The International Reporting (and Life) Adventures of Vivian Salama

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What Every American Needs to Know About Iraq’s Election

Posted by vmsalama on April 30, 2014

 By Vivian Salama


In some ways, it was not unlike many local elections in the United States. For weeks, Iraqis have been inundated by campaign posters, commercials, political talk shows and more.

In some cities, it was hard to look anywhere without seeing the face of a parliamentary hopeful — some whose names will soon disappear, while others will linger. But war-weary Iraqis also face the daily nightmare of suicide and car bombings, where the mere proximity to political offices or police barracks puts them at grave risk.

This is Iraq in 2014.

Two years after the U.S. government withdrew combat troops, citizens went to the polls Wednesday to select a new parliament. Observers in Washington are watching the action with bated breath amid accusations that the United States made a mess of Iraq, then left it to its own demise.

Voters braved extreme violence to cast their ballots and, ultimately, to play some role in determining their future this week amid increasing sectarian strife and growing tensions between political rivals. Will it make a difference? Most observers believe Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will clinch a third term in office but not without months of political wrangling and uncertainty. He has fallen out of favor with many across this vast nation, and a deteriorating security situation has left many fearful that al-Maliki has all but lost control.

Has America forgotten its role in getting Iraq to where it is — for better or for worse?  Iraq may, arguably, need the help of its allies now more than ever. Have we turned our back on it for good?

Regardless of the turnout of this week’s vote, it is an important milestone since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. And yet, much of the mainstream U.S. television media has turned a blind eye. As Iraqi-American journalist Yasmeen Sami Alamiri tweets: “Good God. CNN has covered everything under the sun (w/ non-stop coverage of the Sterling “scandal”), but no decent Iraq election coverage.” (click here to read more)

Posted in American, Arab, Arab League, Arab Spring, Arabic, dictatorship, Economy, Education, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Insurgency, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Jihad, Maliki, Middle East, military, United States, Washington | Leave a Comment »

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

Posted by vmsalama on July 11, 2013

by Vivian Salama


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 »

Ali Abdullah Saleh: Yemen’s Unsackable Leader

Posted by vmsalama on February 25, 2013

Of all the Arab Spring dictators who met their match in popular uprisings, only one came out a winner. Vivian Salama on why Yemenis can’t shake their clingy ex-president.

by Vivian Salama

The Daily Beast (click here for original link)

February 25, 2013

When the sun goes down on the ancient city of Sana, the capital of Yemen, the pillars and domes on the country’s largest mosque shine tall and bright in a sea of near darkness. The massive complex, known simply as Saleh’s Mosque, was commissioned by Ali Abdullah Saleh, the country’s former dictator, then named in his honor.

In one of the mosque’s backrooms, a new, rather peculiar exhibit is set to open, filled with items seemingly out of place in a house of God. It includes a pair of eyeglasses, engraved guns, golden swords, and—the most unusual item of all—a pair of charred pants torn to bits by shrapnel. These items belong to none other than Saleh himself, and the exhibit—described by one local paper as a “journey into a land of dreams”—was envisioned by him, too.


Of all the Arab Spring dictators who met their match in popular uprisings, only one came out a winner. Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak is serving a life sentence. Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali is in exile. Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad is cut off from most of the international community. Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi is dead. Yet Saleh, who narrowly escaped death during an attack on his palace in 2011, has managed to avoid the worst of fates and is, instead, living peacefully in Sana, opening museums and brash self-tributes in what many fear is the early groundwork for a political comeback.

