Wanderlust…

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Archive for the ‘Dubai’ Category

Rolling Out the Red Carpet: Arab Gulf States Embrace Egypt’s Coup

Posted by vmsalama on July 11, 2013

by Vivian Salama

Vocativ

A year ago, as stragglers in the streets of Cairo continued to celebrate Mohamed Morsi’s presidential inauguration, Dubai’s Chief of Police, Dahi Khalfan, lashed out at Egypt’s president and his Muslim Brotherhood supporters, calling them “thugs” who had threatened his life.

“The number of phone threats I have received demonstrates that we are facing a criminal organization,” Khalfan tweeted, claiming in separate posts that he had received as many as 2,000 calls over a 72-hour period. “[Morsi] will come crawling to the Gulf, and we will not receive him on a red carpet.”

Fast forward to the present, and roughly a week after the Egyptian military deposed Morsi in a controversial coup that was precipitated by mass protests, both the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have, figuratively at least, rolled out the red carpet for the new Egyptian government. This week, as the military engaged in a bloody face off with thousands of Morsi supporters looking to reinstate the fallen leader, the U.A.E pledged to give $3 billion in grants and loans to the cash-strapped country, while Saudi Arabia committed $2 billion in central bank deposits, $2 billion in energy products, and $1 billion in cash—a significant jump from the $2 billion promised last year when Morsi was elected president.

“The U.A.E. intended to send a…signal that it will not accommodate the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, be it at home or abroad,” said Ayham Kamel, Persian Gulf analyst for the Eurasia Group, a New York-based research and consulting firm.

The reasons go well beyond the alleged threats made to Khalfan. The rocky relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood and the two Gulf states dates back to the 1950s and 1960s, when Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser cracked down on political dissent, forcing a number of Islamists to flee. Many settled in Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E., where they found jobs and assimilated, but along the way, imparted their religious ideologies on the surrounding community. (click here to read more)

Female supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi shout slogans as they rally at the Raba El-Adwyia square where they are camping in Cairo

Posted in Abu Dhabi, Al Jazeera, al-Sisi, Arab, Arab League, Bahrain, Constitution, Coptic, corruption, Coup, dictatorship, Dubai, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Human Rights, Islam, Kuwait, Media, Middle East, military, Mohamed Morsi, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, North Africa, Oman, Protests, Qatar, Religion, Salafi, Saudi Arabia, State of Emergency, Terrorism, United Arab Emirates, United States, Washington | Leave a Comment »

Middle East Activists Muzzled and Arrested in Arab Gulf States

Posted by vmsalama on April 5, 2013

April 4, 2013

The Daily Beast (click here for original link)

By Vivian Salama

Within hours of being handed a two-year jail term for allegedly insulting the ruler of Kuwait, 27-year old Hamed Al Khalidi turned to Twitter– the very apparatus that got him into trouble—with a poem:

“I said: why prison?

I’m not a thief; I’m not a criminal…

neither deliberate nor accidental.

But when I realized my sentence serves my country,

I began to enjoy prison as though it is paradise.”

gulf activismAl Khalidi is part of a growing list of young activists in Kuwait and across the Arab Gulf being targeted for “electronic crimes”—for voicing the very same longing for freedom, justice, and opportunity as those in countries like Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, where online activism catalyzed mass street protests. Days before Al Khalidi’s sentencing, the Kuwaiti appeals court extended the jail term of another opposition Twitterer, Bader al-Rashidi, from two to five years on charges that he attempted to instigate a coup and insulted the country’s Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah. Kuwait, home to the most dynamic political system in the Gulf, has already sentenced some 10 online activists to various prison terms on charges ranging from insulting members of parliament (or the Emir) to inciting protests.

“The government of Kuwait and other Gulf governments have begun to feel the danger of Twitter that toppled presidents and governments in the Arab countries and it is clear from the way they are abusing many Twitter users with these false charges,” said Mohammed Al Humaidi, a lawyer and director of the Kuwait Society for Human Rights. “Most of the Gulf governments don’t have a law specifically linked to electronic crimes, and so this is unconstitutional.” (more…)

Posted in Abu Dhabi, Algeria, Arab, Arab Spring, Arabic, Bahrain, Bloggers, Censorship, corruption, dictatorship, discrimination, Dubai, Economy, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Hosni Mubarak, Internet, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Journalism, Khalidi, Media, Middle East, Mohamed Morsi, Muslim Brotherhood, Oman, Persian Gulf, Politics, Protests, Qatar, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Skype, Social Media, Television, Tunisia, Twitter, United Arab Emirates, Viber, Whatsapp | Leave a Comment »

Saudi Arabia: The Internet’s Enemy Cracks Down on Skype, Whatsapp, and Viber

Posted by vmsalama on March 29, 2013

by Vivian Salama

Mar 29, 2013

The Daily Beast 

Infamous for the severe measures it uses to crack down on alleged security threats, Saudi Arabia is now picking on web-based communication apps, which teens rely on heavily for daily contact. Vivian Salama reports.

