The International Reporting (and Life) Adventures of Vivian Salama

Archive for the ‘Palestinians’ Category

What’s Behind the Wave of Terror in the Sinai

Posted by vmsalama on November 22, 2013

In just five months, Egypt has suffered more than 200 attacks.
By Vivian Salama

Writing to a network of followers and potential followers around the world, the Mauritanian-born cleric Sheikh Abu al-Mundhir al-Shinqiti, one of the world’s most prominent jihadi ideologues, described a religious obligation for Muslims to take up arms against the Egyptian army. “The goal of the security campaign that the tyrannical army in Egypt is directing in the Sinai is to protect Israel and its borders after jihadi groups in the Sinai became a real threat to it,” the letter, dated October 17, said. “Jihad in the Sinai is a great opportunity for you to gather and unite under a pure flag, unsullied by ignorant slogans.”

Hundreds of miles from Tahrir Square, the epicenter of Egypt’s tumultuous revolution, the long-neglected Sinai Peninsula has become the frontline for the military’s fight against extremism. Having operated in a quasi-lawless state there for decades, jihadi groups are now finding an opportunity to ride on the coattails of discontent following the July 3 military-backed coup that ousted President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the interim government’s subsequent neutering of the organization.

Many militant groups see the Islamists’ fall from grace as justification for their claims that the creation of an Islamic state can only be achieved through violence, and not through the moderate political campaign waged by the Muslim Brotherhood following the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. In response, the military has launched an unapologetic crackdown in the Sinai in an effort to crush any group or individual that might challenge its authority or uphold the legitimacy of the now-defunct Morsi regime.

While the military declared an end to a three-month state of emergency earlier this month, a strictly enforced curfew remains in effect in Sinai from 6 P.M. to 4 A.M., with military checkpoints commonplace across the peninsula. And while Egyptian tanks were barred from certain areas of the Sinai following the 1978 Camp David Accords, Israel authorized Egypt to deploy two additional infantry battalions to the region after Morsi’s ouster to counter terrorist threats. It did not end there. In September, the military stepped up its campaign to rid northern Sinai of militants, with Army Spokesman Ahmed Ali saying it would be “taking action against terrorists, instead of merely reacting to terrorist attacks.” That same month, dozens of homes were bulldozed and trees removed along the roads from the northern town of Al-Arish to Rafah, the border city with Gaza, according to witnesses and media reports, as the military prepared to create a 1,640-foot-wide, six-mile-long buffer zone around the Rafah border crossing. Schools in northern Sinai began the 2013-14 academic year five weeks later than scheduled amid fears that children would be at risk.

The military’s “heavy-handedness is more out of lack of experience than anything,” said Mokhtar Awad, an Egypt researcher at the Center for American Progress. “If the [militants’] goal is to make the military look weak then they can do that. I always compared [militancy] to a virus—that if it does spread to [the Nile] Delta and Upper Egypt, they won’t be able to control it.” (more…)


Israeli Search and Rescue Crews on the scene after an attack on the Taba Hilton in Sinai, Egypt (2004)//Photo by Vivian Salama

Israeli Search and Rescue Crews on the scene after an attack on the Taba Hilton in Sinai, Egypt (2004)//Photo by Vivian Salama

Israeli Search and Rescue Crews on the scene after an attack on the Taba Hilton in Sinai, Egypt (2004)//Photo by Vivian Salama

Israeli Search and Rescue Crews on the scene after an attack on the Taba Hilton in Sinai, Egypt (2004)//Photo by Vivian Salama

Posted in Africa, Al-Qaeda, al-Sisi, Algeria, Arab, Arab Spring, Arabic, Coup, dictatorship, discrimination, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Environment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Gaza, Hamas, Hosni Mubarak, Human Rights, Insurgency, Intervention, Islam, Israel, Jihad, Journalism, Libya, Media, Middle East, military, Mohamed Morsi, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Palestinians, Politics, Protests, Sahara Desert, Sinai, State of Emergency, Suez, Terrorism | 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 »

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 »

STOP KONY…. and all the other bad guys doing bad things!