“Saleh is just like this guy Putin in Russia,” said Yahya Al-Hajj, an apolitical Sana resident. “We wish he goes away, but the more we wish, the more he is sticking to us.” (click here to read more…)

Posted in Ali Abdullah Saleh, Arab, Arab League, Arab Spring, dictatorship, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Hosni Mubarak, Libya, Middle East, Mubarak, Politics, Qaddafi, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali | Leave a Comment »

Hillary Clinton Meets Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi

Posted by vmsalama on July 16, 2012

Back in Egypt now and picking up where I left off in the never-ending political tornado (whether it’s  genuine or  theatre, that is the question). A rather telling (and somewhat hilarious) photo is making the rounds on Facebook and Twitter, showing Hillary Clinton in a wedding dress alongside Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, head of the Egyptian military, the couple looking smitten alongside one another as they enter a room to join several other men in uniform. In fact, both sides of the political tug-of-war in Egypt creates great uncertainty for the US as it attempts to safe keep its interests in the region while hedging its bets against the unknown. Only time will tell whether Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s newly elected president and member of the Muslim Brotherhood, will become a friend or foe. In all likelihood, so long as the United States is cutting a check for billions of dollars annually, it is hard to imagine that Egypt will see a drastic departure from the status quo. Here’s my article:

The Daily Beast
By Vivian Salama
July 15, 2012

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrapped up a two-day visit to Cairo on Sunday, the first since Egypt’s historic presidential election won by an Islamist candidate, potentially reshaping ties between these old allies against the backdrop of a rapidly changing Arab world.Clinton cautiously reaffirmed America’s commitment to Egypt’s power transfer as a recent tug of war between newly elected President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood and the country’s top generals seemed to lodge the transition in limbo. On Sunday, she urged the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to fully support a handover to civilian rule while pressing Morsi to maintain his commitment to establishing a democratic state.

“Egyptians are in the midst of complex negotiations about the transition, from the composition of your Parliament to the writing of a new constitution to the powers of the president,” Clinton said at the joint conference with Egypt’s Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr. “Only Egyptians can answer these questions, but I have come to Cairo to reaffirm the strong support of the United States for the Egyptian people and for your democratic transition.”

Morsi, who was officially named Egypt’s first post-revolution president on June 24, has pledged to empower the Egyptian people, taking on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has served as the interim ruler since former president Hosni Mubarak’s resignation last year. Days after assuming office, he reinstated the Islamist-dominated Parliament dissolved by the high court only days before the presidential election. The court overrode the decision, but Morsi defied the order, calling on Parliament to convene, heightening tensions in a country frail from unrelenting disquiet.

A staunch ally of Mubarak’s, the United States has been impelled to evolve with the Arab world, engaging with Islamist groups it once shunned and hedging its bets with governments that bear no track record. Clinton highlighted that despite America’s support of the Mubarak regime, it was consistent in advocating human rights and calling for an end to Egypt’s oppressive emergency law. In a meeting with Morsi on Saturday, she urged the president to take minority groups into consideration amid fears that the Muslim Brotherhood and hardline Salafi Islamists would clamp down on civil rights and restrict religious freedoms in the country of 82 million people.

Prominent members of the Coptic and Evangelical churches, including billionaire Naguib Sawiris, declined an invitation to meet with Clinton, rejecting a perceived interference by the U.S. in Egypt’s internal affairs.

“Things are still very fluid,” Paul Sullivan, a North Africa expert at National Defense University, said from Cairo. The United States “needs to keep the good relations with the military. That relationship is the cement of the overall relationship with Egypt. Muslim Brotherhood relations are still putty rather than clay and potentially volatile.”Egypt is among the top five recipients of U.S. foreign assistance, receiving about $1.3 billion in military aid and $250 million in economic aid—a check America has cut annually since the signing of the Camp David accords with Israel in 1978. Clinton said the U.S. is focused on boosting trade and investment in Egypt, as well as job creation, and is prepared to commit $250 million in loan guarantees to Egypt’s small and medium-size businesses. A high-level business delegation is scheduled to visit Cairo in September to create the U.S.-Egypt Enterprise Fund, with $60 million in capital in the first year. Economic activity in Egypt has languished since antigovernment protests began in January 2011, following an exodus of investors, a drop in foreign reserves to well below half prerevolution levels, and the stunting of tourism and retail sectors. (click here to read more)

