Monday, January 31, 2011

Post Egypt Uprising: Fox News on Islamageddon

Beck: Muslim coup in UK will follow revolution in Egypt

The Scrapbook team are at once amused and terrified by the increasingly fevered rants from Fox News firebrand Glenn Beck. In his latest prophecy, the reveals that if the Muslim Brotherhood seize power in Egypt, then a Muslim coup in the UK is inevitable.

While this turn of events would seem improbable to those with even a basic grasp of international politics, Beck is certain — once you get past his scattergun approach to grammar — that Islamageddon is nigh!

If the Muslim brotherhood takes Egypt, it destabilizes the entire Middle East. It sets the Middle East – if not immediately, within a reasonable period of time, sets the entire thing on fire …

As soon as anyone thinks that there is a shot, the Muslim radicals in Europe and in England rise up, once they [the Communists and the Muslims] start to work in concert, Europe is done.

His missive may be just the latest in a series of increasingly deranged right-wing pronouncements. Before you return the gas mask to the attic and take down the Anderson shelter, however, take a look at this historical LiveDesk map of the Middle East . It seems the Egyptians have, in Beck’s words, “set the entire thing on fire” and assumed control of Iraq!

Either that or the Fox News team have an embarrassingly poor grasp of foreign affairs.

We’ll let you decide which it is.

Role reversal - Israel a client to Turkey's army

Will Israel soon be a client of Turkey's army?

The Turkish army is not just an army. Via its pension fund, Oyak, it also controls civilian businesses worth billions of dollars. Now, the government is trying to curtail its economic might.

By Zvi Bar'el
Turkish army's Peacekeeping Force parade during the Victory Day celebrations in Ankara Pictures & Photos

With an annual budget of $12.2 billion, the Turkish army is one of the world's largest purchasers. One giant acquisition it is now about to make is for 109 helicopters worth some $4 billion, with an option for an additional 300 helicopters.

Two firms are competing for this juicy contract - the American aircraft corporation Sikorsky, which manufactures the Black Hawk helicopter, and the Italian firm Augusta Westland. Both are offering not only enticing prices but also other benefits.

Sikorsky, for example, is promising to give Turkey a contract to repair planes it has sold to Third World countries. It also agreed to buy 109 helicopters from Ankara that were manufactured in Turkey under license from Sikorsky; these will then be resold to other countries. Finally, it offered to build a regional support base for its Black Hawks in Turkey.

Will Israel, which in the past has repaired Turkish helicopters, become a client of Turkey if the Turks decide to buy the American helicopters? It would be an interesting role reversal. But Augusta Westland has also come up with a tempting proposal. It has promised to let Turkey participate in building its helicopters, so that it can become a helicopter manufacturer in its own right.

And while the Turkish army is busy mulling where to put its billions, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is busy clipping its wings. The defense budget is just one source of the army's income. It also has another important source: Oyak, the Armed Forces Pension Fund, which manages the military's pension funds and has become the largest commercial corporation in Turkey, with holdings of billions of dollars.

Best of both worlds

So far, Oyak has been able to enjoy the best of both worlds. As a corporation operating on the army's behalf, it enjoys special tax benefits and advantages in competing for government tenders. At the same time, it invests in civilian companies that provide goods and services completely unrelated to military or security equipment. Among others, it owns a cement company, iron manufactories and a plant that produces Renault vehicles.

The Renault Fluence cars that are sold in Israel are manufactured by Oyak Renault, so any vehicle of this kind bought in Israel puts money directly in the Turkish army's pockets. According to Turkish media reports, the company also plans to sell some 100,000 electric Fluences in Israel and Denmark over the next few years. Anyone wondering about the current state of relations between Israel and Turkey should note the volume of business that civilian companies owned by the Turkish army are doing with Israel.

Oyak owns some 60 companies of this kind, and until now, they have not been subject to oversight by the entity that supervises the activities of government offices and government companies. Thus on one hand, Oyak could say that since it runs civilian companies, it is not subject to government oversight. But on the other hand, it could demand the privileges offered to government companies.

The relationship between Turkey's army and the Turkish economy is structurally similar to that of the Revolutionary Guards in Iran: The latter also have an independent economic base comprised of manufacturing and service companies. In Turkey, this structure was established in 1961, after the military revolt.

The rationale was to supply retired soldiers and officers with a solid income in addition to their relatively small military pensions, and thus make it possible for them to enjoy a quality of life "appropriate to their social status." Career soldiers were required to contribute 10 percent of their salaries to the fund, and soldiers doing their compulsory service, who won't even receive a pension from it, had to contribute 5 percent.

But from a mere pension fund, it became an octopus with many tentacles. And now, the government has decided to rein it in.

Legislation adopted last week, which the army opposed, subjects Oyak to what is known as the oversight court. This institution is not a real court; rather, it resembles Israel's state comptroller. But its decisions cannot be appealed, and in that way, it resembles Israel's Supreme Court.

The oversight court reports to the Turkish parliament, where Erdogan's Justice and Development Party has a majority. Thus the party will now know what the pension fund is doing. In addition, all of Oyak's special privileges are being done away with, including the tax benefits and discounts on various government fees. The result is that Erdogan now has the army by its short hairs.

In effect, Erdogan adopted the conclusions of a study published by the Institute for Economic and Social Research in August 2010. The study recommended that the army be separated from its economic concerns for fear of conflicts of interests. But even more serious, according to the report's authors, is that the special benefits the fund offers its members, who are all military personnel, creates a privileged social status protected from the vicissitudes of the country's economy, and thus "constitutes an obstacle to democracy."

The report also warned that if Oyak continued to exist in its present format, it could harm Turkey's chances of joining the European Union, since it has a negative influence over the country's democratic processes. That is a good excuse for a government that in any case wants to reduce the army's influence on both society and the economy.

Despite the new law and the army's criticism of it, there is no need to feel sorry for the Turkish army's economic conglomerate. It will continue to produce cement and cars, market its products worldwide and enjoy huge profits. It will merely have slightly stiffer competition inside Turkey and be forced to pay somewhat higher corporate taxes.

And military personnel, upon retiring, will continue to benefit from a double pension - one from the government and one from Oyak, whose policy is to supply every career soldier "with an apartment and a car."

Israel now considering plan B on Egypt

Egypt riots are an intelligence chief's nightmare

Western intelligence in general and Israeli intelligence in particular did not foresee the scope of change in Egypt, which may require a reorganization of the IDF.

By Amos Harel

The events of the last few days in Egypt – apparently the most important regional development since the Islamic revolution in Iran and the Egyptian-Israeli peace deal of 1979 – are also an expression of the decision-makers' nightmare, the planners and intelligence agents in Israel.

While in other countries many are watching with satisfaction at what looks to be possibly the imminent toppling of a regime that denied its citizens their basic rights, the Israeli point of view is completely different.

egypt - Reuters - January 29 2011

The collapse of the old regime in Cairo, if it takes place, will have a massive effect, mainly negative, on Israel's position in the region. In the long run, it could put the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan in danger, the largest strategic assets after the support of the United States.

The changes could even lead to changes in the IDF and cast a dark cloud over the economy.

Western intelligence in general and Israeli intelligence in particular did not foresee the scope of change in Egypt (the eventual descriptor "revolution" will apparently have to wait a little longer). Likewise, almost all of the media analysis and academic experts got it wrong.

In the possible scenarios that Israeli intelligence envisioned, they admittedly posited 2011 as a year of possible regime change – with a lot question marks – in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but a popular uprising like this was completely unexpected.

More than this, in his first appearance at a meeting last Wednesday of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee the new head of military intelligence Major General Aviv Kochavi said to member of Knesset, "There are currently no doubts about the stability of the regime in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood is not organized enough to take over, they haven't managed to consolidate their efforts in a significant direction."

