Monitor Mideast

Iraqi Journalist attacks Saudi Arabia & Qatar on Al Jazeera (English Subs)

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An Iraqi writer by the name of Abu Firas was a guest at Aljazeera’s “The Opposite Direction” on June 18, 2014 where he took every chance to attack Saudi Arabia, Qatar’s Emir and prominent religious clerics Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Ibn Baz in those countries. Abu Firas returned to Iraq, where he received a hero’s welcome.

Iraq has been the subject of an invasion by insurgency groups over the past week whereby 1.700 soldiers of the Iraqi army were killed after key officers left their post. Iraq has formally pointed to Saudi Arabia and Qatari as sponsors of the insurgency group ISIS.


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Saudi Woman Enslaved in Pakistan for Quarter-Century

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Following a bizarre string of events, a Saudi woman has appeared on state television telling the tale of a hostage-taking that lasted for over 25 years. A quarter-century ago, the Saudi woman, who calls herself Umm Amal was kidnapped at the age of 13. Her captor, a Pakistani laborer working in the kingdom secretly took her to Pakistan. The unidentified Pakistani man who had previously resided in the kingdom assaulted her and brought her to Karachi where he forced her to work as a maid in his house for years before she could escape.


A Saudi woman who was raped by a Pakistani man before he abducted and took her to his country 20 years ago has told Okaz/Saudi Gazette of her anguish and desire to return home. She now speaks Urdu and wears the traditional Punjabi dress, but she still retains her Saudi identity. Her abductor raped her when she was only 14, despite being almost 30 years her senior. Then he dragged her by force to the airport and off to Pakistan. She told Okaz/Saudi Gazette that her stepmother asked her to go to a grocery store in the village where she used to live with her father and siblings in the Kingdom.


The Pakistani worker with her took advantage of her and raped her. She told her stepmother, a Syrian national, but was told to keep everything under wraps. Then she asked her to leave with the Pakistani worker, adding her father would kill her if he found out. Not knowing what to do, she listened to her stepmother’s advice and took off with the Pakistani man. The man took her to Jeddah and stayed there for some time. He kept in touch with the stepmother.  She told him that her parents and siblings were going crazy searching for her and they even reported her missing to police. However, some workers in the village who knew what was going on told her father the real story. Her family kept searching for her for a few days until the father, who was being stigmatized by his tribesmen, decided to give up the search.


He told them that he found his daughter and then killed her. Her abductor managed to get her a Pakistani passport and bought two tickets to Pakistan and left the Kingdom. At 14, she found herself in Malir town, east of Karachi. She said: “Everyone in that town was carrying a gun. The town was full of terrorists.” The Pakistani introduced her to his mother and relatives. She could not understand what they were saying and she kept crying all the time. A few days later, the Pakistan man told her he would marry her. He had her sign a marriage contract in front of a Pakistani official at the marriage office.


Afterward, she realized that she would not be able to return to the Kingdom. She lived with the man’s first wife and six children in the same house. At the time, he was 43. She gave birth to two daughters and a son. Her son, who is now 14, memorizes the Holy Qur’an and teaches it at the mosque nearby. She lives on the charity from the Awasser Organization, which takes care of Saudis abandoned abroad, and from her husband’s sister. When things got harder, she had to find work. She worked as a housemaid for some families but never told them about her real nationality. One day when she was in the mall she heard two young men talking in a Saudi dialect. She approached them and talked to them in the same dialect and they were surprised.


She told them her story and they promised her they would search for her family when they got back to the Kingdom. A few months later, they called her and gave her the phone number of her family. She called her father and had a difficult time convincing him she was his daughter. He reprimanded her and told her she should have told him the truth instead of running away with the Pakistani man before hanging up. When she called again, her sister picked up the phone and recognized her. She said: “When I told my sister that I wanted to return, she told me she couldn’t do anything for me. “Then she said that I should stay where I am because my return would disgrace my family.” Then, she decided to go the Saudi Consulate in Karachi and tell them her story.