Photo by HASSAN AMMARSkype, Whatsapp and Viber are subject to a ban in Saudi Arabia, as it demands the rights to monitor all communications via these web-based communications apps.

Despite a medley of applications now available to help Internet users avert such a ban, the kingdom declared that it would block the services within its borders unless the operators grant the government surveillance rights. The companies have until Saturday—the start of the Saudi workweek— to respond to Saudi Arabia’s Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC), local news reports said.

While Saudi Arabia is infamous for taking authoritarian measures to crack down on perceived security threats, it has increasingly shifted its attention toward the telecommunications sector in recent months. The CITC announced in September that all pre-paid SIM card users must enter a personal identification number when recharging their accounts and the number must match the one registered with their mobile operator when the SIM is purchased. The country’s second-largest telecom company, known as Mobily, was temporarily banned from selling its pay-as-you-go SIM cards after it failed to comply with the new regulations.

“A proposal for a ban would be driven by political and security concerns as opposed to economic concerns,” said Aiyah Saihati, a Saudi businesswoman and writer. “The Saudi government is refraining from taking an extremely authoritarian style dealing with its critical youth population. Saudi may try, without censorship, to find ways to monitor communications.”

As revolution gripped much of the Arab world in 2011, Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, spearheaded a counterrevolution—working to appease its critics with monetary and political concessions, while suppressing protests via brutal crackdowns. Reporters Without Borders lists Saudi Arabia as an “Enemy of the Internet,” saying last year that “its rigid opposition to the simmering unrest on the Web caused it to tighten its Internet stranglehold even more to stifle all political and social protests.” (click here to read more…)

 

Posted in Abu Dhabi, Arab, Arab Spring, Arabic, Bahrain, Blackberry, Bloggers, Business, Censorship, dictatorship, Dubai, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Film, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Google, Human Rights, Internet, Islam, Israel, Jihad, Journalism, Kuwait, Libya, Media, Middle East, Oman, Politics, Protests, Qatar, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Sexuality, Shi'ite, Skype, Social Media, Television, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Viber, Whatsapp, Women, YouTube | Leave a Comment »

Bahrain Comes Back to the Streets at Saudi Forces’ Anniversary

Posted by vmsalama on March 17, 2013

(I LOVE the photo linked to this article — courtesy: Mohammed Al-Shaikh/AFP/Getty)

By Vivian Salama

Mar 17, 2013

The Daily Beast (click here for original link)

Two years after the Arab Spring’s protests and Saudi intervention, opposition groups are again clashing with security forces in the fragile kingdom. Are the king’s reforms too little too late?

Pearl Roundabout was once the pulse of the Bahraini opposition—like Cairo’s Tahrir Square or Mohammad Bouazizi Square in Tunis. In the earliest days of the Arab Spring uprisings, it was a vibrant center for self-expression, and saw a wave of protests—and bloodshed—as Bahrainis joined in a regional call for democracy and freedom.

Bahrain picTwo years later, Bahrain’s iconic square is lifeless—sealed off by security forces and torn apart by bulldozers. The pearl monument that once stood majestically at its center is gone, demolished and paved over, with the government saying it was “desecrated” by “vile” protesters. It was even renamed Al Farooq Junction—a tribute to Omar ibn Al Khattab, a historical figure viewed negatively by Shias, the sect of Islam to which the majority of Bahrainis belong.

Despite efforts by the government to erase evidence of any challenge to its authority, Bahrainis spilled into the streets to mark the second anniversary of Saudi-led Gulf forces entering Bahrain to help their ally, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah, suppress a wave of dissent. Dozens were reportedly injured in clashes with security forces Thursday, according to Al Wefaq, the country’s leading opposition party. Police fired tear gas at protesters as a group of youths confronted them with Molotov cocktails. Protests dubbed “Never Surrender” kicked off again Friday.

