Where’s the Beef?

July 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

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They’re smothered in cheese, pickles, lettuce tomato, and mayonnaise, and are served on a sesame seed bun. But they’re not anything like the traditional all-American hamburger you might be used to. ‘Hashi’, or baby camel burgers, are the latest food trend to take Saudi Arabia by storm.

The camel is one of the most beneficial animals to residents in the Middle East. The camel has long been ‘man’s best friend’ for time eternal, and was instrumental in helping Islam flourish in the region during the life of the Prophet Muhammad (s), prior and since. Camels are prevalent in the history of Arabia as they have served as a mode of transportation, battle buddies in countless wars, companions, and a source of food whether through the fresh and foaming milk camels provide or as a source of highly nutritious meat. Even the camel hair is cultivated and used in the textile industry as it is woven into fine cashmere, which is made into disdashas, blazers or even blankets.

Camel meat has long been a staple in the Saudi Arabian diet. Camel liver is considered to be a fine specialty food and served in the finest hotels and restaurants from Riyadh to Jeddah. The meat is very light and has a delicate flavor. And it is not as fattening as beef, nor as cholesterol-ridden. However, the older the camel the tougher the meat. That’s why baby camels are used for the camel burgers, as the meat is tender.

The camel burgers are the brainchild of three brothers who together own the ‘Local Hashi Meals’ restaurant in the capital city of Riyadh. In a recent interview, one of the owners said that the new menu item was meant to “invent something new” which would tantalize the taste buds of camel meat connoisseurs. So far, the camel burgers have literally been flying off of the grill as customers are eating up the new sandwiches in record numbers.

The camel burgers have helped to revive the family’s business, which had slowed down in recent months due to the global financial crisis. Thanks to the camel burgers, business is now booming. The creators of the camel burger already have plans to expand their business by opening up another branch which could mark the creation of a whole new franchise, in the fledgling ‘camburger’ industry, that could most definitely be a market leader in the Gulf States.

Camel burgers may seem like a unique food that may or may not be a welcome guest on your dining table. However, there are even more unique and weird foods that are considered to be delicacies in the Middle East. How about a slice of sheep’s brain grilled to perfection and tucked into half of a freshly baked pita bread, along with a slice of onion and a squeeze of lemon juice?

Or sheep testicle kebabs grilled on skewers over an open flame until they ‘pop’? No matter which foods grace your palate, trying new foods that may seem strange at first is an excellent way to increase your culinary repertoire and experience a new gastronomic adventure.

11-31

Camel Burgers!

July 16, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

Saudi fast food restaurant serving camel burgers

By Nael Shyoukhi

Camel burger - Crown Plaza Hotel, Bahrain

RIYADH (Reuters Life!)-A fast food restaurant in Saudi Arabia is offering baby camel burgers as the latest way for the camel-crazed country to enjoy one of their favorite delicacies.

Specialities such as camel liver have long been on the menu of upmarket restaurants in the Gulf Arab state, but the experiment with baby camel burgers has met with enthusiasm in a country where the camel is a symbol of nomadic traditions.

“The idea…was to invent something new. It is about the love of Saudi people for camel meat,” said Saleh Quwaisi, one of the owners of the Local Hashi Meals restaurant in the capital Riyadh which plans to open a second branch soon and considers to expand further.

Walid Sanchez, managing director of sufraiti.com, a popular Saudi online dining directory, sees a huge market for camel burgers as Saudis like to try out new menus and appreciate the quality of locally made meat.

Some experts also say camel meat is healthy because it is low in fat.

“People like camel meat but no one experimented with camel burgers before…I think it will be a popular thing, it will definitely take off,” said Sanchez.
Customers visiting the packed restaurant in Riyadh on a weekend night agreed.

“I’m frankly trying it for the first time and I really like it,” said Mohammad Naghi. “It doesn’t have much fat, it’s light and has a delicate taste,” he said as he chewed away.

camelburger

Ahmad al-Okaili, ordering “Hashi” burgers — Arabic for baby camel — for him and his children, agreed: “I like their idea and enthusiasm, they’re the first to do this and they’ve become famous with it, which is well-deserved.”

While tremendous oil wealth has brought rapid modernisation to the desert state of Saudi Arabia, the camel remains celebrated due to its connection with the traditional nomadic lifestyle of Bedouin Arabs.

Throughout history, the camel has served multiple purposes as food, friend, transport and war machine.

The Arabic language famously has over 40 terms for different breeds, ages and genders of camel.

Riyadh, which is home to one of the biggest camel markets on the Arabian peninsula, regularly hosts camel races, and every year in various places across the kingdom there are pageants — where a winner could claim hundreds of thousands of dollars.