The consulate contacted her father and asked him to prove the identity of his daughter and send them his ID card. He agreed on the condition that his daughter should not return to the Kingdom. She said: “My situation is getting more difficult and miserable. I can’t travel and I can’t work. “My children are suffering because of our poverty. I desperately need an ID.”


Okaz/Saudi Gazette met Falish Al-Ruhaili, Saudi Consul General in Karachi, who confirmed the woman’s case file was sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Posted in GCC, meg

Dubai Police Chief Taunts Brotherhood Guide After Heart Attack

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Dahi Khalfan, Dubai’s police chief has once again praised the Egyptian army’s crackdown on high-ranking Muslim Brotherhood figures. His latest remarks come as senior officials and even the supreme guide of the Brotherhood have been taken into custody. Khalfan taunted the Brotherhood’s supreme guide by stating on Twitter “After today, there is no more guide.” Khalfan was referring to Mohamed Badie, the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood.


On August 31, Al-Ahram reported that Badie had suffered a cardiac arrest while in prison, but that he has since recovered. State news agency MENA denied a report that Badie had died, while Brotherhood spokesmen did not respond to immediate requests about his health. Badie, whose condition is said to be stable, was among many Muslim Brotherhood leaders arrested in recent crackdown.


After Morsi’s overthrow, the Emirates, in cooperation with Saudi Arabia and various other families in the Persian Gulf emerged as the primary financiers of the Egyptian army, offering the institution large sums of money in order to subdue ‘terrorists’ operating in Egypt, a term primarily used in reference to pro-Morsi supporters.


In response, Egypt’s Minister of Defence Abdel Fattah el-Sisi responded by thanking the kingdoms of Bahrain, the UAE and Saudi Arabia for their sustained support in restoring peace to Egypt. Khalfan has long deemed the Muslim Brotherhood a danger to the emirate. In an effort to counter pro-Morsi online activists, he recently devised an ‘alternative’ logo to the hand with four fingers utilized by pro-Morsi supporters decrying the ‘coup’ as illegitimate.


Posted in GCC, Maghreb, meg

Yemen’s Arduous Houthi Situation

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The West has a long history of selective focus in covering the Middle-East. Rather than presenting the developments, cultures, religions and politics of the region in an objective manner – the Western world as it is embodied by its media outlets, governmental and non-governmental institutions, and even many of its’ academics have persevered in presenting the region to the peoples of Western Europe and North America from a severely skewed perspective. Instead of the Middle-East’s many complexities, subtleties and fluid definitions being included in political debates – we are predominantly presented with a vulgar simplification – and orientalised and ‘Othered’ continent which has to be dealt within the context of Western interests. Thus we find that unless Western interests are disturbed – it is rare that a situation, an issue or even an idea from the Middle-East will even find its way into the public consciousness.


It should then come as little surprise that the most economically deprived state in the Middle East gets little attention in the West – it has little oil, does not offer the considerable geopolitical leverage of the likes of Iraq and Iran, and has a ruler that seems to not threaten their interests. Despite these factors which on paper offer the exterior of stability – it could very well be that Yemen is on the verge of political disaster. Despite much evidence therefore pointing to the stem of the conflict in Saada being chiefly domestic – President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his cabinet maintain that the war is one between a democratic, united and apparently secular Yemen – and an extremist, authoritarian and radical “Islamism”. To his credit, Saleh has in recent months played down the role of Iran in the violence to being no-more than wishful thinking. Nevertheless, Saleh’s and the government’s incapacity in accepting that the Houthis, Zaydis and even Sunnis north of Sana’a are fed up with the government’s apathy towards the grim living conditions in Yemen may prove to be a serious blunder. This is all, of course, before we even begin to talk about the discontent in Southern Yemen.