The government described the unrest as “acts of domestic terror, including the theft and torching of cars, and the street blockades,” according to an Interior Ministry statement. Several policemen were injured in the clashes, the government said.

Bahrain, a staunch American ally and home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, has lent a unique story in the Arab Spring narrative. King Hamad, a Sunni in the Arab Gulf’s only Shia-majority nation, maintains his authority, often through harsh crackdowns, with the solid support of the West and surrounding Gulf states, which assert that Iran is using Bahraini Shias to infiltrate the Arab world. Saudi Arabia, which is connected to Bahrain via a causeway, has been especially fearful, as it is home to a restive Shia population in its Eastern province. Bahrain, a tiny island in the Persian Gulf, is not wealthy from natural resources like fellow Gulf Cooperation Council nations Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates; it has had to rely on aid from its neighbors since turmoil began in 2011. (click here to read more…)

Posted in Allies, Arab, Arab Spring, Bahrain, discrimination, Dubai, Economy, Education, Employment, Foreign Policy, Iran, Islam, Middle East, military, Mohamed Bouazizi, Politics, Protests, Qatar, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Shi'ite, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, United States, Yemen | Leave a Comment »

Arab-Americans Set to Play Key Role in US Election

Posted by vmsalama on November 4, 2012

By Vivian Salama

Al-Monitor (click here for original link)

Arab-Americans are poised to play a critical role in the US presidential election.   Numbering about 4 million, they’re heavily concentrated in several battleground states — including Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia — where every vote will count in a race that many consider too close to call.

A mid-September survey of 400 voters conducted by the Arab American Institute revealed that President Barack Obama leads Republican candidate Mitt Romney among Arab-Americans, 52% to 28%, with 16 percent of Arab Americans still undecided. This compares to the 67% to 28% lead Obama held over John McCain among Arab Americans in 2008, signaling a potential loss of some 100,000 voters for Obama, according to AAI.

A substantial drop in Arab-American support for Obama, relative to 2008, accompanied by the large number of undecided voters, especially in key swing states, could be a signal to the present and future candidates.

The Arab-American political community had its challenges following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The Patriot Act, arrests, detentions and deportations targeted members of the community. A New York Police Department surveillance program and opposition to building mosques and Islamic community centers, like the Park51 center near Ground Zero, preoccupied the community’s political leaders. Instead of campaigning for broader national and international issues, Arab-Americans found themselves fighting as much, or more than ever, for their civil liberties. (more…)

 

Posted in Abu Dhabi, Algeria, Arab, Arab Spring, Arabic, Bahrain, Christian, Culture, discrimination, Dubai, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Gaza, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Israel, Lobby, Media, Middle East, New York, NYPD, Palestinians, Politics, Qatar, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Social Media, Sudan, Terrorism, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, United States, Yemen | Leave a Comment »

The Algerian Rose; A Singer Who United the Arab World

Posted by vmsalama on June 12, 2012

Hello from Vienna International Airport where I am passing the time with my good friend Riesling, trying to drown out the sound of disgruntled babies by focusing on my trip to Egypt. I’ll be there for the next few weeks covering the historic presidential elections (and the inevitable fallout). Egypt certainly knows how to keep the drama alive, pitting two of the least likely candidates against each other — one, a member of former President Hosni Mubarak’s regime, the other, a Muslim Brotherhood strongman. Already the folks I talk to and the people writing on Facebook and Twitter seem to be echoing the same sentiments: regardless of the outcome of this week’s vote, the revolution continues. But who, then, is voting? And how could a potential boycott skew the outcome?? Are Christians voting for Ahmed Shafiq, terrified of the prospects of electing a Islamist president? Are young, disenfranchised Muslim youth or theEgyptian expats in the Gulf helping to bolster Mohammed Morsi?? Only time will tell. In the meantime, I wrote the following article in this week’s Newsweek International, exploring the powerful influence of Warda Al-Jazairia and singers from her genre. If only Arab leaders could command such a regional following.

The Algerian Rose

Newsweek International (click here for original link)

By Vivian Salama

June 10, 2012

The release of the song “El Watan El Akhbar” (“The Great Nation”) seemed to capture the sentiments that were running wildly through the hearts of young people across the Arab world. Longtime rulers were falling victim to an outcry for liberation. The lyrics, by legendary Egyptian composer Mohammed Abdel Wahab, read: “Nothing but the triumph of the Arab people, my country, my beloved. In Yemen, Damascus and Jeddah, you are sweet, oh victory … Between Marrakech and Bahrain, the same tune for a perfect unity. Oh you, whose soil is the makeup of my eye; my country, O fortress of freedom.”

