unprecedented protest movements rocking the Arab world.

“I have decided to move on,” the network’s director-general Waddah Khanfar said in a resignation note emailed to Al Jazeera staff and also publicized on social media site Twitter.

“For some time I have been discussing my desire to step down with the chairman of the board. He has kindly expressed understanding and has accepted my decision.”

Since it was launched in 1996, Al Jazeera has become the highest-profile satellite news broadcaster in the Middle East. It has frequently had difficulties with Western and Arab governments in a region where governments have traditionally kept tight control over state media.

Al Jazeera, owned by the Qatari government, aired round-the-clock coverage of uprisings that brought down veteran rulers in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya this year, and the station promotes itself as a democratic voice in the region.

Critics say it is more timid in covering events closer to its Gulf home, and the cameras of its main Arabic channel were notably absent during a month of similar protests in the Gulf Arab state of Bahrain which the government crushed in mid-March.

Al Jazeera’s bureau chief in Lebanon, Ghassan Bin Jiddo, resigned in April, apparently in disagreement over its coverage of the revolts, which have also engulfed Syria and Yemen.

Leaked US diplomatic cables described the channel as a tool in Qatari diplomacy. The channel has played an important role in raising the prestige of the small, wealthy Gulf Arab state.

(Reporting by Nour Merza, Editing by Andrew Hammond)

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Gulf Perfumers Smell Opportunity

September 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

* Increasing global interest in Arab fragrances

* Local manufacturers see opportunities but competition fierce

* Regulation, marketing muscle are obstacles

By Martina Fuchs and Rachna Uppal

2011-09-07T153956Z_660766678_GM1E7971TXU01_RTRMADP_3_GULF-PERFUMES

Men visit the Ajmal fragrance store in Dubai Mall, August 4, 2011. Saudi Arabia is the Gulf’s largest regional market for fragrances, accounting for $827.5 million last year; the UAE was in second place with $205.8 million. By 2014, it expects fragrance sales to have grown 14.4 percent in Saudi Arabia and 16.5 percent in the UAE. Some predict even faster growth because of tourism and business travel to the region, in addition to rising competition as an increasing number of international players move into the Middle Eastern fragrance market. Picture taken August 4, 2011.

REUTERS/Mosab Omar

DUBAI, Sept 7 (Reuters) – Walk through any of Dubai’s immaculate, air-conditioned shopping malls, and the scent of spicy perfume becomes an integral part of the shopping experience.

From boutiques to sales clerks offering samples, there’s no shortage of fragrances lingering in the air, part of a tradition dating back thousands of years.

“I don’t count the layers my wife puts on every day, but her smell always blows me away,” says Mustafa al-Muhana, a Saudi Arabian visitor to one of the specialist perfume stores.

Per capita consumption of perfumes in the Gulf region is among the highest in the world. Men and women equally enjoy applying layer upon layer of scents which linger long after the wearer has disappeared from sight.

“If a perfume doesn’t leave a trail, it’s not good enough,” says Abdulla Ajmal, deputy general manager at Ajmal Perfumes, a United Arab Emirates-based fragrance manufacturer.

That belief is providing healthy sales for foreign makers of perfumes in the Gulf and also supporting a growing fragrance manufacturing industry within the region, which is struggling to diversify away from its traditional reliance on energy exports.

Saudi Arabia is the Gulf’s largest regional market for fragrances, accounting for $827.5 million last year; the UAE was in second place with $205.8 million, according to consumer research firm Euromonitor International. By 2014, it expects fragrance sales to have grown 14.4 percent in Saudi Arabia and 16.5 percent in the UAE.

Some predict even faster growth because of tourism and business travel to the region, in addition to rising competition as an increasing number of international players move into the Middle Eastern fragrance market, including Giorgio Armani, Yves Saint Laurent and Guerlain.

“The growth of the Gulf perfume industry will be exponential,” says Shazad Haider, chairman of Fragrance Foundation Arabia, the regional outpost of the Fragrance Foundation, a group which represents the industry’s interests globally. “We will see a minimum twofold growth over the next three years.”

The people of the Arabian Peninsula have used oud, a perfume resin from the agarwood tree, as well as sandalwood, amber, musk and roses for over two thousand years; they are still the dominant ingredients in local perfumes.

Perfume is repeatedly mentioned in the Islamic hadiths, which record the actions and words of Prophet Mohammed, and it is reported that he himself never refused perfume, intensifying its significance for all Muslims.

Many perfumers say they have identified a trend in which traditional Arab fragrances are starting to attract broader, global interest.

“We have a strong line that uses other Western notes but the interesting point is that our European, American…customers are looking for the oriental notes, especially the oud oil,” says Shadi Samra, brand manager at Saudi Arabia-based Arabian Oud, which has flagship stores in London and Paris.

In Dubai’s warehouse district, Ajmal Perfumes operates a $10 million, 150,000-square-foot (14,000-square-metre) factory that makes around 50,000 bottles of Arab and French fragrances a day.

Abdulla Ajmal said the turnover of the family-owned business in 2010 was $200 million; sales were dampened by the political unrest in the Arab world this year, but Ajmal said he still aimed for 6 percent growth in 2011.

For now, however, many local manufacturers may struggle to achieve their international ambitions because they do not comply with global industry standards covering restricted ingredients and quality control.

“If you want to export to anywhere else, not just to the West, but also Asia, you are going to have to comply with IFRA standards,” said Stephen Weller of the Brussels-based International Fragrance Association (IFRA). He added that the association currently had no Gulf members.

And while Gulf Arab perfume manufacturers seek growth abroad, they face stiff competition from French and global players on their home ground.

L’Oréal Middle East, the regional arm of the French cosmetics giant, accounted for 9.6 percent of fragrance sales in the UAE in 2009, the biggest share, followed by Ajmal with 9.2 percent, according to Euromonitor International. The three largest domestic makers, Ajmal, Rasasi and Designer Shaik, together accounted for 21 percent.

“Most of the international houses work very closely with consumers here in the region…They adapt and introduce something customised, or they modify some of their product ranges to fit the taste of the region,” said Mohamed al-Fahim, chief executive of Paris Gallery, one of the largest regional fragrance retailers.

At the store’s Dubai Mall branch, Arabian-style glass bottles now carry the names of brands such as Guerlain and Clive Christian. Armani Prive and Tom Ford, among others, have developed ranges specifically for the region, and others plan to follow.

A 50 ml bottle of French brand Kilian’s Arabian Nights collection retails for about 1,500 dirhams ($410). In an ackowledgement of the heavier-than-average use of perfume in the region, a refill sells for half-price.

Global fragrance houses which can adapt to brand-conscious Gulf consumers still enjoy hefty advantages over most local perfumers in the form of bigger marketing budgets, technology and general experience of the industry.

“We still have a way to go to produce something of the same level or even better than what is produced in Europe or the U.S.,” Paris Gallery’s Fahim said.

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Study: Kashmir Mass Graves Hold Thousands

August 25, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Lydia Polgreen

Kashmir-ProtestsNEW DELHI — Thousands of bullet-riddled bodies are buried in dozens of unmarked graves across Kashmir, a state human rights commission inquiry has concluded, many of them likely to be those of civilians who disappeared more than a decade ago in a brutal insurgency.

The inquiry, the result of three years of investigative work by senior police officers working for the Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission, brings the first official acknowledgment that civilians might have been buried in mass graves in Kashmir, a region claimed by both India and Pakistan where insurgents waged a bloody battle for independence in the early 1990s. The report sheds new light on a grim chapter in the history of the troubled region and confirms a 2008 report by a Kashmiri human rights organization that found hundreds of bodies buried in the Kashmir Valley.

Tens of thousands of people died in the insurgency, which began in 1989 and was partly fueled by weapons, cash and training from Pakistan.

According to the report, the bodies of hundreds of men described as unidentified militants were buried in unmarked graves. But of the more than 2,000 bodies, 574 were identified as local residents.
“There is every probability that these unidentified dead bodies buried in various unmarked graves at 38 places of North Kashmir may contain the dead bodies of enforced disappearances,” the report said.

The report catalogs 2,156 bodies found in graves in four districts of Kashmir that had been at the heart of the insurgency. It called for a thorough inquiry and a collection of DNA evidence to identify the dead, and, for the future, proper identification of anyone killed by security forces in Kashmir to avoid abuse of special laws shielding the military from prosecution there.

Thousands of people, mostly young men, have disappeared in Kashmir.

Some went to be trained as militants in the Pakistan-controlled portion of Kashmir and were killed in the fighting. Many others were detained by Indian security forces. The wives they left behind are known as half-widows, because the fates of their husbands are unknown. Parents keep vigil for sons who were arrested two decades ago.