Posted in Arab, Arab League, Arab Spring, Christian, Christianity, Clinton, discrimination, Economy, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Islam, Mohamed Morsi, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Obama, Persian Gulf, Politics, Saudi Arabia, State of Emergency, United States | Leave a Comment »

Bahrain: So far, yet so near

Posted by vmsalama on March 10, 2012

Here in NYC my eyes are on Bahrain this week as it commemorates one year since deadly protests rocked the tiny Gulf Kingdom, sparking a controversial decision by Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council troops to roll on in and save the day. Hundreds of doctors/medics/nurses were arrested that day and given harsh sentences by Bahraini courts for treating political dissidents, the courts ruling that it made them accomplices. Reuters reported today that the Bahraini courts are now looking to drop some of those sentences. All the while, streets are still patrolled by security forces, especially in the predominantly Shia villages, and many Sunnis across the country display photographs of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah in offices, on their desks and at their homes, revering him as a hero for his decision to save them from Shia protesters, who Bahrain’s government claim are supported by Iran. Bahrain is home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet so all eyes in Washington are eagerly hoping for a solution — preferably one that does not involve them. The US provides million in weapons and training to the Saudi Arabian government each year.

Posted in Abu Dhabi, Arab, Arab League, Arab Spring, Bahrain, Iran, Islam, Kuwait, Middle East, military, Negotiation, Oman, Politics, Protests, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Shi'ite, United States | Leave a Comment »

“The Protester”: A Photo Journal of the Egyptian Revolution

Posted by vmsalama on December 15, 2011

Thanks to TIME Magazine for recognizing the revolutionaries all over the world… I’ve been meaning to write this for quite some time but only finding the chance to do it now.

A year ago when Mohammed Bouazizi, a fruit vendor in Tunisia, burned himself out of frustration from a political system that neglected him, I was en route to Beirut ahead of the Christmas holiday and writing, mainly, about the credit crunch in the Arab Gulf states and mounting concerns that the banking system would not soon recover from the blow. Days after I returned from Beirut, my host, Rania Abouzeid, came to stay with me in Dubai in a desperate attempt to fly to Tunisia, where flights were almost entirely grounded amid an uprising across the country. It was hard to imagine then that the desperate act of this young man not only set in motion a revolution in his country, but around across the region.

Jan. 27, 2011: me and Rania Abouzeid heading to Cairo (at 3am -- ughhh!!!)

On January 14, 2011, following a month of violent protests against his rule, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali – Tunisia’s president since 1987 — was forced to flee to Saudi Arabia along with his wife and their three children.  A week later, Rania and I were on a flight to Cairo where calls for a revolution had begun to circulate on social media websites. They were days I will never forget, and with TIME Magazine’s 2011 Person of the Year issue being dedicated this year to The Protester, I want to share with you all a few memories and photos of the protesters I met in Cairo this year. (Click here to read some of my stories on the Arab Spring)

On January 27, two days after the protests officially begun, Internet and mobile phone service was completely cut off in Egypt and we were left guessing where crowds were gathering. After trying a few spots around town, Rania and I decided to go toward the Mohendiseen neighborhood near the Moustafa Mahmoud mosque. It was a good guess! About 500 protesters had gathered after Friday prayers where they came face to face with riot police chanting slogans like “The people want the end of the regime” and “Hosni Mubarak: illegitimate.”

