Archive for ‘Middle East’

November 8, 2013

Could Israel Become a Cultural Superpower?

Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli was painted onto a Southwest Airlines plane to promote the 2009 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Photo: Christopher Ebdon / flickr

You don’t have to have a huge army or a major global economy to have influence way beyond your size.

By Benjamin Kerstein in The Tower:

Despite its high international profile, Israel has always been a somewhat provincial county, with a domestic culture largely unknown to outsiders. The classic pieces of Israeli pop culture, such as the comedy group Ha’Gashash Ha’Hiver, Eretz Israel and Mizrahi music, and the classic bourekas movies, remain ubiquitous in Israel—most Israelis can quote lines from them at will—but almost nowhere else. Everyone in the world knows who Brad Pitt is, but no one outside of Israel knows Yehuda Levi, his rough Israeli equivalent. Indeed, when Yair Lapid suddenly emerged as Israel’s newest political star, the global media proved completely ignorant of a man who had been one of Israel’s most famous media personalities for decades. [READ THE REST]

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July 23, 2013

Soft power: Qatar’s Foreign Policy Adventurism

John Kerry with the Emir of Qatar in Doha, Foreign Policy of Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani

John Kerry with the Emir of Qatar in Doha, June 2013 (Jacquelyn Martin/Courtesy Reuters)

Earlier this month, the Taliban opened an official office in Doha, landing Qatar once more in Western headlines. That might have been part of Qatar’s plan: the decision to host such a controversial office is symptomatic of a desire to play a central role in a wide array of important diplomatic issues. Yet the debacle of the office’s first 36 hours shows just how far Qatar still has to go.

[READ THE REST]

June 13, 2013

Israel’s arm trade with the Arab and Muslim world

English: This is a map of countries (in green)...

English: This is a map of countries (in green) that reject passports from Israel (blue). Countries that reject not only Israeli passports but also any passport which contain Israeli stamps or visas are in dark green. The depicted countries are (from left to right): Algeria, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Brunei. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From Elder of Zion, who quote Haaretz:

Israel has exported security equipment over the past five years to Pakistan and four Arab countries, according to a British government report. The report, which deals with British government permits for arms and security equipment exports, says that in addition to Pakistan, Israel has exported such equipment to Egypt, Algeria, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco.

The report was released by Britain’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which oversees security exports and publishes regular reports on permits granted or denied to purchase arms, military equipment or civilian items that are monitored because they can be put to security uses.

From January 2008 to December 2012, British authorities processed hundreds of Israeli applications to purchase military items containing British components for use by the Israel Defense Forces, or to go into systems exported to third countries.

The British reports also list the countries to which Israel sought to export the items. Among Israel’s clients are Muslim countries with which it does not have diplomatic ties. According to the report, in 2011 Israel sought to purchase British components to export radar systems to Pakistan, as well as electronic warfare systems, Head-up Cockpit Displays ‏(HUD‏), parts for fighter jets and aircraft engines, optic target acquisition systems, components of training aircraft, and military electronic systems. In 2010, Israel applied for permits to export electronic warfare systems and HUDs with components from Britain to Pakistan. Also in 2010, Israel sought permits to supply Egypt and Morocco with Israeli electronic warfare systems and HUD systems that use British parts.

Here’s Haaretz’ graphical summary of the article:

Although at first glance it sounds a little alarming for Israel to sell to countries that consider it an enemy, I think it is a reasonable assumption that the Israeli government is careful not to give away any technologies that would hurt Israel’s defense.

Which means that this is about as massive a BDSFail as can be imagined!

Already the Arabic media are reporting this, so we can expect a backlash any moment now and the denials from Muslim countries will follow soon afterwards.

UPDATE: The first denial, from Pakistan.

UPDATE 2: #2 from Egypt. (h/t IranAware)

July 6, 2011

Is OPEC Headed for Collapse?

Opec Organization of the Petroleum Exporting C...

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By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi:

In the comments section of one of my previous articles, a reader asked me whether the collapse of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC — responsible for 40% of the world’s petroleum output) is likely in the near future. Fair question, especially in light of the currently dysfunctional state of the Arab League. Are we really about to witness the end of a monopoly on global oil prices?