Posted by vmsalama on March 9, 2012

I don’t often write about Africa although it is a region near to my heart. I visited Uganda in 2004 — it is a beautiful country and anyone who visits will not soon forget the ear-to-ear smiles they receive from the people they meet. Invisible Children is a global campaign to arrest Joseph Kony and stop him from kidnapping, arming and killing children to fight his war via a militia he calls the Lord’s Resistance Army. This video is thought provoking (and stirring up a lot of controversy and debate as a result). There are bad people doing bad things around the world. Palestinian children in Gaza are dying every day. Families in Syria cannot leave their homes in Homs and Hama without fear of being killed by government contracted snipers, and hundreds continue to fall victim to attacks by the Sudanese government in the Nuba Mountains every month. Across Africa children are being used as foot soldiers in senseless wars. I wish more people would take initiative like film maker Jason Russell to bring crimes of humanity like those of Joseph Kony to light (Also, check out Ryan Boyette’s brave efforts in Sudan). I hope with all of my heart that they are successful.

Please take 30 minutes to watch this video to learn about this cause.


Posted in Africa, American, Arab Spring, Child Soldiers, Clinton, Darfur, Gaza, Invisible Children, Israel, Jason Russell, Kony, Nuba Mountains, Palestinians, Ryan Boyette, Stop Kony, Sudan, Syria, Uganda, United Nations, United States, Viral Video, YouTube | 1 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 »

Jailbreak to Gaza Fuels Israeli Hamas Fear in Post-Mubarak Era

Posted by vmsalama on March 7, 2011

By Jonathan Ferziger and Vivian Salama

Click here to view original story.

The Cairo protests that dislodged President Hosni Mubarak from power had an unexpected side effect: They also helped Hassan Weshah break out of an Egyptian prison, return to his home in the Gaza Strip and prepare for fresh attacks against Israel.

“Resisting occupation is the obligation of every Palestinian,” said Weshah, 28, a member of the so-called Army of Islam who had been arrested by Egyptian forces in October for planning to infiltrate Israel’s Sinai border. “I would not abandon the resistance.”

Palestinians such as Weshah are one reason why Egypt’s newly unstable border has become a headache for Israel. A pipeline that brings in 60 percent of Israel’s gas consumption looks more vulnerable after a Feb. 5 explosion from unknown causes shut it down for at least a month. The Sinai desert, a buffer for three decades between Egypt and Israel, may require a greater Israeli military presence.

“Our preparedness along the length of the border is high,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak said after viewing military exercises at a southern military base March 1. Israel has accelerated defensive operations “so that we can be as protected as possible” on the Egyptian frontier.

Security concerns are putting downward pressure on Israeli stocks. The TA-25 benchmark index has declined 4.1 percent since the start of the year while the MSCI Emerging Markets Index is down 1.6 percent. The yield on the benchmark Mimshal Shiklit bond maturing in January 2020 rose 46 basis points to 5.15 percent as the shekel declined 3.5 percent against the dollar to 3.62 in the period.

Abandoned Checkpoints

Checkpoints and security posts across Egypt were abandoned last month following a withdrawal by the police. Civilians took security into their own hands for several days before the military was deployed to restore order.

Both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer said last month that the government will probably need to raise defense spending. The country spent 7 percent of gross domestic product on defense in 2008, according to a database maintained by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, while the U.S. spent 4.3 percent and Egypt 2.3 percent.

“Let’s remember that this is a region that can change completely from today to tomorrow, not necessarily in our favor,” said retired Major-General Yaakov Amidror, former head of Israel’s National Defense College. “As a state we must look at the worst-case scenario, not just the optimistic scenarios.”

Hamas Control

The greatest security threat may be in Gaza, where Hamas seized control in 2007, a year after winning Palestinian elections, defeating forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and the European Union.

Hamas, which rejects peace talks with Israel and opposes the 32-year-old peace treaty between the two nations, was founded in 1987 as an offshoot from Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, the strongest opposition group during Mubarak’s presidency.

Israel and Egypt both sealed off Gaza’s borders after Hamas took over, cutting off most civilian traffic and restricting trade with the territory. Israel has maintained a ground and sea blockade around Gaza ever since.

Egypt also enforced the blockade and occasionally cracked down on tunnel smugglers from its own side of the border, though limited exports and imports have been allowed in the past year.

Open Border?

Now the Muslim Brotherhood, banned in Egypt since 1954, hopes to open Egypt’s border with Gaza and raise the price Israel pays for Egyptian gas if it enters a coalition, said Essam El-Erian, a senior member of the group.

“The whole region is about to change,” he said in an interview. “We hope that the stupid policies that neglected the fact that Hamas ran and won a democratic election will also change. It’s time to see a real assimilation of what people want.”