Parveena Ahanger’s son Javed was taken away by the police on Aug. 18, 1990, and never seen again. An investigation found that he had been killed by security forces, but they have not been prosecuted, she said.

“I never got any response from the government,” she said. “I never got his dead body.”

After years of fighting in the courts to find out what happened to Javed, Ms. Ahanger was skeptical that the human rights report would get her son’s body back, or bring her justice.
“If the high court doesn’t give any justice on this issue, what will the state human rights commission do?” she said.

Zahoor Wani, an activist who works with the families of people who disappeared during the insurgency, said that the report was a welcome first step but that the government must identify the dead and allow families to bury their relatives.

“It is a very good thing that they acknowledge it,” Mr. Wani said.

“These families have been living in a hope to see these people again.

“They are neither dead nor alive,” he said. “We need to move them to one pole or the other.”

Hari Kumar contributed reporting.

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Ramadan: Light Up My Life

August 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

ramadan2The celebration of Ramadan, in the Middle East region, is a spectacular affair full of worship, fasting and just being kind to your fellow neighbor. Restaurants, cafes and local businesses pull out all of the stops by offering special late night menus and a special dessert menu to tempt just about any palate. While food is a big part of the Ramadan tradition, since the breaking of the fast is one of the great joy’s bestowed upon Muslims by God Almighty, there is also another tradition that continues to grow bigger with each passing year.

The holy season of Ramadan heralds in a whole month full of blessings that fill the Muslim’s heart with joy, from the crack of dawn until the sun makes its serene descent towards the gilded horizon. However, once the sun sets, there is nothing dim about the auspicious nights of Ramadan.  From Cairo to Palestine, tiny lanterns and strands of brightly colored bulbs ensure that the Ramadan nights sparkle. The skies are set aglow with brightly colored lights that either hang effortlessly midair or are manipulated into grandiose shapes in all sizes.

While most Islamic nations in the region do trim city streets with Ramadan fare, there is one tiny municipality that just does it better. In Abu Dhabi, which is a municipality of the United Arab Emirates, the streets are decked out in thousands upon thousands of tiny bulbs. Each year, teams of workers hang and dangle countless numbers of lights, lanterns and decorations all around the municipality. This year is no different, as the Abu Dhabi government shelled out a massive $136,000 to light up parts of the municipality’s infrastructure.

In just over two weeks, workers completed the gargantuan task in record time. Bridges and tunnels around the Corniche serve as the foundation for the elaborate decorations which includes giant stars, golden crescents and “Ramadan Kareem” signs. Heavy-duty cables, that have been inspected and approved by Abu Dhabi authorities, were enlisted to guarantee that the decorations and lanterns hang safely above. The whole undertaking is environmentally friendly as well. Light-Emitting Diodes, or LED lights, have been used to conserve energy. LED lights use an estimated 90% less energy than traditional bulbs and produce less heat which is a vital safety measure in the arid regions of the Middle East. The decorations will remain in place until after the Eid holidays have been celebrated.

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Should it Take a Village?

July 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

photo

You’ve probably heard the old African proverb that says, “It takes a village to raise a child”. However, it is doubtful that the person who first coined the phrase meant for anyone to take it literally.  It is true that raising a child, especially one who is considerate of others and mindful of being a contributing member of society, is one of the hardest jobs in the world. Yet still, in most parts of the world, a child’s parents are the primary caregivers and the ones responsible for raising the life that both brought into the world.

Conversely, there are several parts of the world where parents enlist a veritable army to assist in the raising of their children. In many parts of the Middle East for example, having a team of caregivers right in the comfort of your own home is a staple of the Arab culture. Chefs, chauffeurs, housemaids and nannies are the primary job titles that many families seek to fill even before junior is born. The annual surplus oil revenues that Middle Eastern countries like the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Oman enjoy has paved the way for a life of ease for nationals. Why change dirty diapers or fool around with play time when you can hire someone to do it for you?

As a result, many children in the region are raised almost exclusively by their caregivers with ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’ taking a backseat to the care of their child. Nowhere is this more obvious than on the gilded streets of the wealthy Gulf nations. Parents can be seen strolling hand in hand along sun-kissed beaches while a trio of nannies keep junior out of trouble or merely cart him around. Playgrounds are often full of rambunctious kids busily playing their hearts out. However, something is clearly wrong with the picture as nannies keep an eye on their wards instead of the parents. For many children in the region, there is not a parent around to watch their amazing feat on the jungle gym or one to snap a photo as he glides down a slide.

Perhaps the most distressing aspect of a reliance on caregivers is that most are unqualified for the job. Most of the household staff enlisted to help raise the children of a family come from Southeast Asia. They are typically poor, uneducated and semi-skilled laborers that do not possess the skills, and often temperament, to raise children. There have been countless cases of housemaids and nannies turning on their charges, sometimes fatally, in recent years. Some cases revealed an abundance of housemaids and nannies physically abusing the children that they were supposed to protect. Worse yet, some have even gone as far as to poison or otherwise murder the children they were hired to raise.

A professor at Qatar University recently shed light on the issue in a recent discussion that attributed a host of societal ills that are linked to children being raised by household staff. Professor Rabia Sabah Al Kuwari said, “This phenomenon is prevalent in the Arab societies. In other countries such as Holland, for instance, there are no household helpers.” Al Kuwari also went on to say that some of the problems associated with relying on paid staff to raise a child include a lack of affection between a parent and child as well as learning deficiencies that will most likely affect the child for his lifetime.

13-31

Mumbai and Kashmir

July 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, TMO

INDIA/

A student lifts a placard as he and others line up to take part in a march for peace in Mumbai July 20, 2011. Students from the Antonio Da Silva high school marched through the streets of Mumbai to condemn the recent bomb attacks in the city. 

REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

San Pablo (California)–The explosions in Mumbai last week (the 12th) killed twenty-one with over a hundred wounded in the Indian financial capital of Mumbai.  This event should have especial pithiness to Muslims in North America and elsewhere because, although still an overall minority, Delhi’s realm has the second largest Islamic population in the world whereas neighboring Pakistan is overwhelming Muslim.

Of course, the attack upon the Indian Parliament during the first year of this century by non-State actors with the ensuing near-nuclear confrontation that resulted was eventually diffused by the Pakistani Chief Executive despite the far right-wing Hindu chauvinist Government in the Indian Metropole.   Fortunately, at the time of the 2008 attacks upon Mumbai, India had a much more rational Centrist administration; so, the consternation within Bharat in 2008 was resolved more diplomatically than in 2001 over the issues arising around the State non-actors.

In 2008, it became evident that the roots of the attacks lay in the injustices within the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir (J. & K.).   Whether terrorism is the proper way to conduct insurgency is debatable because it targets civilian rather than military targets, but it is a tactic of asymmetrical warfare wherein the counter-insurgents have an advantage over their irregular opponents, and the rebels believe that terror equalizes the battlefield, and can even bring their fight deep within the Metropolis of the their oppressor, and away from their peripheral homeland.

There is chauvinism within India – and to a lesser extent – within Pakistan that an attack within the border of either is instigated in the capitol of the other.  This often ignores the considerable home-grown discontent within their very boundaries.  It is true that rogue elements within Rawalpindi’s ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) agency conduct aggressive foreign policy on their own initiative rather than in consultation with Islamabad.  Besides non-State actors, they have had allied out-of-control sub-State players in league with them in the 2001 and 2008 incidents, and might linger in the current incident, but it has not been Pakistani governmental policies to initiate these assaults!  Unfortunately, today Pakistan has a weak Government and is less likely to contain those elements than with their then strong Executive after the diffusion of the crisis in 2002.

Because of the “radical” right-wing and with their Indian media (those that are) sensationalist along with the Pakistani Center’s inability to contain their reprobate elements has caused a very dangerous bi-State situation.  Added to this, the “mercenary” Arab (especially Al’Quaeda’s) entrance into the Kashmiri cause for independence from the Af-Pak region, which has done more harm than good to the Kashmiris themselves, the greater area has become more explosive.

What happened last week is very dangerous indeed.  The Indians have taken a fortunate restraint until they can claim to have determined the guilty party and who – if any – were responsible for supporting them. 

I, personally, am most worried this will cause the fall of the rational (Indian) Congress ascendancy, and the subsequent  ascendance of the fascist-like BJP (the Bhartiya Janata Party), the political wing of the Hindu fundamentalist/casteist RSS (Rashtiya Swamsevak Sangh) who brought the world the assassination of M.K. Gandhi during his fast to end the slaughter ensuing the Partition of British India between the Muslims and Hindus, etc. just after the Independence of Pakistan and the Indian Union in the late 1940s.