If the Mubarak regime is toppled, the quiet coordination of security between Israel and Egypt will quickly be negatively affected. It will affect relations between Cairo's relationship with the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, it will harm the international forces stationed in Sinai.

It will mean the refusal of Egypt to continue to allow the movement of Israeli ships carrying missiles through the Suez canal, which was permitted for the last two years, according to reports in the foreign press, in order to combat weapons smuggling from Sudan to Gaza. In the long run, Egypt's already-cold peace treaty with Israel will get even colder.

From the perspective of the IDF, the events are going to demand a complete reorganization. For the last 20 years, the IDF has not included a serious threat from Egypt in its operational plan.

In the last several decades, peace with Cairo has allowed the gradual thinning out of forces, the lowering of maximum age for reserve duty and the diversion of massive amounts of resources to social and economic projects.

The IDF military exercises focused on conflict with Hezbollah and Hamas, at most in collusion with Syria. No one prepared with any seriousness for a scenario in which an Egyptian division would enter Sinai, for example.

If the Egyptian regime falls in the end, a possibility that seemed unbelievable only two or three days ago, the riots could easily spill over to Jordan and threaten the Hashemite regime. On Israel's two long peaceful borders there will then prevail a completely different reality.

Sayyid Qutb and Milestones

In the wake of Egypt's new era and revival of hope, we re-look into the past and learn about history with open mind.

Sayyid Qutb
Sayyid Qutb

Qutb drew parallels between the Meccan pagan tribes who refused Muhammad's message and the modern dictators who lived luxuriously while the societies under them withered. To Qutb, a dictator like Nasser was a jahili tribal lord like those in Mecca. Where Muhammad had been persecuted and exiled by these tribes, Qutb experienced persecution at the hands of the Egyptian regime. As Muhammad had moved into a war of survival against the belligerent Meccan tribes, Qutb saw it fit to engage in war and revolution against the jahiliyyah of his own time:

Below article from Smithsonian magazine, February 2006.

A Lesson In Hate

How an Egyptian student came to study 1950s America and left determined to wage holy war

  • By David Von Drehle

Before Sayyid Qutb became a leading theorist of violent jihad, he was a little-known Egyptian writer sojourning in the United States, where he attended a small teachers college on the Great Plains. Greeley, Colorado, circa 1950 was the last place one might think to look for signs of American decadence. Its wide streets were dotted with churches, and there wasn’t a bar in the whole temperate town. But the courtly Qutb (COO-tub) saw things that others did not. He seethed at the brutishness of the people around him: the way they salted their watermelon and drank their tea unsweetened and watered their lawns. He found the muscular football players appalling and despaired of finding a barber who could give a proper haircut. As for the music: “The American’s enjoyment of jazz does not fully begin until he couples it with singing like crude screaming,” Qutb wrote when he returned to Egypt. “It is this music that the savage bushmen created to satisfy their primitive desires.”

Such grumbling by an unhappy crank would be almost comical but for one fact: a direct line of influence runs from Sayyid Qutb to Osama bin Laden, and to bin Laden’s Egyptian partner in terror, Ayman al-Zawahiri. From them, the line continues to another quietly seething Egyptian sojourning in the United States—the 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta. Qutb’s gripes about America require serious attention because they cast light on a question that has been nagging since the fall of the World Trade Center: Why do they hate us?

Born in 1906 in the northern Egyptian village of Musha and raised in a devout Muslim home, Qutb memorized the Koran as a boy. Later he moved to Cairo and found work as a teacher and writer. His novels made no great impression, but he earned a reputation as an astute literary critic. Qutb was among the first champions of Naguib Mahfouz, a young, modern novelist who, in 1988, would win the Nobel Prize in Literature. As Qutb matured, his mind took on a more political cast. Even by the standards of Egypt, those were chaotic, corrupt times: World War I had completed the destruction of the Ottoman Empire, and the Western powers were creating, with absolute colonial confidence, new maps and governments for the Middle East. For a proud man like Sayyid Qutb, the humiliation of his country at the hands of secular leaders and Western puppets was galling. His writing drew unfavorable attention from the Egyptian government, and by 1948, Mahfouz has said, Qutb’s friends in the Ministry of Education were sufficiently worried about his situation that they contrived to send him abroad to the safety of the United States.

Some biographical sketches suggest that Qutb arrived with a benign view of America, but if that’s true it didn’t last long. During a short stay in Washington, D.C., he witnessed the commotion surrounding an elevator accident and was stunned to hear other onlookers making a joke of the victim’s appearance. From this and a few offhand remarks in other settings, Qutb concluded that Americans suffered from “a drought of sentimental sympathy” and that “Americans intentionally deride what people in the Old World hold sacred.”

This became the lens through which Qutb read nearly every American encounter—a clash of New World versus Old. Qutb easily satisfied the requirements at the graduate school of the Colorado State College of Education (now known as the University of Northern Colorado) and devoted the rest of his time to his true interest—the American soul, if such a thing existed. “This great America: What is its worth in the scale of human values?” Qutb wondered. “And what does it add to the moral account of humanity?” His answer: nothing.

Still, Qutb’s contempt for America was not as simple as some people might now imagine. He did not recoil from political freedom and democracy, as, say, President Bush might expect from a jihadi theorist, nor did he complain about shades of imperial ambition in American foreign policy, as writers on the left might suppose. Regarding the excesses of American culture—vulgarity, materialism and promiscuity—Qutb expressed shock, but it rang a bit hollow. “The American girl is well acquainted with her body’s seductive capacity,” he wrote. “She knows seductiveness lies in the round breasts, the full buttocks, and in the shapely thighs, sleek legs and she shows all this and does not hide it.” These curvy jezebels pursued boys with “wide, strapping chest[s]” and “ox muscles,” Qutb added with disgust. Yet no matter how lascivious his adjectives, the fastidious, unmarried Egyptian could not convincingly portray the church dances and Look magazines he encountered in sleepy Greeley as constituting a genuine sexual “jungle.”

The core problem with the United States, for Qutb, was not something Americans did, but simply what America was—“the New spellbinding.” It was more than a land of pleasures without limit. In America, unlike in Egypt, dreams could come true. Qutb understood the danger this posed: America’s dazzle had the power to blind people to the real zenith of civilization, which for Qutb began with Muhammad in the seventh century and reached its apex in the Middle Ages, carried triumphantly by Muslim armies.

Qutb rejected the idea that “new” was also “improved.” The Enlightenment, the Industrial Age—modernity itself—were not progress. “The true value of every civilization...lies not in the tools man has invented or in how much power he wields,” Qutb wrote. “The value of civilizations lay in what universal truths and worldviews they have attained.” The modern obsession with science and invention was a moral regression to the primitive condition of the first toolmakers. Qutb’s America was bursting with raw energy and appetite, but utterly without higher virtues. In his eyes, its “interminable, incalculable expanses of virgin land” were settled by “groups of adventurers and groups of criminals” who lacked the time and reflection required for a civilized life. Qutb’s Americans “faced the uncharted forests, the tortuous mountain mazes, the fields of ice, the thundering hurricanes, and the beasts, serpents and vermin of the forest” in a struggle that left them numb to “faith in religion, faith in art and faith in spiritual values altogether.”

This portrait likely would have surprised the people of mid-century Greeley, had they somehow become aware of the unspoken opinions of their somewhat frosty neighbor. Theirs was a friendly town best known for the unpretentious college and for the cattle feedlots sprawling pungently on its outskirts. The founding of Greeley in the 1870s involved no ice fields, hurricanes or serpents. Instead, it began with a simple newspaper column written by Nathan Meeker, agricultural editor of the New York Tribune. On December 14, 1869, Meeker appealed to literate readers of high moral character to join him in building a utopian community by the South Platte River near the foot of the Rocky Mountains. More than 3,000 readers applied; from this list Meeker selected the 700 best qualified to realize his vision of a sober, godly, cooperative community. The town was dubbed Greeley in honor of Meeker’s boss at the Tribune, the quixotic publisher Horace Greeley, who died within weeks of his failed run for president in 1872, just as the project was gathering steam.