The Houthis have not only proved to be a capable fighting force – but also a resilient one. The government has been both the initiator of ceasefires (along with members of the international community, such as Qatar) as well as the transgressor of ceasefires since the conflict began – a sign that the Houthis are used to fighting this war on terms outside of their control, and an indication that they are by no means averse to dialogue. Saleh has most recently said that this war will be ended only by the destruction of the Houthi – a strategy which may prove to be a failure based on news that the Houthi have the upper-hand in Saada. With this said, the question remains whether or not the followers of al-Houthi will be as willing to return to the negotiating table if their military momentum continues and if the arrogance of the government persists.


Whilst it is a fallacy to claim that the Zaydis are the sole victims of discrimination in Yemen (the African labourers certainly don’t have an easy life) – they are indeed the subject of much inequality and seclusion. Many Shi’i practises, such as the celebration of `Eid Ghadir al-Khumm, have been branded as “Houthi”, and therefore political and extremist by the government. The commemoration of Ashura in the month of Muharram is of course also severely restricted – the hallmark of an anti-Shi’i state. Furthermore, the widespread support among the Yemeni people for politicians such as Saddam Hussein – whose posters still feature in many shop windows, barbershops and taxicabs – is a constant reminder that it is pan-Arabism which dominates the psyche of many Yemenis, and that the government campaign to paint Shi’ism as distinctly Houthi, and moreover, that anything Houthi is distinctly Iranian, can be well received.



The problems in Yemen are manifold. The first and clearest to anybody inside of the country has been the states’ war against the Houthis in the Saada region – a constant source of instability and uncertainty. In the past month, fighter jets have increased in flown with increased frequency from Sana’a to Saada – their thunderous blare becoming a daily confirmation of a rise in the civilian death toll (which in this month of August in the hundreds, according to the by no means pro-Houthi ‘Yemen Observer’). The number of those displaced is also estimated to be upwards of 100,000 by the UNHCR.


The motives of the Houthi in Yemen are shrouded in government propaganda and rhetoric – the Houthi are said to be acting as agents of Iran with the aim of destabilising Saudi Arabia; with their methods and ideology akin to various Wahhabi groups labelled as “Al-Qaeda” in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The situation is not helped by the fact that the Houthi – due to their lack of education and wealth – are unable to articulate their cause to West in the same way that groups such as Hezbollah or FARC can. In addition – the Houthis are not a homogeneous and centralised political movement – but a number of different tribes and disenfranchised Zaydis dissatisfied with the government, which makes it difficult for specific demands and grievances to be identified by outsiders. It is also common for the Houthi to be described as adhering to a peculiar mixture of Twelver Shi’ism and Zaydism in an attempt to link them with the Islamic Revolution in Iran – a tactic so cynical that it sounds like it came from of the US State Department.


The reality is that the Houthi find their support not in a commitment to Iranian Islamic revivalism – but poverty, religious discrimination, political seclusion and what is seen as a growing threat of militant and institutional Wahhabism in the rural areas of Northern Yemen. In areas such as Saada, the hand of government isn’t found in the building of infrastructure, the provision of welfare or the creation of jobs – but in American and Saudi made missiles. The only occasion that the people of Saada encounter its government is through the barrel of a gun. As a result it is not the expulsion of Western influence that fills the demands of the Houthi fighters (although they are opposed to Western support for the Saleh regime, and of course Israel) – but the building of roads, schools, water-pipes and hospitals.


From our contributor: S. Aghlani

Posted in GCC, meg

Doha’s Evolving Skyline: Just Another Dubai?

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Compared to many of its artificial Gulf neighbors, Doha (or Ad-Dawhah) remains one of the oldest areas in the Persian Gulf to date.  Originally a modest fishing village, the area has in more recent years experienced unparalleled growth and a rapid change in its demographic, economic and cultural composition. From the mid-1990s onward, the country shifted from a fishing and pearling based economy into a diverse economy after the discovery of oil in 1939.