The year was 1960. An air of emancipation was sweeping through Arab nations, as people sought to free themselves from colonialism and to embrace an era of nationalist resistance movements. Pan-Arabism was a concept championed by Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser, and it seeped into the political discourse of countries across the region, urging Arabs to come together in the face of tyranny. “El Watan El Akhbar,” a collaboration by some of the Arab world’s most famous singers, including Algerian legend Warda Al-Jazairia and Egyptian heartthrob Abdel Halim Hafez, stirred the vehemence and imaginations of people from Morocco to Bahrain.

Decades later, Arabs are once again fighting tyranny—this time, from within. While leaders have become targets of discontent of their citizens, the legacies of many singers, like Warda, Egypt’s Oum Kalthoum, and Lebanon’s Fayrouz, with their gallant, patriotic lyrics, continue to inspire and unite the Arab people in a way many politicians tried—and failed—to do. And they will continue to do so even in death, as evidenced by the massive outpouring of grief at the death of Warda, the Algerian Rose, at the age of 72 on May 17 in Cairo.

Today, very little else links the highly contrasted Arab people beyond music and art, particularly that which touches upon three very basic sentiments: love, God, and nation. Even now, as several countries across the Middle East and North Africa usher in a new hodgepodge of leaders, nostalgia remains for the triumphant era of pan-Arab awakening. (more…)

Posted in Algeria, Arab, Arab Spring, Arabic, Bahrain, dictatorship, discrimination, Dubai, Economy, Egypt, Elections, Foreign Policy, Gaza, Hosni Mubarak, Iraq, Islam, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Media, Middle East, Mubarak, Music, Newsweek, Oman, Politics, Protests, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Warda | Leave a Comment »

Al Jazeera’s (R)Evolution?

Posted by vmsalama on May 20, 2012

Here’s a study I was pleased to contribute to a new-ish e-zine called Jadaliyya which focuses on Arab affairs.

by Vivian Salama

Jadaliyya (click here for original link)

In March of 2011, an unusually forthright editorial by an anonymous writer made its way into The Peninsula Qatar, an English language daily bankrolled by a member of the emirate’s ruling family. At the time of publication, protesters had already toppled the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt, uprisings were in full swing in Libya and Yemen, and in the Persian Gulf, Bahrainis were gearing up for what would prove to be a bloody battle, only days after the op-ed ran.

“Businesses and institutions are treated as ‘holy cows,’” the author wrote in the editorial, entitled “Why are we so timid?”

“What essentially ails the Qatari media (English and Arabic-language newspapers) is the absence of a comprehensive law that specifies its role in a clear-cut way and seeks to protect it against the people and interests opposed to free expression or those who cannot appreciate criticism,” the op-ed read.

It was at about the same time that this editorial ran that Al-Jazeera Arabic, the renowned television network that essentially put Qatar on the map, started facing a dilemma. The network has found it increasingly difficult to distance itself from the growing political ambitions of its patron, Qatar, particularly as it is kept alive by the one hundred million dollars it receives annually from the Qatari government. Moreover, the wave of information now available to the masses via the Internet and satellite television has exposed the gaps in its reporting of issues that do not fall in line with the government’s agenda, while also highlighting its biases in the various uprisings. (more…)

Posted in Al Jazeera, American, Arab, Arab Media & Society, Arab Spring, Arabic, dictatorship, discrimination, Dubai, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Film, Hosni Mubarak, Internet, Iraq, Islam, Israel, Journalism, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Middle East, military, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Palestinians, Politics, Qatar, Saddam Hussein, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Television, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, United States, Yemen | Leave a Comment »

The U.A.E.: 40 and Fabulous?

Posted by vmsalama on December 2, 2011

Abu Dhabi at 40 //Photo by my homegirl Tala Al Ramahi (@journalist_tala)

Abu Dhabi at 40 //Photo by Tala Al Ramahi (@journalist_tala)

 As some of you may know I just moved back to New York last week after living in the Middle East for much of the last 10 years, most recently in the United Arab Emirates, which is today celebrating its 40th anniversary. There is no doubt that the UAE has accomplished pretty spectacular things in 40 years, fueled greatly by the abundant oil wealth of Abu Dhabi, which holds more than 90 percent of the crude in the country, and about 7 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves, according to BP data.