In short, it is too difficult to predict either way. I discussed earlier how the  Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC ) is starting to replace the Arab League as an inter-Arab political body and Sunni axis against Iran, shifting the onus of decision-making to the Gulf region. However, some of OPEC’s most prominent members — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, and Kuwait — are also part of the GCC, and it is notable that neither Syria nor Egypt, both of whose states of political turmoil have been responsible for the Arab League’s decline, is a major exporter of petroleum or member of OPEC. Thus, the growing importance of the GCC as opposed to the diminishing relevance of the Arab League is unlikely to have a major impact on OPEC’s future.

What is more interesting, however, is the conflict within OPEC between a bloc of states led by Saudi Arabia and other OPEC members, led chiefly by Iran and Venezuela, on the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) decision to tap into “strategic” (or “excess”) stockpiles of petroleum in an attempt to boost output, provide relief for high oil prices, and to stabilize the global economy. The IEA hopes to increase production by around 2 million barrels per day. Following a meeting that resulted in a deadlock at OPEC’s headquarters in Vienna on June 8, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait parted ways with other OPEC members and promised to raise production levels by 1.5 million barrels per day. Indeed, over the past month the Saudis have already increased output by approximately 500,000 barrels per day.

Now, ostensibly, Saudi Arabia is complying with the IEA’s initiative, but John Shimkus plausibly argues for another motive behind the Saudis’ behavior: namely, fear of Iran’s nuclear program, which is probably striving to develop nuclear weapons. As pointed out before, Iran has been at the head of an effort to block release of excess oil reserves. Hence, we should not be surprised if Saudi Arabia and its allies in OPEC might wish to flood the market with their own petroleum in the hope of bringing Iran’s government to the point of bankruptcy and thereby halting the Islamic Republic’s goals for its nuclear program. [READ THE REST]

 

July 4, 2011

Israel In A Multipolar World

 

A very important post. I think the diagnosis is correct, but the prescription is wrong. Israel does need to develop good relations with democratic rising powers like India, Brazil and China. But it would be re-playing its damaging alliances with South Africa to consider allying with brutal authoritarian states like China, purely for the sake of realpolitik.

By Liam Hoare:

Netanyahu’s “speech of his life” may have been damaging for an already weakened peace process, but it did hit the mark in its analysis of the special relationship between Israel and the United States – two exceptional nations that compliment each other like gin and tonic. As Netanyahu put it in his speech to Congress: “We stand together to defend democracy. We stand together to advance peace. We stand together to fight terrorism”.

Their relationship has been beneficial for both parties, for indeed the United States has been able to rely on Israel as the “one anchor of stability in a region of shifting alliances”. American presidents haven’t had to nation-build or construct democracy in Israel – these are things the Jewish people achieved for themselves, along with the capacity to fight their own battles in a region flush with nations none too pleased at their presence.

Going the other way, and as Netanyahu recognised in his speech, the United States has always been “very generous” in giving them the “tools to do the job of defending Israel” on their own. The most recent deal of note came when economic aid came to an end in 2007; President Bush signed a ten-year deal which gave Israel $30 billion in military assistance.

This past of unwavering fiscal support during a time of (to a minimal degree) American economic expansion is now a forgotten season, as the nation turns inward to confront its crippling national debt (at a level of, as near as makes no difference, 100pc of GDP). The rise of the Tea Party would indicate that, when the time comes for the budget to be slashed, foreign aid and the Defence Department might have to bear the brunt. The spirit might be willing in most quarters, but the body will be weakened to a point where Washington can no longer afford to be so charitable to even its best of friends.

The consequences of relative American decline are clear, and will have very real consequences for the State of Israel. For, by decade’s end, it is evident that the world will no longer be unipolar, with the United States at its axis. Rather, it will almost certainly be bi- if not multipolar – the direct result of the economic rise and neo-colonial expansion of China, and other nouveau riche nations like India and Brazil. Over the course of the next ten years, the power of America and Israel’s eternal bond as a mechanism for dictating the nature of globalpolitics will evidently diminish.

