Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Paradox of Modern Iran

Hooman Majd, The Ayatollah Begs To Differ
“This stylish, witty, and enlightening portrait of contemporary Iran brilliantly captures the too-often-misunderstood character of the people and their complex, paradoxical, and changing nation.” So says one of the book’s blurbs.

Hooman Majd introduces the book to us as a result of his personal experience. “In 2004 and 2005 I spent several weeks in Iran as a journalist, and in 2007 I spent almost two months in Tehran, working on what was to become the manuscript.” He, of course, has been in touch with whatever and whomever is marked “Iranian” to make sure he is as informative and as accurate and as objective as possible. In his book, and also a letter to his publisher (I have used the editor's copy of the book issued prior to its publication), he writes that his friends consider him 100% Iranian and 100% American which puts him in a unique position.

Being the son of a diplomat and the grandson of an enlightened ayatollah, Hooman seems pretty well connected to all sides, secular and religious, Western and Eastern, modern and traditional, all in one package. Knowing a little of his family, I’m sure that, if it would have been necessary or relevant, he could have pulled a few more social connections, in England for instance, in additions to one with president Khatami.

I liked the preface of the book. It was witty; it was concise; it was diverse; and all together interesting. But, either I was too taken by visualizing a young Iranian man, half aristocratic, standing at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, shouting until his voice was hoarse, the song of his liberation with his British accent, through an Islamic Revolution, or I missed the clue when his Jewish friend admired Ahmadinejad’s sincerity and patriotism. His encounter with the “Egyptian vendor in the vicinity of Ground Zero, full of admiration for Iran as the only country standing up for the Islam and Muslims, as well as the United States, which, by the way, is a dream land of his earthly opportunities,” did not alter what the title of the book suggested, that modern life is paradoxical and Iran is no exception.

Neither was I alarmed when, on page 12, he wrote on the subject of hijab:
“Let me tell you a story about hijab. ….Reza Shah made the chador for women and turban for man illegal in mid 1930s; he wanted, fascist as he was, to emulate turkey’s Kemal Ataturk, who not only had banned the fez and the veil but had even changed the Turkish script from Arabic to Latin, rendering the vast majority of Turks illiterate overnight to force his people into a modern, which he saw as European, would.”

“…during the early days of Islamic Revolution women were harassed and sometimes beaten and imprisoned for not wearing proper hijab, but the exact same things, for opposite reasons, occurred on the streets of Tehran less than fifty years earlier. In 1930s women had their chador forcibly removed from their heads…”

Was it my poor reflexes or the lack of a conspiratorial mind which did not allow me to go beyond the book's face value? When the author said,
“I refer to some of these failures whether they be the imprisonment of student protesters or feminist activities or the crackdown on civil liberties, but this book is not about the injustices of Iran’s political system or, more important, the sometimes outrageous abuses in that system which many courageous Iranians such as lawyers, journalists, and activists living in Iran, fight against every day. Rather, my hope is that this book, through a combination of stories, history, and personal reflection will provide the reader a glimpse of Iran and Iranians, often secretive and suspicious of revealing themselves, that he or she may ordinarily have the opportunity to see.”

I did believe him. It took me days to think why he omitted the mass executions, mass murders, chain murders, murder of prisoners, long jail sentences without any specific charges, from the list of these "failures"? Or why he used the word "failure" rather than "crime"? It took me even longer to think why talking about the hijab he has to bring about the names of two dictators (Reza Shah and Ataturk), twice repeating the word "fascist", and his choice of words such as"forcefully", "beaten", "rendering the population illiterate overnight"? (By the way, for Hooman’s information, it was by Ataturk’s forcefulness that the primary education became mandatory in Turkey, just as in Iran in Reza Shah’s time. Prior to that, the people were in fact illiterate. Illiteracy did not happen overnight with the change of script from Arabic to Latin. Indeed, the people were illiterate.) It was almost towards the end of the book that I figured out the answer to most of my bewilderment, though many remained still unanswered.

Hooman Majd is adamant that there is misunderstanding of Iran and Iranians which needs to be explained, and that he is uniquely qualified to do so. (These two words "understanding" and "misunderstanding" always send a shiver down my spine since the time President Carter tried to "understand" us.) Of course what needs to be understood is always the weird, antisocial, and irrational behavior of our beloved regime which does not translate to any social codes accepted by the international community.

He defined Iran as a “Muslim country, a Shia country and significantly a Persian country.” As Shiites, Iranians are marked with an inferiority complex, and are devoted to protect their rights (haqq). Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, who was killed by Yazid, has become the embodiment of haqq for Iranians and his death is still mourned by men and women in commemoration of his anniversary at Tashu`a and Ashura.

It is through the revival of this monumental wrong that Iranian will celebrate the Shia’s creed of crying for haqq. According to Majd, the understanding of this little word haqq is the key to understanding Iran's puzzles and paradoxes, from the emergence of the Islamic Revolution in the most secular nation in the region to the implementing the laws of the Sharia, designed for an uncivilized nation centuries ago, in the country which has a claim over to culture and civilization.
Majd argues further that even the nuclear issue is a misunderstanding of Iran’s obsession with its rights or haqq, the centerpiece of Shia dogma. For him, what appears as a confrontation with the international community is nothing but Shiism's pursuit of haqq and its persistence in not letting its rights to be violated.

The notion of pursuing haqq to the point of death, symbolized by Imam Hussein's martyrdom, is so embedded in Shiite Iran that it has become a model of conduct as well as part of the nation's language and thinking. Colloquial Iranian expressions such as “haqqam khordeh shodeh” (meaning ‘my rights are eaten’) and also khak bar sar kardan (meaning putting dust over the head) are taken as testimony.

However, his arguments are shorn of any merit. His examples of Ali the American who believes his rights had been taken away because he had not been born in the United States might be witty and humorous, but far from proving any point; and his example of dust and mud being heaped over the heads of the mourners in Tasu`a and Ashura suffers from misinterpretation of expression linked to it. The expression khak bar sar is used when some intense grief has befallen someone or when grief is wished upon someone against whom one has hard feelings. Placing mud or dust over the head is just a very old mourning sign, (it appears in the Hebrew Bible) and stems from a belief that soil-dust would cut off the emotional attachments one has towards a departed loved one. In burial sites, a pinch of dust is poured over the head of the mourners to relieve them. (The expression of khak bar sar indicates a wish for an intense grief as of a mourning for a dead one.)

I wish he would have clicked on Youtube for Shia’s mourning and seen for himself the kids, with drums and dafs and sometimes with other instruments doing raps for Imam Hussein, who do not appear to have any intention as of dying for anybody. They are simply participating in a ritual, nothing more and nothing less.

I do not know when and where this genre of writing became so fashionable among the Iranians. This is the second book (the first being Jasmine and Stars) of this nature in which the author tries to cherry pick the evidence to prove his/her point and ignore whatever does not suit his or her purposes, or to connect points without any causal relations between them, or reduce and minimize evidence to the contrary to almost null, or divert the real problem to a banality and then defend it, or, in short doing whatever makes an argument fallacious and delivering as if it is sound. I found Majd a smart, talented and educated enough to be able to avoid all these errors if he wanted so. But unfortunately he chose not to avoid them, if I dare say, quite intentionally and purposefully. Though it might be the political subject matter of these books that legitimizes the use of manipulations, or just that author's relying on and praying for the carelessness of the readers, or the book has different function unknown to me.

Hooman Majd, unfortunately, did not live in Iran long enough to notice that there is a vast majority, at least seventy percent of the people, who are only nominally Muslim. They are the vast majority of people who do not even perform their daily prayers (noticed by almost all journalists and observers who traveled to Iran.) He tries to maneuver his way in response to such obvious omissions by attributing them to the flexibility of prayer times in Shia Islam.

As a matter of fact, Iranians are notorious in being more lax in their religious rituals than any other Muslim nation in the world. “Do you mean there is prayer in this religion?” is a joke among Iraqi Shiites referring to this laxity. Had he stayed a few more years in Iran, not only would he not give that much weight to Iranian piety but he would have written his book differently.
The other enigma which has puzzled the world as well as many of us Iranians is the Islamic Republic's endurance despite its apparent extreme unpopularity owing to its abuse of its citizens' rights, returning to the Sharia (stoning, public lashing, execution without the trial), and setting the clock back at least to the nineteen century if not fourteen. Majd sees the magical factor in the perseverance of the Islamic Republic its ‘respect for privacy’!

Since the Islamic Revolution, the ruling clerics have been under attack both by foreign journalists and observers as well as Iranians for creating a double life for their citizens. Iranians were among the first to express their dissatisfaction over this dual existence, forcing them to tell lies to their children and behave differently in private than in public. Majd very cleverly turns the table around to the advantage of the Islamic Republic. He argues that Iranians were the first one who built walls around their gardens so they could separate the outside from their private domains.