We began to march, with the intention of going toward Tahrir Square. (Rania and I were quickly separated in the crowd and were each forced to continue reporting on our own). Weaving through side streets and alleys in the Cairo neighborhood, people watched us from balconies, throwing bottles of water, garlic and onions, and bottles of vinegar – all simply remedies for tear gas inhalation, because everyone knew what lie ahead.  The longer we marched, the more the crowd swelled, with protesters called on those people in their homes not to be afraid.
Photo by Vivian Salama

Cairo, January 27, 2011/Photo by Vivian Salama

photo by Vivian Salama

Cairo, January 27, 2011/Photo by Vivian Salama

Photo by Vivian Salama
Jan 27: Protesters Near Moustafa Mahmoud Mosque/Photo by Vivian SalamaS

Sure enough, we were quickly confronted by tanks and soldiers firing tear gas at the crowd. I’ve never seen so much camaraderie in my life. Soldiers at a nearby military hospital threw medical masks at the protesters and pharmacists handed them out to the crowds. At one point I felt quite ill from the tear gas. A man approached from behind me and pressed a vinegar-covered mask against my mouth and nose. A nearby vendor (who probably struggles to feed his own family with the pennies he earns) emptied his refrigerator, handing out water bottles and cans of soda to the fatigued protesters.

Every where I looked, people were helping each other, helping strangers tie their masks, sharing water bottles, aiding those who were most affected by the gas.

There was one point, marching with the crowd from Mohendiseen, when we approached a major intersection and I heard roaring cheers. I jumped up on a car to see what had happened and was personally overcome by emotion. From three different directions, massive groups of protesters were approaching the intersection – the other groups coming from as far as Giza and the Nasr City. They did this without Internet or mobile phones.

Photo by Vivian Salama

Cairo, January 27, 2011/Photo by Vivian Salama

Groups of young men pushed to the front of the crowd and began to battle riot police, taking over their vehicles and chasing them away. Our group, now numbered in the hundreds of thousands, pushed slowly across the historic Qasr El Nil bridge in an attempt to move into Tahrir. There were moments when I worried that an attack by the military would trigger a stampede – we were stuffed tightly onto the bridge. But every time protesters began to push back, the young men in the crowd would grab the women in the crowd and push them against the bridge railing so to protect them from being knocked down.

photo by Vivian Salama

Some were more prepared than others!! Cairo Jan. 27, 2011/Photo by Vivian Salama

It was a long night with protesters burning the ruling National Democratic Party headquarters and battling with soldiers in Tahrir. Riot police trucks were set on fire (and the Semiramis Hotel, where many journalists took refuge) was partially on fire for part of the evening. I was trapped in Tahrir for the night and forced to take a last minute room at the Semiramis. I woke up early the next morning to a different Cairo, where charred military tanks stood in the middle of Tahrir Square and smoke billowed from the NDP headquarters and, sadly, from the adjacent National Museum. It would take another two weeks (only!) to overthrow Hosni Mubarak but that first Friday was by far the most memorable. There is an Arabic expression that often refers to the Egyptian people as being “light blooded” (light hearted/good senses of humor). They definitely showed their spirit throughout the frustrating 19 days (and 30 years) it took to shake up their political system.

Photo by Vivian Salama

Tahrir Square, January 28, 2011/Photo by Vivian Salama

Photo by Vivian Salama

Tahrir Square, January 28, 2011/Photo by Vivian Salama

me in Tahrir (late January 2011)

I visited Bahrain in the weeks that followed and I spent a lot of time covering the uprisings in Yemen and, less so, the ongoing crisis in Syria. After years of battling misguided stereotypes of terrorism and violence, these protesters have showed the world that they desire freedom and a decent standard of living and they have the right to demand it just as those in Europe and the US demand of their governments.

The Tunisians, Egyptians and all the other citizens around the world fighting for democracy have a very long and bumpy road ahead.  The TIME Magazine Person of the Year issue questions whether there is a global tipping point for frustration. I believe what happened this year is, in large part, because of overpopulation and because of the global economic slowdown touched societies rich and poor – but toppled those that were already on the brink before markets crash. The world is smaller than ever thanks to the Internet and various technologies that allow us to share experiences with people on opposite corners of the world. As we continue to get closer, and the world, smaller, it will become impossible to distance ourselves from even the most seemingly remote events.