Therefore it seems clear that, in order to secure Israel’s continuation not only as a player on the world stage but as a nation-state in and of itself, she must continue to nurture its ties with China on one level, whilst maintaining its unique marriage with United States on another.

read more »

June 17, 2011

Follow the money

Fahd bin Abdul Aziz, October 13, 1998

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Alex Joffe on Yale:

It is well known, for instance, that Yale has long been seeking support from wealthy Arab donors. In particular, it has wooed Saudi Prince Alwaleed ibn Talal, who in 2005 gave $20 million apiece to Harvard and Georgetown for Islamic-studies programs. (Yale, which competed vigorously for the prize, made it to the final round.) True to their donors’ intent, such academic programs are faithful disseminators of the “narrative” of Muslim victimization. In the same connection, it should likewise be borne in mind that in 2009, alerted to the imminent publication by its own press of a scholarly book on the Danish-cartoons controversy, the Yale administration summarily intervened to yank images of the cartoons from the final product—on the grounds that their appearance might elicit “violence.”

And, from March, on the bigger picture:

The transparency of programs like the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding—established in 2005 with the Saudi royal’s $20-million gift to Georgetown University, and staffed with reliable apologists—is glaring. Alwaleed himself could not have been clearer, stating that because of the events of 9/11, “the image of Islam [had] been tarnished in the West”; hence, his donation to Georgetown, along with one to Harvard in the same amount, was intended “to teach about the Islamic world to the United States.”

Alwaleed’s terms had been on even brighter display years earlier. Offering $10 million to New York City in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, he noted pointedly that the “United States of America should re-examine its policies in the Middle East” since “our Palestinian brethren continue to be slaughtered at the hands of Israelis while the world turns the other cheek.” Then-mayor Rudy Giuliani promptly and publicly spurned the money, calling Alwaleed’s statement not only wrong but “part of the problem.” What Giuliani explicitly rejected, universities have implicitly embraced.

The effect has been felt most saliently in academic studies of the Middle East. An early and rather clumsy attempt at influence-buying, as Martin Kramer notes in his Ivory Towers on Sand, was a 1977 grant to Georgetown from Libya; the motives behind it were so blatant that three years later the money was returned with interest. But this, like earlier sallies by the Shah of Iran (to endow chairs of Iranian studies) and the Turkish government (for an Institute of Turkish Studies in Washington), was merely the prelude to a flood of oil money.

Between 1995 and 2008, according to the researcher Stanley Kurtz, Arab Gulf states gave $234 million in contracts and about $88 million in gifts to American universities. Although amounting to only a drop in the bucket of total university endowments, such targeted gifts, like the $20 million contributed by King Fahd of Saudi Arabia to the University of Arkansas, and various multi-million-dollar donations to Berkeley, Cornell, Princeton, Texas A&M, Columbia, Rutgers, and other schools, have meant a very great deal locally.

The aims of these investments are very specific: the creation of a particular sort of cultural “understanding.” And in this respect they have paid off, especially in the area of faculty hiring and concentration. Early on, there was much touting of secularization in the Middle East, a commodity that failed to materialize. As for radical Islam, a subject in much greater need of “understanding,” it was downplayed both before and even after 9/11. Instead, the supposedly “separate political wings” of Hamas and Hizballah, the way that elections in the Arab world allegedly tend to “moderate” radical groups, and the so-called “incrementalism” toward democracy of tyrants like Qaddafi were held up as hopeful signs. To this day, even as the study of Israel itself has been marginalized, the Palestinian cause has been presented as the pivotal issue of all time and the real key to everything one would ever need to know about the Middle East.

Although report after report has documented the strong anti-Israel bias coming out of these programs, the U.S. government has also abetted them financially through Title VI of the Higher Education Act of 1998, which provides funds to centers of Middle East studies undertaking language instruction and, ominously, outreach to local primary and secondary schools. But the American government is one thing, foreign donors something else, and these particular foreign donors something else again. Here the fundamental issue remains: why was the money taken in the first place?

Sometimes, to be sure, the deal stinks a little too much. In a surprising display of backbone, UCLA returned a $1-million gift from Turkey after it was revealed that scholars would be prevented from using Ottoman archives that might confirm evidence of genocide against Armenians in World War I. But this was a rare exception. In 2003, the Harvard Divinity School would have been happy to take $2.5 million from Sheikh Zayed of Abu Dhabi, despite his support for Holocaust denial, were it not for the activism of one persistent student. The next year, back at the trough, Harvard accepted two $1-million gifts from unnamed donors in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and another $14.5 million two years later. In 2008, thanks to a gift of $50 million, New York University set up a campus for international students in the UAE (sorry, no Israelis allowed), as have other American universities.