11-30

Leading the Fight Against Human Trafficking

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan MMNS Middle East Correspondent

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

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

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

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

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

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

11-30

Unrest in Iran Inspires Pro-Democracy Activists in the Arab World

June 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

New America Media, Commentary, NAM Correspondent

NAM Editor’s Note: Arab regimes haven’t publicly criticized or even mentioned what is happening in neighboring Iran, triggering much speculation among Arab bloggers as to why that is. The author of this piece wished to remain anonymous due to safety concerns.

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Former Iranian Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi pauses while he speaks about Iran at the National Press Club in Washington June 22, 2009.    REUTERS/Larry Downing 

DAMASCUS — Images of bloody protesters and crowds numbering in the hundreds of thousands in the streets of Tehran have been broadcast into living rooms across the Arab world for five consecutive days, enchanting and inspiring pro-democracy activists in a region where pushes for democratic reforms tend to be met with an iron fist.

Meanwhile, Arab regimes have largely remained silent over the contested election. Leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan—the major Sunni powers in the region—haven’t mentioned the elections or allegations of fraud. In normal circumstances, this would be strange — these countries are the regional archenemies of President Ahmedinejad’s Iran.

Some say the reason behind their silence lies in their fear of bolstering pro-democracy movements in their own countries. “The unrest in Iran frightens dictators in the region because it makes it harder for them to justify their own absolute authority,” says Syrian blogger Yasir Sadiq. “If they see tyrannies come down around them, they’ll be afraid.”

Whether or not the Iranian elections were “stolen,” Iran is a long way ahead of most Arab countries when it comes to democracy — the country has a functioning electoral system. Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the Gulf states don’t hold elections, and in Egypt and Syria, “elections” are so tightly controlled that the results are always known in advance.

The state controlled media in authoritarian Arab countries have mostly downplayed the events in Iran. Government controlled newspapers like Al-Thawra in Syria, Iran’s strongest regional ally, have kept Iran off the front pages and run headlines like, “The West needs to stop intervening in Iranian elections,” using age-old claims of conspiracies to deflect attention from actual popular desire for democratic reform.

“Governments all over the Arab world accuse pro-democracy movements of serving the west, or of being tools of the CIA or Mosad (Israeli intelligence),” says Syrian freelance journalist Khaled Al-Khetyari. “They are just trying to manipulate people by using this language because the people in power don’t want their populations to analyze what is actually happening in Iran.”

The Obama administration has been relatively silent on the unrest in Iran. On Wednesday, Hillary Clinton said it was up to Iranians to “resolve this internal protest.”

Al-Khatyari says the U.S. administration’s measured distance is a strategy the U.S. should stick to. “The last American administration latched onto any internal opposition to regimes it didn’t like. This always hurts local movements because it connects them to a country that most people here see as harmful to the region and it justifies repression by our governments.”

Syrian blogger Yasir Sadiq says he is encouraged by the Iranian opposition’s seven-point manifesto being circulated on the internet, which calls for the “Dissolution of all organizations — both secret and public — designed for the oppression of the Iranian people.”

“It’s inspiring to see people in the Middle East call for the end of secret services,” Sadiq says. “Organizations like this have oppressed people in the Arab world so much.”

Sadiq is reticent to believe that what he calls Iran’s pro-democracy “intifada” could be exported to Arab countries any time soon. “It’s difficult to hope for this kind of movement in the Arab world. We have a long way to go, but we hope that eventually, something like that will happen here.”

For now, he says, Arab activists will attempt to learn what they can from their counterparts in Iran. For days, Sadiq has been pegged to Twitter, the social networking tool that has allowed Iranians to organize demonstrations while the Iranian government institutes a near blackout of internet services.

“Arab bloggers’ main interest in what is happening in Iran is in figuring out how Twitter can be used to organize and bring our voices forward in our own countries,” he says.

The government in Syria may eventually try to ban it, like they have with other networking sites like Facebook, but Sadiq says he is not deterred. “The more they ban, the more ways we will find to get around their restrictions.”

11-27

Not Fit For Human Consumption

May 14, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan MMNS Middle East Correspondent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11-21

Pretty in Pink

March 19, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan MMNS

pink

The delicate color pink graces everything from haute couture to the latest techno gadgets geared towards females in the global market, however one of the last places anyone would expect to find the color is on taxicabs. Sure enough, a savvy businesswoman in Lebanon has painted the traditional yellow taxicab a cuter shade of pink. Nawal Yaghi Fakhri is the owner of ‘Taxi Banat’, which means ‘Taxi for Women’. Female drivers decked out in, what else, pink drive a fleet of blush colored Peugeot taxis throughout the capital of Beirut. The uniform they wear is comprised of a pink shirt, pink tie and a complimentary bubble gum shade of lipstick. The customers they cater to are women only, as men are not allowed to ride in the gender specific cabs.