Burj Dubai // Photo by Vivian Salama

Burj Khalifa // Photo by Vivian Salama

The country is home to the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, one of the world’s biggest malls, the world’s largest dancing fountains (I must confess, the fountain is rather amazing), the only manmade island visible from space and one of two gold vending machines in the world!

Dubai dancing fountain // Photo by Vivian Salama

Dubai dancing fountain // Photo by Vivian Salama

It is, undeniably, a remarkable accomplishment given that just 40 years ago the emirates, prior to unification and the discovery of oil, earned much of their income from pearl diving and exporting dates.

The pride of its citizens is something to be admired, and for weeks (even before I departed for the US), skycrapers were covered from top to bottom in lights of white, green, red and black, the colors of the UAE flag. Emiratis, the citizens of the UAE, wore scarves and jewelry with the colors of the flag, and cars were covered, literally, in photos of leaders past and present.

But a challenging road lies ahead for the UAE, particularly after this year’s events in the Middle East, where longtime dictators were forced out by popular uprisings. There is one clear advantage the UAE has over countries like Egypt, Syria, Libya and Yemen: it’s citizens are not poor. There are parts of the country that are in great need for updated infrastructure – roads, power lines, etc – but citizens are, at worst, comfortable thanks to lifetime handouts by the government. (Click here for my story Abu Dhabi’s Spending on Soccer and Skyscrapers Masks Slower Times at Home)

But citizens of the UAE are hungry for one thing: opportunities. Currently, foreigners make up about 85 percent of the country’s population – the majority hailing from countries on the Indian subcontinent. British/Western European, Canadian, Australian and South African expats hold many of the high paying white-collar positions, in SOME cases because they are better trained to do so, leaving few high profile jobs for the locals.

Emiratization, a policy now enforced by the government in many workplaces, seeks to boost Emirati employment whether by providing training and education for Emiratis, or setting quotas in certain sectors for Emirati employment. Ultimately the government is trying to prevent their own talented citizens from being lured to the West. But many critics believe that the UAE cannot afford to lose its foreign workers as they may have been the driving force for the country’s speedy success in the first place. In the meantime there is growing resentment among foreigners who, despite making up the majority of the population,  have few rights. There is no legal protection on property rights, and police, in practice, do not need a reason to stop, question or even detain people.

Another challenge is maintaining the “vision” set by the country’s founders some 40 years ago. Seldom was there a day in the UAE that I did not hear someone refer to the “vision.” Abu Dhabi and Dubai have set urban planning roadmaps for diversifying their economies away from oil and expanding certain sectors (services, real estate, alternative energy, etc). However, the global economic crisis dealt a massive blow to the once seemingly invincible UAE and its seemingly invincible real estate market. Slowly we’ve seen the country scale back, but its officials still maintain that the overall “vision” is intact and on track. We shall see.

Photo by Vivian Salama

Photo by Vivian Salama

Finally, a problem facing many of the Gulf sheikhdoms: succession. The country’s founder Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan has been dead for 7 years now but his legacy undeniably lives on. The question is whether his sons, the current President Sheikh Khalifa and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed, can continue the vision he laid out for the country 40 years ago. Many experts I’ve spoken with believe that the vision of the two brothers has grown less cohesive, and the two have developed mini “kingdoms” – investing money in projects that are too different, both from each other and from that envisioned by their father.

The government is so private in nature (painfully so) that it’s always hard to know exactly what is going on behind the scenes. But given Dubai’s economic disaster and, more recently, Abu Dhabi’s problems, it raises a lot of questions as to who is calling the shots. The country enjoys making a splash, and it’s served them well, but if it genuinely wants to keep out of the spotlight during tougher times, it may want to adopt a more humbled approach over the next 40 years. (ie, no more $20 million hotel debut parties, ok?)

Dubai Atlantis Hotel Opening Show - December 2008

Dubai Atlantis Hotel Opening Show - December 2008

Good luck UAE. I am excited and eager to see what you have up your sleeve for the next 40 years!!