And, from across the Atlantic, Student Rights report:

Our latest report uncovers the links with the Saudi Arabian Regime which has resulted in SOAS directly receiving £755,000 from the Saudi Arabian Royal family. Further scandals are also uncovered by this report.

The briefing unveils the fact that SOAS provided Mutassim Gaddafi, the National Security Advisor to the Murderous Gaddafi regime, with private English tutoring and that an agreement between SOAS and Al-Fateh University in Tripoli was signed just months before the uprisings began in Libya.

Perhaps the most shocking revelation is that Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a cleric who is banned from the UK and US for endorsing suicide bombings and the killing of pregnant women, is on the editorial board of the SOAS journal of Quranic Studies. Al-Qaradawi has in addition been condemned by over 2,500 Muslim scholars worldwide.

An article on our report has been written by The Jewish Chronicle and the brief is also the subject of a new Early Day Motion proposed by Robert Halfon MP.

And from back in April:

It has emerged that the august institution of St. Andrews, the UK university renowned for its ties to the British Royal family, has been taking money from Bashar Assad’s despotic Syrian regime.

As democratic protesters are slaughtered in their hundreds in Syria,The Guardian has uncovered that over £100,000 has moved from the Syrian government to St. Andrews.

“Opened in November 2006 as part of the university’s school of international relations, funding for the centre was only secured with the assistance of Khiyami, who, according to the centre’s head, Prof Raymond Hinnebusch, persuaded Syrian-born British businessman Ayman Asfari to pay for it.”

Raheem Kassam, Director of counter-extremism pressure group Student Rights has said, “It is deplorable that in the wake of the LSE-Libya scandal, universities have not come forward and ceased to work with murderous regimes across the Arab world.  If these institutions persist in taking money from dictatorships who insist on oppressing their people, then the UK government should immediately cease funding to them.”

The Guardian has quoted Robert Halfon MP, advisory board member for Student Rights:“We need to learn from what’s happened with Libyan funding of our universities, that universities should not accept money from governments like Syria, or those with connections to the Syrian government. The danger is that you get compromised by the amount of money, and it inevitably influences your outlook on the Middle East. I’ve argued that universities that take money from dictatorships should receive a reduction in their public subsidy.”

May 17, 2011

Mercs, R2, Blackwater And The UAE

ABU DHABI. With President of the United Arab E...

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At Modernity, on the successor company to Blackwater:

R2, a creation of Erik Prince, are essentially upmarket mercenaries, who will work for anyone with money and are finalising a deal with the UAE, according to the Nation:

“Erik Prince did leave the US, but he isn’t teaching high school and is certainly not out of the mercenary business. In fact, far from emerging as a neo-Indiana Jones, the antithesis of a mercenary, Prince is more like Belloq, offering his services to the highest bidder. Over the weekend, The New York Times revealed that Prince was leading an effort to build an army of mercenaries, 800 strong—including scores from Colombia—in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. They would be trained by US, European and South African Special Forces veterans. Prince’s new company, Reflex Responses, also known as R2, was bankrolled to the tune of $529 million from “the oil-soaked sheikdom,” according to the Times, adding that Prince was “hired by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi” Sheik Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan. Erik Prince is not mentioned by name in corporate documents outlining the deal, but is instead referred to as “Kingfish.”

The contract between R2 and the UAE kicked in last June and is slated to run through May 2015. According to corporate documents on the private army Prince is building in the UAE, its potential roles include “crowd-control operations,” defending oil pipelines from potential terrorist attacks and special operations missions inside and outside the UAE “to destroy enemy personnel and equipment.” Other sources said the Emiratis wanted to potentially use the force to quell potential rebellions in the country’s massive labor camps that house the Filipinos, Pakistanis and other imported laborers that fuel the country’s work force. Prince also has plans to build a massive training base, modeled after the 7,000 acre private military base Blackwater built in Moyock, North Carolina.

When Prince moved to the UAE last summer, he said he chose Abu Dhabi because of its “great proximity to potential opportunities across the entire Middle East, and great logistics,” adding that it has “a friendly business climate, low to no taxes, free trade and no out of control trial lawyers or labor unions. It’s pro-business and opportunity.”