Through a labyrinth of name changing to indoor gardens to paradise, Iran to Persia, Reza Shah's fascism, to Hitler's Third Reich and many more, he concludes that it is only in this private domain and inside this wall that Iranians need to be free and that the Islamic Republic is clever enough to respect this wall around the privacy of people and does not cross it as the Shah had. (I do not know why I have such an urge to say Jall al-Khaleq!) Numerous example are given from the parties in resorts of Shemshak’s ski ramps to those of northern Tehran, where people are free to have booze, music and dance, where people can express their ideas freely to each other without being worried that they are being spied on. Even president Khatami and Ambassador Javad Zarif and some other ambassadors (no names given, just in the case!) could sit in Zarif’s apartment and laugh at the fanaticism of those mullahs in Iran without being worried that anybody would spy on them while all these are taking place in their respected privacy! (another Jall al-Khaleq!)

Missing in this book is Iranian humanity. Majd’s view of Iran is devoid of any humanity, as if the country is populated by robots that just perform the way they are programmed to work. Two days holidays in a calendar, for centuries, would create a whole dictionary of meanings and associations around it which sometimes has nothing to do with the original intent of the holiday. Tasu`a and Ashoura are no exceptions. They are mixed with fourteen centuries of millions of people practicing it, adding to it bits of their compassion and modifying it to fit into their sensibilities and the surrounding norms. (I’m surprised he did not refer to the celebration of this occasion in New York City.)

Today, the ritual is simply a commemoration of a religious rite like any other rites observed and celebrated by other religions. Easter, Shavuos, Simchas Torah, Lag B'Omer, and various Saints Days such as St. Patrick’s Day and St. Francis' Day are just a few that brings people together in commemoration of a cause and ideas attached to each, and with people things does not stay static, never!

Shocking, however, is the degree of detachment that author exhibits not only from Iranian culture but from the people. Among dozens of books written on Iran, this book was unique as how the author perceive himself as a breed apart and how unimpressed he was by the life around him. I recall reading books, even highly critical of the regime or even the people, mostly by journalists yet one still felt how at one the author was with the people, if only for a time.

I recall reading books in which at least once or twice the author refers to the Iranian people's humanity which surpasses all mundane calculations, where the author bends his/her self to the love, compassion and humanity of the Iranians which goes way beyond political necessity or social pretence, when the author sees people with souls within them that sometimes react freely without any attention to what is required of them. I recall time and again reading simple pages of these books and being touched. Oddly enough, there was none of this in Majd’s book. Iranians in this book were a bunch of Islamic rational beings who responded to life exactly as the ayatollahs expected them to do, and as is convenient for Majd to summarize them.

However, my objections all lose their validity if we look at the book from a different angle, if we see it as a cover resume in an application for a position as consultant to the State Department or a liaison between the Islamic Republic and the United States. Majd, with his grandiose invitation, “Give it to me whatever mess you have, I’ll fix it the way you can not believe it was any mess at all,” pictures himself as magician who can put his hands in a hat and bring pulling out doves of peace. And, gee, he is a magician. In some 265 pages there is not a single mess, horror, shortcoming, abuse or mismanagement which is not somehow justified, evaded, or dismissed deftly. Well, hats off man, hats off!

Dear reader, I still recommend the book, though I call your attention to the usage of every anecdote. And I beg your opinion as if I’m wrong or somehow hyper-sensitive.
To those of my readers who are not very patient, I recommend they not miss the last two chapters of the book, The Ayatollah Begs to Differ and Fear of Black Turban. And be patient, be patient. It is just a book, just one person’s ideas. It is about just one person looking through a looking glass sorting out the jumble of masses entangled together and trying to put them into some order. It just happens that he looks for legitimacy and stability of a very shaky and illegitimate system which has nothing to do with us Iranians, as we know ourselves. The good news is that he is not the only one with a looking glass. We each have one too.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Bush was DUMPED by the House

Similar situation could have happened in our Parliament if the no-confidence vote was allowed to be tabled. Our lame duck PM who is standing not-so-tall since last election as well as recent onslaught within his own party, seems oblivious that he has been shown to the door.

He is still extending his already extended 'vacation' while sleepin on the job since became PM. He might have some personal reasons like his own pride and he is reported planning to change some rules to ensure he will get enough nominations to defend his presidency.

In the USA as we are celebrating Eid in the UAE, stocks plummeted on Wall Street even before the 228-205 vote to reject the bill was officially announced on the House floor. Bush and his economic advisers, as well as congressional leaders in both parties had argued the plan was vital to insulating ordinary Americans from the effects of Wall Street's bad bets. The version that was up for vote Monday was the product of marathon closed-door negotiations on Capitol Hill over the weekend.

But the congress thought otherwise as one lady said on CNN something like this, "The working class voted againts of bailing out the corrupt corporate players! Enough of using our money to bail these criminals out for nothing!"

It sounds familiar. US is the brink of an economic disaster....which will affect the world and Malaysia may hit hard by the standard of leadership's management and actions.

We are into another period of uncertainty as the world is reeling for another shock and bumpy ride to the global recession, hang on there and.....Selamat Hari Raya Malaysia!

Weight of expectation

Commentary by Abd Ghani Hamat
The general election last March 8 could yet be remembered as marking a downward spiral of the country’s economy.
There’s no denying that a prolonged political uncertainty stemming from Barisan Nasional’s (BN) inability to secure a two-thirds majority in parliament has spooked the stock investors and added to the misery of businesses that are barely surviving record energy prices and a spike in raw material costs.
Suddenly the country finds itself deflated and despondent, sunk by the weight of its expectation of an impending economic rejuvenation amid a new political landscape. Contrary to its hopes, the wake-up call on Umno-led BN in the election has resulted in a political morass instead. The country finds itself in what promises to be its longest “election year”.
Until the dust of general election settled, we would not be able to have a clear view of where the government wanted to take the country economically, said a GLC chief executive, over lunch. In his estimation, the dust of March 8 would clear up by the turn of the year (2009), when the main political parties would have had their polls.
In an election year, he argued, conditions on the ground tended to get distorted as politicians engage in posturing while jockeying for party positions and pay less attention to national issues. That was five months ago, at a time talk of politicians crossing the floor was only beginning to gather momentum.
Now that Umno has postponed its polls till March next year, the wait for a new, party-endorsed prime minister has been extended by at least three months.
We can thus surmise that decisions made in the meantime are provisional at best, as the new prime minister may have his own ideas, assuming also that there’s no change of government, of course.
From the perspective of the national economy, this state of affairs is extremely unfair, particularly in light of the harsh external factors, which have already pushed Ireland into recession (two quarters of negative growth).
There is clearly an urgent need at this time for the government to focus on keeping the economy ticking — help industries and businesses tackle their problems, or even facilitate their expansion.
Who knows, the financial meltdown in the US and Europe could have opened a window of opportunity for Islamic financing and sukuk issuance, the country’s pride, to make a quantum leap into the international capital market.
Then there is the need to relook at the country’s subsidy structure by adopting a holistic approach that emphasises its sustainability as much as the competitiveness of industries over the long term.
Also pertinent are regional trade and investment issues, such as the resolution of Maybank’s proposed purchase of Bank Internasional Indonesia. The flip-flops in decisions pertaining to this deal are not characteristic of Bank Negara Malaysia and suggest more than meets the eye.
Indeed, Umno’s internal strife is not only distressing the economy but also its BN partners. How could the coalition function fully if its main partner is engrossed in its own affairs?
What puzzles most political observers, however, is how mighty Umno has let itself drift into the sticky mess. Perhaps there’s truth in the observation that it has become a party of reaction, not action. And it only reacts when it hits the wall.
How else do you explain that, after successfully scaring away voters at the last elections, its leaders are now threatening to alienate party members by squabbling over leadership succession?
That Umno is unable to come to terms with diminished power is not news. But the inability of its leaders to think and act in a coherent manner should be a cause for worry.
Their inability to comprehend public mood and expectations at the 2004 elections and their reluctance to accept accountability for poor showing four years later, could easily translate into a denial of the present economic realities, which does not bode well for the country.
But surely an old party like Umno would have enough clever people in its ranks to see its own folly. Surely they can see that the blame is not on the voters but their own leaders. But will they see beyond the veneer of democracy that masks what truly ails the party? Not unless it rids itself of the penchant for passing every trivial practice as “adat”.
We have heard claims by other BN component parties that they had been powerless in their discussions with Umno. Could it be that similarly “democratic” practice characterises decision making within the party? After all, Umno is a bunch of happy families.
To assure the masses, however, Umno has to be more transparent about its decisions, particularly those involving public funds, which rightly should not be even a subject for discussion at party meets.
Being transparent would not solve the economic issues of the entire society, but at least it points to a truer level of expectation of what’s possible and what’s not.