Photo by Vivian Salama

Cairo, January 27, 2011/Photo by Vivian Salama

Posted in American, Arab, Arab League, Arab Spring, Arabic, Bloggers, Cairo University, Censorship, Coptic, Culture, dictatorship, discrimination, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Environment, Foreign Policy, Hosni Mubarak, Internet, Journalism, Libya, Media, Middle East, military, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Negotiation, Obama, Politics, Qaddafi, Qatar, Recession, Refugees, Religion, State of Emergency, Succession, Syria, Terrorism, Tunisia, United Nations, United States, Yemen | Leave a Comment »

Yemen Shortages Worsen as Street Violence Leaves Locals Searching for Food

Posted by vmsalama on May 26, 2011

By Vivian Salama and Mohammed Hatem


Click here to see original

Safiah Hussein al-Raimi stood for hours outside a store in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, for five straight days to buy a tank of cooking gas to prepare food for her husband and four children. She left empty handed each time.

“Life is becoming hell here and we can’t afford it,” al- Raimi, 43, said as she lined up during her fifth attempt. “We have no gas, no power, not enough food.”

As President Ali Abdullah Saleh clings to power and Yemen edges closer to civil war, the country has become paralyzed by shortages of fuel, bread, sugar and milk. Power cuts, which were the source of riots in the south last year, are now commonplace across the country, already the Arab world’s poorest and a base for al-Qaeda terrorist activity.

With the wave of popular uprisings in the Middle East in its fifth month, the issue of how long Saleh’s regime will last in Yemen is being compounded by the question of what would be left of the country should he be ousted.

“Yemen’s economy is already at a crisis point,” said Will Picard, director of the Yemen Peace Project, a U.S.-based group. “No one is earning money, save the gasoline sellers, arms dealers, and foreign journalists.”

More Violence

Gunmen from Yemen’s most influential tribe clashed on May 24 with security forces loyal to Saleh, 68, in Sana’a, a day after he refused to sign an accord to give up power.

Dozens were killed or wounded in an assault on the home of tribal chief Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar, said Sheikh Saleh al- Mihjani, a member of the tribe. The Interior Ministry said that 14 policemen were killed, 29 others wounded and two are missing.

Shortages of cooking gas and petrol are being reported across the country, and cars are often turned away as they try to refuel. The shelves at local supermarkets are increasingly barren, with basic food items marketed up amid low stock.

The price of a 50 kilogram (110 pound) sack of sugar jumped 22 percent to 11,000 rials ($51.50) at al-Raimi’s local grocery store since the protests escalated in February.

Yemen already faces a severe water shortage, with the World Bank forecasting that Sana’a will be the first capital city to run out of water by 2025. More than half the country’s population of 23 million is under 20 years old and about 40 percent of the people live on the equivalent of less than $2 a day, according to the United Nations.

Bad Shape

Oil accounts for 60 percent of government revenue and 90 percent of exports, the International Monetary Fund said in a report on April 8. Oil reserves are expected to be depleted within a decade, the Washington-based organization said.

Saleh said yesterday that the economy is “not in good shape.” Industry and Trade Minister Hisham Sharaf said the protests cost Yemen $4 billion and a growing budget deficit, now expected to reach $3 billion, threatens to destroy the country.

“The government is running out of money,” Abdul Ghani Aryani, an independent political analyst, said in a telephone interview from Sana’a. “The deficit is now close to half the national budget and as a consequence there isn’t enough foreign exchange to import food stuffs.”

The country postponed the sale of a 25 billion-rial Islamic bond indefinitely as a result of the political unrest, Kamal Al- Rabie, general manager of the central bank’s Islamic unit, said in an interview on May 17.

Black Markets

Black markets are burgeoning across Yemen as people look to profit from the shortages. Khalid Saleh, a supermarket owner in Sana’a, said he’s losing business by the day and revenue has fallen 30 percent since the uprisings began. Al-Raimi said she can’t afford the marked up prices.