09_ae_pink_taxi01_4 The pink taxicabs are meant to serve as a safe option for women out on the town in Lebanon who want a safe ride home. Crimes against woman traveling in taxis, often by the male driver, is not unheard of in the region as well as in most cities of the world.  The taxis are also popular with Muslim woman who adhere with the Islamic specification of not mixing with non-related men. The Lebanese Ministry of Tourism has backed the initiative whole-heartedly as the country has launched a campaign to draw millions of tourists in 2009. The minister is banking on an influx of rich Muslim ladies from the Gulf descending upon the capital this year and taking advantage of the female-fueled taxicabs.

Female geared taxicabs are nothing new in the Middle East. Both Iran and Dubai have launched similar services. However, Dubai has found the most success with the cabs, in large part due to the sprawling commercial complexes chock full of female clientele looking for a way home with their shopping loot.

The pink taxicabs in Dubai have recently metamorphosed to allow families to use the service even when male family members are included. However, bachelors will still either have to use the ‘shoe leather express’ or hail a different shade of cab.

Like most things in the Middle East, the idea for the pink taxicabs was copied from the west.

In 2006, the British Pink Ladies Club first came up with the idea for the gender biased pink cabs to help inebriated female party goers find their way home safely in the wee hours of the morning after bars and nightclubs have closed.

While the pink cabs have largely been embraced in the west, they have come under harsh criticism from many in the Middle East. Numerous Gulf women have publicly spoken out against the cabs citing that they will just give husbands another excuse to shirk their duties.

11-13

Diabetes Spirals Out of Control in Gulf

March 12, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS

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

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

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

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

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

11-12

American TV Popular in the Middle East

March 5, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan MMNS Middle East Correspondent

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

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

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

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

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

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

11-11

The Bachelor City

December 11, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan- MMNS Middle East Correspondent

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

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

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

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

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

10-51

The ‘Block’ That Wasn’t

September 25, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS

 

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It has got to be the shortest decree in the history of Kuwait and, if not, it’s sure gotta be close. This past Tuesday news broke that the Ministry of Communication issued a memo to all ISP servers in the State of Kuwait to block the world famous YouTube social networking and video-sharing website. The reason being that several videos were uncovered recently that were derogatory to the Prophet Muhammad (s) and which made a mockery of the Holy Qur`an. However, less than 24 hours after the decree was made, it was rescinded. Most likely, the Minister noticed that he could ‘flag’ a video deemed to be inappropriate and YouTube would remove it. As expected, the videos in question have already been removed.

YouTube is huge in Kuwait, with more than 59,000 videos from both citizens and expatriates in the tiny Gulf nation being available on the site. Immediately after the news about the block hit, not surprisingly it was leaked from a worker at one of the primary ISP’s in Kuwait to a local blogger, a frenzy of blog activity followed suit. One blogger had this to say, “If they block YouTube they might as well just go all the way and block the Internet completely.”

Kuwait boasts one of the most open freedom-of-speech stances for local media in the entire Gulf region. However, the latest political elections saw more religious-minded MP’s maintain a firm grip on parliament. Censorship in Kuwait is set to push the boundaries of what residents have seen in the past with the primary TV stations coming under scrutiny recently for not showing enough Islamic programming and favoring a bonanza of Western comedies and dramas instead.

28541-skype_blocked This is not the first time that the government has censored the Internet. The popular website Skype is no longer accessible for residents of Kuwait. However, the reason for the block was not religious but rather economics. Skype users in Kuwait were able to make cheap International phone calls, which took a huge piece of the ‘pie’ away from the Ministry of Communications. However, while the Skype website is blocked the service is still operational. Computing wizards in Kuwait discovered early on that the Skype installation program could be emailed to them and then downloaded right to their PC. Completely blocking Skype is impossible given that it runs on encrypted tunnels.

Other countries in the Gulf have exercised their right to block Internet content that is questionable or forbidden in Islam. All the Gulf States block pornography in every way, shape or form. Some have even gone as far as to block both dating and matrimonial websites. However, some countries have blocked internet content for the sake of their own reputations. In 2006, the Dubai government blocked YouTube because two Armenians filmed a documentary about the human trafficking of Armenian women and girls to Dubai. The duo used hidden cameras to shed light on an underground prostitution ring that thrives in Dubai. Like Kuwait, Dubai eventually rescinded the ban and YouTube was once again available.