Posted in Abu Dhabi, Aldar, Arab, Arab Spring, dictatorship, Dubai, Economy, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Libya, Media, Middle East, Mubarak, Politics, Recession, Succession, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen | 1 Comment »

Abu Dhabi’s Economic Ambitions Held Back by Dubai-Style Real Estate Slump

Posted by vmsalama on November 3, 2011

By Vivian Salama 

Nov 3, 2011

Bloomberg/Business Week

Abu Dhabi, the emirate that bailed out Dubai in 2009, set out to avoid the pitfalls suffered by its Persian Gulf neighbor with a decades-long plan to replace oil revenue with industry and tourism as drivers of growth.

Now those plans need to be scaled back as companies behind some of the sheikhdom’s biggest developments cut jobs and postpone projects, said Ghassan Chehayeb, associate director of research at Dubai-based Exotix Ltd. Delays include beach-front apartments, the first office building that makes more energy than it uses and branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums.

Abu Dhabi Guggenheim Museum

“Abu Dhabi has to face the economic realities,” Chehayeb said. The emirate’s plan “was a little too ambitious and they’re realizing now that many of those projects might not make as much economic sense as they initially thought.”

Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates capital and the holder of 7 percent of the world’s oil reserves, plans to invest $500 billion in industry, tourism and culture to increase non-oil revenue to 64 percent of the economy from 41 percent from 2005 to 2007. In Dubai, debt-fueled property speculation drove up prices and spurred development until the global credit crunch in 2008 caused the market to crash.

The Abu Dhabi government hasn’t announced any changes to the development blueprint, called Vision 2030, since it was first published in 2008. The emirate’s Urban Planning Council wouldn’t say whether the plan is on track when contacted by Bloomberg.  (Click here to read more…)

RELATED STORIES I WROTE:

Abu Dhabi Delays Louvre, Guggenheim, Zayed Plan Citing ‘Magnitude of Work’

U.A.E. Forecasts 400 Million-Dirham Budget Deficit in 2012

Posted in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Economy, Real Estate | Leave a Comment »

Gulf Rulers Welcoming Arab Democracy Anywhere But Home May Store Up Unrest

Posted by vmsalama on April 14, 2011

By Alaa Shahine and Vivian Salama

Bloomberg (click here to view original)

Persian Gulf rulers say they understand that this year’s wave of pro-democracy uprisings has changed the Middle East. So far, they haven’t allowed it to change their own countries.

(l to r) Bin Ali, Saleh, Qaddafi, Mubarak

None of the region’s monarchies has taken steps to broaden political participation that match the spending pledges they have offered since the start of the unrest that toppled Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali andEgypt’s Hosni Mubarak. Instead, the rhetoric about a new era in the Arab world, and the cash handouts for homes and social security, have been accompanied by police repression.Protests have already reached Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait and the eastern province of Saudi Arabia this year. The reluctance of the Gulf Arab leaders, who control about two-fifths of the world’s oil, to loosen their grip on power may leave more of them vulnerable to the wave of unrest that has already pushed crude prices up more than 20 percent.“What we have learned from the uprisings in general, and from Tunisia and Egypt in particular, is that it’s really a matter of when,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research at Brookings Institution’s Doha Center, in a telephone interview. “Autocracies don’t last forever.”Oman’s Foreign Minister Yusuf Bin Alawi Bin Abdullah told Arab counterparts in Cairo last month that regional leaders need “new thinking” to deal with the “Arab renaissance.” In Abu Dhabi, then-GCC Secretary-General Abdul Rahman Al-Attiyah said that “political participation has become a key demand for development.”

‘Hydrocarbon Dictatorships’

Qatar’s ruler, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, said in February that change was coming to the region and that Europe shouldn’t support “hydrocarbon dictatorships” in return for economic benefits, according to Al Sharq newspaper. He didn’t say which countries fall into that category.Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the other three Gulf Cooperation Council members are listed as authoritarian regimes in the 2010 Democracy Index of the Economist Intelligence Unit.The region’s leaders must convert ideas about change into concrete steps that will “improve the relationship between the state and the people,” said Prince Turki Al-Faisal, former Saudi ambassador to the U.S. “We have to change words into actions, actions that are arduous,” he said in a lecture in Abu Dhabi March 21.Some countries have begun to act. Sultan Qaboos of Oman agreed last month to boost the powers of the nation’s consultative council; the United Arab Emirates announced Sept. 24 elections to the Federal National Council, an advisory body; Saudi Arabia said it will hold municipal elections in September, while backtracking from earlier signals that women would be allowed to vote.