Kami raya pada hari Esok (Selasa 30 Sept 08)

Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri

Maaf Zahir Batin
Dari kami sekeluarga di Dubai

Should Our PM and Ministers be IT Literate?

Tun Mahathir was in the right time to be IT literate and his MSC initiative had changed Malaysia into an IT literate nation. That's one living legacy even though like I said, he was in the right place and right time to make the difference then. Otherwise, we are still in dark age and believe blindly whatever rubbish being published in our mainstream media and whatever lies from our leaders.

Now after retirement, his blog is already among the top with more than 6 million hits within 6 months of existence. That's really amazing for someone of his age. He is still sharp in his writing and with his blog, he is even closer to the young generation.

Nothing much to be said about his successor's IT literacy even though he used to have a web site for rakyat to send our comments. Then again, to be fair for him, it is generally nothing much to shout about the outgoing lame duck PM of Malaysia of his premiership.
I can safely say that Pak Lah is like other normal old men who are intimidated by technology. Not because he is dumb or something like that, maybe his fear of the unknown and he is scared of gadgets and does not care less about improving his knowledge or skills. He is the PM, so what and who cares if he never switches on any computers, except of course for officiating certain IT-related event.

What about the two PMs-in-waiting?

I have no idea about Najib's IT literacy but the deputy PM had recently launched his own web site. I visited his site once and nothing much to say as no comments are published for public consumption. He could be good enough in using computer applications like typing a surat sumpah in Word.

Anwar's blog is one of the top blogs with thousands of hits per day. He looks more IT savvy and literate than Rosmah's husband. He is also a Blackberry user. But he could never be a PM with the current political situation.

What about other ministers or leaders? I do not know most of them but I met a deputy president of PAS and he was so proud to show off his new gadget. But that not really a criteria of good leaders, right?

Most politicians now have Facebook presence if not their own blogs. I guess majority of them will have somebody else to maintain and update their facebooks and blogs.

Therefore, should our PM and ministers be IT literate? Or it is not important as long as they perform their duties well and better than expectations? As long as they are not corrupt and put our nation's interests first than themselves or their families and cronies, I can still bear with their IT illiteracy.

Our ministers, MPs, ADUNs are busy with a lot of duties, especially to pacify their supporters/cronies and of course they have assistants. They can be IT literate on their own accord but please do not look dumb and stupid as the world is already into a new century.

I read an interesting article about US presidential campaign:

Of course, this Libertarian viewpoint of mine gets very interesting when it comes time to elect a President or a major government official, especially over sometimes not-so-pleasant dinner conversation with my wife Rachel and other members of my extended family. When I told my wife in the car ride home from the airport this week that I would be voting for McCain, she said to me quite flustered, “Okay, I understand your reasons, but c’mon, the man doesn’t even know how to use a computer.”
Well, I’m not sure exactly what to make of this one. Should your President know how to use a computer? I mean, a President is a busy guy who has to be in constant meetings and speak with other world leaders, how much time should he be spending mucking about in emails or on on web sites anyway? Doesn’t he have a secretary to print out his most important emails and such?
I know that Obama is a Blackberry Junkie. Palin’s use of Yahoo email is, uh, well

McCain, unfortunately, “has to rely on his wife“. Does that make him less qualified to be President of the United States?

USA vs Al Qaeda = DRAW!

The recent bombings in several cities have reminded us of the current world security today. Forget Iraq or Afghanistan or Palestine, where the real wars are fought and any news on terror has become insignificant.
Then the suicide bombers struck with series of blasts that killed civilians in Syria, Lebanon, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. One name is always linked to these acts of terror and you know who.

Then again, with Bush presidency is about to expire and the arrival of a new president of the world's most powerful nation, black or white, do we have peace sooner than later in the Middle East? It is where the mother of all problems has never been solved under so many presidents and promises as well as billions already spent, as long as US keeps Israel dearly as its sleeping partner and the Arab regimes keep their bargains to stifle any dissents under the name of war on terror.

In reality, we are still not secured after 9/11 event changed the world or Iraq war changed the landscape of Iraq with more American soldiers lost their lives for nothing, not to mention collateral damage on Iraqi civilians.

A recent report states that a worldwide poll shows people across the world think the war on terror has reached stalemate.

People across the world think the US-led “war on terror” has not weakened Al Qaeda and many believe it has actually strengthened Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network, according to a new poll.
The worldwide poll of almost 24,000 citizens found people in 22 out of 23 countries surveyed thought attempts to counter Al Qaeda since its September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States had not weakened it.
The predominant view was that neither side was winning, the BBC poll said.
“Despite its overwhelming military power, America’s war against Al Qaeda is widely seen as having achieved nothing better than a stalemate and many believe that it has even strengthened Al Qaeda,” said Steven Kull, director of the Programme on International Policy Attitudes, which helped carry out the research.
Kenya - which experienced deadly Al Qaeda attacks on the US embassy in 1998 and on an Israeli-owned hotel in 2002 - was the only country where a majority thought Al Qaeda has been weakened.
In the United States, only 34 per cent believed Al Qaeda had been made weaker with 26 per cent reckoning the “war on terror” had had no effect and 33 per cent thinking it had made the militants stronger.
The majority US perception was that neither the United States nor Al Qaeda were winning the war.More than 40 per cent of citizens in France, Mexico, Italy, Australia and Britain believed that the “war on terror” had strengthened Al Qaeda.
While the majority of people questioned had negative views of Al Qaeda, more citizens in Egypt and Pakistan had mixed or positive views of the group than negative feelings.
The poll, which was conducted by GlobeScan with the Programme on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, involved 23,937 people in 23 countries between July and September this year.

Amazing Iran

Is Iran The Bad Boy of the Gulf?

There is much more than Shiah in Iran context. This vast and beautiful country has great history and people as well as oil to offer to the world. Iran is seen as the only country left to strike on Israel without fear and Israel's recent plan to attack Iran was only thwarted by US...if the report was correct...otherwise, if it really happened, we would have a different situation now.
There is a big number of Iranians making Dubai as first home with a long historical link. Iranian community here is somehow wealthy and influential with their own business network and 'mafia'. Iranian Hospital for example has been providing affordable medical service for all nationalities and very popular.

I have Iranian friends as well as colleagues but we do not talk about politics or religion, except when Israel is the topic of the conversation, then we are Muslims kind of brotherhood come alive.

Iran fishing in troubled waters

Recent reports on the presence of cells of Iranian spies in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states and the skirmishes over the differences of opinion of religious scholars from Sunnis and Shiites sects respectively are distinctive factors which are shaping the strategic scene in our neighbourhood.
This will also continue to influence the outcome of the on-going policies in shaping the future of our volatile region, which continues to oscillate between peace and the ominous prospect of a cataclysmic war, in the final months of the waning Bush administration.
The US seems to be divided on how to deal with Iran. Hawkish neoconservatives are opposed to those who are in favour of a dialogue with the Islamic Republic. Against this background, there is also a bipartisan call made by four former US secretaries of state calling on the next American president to open up a dialogue with Iran. They have argued that "diplomacy is talking to your adversaries and not only to your allies".
On the other hand, four former US officials, Richard Holbrooke, James Woolsey, Dennis Ross and Mark Wallace wrote an editorial piece in the Wall Street Journal in which they highlighted the dangers of a nuclear Iran.
"Everyone should be worried about Iran," they wrote and stated that "a nuclear-armed Iran would likely destabilise an already dangerous region that includes Israel, Turkey, Iraq, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan, and poses a direct threat to America's national security".
Further, they said that "to lay the groundwork for effective US policies in coordination with our allies, the UN and others by a strong showing of unified support from the American people to alter the Iranian regime's current course.
The American people must have a voice in this great foreign-policy challenge, and we can make a real difference through national and international, social, economic, political and diplomatic measures".
However, we cannot rule out an October surprise - an agreement between the US and Iran, such as the one that was made 29 years ago by Ronald Reagan that ended the US hostages crisis. It too was made in October.
The Emir of Qatar, Shaikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, pointed out recently in Syria that the GCC states have no problem with Iran, except for the occupation of the UAE three islands of Abu Mousa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs. Nevertheless, the GCC-Iran schism seems to have been inching towards more confrontation and tension due to the lack of confidence building between the two sides.
Clearly, there is apprehension in the GCC states over Iran and its grandiose expansionist design in the region. They fear that Tehran is keen to fill the strategic void in the region and exploit it in its favour. If Iran achieves its goal, it will become the most influential country in the region and will hold the keys to various strategic and potentially flashpoints in the Middle East.
Moreover, it is now benefiting from the Russia-Western standoff over Georgia, which is inching towards another cold war. Thanks to US miscalculations, the toppling of Saddam Hussain's regime in Iraq and the Taliban's in Afghanistan have worked to Iran's advantage. As such, the Islamic Republic has become a regional power by default.
The concern of the GCC vis-a-vis Iran is not limited only to Tehran's policy in Iraq, they are worried about its nuclear programme, its repeated threats to shut down the Strait of Hormuz, its perceived attempt to spread Shiism, and the bullying of the region. What's more, they are alarmed at Iran's lack of cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the damning report presented by the IAEA on Iran's nuclear programme.
Iran's menacing actions in the past few weeks are more alarming and created a flutter in the GCC states. Tehran has opened an administrative office in the UAE's island of Abu Mousa. All the GCC states in a joint statement lambasted Iran's illegal act. Members of Al Shura Council of Saudi Arabia equate Iran's occupation of the UAE islands with the Israeli occupation of Arab land. In retaliation, Iran ejected the bureau chief of Al Arabiya TV, the Saudi owned pan Arabist news network.
Meanwhile, a leading Sunni religious leader, Shaikh Yousuf Al Qaradwi, an Egyptian with Qatari citizenship warned about the menace of Iran with its Shiism brand of Islam threatening Sunni countries in the Middle East.
To make matters worse, Kuwaiti Members of Parliament claimed that there are about 25,000 Iranian revolutionary guards in Kuwait disguised as Iranian expats working in Kuwait! What fanned the flames even further was a report, published by a first-time Kuwaiti MP in a leading Kuwaiti newspaper, which stated that Iran could occupy Kuwait to make things difficult for the Americans in order to deter them from launching a military strike against Iran. What was frightening was, the MP's insistence that some of the spies are Kuwaiti citizens. These revelations brought to the fore the loyalty issue, once again. A couple of years ago, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak asserted that most Shiites in the Arab world are loyal to Iran and not to their own countries. King Abdullah of Jordan, too has sounded a warning of a Shiite crescent stretching from Iran to Lebanon.
However, the presence of Iranian covert operators was denied by Kuwait's Minister of Interior Shaikh Jaber Khalid Al Sabah, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his Defence Minister Brigadier General Mustafa Mohammad-Najjar. The Iranian embassy in Kuwait too denied such assertions.
However, in an interview with Gulf News, Adel Alassadi, a former Iranian diplomat who is living in exile, confirmed the presence of a network of Iranian spies in the GCC states.
Such claims and counter claims stoke more tensions and fear in a region described as a powder keg with many matches stoking it from many directions. The real challenge for all the concerned players in the region and beyond is how to navigate the region away from the abyss which no one wants to fall in.