I have many friends and colleagues on both sides of the LoC (Line of Control, the de facto frontier between the two South Asian neighbors in Kashmir).  During the last fortnight, I have been daily on my phone to the Gulf and Subcontinent to get my learned acquaintances perspectives.

So, far I have been receiving replies of little concern over the recent incident within that region.   Whatever, the Kashmir “problem” is the second most dangerous conflict that could lead to lead to a larger conflagration, must be solved!   I only hope my resident friends there are right and the (nuclearized) State-level danger will subside with calm heads prevailing.

If it does not, I will be following this further.

13-30

Gas Pipeline to Reach Border Next Year: Iran

July 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The Newspaper

TEHRAN: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Saturday that Tehran was hopeful of completing its section of the Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline by the end of next year.

“Construction of the pipeline to export Iranian gas to Pakistan is under way, and we hope it will reach the frontier by the end of 2012,” he said of the multi-billion-dollar project after a meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari.

President Zardari, who arrived in Tehran on a day-long visit, held two rounds of talks with President Ahmadinejad — first delegation-level talks and then a one-on-one meeting.

The two leaders also reviewed progress on a proposal for the transmission of electricity from Iran to Balochistan.

They expressed confidence that joint efforts would prove helpful in countering terrorism, terming the menace a common enemy for the region and the world.

Mr Ahmadinejad said his country looked forward to a new era in relations with Pakistan.

“Iran is ready to reinforce its cooperation with Pakistan in every field,” the Iranian president said.

Mr Zardari said relations between the neighbours should be strengthened, and proposed that “trade between the two countries be conducted in local currency, and not the dollar, to curb smuggling”. He also proposed a bilateral free trade agreement.

The President said Pakistan was already in negotiations with Turkey, Sri Lanka and China for the currency swap arrangement.

He denounced “efforts by our enemies who seek to show that the Pakistan government is unstable by provoking trouble,” saying that those responsible would face justice.

President Zardari praised Iran’s constructive engagement in the trilateral process, recalling last month’s Pakistan-Iran-Afghanistan summit hosted by Tehran.

He urged the Iranian government to consider the creation of an integrated border management regime for tackling militancy and extremism. He said Pakistan and Iran had vital interests in stability and peace of the region.

Mr Zardari called for developing coordination between governments to curb narcotics and human trafficking in the region. He said Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan faced a common menace of drug trafficking and expressed the hope that a trilateral initiative would help counter the curse.

The President said Pakistan and Iran had the potential to undertake joint economic projects in Afghanistan to enhance connectivity, build infrastructure, rail and road links.

Mr Zardari said there was a need to raise bilateral trade to four billion dollars from one billion dollars. He called for working together to identify impediments to implementation of the Pakistan-Iran Preferential Trade Agreement, signed in 2006.

The Iranian president agreed to take full advantage of geo-strategic locations for “ushering in a new era of progress”.

About the Afghanistan issue, President Zardari said Pakistan supported the process initiated by President Hamid Karzai for reconciliation and peace. He said Pakistan supported a reconciliation process which must be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned, adding that Islamabad was ready to provide all possible assistance to Kabul in reconstruction efforts.

It was Mr Zardari’s second visit to Iran in less than a month. He visited Tehran last month to attend the counter-terrorism summit, on the sidelines of which the two countries and Afghanistan reached an agreement to augment cooperation in the fight against militancy.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik, Water and Power Minister Syed Naveed Qamar, Petroleum Minister Dr Asim Hussain and presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar accompanied Mr Zardari.

KHAMENEI LAMBASTS US: Later Mr Zardari called on Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

Fars news agency quoted Ayatollah Khamenei as telling the President: “The principal enemy of the Pakistani people and the unity of the country is the West, headed by the United States.”

Iranian officials have been vocal in their criticism of the prolonged US troop deployment in Afghanistan and Iraq, both of which are now set to be drawn down.—Agencies

13-30

Cracking Down on Balconies

July 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

balcony-colorIn the United States, most home owner’s associations have stringent rules for how members must maintain the outer appearance of their houses and even lawns. Members often incur fines and sometimes the wrath of their fellow neighbors for having unkempt lawns or yards full of discarded junk.  For this reason, the typical homeowner in America spends a great deal of time manicuring his lawn to perfection.

Just a stone’s throw away, in the Middle East, the majority of homeowners participate in a similar ritual.   Houses in the region feature immaculately groomed and grassy front yards. In addition, most homes also have an ornate garden filled with desert shrubs and fruit-bearing date palm trees. Neighbors often compete with one another over whose dates are the sweetest and plumpest.
For members of the expatriate community, life is drastically different. The majority of the foreign populace in the Middle East cannot afford to buy luxury homes while others, such as ones residing in Kuwait, are legally barred from buying real estate. Expatriates have little recourse but to rent apartments which are often small despite the hefty monthly rental fee. Due to the lack of space, many expatriates utilize the extra space that terraces and balconies provide.

It is not unusual to find a balcony completely covered in plywood. The space is then transformed into a spare room or even a home office. For others, the balcony serves as a private home garden with large soil filled pots serving as the “land”. Thanks to the consistent amount of sunlight in the Middle East, it is very easy to grow tomatoes and herbs right on the balcony. A balcony is also very functional in that it provides space to store unused items and most are fitted with a clothes line perfect for hanging out the wash.

Freedom of balcony usage is typically left in the hands of the tenant and is not mandated by the government. However, in one tiny Gulf municipality, balcony usage has come under fire. In Sharjah, which is a municipality of the United Arab Emirates, authorities are cracking down on tenants with messy balconies. According to the recent balcony laws, tenants are no longer allowed to hang laundry from the balcony, attach a television satellite anywhere on it and storing junk is strictly forbidden. Anyone touting the balcony laws will be fined $68 and paying the initial fine late results in an increased fine of $136.

Sharjah authorities have also launched an all-encompassing media campaign to inform the public about proper balcony maintenance. Leaflets in various languages, including Arabic, are regularly left on the doorsteps of tenants all over the region. The laws are currently being enforced by a special balcony task force that visits neighborhoods and hands out fines for offensive balconies. There is also a special hotline that residents can call to ask questions and report violators. 

13-30

Food Woes Set to Define Middle East

July 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

large fresh fruit basketThe fight for freedom and democracy rages on in many parts of the Middle East, as people clamor for change in their homelands. However, according to a recently released report by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), denizens of the Arab world just might find themselves fighting over precious resources such as food over the next several decades.

At this year’s World Conference for Science Journalists, hosted by the government of Qatar, Regional Communications Manager for the IFAD Teysir Al Ganem said, “The Arab world is the region that is most hit by food imports and fluctuations in food prices. Some 65 million Arabs live on less than $2 a day and fluctuations in prices affect the number of poor people.” It’s no secret that the bulk of food in produce bins and on shelves in Middle Eastern grocery stores is imported from the West and a scant few agriculturally wealthy Arab states.  The IFAD projects that the Arab World will have little choice but to rely upon the food imports until 2050.

Climate change will have a dramatic affect on the capabilities of nations in the Middle East that are somewhat agriculturally stable. As a result of climatic changes, the Middle East region will be prone to increased drought, less rainfall and higher temperatures which are disastrous forces that will have a negative impact on countless agricultural projects. Population growth in the Arab world is another factor that will add to the food crisis as, according to the IFAD, the population in the Arab world will exceed well over 690 million people in the next 40 years.

Arab countries that do cultivate fruits and vegetables will have to rely on alternative methods to grow vegetation to cut costs and preserve the environment. Farmers in Yemen have already resorted to more traditional methods of sowing seeds and harvesting crops instead of relying upon automated machinery that is often expensive to purchase and utilize. However, despite the best efforts of farming communities in the Middle East, perceived ‘plagues’ such as locusts and black stem rust threaten to wipe out scores of crops before they come to maturity thus forcing a food pandemic that might cripple the region as a whole. 

13-28

Saudi Arabia: Difficult Choices

June 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Khalid Alnowaiser

We must keep our country safe and united at a time of regional upheaval

I realize that Saudi Arabia has many challenges and issues of concern in light of recent political upheavals in the region. Yemen is next door and remains a troublesome neighbor; Bahrain has significant domestic challenges which cannot be ignored, given its strategic importance to the Kingdom; and Syria and Lebanon have always been a source of worry. The events in Egypt erupted like a volcano that no one was expecting and it needs more time to recover after the fall of Mubarak. Tunisia is another unexpected development and Libya seems to be on the verge of a difficult political transition. Iran poses a threat not only for Saudi Arabia and the region but for the entire world.