The timing of Prince’s move was auspicious to say the least. It came just month after five of Prince’s top deputies were hit with a fifteen-count indictment by a federal grand jury on conspiracy, weapons and obstruction of justice charges. Among those indicted were Prince’s longtime number-two man, former Blackwater president Gary Jackson, former vice presidents William Matthews and Ana Bundy, and Prince’s former legal counsel, Andrew Howell. The UAE does not have an extradition treaty with the United States. “If Prince were not living in the US, it would be far more complicated for US prosecutors to commence an action against him,” said Scott Horton, a Columbia University Law lecturer and international law expert who has long tracked Blackwater. “There is a long history of people thwarting prosecutors simply by living overseas.”

April 27, 2011

Signalfire

Mozambique: Kenmare forced to stop production at Moma

The expansion programme to increase production capacity at the Moma mine by 50 percent is well underway and scheduled for commissioning and ramp-up in 2012
Production at Kenmare Resources’ Moma mine in Mozambique has been temporarily suspended due to an unofficial strike by workers. The industrial action commenced this morning after annual wage negotiations broke down. The Irish mining company said talks were progressing when an unofficial strike was called by a group of employees.[…] Source: http://businessandleadership.com/business/item/29744-kenmare-forced-to-stop/

Vietnamese workers end strike after Taiwan company hikes wages

Hanoi – About 1,300 employees at a Taiwan-owned footwear factory in northern Vietnam returned to work Wednesday after the company agreed to increase their monthly salary.

Workers at Stateway Vietnam Footwear in Hai Phong city went on strike Tuesday demanding an additional 18 dollars a month to 88 dollars, an official of the company’s personnel department said.

Under Vietnamese law, strikes must be approved by local authorities and the government-affiliated national trade union. In practice, virtually all strikes take place without such approval.[…] source: http://www.monstersandcritics.com/news/business/news/article_1635378.php/Vietnamese-workers-end-strike-after-Taiwan-company-hikes-wages

India: Tea workers strike hit local farmers

 ILAM, April 27: Local farmers have suffered loss worth more than Rs 200 million due to the strike launched by tea workers. Farmers have not been able to sell green leaves to tea producers ever since the workers launched strike 10 days ago, demanding pay hike.

Agitating workers have brought harvesting and processing of tea in key districts — Ilam, Dhankuta and Terhathum – to a grinding halt.[…] Source: http://www.myrepublica.com/portal/index.php?action=news_details&news_id=30678

Uganda: Iganga Steel Workers Lay Down Tools

Iganga — Police in Iganga District deployed heavily yesterday at Tembo Steels Uganda Limited following a sit-down strike by workers protesting low pay and poor working conditions. The strike started at about 8am when the workers camped at the factory located at Kasolo village, about 2 kilometres from Iganga town.

Police led by Iganga DPC David Manzi stormed the place to ensure that the strike did not turn violent.

The workers complained that they receive little pay in addition to being mistreated by their bosses. “They give us only Shs1,200 every day for breakfast and lunch. Then at the end of every month (some) workers, especially the porters, are given as little as Shs40,000 per month, which is too little given the high cost of living,” one of the protestors who talked on condition of anonymity for fear of being victimised for revealing information told, Daily Monitor, as her colleagues backed her. They said they are not provided safety gear and the few who have, bought them.[…] Source:

Hundreds Of Iranian Workers Protest For Back Wages

TEHRAN – Workers at the Alborz tire factory near Tehran have rallied in front of Iran’s presidential office to demand nine months’ of unpaid wages and the reopening of the plant, RFE/RL’s Radio Farda reports.

An employee told Radio Farda that about 800 workers participated in the protest on April 24. He said the workers were told after the Iranian New Year in March that the factory would be closed until it had enough money to reopen.

Since the Alborz tire factory was privatized in the 1990s, its 1,300 workers have been paid irregularly.

Meanwhile, a number of workers at the Esfahan Steel Company gathered in front of the parliament building in Tehran on April 24 to protest the nonpayment of their back wages, ISNA (Iranian Students News Agency) reported.

Also on April 24, some 100 workers and their families gathered outside the Fars Organization of Industries and Mines in Shiraz seeking payment of their wages for the past six months, a worker told Radio Farda.[…] Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/hundreds_of_iranian_workers_protest_for_back_wages/16794818.html

India: Goa village protest iron ore pollution

Goa – Villagers of Cavrem, Quepem, protesting the damage to crops and homes from mining pollution paralyzed the transportation of iron ore through the village on Saturday.

Quepem police inspector Mr S Narvekar said 94 villagers including 36 women were arrested for obstructing the passage of the trucks. They were released later.