The Internet is growing by leaps and bounds with unprecedented amounts of information, whether good or bad, at the tips of most everyone’s fingertips. The challenge for governments to filter that information grows increasingly hard, as the internet has given anyone who wants their voices to be heard a boundless audience.

10-40

Muslims of Tibet

May 29, 2008 by · 1 Comment 

Courtesy Hasni Essa, Peace and Pluralism

Masood Butt is a Tibetan, living in India. But, unlike most other Tibetans in exile, who are Buddhists, Butt is a Muslim. However, apart from his faith, there is little else to distinguish Butt from other Tibetans. He follows Tibetan customs, speaks the language fluently and regards the Dalai Lama as his leader. Yet, Butt’s community – the Tibetan Muslims – are little known in India, even though they have shared with their Buddhist brethren, the plight of leaving their homeland. And they have been living in India for the last 50 years. “Like other Tibetans, our community, too has faced tough times and undergone great mental and physical strain,” says Butt, who now works with the Dalai Lama’s office in Dharamsala.

The story of the Tibetan Muslims is that of a unique community, that has blended different cultural strains to forge a distinct identity, that has been kept alive even in the face of adversity. What is interesting to know is that Islam arrived almost a 1000 years ago in Tibet – a region that has always been synonymous with a monolithic Buddhist culture. How the first Muslim settlers reached Tibet is an interesting tale. Sometime in the 12th century, it is believed, a group of Muslim traders from Kashmir and Ladakh came to Tibet as merchants. Many of these traders settled in Tibet and married Tibetan women, who later converted to the religion of their husbands. Author Thomas Arnold, in his book, The Preaching of Islam says that gradually, marriages and social interactions led to an increase in the Tibetan Muslim population until a sizable community came up around Lhasa, Tibet’s capital.

“The Tibetan government allowed the Muslims freedom to handle their own affairs, without any interference. This enabled the community to retain their identity, while at the same time absorbing traditional Tibetan social and cultural traditions,” says Butt. The Tibetan Muslims followed the occupation of their ancestors and were mainly traders, who owned successful businesses. The community also contributed to Tibetan society and culture in many ways. For instance, the first cinema hall in Tibet was started by a Tibetan Muslim businessman. Also, Nangma – a popular classical music form of Tibet, is believed to have been brought to Tibet by the Muslims. In fact, the word ‘Nangma’ is said to be derived from the Urdu word, ‘Naghma’, which means song. “These high-pitched lilting songs, developed in Tibet around the turn of the century, were a craze in Lhasa, with musical hits by Acha Izzat, Bhai Akbar-la and Oulam Mehdi on the lips of almost everyone,” says Butt.

Many Tibetan scholars have commented on how religions as diverse as Islam and Buddhism could co-exist in peace in a traditional society such as that of Tibet. The credit for this, some feel, goes to religious leaders like the Dalai Lama, who took the lead in fostering this spirit of brotherhood. For instance, a history of the Tibetan Muslim community published some years ago relates how during the 17th century, the fifth Dalai Lama readily agreed to give the Muslims land within Lhasa for building a mosque.

The story goes that when a delegation of Muslims approached the fifth Dalai Lama for space for a mosque and a burial ground for their community, the Dalai Lama shot an arrow, with the promise that the place where the arrow fell would belong to the Muslim community. The place later came to be known as Gyangda Linka or the park of the distant arrow. Tibetan Muslims also enjoyed other special privileges in Tibet. For instance, they were exempted from the ‘no meat rule’ when such a restriction was imposed in the rest of Tibet, during the holy Buddhist months. Besides, their commercial enterprises were exempted from taxation.

All these special privileges, however were withdrawn, soon after the Chinese occupied Tibet in 1959. Most of the Tibetan Muslims, consequently, opted to leave rather than live under the Chinese occupation. Those who were able to cross over to India, settled in the border towns of Kalimpong, Darjeeling and Gangtok. Later, the community gradually started moving to Kashmir – the land from where their ancestors had gone to Tibet in the 12th century. In fact, the move to Kashmir was significant, says Butt. Even in Tibet, the Muslims were identified as Kashmiris, since Kashmir was known to Tibetans as Khache Yul and Tibetan Muslims were referred to as Khache. Thus, their status was that of a foreigner, even when they were in Tibet.