Saudi ‘Counter-Revolution’

Those measures, though, don’t involve real transfers of power, Hamid said. Repression has been a more typical response, with Saudi Arabia as “the leader of the Arab counter- revolution,” he said. “They are fighting change tooth and nail.”Saudi Arabia’s Information Ministry declined to comment and no one was available to comment at the Saudi Foreign Ministry or the U.A.E.’s federal government or Federal National Council, in response to repeated phone calls over two days.The prospect of unrest spreading to the world’s biggest oil exporter drove the benchmark Saudi stock index into a 13-day losing streak through March 5, the longest since 1996. Crude for May delivery rose above $112 a barrel last week, the highest since September 2008.

‘Not Very Worried’

The political upheaval in the Middle East has left markets “pricing in an element of uncertainty,” said Arthur Hanna, an industry managing director at Accenture Plc.Saudi oil wealth will help it escape the wave of unrest even though unemployment is high and civil rights limited, said Kai Stukenbrock of Standard & Poor’s. “We are not very worried about that scenario,” Stukenbrock, S&P’s director of sovereign ratings for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said March 7.Simon Henry, chief financial officer at Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA), also backed the kingdom to navigate through the political tensions. “It has the resources, it has the established capability to handle some of the unrest it may face,” Henry said on March 8.One risk to Saudi stability is the succession to King Abdullah, who turns 87 this year, Henry said. Crown Prince Sultan is also in his 80s. Next in line is Prince Nayef, the septuagenarian interior minister who filled central Riyadh with police to block a planned demonstration March 11, after rallies by Shiite Muslims in the oil-producing eastern provinces.

Bahrain Crackdown

Saudi rulers offered asylum to Ben Ali, backed Mubarak before his ouster, and sent troops to Bahrain to support a crackdown by Sunni royals that has left more than 20 protesters dead, mostly from the country’s Shiite majority.The violence in Bahrain showed unrest can be expensive even when it doesn’t lead to regime change. It pushed borrowing costs more than 150 basis points higher and Bahrain’s credit rating at Standard & Poor’s three steps lower, and dented efforts to compete with Dubai as the region’s business hub.Qatar and the U.A.E. both sent troops to Bahrain to help the government quell protests. InLibya, they are on the opposition’s side, backing a U.S.-led military campaign to help the rebels fighting Muammar Qaddafi. Qatar will “look at” the possibility of providing defense equipment to the insurgents, Prime Minister Hamad bin Jasim Al-Thani said yesterday.

‘Digging In Heels’

Dubai police on April 8 arrested Ahmed Mansour, a human rights campaigner, promptingHuman Rights Watch to criticize the U.A.E. for “digging in its heels” against democratic reforms. Two more activists, including an economics professor at the Abu Dhabi branch of France’s Sorbonne university, were arrested in the next two days. In Oman, two people have been killed as police broke up protest rallies.Saudi Arabia has also led the spending spree. King Abdullah ordered $128 billion of measures, including $90 billion on house-building and home loans, that will help the economy grow 6.6 percent this year, Standard Chartered Plc estimates.“The enormity of the stimulus package will help the region overall,” as it’s too much for the Saudi economy to absorb alone, and reduce the risk of civil unrest, Said Hirsh at London-based Capital Economics said in a March 21 report.GCC spending is another reason to expect high oil prices, according to John Sfakianakis, chief economist at Bank Saudi Fransi. Saudi Arabia needs a price of at least $80 per barrel, higher than previous breakeven figures, to finance its budget, he calculated.

‘Money Lying Around’

The GCC has promised $10 billion apiece to Bahrain and Oman to help assuage protesters. The U.A.E. allocated $1.6 billion for water and infrastructure projects in northern emirates that lag behind Dubai and Abu Dhabi.Spending conceived as a way of avoiding political change may end up fuelling popular demands, said Christopher Davidson, author of “Power and Politics in the Persian Gulf Monarchies.”

“You have the people in Saudi Arabia, for example, now asking: ‘If all that money was lying around all this time, why wasn’t it used on us earlier?’,” Davidson said. “These rulers are just reacting to the events around them, and their citizens know it.”

Posted in Abu Dhabi, Arab, Arab League, Arab Spring, dictatorship, Dubai, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Hosni Mubarak, Human Rights, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Labor, Lebanon, Libya, Middle East, military, Mubarak, Oil, Palestinians, Politics, Qaddafi, Qatar, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Shi'ite, State of Emergency, Syria, Terrorism, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, United States, Yemen | Leave a Comment »

 
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