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What Every American Needs to Know About Iraq’s Election

Posted by vmsalama on April 30, 2014

 By Vivian Salama

POLICYMIC

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 »

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 »

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 »

Caption Ideas? Ahmadinejad visits Morsi in Cairo

Posted by vmsalama on February 7, 2013

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was in Egypt this week to, among other things, have shoes thrown at him by angry Egyptians. Interesting way to commemorate the first visit by an Iranian president to Egypt in more than 30 years. This photo of Ahmadinejad with Egypt’s embattled President Mohamed Morsi is making the rounds on social media websites.

Can you think of a witty caption to describe this gem?

morsi and ahmedinejad

Posted in Ahmedinejad, Allies, Arab, Arab Spring, Egypt, Elections, Iran, Middle East, Mohamed Morsi | 1 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 »

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 »

Iran Vows to Pursue Nuclear Program as Nations Eye New Sanctions

Posted by vmsalama on November 9, 2011

By Vivian Salama and Jonathan Tirone

Click here for original article

Nov. 9 (Bloomberg) — President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran won’t withdraw “an iota” from its atomic program and dismissed a United Nations report showing the country continued working on nuclear weapons capability until at least last year.

“The nation of Iran won’t pull back an iota from its path and will continue,” Ahmadinejad said today in a speech broadcast on state television.

Meanwhile, the U.S. and European countries set the stage for further tensions with Tehran over its nuclear program, saying they will pursue additional economic sanctions.

If Iran fails to answer IAEA questions about its suspect nuclear activities, “we are ready to adopt, with the support of the international community, sanctions of an unprecedented scale,” French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said in a statement.

Britain will press China and Russia to increase pressure on Iran, U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague told lawmakers in the House of Commons in London today.

Those two countries have been obstacles to further sanctions through the UN Security Council. Russia will not support any new sanctions, the Associated Press reported, citing an unnamed Russian official. (more….)

HERE ARE TWO REPORTS I WROTE IN 2007 WHEN AHMEDINEJAD GRACED US IN NEW YORK:

Columbia Students and Iranian Academics Respond to Bolinger (Washington PostGlobal)

President Ahmadinejad Goes to Columbia (Newsweek/Daily Beast)

Posted in Iran, Nuclear, Sanctions, United Kingdom, United Nations, United States | Leave a Comment »

Abu Dhabi’s Spending on Soccer and Skyscrapers Masks Slower Times at Home

Posted by vmsalama on September 11, 2011

By Vivian Salama – Sep 21, 2011

Bloomberg — Ramy Kaddourah got the keys to his apartment in Abu Dhabi’s Raha Beach development two years late as the boom in the United Arab Emirates capital started to wane.

“Everyone got really excited about the plans to build up Abu Dhabi, then out of nowhere everything came to a stop,” said Kaddourah, 31, who runs a local private hospital and invests in property to rent. “If this can happen here, I don’t want to imagine what’s happening in the rest of the world.”

Abu Dhabi internationally is the oil-rich emirate spending billions of petrodollars on English soccer team Manchester City, the iconic Chrysler Building in New York and London’s Gatwick Airport. Yet that image is masking pressure at home as the government supports its six neighboring emirates while financing a $500 billion development plan.

In a year that saw uprisings in almost a dozen Arab countries, citizens in the U.A.E. will head to the polls for only the second time in the country’s 40-year history on Sept. 24 to choose members of a council that will advise the sheikhs in control. In the background are deteriorating infrastructure and rising unemployment in the northern emirates and an end to the breakneck investment in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

“We’re starting to see chinks in the armor,” Christopher Davidson, author of “Power and Politics in the Persian Gulf Monarchies.” “The bottom line is they can’t keep distributing the wealth to an ever-growing, ever-developing population.” (click here to read more…)

Posted in Abu Dhabi, Aldar, Arab, Arab Spring, Economy, Elections, Iran, Middle East, Politics, Real Estate, Recession, Saudi Arabia, Succession, United Arab Emirates | 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 »

Google Says Censorship Not Obstacle to Its Middle East Growth

Posted by vmsalama on July 29, 2010

July 29, 2010

click here for original link.

By Vivian Salama and Heidi Couch

Google Inc., owner of the world’s most popular Internet search engine, said it’s not hindered in the Middle East by government-backed censorship as it seeks to ride growing opportunities in the region.

“We tend to operate in a very, very competitive industry, so users are generally one click away from changing their preferences,” Ari Kesisoglu, manager for Google Middle East, said in a Bloomberg Television interview in Dubai. “We are not censoring our own information, and we’ve never been asked to.”

Google, based in Mountain View, California, is seeking to gain ground in the Middle East, where it estimates that less than 15 percent of the residents go online. The company went public with a dispute in China in January, saying it was no longer willing to comply with filtering regulations.

“If you want to play ball in China or the Middle East or basically any other country outside, you’ve got to play by the local rules,” said Jin Yoon, an analyst at Nomura Holdings Inc. in Hong Kong. “If you don’t play by the local rules, you essentially have to mark yourself out of the market.”

China’s government confirmed that it renewed Google’s Internet license, after the U.S. company’s local venture pledged to allow regulators to supervise its Web content, the official Xinhua news agency said July 11. The move gives Google a chance to win search share lost to market leader Baidu Inc. and woo advertisers put off by its dispute with the government.

“Whatever happened in China is completely exceptional and it doesn’t result in us making any decisions globally,” Kesisoglu said.

Middle East Censorship

In many Middle Eastern countries, television programs and films cut out nudity, physical intimacy or homosexual scenes. Internet firewalls are common across the region, particularly in the Persian Gulf, where several countries ban popular websites such as Skype and Flickr. Websites that are critical of Islam or ruling political regimes are often blocked.

In August, Yahoo! Inc. purchased Maktoob.com, providing it with an entry point into a market that includes 22 countries and more than 350 million Arabic speakers. Maktoob is the largest portal in the Arab world with 16 million monthly users.Vodafone Egypt last year purchased Sarmady, a Cairo-based provider of digital content.

“Google, Yahoo, help the region and lobby the government for less censorship,” said Samih Toukan, founder of Maktoob.com. “We lobby as local people because censorship hurts us, it hurts innovation it hurts growth.”

Bloggers Arrested

Global Voices Online, an international bloggers’ network, has documented 206 cases of bloggers under arrest or threat, mostly in China, Egypt and Iran. In Egypt and Iran, online political activists have been arrested and prosecuted after rallying in support of opposition parties.

Restrictions stretch beyond the Web and films. In the United Arab Emirates, Research In Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerry smartphones may be subject to monitoring if the government is able to bring communications by the handheld devices under emergency and security rules.

Blackberry devices, introduced in the U.A.E. in 2006, are not covered by the country’s 2007 Safety, Emergency and National Security rules, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority said July 25.

Posted in Abu Dhabi, Business, Censorship, China, Dubai, Economy, Egypt, Google, Iran, Media, Middle East, Politics, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates | Leave a Comment »