Following the rise of Hamad al-Thani in 1995, the Emir quickly endorsed a liberal market economy, catalyzing the Gulf state as one of the most important oil and gas players to date. With the steady flow of income due to its abundance in natural resources, the city has been thoroughly modernized. With emerging plans to revive the city, new ideas arose to re-develop its old downtown. The development and evolution of Doha was planned carefully, taking into consideration its past and future. The rebuilding process included the revitalization of old homes, a fortress, old neighborhoods and lanes. Other areas were demolished, but replaced with modern Islamic architectural concepts. Qatari nationals who had lived in the suburbs were stimulated to return to the city as its development matured. Qatar’s skyline is now riddled with tall buildings containing Arabic architectural designs. At first glance, taking into consideration the 2009 world economic crisis, that move might seem awkward.


However, Philip Oldfield, lecturer in Sustainable Tall Buildings at the University of Nottingham, UK, elaborates on the dramatic change in the skyline. “Only one of the current 10 tallest buildings was completed before 2006, so the other nine were completed in the last five years,” he comments. Oldfield is quick to point out that this is a global trend. “More tall buildings were completed in the first decade of the 21st century than in the whole of the 20th century. It’s fair to say that we’re in a golden age of tall building construction, in spite of the financial crisis. There has been a massive rise in the number of tall buildings thanks to advances in modern structural engineering, and the dramatic forms that are apparent in places like Qatar will continue to appear in the future,” he adds.


Oldfield is adamant that Qatar is not trying to copy Dubai. “Doha has its own identity, and part of that involves a diverse range of architecture in its skyline. Many cities around the world – such as Shanghai, London and Manila – are constructing several high rises. Are they all trying to emulate Dubai? I don’t believe so.” He continues: “Dubai is famous for constructing many towers in a short space of time, so any other city that does this is billed as the ‘next Dubai’.” Maibusch believes that Doha’s skyline is more reflective of the Arab culture than Dubai’s. “When I visited Dubai I felt that the skyline resembled Manhattan as there are a lot of glassy towers. Doha’s skyline also has a modern look, but it is also respectful of Qatar’s culture and history. This is a welcome change from other Gulf cities.


Sources: CTBUH, RF Khalil, K Shaaban

Posted in GCC, meg

Chickens Coming Home to Roost in Bahrain

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Bahrain continues to dominate news headlines across the world. In the past week, the eyes of the world have all been on this small island country as it becomes engulfed in the flames of revolution.

Just as was and is the case with the revolts in other Arab countries, the Bahraini people’s uprising is being miscategorized as simply “pro-democracy.” The reality is much more complex. As we have mentioned in previous columns, the authoritarian nature of Syria’s regime is not enough to incite the Syrian people to take to the streets. There is clearly something else driving these revolts, and Bahrain is no exception.

Bahrain is currently ruled by the Al-Khalifah family, the same family that has been ruling the island since British colonialists incited an “independence” movement that resulted in Bahrain’s secession from the Iranian Safaviyeh Empire in 1783. The Al-Khalifah family is Sunni. The Bahraini population is predominantly Shia. The Al-Khalifah family is not native to Bahrain; they were originally from Kuwait, and it took a great deal of ruthlessness for them to consolidate their political power after secession. It is from these origins that the current struggle has developed.

In spite of being a wealthy country (with a per capita GDP of 20 thousand US dollars), many Bahrainis are destitute: roughly 50 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. This is in large part due to government policy of refusing employment to Shias. One needs only to visit Bahrain to see the volume of foreign laborers (brought in from Malaysia, India, and other countries).

The Shia, comprising the vast majority of the country — 80 percent — are being disenfranchized in this manner.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the people are revolting. 200 years of being ruled by a royal family not even native to their land and being reduced to second class citizens further provokes such unrest. But what is interesting to note is the ultimate consequence of this 200 years of Al-Khalifah rule: it has made Bahrainis reassert their roots. Having a foreign royal family rule them for this long has certainly pushed them even harder to retain their national and religious identity. If the government of Bahrain indeed falls, an attempt will be made once more to unify Bahrain with its big brother Iran triggering the normalization of ties. This seems almost like a foregone conclusion, and would really irk the US and its allies in the region.



Posted in GCC, meg