As the undisputed leader of the Islamic world, Saudi Arabia has a great responsibility, especially with its strategic location, oil and other natural resources. Saudi Arabia is not a Zaire or Myanmar, but a country of immense size and importance. Yet, the Kingdom’s internal situation is very complicated and demands that we examine the choices facing the country. The religious establishment still lives in the past, but its powerful role cannot be disregarded or underestimated. Further, our young people have numerous concerns including jobs and more personal freedom. The issues of terrorism and the need to maintain safety and security in such a huge and important country require serious attention.

Now, I am fully aware that theory is one thing, but reality is quite different.

As we consider these challenges, we must always put ourselves in the shoes of the political decision-makers and the pressures they face daily. So, what can be done to maintain and advance Saudi Arabia’s unity and stability while it exists in such an explosive region that is experiencing extraordinary and unprecedented turmoil? It seems that there are only three possible options.

First Option: Count fully on the United States to support Saudi Arabia in the event of any crisis that may erupt in the country regardless of its cause or nature. This option may have merit if the danger were external, but let’s be clear: America will not intervene to protect our country or any other nation if the threat is internal. The proof of this is how quickly America abandoned its closest allies such as Iran under the Shah, the Philippines during the regime of Ferdinand Marcos, and now Mubarak in Egypt. This should not come as any surprise since all nations focus solely on their own interests and strategic goals. Therefore, it is not realistic for Saudi Arabia to rely on the United States, in spite of the special relationship that currently exists between our two countries.

Second Option: Try to enhance the power of the religious establishment and depend upon its support and influence on all aspects of the life of the Saudi people to protect the country from all challenges. Certainly, this option has legitimacy for two reasons: First, Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam and the nation was born out of the Muslim religion. Secondly, there are political, legal and ethical commitments toward the religious establishment that can never be disregarded or ignored which exist since the first day of the country’s foundation. However, although this option may be appropriate in the near future, it will pose a major danger to Saudi Arabia in the long run because of the following:

1. The religious establishment is outmoded and soon is expected to lose its control and domination over the lives of Saudi citizens, especially in light of modern technology and unprecedented international media openness. It is obvious that its approach is based on custodianship, creatorship, suppression of personal and social freedom, and infringement of the rights of women and young. The young will likely explode one day and reject the pressure on them. With time, such an attitude will engender more resentment toward religious authorities, especially among young people. Given the rapid pace of modern life, this failure to change and be flexible will harm rather than help our country.

2. The religious establishment also is likely to become too powerful, and the only goal for it is to seek more political power. Islamic history is full of evidence where power corrupts absolutely. Osama Bin Laden, for example, started as an individual who had a noble religious message but as time passed on, his political ambition was so obvious and he used (and indeed abused) Islam to try and further his political objectives.

3. If the level of religious doctrines and dosages imposed for certain purposes in everyday life increases in any society beyond the normal mental and spiritual capacity of human beings in modern life, which seems to be the case in the Kingdom, it will certainly backfire such as what happened in the 1980s during the call for jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

Third Option: Rely on openness, transparency, democracy, human rights, and personal freedom in building the civil and political institutions for Saudi Arabia and speak to the new generation in truth about what is facing them today and not sometime in the past. We must also continue to maintain positive international relations with all nations, including the United States and developed nations, and de-emphasize the influence of the religious establishment over the lives of Saudi citizens so they can breathe normally and live a healthy and productive life. This can happen only if religious authorities are challenged by the Saudi government to moderate their role in society and not simply control the people. Of course, the religious establishment should be treated with respect, but it has to realize this is the 21st century, not the Dark Ages.

There is no question that the Saudi people fully support and are loyal to the royal family from the great founder, King Abdulaziz, to the age of King Abdullah. However, our country must search for alternative ways of planning to implement this third and final strategic option in order to keep the country safe, secure, stable and united while the region is going through such drastic political changes.

I sincerely hope that Saudi Arabia is ready to embrace this choice even if it takes many years.

— Dr. Khalid Alnowaiser is a columnist and a Saudi attorney with offices in Riyadh and Jeddah. He can be reached at: Khalid@lfkan.com and/or Twitter (kalnowaiser)

13-26

III. A Progressive Israeli Argument for the Two-State Solution

June 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, TMO

San Francisco–Home at last!  Home at last with a thick new notebook.

During the past week (6th-12th), the initial reports were that the casualties of the Palestinian demonstrators at the Syrian border by the Jewish Strata on  the Golan Heights has increased to twenty-seven — mowed down with live bullets from the other side of the barbed wire with several seriously wounded, furthermore,  by the by the IDF (the Israeli Defense Force) at the express orders to employ the ultimate violence against the non-violent demonstrators from the Prime Minister (P.M.) Netanyahu. In North Africa the rebels are hedging more closely to Tripoli, the Libyan nation’s traditional capital…  Although Gaddafi has been accused of rape as a weapon war by his soldiers, the “Colonel” has stated,” I’ll stay in Tripoli whether I live or die!’  While two Imperial powers, Britain and France, are preparing a resolution in United Nations (U.N.) condemning Damascus for their brutality in their civil war.  Incidentally, Libya and Syria have been two of the most obnoxious to the West, and “taking out” President Assad would be a great relief to the Israeli Prime Minister, for they one of the few nations’ in the expanse (since they are neighbors) who could provide a MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) to Tel Aviv overbearing nuclear arsenal in the Negev .

As your composer has stated earlier, he believes the success or failure of the Arab “Spring” will depend upon the reaction of the Israeli government.   If they act diplomatically, there can be a tremendous blossoming of Arab-style democracies; if they respond in a belligerent manner there will be an appalling conflict, and, with nuclear weapons involved, it can be as great a disaster as Hiroshima, and with the closeness of Israel to its neighbors it can only destroy the nuclear State to unimaginable consequences.

This is the third installment with the Israeli General, their Ministry of Justice bureaucrat and Jeremy Ben-Ami of J-Street in the United States who was in Washington at the time of the call:

The two Israeli citizens pointed out that Palestine is unstable at the moment.  (Unfortunately, that is true, but it is true that it is overwhelmingly caused by the Zionist expansion upon Arab land!)    The General believes that the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation is not a threat, for under his analysis, he deems Hamas to be weak, (but under your author’s assay Hamas  is a substantial opponent  to the Israeli hegemony over the region, for, although Tel Aviv and Cairo had been doing their best to execute the sway of the Palestinian mini-strip on the sea, your researcher is of the opinion that Gaza quintessentially defeated the Hebrew-speaking Army in their Cast Iron operation against the Palestinian mini-State by exposed to the world Jerusalem’s vicious violence to an ultimately defenseless populace; thus, turning the prevailing global popular “good” opinion away from the Zionist’s position towards their opponents for the land, the indigenous Palestinians.)  

One of Israeli incentives for joining in on the dialogue with Ramallah in the company of the Quartet (the United States, the U.N., the European Union (E.U.) and the Russian Federation) as interlopers is, although there are many differences of opinion regarding Hamas, Tel Aviv wishes to isolate and prevent them from capturing the total “Occupied” Territories’ in the next elections which they have a very good chance of accomplishing with the depopulation of the Christians and the Islamization of Palestine herself.  Even so, there are talks amongst the original inhabitants of the Holy Land (for most of the Palestinians there are the direct descendants of the ancient residents of their geographic district, whereas the majority of the Jews had been Europeanized with a mixture of the Jewish diaspora who had fled Spain to the region mainly within the border districts of modern Poland and Russia wherein they had intermixed with the Yalta converted (Jews) of the Ninth Century (I most not this historically scenario is highly disapproved by Jewish scholars in Jerusalem as is the Night Ride of the Prophet (s); and, thus, Israel can be perceived as a Settler Colonial State and must be amalgamated into the Middle East) to be accepted.  Further The Quartet must integrate Hamas into the elections (if it is not done, it would be hard to describe these forthcoming `polls to be free and fair.  What is so interesting about the advancement of the Palestinians’ cause is that, finally, they are on the world’s “radar, and that it coincides” with  the Arab “Spring,” and it has many elements.  (It must be kept in mind, that, Palestine is central to the Arab’s ideology, and, although it is on the fringes of West Asia, it is well near the “center” of the Arab-speaking humanity which extends from the full of North Africa into the Arabian West and Saudi Arabia itself, the homeland of Islam, and the UAE (United Arab Emirates) in the Persian (or Arab, as it is, also called,) Gulf on the East.         