The transportation of ore through the village has been virtually suspended over the last few days with the villagers’ agitation.

Cavrem has become the symbol of the unequal fight between the politically backed powerful mining lobby in Goa and a village determined to make its voice heard.

In March, the state government was compelled to shutdown an illegal mine being operated in the area by a well connected ore exporter. The mine was shutdown only after the villagers took a morcha to chief minister Mr Digambar Kamat’s residence in Margao. Source: http://www.steelguru.com/raw_material_news/Goa_village_protest_iron_ore_pollution/202393.html

South Africa: All calm on the Zandspruit front

Johannesburg – Police were monitoring the Zandspruit informal settlement, northwest of Johannesburg, on Freedom Day following violent service delivery protests, Gauteng police said.

“Everything is quiet for now and we are confident it will stay like this until Sunday,” said Lieutenant Colonel Tshisikhawe Ndou.

Gauteng housing MEC Humphrey Mmemezi had promised to meet with residents on Sunday and discuss their concerns.

The disgruntled community was protesting against the lack of housing and sanitation in the Honeydew settlement.

Police were on Wednesday monitoring the area after violence erupted. On Tuesday, 16 people were arrested for public violence after they had burnt tyres and blockaded roads.

Police used rubber bullets to disperse the crowd.[…] Source: http://www.iol.co.za/news/south-africa/gauteng/all-calm-on-the-zandspruit-front-1.1061544

India: Two persons killed, 12 injured in firing in Dhanbad

At least two persons were killed and more than 12 others injured when police resorted to firing to control a mob protesting the anti-encroachment drive at a Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL) colony located in Kusunda and Matkuria, about 8 kms from Dhanbad, today.

Agitators also set fire to about 16 vehicles, out of which 11 belonged to the BCCL authorities.

State police headquarters said people of the area started pelting stones at the team which went for the eviction of local people allegedly occupying BCCL quarters.

Police resorted to firing to control them, leading to death of two persons in the area. The situation in the district was tense but under control.

On April 5 police resorted to firing in the state capital in a similar incident in which one person died on the spot while another succumbed to his injuries in the hospital. Source: http://netindian.in/news/2011/04/27/00012827/two-persons-killed-12-injured-firing-dhanbad

Young Mauritanians stage sit-in demanding the release of 20 arrested during protests this week

NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania — Dozens of young Mauritanians are holding a sit-in outside the police directorate’s office to demand the release of 20 protesters arrested the previous day.

Youth on Tuesday chanted “freedom for our friends” before dispersing peacefully.

Mauritanian police arrested 20 people on Monday after hundreds demonstrated in the capital against the regime of President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. Police said the demonstrations were unauthorized and used tear gas and batons to disperse people.

Demonstrations have been ongoing since Feb. 25, when dozens of students used Facebook to organize another sit-in demanding political reforms and the president’s departure.

In January, a businessman died after setting himself ablaze in a protest against the government. Source: http://www.google.com/hostednews/canadianpress/article/ALeqM5j8iJwIrKvyJQWTozfC_HwRUEQUhw?docId=6668468

Oman: Power firm staff regroups for protest

Muscat Daily reported that in probably what is the first legal strike since the wave of protests began in February, employees from the eight subsidiary companies of Electricity Holding Company regrouped again to protest against the management outside the company’s head office in Qurm on Saturday.

The group had given 21 day ultimatum to the management to respond, as is required by law after they called off their three day strike on March 28. We are frustrated with the management as it is only during the last few days that they held a couple of meetings to show that they were working towards meeting our demands.

Mr Mohannad al Hindi head of operations and maintenance at Muscat Electricity Distribution Company said that but what came out of those meetings are only promises and no action. The protesters said that no representative from among them was included in the meetings. We gave a list of eight most important points to be discussed, but only half of them were brought up for discussion. Moreover, there has been no positive outcome from these discussions. Of their list of demands, Hindi added that at the very least, they wanted a change in top management and increased allowances immediately.

He said that the other demands to be discussed are a proper promotion policy, an increase in the employee loan limit from the current amount equal to two months salary, academic and professional training for staff and the setting up of a training center. The formation of an Omani employee committee is also on the anvil. But we are not happy with it as it consists of the top management only. We want representation from among us.[…]Source: http://www.steelguru.com/middle_east_news/Power_firm_staff_regroups_for_protest/202122.html

India: 150 agitating workers of General Motors detained

VADODARA: Around 150 agitating workers of General Motors India (GMI) were detained by the police here on Monday after they tried to stage a protest at the residence of a senior GMI official.