Candidates from the Brotherhood won 20 percent of seats in Egypt’s parliamentary elections in 2005 even though the party was officially banned and the government closed polling stations in towns were it had widespread support. Hundreds of thousands of people flocked to Cairo’s Tahrir Square a week after Mubarak’s fall to hear Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a cleric who aligns himself with the Brotherhood.

Hamas expects Egyptian policy toward Gaza to soften after the new elections, said Mustawa Sawaf, a professor of media studies at the Islamic University in Gaza who is affiliated with the group. Egypt’s ruling army council said Feb. 14 it will hand power to a democratically elected government within six months.

Free Passage Hopes

“These changes will have great influence in supporting the rights of the Palestinian people,” Sawaf said. “We hope, as residents of the Gaza Strip who are blockaded by Israel, to have free commercial passage with Egypt.”

Weshah learned about the Cairo protests from watching Egyptian television in a group room in the prison. He described a scene that night, 14 days before Mubarak’s ouster, in which inmates started banging on the walls and bars of their cells and then overpowered guards who responded to the uproar.

“It was very scary, with intensive gunfire and prisoners shot dead on the floor,” Weshah said. “We just kept running and followed some Egyptian prisoners who took us to a safe place.”

Weshah was one of nine Palestinians who made their way to Gaza after the jail break, according to interviews with them all. Another was Ayman Noufal, one of the top commanders of the Hamas militia known as the Al-Qassam Brigades. He had been held for three years. A Hamas spokesman declined to comment.

Rockets From Gaza

Palestinian militants have fired at least 30 rockets from Gaza since Feb. 1, said an Israeli army spokesman, speaking anonymously under military rules. Israeli forces have killed seven Palestinians in Gaza during the period, said Adham Abu Selmeya, emergency-services chief in the Gaza Health Ministry.

After a taxi ride from Cairo, Weshah continued north through the Sinai desert, dodging police roadblocks by walking around the barriers and then switching to a new cab. At the border town of Rafah, a smuggler guided him to a tunnel.

The desert he crossed, the demilitarized Sinai on Israel’s southern border, is becoming more dangerous. Restoration of the gas supply cut by the Feb. 5 explosion at a pipeline metering station, planned for March 4, was postponed after a shootout between “suspected terrorists” and Egyptian security forces that delayed testing on the repaired system, according to a March 3 report to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange by Ampal-American Israel (AMPL) Corp. Ampal has a 12.5 percent stake in pipeline owner East Mediterranean Gas Co.

Ampal Chairman Yosef Maiman in a March 1 interview called the explosion a terrorist attack.

Soldiers in Sinai

The Egyptian Oil Ministry said the blast appeared to have been set off by a gas leak. Israeli National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau said the country must have energy security” and declined to speculate about who caused the explosion, said spokesman Chen Ben-Lulu.

The metering station is outside El-Arish, before the spot where the 100-kilometer (62-mile) pipeline splits into two branches bringing gas separately to Israel and to Jordan, Maiman spokesman Zeev Feiner said. He said the explosion was apparently set off by unidentified “terrorist elements,” declining to say how it was detonated.

The pipeline currently provides Israel with 2.5 billion cubic meters of gas a year, about $400 million worth, according to Israel Electric Corp. That is expected to rise to 7 billion cubic meters in 2014, Feiner said.

“Let’s not forget that the most important economic arrangement signed with Egypt since the peace agreement is the agreement on gas,” Landau said March 6 in an interview with Israel’s Army Radio. “When events in Egypt settle down, we hope and certainly want the supply of gas to resume.”

Posted in Egypt, Gaza, Hamas, Hosni Mubarak, Israel, Middle East, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Palestinians | Leave a Comment »

Oil Exporters Ignore Iran’s Call for Embargo Over Gaza War

Posted by vmsalama on January 14, 2009

Hello from Lahore, Pakistan!  I just arrived today and plan to base here for at least the next six months.  There is so much going on here at the moment that I feel very fortunate to have a front row seat.  I am extremely eager to hear about new and interesting story ideas here in the country so I invite you all to submit some suggestions.  

In the meantime, I wrote the story below in Dubai last week regarding calls for an oil embargo against supporters of Israel over the Gaza crisis.  As of today, about 1,000 Palestinians have been killed as the result of Israel’s attack on Gaza, most of them civilians.  Please consider ways in which you can help the poor people of Gaza rebuild after this destructive conflict with Israel.



DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Cozy economic ties with the West and cool heads have led the Arab Gulf’s leading oil exporters to ignore calls by Iran for an oil embargo against supporters of Israel over the Jewish state’s military offensive in Gaza. 

Mirfaysal Bagherzadeh, brigadier-general of Iran’s hard-line Revolutionary Guard, has urged Muslim countries to cut oil exports to Israel’s allies as punishment for their inaction against the its “unequal war” on the Palestinian territory.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, responded this week saying that the use of oil as a weapon in the Arab-Israeli conflict is not a solution.

“The oil producers who need their income … are not going to do that,” he said at a news conference in Riyadh. “The use of oil, especially at this time, is an idea that is at least past its worth.”

The comments from Tehran echoed sentiments by members of Bahrain’s lower house of parliament earlier in the week that “all retaliation options” should be considered by Arab governments against the Israeli aggression.

While the tiny Gulf kingdom is not a major oil exporter, it is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.

“Bahraini and Kuwaiti parliaments are quite renowned for nationalistic and even Islamist voices that do not necessarily reflect the position of their particular governments,” said Neil Partrick, assistant professor of international studies at the American University of Sharjah.

The renewed Israeli attacks in Gaza have claimed nearly 1,000 lives since they started on Dec. 27.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and a delegation of European Union foreign ministers have been meeting with Arab heads-of-state in an attempt to broker a cease-fire and bring both parties back to the negotiating table.

Israel’s government has been accused of heavy-handed tactics resulting in huge destruction of infrastructure and high civilian casualties.

Protesters have come out in large numbers in cities across the region demanding that their governments take action to stop Israel and make it take responsibility for the heavy losses.

A statement released this week by the Saudi cabinet accused “the policy of war, violence, murder and torture practiced by Israel against the Gaza Strip and throughout Palestine” as demonstrative of the “extremist political parties in Israel and abroad aiming at [the] restructuring of the region of the Middle East according to their terms.”

The Saudi government also criticized American nepotism toward Israel. Speaking at this week’s U.S.-Gulf Forum, the Saudi deputy foreign minister said that the United States has “adopted policies full of flaws against the Gulf nations and the Middle East while it has been extending all-out support to Israel.”

For countries in the Gulf, their oil wealth has historically proven to be a mighty weapon in times of turmoil. Flash back to the now infamous oil embargo by Arab producers during the 1973 Yom Kippur War between Israel and the armies of Egypt and Syria. The boycott sent shock waves around the world – the market price for oil soaring almost immediately from $3 a barrel to $12.

Arab oil producers would subsequently take a hit, however, as consumption dropped by 5 percent over the following two years. The crisis served as a wake-up call for countries in the West to seek alternative sources of energy and ultimately, reduce dependency on oil imports.

Today, Saudi Arabia is the only major Middle East oil supplier to the United States. The United Arab Emirates, Oman and Iran sell mostly to Asia, while Kuwait divides its exports among countries in Asia and Europe, while sending only a small amount to the United States.

“So the phrase ‘we need to reduce our dependence on Middle Eastern oil’ is actually a misnomer,” said Raja Kiwan, an energy analyst with PFC Energy, a Bahrain-based consultancy. “Most of [Iran’s] oil is sold to Asia, so the comments by the Revolutionary Guard should be seen as political rhetoric.”

Like other oil producers in the region, Iran depends on oil revenue for as much as 90 percent of its foreign income – and is currently suffering as the result of plummeting oil prices. An export ban is therefore believed by analysts to be in no one’s interest – most of all, the oil producers.

“The GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] has no appetite for an oil embargo because the embargo of the 1970’s was quite damaging economically for the Gulf countries,” noted Partrick.

Martin Lovegrove, vice chairman of oil and gas for Standard Chartered Bank in London said that oil producers must consider the implications an oil embargo could have on their domestic economies.

“Some, if not the majority, of these countries would certainly have to tighten their belts should they have an embargo, and not just for the short-term,” he said.

“An embargo could increase prices again at a time of true economic sensitivity in the world financial, business and personal economic markets [and] this could delay any real term recovery in prices.”

Posted in Gaza, Iran, Israel, Middle East, Oil, Pakistan, Palestinians | Leave a Comment »

Dubai ruler cancels New Years celebrations

Posted by vmsalama on December 30, 2008

I just received word from a friend in Dubai that Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has ordered the cancellation of all New Year celebration in Dubai in support of the people of Gaza.