On the basis of their Kashmiri ancestry, the Tibetan Muslim families who came back to Kashmir after 1959, were given Indian citizenship. Many of these families are still living in Srinagar, while a few have migrated to Nepal and the Gulf countries. Today, there are around 250 families of Tibetan Muslims in Srinagar, mostly in the Hawal and Idgah areas. A number of these families are engaged in fine embroidery work of Kashmiri carpets, while others have set up their own businesses, says Nasir Qazi of the Tibetan Muslim Youth Federation – a body that works for the welfare of the community. The community remains a close-knit one and, for many of them, Tibet remains an emotive issue. Recently for instance, the Tibetan Muslim Youth Federation took out a peace march in Srinagar to show solidarity with the Dalai Lama’s views on granting of autonomous status to Tibet.

And, in case a solution is found, would they like to go back to Tibet? “Maybe not for settling down, since most of us have been born and brought up in India,” says Qazi. “But once, I would definitely like to go there – to visit the Potala palace, the landscape that we have heard so much about and to see for myself the land where our forefathers lived.”

 

10-23

Many Arabs Favor Nuclear Iran

April 24, 2006 by · Leave a Comment 

Many Arabs Favor Nuclear Iran
By Jonathan Wright
CAIRO (Reuters) – The United States found little support in the Arab world when it invaded Iraq in 2003.
In a military confrontation with Tehran over Iran’s nuclear program, it should not expect any more.
Some Arabs, mainly outside the Gulf, are positively enthusiastic about Iran’s program, even if it acquires nuclear weapons, if only because it would be a poke in the eye or a counterweight to Israel and the United States.
Others, especially in countries closest to Iran, are wary of any threat to the status quo and the instability it might bring.
Most in the Arab world see the U.S. and European campaign against Iran as hypocritical, while Israel refuses to allow international nuclear inspections and is thought to have some 200 nuclear warheads.
“I want the whole region free of all nuclear weapons but if the West continues its double-standard approach on this issue then Iran has the right (to have them),” said Abdel-Rahman Za’za’, a 29-year-old Lebanese engineer.
“This could provide some balance against Israel and help the Palestinians in their negotiations. We have to take our rights because they are not going to be given to us,” he added.
The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition group, said this week it saw no harm in Iran developing nuclear arms.
“That would create a kind of equilibrium between the two sides — the Arab and Islamic side on one side and Israel on the other,” said deputy Brotherhood leader Mohamed Habib.
Arab League chief Amr Moussa said on Tuesday policies toward nuclear programs in the region needed thorough review.
“These policies which are based on double standards will blow up and escalate this issue and this escalation will not include only Iran and Israel,” he said. The Arab League represents 22 Arab governments, from Morocco to the Gulf.
Iran says it has no intention of making nuclear bombs and wants enriched uranium only to generate electricity. The United States says it does not believe it.
Analysts said they detected a surprising level of sympathy and support for Iran in the region.
WOUNDED DIGNITY
“It’s amazing how encouraging people are of the whole thing. Some think the Iranians are on the way to acquiring it (nuclear weapons capability) and are quite excited,” said Hesham Kassem, editor of the independent Cairo newspaper Al Masry Al Youm.
“There doesn’t seem to be any awareness that it might be a calamity,” added Kassem, who said he personally was afraid of an arms race bringing in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey.
Mohamed el-Sayed Said, deputy director of the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, a Cairo think tank, said: “People are very very warm about it (Iran’s nuclear program).”
“Anyone who challenges the United States will find a great deal of support. That’s a very profitable enterprise in public opinion terms,” he added.
“Even if it takes an arms race, people don’t mind. What we have here is wounded dignity and revulsion about the lack of fairness and double standards.”
Most Arab governments have called for a peaceful solution to the confrontation with Iran, in the hope that diplomacy will enable it to develop nuclear energy under U.N. supervision.
If they speak about nuclear weapons, they say the whole Middle East should be nuclear-free, implicitly including Israel. U.S. officials say they can only deal with Israel’s nuclear activities after a comprehensive Middle East peace.
Analysts in the Gulf raised special concerns. “Gulf states are legitimately concerned about Iran joining the nuclear club,” said Abdel-Khaleq Abdullah, a professor of political science in the United Arab Emirates.
“The possibility of a fourth Gulf war is just beyond our ability to manage. We don’t want it. It will just make life miserable and hell,” he added.
Saudi analyst Dawoud al-Sharayan said an Iranian nuclear bomb could give the United States a pretext to maintain its military forces in the Gulf and add to the tension.
Saudi Arabia would then have the right to think about having its own nuclear weapon, he added. -
(Additional reporting by Mohammed Abbas in Cairo, Alaa Shahine in Beirut, Miral Fahmy in Dubai and Andrew Hammond in Saudi Arabia)

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