“I bought a cooking machine that works on electricity but it’s impossible since power goes off four times a day, each time for three or four hours,” she said.

Yemenis struggled to make ends meet before anti-government protests seeking to topple Saleh deepened the economic crisis. Demonstrators, like their counterparts in Libya and Syria, are demanding an end to corruption, and more jobs and freedom.

The difference in Yemen is that Saleh’s opposition is fragmented along tribal lines, posing the biggest challenge to the country since north and south were unified in 1990. Saleh said yesterday that recent violent threatened civil war and accused al-Qaeda of inciting protests.

“Every day Saleh stays on the throne is another day that Yemen’s already non-existent wealth is divvied up among his allies-for-hire,” Picard said by e-mail on May 23. “Economic recovery of any kind would be impossible given that fact.”

Bin Laden

A U.S. ally and the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden, Saleh also struggled to quell the threat of terrorists. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemen-based branch of the group, said in a May 10 statement that it would avenge bin Laden’s death in a Pakistan raid on his hideout by U.S. forces.

This week, prospects for peace grew dimmer after the six- nation Gulf Cooperation Council abandoned efforts to broker an agreement between the country’s political parties that would pave the way for a transition of power in Yemen.

Saleh, who reiterated yesterday that he would be willing to sign the agreement, earlier called the deal a “coup on constitutional legitimacy.” Anti-government protesters maintain the only acceptable solution is for Saleh to leave immediately.

“Outside investors and foreign donors will not put a penny into this country if things continue to looks so unstable,” Mustafa Alani, director of security and terrorism research at the Gulf Research Center, said by telephone from Dubai. “These problems will not go away with a magic stick.”

Arab Grievances

The grievances of Yemenis are similar to those of young people across the Arab world, though regional and sectarian.

Separatists claim the government discriminates against southerners, claiming the north seizes the proceeds of Yemen’s southern oil reserves for its own purposes. Shiite Houthi rebels have also been battling the government, claiming discrimination.

Saudi Arabia sends about $1 billion a year to Yemen in an attempt to keep the country “contained” and buy tribal support, according to Alani. The U.S. gives Yemen $300 million a year mainly in military aid.

“The Yemeni government has been mismanaged for more than three decades so there is no shortage of things that have to be done and quite quickly,” Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen expert at Princeton University, said by telephone from Cairo. “One of the main things is job creation but that can’t be done over night.”

The IMF said on April 27 that aid talks with the government of Yemen are on hold until there is greater stability. While unemployment in Yemen stood at 15 percent in 2008, the rate for youths between 15 and 24 years old climbed to 52.9 percent that year, UN figures show.

In the line for cooking fuel in Sana’a, al-Raimi is itching to get back to her kids at home, though she is unsure what kind of meal she’ll be able to prepare.

“I’m not able to cook for them,” al-Raimi said. “We just need the basics to live and we are not able to get them.”

Posted in Al-Qaeda, American, Arab, Arab League, dictatorship, Economy, Elections, Foreign Policy, Oil, Saudi Arabia, United States, Yemen | 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 »

Al Bashir calls aid agencies subversive

Posted by vmsalama on March 30, 2009

Vivian Salama

March 30, 2009

DOHA // Confident and defiant in the face of an international warrant for his arrest, Omar al Bashir, the president of Sudan, addressed the 21st regular session of the Arab League in Qatar, defending his decision to expel non-governmental organisations from Sudan and his right to resist arrest.

Mr al Bashir accused aid organisations of providing sensitive information about Sudan to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, declaring it an effort to destabilise the Sudanese government. He claimed that the humanitarian problem in Darfur has been exaggerated, particularly with regard to claims of food and water shortages.

On March 4, the ICC issued a warrant for the arrest of the Sudanese president on charges of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

“These organisations were providing some support, but their costs were so high [and they] have started to work outside their mandate,” Mr al Bashir said. They “signed secret agreements with the ICC to provide ICC with some reports”.