The agitating workers, who since March 16 are on strike at the Halol plant of GMI, were trying to stage a protest outside the residence of GMI`s human resources (HR) director Rakesh Mehta at Shrushti Bungalows on Vasna Road on Monday. Some of them had even planned to undress themselves as a mark of protest and to press upon their demands.[…] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/vadodara/150-agitating-workers-of-General-Motors-detained/articleshow/8084480.cms

And lots more…

April 14, 2011

Socialism or your money back

A few items from the above-named blog:

China’s ghost cities and the biggest property bubble of all time

A couple of months ago, a lot of people were passing around the news about China’s plan to create a megacity that would be home to 42 million people, the so-called “Turn the Pearl Delta Into One” idea. The reporting was generally favorable, painting a picture of economic growth and opportunity — the narrative of a prosperous China, with a growing middle class, that has become commonplace in recent years.

Unfortunately, the view of China’s urban planning strategies from the ground is less shiny. A riveting report from Dateline, an Australian TV show, reveals a disturbing pattern of development for development’s sake — the construction of gigantic infrastructure projects with no regard for human needs. (Hat tip to WalkableDFW.)

Take the New South China Mall, in Dongguan. The Dateline crew took a tour of the place, which has been 99 percent vacant since it opened in 2005, and the result is one of the most depressing things I have ever watched. Six years after its creation, what is touted as the largest mall in the world sits almost empty. One of the very few stores that’s in business is a toy shop, where the wistful owner spends his days dusting children’s bikes that no child will ever ride. He is lucky if he makes one sale a day. [READ THE REST]

Doom and gloomier

British families are on average £910 worse off than they were two years ago. Rising food, clothing and energy prices mean the average British family will have £910 less to spend this year than they did in 2009.The squeeze – which is considered the worst in peacetime for 90 years – is set to continue with a two per cent fall in household disposable income this year. The fall in disposable income is comparable with the savage post-World War One recession which lasted between 1919 and 1921, as a result of a collapse in manufacturing and international trade.The findings also show the fall in household disposable income is sharper than in the 1930s depression.

The Centre for Economics and Business Research forecasts inflation will average 3.9pc in 2011. At the same time, salaries will rise just 1.9pc as unemployment remains high and the public sector makes cut-backs.

Employment lawyers have predicted that older workers and pregnant women will be hit by a fresh wave of job cuts. Paul Griffin, head of employment at DBS Law, said: “The growth of discrimination claims from older workers and pregnant women suggests that employers are now targeting their more expensive staff, despite them being in protected groups. Obviously mistakes are being made in companies as accounts departments win out against human resources.”

Robert H. Frank, an economics professor at the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University, invented the toil index, a measure of how many hours the median American must work to pay for an average family home in a school district of average quality.
“During the immediate postwar decades the toil burden for meeting the rent of that median-price home actually declined slightly, from 42.5 hours a month in 1950 to 41.5 in 1970, according to my calculations.… By 2000, the median worker had to work 67.4 hours a month to put his or her family into the median home. “

The Libyan weapons shop-window

To take out Moammar Gadhafi’s air defenses, Western powers such as France and Italy are using the very aircraft and weapons that only months ago they were showing off to the Libyan leader. Times change, allegiances shift, but weapons companies will always find takers for their goods. The Libyan no-fly zone has become a prime showcase for potential weapons customers, underlining the power of western combat jets and smart bombs, or reminding potential buyers of the defensive systems needed to repel them.

Almost every modern conflict from the Spanish Civil War to Kosovo has served as a test of air power. But the Libyan operation coincides with a new arms race — a surge of demand in the $60 billion a year global fighter market and the arrival of a new generation of equipment in the air and at sea. For the countries and companies behind those planes and weapons, there’s no better sales tool than real combat. For air forces facing cuts, it is a strike for the value of air power itself.

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April 8, 2011

War in the Middle East: follow the money

From Der Spiegel:

Weapons Sales to the Arab World under Scrutiny

By Benjamin Bidder and Clemens Höges

Bernhard Zand/ DER SPIEGEL

In recent years, Western countries have made a bundle selling arms to Arab despots. But, as with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, some of yesterday’s buyers have become today’s enemies. Now major weapons exporters must seek a new balance between arms profits and human rights.