Dr Abdullah Al Shayji is Professor of International Relations and the Head of the American Studies Unit - Kuwait University.


One of the most significant news that was skipped by mainstream media during the last few months is about the Inflation. Inflation for the last two months of July (7.8%) and August (8.5%) are the highest ever recorded in our country for the past 27 years (another new record for Pak Lah, and is now Najib’s baby). The full impact of fuel price increase now has come ashore – which is expected, as the lag period from date of subsidy removal to impact is about three months.

Continue HERE

Sunday, September 28, 2008

When Car is a place called Home

I felt a bit of Raya mood in the air this morning while driving 150kph on the clear highways due to public holidays for all govenment staff.
Vehicles were less and no traffic jam at all.

However during this festive season, life is tough for some of us here in the UAE. The spiralling cost of living esp. rising rents, food prices and school fees escalate inflation further and affect a section of working class expats.

Read the following report.

Driven into kerbside bedrooms
Yasin Kakande
Last Updated: September 27. 2008 11:36PM UAE

SHARJAH // Every evening, “Shafiq”, a Pakistani driving instructor, searches for a parking space in the crowded streets of Abu Shagara, tilts his car seat back as far as it will go and, leaving the engine and the air-conditioning running, does his best to get a decent night’s sleep.

Luckily for him, petrol is still a lot cheaper than rent.As Sharjah, Ajman and Ras al Khaimah absorb the ever-increasing exodus of house-hunters from Dubai, migrating along the coast in search of affordable rents, it is the working poor in those emirates who are paying the price.

Shafiq is one of a growing number of people being driven out of homes and into cars by rising rents and increasing living costs. A year ago, he was sharing one room with three friends in the Ghaefiya area until the municipality demolished the old building to make way for a new development.

Since then, he says, he has had no choice but to use his company Toyota Corolla as a kerbside bedroom. “At first I thought I would find another house,” he says. “I looked for one for about a week and all the deposits, real-estate commission and rent itself was too much for me and my colleagues.
“After staying in the car for a week I thought it was normal and I am pushing on with it.
”His family in Pakistan knows he is now homeless. Whenever he calls home his eldest daughter, aged 10, cries and says: “Dad, I just can’t stand it that you are living in a car.”

He does his best to reassure the family: “I’ll say, ‘You know what? This is OK for now because I’m safe, healthy and have a job; things will get better with time.’ But I don’t think so.”
There are now several areas in Sharjah where, late at night or early in the morning, people can be seen sleeping in cars. Although it provides no figures, the municipality says it has come across an increasing number of people like Shafiq. Guilty of a bylaw offence, for some of them a Dh500 fine has been added to the burden of homelessness.
In one case, “We also found someone who had also stocked a lot of alcohol in his car,” said Hareeb al Tunaiji, the head of the municipality’s inspection team. In addition to receiving the standard fine, this man was also referred to the public prosecution office.
In another case, he said, inspectors discovered that mechanics working at a large garage were sleeping in customers’ cars left in the workshop overnight, apparently with their employer’s consent. The garage owner had accepted the situation could not continue, but said most of his workers could no longer afford to rent anywhere to live.

Mr Tunaiji said the man had told officials: “Most of the old cars we have here have no air-conditioning, and since it’s the hot season we allowed them to use the customers’ cars at night and clean them in the morning before the owner comes.”
Discomfort is not the only risk faced by the “car people”.
In February last year a 58-year-old jobless Palestinian was found dead in a broken-down car in which he had been living on Al Wahda Street. Residents told police that Bassam Shariff, who had been in the UAE for 20 years, was unable to afford rent and had been living in the vehicle for two years, relying on the bathrooms in mosques.
In Dubai, the municipality said it had not had any reports of people living in cars in the city, but that it would take action against anyone who did.
“Of course this is unhealthy,” said Redha Salman, the director of the Public Health and Safety Department, “but the main issue in such cases is of security as people risk their lives and spoil the environment.”
Many expatriates who work in Dubai say they are now forced to live in Sharjah, Ajman and Ras al Khaimah as rents in Dubai have become unaffordable.
“When I was a bachelor I lived in Dubai and paid just for a bed space,” said Narayan Kutty, a sales representative who now lives with his family in Rolla.
“However, when I decided to bring my family here, I had to move to Sharjah because I can’t afford even a small room in Dubai.”
Other complications are putting further strain on housing stock.
In May, officials proposed an amendment to labour laws that would prevent companies that were not licensed to operate in the emirate from using Sharjah as a dormitory in which to house workers cheaply. The move, which followed a series of protests and violent skirmishes over the rising cost of living among workers whose jobs were in Dubai or Abu Dhabi but whose quarters were in Sharjah, is also expected to complicate life further for workers who commute from Sharjah to escape Dubai’s high rents.
In Abu Dhabi, where municipal officials also say they have not heard of people living in cars, the pressures of high rents and low supply have created a different problem: the illegal partitioning of villas and apartments. This in turn is putting further pressure on housing stock.
Since March, the municipality has been waging a campaign against violators, many of whom are what Salem al Maameri, the municipality’s director of municipal services, describes as “investors” who rent properties and then modify them into separate apartments, which they then sublet.
“Any building modification has to be approved,” he said. “Sometimes it is external modification, sometimes internal, but it is against the law. This is a big problem and we are fighting it.”
Following a fire that started in a makeshift rooftop development in Abu Dhabi this month, the municipality is also conducting inspections of all high-rise apartment blocks, with the intention of removing such “penthouses”, often home to many workers.
Over the past two years the tide of workers seeking an affordable lifestyle has created a shortage of housing and driven up rents in Ras al Khaimah. The situation is exacerbated by the emirate’s electricity shortage; new houses are being built but, without power, remain empty, leaving more people to squeeze into existing properties.
Ahmad, a driver for a local company, shares two rooms in a partitioned villa with eight men from Peshawar, Pakistan. The rent is Dh1,100 per month, excluding electricity and water. Although they like RAK and count their blessings – they can still afford to send some money home – when Ahmad moved to the emirate 10 years ago four rooms cost him Dh250. His cousin, uncle and son have all returned to Pakistan because of the rising costs and he plans to follow them soon.
Though the room already looks overcrowded, they have a plan in place for the next rent increase – they will replace their mattresses with bunk beds to accommodate yet more people in their room.
In another area of the city, old houses that were abandoned 20 years ago have been converted into small compounds, where each room is shared by up to 10 men. Five or six years ago, rooms that today cost between Dh1,000 and Dh1,500 would have fetched only Dh300.
However, the population explosion in RAK is now making it increasingly profitable for owners to rent these villas to middle-income families, whose companies will offer Dh40,000 or more.
In one such building, 13 men who work as labourers, repair men and drivers are facing eviction from their two-bedroom villa within two months. Some hope to stay with friends and commute to work in RAK. Others are unsure of their future.
The RAK authorities are aware of the problem, says engineer Majid Awwad, a technical adviser to the municipality. The municipality has plans to build low-income housing for labourers and others, but this is not a short-term solution; it will not be ready for at least another two years.