Poet and journalist Sara Lippincott was an early visitor to the frontier outpost, and later wrote about it under her pen name, Grace Greenwood. “You’ll die of dullness in less than five hours,” another traveler had warned her about Greeley. “There is nothing there but irrigation. Your host will invite you out to see him irrigate his potato-patch...there is not a billiard-saloon in the whole camp, nor a drink of whiskey to be had for love or money.” None of that made any difference to Qutb, who saw only what he already believed, and wrote not facts, but his own truth, in his 1951 essay, “The America I Have Seen.”

Sayyid Qutb cut short his stay in America and returned to Egypt in 1951 after the assassination of Hassan al-Banna, founder of the nationalist, religious and militant movement known as the Muslim Brotherhood. Over the next decade and a half, often writing from prison, Qutb refined a violent political theology from the raw anti-modernism of his American interlude. Virtually the entire modern world, Qutb theorized, is jahiliyya, that barbarous state that existed before Muhammad. Only the strict, unchanging law of the prophet can redeem this uncivilized condition. Nearly a millennium of history became, to the radicalized Qutb, an offense wrought by the violence of jahili “Crusaders” and the supposed perfidy of the Jews. And Muslim leaders allied with the West were no better than the Crusaders themselves. Therefore, Qutb called all true Muslims to jihad, or Holy War, against jahiliyya—which is to say, against modernity, which America so powerfully represents.

This philosophy led to Qutb’s execution in 1966. Proud to the end, he refused to accept the secular Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser’s offer of mercy in exchange for Qutb’s repudiation of his jihad. Nasser may have silenced a critic, but the martyrdom of Sayyid Qutb accelerated his movement. The same year the philosopher was hanged, according to journalist Lawrence Wright, the teenage al-Zawahiri formed his first violent cell, dedicated to the overthrow of the Egyptian government and the creation of an Islamist state. Meanwhile, Qutb’s brother Muhammad went into exile in Saudi Arabia, where he taught at King Abdul Aziz University. One of his students, an heir to the country’s largest construction fortune, was Osama bin Laden.

Others have taken Qutb’s ideas in less apocalyptic directions, so that M.A. Muqtedar Khan of the Brookings Institution can rank him alongside the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran as “one of the major architects and ‘strategists’ of contemporary Islamic revival.” But the last paragraphs of Qutb’s American memoir suggest just how far outside normal discourse his mind was wont to stray. After noting the stupidity of his Greeley neighbors, who failed to understand his dry and cutting jokes, Qutb writes: “In summary, anything that requires a touch of elegance is not for the American, even haircuts! For there was not one instance in which I had a haircut there when I did not return home to even with my own hands what the barber had wrought.” This culminating example of inescapable barbarism led directly to his conclusion. “Humanity makes the gravest of errors and risks losing its account of morals, if it makes America its example.”

Turning a haircut into a matter of grave moral significance is the work of a fanatic. That’s the light ultimately cast by Qutb’s American experience on the question of why his disciples might hate us. Hating America for its haircuts cannot be distinguished from hating for no sane reason at all.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Egypt Map on Fox TV!

A lot of Americans can't even find their own country on a map. So I'm not surprised Fox News has no idea about Egypt!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Middle East's Most Powerful Spooks

22/ 07/ 2009

In a region known for cutthroat espionage, these five intelligence chiefs have leveraged their skills and connections to gain influence far above their pay grades.


Position: Director of Egypt's General Intelligence Service

Career: The archetypical Arab intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman has risen from anonymous government apparatchik to serious candidate for the Egyptian presidency in less than a decade. Dubbed "one of the world's most powerful spy chiefs" by London's Daily Telegraph, Suleiman was born in 1935 in a poverty-stricken fundamentalist stronghold in southern Egypt. Choosing the military as his profession, he excelled academically, collecting degrees in Egypt and abroad and earning a transfer to military intelligence. His selection as director of Egypt's intelligence service in 1993 came just as the regime was reeling from extremist attacks against tourist sites and other critical infrastructure.

In 1995, he famously insisted that President Hosni Mubarak's armored Mercedes be flown to Ethiopia for a state visit; The car saved the Egyptian leader's life during an assassination attempt the next day. In response to the attack, Suleiman helped dismantle Mubarak's Islamist opponents, a campaign that earned him a reputation for ruthlessness. Following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Suleiman's experience with combating Islamist terrorists has made him a favorite of Western intelligence services hungry for insights into al Qaeda and affiliated organizations.

Influence: More than from any other single factor, Suleiman's influence stems from his unswerving loyalty to Mubarak. Of Suleiman's allegiance, a former senior Israeli intelligence officer told Haaretz, "His primary task, perhaps his only one, is to defend the regime and protect the life of the president." In a sign of presidential gratitude, Egypt's secret warrior has also recently served as its diplomatic face, traveling throughout the region as Mubarak's personal emissary. This charge includes working as a mediator during ongoing Israeli and Palestinian negotiations and as Cairo's interlocutor to dozens of Palestinian groups, including Hamas. Whether this unofficial promotion is a trial run for a Suleiman presidency remains to be seen.


Position: Director of Israel's Mossad

Career: Meir Dagan's path to the leadership of Mossad was not a traditional one for an espionage chief who had spent most of his career in military operations, not intelligence. Born in the Soviet Union in 1945, Dagan served as a paratroop commander in the Six Day War, worked in special undercover units in the 1970s, and commanded an armored brigade in the 1982 Lebanon war. Highly decorated and wounded twice, Dagan benefited from his relationship with future Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. During Sharon's term in office, Dagan was steadily promoted through the national security ranks leading to his appointment as Mossad chief in 2002. Sharon reportedly informed his old friend that Israel required a spy service "with a knife between its teeth." Dagan, the veteran operator, seems to have obliged.

Influence: Dagan's sway was on full display in June when the Israeli cabinet met to consider extending his term to a near-record eight years. No vote was required as senior politicians including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raced to praise Dagan as "an excellent Mossad chief" who had done much to reform the service following a period of decay. Such unanimous acclaim is especially impressive at a time when Israel is relying heavily on its vaunted intelligence service to counter several threats, including that "existential" one from Iran. Dagan has clearly sought to bolster Mossad operations against Tehran with some apparent success; a parade of Israeli journalists has recently hinted at Mossad's clandestine campaign against the Iranian nuclear program.

Additionally, the assassination of Hezbollah security chief Imad Mugniyah -- widely credited to Mossad -- has only strengthened Dagan's hand. It was reportedly Dagan's intelligence and advice that coaxed Israeli political leaders to approve airstrikes against a possible Syrian nuclear facility in September 2007. Finally, Tel Aviv's reliance on Mossad-derived intelligence to guide its greater Iranian policy grants Dagan considerable influence over his country's foreign policy.


Position: Commander of the Quds Force, the external wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps

Career: Referred to as "the tip of Iran's spear" by American journalist David Ignatius, Brig. Gen. Qassem Suleimani was an unknown until he assumed command of the Quds Force, the unit responsible for supporting Iran's regional allies and proxies. A decorated veteran of the Iran-Iraq War, Suleimani attracted the attention of President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who appointed the young war hero to a command position within the Revolutionary Guard following the war. Since his promotion to Quds Force chief in 2000, Suleimani has been omnipresent, representing the interests of the Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Central Asia.