The revolutions in the Arab world caught British Prime Minister David Cameron off guard. For some time, diplomats had been planning a trip for Cameron that would take him to several countries in the Middle East. In fact, it was meant to be more of a trade mission, with Cameron’s delegation consisting largely of high-level executives from Great Britain’s weapons industry.

But then came the revolutions in Arab countries and the fighting in Libya. Ignoring them was impossible, and Cameron added a six hour stopover in Cairo to his already tight schedule. It was almost exactly a month ago that he visited Tahrir Square in the center of the city, the focal point of mass demonstration which ultimately forced Egypt’s aging leader, Hosni Mubarak, out of office.

“Meeting the young people and the representatives of the groups in Tahrir Square was genuinely inspiring,” Cameron said. “These are people who have risked a huge amount for what they believe in.”

From Egypt, Cameron flew on to Kuwait, where he got down to the real purpose of his trip: selling weapons to Arab autocrats. When members of parliament back home attacked him for this lack of tact, the prime minister insisted there was nothing wrong with such business transactions and that, in any case, his government made weapons buyers pledge to not use them to violate human rights under any circumstances. Great Britain, he said, has “nothing to be ashamed of.”

Britain, though, has exported over €100 million ($142 million) in weapons to Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi in the last two years alone. Included in those shipments are sniper rifles that may currently be in use against the Libyan opposition. Furthermore, Gadhafi’s terror police are British-trained. Indeed, British officials were forced to hastily revoke 50 arms export licenses to Libya and Bahrain.

Friends of Convenience

Cameron now finds himself in a tight spot shared by many Western politicians. Policies that seemed fine prior to the revolutions are now questionable. Regional paradigms are shifting and, at a time when populations are throwing off the yoke of oppression, Realpolitik is a poor guide to Western policy.

Until recently, the West had been arming despots in the Arab world with a series of ever-larger, billion-dollar deals that served to stabilize their regimes. Some are close allies when it comes to Iran and al-Qaida, making questions about human rights and democracy secondary.

In addition, many of the region’s potentates were convenient partners for the West: They had their people more or less under control, and some provided oil. Even Gadhafi proved useful by keeping poor African refugees out of Europe. Likewise, many of the rulers bought whatever the West’s defense industry put up for sale.

The Ascent of German Arms

This was certainly also the case with Germany’s defense industry. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), though it still lags far behind the United States and Russia, Germany has become the world’s third-largest weapons exporter in recent years.

Indeed, SIPRI statistics show that, over the last decade, the German defense industry’s share of the global arms market has doubled to 11 percent. In 2008, the total value of these arms sales amounted to just under €6 billion. Germany primarily supplies high-tech items, such as submarines and military electronics. German defense corporations — such as EADS, Rheinmetall and Heckler & Koch — together employ roughly 80,000 people.

German military wares are so good that even Russia has become a reliable customer. Although Russia’s own products are perfectly suited for guerilla warfare in Africa, Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov admits that they no longer meet “modern requirements.”

For this reason, Russia plans to order military hardware worth nearly €500 billion by 2020, including many items from the West. The Russian army would like to replace its T-90 tanks for the German Leopard 2, and Rheinmetall is to provide armored plating for other Russian vehicles. Even Russia’s mobile military camps will soon be “made in Germany.” Kärcher Futuretech, a company based in Winnenden, near Stuttgart, manufactures the finest in field kitchens and water purification systems.[…]

From Le Monde Diplo:

by Samir Aita
[…] Monarchies in the Arab world have been absolute, and life-long presidents (with hereditary office) ruled the republics, because they created a supreme power above both state and post-independence institutions (1). They set up and controlled their own security services to ensure that their powers would endure; the services escaped parliamentary or government supervision, and their members could reprimand a minister and impose decisions. It costs money to run such services, and the clientelist networks of one-party states. The funds derive not from public budgets, as do those for the police and the army, but from different sources of revenue. (The New York Times recently reported that Muammar Gaddafi had demanded in 2009 that oil firms operating in Libya should contribute to the $1.5bn he had promised to pay in compensation for the Lockerbie terrorist murders – or lose their licences. Many paid. And Gaddafi’s immediate cash holdings of billions of dollars are thought to be funding his mercenaries and supporters to defend him.)

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