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki- moon, condemned the Sudanese leader for his decision to expel key international non-profit organisations, saying it resulted in the suspension of life-sustaining services for more than one million people.

Despite the efforts of Sudanese governmental organisations, UN agencies and the remaining NGOs, Mr Ban said yesterday, “the gaps cannot be filled with existing capacities”.

A number of delegates gathered in Doha expressed concern over the ICC’s decision to arrest Mr al Bashir. Several pointed to the court’s failure to issue arrest warrants for alleged war crimes of Israeli leaders. The Arab League’s secretary general, Amr Moussa, called it a double standard.

The majority of the Arab League member states are not signatories to the Rome statute that created the ICC in 1998. 

Bashar Assad, the president of Syria and host of last year’s summit, called upon the Arab leadership to show solidarity with the embattled Sudanese leader. He predicted that Sudan would descend into chaos if Mr al Bashir were arrested.

“We are to extend our full support to Sudan in order to avoid to steps in the future that might lead to the division of Sudan,” Mr Assad said. “The pretext that Sudan has made some violations is something we can discuss.”

The issuance and reaction to the ICC warrant are among the latest events to dominate pressing issues facing the League of Arab Nations. Several leaders, including the summit’s host, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, chose to avoid the issue of Sudan all together, focusing instead on the region’s economic challenges.

Other shadows were cast this year by Libya’s president, Muammar Qadafi, who accused Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah of exercising US policies to solve Arab problems. This is not the first time an outburst by Mr Qadafi grabbed significant attention at the Arab summit. In 2003, he took a shot at King Abdullah over the US military presence in the region, calling Saudi Arabia’s ties with the United States “a pact with the devil”.

In 2004, he smoked cigars on the conference floor in a show of contempt and stormed out of the assembly after the delegation’s refusal to accept his proposed Arab-Israeli peace plan. The following year in Algeria, he returned, accusing Palestinians and Israelis of being “stupid”.

Although Mr Qadafi has lured the watchful eyes of the media, he was not the only one to offer a distraction from the summit. This year, the absence of Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, drew significant attention given the recent rivalry over approaches to the Palestinian crisis. Cairo continues to mediate talks aimed at Palestinian reconciliation and forging a sustainable ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

Squabbles often mar the annual Arab summits and dominate coverage, with clashes growing increasingly sharp in recent years after a series of conflicts, including the second intifada, the US-led war in Iraq, political instability in Lebanon and Israeli military operations in Lebanon and Gaza. 

Many are growing increasingly sceptical of the ability of Arab leaders to find concrete solutions to the issues facing the region.

“People now look at the Arab summits as entertainment,” said Abdel Bari Atwan, the editor in chief of Al Quds Al Arabi, a pan-Arab newspaper published in London. “They aren’t looking at resolutions; they are looking at these sideshows: who is going to clash with who; who is going to boycott, who will come; who is cross with someone. It is like a soap opera.”

Last year’s summit in Damascus was held amid a boycott by Lebanese delegates and the humiliating low-level representation by some of the Arab world’s most powerful countries, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

“The Arab street increasingly sees itself as interconnected and they would like to see their leaders guide them to finding solutions, but they can’t even get together for a meeting,” said Hady Amr, director of the Brookings Doha Centre. 

“The Arab world has high hopes: they want jobs, dignity, increasing opportunities to participate in society and their governments are not delivering.”

Posted in Arab League, Middle East, Sudan | Leave a Comment »

Qatar draws scepticism over Darfur

Posted by vmsalama on March 29, 2009

Vivian Salama

March 29. 2009 

DOHA // In the past year, the tiny Arab Gulf emirate of Qatar has brokered a historic peace deal between political opponents in Lebanon and played host to a number of Arab League summits as well as to the Doha Round of world trade talks.