* With additional reporting by Praveen Menon, Zoi Constantine, Anna Zacharias

Aminudin Baki - Arkitek Pendidikan Negara

Pada hari pertama bulan Ramadan bersamaan 24 Disember 1965 negara ini kehilangan puteranya yang muda dan banyak berjasa dalam bidang pendidikan. Aminuddin bin Baki meninggal dunia pada usia baru mencecah 39 tahun.

Mengenang arkitek pendidikan negara


PADA 9 Disember 2004 telah diadakan suatu majlis perasmian bangunan di Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris, Tanjung Malim. Dalam majlis tersebut, salah sebuah pusat di kampus itu diberikan nama Pusat Global Pendidikan Aminuddin Baki.
Nama 'Aminuddin Baki' begitu menyengat dalam otak Rozeman Abu Hassan, anak muda berusia 37 tahun yang hadir dalam majlis itu. Siapa gerangan Aminuddin Baki yang disebut-sebut itu sehinggakan banyak institusi yang memakai namanya? Bermulalah penggalian beliau akan diri tokoh yang dikatakan amat berjasa kepada sistem pendidikan negara itu.
Pengabdian diri Rozeman keluar masuk arkib dan perpustakaan menemukan beliau dengan pelbagai dokumen yang memukau minatnya. Semua bahan itu berkaitan sumbangan Aminuddin berupa artikel, syarahan, catatan, gambar, sijil dan yang paling autentik adalah buku harian saku milik Aminuddin antara 1961 - 65 dan diari peribadi beliau yang juga catatan perjalanannya ke United Kingdom.
Kebanyakan buku dan tulisan yang ditemui Rozeman sebelum ini tentang Aminuddin lebih tertumpu kepada aspek agenda pendidikan yang diperjuangkan oleh tokoh pendidikan itu. Hal peribadinya, latar belakang keluarganya dan kehidupannya yang membentuk jati dirinya hampir tidak ada sama sekali.
Rozeman pun menukar arah penggaliannya daripada arkib dan perpustakaan kepada kampung halaman Aminuddin di Chemor, Perak menemui ahli keluarga dan saudara mara Allahyarham. Demikianlah bermulanya projek penulisan buku Biografi Aminuddin Baki: Arkitek Pendidikan Negara yang baru saja diterbitkan. Rozeman menyodorkan buku barunya ini kepada saya dua hari lalu.
Aminuddin Baki lahir di sebuah perkampungan Mandailing di Chemor, Perak. Keluarganya, orang Mandailing berasal dari Sumatera dan Aminuddin dibesarkan dalam sebuah keluarga tujuh adik beradik. Beliau mendapat pendidikan awal dalam suasana sekolah atap dan mengikuti kelas agama Islam sebelah petang dan malam di bawah bimbingan Ustaz Dahlan.
Sekolah Anderson di Ipoh kemudian memberi tempat kepada Aminuddin menduduki Special Malay Class. Sepanjang belajar di Sekolah Anderson, Aminuddin mengayuh basikal sejah 20 km tiap hari antara Chemor dengan Ipoh.
Kedatangan tentera Jepun telah menghantar pula beliau ke Sekolah Convent, Jalan Gopeng di Ipoh bagi mempelajari Kamigayo, iaitu pelajaran bahasa Jepun sehingga melayakkan beliau menjadi guru bahasa Jepun.
Kemudian Aminuddin menjalani latihan perguruan di Hyoin Yosei Jo, di Brewster Road. Di sinilah Aminuddin mula akrab dengan tokoh-tokoh pendidikan lain seperti Hamdan Sheikh Tahir dan Abdullah Ayob. Dalam kalangan teman-teman akrabnya, Aminuddin dikenali dengan sikap dirinya yang jujur, mempunyai keazaman tinggi, berprinsip dalam tindakannya dan berpegang kuat dengan mengamalkan setiap ajaran Islam.
Selepas tamat perang, Aminuddin kembali menyambung pengajian dan memperoleh School Certificate pada 1946 dan menyambung pengajian di Raffles College, dan kemudian ke Universiti Malaya, Singapura. Dalam masa itu juga Aminuddin menimba pengalaman menjadi guru dengan mengajar di Anglo-Malay Evening School di Singapura antara 1949-1951.
Bersama Abdullah Majid, Aminuddin mengaturkan pelbagai kelas bahasa Inggeris untuk anak-anak Melayu di beberapa tempat di Singapura dengan Aminuddin sendiri mengajar di Sekolah Telok Belangah. Selain seorang pemidato dalam bahasa Melayu yang baik, Aminuddin boleh bertutur dengan fasih dalam bahasa Inggeris, Jepun, Cina dan Arab.
Dalam biografi ini sikap bencikan sistem penjajah amat kental pada diri Aminuddin. Beliau dipetik berkata "Saya tidak tahan lebih lama lagi menuntut di sekolah penjajah, saya tidak mahu menjadi anak jajahan. Bagaimana saya boleh belajar dengan sistem pelajaran penjajah sekarang ini? Bagaimana saya boleh menimba ilmu dari perigi yang kotor?"
Aminuddin bertekad melanjutkan pengajiannya di Universitas Gadjah Mada di Indonesia. Beliau mahu menjadi pelajar Melayu pertama di universiti tersebut. Sahabat beliau, Abdullah Hussain memberi nasihat kepada Aminuddin, "Memang benar perigi itu kotor, tetapi di dasar perigi itu ada mutiara. Apa salahnya kalau saudara menyelam mengambil mutiaranya tanpa menggunakan airnya yang kotor itu? Walaupun tubuh saudara akan kotor tetapi mutiara yang saudara peroleh di dasarnya dapat membersihkan kotoran itu."
Bakat kepimpinan Aminuddin jelas apabila ketika baru berusia 20 tahun beliau menubuhkan dan memimpin Persatuan Pelajar-Pelajar Melayu Insaf (PERMI) di Ipoh pada April 1946. Beliau memperkenalkan perjuangan PERMI dengan slogan "Belajar terus belajar!"
PERMI yang diterajui Aminuddin kemudian berjaya menghimpunkan pemimpin pelajar Melayu dari seluruh Semenanjung pada 14 dan 15 Ogos 1948 bagi menubuhkan Gabungan Pelajar-pelajar Melayu Semenanjung (GPMS).
Aminuddin tidak menerima pelantikan sebagai Yang Dipertua GPMS yang pertama, tetapi selepas itu beliau dilantik dua kali menerajui GPMS. Kepimpinan GPMS terpaksa ditinggalkan oleh Aminuddin apabila beliau menerima Queen Scholarship bagi melanjutkan pelajarannya di peringkat sarjana di London. Beliau kemudian dilantik menjadi Penasihat GPMS sehinggalah beliau meninggal dunia.
Selepas pulang dari London, Aminuddin menjadi pensyarah di Sultan Idris Training College, Tanjong Malim. Pengalaman beliau dalam PERMI dan GPMS digunakannya bagi menggerakkan persatuan penuntut di SITC pula.
Ketika berusia 36 tahun pada 1961, Aminuddin merupakan pegawai kerajaan yang termuda dilantik sebagai Ketua Penasihat Pelajaran bagi Persekutuan Tanah Melayu. Beliau berusaha kuat memastikan bangsa Melayu berdiri sama tinggi dan duduk sama rendah dengan bangsa lain di Tanah Melayu.
Jawatan Ketua Penasihat Pelajaran bukanlah diterimanya tanpa cabaran dan salah satu ujian getir yang dilalui oleh Aminuddin ketika itu ialah dalam menghadapi mogok pelajar Sekolah Dato' Abdul Razak (SDAR) di Tanjong Malim yang menuntut penukaran guru besarnya. Mogok ini merebak sehingga selama satu setengah bulan sebelum SDAR diarah tutup.
Sebagai salah seorang yang menggubal Laporan Razak beliau memastikan wujudnya sekolah menengah aliran Melayu. Keputusan ini membuka laluan dan peluang yang luas kepada pelajar Melayu mendapat pendidikan tinggi di universiti. Bagi memajukan lagi perkhidmatan pendidikan negara, Aminuddin memujuk pegawai Melayu menyertai profesion perguruan. Antaranya termasuklah Abdul Rahman Arshad dan Murad Mohd. Nor yang kedua-duanya kemudian menjadi Ketua Pengarah Pelajaran.
Dasar Pelajaran Kebangsaan yang digubal seperti termaktub dalam Akta Pelajaran 1961 menjadikan tugas Aminuddin semakin berat. Beliau menyusun dan menggerakkan jentera pelajaran dengan amat berkesan. Beliau merancang beberapa dasar pelajaran dalam negara untuk digubal dan digunakan sebagai dasar pendidikan kebangsaan.
Dua cabaran yang diatasinya ialah bagi mewujudkan aliran Melayu peringkat sekolah menengah dan meyakinkan ibu bapa akan keupayaan anak-anak mereka maju dalam aliran Melayu yang ketika itu tidak diyakini akan dapat memberi peluang kerjaya yang baik.
Satu lagi sumbangan Aminuddin Baki yang penting ialah bagi mewujudkan aliran sains di sekolah menengah Melayu bagi memperbanyak lulusan aliran ini dalam kalangan anak Melayu pada peringkat yang lebih tinggi di universiti.
Usaha beliau ini telah berjaya melahirkan graduan Melayu daripada aliran Melayu dan aliran sains yang sebelum ini dinafikan oleh sistem pendidikan penjajah. Justeru, sesuailah jolokan 'Arkitek Pendidikan Negara' diberikan kepada beliau.
Secara keseluruhan, buku ini telah berjaya mendokumentasikan dengan lengkap sumbangan yang telah diberikan oleh Aminuddin dalam sistem pendidikan negara. Buku ini harus dibaca oleh setiap kita khususnya yang terlibat dalam profesion pendidikan dan perguruan.
Pada hari pertama bulan Ramadan bersamaan 24 Disember 1965 negara ini kehilangan puteranya yang muda dan banyak berjasa dalam bidang pendidikan. Aminuddin bin Baki meninggal dunia pada usia baru mencecah 39 tahun.