U.S. commanders in Iraq have charged the Quds Force with passing an array of sophisticated weapons to Iraqi militia groups, leading to Suleimani's designation as a terrorist supporter by the U.S. State Department in 2007. In early 2008, he reportedly traveled to Basra, where he negotiated a cease-fire between militias and government forces, a testament to his influence within Iraq's Shiite power circles.

Influence: Suleimani's key role in overseeing Tehran's regional strategy and his relationship to the senior leadership make him a major player in shaping Iranian foreign policy. Former Western intelligence officials have suggested that Suleimani maintains a close connection to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, with former U.S. counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke stating that the Quds Force "reports directly to the Supreme Ayatollah." Former CIA official Robert Grenier has echoed that sentiment, referring to Suleimani as "an extremely important and influential guy."

Although little is known about his political views, Suleimani's exploits indicate he is aligned with Iranian leaders who seek to aggressively counter any U.S. presence in the region. With Khamenei relying heavily on the Islamic Republic's security organs during the current political crisis, the fortunes of well-connected and capable regime stalwarts such as Suleimani can be expected to rise.


Position: Former commander of Syria's military intelligence agency, current deputy chief of staff of the Syrian military

Career: Few paths to power have been as unlikely -- or as oddly romantic -- as Assef Shawkat's. Born in the coastal town of Tartus, Shawkat served in the Syrian military while pursuing a graduate degree in history, a subject for which he has a deep affinity. Shawkat moved easily within elite circles, socializing that paid off spectacularly when he captured the heart of Syrian President Hafez al-Assad's daughter, Bushra. His dogged pursuit of Bushra -- her father initially opposed the relationship -- earned him some measure of respect: "Anyone who could go into the home of Hafez Assad and take his daughter away without his permission has the power to do anything,'' a Syrian newscaster who had met Shawkat many times told the New York Times in 2005.

By the late 1990s, Shawkat had joined the inner sanctum, assuming command of military intelligence in February 2005 -- the same month former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri was assassinated. The initial findings of a U.N. commission cast suspicion on Shawkat, leading many observers to suggest that President Bashar al-Assad would hand his brother-in-law over for questioning or possible trial. In January 2006, the U.S. Treasury Department added to the avalanche of condemnation by freezing Shawkat's assets and dubbing him "a key architect of Syria's domination of Lebanon.

Influence: By 2008, having successfully avoided the calls for his extradition, Shawkat appeared poised to continue the consolidation of his power base. However, his ascension may have been stalled by the death of Hezbollah security chief Imad Mugniyah in February 2008. Killed in the heart of Damascus, Mugniyah's death was viewed as an embarrassing breach of security or even an indication of Syrian involvement. Tellingly, Shawkat was barred from participating in the joint Hezbollah-Syrian-Iranian investigation into Mugniyah's death. Additionally, just this month, Shawkat was "promoted" to deputy chief of staff of the Syrian military, a transfer that may signal a deterioration of the Assad-Shawkat relationship. However, given Shawkat's marriage to Bushra and his long-standing ties to senior members of the security apparatus, it is way too early to count him out of the Syrian power game.


Position: Director general of Saudi Arabia's General Intelligence Presidency (GIP)

Career: The youngest son of the Saudi kingdom's founder, Prince Muqrin bin Abdul-Aziz lived in relative anonymity for the first 60 years of his life. Born in 1945 and educated in the West, Prince Muqrin served in the Royal Saudi Air Force and as governor of several Saudi provinces, including al-Madinah, whose capital is the holy city of Medina. In 2005, he was tapped by his half brother King Abdullah to head the GIP, a daunting task given his lack of intelligence experience and the long shadow of his predecessors, among them legendary chief Prince Turki bin Faisal.

Influence: Despite his inexperience, Muqrin's star has risen quickly in the past three years as he has become a versatile point man for King Abdullah. Muqrin's responsibilities include managing Riyadh's critical Pakistan and Afghanistan portfolio. He has been a regular visitor to Islamabad, maintaining the kingdom's relationships with a wide array of Pakistani political leaders. As for Afghanistan, Muqrin was dispatched to Kabul in January to meet leading officials, including President Hamid Karzai.

The prince might have had an ulterior motive: News reports suggest that the trip was part of Muqrin's overall campaign to bring Taliban leaders into talks with Kabul, suggesting that Muqrin is continuing his predecessor's policy of maintaining contact with Taliban leaders. A month later, Muqrin was sent to Damascus to personally deliver overtures to the Assad regime as part of the larger Arab campaign to reengage Syria. Involvement in critical Saudi foreign-policy efforts and his relative youth have positioned Muqrin well for greater responsibilities in the near future.

The road to Jerusalem runs through Tunis and Cairo

America didn't see democracy coming to the Arab world because it didn't want to see it

The road to Jerusalem runs through Tunis and Cairo
Reuters/Mohammed Salem
Hamas supporters attend a protest in Jabalya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip on Friday.

This originally appeared at Mondoweiss

The neoconservatives told us that the road to Jerusalem lay through Baghdad. They meant that invading Iraq and installing a democracy there would lead to peace in Israel and Palestine. The way they imagined that peace was a neocolonial landgrab: a greater Israel with portions of the West Bank amalgamated by Jordan. Still, that is what they believed-- that creating democracy in Iraq would lead to a peace in Palestine.

These ideas are in smithereens today. The Palestine Papers have revealed that the peace process was a Trojan horse for Israeli expansionism and that even the American client in the West Bank could not accept a future state without Ariel and Ma'ale Adunim, the long fingers of Jewish territory.

And the lessons of Iraq and Tunisia and Egypt are that you don't install democracy anywhere; no, democracy must arise from the people themselves, you damage the processes of establishing popular will by seeking to impose such a system. The western democratic revolutions also arose from within.

The lesson of Tunisia and Egypt for American foreign policy is that the United States is the most conservative force in the world, in this region. It didn't see democracy coming because it didn't want to see it coming to the Arab world and to the palaces we supported. And when democracy did come, the U.S. creditably reversed field in Tunisia, but has stuck by its dictator in Egypt.

Barack Obama's failure to honor the Egyptian protesters in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, and Joe Biden's cold negativity toward them last night (they're not up against a dictator, we can't encourage them, this is not the awakening of eastern Europe) reveal the unwavering influence of the Israel lobby in our public life, and how conservative that influence is. The administration's statements reveal that it prefers stability in Egypt, no matter the cost to civil rights and human rights there, to freedom for Arab people. And why? Because Egyptian stability preserves the Israeli status quo, in which Israel gets to imprison West Bank protesters without a peep from the U.S. government and gets to destroy civilians in Gaza again without a peep from the alleged change-agent in the White House.

Thankfully, P.J. Crowley was forced to reveal the policy yesterday by Shihab Rattansi of Al Jazeera, when he admitted that the difference between the administration's response to Tunisia and Egypt stems from the fact that Egypt has a peace deal with Israel and has come to terms with Israel's existence, a model to the region. And this line is echoed all over the American news, when they say that Egypt is helping the "peace process," a process that has produced only suffering and dispossession for Palestinians.

The hole in the bottom of the world here is the fear that Arabs have not accepted Israel's existence. They didn't accept it in 1947 in New York, and they didn't accept it in 1967 in Khartoum. They always warned that its presence would create instability in the region, and the State Department said it would radicalize Israel's neighbors, and 60 years on this is more true than ever. The Arab Peace initiative of 2002 was a great gesture of realism: the Arab states did accept Israel's existence, on the '67 lines. But nothing has come of this incredible shift, and Brian Baird tells us that leading American congressmen, tucked in at night by the Israel lobby, didn't even know about the Arab Peace Initiative, and Israel scoffed at the offer because it had American power behind it.