In a statement issued by the state news agency, WAM, late tonight, Sheikh Mohammed told authorities to take the necessary steps to ensure the cancellation of planned events and “all forms of celebrations marking the New Year.”

While it is nice to see that the Arab Gulf countries are taking measures to acknowledge the atrocities taking place in the Gaza Strip, they could be doing a lot more seeing as oil puts them in a position of great power and influence.



Fireworks display near the Burj Al Arab hotel on Jan 1 2008 to welcome the New Year in Dubai. This year, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Prime minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai has ordered a cancellation of all New Year celebration. Pawan Singh / The National

Posted in Dubai, Gaza, Palestinians | 1 Comment »

Political Storm Finds a Columbia Professor

Posted by vmsalama on November 1, 2008

As a former student of Rashid Khalidi, I can say with confidence that the accusations by Sarah Palin and John McCain of the professor’s “radical” associations to the PLO are absolutely outrageous and infuriating.  The fact that they would dedicate so much time to such a trivial (and false) subject just days before the election, when the country’s economy is tanking and its troops are dying, confirms in my mind the fact that a McCain/Palin ticket will only lead our country into further catastrophe.  There are plenty of people around the world who regard advisors to the Bush administration as also having links to a “terrorist organization.” What they have done to Dr Khalidi is, in my opinion, defamatory and I really hope that Americans recognize that.  

Political Storm Finds a Columbia Professor

Published: October 30, 2008

Rashid Khalidi had been bracing for the storm for months, friends said

Since an April news report detailing his relationship with Senator Barack Obama, Mr. Khalidi, a Middle East scholar and passionate defender ofPalestinian rights, had waited to see himself caricatured by Republicans as part of a rogues’ gallery of Obama associates, which has come to include the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. andWilliam C. Ayers, a former member of the Weather Underground.

He was surprised, the friends said, that so little criticism came — until this last frenzied week before the election, when Senator John McCain cited the April article in The Los Angeles Times about a dinner Mr. Obama attended in Mr. Khalidi’s honor in 2003, and questioned Mr. Obama’s commitment to Israel.

In recent days, Republican partisans have accused Mr. Khalidi, a professor at Columbia University since 2003, of everything from anti-Semitism to baby-sitting for Mr. Obama’s children.

For Columbia, the firestorm is the latest episode in a string of messy, public controversies regarding Middle East politics. In 2004, pro-Palestinian professors were accused of intimidating Jewish students. Mr. Khalidi was not one of those teachers, but he was barred the next year from lecturing New York City public school teachers for having used the words “racist” and “apartheid” in discussions of Israel.

“It just seems really ironic to me that Rashid would be singled out as a figure in the trumped-up controversy,” Alan Brinkley, Columbia’s provost and a friend of Mr. Khalidi’s since 1985, said in a telephone interview Thursday. “In a field that is often politicized, he is respected by people on the right as well as the left.”

Ariel Beery, a former Columbia student leader who was involved in a pro-Israel group’s film about the 2004 controversy, said Mr. Khalidi was different from those accused of intimidation.

“In terms of his role as a professor, he was excellent,” Mr. Beery said Thursday in a telephone interview from Israel, where he lives. “He was provoking, he always allowed for different opinions, he had an open zone where people could voice their disagreement.”

Mr. Beery did criticize Mr. Khalidi’s leadership of the Middle East Institute at Columbia, saying it was “highly politicized” and “not promoting a diverse view of the Middle East.”

Mr. Khalidi, who is on sabbatical, declined to comment.

Mr. Khalidi, the Edward Said professor of Arab studies at Columbia, was born in Manhattan in 1948. His father, a Palestinian Muslim born in Jerusalem, worked for theUnited Nations, and his mother, a Lebanese-American Christian, was an interior decorator. He graduated from the United Nations International School and earned his bachelor’s degree from Yale in 1970 and a doctorate from Oxford University in 1974.

He taught at universities in Lebanon until the mid-’80s, and some critics accuse him of having been a spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization. Mr. Khalidi has denied working for the group, and says he was consulted as an expert by reporters seeking to understand it.

He was an adviser to the Palestinian delegation during Middle East peace talks from 1991 to 1993. From 1987 until 2003, he was a professor at the University of Chicago, where he became friends with Mr. Obama.