- ROOSFA HASHIM, Pensyarah
di Pusat Pengajian Umum,Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

Is Saudi really the easiest place to do business in GCC?"

Personally, I have no experience in doing business in Gulf Co-operative Council (GCC) except of course some experiences in the UAE. I guess from other businessmen, UAE is regarded the best place among GCC countries to do business.

According to Arabian Business, all six GCC states have appeared among the top 60 countries in the world to do business in, according to a report published jointly by the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

Surprise, surprise. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have been named in a report as the best places in the region to do business.

A fortnight ago global financial markets took a beating when US investment bank Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy protection and Merrill Lynch agreed to be taken over, so news that the GCC is a good place for business couldn't have been better timed.

But despite being the bearer of good news, the report didn't fail to raise a few eyebrows with its rankings.

In an overview of the report Doing Business 2009, it's been revealed that Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are leading the pack when it comes to the best places to do business. Qatar comes in third followed by the UAE in fourth place. Kuwait and Oman are last on the list.

According to the report, the economies have been ranked on their ease of doing business. The index averages the economy's percentile rankings on 10 topics, made up of a variety of indicators giving equal weight to each topic.

They include setting up business, dealing with construction permits, employing workers, registering property, getting credit, protecting investors, paying taxes, trading across borders, enforcing contracts and closing a business.

The data accumulated covers the period from June 2007 to June this year.
But after speaking to contractors and developers working in the region, Construction Week learnt that most have called the report "inaccurate."

Can Saudi Arabia really be the easiest place to do business?

"The UAE is the easiest place to do business," said Haytham Al Tajir, chairman of a Dubai-based development firm, Al Tajir Real Estate.

"Nowhere else even comes close. We have property all over the Gulf and I have to say, the UAE is the fastest and quickest place to conduct business. I don't agree with the report."

Some GCC states faired better than the others under different topics.

To start a business based on the procedures, time and cost involved and minimum capital required, Qatar came out tops followed by Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, UAE and then Kuwait.

Bahrain topped the list for least procedures, time and cost required for acquiring construction permits, with Qatar and UAE following close behind. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman came in after, in that order.

But Belgian construction firm Six Construct general manager Philippe Dessoy who is currently working on projects in the UAE, Qatar and Oman expressed his doubts over the report and said that if any place was easy to work in, it would have to be the UAE.

"Acquiring construction permits anywhere in the region is difficult. In fact, it's a nightmare, so I wouldn't rate any place higher than the other," he said.

Saudi Arabia was named first with regards to having the least procedures, time and cost to register property followed in order by Bahrain, UAE, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait.

With recent scandals in the UAE involving some developers attempting to cancel already sold-out projects coupled with many high profile arrests on alleged charges of bribery and embezzlement, it comes as no surprise that the UAE was last on the list for best places for investor protection.

Kuwait topped this list followed by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar.

Kuwait came in as number one again for the least procedures, time and cost required to enforce contracts. Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, and UAE followed in that order.

Despite Saudi Arabia topping the list on the whole, it came in last in this category.

The ease of pulling out or closing shop again saw the UAE come in last with Bahrain topping the category. Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait followed.

But Dahlia Khalida from the IFC and World Bank and co-author of the report said the rankings reflect reforms that have been made by these countries.

"The report is not recommending any country over another as best to do business in. It is based on the speed and level of reforms that have been made in these countries and Saudi Arabia has reformed the most."

"The UAE may still be the best place to do business in, but when based on the levels of reforms in the country, it is not among the top."

And the UAE is not beyond the need for reforms. Construction permits is an area that could do with some attention along with investor protection and contract enforcement.

Further, Rob Wagner, editor of Construction week wrote:-

While Saudi Arabia has reached out to Western businesses for trade and has brought contractors and developers to Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam, there remains much work to truly make the country a relatively friendly place to do business.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle is the lack of codified laws. The Kingdom only recognises Shariah as the law of the land.

That means little to Western companies that want to be protected if disputes arise. Most business and labour regulations are issued through a royal decree. Commercial courts have been established since the founding of the country, but commercial disputes are generally settled by two Shariah judges and one legal adviser. Decisions by this committee can be appealed to the Ministry of Commerce.

In addition, non-Saudis are not permitted to act as commercial agents. If a non-Saudi wants to open a business he or she is required to have a Saudi sponsor. Another obvious impediment to doing business in Saudi Arabia is the requirement that all women must be accompanied to the Kingdom by a male guardian, such as a father or brother or even a son. There is a large segment of independent businesswomen who could do well in Saudi Arabia, but are excluded due to guardianship issue.

There are other issues that would take an entire issue of Construction Week to address: Wasta, the mind-numbing bureaucracy, poor infrastructure that in many cases make large projects virtually impossible to get off the ground, and the lack of coordination between various ministries.

It also should be noted that the World Bank's report is not entirely glowing in its praise for Saudi Arabia.
While positive reforms have been implemented, the report notes that no progress has been made in issuing construction permits, employing workers, obtaining credit, paying taxes (there are no taxes in Saudi Arabia) and enforcing contracts.

Yes, much has improved, but Saudi Arabia has a long road to hoe before it becomes the most business friendly.

Sebelum Tiba Waktu Itu

Inilah kehidupan sejengkal
mencorak hitam, putih, kelabu
dan warna-warna musim perantauan
yang melebarkan perspektif jiwa
tentang rindu dari kehilangan
waktu, jarak dan ruang
sebagai musafir yang menumpang
asing kemeriahan suasana

Di sana jauh kehidupan berlalu
mengisi imej, wajah, peristiwa
dan langkah-langkah perjuangan
yang menyingkap memori manis
mengepung sentimental secebis emosi
kasih, sayang dan kebahagiaan
sebagai anak yang digamit pulang
lambaian kampung kelahiran

Kehidupan kita merentas benua
menjejak bumi semakin mendatar
bersama bulan, bintang dan mentari
tetap berputaran mengikut paksi
mungkin esok, mungkin lusa
sekiranya itu destini perjalanan
kita tidak lagi berhutang jasmani
dengan janji yang sering dimungkiri

Lantas syawal yang tiba
sehening takbir memecah fajar
jadilah kita insan kerdil yang tawakal
mengadap dan berharap
ramadan telah mengembalikan
kekudusan dalam usia tersisa
agar rohani tercalar tidak tersesat
sebelum tiba waktu itu
di destinasi nafas terakhir!

Dubai, UAE
28 Ramadan 1429

Kifarat Mahathir Menuju Diktator

Dalam pertandingan jawatan dalam UMNO yang bakal hangat dan memuncak, walau ditangguhkan, tentunya para penulis buku politik akan sama bertarung untuk mencari habuan.