Now in Tunisia and Egypt, the Arab street has taken the neocons at their word and said, Yes we want democracy, and we will get it. And Arab youth has taken facebook and twitter and done more with these tools than Americans have done, and said we want free speech and social freedom.

And when they get it-- if not this year then within ten years, the internet is too dynamic a force, along with Assange and Al Jazeera-- when they get it, they will expose the power of the Israel lobby so that even Chris Matthews will have to address the contradictions. For we will be seen to have only one policy, the preservation of a Jewish state, even if that means Jim Crow and apartheid and stamping out democratic movements everywhere and tolerating a prison for 1.5 million innocent people in Gaza. I waffle about the two state-solution more than anyone, I actually imagined that partition might preserve tranquility, but when democracy comes to Cairo the pressure on Jerusalem to allow equal rights for all citizens will be massive. And the claim that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East will have completely dissolved.

You see the pressure on Jerusalem beginning in earnest now, from new quarters. You see it in Admiral Mullen's awareness that Americans will come home in wheelchairs until Palestinians have freedom, in Senator Rand Paul's call for cuts in military aid to Israel.

That pressure must come to bear soon on the Democratic Party. It is the natural home for the recognition of minority rights and the self-determination of formerly-oppressed people. How sad that even Russ Feingold can scarcely talk about Obama's war when he speaks out to a progressive audience, and can't even talk about Palestine. Pathetic.

What we see in Cairo is the destruction of American racist attitudes. A year or so back a Jewish friend said to me that if Jews could take on the Israel lobby and reform American foreign policy, it would be a model for human rights leadership across the world. And I agreed; and we are working at it.

But that was an elitist conceit. The moral leadership in the region is coming not from any American movement in our imperfect democracy, no, we are the most conservative country in the world right now; it is coming from the streets in Tunisia and Egypt.

Philip Weiss is the co-editor of " The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation of the Gaza Conflict ."

Friday, January 28, 2011

How important Egypt is to US

US foreign aid to Egypt

This might be of use: a bit of statistical context that suggests just how important Egypt is to US foreign policy.

Since the Israel-Egypt peace accord in 1979, these two countries have been the number one and two recipients of US foreign aid. (Excluding money spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.) This amounts to around one-third of total US foreign aid.

The homemade charts below use data from the US State department and the Federation of American Scientists, via this site. A look at the background budget documents confirms the figures for the last three years, give or take some rounding. But please take these as indicative rather than definitive. The 2011 numbers are requested figures — not actual sums.

Note that the x-axis runs stats with 2011 on the left-hand side, and that the scales are different. Figures are in millions of dollars (nominal).

1. Israel

2. Egypt

This military-economic imbalance partly explains the attitudes towards the US that eye-witnesses are picking up on the streets of Cairo. A few dollars of aid per person has barely registered, according to the Carnegie Endowment, whereas knowledge of military support is of course ubiquitous.

“I didn’t come to Israel, I came to Palestine.”

A Turkish anti-Israeli film titled Valley of the Wolves: Palestine (to be released on January 28) portrays the Mavi Marmara incident as a premeditated attack by the IDF on innocent people. Germany protested the screening of the film in its territory and the timing chosen for its premiere (Holocaust Remembrance Day)

One of the promotional posters for Valley of the Wolves: Palestine
One of the promotional posters for Valley of the Wolves: Palestine


1. Valley of the Wolves: Palestine, a feature film based on the Mavi Marmara incident, will be released in cinemas across Turkey on January 28, 2011. It will also be released in other countries (at least in Germany). The movie is a sequel to a popular TV series that ran for several seasons and a previous film, both titled Valley of the Wolves.

2. Some 400 actors and crew members took part in the production of the film, which was shot in southern Turkey. The plot follows a bold Turkish agent on a quest for revenge against the cruel Israeli general Moshe Ben Eliezer who planned and carried out the Mavi Marmara raid (the character is played by a Turkish actor wearing an eye patch, reminiscent of Moshe Dayan). The Valley of the Wolves: Palestine trailer begins with an Israeli commander ordering the Mavi Marmara to stop. When it refuses to do so, IDF soldiers board the ship and attack the passengers who attempt to defend themselves. Later, the Turkish agent and his team are sent to Palestine to pursue revenge against the Israeli commander. The film depicts characters playing IDF soldiers shooting handcuffed Palestinian prisoners. In the final scene, not even the Israeli general’s cruelty and the advanced technological means he has at his disposal can save him from the avenging Turks.

3. The film creators say its aim is to expose the “human drama” of Palestine to the Turkish audience. In reality, a narrative of Israeli soldiers deliberately killing innocent sea-faring passengers and representing the Turks as coming to Palestinians’ aid in the struggle against Israel. It integrates authentic clips from the IDF takeover of the ship in which the passengers are seen sitting in the main lounge, among them sheikh Ra’ed Salah, head of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel.

Promoting the film

4. Prior to the release of Valley of the Wolves: Palestine in January 2011, an intensive marketing campaign was launched in Turkey to advertise the film. The campaign included:

a. A series of promotional film posters. The posters showed hands holding stones, people holding guns, or the lead actor who plays the Turkish agent aiming his weapon.

One of the promotional posters featuring the lead
One of the promotional posters featuring the lead
actor’s character aiming a rifle (top left)

b. Several trailers with anti-Israeli messages were screened and, according to Turkish media, millions of people watched them. The trailers show, among other things, a battle aboard a ship (i.e., the Mavi Marmara), Israeli tanks (possibly on the streets of Gaza) confronting stone-throwing Palestinians, and Israeli soldiers being killed by the Turkish agent and his team. In one of the trailers, an Israeli (probably a senior official) is heard saying that the Arab population will grow faster than the Jewish population, and that it cannot be allowed to happen (Akşam, January 10, 2011).

Scenes from the trailers
Scenes from the trailers: an Israeli tank (possibly in Gaza) (left);
Israeli commandos preparing to board the Mavi Marmara (right)

c. In an interview with lead actor Necati Şaşmaz, who plays the agent, the actor said that the idea to produce a film set in Palestine had come up during the filming of the film about Iraq.1 The existing script was rewritten following the Mavi Marmara incident (Sabah, January 16, 2011).

Lead actor Necati Şaşmaz shaking the hand of Turkey’s PM Erdogan
Lead actor Necati Şaşmaz shaking the hand of Turkey’s PM Erdogan
(Sabah, January 16, 2011)

Reactions in Germany

5. In Germany, a country with a large potential Turkish audience for the film, it is expected to be shown in about 100 movie theaters and will likely attract a large number of moviegoers, particularly among the Turkish emigrants residing there. The film will premiere on January 27, the same day as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day.2 The film’s distributor company claims it was not aware of the significance of the timing chosen for the premiere (Eldad Beck, Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, January 23, 2010).

6. The release of the film, and particularly the timing chosen for the premiere, were strongly criticized by many in Germany. For example, Christian Democratic Union spokesman Philipp Mißfelder said that the timing of the film’s release showed disrespect and disregard for the feelings of Holocaust victims. Kerstin Griese, a parliament member for the Social Democratic Party of Germany, said that the movie was problematic because it's anti-Israeli and “incites anti-Semitic sentiments”. Green Party representative Jerzy Montag claimed that the decision to release the film on January 27 was irresponsible and took it out of its historic context. In response, a spokesman for Pana Film, which produced Valley of the Wolves: Palestine, said that the company was unaware of the sensitivity of the release date.

7. The German newspaper Die Welt said that the notion of vengeance for the Mavi Marmara incident resulted in the portrayal of Israel as the enemy. According to the newspaper, the James Bond-like hero of the movie exacts vengeance from Israeli leaders. The movie, Die Welt says, shows an Israeli senior officer indiscriminately killing Palestinian children.