Tara Hassan, of the Israeli Ministry of Justice is, also, a leader for “true” Justice within her homeland.     She urged that the Palestinian Prime Minister (P.M.) Mahmoud Abbas, be granted concessions, reiterating the Israeli bugaboo, to avoid Hamas administrating the West Bank.  (It is interesting to note the great fear of almost all Israelis – either on the Right or Left – is their irrational fear of Islamism, and seems to be a driving force to lean their Commonweal to the Left which is a hopeful sign for an agreement to the conundrum and the especially for the long-term future of the Palestinians themselves.  Although she describes herself as a Zionist, for her, a Zionist does not have to be on the political Jewish-wing.  “Only a two-State Solution will save Israel,” too.  Hassan, further, states that “…We should take every opportunity [to convince] the people of Israel!”  Sharoni interjects that we should present to the Israeli public” the necessity of the two—State Solution!  As often as possibility, for the people (here) have an unfounded fear of the Arab “Spring,” (and that is driving internal policy there, too).  

Why are we spending so much time looking at non-Muslim Israel — because it is the dominant dominion within the Middle East – due to the policy of America arming its pariah client to the hilt?  (The citizens of the U.S.A. have a grave duty to extricate their own nation from this enigma to which they themselves have created, and to become a force for peace among these environs.)

Whatever is happening within the halls of Tel Aviv will have a dramatic effect within the Arabic al-Islam!

13-25

Pakistan Moves Closer to China

May 26, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

2011-05-18T112120Z_2040905607_GM1E75I1HYB01_RTRMADP_3_CHINA-PAKISTAN

Pakistan’s PM Yusuf Raza Gilani (C) and China’s Premier Wen Jiabao (R) clap as bilateral companies exchange documents during a singing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, May 18, 2011.      

REUTERS/Jason Lee

The friction between Islamabad and Washington following the death of Osama Bin Laden in an American operation and the possible acceleration of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan will narrow, analysts say, the relationship, already strong, between Pakistan and China.

During the visit to Beijing by Pakistani Prime Minister on Tuesday and Thursday, Chinese leaders will dispose lyrical about sixty years of “friendship” Sino-Pakistan, in contrast to recent criticisms of the West to the “land of the pure.”

The Chinese government was careful not to ask questions about the aid that could have benefited the head of Al Qaida, and gave its support to Pakistan, “at the forefront of counterterrorism efforts.”
This benevolence has not gone unnoticed. “At this crucial moment of history, do not see anyone next to Pakistan, with the exception of China,” said Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s most popular politician in the country.

Pakistani public opinion, exasperated by the U.S. unilateral operation against bin Laden and distrust of Washington, is increasingly convinced that the strategic alliance with the United States since 2001 has had disastrous effects: destabilization and the questioning of Pakistan in the field international.

Hence, the Islamic Republic is tempted away from the United States moving closer to Beijing, has long been a loyal ally in contrast to Washington, who had lost interest in the region after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.

According to Talat Masood, a Pakistani analyst, “Pakistan may say: ‘China is with us. Do not believe that we are isolated.”

China’s official media reveled in recent days to denounce “the arrogance” of Westerners.

“The American media do not consider Pakistan as a true ally worthy of respect but as an instrument of U.S. interests,” the Global Times newspaper.

China is the main supplier of weapons to Pakistan, as an important counterbalance to India, that closer ties with the United States.

New Delhi and Washington signed in 2008 a historic agreement on civil nuclear cooperation. Beijing, concerned to preserve the balance of forces in the subcontinent, Islamabad closed several contracts to build nuclear reactors.

The positions for Pakistan China on Taiwan and Tibet are another factor that explains the support from Beijing to Islamabad, says Kerry Dumbaugh, the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA).

“China used Pakistan as a lawyer or a vector towards the Muslim world,” he said.

Beijing also needs the cooperation of Pakistan against the Islamist threat in the Muslim region of Xinjiang (western).

According to some observers, China is convinced that Islamabad will increase by 2015, its influence in Afghanistan, taking advantage of U.S. forces withdraw from the country.

In addition to Beijing’s interest to calm reigns in the region, especially in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan. The main energy consumer worldwide through the area expected to bring oil from the Middle East through a pipeline between Xinjiang and Pakistan’s Gwadar port.

The rapprochement between Islamabad and Beijing to the detriment of the West has its limits, says the Pakistani expert Hasan Askari: “America and the West remain unavoidable due to its cutting-edge technology and weight at the World Bank or International Monetary Fund.”

13-22

Pres. Obama’s Speech on the Middle East and North Africa

May 26, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

White House Press Release

2011-05-25T163719Z_1335237166_LM1E75P1A4V01_RTRMADP_3_OBAMA-BRITAIN
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to both houses of Britain’s parliament, in Westminster Hall in London May 25, 2011.  REUTERS/Jeff J Mitchell/POOL

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you very much.  Thank you.  Please, have a seat.  Thank you very much.  I want to begin by thanking Hillary Clinton, who has traveled so much these last six months that she is approaching a new landmark — one million frequent flyer miles.  (Laughter.)  I count on Hillary every single day, and I believe that she will go down as one of the finest Secretaries of State in our nation’s history.

The State Department is a fitting venue to mark a new chapter in American diplomacy.  For six months, we have witnessed an extraordinary change taking place in the Middle East and North Africa.  Square by square, town by town, country by country, the people have risen up to demand their basic human rights.  Two leaders have stepped aside.  More may follow.  And though these countries may be a great distance from our shores, we know that our own future is bound to this region by the forces of economics and security, by history and by faith.

Today, I want to talk about this change — the forces that are driving it and how we can respond in a way that advances our values and strengthens our security.

Now, already, we’ve done much to shift our foreign policy following a decade defined by two costly conflicts.  After years of war in Iraq, we’ve removed 100,000 American troops and ended our combat mission there.  In Afghanistan, we’ve broken the Taliban’s momentum, and this July we will begin to bring our troops home and continue a transition to Afghan lead.  And after years of war against al Qaeda and its affiliates, we have dealt al Qaeda a huge blow by killing its leader, Osama bin Laden.

Bin Laden was no martyr.  He was a mass murderer who offered a message of hate –- an insistence that Muslims had to take up arms against the West, and that violence against men, women and children was the only path to change.  He rejected democracy and individual rights for Muslims in favor of violent extremism; his agenda focused on what he could destroy -– not what he could build.
Bin Laden and his murderous vision won some adherents.  But even before his death, al Qaeda was losing its struggle for relevance, as the overwhelming majority of people saw that the slaughter of innocents did not answer their cries for a better life.  By the time we found bin Laden, al Qaeda’s agenda had come to be seen by the vast majority of the region as a dead end, and the people of the Middle East and North Africa had taken their future into their own hands.

That story of self-determination began six months ago in Tunisia.  On December 17th, a young vendor named Mohammed Bouazizi was devastated when a police officer confiscated his cart.  This was not unique.  It’s the same kind of humiliation that takes place every day in many parts of the world -– the relentless tyranny of governments that deny their citizens dignity.  Only this time, something different happened.  After local officials refused to hear his complaints, this young man, who had never been particularly active in politics, went to the headquarters of the provincial government, doused himself in fuel, and lit himself on fire.

There are times in the course of history when the actions of ordinary citizens spark movements for change because they speak to a longing for freedom that has been building up for years.  In America, think of the defiance of those patriots in Boston who refused to pay taxes to a King, or the dignity of Rosa Parks as she sat courageously in her seat.  So it was in Tunisia, as that vendor’s act of desperation tapped into the frustration felt throughout the country.  Hundreds of protesters took to the streets, then thousands.  And in the face of batons and sometimes bullets, they refused to go home –- day after day, week after week — until a dictator of more than two decades finally left power.

The story of this revolution, and the ones that followed, should not have come as a surprise.  The nations of the Middle East and North Africa won their independence long ago, but in too many places their people did not.  In too many countries, power has been concentrated in the hands of a few.  In too many countries, a citizen like that young vendor had nowhere to turn  -– no honest judiciary to hear his case; no independent media to give him voice; no credible political party to represent his views; no free and fair election where he could choose his leader.

And this lack of self-determination –- the chance to make your life what you will –- has applied to the region’s economy as well.  Yes, some nations are blessed with wealth in oil and gas, and that has led to pockets of prosperity.  But in a global economy based on knowledge, based on innovation, no development strategy can be based solely upon what comes out of the ground. Nor can people reach their potential when you cannot start a business without paying a bribe.

In the face of these challenges, too many leaders in the region tried to direct their people’s grievances elsewhere.  The West was blamed as the source of all ills, a half-century after the end of colonialism.  Antagonism toward Israel became the only acceptable outlet for political expression.  Divisions of tribe, ethnicity and religious sect were manipulated as a means of holding on to power, or taking it away from somebody else.