At Mr. Khalidi’s farewell party in 2003, according to the Los Angeles Times article, Mr. Obama fondly recalled their many conversations, saying they provided “consistent reminders to me of my own blind spots and my own biases.” But Mr. Khalidi told Harper’s Magazine that a report in National Review Online that he had baby-sat for Mr. Obama’s children was nonsense.

Daniel Pipes, who directs the conservative Middle East Forum, said: “If one’s talking about American political life, he’s at the extremes, at the margins. If one’s talking about the field of Middle East studies, he’s in the middle of it. But the field itself is dominated by professors who do not permit other points of view.”

In 2005, after a New York Sun article highlighted some of Mr. Khalidi’s statements, the New York City schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, barred Mr. Khalidi from a teacher-training course. In an interview with The New York Times, Mr. Khalidi said then that he “may have used the word ‘racist’ about Israeli policies,” and acknowledged saying in a speech that if the movement of Palestinians continued to be restricted, “it would develop into worse than the apartheid system.”

Addressing an accusation that he had endorsed the killing of Israeli soldiers as legitimate “resistance” to occupation, he said: “Under international law, resistance to occupation is legitimate. I didn’t endorse killing Israeli soldiers. These people will take anything out of context. Anyone who knows me knows the last thing I am is extreme. I’ve called suicide bombings a war crime. I’m a ferocious critic of Arafat.”

Rabbi J. Rolando Matalon of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, a liberal synagogue on the Upper West Side, said he has known Mr. Khalidi for years and called the allegations “completely absurd and uncalled for and malicious.”

Referring to comments he had seen on blogs and television, he said, “In no way has he ever indicated that he favors the destruction or disappearance of Israel,” and added, “He has always been consistently in favor of dialogue and common ground.”

At Columbia, Mr. Khalidi is known as a gregarious scholar who takes a special interest in students, often meeting them for lunch near campus and hosting dinners featuring Palestinian food cooked by his wife, Mona, an assistant dean at the university. After he came under attack this week, students created a Facebook group called “I stand by Rashid Khalidi,” with 205 members by Thursday night.

“He makes history entertaining,” said Maher Awartani, 24, an Arab student leader who has taken his class. “It’s like a grandfather telling his grandson a story of what happened.”

Mr. Awartani criticized not just the McCain campaign but also the Obama campaign’s tepid response, saying, “It should have been like, yes, I know him, and I’d like to know more Middle East experts, because that’s an important thing when you’re making policies.”

Karen Zraick contributed reporting.


Posted in Middle East, Palestinians, Politics, Terrorism, United Arab Emirates, United States | Leave a Comment »

Help Students in Gaza Get a Better education

Posted by vmsalama on August 12, 2008

I received this email today from a contact of mine regarding an initiative by an Israeli nonprofit organization looking to help students in Gaza leave the besieged territory to get a better education.  I think it is really honorable and I hope people can help!



I write to ask you to join us in helping hundreds of Palestinian students in the Gaza Strip reach their universities abroad. Since June 2007, Gaza’s borders have been closed, trapping 1.5 million people – including hundreds of talented young people accepted to universities abroad but prevented from reaching their studies. Last year, Israel permitted approximately 500 students and dependents to reach their studies abroad via “shuttle” services, but this year, Israel says that students will not be permitted to leave Gaza – except for a few dozen with prestigious scholarships to Western countries.

Hundreds remain trapped, in danger of losing hard-won places at universities all over the world. I refer you to Gisha’s report, “Held Back-Students Trapped in Gaza” (June 2008) and Gisha’s Power Point Presentation, “Students STILL Trapped in Gaza” (July 2008).


Today we are launching an online campaign aimed at recruiting international support for the right of Palestinian students from the Gaza Strip to reach their studies abroad. By clicking on the banner above you’ll reach the campaign’s mini-site: www.trappedingaza. org

The campaign is accessible in three languages – EnglishArabic and Hebrew – and we hope to communicate it via e-mail, social networks, blogs and other websites.

How can you help?

1.       Join the campaign by logging on to the mini-site and asking Israel’s leaders to let students in Gaza access education;

2.       Spread word of the campaign by forwarding this message to others;

3.       Feature the banner on your website or blog.  You may choose a banner to download at this link.

4.       Click on the mini-site for further action.

Please join us in helping Gaza’s young people exercise their right to freedom of movement and to access education – and to build a better future in the region. 

Best Regards,

Sari Bashi, Executive Director

Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement

Posted in Education, Gaza, Israel, Palestinians | Leave a Comment »