8. Valley of the Wolves: Iraq, a previous movie in the series, which criticizes the U.S. operations in Iraq and contains anti-Semitic themes, was a success with the Turkish community in Germany. It was pulled from cinemas in the U.S. for incitement and was strongly criticized in Germany (although it was not banned there).3

In Dubai, some residents are celebrities just because of their address

Dubai's Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, officially opened in January. For building residents, the rent also buys a bit of fame.

By Ruth Sherlock

Burj Khalifa reaches 2,716 feet.


The Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, stands beside the world’s largest fountain, and above the world’s largest mall. The glimmering glass-clad tower thins to a shining needlepoint at 828 meters (2,716 feet), effortlessly surpassing the jungle of Dubai’s skyscrapers.

The building, which officially opened in January, is already a world icon. Residency in one of the tower’s 900 apartments centers on extravagant excess. Fast-flashing lights in the trees outside give paparazzi glamour. The lobby includes a marble table, rumored to cost $2 million. Armani’s six-star hotel is also here.

Hundreds of paying day-trippers stare as residents – a constant source of intrigue – walk to the private lift, a concierge carrying their purchases in tow.

“You are buying a feeling of exclusivity and status at the Burj – walking past the line at the mall with your pass,” says one resident. “It is shallow, really, but I like it.”

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Why Egypt May Be Different Than Tunisia

Jeffrey Goldberg :

In Egypt, teacher salaries are so low that it's common for students to pay for private tutorials (often from the same teachers), and social critics have lamented that poor education has deprived generations of the skills needed to think critically - and to dissent. "The 80 million people have no power, no knowledge, and they are not organized," one of Egypt's most outspoken social critics, feminist writer Nawal el-Saadawi, remarked last year. "Change the education. Work on the mind of the people. There is no mind here."

The other factor is the Army. In Tunisia, at a critical turning point, the Army took the side of the protesters in the street: it refused to fire on demonstrators. In Egypt, however, the military stands with Mubarak. The Interior Ministry, which runs the police, stands with Mubarak. Mubarak knows better than to falter on security, Egyptians say. "The government here is stronger than it was in Tunisia - that's why people are scared," says one Cairene citizen. "The jails are for people who protest these days. No one demands their rights anymore."

Mubarak's notorious police stood down, but only for a few hours


CAIRO, Egypt -- It is too soon to know whether the stunning demonstrations that have rocked Egypt today, with tens of thousands of protesters descending on cities throughout the country and overtaking Cairo's central square in an effort to reproduce Tunisia's recent uprising, will succeed in forcing change. But a telling comment came just after cannons, shooting gas-infused water, dispersed crowds along one major Cairo thoroughfare, when a man turned to me and said, "We want a revolution. We don't want Hosni Mubarak."

That man was a police captain.

To be sure, today's protests have been marked with instances of shocking, even if sadly predictable, regime violence. Riot police fired tear gas and rubber bullets; government-hired thugs beat protesters in the streets; and many - including my own roommate - were arrested. But perhaps the most surprising aspect of today's "day of rage" was that, for the first few hours, Egypt's notorious security forces stood down.

The day began with uncertainty. Although many Egyptians had been inundated with text messages and Facebook alerts informing them of today's protests, most seemed determined to stay on the sidelines. Some said they preferred the security of a police state to the chaos of political change and, in any event, they had to go to work. Meanwhile, Egypt's many opposition groups divided over where to hold the protests and at what time. By noon, one opposition group leader said his group was considering scrapping all of the proposed venues because of the heavy security presences. The center of downtown Cairo, Tahrir Square, had been totally shut down by hundreds of riot police and the much-hyped January 25th protests seemed to be just another anti-totalitarian tease.

Around 1:30, a protest erupted suddenly at the Lawyers Syndicate, a hotbed of opposition political activists one mile north of Tahrir Square, where about 200 activists began pushing onto the streets. Rows of riot police quickly pushed back, hoping to contain them within the syndicate's gates. Soon after, a second crowd gathered across the street. As riot police scrambled, protest leaders began appealing to nearby pedestrians to join in, and some did, boxing in the police. Meanwhile, a group of former opposition parliamentarians held a third protest on the steps of the nearby high court, shouting demands for the end of Mubarak's reign. This group quickly gained strength and converged with the second crowd, overwhelming the riot police. The three demonstrations became one and began their push towards Tahrir Square.

Initially, riot police formed rows of human chains blocking off the square. But when the marching protesters met the ranks of police, a strange thing happened. The chains broke at every point, allowing the demonstrators to pass through. The police, it seemed, were simply unwilling to hold. At these edges of the square, and in the square itself, confrontations between protesters and security officials were few and far between. Jubilation was in the air as the ever-growing crowd passed the Egyptian Museum and took Tahrir Square with the astounding acquiescence of the police.

"I think the police are helping us," said Ghad party youth leader Moshira Ahmed Mohasseb, who led chants on the march toward Tahrir. "They're tired. Everyday they're fighting another strike in another place, and I think they're starting to think again."

As the crowd grew, a police officer, who might in the past have responded with his baton, instead took out a camera and snapped a photo. Whatever was happening, he wanted to record it rather than to stop it."

Things went on this way, with the crowd rapidly growing as the news spread, until it pushed beyond Tahrir Square, up Kasr el-Eini Street towards the Ministers Assembly, where protesters tried to break through the gates. Finally, riot police raised their batons. An armored vehicle, which had previously sat still, let out a burst of gas-infused water near the crowd in an apparent threat. The protesters paused. A pocket of them formed in lines for afternoon Asr prayers. When they were finished, they rose, screamed, "Allahu akbar" and charged en masse towards the riot police.

That was the moment any relative peace ended. Protesters threw shoes and rocks; government-hired, plain-clothes thugs beat protesters; police fired tear gas and shot water cannons. People ran wildly along Kasr el-Eini Street, taking refuge in side-streets as the police cordoned off the area in front of the Ministers Assembly and Parliament. Meanwhile, Mobinil cell phone service was terminated, and Twitter was blocked.

But the crackdown may have come too late. By 5 p.m., tens of thousands of Egyptians - some in Cairo estimated hundreds of thousands - had gathered in Tahrir Square, with additional protests in neighborhoods all over the city, and in cities all over the country. The presence of armored police-transport trucks along nearly every major Cairo avenue merely confirmed to most people that something big - something unprecedented - had just taken place.

The implications of these protests are impossible to predict. Officially, opposition leaders have three demands: the resignation of Interior Minister Habib al-Adly, new elections, and raising the minimum wage. Yet these longtime activists represent only a minority of the protesters that came out today. Beyond demanding "change, justice, and social equality," as many shouted today, their desires are somewhat nebulous.

So Egypt's future will be determined on some other day. But, in a way they have not done in decades, ordinary Egyptians are demanding a stake in it.

Photo by Mohammed Abed/Getty Images

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

How to proceed in creating successful JVs in Saudi Arabia

ARE you considering setting up a joint venture (JV) in Saudi Arabia? You’re not alone. The accession of the Kingdom to the World Trade Organization and the establishment of a clear investment framework have led numerous companies to consider gaining a foothold in this, the largest, yet still developing, economy in the Arabian Gulf region.

ROTR- The Center of a Sharia State

The young, well educated Saudi population, a national budget focused on growth and a recession-proof GDP (gross domestic product) are very attractive to those firms searching for profitable markets where they can capitalize on their investments in R&D.

Abdullah Al-Rushaid, chairman and CEO, Al-Rushaid Group of Companies told Arab News how companies should proceed in creating successful JVs in the Kingdom.

Founded in 1978, Al-Rushaid Group has been a partner in 52 JVs, mostly with US co

mpanies. The group offers a diverse range of manufacturing and service related operations to facilitate the demands of the continuously expanding Saudi economy.