But the events of the past six months show us that strategies of repression and strategies of diversion will not work anymore.  Satellite television and the Internet provide a window into the wider world -– a world of astonishing progress in places like India and Indonesia and Brazil.  Cell phones and social networks allow young people to connect and organize like never before.  And so a new generation has emerged.  And their voices tell us that change cannot be denied.

In Cairo, we heard the voice of the young mother who said, “It’s like I can finally breathe fresh air for the first time.” 

In Sanaa, we heard the students who chanted, “The night must come to an end.”

In Benghazi, we heard the engineer who said, “Our words are free now.  It’s a feeling you can’t explain.”

In Damascus, we heard the young man who said, “After the first yelling, the first shout, you feel dignity.” 

Those shouts of human dignity are being heard across the region.  And through the moral force of nonviolence, the people of the region have achieved more change in six months than terrorists have accomplished in decades.

Of course, change of this magnitude does not come easily.  In our day and age -– a time of 24-hour news cycles and constant communication –- people expect the transformation of the region to be resolved in a matter of weeks.  But it will be years before this story reaches its end.  Along the way, there will be good days and there will bad days.  In some places, change will be swift; in others, gradual.  And as we’ve already seen, calls for change may give way, in some cases, to fierce contests for power.

The question before us is what role America will play as this story unfolds.  For decades, the United States has pursued a set of core interests in the region:  countering terrorism and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons; securing the free flow of commerce and safe-guarding the security of the region; standing up for Israel’s security and pursuing Arab-Israeli peace.

We will continue to do these things, with the firm belief that America’s interests are not hostile to people’s hopes; they’re essential to them.  We believe that no one benefits from a nuclear arms race in the region, or al Qaeda’s brutal attacks.  We believe people everywhere would see their economies crippled by a cut-off in energy supplies.  As we did in the Gulf War, we will not tolerate aggression across borders, and we will keep our commitments to friends and partners.

Yet we must acknowledge that a strategy based solely upon the narrow pursuit of these interests will not fill an empty stomach or allow someone to speak their mind.  Moreover, failure to speak to the broader aspirations of ordinary people will only feed the suspicion that has festered for years that the United States pursues our interests at their expense.  Given that this mistrust runs both ways –- as Americans have been seared by hostage-taking and violent rhetoric and terrorist attacks that have killed thousands of our citizens -– a failure to change our approach threatens a deepening spiral of division between the United States and the Arab world.

And that’s why, two years ago in Cairo, I began to broaden our engagement based upon mutual interests and mutual respect.  I believed then -– and I believe now -– that we have a stake not just in the stability of nations, but in the self-determination of individuals.  The status quo is not sustainable.  Societies held together by fear and repression may offer the illusion of stability for a time, but they are built upon fault lines that will eventually tear asunder.

So we face a historic opportunity.  We have the chance to show that America values the dignity of the street vendor in Tunisia more than the raw power of the dictator.  There must be no doubt that the United States of America welcomes change that advances self-determination and opportunity.  Yes, there will be perils that accompany this moment of promise.  But after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be.

Of course, as we do, we must proceed with a sense of humility.  It’s not America that put people into the streets of Tunis or Cairo -– it was the people themselves who launched these movements, and it’s the people themselves that must ultimately determine their outcome. 

Not every country will follow our particular form of representative democracy, and there will be times when our short-term interests don’t align perfectly with our long-term vision for the region.  But we can, and we will, speak out for a set of core principles –- principles that have guided our response to the events over the past six months:

The United States opposes the use of violence and repression against the people of the region.  (Applause.)  

The United States supports a set of universal rights.  And these rights include free speech, the freedom of peaceful assembly, the freedom of religion, equality for men and women under the rule of law, and the right to choose your own leaders  -– whether you live in Baghdad or Damascus, Sanaa or Tehran.

And we support political and economic reform in the Middle East and North Africa that can meet the legitimate aspirations of ordinary people throughout the region.

Our support for these principles is not a secondary interest.  Today I want to make it clear that it is a top priority that must be translated into concrete actions, and supported by all of the diplomatic, economic and strategic tools at our disposal.

Let me be specific.  First, it will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy.  That effort begins in Egypt and Tunisia, where the stakes are high -– as Tunisia was at the vanguard of this democratic wave, and Egypt is both a longstanding partner and the Arab world’s largest nation.  Both nations can set a strong example through free and fair elections, a vibrant civil society, accountable and effective democratic institutions, and responsible regional leadership.  But our support must also extend to nations where transitions have yet to take place.

Unfortunately, in too many countries, calls for change have thus far been answered by violence.  The most extreme example is Libya, where Muammar Qaddafi launched a war against his own people, promising to hunt them down like rats.  As I said when the United States joined an international coalition to intervene, we cannot prevent every injustice perpetrated by a regime against its people, and we have learned from our experience in Iraq just how costly and difficult it is to try to impose regime change by force -– no matter how well-intentioned it may be.

But in Libya, we saw the prospect of imminent massacre, we had a mandate for action, and heard the Libyan people’s call for help.  Had we not acted along with our NATO allies and regional coalition partners, thousands would have been killed.  The message would have been clear:  Keep power by killing as many people as it takes.  Now, time is working against Qaddafi. He does not have control over his country.  The opposition has organized a legitimate and credible Interim Council.  And when Qaddafi inevitably leaves or is forced from power, decades of provocation will come to an end, and the transition to a democratic Libya can proceed.

While Libya has faced violence on the greatest scale, it’s not the only place where leaders have turned to repression to remain in power.  Most recently, the Syrian regime has chosen the path of murder and the mass arrests of its citizens.  The United States has condemned these actions, and working with the international community we have stepped up our sanctions on the Syrian regime –- including sanctions announced yesterday on President Assad and those around him.

The Syrian people have shown their courage in demanding a transition to democracy.  President Assad now has a choice:  He can lead that transition, or get out of the way.  The Syrian government must stop shooting demonstrators and allow peaceful protests.  It must release political prisoners and stop unjust arrests.  It must allow human rights monitors to have access to cities like Dara’a; and start a serious dialogue to advance a democratic transition.  Otherwise, President Assad and his regime will continue to be challenged from within and will continue to be isolated abroad.

So far, Syria has followed its Iranian ally, seeking assistance from Tehran in the tactics of suppression.  And this speaks to the hypocrisy of the Iranian regime, which says it stand for the rights of protesters abroad, yet represses its own people at home.  Let’s remember that the first peaceful protests in the region were in the streets of Tehran, where the government brutalized women and men, and threw innocent people into jail.  We still hear the chants echo from the rooftops of Tehran.  The image of a young woman dying in the streets is still seared in our memory.  And we will continue to insist that the Iranian people deserve their universal rights, and a government that does not smother their aspirations.

Now, our opposition to Iran’s intolerance and Iran’s repressive measures, as well as its illicit nuclear program and its support of terror, is well known.  But if America is to be credible, we must acknowledge that at times our friends in the region have not all reacted to the demands for consistent change — with change that’s consistent with the principles that I’ve outlined today.  That’s true in Yemen, where President Saleh needs to follow through on his commitment to transfer power.  And that’s true today in Bahrain.

Bahrain is a longstanding partner, and we are committed to its security.  We recognize that Iran has tried to take advantage of the turmoil there, and that the Bahraini government has a legitimate interest in the rule of law. 

Nevertheless, we have insisted both publicly and privately that mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain’s citizens, and we will — and such steps will not make legitimate calls for reform go away.  The only way forward is for the government and opposition to engage in a dialogue, and you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail.  (Applause.)  The government must create the conditions for dialogue, and the opposition must participate to forge a just future for all Bahrainis.

Indeed, one of the broader lessons to be drawn from this period is that sectarian divides need not lead to conflict.  In Iraq, we see the promise of a multiethnic, multisectarian democracy.  The Iraqi people have rejected the perils of political violence in favor of a democratic process, even as they’ve taken full responsibility for their own security.  Of course, like all new democracies, they will face setbacks.  But Iraq is poised to play a key role in the region if it continues its peaceful progress.  And as they do, we will be proud to stand with them as a steadfast partner.

So in the months ahead, America must use all our influence to encourage reform in the region.  Even as we acknowledge that each country is different, we need to speak honestly about the principles that we believe in, with friend and foe alike.  Our message is simple:  If you take the risks that reform entails, you will have the full support of the United States. 

We must also build on our efforts to broaden our engagement beyond elites, so that we reach the people who will shape the future -– particularly young people.  We will continue to make good on the commitments that I made in Cairo -– to build networks of entrepreneurs and expand exchanges in education, to foster cooperation in science and technology, and combat disease.  Across the region, we intend to provide assistance to civil society, including those that may not be officially sanctioned, and who speak uncomfortable truths.  And we will use the technology to connect with -– and listen to –- the voices of the people.