However, as the host of the latest Arab League summit, scheduled to begin tomorrow, Qatar has drawn scepticism as to its ability to fairly mediate one of the Arab world’s deadliest and longest-running conflicts: Darfur.

Amnesty International has called upon Qatar and members of the League of Arab States to enforce the arrest warrant against Omar al Bashir, the Sudanese president, before this week’s meeting.

The Qatari government and the Arab League have refused to arrest the Sudanese leader, wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC), saying his arrest would further destabilise the country. Qatar, like most of the Arab League nations, is not a signatory to the ICC’s founding treaty.

The 22-nation organisation is expected to address regional issues, including the arrest warrant for Sudan’s president and Palestinian divisions.


Sudan's Al Bashir is wanted by the ICC for war crimes and crimes against humanity

Mr al Bashir is expected to attend the meeting. Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, who met the embattled Sudanese leader in Cairo last week, yesterday said he would not come to Doha.

Although some regional analysts said they believe the refusal to detain Mr al Bashir is no surprise, it could compromise Qatar’s credibility to serve as a regional arbitrator.

“I do not think it is in Qatar or any Arab country’s best interest to arrest President Bashir, but certainly some of the rebel groups in Darfur might see this as taking sides,” said Saleem Ali, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Centre.

Home to substantial oil and natural gas reserves, Qatar in recent years has cultivated a reputation as a friend to almost anyone. It plays host to one of the largest US military bases and, until the recent incursion on Gaza, to one of few Israeli commercial offices in the region.

Qatar is on amicable terms with Iran and has staunchly defended the interests of Hamas and Chechen separatists. In 2005, Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, bestowed a gift of US$100 million (Dh367m) to assist the victims of Hurricane Katrina, while also investing $1.5 billion to build an oil refinery in Zimbabwe.

“Qatar is punching above its weight,” said James Reardon-Anderson, the dean of Georgetown University in Qatar. “So you see it in their foreign policy – the Lebanon deal, the Darfur deal, they are trying to be bigger than they are.”

The emergence of Qatar in recent years from a tiny and somewhat underdeveloped nation of one million – 75 per cent of whom are expatriates – into an international hub for sport, education, science, trade and culture, has been regarded as the emirate’s first step towards becoming a global political heavyweight.

“The leadership here really sees this as an opportunity to transfer this wealth of natural gas into human capacity and to use that momentum to affirm their culture and affirm their vision and transform their society,” Mr Reardon-Anderson said.

Once the exclusive domain of Saudi Arabia in the Gulf and Egypt in the broader Middle East, the role of political intermediary and conciliator has fit Qatar, which has invited everyone from Iranian and Israeli diplomats and provided a home base to US military personnel and Sheikh Yusuf al Qaradawi, a hardliner Sunni cleric.

“Qatar is generally well positioned to play a mediating roll because it has very good relations with the West and at the same time it is perceived in the Islamic establishment as having some sympathies with Islamist causes,” Mr Ali said. “Because of this rather unusual mix of circumstances, it is really a tight rope that they are walking on now particularly because of this US military base.”

In 2003, the United States announced it would pull out virtually all of its troops from its military base in Saudi Arabia, long deemed a symbol of Washington’s influence in the region. The US Central headquarters in Qatar and the Fifth Fleet naval base in Bahrain drew a sea of controversy for the two Gulf nations, particularly after US military operations began in Iraq in 2003.

It is, some argue, Qatar’s role as a media hub since the launch of its home-based network, Al Jazeera, in 1996 that has brought it the greatest praises and criticism. Various regional governments have condemned the Qatari government for allowing Al Jazeera to boldly criticise Arab regimes while protecting the image of Qatar. In 2002 Saudi Arabia broke diplomatic ties with Qatar over the issue, but resumed them in 2007 when Qatar promised to rein in coverage.

Posted in Arab League, Darfur, Hosni Mubarak, Middle East, Politics, Qatar, Sudan | Leave a Comment »