As someone who has never had a failed JV, Al-Rushaid believes that every successful

agreement begins with the partners knowing each other enough to understand the strengths and weaknesses that their respective companies will bring to the relationship.

“Before you go into a joint venture or partnership, start with an agency,” he advised. “Get the products or services known to the market. Then you can convert this relationship into a joint venture. Starting with a joint venture from day one isn’t very healthy. There is nothing worse than for a foreign company to enter into partnership with someone who doesn’t understand that company’s business.”

He added that the likelihood of disagreements is high when the partner doesn’t understand the business or the business model.

“In a joint venture, from the start the Saudi partner must contribute - whether by being on the board and helping develop the business direction or by using his local assets to gain market share.”

In most Saudi JVs the foreign partner is what Al-Rushaid calls “the technical partner” and the Saudi partner is the one with the local knowledge to make the venture a success. He discourages wealthy Saudi individuals from attempting to set up holding companies in which they are passive investors, as he believes such arrangements are rarely successful.

“A shareholder has to look after his interests. Technical partners are looking for an active partner not a passive investor,” he explained. “If I were someone who was an elderly man or someone who doesn’t want to bother with being involved with business every day, then I would put my money into the stock market.”

Al-Rushaid has always represented those firms that have products or services that from the start of the JV are right for businesses and industries in the Kingdom’s Eastern Province. He has found that market research is essential.

Just because a brand sells well in Dubai, it doesn’t mean it will be a success in Saudi Arabia, he said. He added that this is particularly important with specialized technologies, where the needs of companies vary based on their working conditions. As an example, he pointed out that each oil field is different and a pump or drill bit that’s ideal for one field won’t be acceptable in another.

“The oil, gas and petrochemical industries require the continuous upgrading of technology, new equipment and enhanced design. If there is a project to build an ethylene plant in Jubail today, the demand will be to build the plant with new technology — not what was used even a few years ago,” said Al-Rushaid. “You have to make sure that whichever company you are going into a joint venture with, that they are constantly upgrading their equipment and doing research so that theirs is the latest technology in the market. Once you represent the right company with the right product, you can sell it easily. If you represent the wrong company with the wrong product, definitely there’s no market for you.”

Once the decision to move forward with the JV is made, Al-Rushaid still insists on a few essentials. He requests that his technical partner match Al-Rushaid’s JV investment “dollar for dollar.” He has found that simply bringing great technology to the relationship is not enough. The matching investment creates commitment from the technical partner and ensures that there will be continuing interest in R&D as well as the transfer of knowledge to keep the JV competitive.

He isn’t a fan of relationships where products are created under license, having seen too many instances where after many years and much investment from the Saudi side, the licensor walks away from the arrangement. That doesn’t happen where the partner has made a significant investment. Al-Rushaid will only enter into JV agreements created as per Saudi law. This includes the provision that arbitration to settle disputes must take place in the Kingdom. “You don’t want to see a Saudi employee take you to a British court,” he remarked. “That’s exactly what can happen if arbitration isn’t required to be in the Kingdom.”

So how to best proceed to create a successful venture? According to Al-Rushaid, set up an agency first. Then make a joint investment servicing those products.

“If choosing between investing in products or services, services come first,” he asserted. “People need to be confident that the equipment they’ve purchased can be kept running. There is a very strong requirement for service and maintenance of existing equipment. In the industrial world they look at not only what is cheaper to buy, but also at what is cheaper to operate. The market is always interested in better products and better served products. There are many products here that have no service behind them. Customers might make a mistake and buy those products one time but they won’t buy them again. So for success, make services your first joint investment.”


Monday, January 24, 2011

Is Israel the only possible homeland for Jews?

Jonathan Power

21 January 2011
Israel allows its settler movement to go on and on claiming more of the West Bank. Is there nothing that can be done? The might of America, combined with the influence of the European Union and the Arab world, have not been able to halt the territorial growth of Israel.

Most American Jews, according to polls, don’t like what is happening, but are seemingly helpless before the shrewd lobbying of long time pressure groups which have built up over decades a disproportionate influence on Congress. They make sure that the large US aid programme to Israel continues. In effect, it liberates funds for Israel to build roads and defences for the settlers pushing deep into Palestinian territory.

Yet even if the aid were withdrawn, even if the US stopped vetoing UN resolutions that criticise Israel, nothing is likely to change.

Israeli leaders know well that before long at present rates of population growth the number of Arabs in the area under Israeli control will outnumber the Jews. It will become an apartheid state as South Africa was, subject to the likelihood of ever increasing violence from within—to the point when Israel is pushed into retreat and some strong leader is elected who will have to give the Palestinians what they ask for.

Could all this have been avoided? There were alternative places for the Jews to create their own state—some in the British government and in the Jewish leadership in the early years of the last century thought Uganda and Argentina were possibilities. At that time, before polls admittedly, one could say that a majority of Jews would have preferred one of those, rather than displacing Arabs. Unlike the Zionists they were not beholden to the idea of “the land of milk and honey” being on Arab land. For generation upon generation the Jews in the Diaspora, whether they lived in Muslim or Christian lands, passed a peaceful life. From time to time there were pogroms in the Christian world, but not the Muslim, when local feelings got out of control. But by and large, over nearly two millennia, they were on a small scale. Jews were mostly content to live in the Diaspora. Only when Hitler arrived and the Holocaust began did a large number of European Jews yearn to go to Israel and join the few idealists who had settled before. Without that influx Israel would never have become the threat to the Palestinian Arabs that it is today.

By and large Jews didn’t believe it was their Biblical destiny to settle in Palestine and for the more thoughtful ones, who read the ancient texts with an open mind, the original push by Moses, leading the Jewish people out of bondage in Egypt, was not a history they felt obliged to repeat. After all Moses had made his way clear to “the promised land” by genocide.

The story about alternative settlement in Uganda and Argentina is well known. Less known is the creation by the Soviet Presidium in 1928 of a Jewish autonomous region in the Far East, Birobidzhan. Many Russian Jews moved to live there, although there was no compulsion to do so. Some settlers came from outside Russia.

In Stalin’s later years Jews were hounded, killed or sent to Siberia. At its height only 18,000 Jews lived in the autonomous region – 16 per cent of the population. By 2002 it was down to 2,300. Today, however, Jews are trickling back, a few hundred coming from Israel.

The capital has 14 public schools. They must teach Yiddish and Jewish tradition, as does the university. There are social groups for the elderly that teach Jewish rituals. There is a Yiddish radio station and theatre. In the central square there is a memorial to Sholom Aleichman whose stories of life in Russian villages in Birobidzhan formed the basis for the musical “Fiddler on the Roof”.

Were not under populated Birobidzhan, Uganda or Argentina better opportunities to build an Israel? With Uganda it would have meant taking over peasant land. With Argentina the Zionist leadership let the possibility pass. But the notion of an exclusive Israel dominating Palestine is becoming an impossibility, too. Who knows, as that reality sinks into Israel consciousness, Jews will look at Birobidzmhan with a fresh eye.

Jonathan Power is a veteran foreign affairs commentator based in London

Reward of Dh10,000 to anyone who can find a cave full of jinn

Seeking dreams in realm of jinn

Cavers from Slovenia and UAE explore a cave in a mountain near the Musandam border to near Al Jir. Jaime Puebla /The National

RAS AL KHAIMAH // The world's leading cave scientists have joined an Emirati geography professor to search for a fabled cave near the Oman border.

Dr Asma al Ketbi, the head of the Emirates Geographic Society and a geography professor for UAE University, hopes to find her "dream cave" in the mountains of northern Ras al Khaimah, where the cries of jinn - supernatural creatures that occupy a parallel world in Arab folklore - are said to be common.