For the fact is, real reform does not come at the ballot box alone.  Through our efforts we must support those basic rights to speak your mind and access information.  We will support open access to the Internet, and the right of journalists to be heard -– whether it’s a big news organization or a lone blogger.  In the 21st century, information is power, the truth cannot be hidden, and the legitimacy of governments will ultimately depend on active and informed citizens.

Such open discourse is important even if what is said does not square with our worldview.  Let me be clear, America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard, even if we disagree with them.  And sometimes we profoundly disagree with them.

We look forward to working with all who embrace genuine and inclusive democracy.  What we will oppose is an attempt by any group to restrict the rights of others, and to hold power through coercion and not consent.  Because democracy depends not only on elections, but also strong and accountable institutions, and the respect for the rights of minorities.

Such tolerance is particularly important when it comes to religion.  In Tahrir Square, we heard Egyptians from all walks of life chant, “Muslims, Christians, we are one.”  America will work to see that this spirit prevails -– that all faiths are respected, and that bridges are built among them.  In a region that was the birthplace of three world religions, intolerance can lead only to suffering and stagnation.  And for this season of change to succeed, Coptic Christians must have the right to worship freely in Cairo, just as Shia must never have their mosques destroyed in Bahrain.

What is true for religious minorities is also true when it comes to the rights of women.  History shows that countries are more prosperous and more peaceful when women are empowered.  And that’s why we will continue to insist that universal rights apply to women as well as men -– by focusing assistance on child and maternal health; by helping women to teach, or start a business; by standing up for the right of women to have their voices heard, and to run for office.  The region will never reach its full potential when more than half of its population is prevented from achieving their full potential.  (Applause.)

Now, even as we promote political reform, even as we promote human rights in the region, our efforts can’t stop there.  So the second way that we must support positive change in the region is through our efforts to advance economic development for nations that are transitioning to democracy. 

After all, politics alone has not put protesters into the streets.  The tipping point for so many people is the more constant concern of putting food on the table and providing for a family.  Too many people in the region wake up with few expectations other than making it through the day, perhaps hoping that their luck will change.  Throughout the region, many young people have a solid education, but closed economies leave them unable to find a job.  Entrepreneurs are brimming with ideas, but corruption leaves them unable to profit from those ideas. 

The greatest untapped resource in the Middle East and North Africa is the talent of its people.  In the recent protests, we see that talent on display, as people harness technology to move the world.  It’s no coincidence that one of the leaders of Tahrir Square was an executive for Google.  That energy now needs to be channeled, in country after country, so that economic growth can solidify the accomplishments of the street.  For just as democratic revolutions can be triggered by a lack of individual opportunity, successful democratic transitions depend upon an expansion of growth and broad-based prosperity.

So, drawing from what we’ve learned around the world, we think it’s important to focus on trade, not just aid; on investment, not just assistance.  The goal must be a model in which protectionism gives way to openness, the reigns of commerce pass from the few to the many, and the economy generates jobs for the young.  America’s support for democracy will therefore be based on ensuring financial stability, promoting reform, and integrating competitive markets with each other and the global economy.  And we’re going to start with Tunisia and Egypt.

First, we’ve asked the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to present a plan at next week’s G8 summit for what needs to be done to stabilize and modernize the economies of Tunisia and Egypt.  Together, we must help them recover from the disruptions of their democratic upheaval, and support the governments that will be elected later this year.  And we are urging other countries to help Egypt and Tunisia meet its near-term financial needs.

Second, we do not want a democratic Egypt to be saddled by the debts of its past.  So we will relieve a democratic Egypt of up to $1 billion in debt, and work with our Egyptian partners to invest these resources to foster growth and entrepreneurship.  We will help Egypt regain access to markets by guaranteeing $1 billion in borrowing that is needed to finance infrastructure and job creation.  And we will help newly democratic governments recover assets that were stolen.

Third, we’re working with Congress to create Enterprise Funds to invest in Tunisia and Egypt.  And these will be modeled on funds that supported the transitions in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall.  OPIC will soon launch a $2 billion facility to support private investment across the region.  And we will work with the allies to refocus the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development so that it provides the same support for democratic transitions and economic modernization in the Middle East and North Africa as it has in Europe.

Fourth, the United States will launch a comprehensive Trade and Investment Partnership Initiative in the Middle East and North Africa.  If you take out oil exports, this entire region of over 400 million people exports roughly the same amount as Switzerland.  So we will work with the EU to facilitate more trade within the region, build on existing agreements to promote integration with U.S. and European markets, and open the door for those countries who adopt high standards of reform and trade liberalization to construct a regional trade arrangement.  And just as EU membership served as an incentive for reform in Europe, so should the vision of a modern and prosperous economy create a powerful force for reform in the Middle East and North Africa.  

Prosperity also requires tearing down walls that stand in the way of progress -– the corruption of elites who steal from their people; the red tape that stops an idea from becoming a business; the patronage that distributes wealth based on tribe or sect.  We will help governments meet international obligations, and invest efforts at anti-corruption — by working with parliamentarians who are developing reforms, and activists who use technology to increase transparency and hold government accountable.  Politics and human rights; economic reform.

Let me conclude by talking about another cornerstone of our approach to the region, and that relates to the pursuit of peace.

For decades, the conflict between Israelis and Arabs has cast a shadow over the region.  For Israelis, it has meant living with the fear that their children could be blown up on a bus or by rockets fired at their homes, as well as the pain of knowing that other children in the region are taught to hate them.  For Palestinians, it has meant suffering the humiliation of occupation, and never living in a nation of their own.  Moreover, this conflict has come with a larger cost to the Middle East, as it impedes partnerships that could bring greater security and prosperity and empowerment to ordinary people.

For over two years, my administration has worked with the parties and the international community to end this conflict, building on decades of work by previous administrations.  Yet expectations have gone unmet.  Israeli settlement activity continues.  Palestinians have walked away from talks.  The world looks at a conflict that has grinded on and on and on, and sees nothing but stalemate.  Indeed, there are those who argue that with all the change and uncertainty in the region, it is simply not possible to move forward now.

I disagree.  At a time when the people of the Middle East and North Africa are casting off the burdens of the past, the drive for a lasting peace that ends the conflict and resolves all claims is more urgent than ever.  That’s certainly true for the two parties involved.

For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure.  Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state. Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection.  And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist.

As for Israel, our friendship is rooted deeply in a shared history and shared values.  Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable.  And we will stand against attempts to single it out for criticism in international forums.  But precisely because of our friendship, it’s important that we tell the truth:  The status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace.

The fact is, a growing number of Palestinians live west of the Jordan River.  Technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself.  A region undergoing profound change will lead to populism in which millions of people -– not just one or two leaders — must believe peace is possible.  The international community is tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome. The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation.

Now, ultimately, it is up to the Israelis and Palestinians to take action.  No peace can be imposed upon them — not by the United States; not by anybody else.  But endless delay won’t make the problem go away.  What America and the international community can do is to state frankly what everyone knows — a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples:  Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people, each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.
So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear:  a viable Palestine, a secure Israel.  The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine.  We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.  The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state. 

As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself -– by itself -– against any threat.  Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism, to stop the infiltration of weapons, and to provide effective border security.  The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state.  And the duration of this transition period must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated.

These principles provide a foundation for negotiations.  Palestinians should know the territorial outlines of their state; Israelis should know that their basic security concerns will be met.  I’m aware that these steps alone will not resolve the conflict, because two wrenching and emotional issues will remain:  the future of Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees.  But moving forward now on the basis of territory and security provides a foundation to resolve those two issues in a way that is just and fair, and that respects the rights and aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians. 

Now, let me say this:  Recognizing that negotiations need to begin with the issues of territory and security does not mean that it will be easy to come back to the table.  In particular, the recent announcement of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas raises profound and legitimate questions for Israel:  How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist?  And in the weeks and months to come, Palestinian leaders will have to provide a credible answer to that question.  Meanwhile, the United States, our Quartet partners, and the Arab states will need to continue every effort to get beyond the current impasse.

I recognize how hard this will be.  Suspicion and hostility has been passed on for generations, and at times it has hardened. But I’m convinced that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians would rather look to the future than be trapped in the past.  We see that spirit in the Israeli father whose son was killed by Hamas, who helped start an organization that brought together Israelis and Palestinians who had lost loved ones.  That father said, “I gradually realized that the only hope for progress was to recognize the face of the conflict.”  We see it in the actions of a Palestinian who lost three daughters to Israeli shells in Gaza.  “I have the right to feel angry,” he said.  “So many people were expecting me to hate.  My answer to them is I shall not hate.  Let us hope,” he said, “for tomorrow.”