Tidak kiralah sama ada penulis politik bertaraf upahan atau profesional, persaingan untuk melakukan buku masing-masing menambahkan kemeriahan suasana.
Ada politikus yang akan menaja atau membeli buku-buku tersebut untuk diedarkan secara percuma sekiranya buku tersebut mempromosikan mereka sebagai calun pemimpin yang hebat.
Manakala, tidak mengejutkan juga kalau ada buku setaraf '50 dalil' kenapa si fulan dan si fulan tidak boleh jadi PM, TPM dan sebagainya.
Fakta, fitnah, atau yang separuh fakta separuh fitnah boleh mempengaruhi perwakilan, selain tentunya duit pelincir dan suapan lain yang sudah lama menjadi budaya UMNO.
Salah satu buku politik yang muncul ialah, 'Kifarat Mahathir Menuju Diktator.'
Tajuknya seakan, 'Mahathir Bashing' walau Mahathir tidak bertanding tetapi masih mempunyai tangan ghaib untuk menentukan kalah menang calun-calun yang disokongnya, termasuk anaknya sendiri.
Kebenciaan Mahathir terhadap pengganti pilihannya sendiri bukanlah rahsia lagi dan Mahathir berterusan mengutuk Pak Lah sehingga Pak Lah pencen tidak lama lagi. Tetapi keduanya akan bersama kembali dalam Yayasan Kepimpinan Perdana. Tidak pasti sebumbung nanti, kedua mereka akan terus jadi 'Tom and Jerry.'
Dari sebuah blog rakan di TV9, yang mengulas:

Dalam bukunya beliau menulis, "bertolak dari tindakan Pak Lah menghentikan sungai emas yang mengalir ke kantong penjilat dan pengampunya maka Mahathir pun mulalah menambak dengan mulut celuparnya.

Untuk memenuhi nafsu serakahnya Mahathir sanggup turun dan hadir dalam apapun majlis, sama ada diatur oleh UMNO, parti pembangkang atau NGO.

Dia tanpa aib dan malu berterusan menfitnah, memperlekeh, menghina dan mencaci Pak Lah. Seolah-olah dia lupa sepanjang pemerintahannya terlalu banyak dosa dan noda yang telah dilakukannya.

Pak Lah yang bertunjangkan ulamak tidak menjawab dan memalukan Mahathir. Kalau selain daripada Paka Lah tentulah Mahathir telah mendapat malu.

Pak Lah boleh mendedahkan seribu tempayan pekasam busuk Mahathir. Pak Lah boleh menelanjangi seribu pekung bernanah Mahathir.

Kalau Pak Lah berbuat demikian tentulah busuknya terhidu dari kota hingga ke desa. Seluruh ahli-ahli UMNO mengetahuinya.
Seluruh rakyat melihatnya."

Dalam satu bab dalam buku "Kifarat Mahathir Menuju Diktator", Kamarazaman Yacob memilih sembilan tokoh UMNO yang beliau rasa antara mereka yang berjuang mempertahankan Pak Lah.

Antara tokoh yang dipilih dalam bab "Sembilan Pahlawan " itu ialah Adnan Yaakob, Muhammad Muhd Taib, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Ahmad Shabery Chik, Shahrir Samad, Ali Rustam, Noh Omar, Ismail Sabri Yaakob dan Shaziman Abu Mansor.

Rais Yatim Popularising SODOMY in the UN General Assembly

First I read about UAE Foreign Minister Shaikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan in the UN General Assembly who has called for a full compliance with the principles of the UN Charter and international legitimacy to tackle the enormous challenges that currently face the international community.

In his speech, Shaikh Abdullah pointed out that UAE has made major progress in a number of spheres, such as, for example, in the representation of women in its executive and legislative bodies and to enhance their role and participation in the labour market.

Then, I read another news from the UN General Assembly that Rais Yatim was trying to popularise the SODOMY as a Malaysia culture and vehemently blasted other countries for allegedly interfering with a current sodomy court case.

He was only a stand-in to replace his two bosses who are busy with transition plan and other UMNO internal bickering than representing our nation in the world stage. He sounded like Mugabe few days before, a sore loser, full of hatred in defence of the corrupts and his own misdeeds.

How much of rakyat money is spent to fly him to New York for this mission? Do we have any other urgent and critical matters to be addressed and voiced out for the whole mankind?

For comparison, please read Anwar's keynote speech in Hong Kong HERE.

Read The Reuters Report:-

UNITED NATIONS - MALAYSIA demanded on Saturday that foreign governments stop interfering in its affairs by criticising the sodomy charges against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who is challenging the ruling coalition.
Datuk Seri Anwar says the case is a politically motivated attempt to scuttle his bid for power against the United Malays National Organisation, the biggest party in a coalition that has ruled Malaysia for 51 years.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice irked Malaysia earlier this year by saying Washington would speak out in legal cases it considered political in nature, including the Anwar case.
'We could if we choose question the legal basis of the Guantanamo detention without trial but we did not,' Foreign Minister Rais Yatim told the UN General Assembly in a reference to the US-run prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for terrorism suspects.
'While same-sex fornication and marriage are acceptable in California, it does not mean that sodomy, which is a crime in many countries in Asia, is to be impugned or derided upon,' said Dr Rais, who did not directly mention the Anwar case.
The Umno party and Barisan Nasional coalition it leads are facing the prospect of losing power to a resurgent opposition alliance led by Mr Anwar, a former deputy premier.
Mr Anwar is free on bail and his sodomy trial has been adjourned until early October. He was convicted and imprisoned on charges of corruption and sodomy in the late 1990s in a case that derailed his rise in the political ranks.
Malaysia's prime minister has been under pressure to quit since March when the opposition won over a third of the seats in parliament. Rifts have begun to appear in the Umno as the party tries to stave off the opposition challenge.
Mr Anwar is accused of engaging in a homosexual act with a former aide. Sodomy is a crime punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment in Malaysia. -- REUTERS

McCain- Obama Debate was a damp squib!

When I thought the Anwar-Shabery debate was nothing less than a stunt by the cheeky Information Minister, it is fair to say that the first US presidential debate was a damp squib, as per commented by Gulf News editorial.

There is a great hope to see Obama installed as the new US president. It could be about him to be the first non-white to occupy the most powerful seat in the world. There would be definitely no change in US policy towards Israel, period. Whoever wins, US will still be Israel's proxy to rule the world.

Then again, with the current on again-off again and extended transition plan in UMNO, we have less expectations on our own political changes. There would be a new PM but he is still one of them under the same policies and old mindset, governed by corrupt mind and perut survival. He has tainted image and carry heavy luggage (no, I do not refer to his 'big mama' wife) to be effective as the new leader to lead our nation into greater heights.

Unless he takes the dictatorial and iron fist approach like his mentor, Tun M to combact his opponents within or outside the party. Then we have bigger problems as the opposition supporters who could be crashed into all sorts of persecutions to silence the critics.

Back to the the much anticipated debate between Republican presidential candidate John McCain and Democrat presidential candidate Barack Obama. It eventually took place on Friday night. The on-again, off-again, on-again tussle proved to be way below expectations of the media and possibly many Americans as well.

The hoped-for explosive dialogue, the first in what may be a series before the elections, turned out to be a damp squib. The heated exchanges, mainly on foreign policy, were so few and far between that viewers could be forgiven for thinking they never existed as the temperature of the debate never rose above lukewarm.
Most of what was said by both candidates had already been spelt out over a period of months and reinforced by the many advertisements that have plagued the public. There was nothing new to excite the blood or even - worse - to set either of them apart as suitable material for the next president of the most powerful country in the world.
In this, the most expensive presidential election campaign ever, it would not have been unreasonable to see some flashes of brilliance or perception to tip the balance in their favour. But nothing was forthcoming.
As President George W. Bush wraps up his second term in office, being generally recognised as the most unpopular president ever, it should be a relatively simple matter for the aspirants to high office to demonstrate to the public, and his opponent, exactly how their policy differs from the present incumbent.
Sadly, none of this was forthcoming. Instead, the candidates took the opportunity to take pot-shots at each other, hoping to score points by making themselves look clever and their opponent look silly. It was obvious though that neither candidate has the gravitas to carry it off, leaving viewers, the audience and even the moderator, wanting more.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Kuli Mahu Jadi Bos

Kuli Mahu Jadi Bos

di penghujung usia politik
setelah bertahun sebagai kuli
keluar masuk sebuah parti
hentam dari luar dengan semangat 46
menikus dari dalam untuk keselamatan
dan terbuang demi kesetiaan
kau mahu mendaki hirarki
kemuncak kepimpinan bobrok
yang semakin parah
oleh siri kedurjanaan
meratah suci perjuangan
demi survival perut masing-masing

apalagi yang tinggal
selain seluar dalam robek
terlondeh untuk mengubah haluan
bersama hari-hari terakhir
sana sini tongkang sudah pecah
bocor oleh limpahan taik
dan marhaen tidak sabar menanti
untuk kapankan kali kedua
kini dan selamanya
sebagai lambang kebangsatan
sebuah ketuanan sempit
parasit bangsa yang beraja di hati

semuanya sudah terlambat
kalau kuli mahu jadi bos
lebih baik terjun segera
ke tongkang harapan baru
sebelum sekadar jadi kapten
tongkang yang karam
dan lemas hancing
dikencingkan rakyat!