The myths surrounding the dark holes caught the interest of Dr al Kebti, who invited a group of the world's top cavers to separate myth from fact and discover what the noises were really about. To sweeten the deal, she has called on the public for information on local caves and will offer a reward of Dh10,000 to anyone who can find a cave with a depth of 50 metres or more.

"If there is a horizontal cave, it's what any geologist could dream of," said Dr al Ketbi. "From our point of view we could find our structure that could tell us about the rain history of this area, the wet period of the past 300,000 years. That was my hope."

The search for an extensive horizontal cave, rumoured to extend hundreds of metres into the mountain near the Oman border, began yesterday morning with several false trails.

"I am not going to give up yet on my dream cave," said Dr al Ketbi. "Today the plan was to get into the cave, but now we're just going to drive into the wadis and check at the rocks, and then we will plan other studies not necessarily directly related to caves."

Their search will take them through the mountains, from RAK to Dibba. The caving expedition is the first of its kind in the Northern Emirates and includes a microbiologist, hydrologist, physicist, geologist, and a geographer from the Karst Research Institute in Slovenia.

The team were the first to research China's Stone Forest, a UNESCO heritage site of 20 to 30-metre limestone pillars, and will now have five days to hunt for a cave in the Northern Emirates.

A cave could reveal significant clues about the mountain's origins, the climate millions of years ago, water flow, microbiology and pollution.

"First we have to check the cave in detail, because many stories exist," said Dr Tadej Slabe, the project leader and head of Karst Research Institute. "Then we will try to make a map, and based on the map we will try to research the cave and make a complex study of the cave and its origins."

Karst rock formations like those found here are known as aquifers and are often a main source of fresh water. With a local annual precipitation of 400mm, karst springs are known to exist in the area. Karst is a topography in which the landscape is largely shaped by the dissolving action of water on bedrock.

Microbiologists will also follow the water trail and analyse the precipitation for bacteria, and search for amoebae and water parasites. After the field work is complete, analysis will take months before the findings are published.

But before the cave's secrets can go under the microscope, a cave must be found. Local lore says the cave has two entrances and that "voices" - human and otherwise - come from some caves in the area.

"We are suspicious that this voice is here," said Nadja Zupan Hajna, a geologist from the Karst Research Institute. "It implies there is a lot of water here. Perhaps an open channel to the sea."

Yesterday scientists searched a series of arched, 10-metre-deep caverns in the mountains beside the Oman border.

While Jebel Hafeet's Magharet Qasir Hafeet cave boasts a depth of 96 metres, it is hoped this expedition - the first of its kind in the Northern Emirates - will find one that uncovers the secrets of the north's limestone mountains.

Dr al Ketbi has urged outdoor enthusiasts to follow Slovenia's example and search for themselves. Slovenia is known for more than 10,000 caves under a karst landscape that is created when carbonate rock, like the limestone of the Hajjar Mountains, is dissolved by water that is rich in carbon dioxide.

"At the end of the day, at least we know now what is there," said Dr al Ketbi. "I am still going to look for this large cave because the caves are the best place to know the history of the wet period in any climate."

Anyone who can assist in the search for a cave with a depth of 50 metres or more can contact Dr al Ketbi at or through the geographic society.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

In the UAE, Universities lead the way in fostering dialogue between faiths

Last year, Malaysia Cabinet had given the approval to e stablish the Interfaith Relations Working Committee under the purview of National Unity and Integration Department.

Committee to Promote Inter-Religious Understanding and Harmony comprises representation from the relevant bodies including the Department of Islamic Development, Institute of Islamic Understanding and the Malaysian Consultative Council on Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism.

However, the committee is merely a framework for managing religious and cultural polarities and according to the Director General of the department, Azman for now, we are not ready to have public inter-faith dialogues yet.

And here in the UAE, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, who is also president of Zayed University, the academic world has "a premier role in confronting these challenges in the Arab region."

Universities must lead the way in fostering dialogue between faiths, academic and religious leaders say.

I have doubts if we can even plan to do that in our campuses!

Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, told an interfaith symposium that the university had to carry on the work of the late president, Sheikh Zayed, who he said believed firmly in peace and tolerance.

As reported by the National:-

Zayed University's new Islamic Centre, scheduled to open this year, will host events and seminars to promote dialogue between faiths.

Sulaiman al Jassim, vice president of the university, said education was "an effective force for understanding, progress and stability", although it had its opponents. "The voices of extremists and external forces … work very hard in instilling doubt and disrupting the community's stability," he said.

Al Habib Ali al Jifri, head of the Tabah Foundation for Islamic Studies in Abu Dhabi, called on the UAE to host interfaith conferences such as those at Yale and Georgetown universities in the US.

With Isaac al Anba Bishoy, pastor of St Anthony's Coptic Orthodox cathedral in Abu Dhabi, alongside him, Mr al Jifri spoke out against extremists and religious leaders who incite them. "It's not enough for me that Islam disapproves of extremism," he said. "We must go a step further and actively promote the true understanding of our religions and go to the extremists and bring these arguments to them."

The speakers were taking part in a symposium at Zayed University last week, entitled "15 Centuries of Love And Affection".

In June 2009 the US president Barack Obama addressed Muslims worldwide in Cairo, talking of the need to bridge the gap between Islam and the West through education.

He called for more exchange programmes and scholarships "like the one that brought my father to America". Beyond that, he promised to encourage more Americans to study in Muslim communities and to "match promising Muslim students with internships in America".

Dalia Mogahed, director of the new Gallup research centre in Abu Dhabi and a former adviser to Mr Obama on Muslim affairs, says universities are where students of different faiths often come together for the first time.

This is especially true in the UAE, whose student population includes individuals from myriad countries and faiths, she said.

"Combining free thought with a platform for exchange makes universities the ideal place to explore commonality," Ms Mogahed said.

She said the next step was for students not only to talk to each another, but to work with other faiths to foster true understanding.

She used as an example the Interfaith Youth Corps project in the US, in which students volunteer in the community to gain a greater understanding of the many different types of people around them.

She said there were challenges, such as that many parents from traditional backgrounds feared that their children's identities were threatened by such interfaith initiatives, but if the stress were placed on education, as opposed to proselytising, the exchange of ideas could be fruitful and lead to harmonious dialogue.

The American University of Sharjah held a series of events this month to promote peaceful co-existence between Muslims and non-Muslims.

The programme was opened by Sayyed Ali al Hashimi, Sheikh Khalifa's adviser on judicial and religious affairs, who said the Prophet Mohammed had "warned against mistreating non-Muslims".

Ahlam al Zahawi, an Arabic professor at the university, said academics had a duty to instil tolerance in their students. "When I taught my students in the beginning, I would talk about our non-Muslim brothers and the students would ask why I called them brothers, saying they are not our brothers; but they are our brothers in humanity, I told them," she said.

Universities have long been venues in which people of different faiths work and play together.

In addition, university societies help students keep in touch with their faiths as they begin new lives, often far from home.

The National University of Singapore’s Interfaith Society regularly hosts students from all religious backgrounds at its social events and debates, with a goal of dispelling misconceptions about religious faiths.

In the US, the University of Seattle has a church, mosque and synagogue in every dormitory, with active groups such as the Muslim Students Association and the Jewish Students Association.

The university’s Interfaith Coordination Team organises events such as EcoSangha, a weekly Zen-based session that focuses on Buddhist stewardship of the environment.

The group seeks to foster both Buddhist practice and serious reflection on the religion’s teachings.

The University of Washington’s Interfaith Council stages events including lectures with titles such as “Understanding Mormonism” that enable students of all faiths to observe religious rituals such as fasting and meditation.

In the UK, most universities are host to an array of societies catering to the country’s many denominations, from Islam to Hinduism.

Imperial College London’s Hindu Society organises arts, sport and cultural activities for Hindus and non-Hindus alike.