That is the choice that must be made -– not simply in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but across the entire region -– a choice between hate and hope; between the shackles of the past and the promise of the future.  It’s a choice that must be made by leaders and by the people, and it’s a choice that will define the future of a region that served as the cradle of civilization and a crucible of strife.

For all the challenges that lie ahead, we see many reasons to be hopeful.  In Egypt, we see it in the efforts of young people who led protests.  In Syria, we see it in the courage of those who brave bullets while chanting, “peaceful, peaceful.”  In Benghazi, a city threatened with destruction, we see it in the courthouse square where people gather to celebrate the freedoms that they had never known.  Across the region, those rights that we take for granted are being claimed with joy by those who are prying lose the grip of an iron fist.

For the American people, the scenes of upheaval in the region may be unsettling, but the forces driving it are not unfamiliar.  Our own nation was founded through a rebellion against an empire.  Our people fought a painful Civil War that extended freedom and dignity to those who were enslaved.  And I would not be standing here today unless past generations turned to the moral force of nonviolence as a way to perfect our union –- organizing, marching, protesting peacefully together to make real those words that declared our nation:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” 

Those words must guide our response to the change that is transforming the Middle East and North Africa -– words which tell us that repression will fail, and that tyrants will fall, and that every man and woman is endowed with certain inalienable rights. 

It will not be easy.  There’s no straight line to progress, and hardship always accompanies a season of hope.  But the United States of America was founded on the belief that people should govern themselves.  And now we cannot hesitate to stand squarely on the side of those who are reaching for their rights, knowing that their success will bring about a world that is more peaceful, more stable, and more just.

Thank you very much, everybody.  (Applause.)  Thank you. 

END               1:00 P.M. EDT

13-22

Pushing Freedom

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

“Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves”. 

~Abraham Lincoln

freedomThe word “freedom” is one that is being heard more and more often in the Middle East whether it is in the media or brought up in simple conversation.  Countries like Egypt and Tunisia have already tasted the sweet tang of freedom in recent months. Other countries, like Bahrain and Libya, are still waiting to savor even a morsel of freedom in their countries. While certain parts of the Middle East have yet to provide full throttle freedom for its denizens there is one country that has been a beacon of light for a primary liberty, freedom of speech, in the Middle East for many years.

The State of Kuwait has topped the annual Freedom House “Freedom of the Press Survey” for several years running and has been heralded as having one of the most free media sectors in the region. However, this year, Kuwait was toppled from first position by Israel and further pushed down a notch by Lebanon to take third position.

It’s not surprising that Kuwait lost the top spot given that the past several months have seen quite an amount of political turmoil in the country with some media outlets not only reporting the news but also becoming part of it. At least one television station was ransacked in the pasts several months and one writer jailed over public statements they made which were deemed to be inflammatory.

Members of the public in Kuwait have also been prone to having their freedom of speech impugned as of late. This past January a Kuwait-based blogger was sued by an international eatery over writing a negative food review. Fortunately, the blogger proved victorious as the case was thrown out of court.  However, this past week a group of Kuwait University students found themselves simmering in a pot of “hot water” over comments made about one of their teachers on the social-networking site Facebook.

According to the teacher, who chose to press charges, the students posted derogatory comments about her teaching methods on a personal page. Other students chimed in about their experiences and it snowballed from there. Authorities investigated the incident and the case was seemingly closed until the teacher demanded punitive measures from the university’s governing panel. All of the students, some of which are set to graduate in the coming month, involved in posting the comments online face expulsion. In a counterclaim, a spokesman for the student union known as ‘The Democratic Circle’ has retorted, “Freedom of speech is a fundamental right granted by the Constitution. The fact that a university instructor does not respect this premise signifies the existence of a larger issue and jeopardizes the university’s reputation as an educational institute.”

Only time will tell if Kuwait can regain its status as the exemplar for free speech in the region. But one thing is for sure, censorship and transgressions against freedom of speech are both meals best served up cold. 

13-21

Worrisome Weather

May 12, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

sun-and-skyThe recent spate of tornadoes that destroyed thousands of lives in America’s Southeast and the recent burgeoning Mississippi River, which has already inundated its banks in one of the worst floods to occur in the state in more than 70 years, are just two examples of disturbing weather trends to occur this year. Many scientists attribute the severe weather to the effects of pollution and global warming. Other parts of the world have also experienced catastrophic weather patterns in recent years and the outlook appears to be worsening.

The arid desert regions of the Middle East make natural disasters, such as tornadoes and large-scale flooding, improbable. However, the heat of the desert sun is a formidable foe in the region as the scalding hot summer temperatures have only continued to ascend over the past few years. Last summer was one of the hottest, on record, in the region as a whole. This summer, meteorologists are predicting an even hotter summer in the Mideast region with some even saying that temperatures could reach 116 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

Public safety is of the utmost concern during the scorching summer months. Most countries in the region do issue hot weather warnings, however much of the advice goes unheeded in specific sectors. In the construction industry, for example, construction workers are often forced to brave the hot conditions in order to make sure that deadlines are met. In summers past, countries like Kuwait and Oman, have grappled with horrific accidents as workers have fainted high atop construction sites and toppled to their deaths.

For this reason, one country is insisting upon new laws to protect workers from exploitation and harm during the unforgiving summer months. Qatar’s Supreme Council of Health (SCH) is going to great lengths to enforce special summer timings for outdoor workers in the country and plans to penalize any company that forces its employees to work outdoors during the peak hours of the sun. According to the head of Qatar’s Occupational Health Department (OHD), “Heat stress and falling from heights are the two major occupational health risks facing workers in Qatar. We have given the top priority to these two issues in our activities aimed to promote occupational health and safety. The guidelines on heat stress are part of this strategy. We are coordinating with the Ministry of Labor to ensure that the companies abide by the new guidelines.”

The SCH has also launched a campaign to educate both employees and company heads on recognizing the signs of heat stroke as well as measures that can be taken for a victim until medical assistance arrives.  A series of public service announcements will also air on state-run television to ensure that the public is prepared for the extraordinarily hot weather.

In a related development, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) has recently recommended that Qatar begin harvesting rain water in the winter months to ensure an adequate supply of water the rest of the year. Despite the severe lack of water in most parts of the Middle East and predictions that the region will face harsh water shortages in the coming years, most countries have ignored the precious resource that harvested rainwater could most assuredly provide.

13-20

The Scourge of Piracy

May 5, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

cdsBy definition, the term piracy means, “the unauthorized use or appropriation of patented or copyrighted material and ideas.” In America, piracy laws carry stiff fines and penalties for the person infringing on another’s copyright. Who could forget the story of Minnesota mother Jamie Thomas-Rasset, who was successfully sued by the Recording Industry Association of America and ordered to pay $1.9 million for illegally downloading 24 songs from the Internet? But, while artists and corporations are protected by copyright laws in America, all bets are off when the brand or label is promulgated abroad. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Middle East.

Want to see the new kid’s movie “Rio”? Or listen to Katy Perry’s latest single? If you’re living anywhere in the Middle East then chances are you can get your hands on just about any pirated movie or song, within a few days of its official release in America or Europe. And it will cost a whole lot less than getting the real thing as it trickles out from suppliers. Most pirated CD’s cost around $1.50 a piece or less. The downside is that not all are in the most pristine viewing or even listening condition. However, given the low cost, most shoppers don’t mind a bit of degraded format so long as they get their fill of the latest Hollywood flick or singing sensation.

And it’s not only pirated CD’s that are all the rage in the Middle East, giving customers a cheap means of entertainment and the “pirates” pockets full of cold hard cash. Everything from designer handbags to knockoff fashions are blatantly hawked in small shops and even large department stores. Some of the most popular labels to be pirated include Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana, and Chanel. What is most interesting is that a quick inspection of the majority of the goods reveals that they were produced in China.

China has long since been deemed the worst global piracy offender, providing cheap knockoffs of copyrighted goods at a mere fraction of the original products retail value.  According to a recent study, China causes around $2 billion in losses as a direct result of its pirating activities. And China is the biggest supplier of commercial goods to the Middle East region as a whole.

Most Mideast countries pay lip service to the pirating epidemic within the region and have anti-piracy laws on the books, however enforcing copyright laws is another matter. It just is not something that is enforced. However, one rich Gulf nation is finally taking copyright violations seriously. The municipality of Sharjah, in the United Arab Emirates, launched an initiative at the beginning of this year to crackdown on vendors selling pirated goods. As of this month, the municipality has seized more than 21,000 pirated CD’s and has issued fines to 250 retailers for selling pirated goods.

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