Ku Li: Reject delay of party polls
Andrew Ong Sep 27, 08 2:52pm
Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah has called on Umno members to reject the postponement of party elections to March next year, purportedly to facilitate a smooth transition of power, as it is not provided for in the party constitution.
“This is extra-constitutional. If there is a transition of power, according to the party constitution, it must be done every three years at all levels,” he said.

He said that the plan for Prime Minister and Umno president Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to hand over reign to his deputy Najib Abdul Razak was akin to “passing property” from one to another.

He told a press conference at his Kuala Lumpur residence this afternoon that the new Umno plan unveiled by the party's supreme council yesterday was not acceptable because office bearers should be decided by party members according to party rules.

“If Umno members still believe in the struggle and if they still love the party, to which I have no reasons to doubt, I’m sure they will reject the plan.

“This is not a sandiwara nor a game; First it was on, then off; December, then March, then June. Decide! It is not a small thing. The whole country is waiting to see what happens to the leadership of Umno and the country,” he said.

Tengku Razaleigh stressed several times during the 50-minute press conference that the transition plan was undemocratic and had made Malaysia an international laughing stock.

He said that public anxiety was on the rise as a result of the confusion being caused by the transition plan.

“Even I am getting a bit confused,” he said.

Still gunning for No 1

To a question, Tengku Razaleigh said he is still seeking nominations to contest as party president, regardless whether Abdullah would be defending his post or not.

“I’m praying that I will obtain 140 nominations (to win by default),” he said in jest.

Abdullah is currently under pressure to quit before the party polls and is said to be able to obtain the mandatory 58 nominations from 191 Umno divisions, which will start meeting on Oct 9.

Abdullah now has up to Oct 9 to decide on his fate.

Asked if he would ever reconsider offering himself as a candidate for the party elections, he replied, “I was the first to offer myself (for the post). I don’t normally make ‘flip-flop’ decisions”.

Tengku Razaleigh said that he has not been campaigning because party rules forbid him from doing so, but he would reveal his plan to revive the economy soon, which he will implement if made prime minister.

He claimed that his plan would increase per capita gross domestic income from US$4,000 to US$10,000 in less than five years.

Tengku Razaleigh also brushed aside Kelantan Umno liaison chief Annuar Musa’s claim that the transition plan has the full backing of the state.

“I didn’t attend the meeting, nor did several other division leaders. How can it be unanimous?” said Tengku Razaleigh, who is also Gua Musang Umno division chief and the constituency’s MP.

He said it was likely that there were attempts by certain state leaders to pander to those in Kuala Lumpur and that the grassroots did not agree with the plan.

Cheaper Oil, Less Money for UAE

It's simple maths. The cheaper a barrel of oil, the less money pours into the United Arab Emirates' coffers.

And as crude yo–yos around $100 there is roughly $124m less reaching the UAE on an average day compared to July when the price touched $147.27.
Since July the fallout from the credit crunch and threats of recession have seen a summer slide in prices, capped by recent turmoil in the US financial markets.
The economic slowdown, which has spread outside the United States and Europe and beyond, means that fundamentally people don't use as much of the black stuff as they once did.
The only saving grace has been the US government's proposed $700 billion bailout, which has eased fears that the world's largest economy was on the brink of collapse and raised expectations that the demand for oil could pick up.
Oil prices regained some poise this week on the back of the announcement after plummeting roughly 27 per cent since July.
The UAE is now left to assess the impact of the last two months' dramatic price fluctuations as it stares $100–a–barrel oil in the face.

Oil revenues
Despite the slump, UAE oil companies will still hit their target profits as they planned for double-digit oil prices.
On an average day in July the UAE earned roughly $390m from oil at $147 a barrel. If the same daily production levels were maintained in September – 2.66m barrels – oil income would have dropped to $266m per day.
That's a fall of $124m a day.
But Peter Barker–Homek, Chief Executive of the Abu Dhabi National Energy Company (Taqa), said a drop in income should not be confused with a cut in expected profits.
He said: "Interestingly a low price per barrel does not necessarily mean low profitability – though it does mean lower turnover. The reason profitability may not suffer particularly is that service costs tend to track the price per barrel. Taqa bought in at a much lower price deck than $90 so we expect to continue having solid results."
At the start of September the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) lowered its forecast for 2009 world oil demand. But according to the International Monetary Fund the UAE's budget break–even price is $23 a barrel.

Economic growth
The UAE's economy will continue to expand but it will simply cost more to achieve the rampant growth which was achieved on the back of rocketing crude prices.
Word from the government is that the economy will remain in "good shape" even if oil retreats to $60 a barrel.
Henry Azzam, Middle East and North Africa CEO at Deutsche Bank, said: "The 50 per cent drop since July will have an impact on the nominal GDP but will not affect real economic growth as this only considers production levels which were set by the government at $40-something a barrel."
Oil price drops might actually do the UAE a favour given that the economy actually "overheated" in the first half of 2008, according to Merrill Lynch.
Inflation has been the nasty byproduct of hyper–growth. But the bank said it expected the emirates to face "headwinds from the global slowdown" which will cool the economy in the second half of the year – and this could have knock–on effects for food and house prices.

Like all airlines, UAE carriers will breathe a sigh of relief at news of cheaper oil – and some have passed cost savings on to passengers through reduced fares.
When oil peaked this summer Emirates President Tim Clark said the airline was paying $30m (Dh110m) more for fuel per week than it budgeted for. Fuel represented 43 per cent of Emirates' total costs, he said. But this is expected to drop well below 40 per cent with oil at about $100.
Emirates spent just over $10.2 billion on fuel last year – almost a third of total outgoings. The Dubai carrier revised ticket prices in the Middle East this month to around 20 destinations in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
Abu Dhabi–based Etihad said its rising fuel bill now accounted for 40 per cent of total costs compared with 20 per cent in 2006.
"The price of aviation fuel may have receded from record highs earlier this year but it still remains a very significant cost for all airlines," a spokesman told Emirates Business.
Etihad launched an aggressive fuel hedging policy in 2007 to help protect itself from the menace of rising oil prices. The airline was 70 per cent hedged in 2007, is 82 cent hedged this year and 41 per cent hedged in 2009.
The spokesman added: "Like most airlines Etihad uses fuel surcharges. However even with these surcharges, Etihad is not able to recover fully the total increase in its fuel bill."

Builders were among the worst hit by the rising price of oil in the summer. The companies they bought materials from saw operational costs skyrocket.
Construction costs in the Gulf increased by 50 per cent in the first half of 2008 compared with a 30 per cent increase in 2007, according to Al Mazaya Holdings, a regional real estate developer.
Experts said the surge in oil prices, along with steep demand in the construction sector, had pushed costs higher."The main outcome of lower oil prices for the construction industry has been that transport costs have eased," said Shyam Bhatia, Chairman of Alam Steel.
He estimated that a typical UAE construction firm would have paid about Dh150,000 for fuel in July. But this would have dropped to roughly Dh110,000 in September, now that oil was around $100 a barrel.
UAE real estate developer Fakhruddin Properties said this week that cement prices have eased as oil demand dropped away in the last two months.
Research firm ProLeads says Gulf projects valued at $48.4bn are either on hold or have been cancelled. They include at least 88 projects in the UAE. "The majority of cancelled or on–hold projects in the region have been affected by material costs," said Sean Hearn, Sales and Marketing Manager at ProLeads.

The performance of UAE markets has loosely mimicked the decline in oil prices from the summer's high. Between July and September the Abu Dhabi and Dubai bourses have dropped by a fifth.
Over the last two months the Dubai Financial Market fell 26.4 per cent while the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange lost 22.6 per cent.
Deutsche Bank's Azzam said: "Investors, particularly in retail, look at oil as an indication of where things are heading. And a decline in oil prices has made them more bearish and makes them less enthusiastic about buying shares. The fall in oil price has had a negative impact on confidence levels in UAE markets."
Oil is one of a number of market triggers. The next big event is the company results season, which starts at the end of this month.

Petrol is subsidised in the UAE so motorists get a pretty good deal compared with other major oil–consuming countries, particularly in Europe and North America.
Petrol sells for Dh6.25 and Dh6.75 per gallon in Dubai depending on the grade. Prices have remained unchanged since September 1, 2005.
Enoc, Eppco and Emarat have cut the price of diesel six times since the beginning of August. Diesel currently sells at Dh16.25 per gallon at the pumps in Dubai. Petrol stations said they were forced to drastically increase diesel prices this summer as the price of oil closed in on $150 a barrel.
Adnoc, however, was able to keep prices frozen at Dh8.6 a gallon throughout the oil price spike because it produces diesel from its own crude at refineries in Abu Dhabi.
Petrol prices are fixed by the federal government, but as the cost of oil drops there will be pressure to reflect this at the pumps.