Post from July, 2011

Kuwaiti Islamists mobilise on Syria

Sunday, 31. July 2011 19:36

Kuwaiti Islamists organised a meeting in past two days to lobby support for the Syria protest movement. It involved Kuwaiti Islamists associated with the Muslim Brotherhood as well as the Salafi trend, all Sunni. The background in Kuwait’s context is that Shi’ites are seen as pro-Assad.

They set up a body they are calling the Gulf League for Solidarity with the Syrian People. It seems there was not much presence of Islamists from the rest of the Gulf, but there was a Bahraini MP there, as well as Hamdi Osman of the Turkish Islamist relief organisation involved in putting up tents for Syrian refugees in Turkey.  

The statement they issued says the group will urge preachers during Ramadan to including in their sermons “prayer to support the Syrian people”, staging marches in favour of the protesters’ demands, and publicising “the crimes committed against the Syrian people and their link to the Safawi regime in Iran”.

One more sign of the Islamist interest in the Syrian unrest as well as the friction between Sunni and Shia in Kuwait. Here’s the text in Arabic: […]

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SaudiLeaks: Khoja’s fear on Mughniyeh death

Sunday, 31. July 2011 1:33

Wikileaks are still publishing US diplomatic cables, often under the radar, as it were, because media have moved on to the Arab uprisings after the initial impact of the Wikileaks material. I’d like to draw some more attention to those concerning Saudi Arabia. This is the latest one, released on 21 July (from 19 Febuary 2008; http://wikileaks.org/cable/2008/02/08BEIRUT271.html). It has been published in Arabic in al-Akhbar of Lebanon. What I found interesting about it is 1. the general conviction among Lebanese politicians the US diplomats talk to and probably US official themselves that Syria carried out or facilitated the assassination of Hizbollah operative Emad Mughniyeh in 2008 in order to move closer to the Western governments (which I’d heard before was the view of some Arab diplomats in London) and 2. Saudi paranoia. Al-Khoja, now minister of information, worries that it was a Syrian job to ingratiate themselves with the Americans and that in return the Special Tribunal investigation Rafiq al-Hariri’s murder will be allowed to drift down the US list of priorities. Behind this, it would appear, though it’s not stated directly, is the perma Al Saud fear of Washington making a deal someday with Iran. Khoja also believes Assad in Syria will approve Michel Suleiman as Lebanon’s new president as a ruse to get Arab leaders to turn up at the Damascus Arab summit that year, before then having him assassinated. Then charge d’affaires Michele Sison tries to discredit somewhat Khoja by referring to his “dramatic claims”. […]

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Defining the ‘Gulf’

Friday, 29. July 2011 19:59

So, the currently in vogue phrase is “Gulf monarchies”, and although some of their leaders are emir, one is sultan, a few are sheikh, and only two are “king”, I guess it works as a way of grouping the dynasties together. They certainly want to be grouped together. The Gulf, they often say, is different. Family rule suits the particular social and political circumstances of the countries involved. With this appeal to khususiyya, the Gulf rulers are circling the wagons. The Arab countries that have witnessed upheaval are republics, with fundamentally different political systems – Libya, Egypt, Syria, Yemen. As far as Al Saud are concerned, Bahrain only witnessed protests because of the deviance of the Shia and the meddling of Iran: If the republics were descending into de facto hereditary polities, that just shows the wisdom of the Gulf way, as Tareq al-Humayyid wrote in Asharq al-Awsat in February. (It’s a bit more complicated: the families in charge generally come to a concensus among themselves on who among brothers and sons of rulers has the qualities to maintain the stability of the state and continued rule of the family.) […]

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Popular Culture in the Arab World

Friday, 29. July 2011 18:57

This is a publicly available file of the hardback reference book I wrote several years back. The paperback was a different, shorter narrative. I’ll be working on an update to it in coming months, since it’s kind of necessary, given recent events… http://www.scribd.com/doc/17865809/Pop-Culture-Arab-World

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Bahrain king approves reforms, opposition rejects

Thursday, 28. July 2011 20:13

DUBAI, July 28 (Reuters) – Bahrain’s king approved parliamentary reforms on Thursday after the suppression of pro-democracy protests, granting more powers of scrutiny for the elected lower house but preserving the dominance of an upper house appointed by the royal elite.

King Hamad bin Isa was addressing a state-appointed body called the National Dialogue, set up to address popular grievances after martial law was rescinded in May, after it presented its final proposals on reforms. […]

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Bahrain National Dialogue proposals

Thursday, 28. July 2011 17:11

The Bahrain National Dialogue document has been published in summary and a copy of it is below. They say the Arabic version is to be published on Friday. The king is to meet the Dialogue members today; Wefaq say they will not go, Waad said they would. Waad member Munira Fakhro says it’s not clear if the king will approve all, any or none of the dialogue document.

The important thing is that it does not change the balance of power between the appointed upper house of parliament and the elected one. It only allows the elected one more powers to question cabinet ministers and some other powers of scrutiny a la Kuwait. But at least Kuwait’s parliament is entirely elected. Also, no limits on the terms of prime minister and other ministers. […]

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Saudi Umma Party attacks ‘terror law’

Wednesday, 27. July 2011 21:36

A group of Islamists tried to set up a political party in February. They are one of many small groups of activists on the scene right now but were obviously sticking their heads out further than most. Seven were arrested and of those one, the leader, remains in jail: Dr Abdelaziz al-Wohaiby.

Wohaiby was involved in the Committee for the Defence of Legitimate Rights set up Mohammed al-Mas’ari, Saad al-Fagih, Abdullah al-Hamed and others in 1993, when Islamists were leading the democracy movement in Saudi Arabia. Al-Hamed was one of three tried in 2004-5 for a second try, involving more secularists this time, in the period after the September 11 attacks of 2001. But like many others he’s gone a bit quiet when it comes to activism. […]

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Assassination of Iranian scientist

Wednesday, 27. July 2011 0:44

I wasn’t so keen on writing this when I was asked to look into it – it’s highly speculative and who can know. It’s also tough to get anything concrete from Iranians inside Iran. I can see the value in going over the state-of-play though.

Analysts believe Iran scienist death was a foreign hit

July 26 (Reuters) – Western security agencies were most likely behind the killing of an Iranian scientist in an operation that underlines the myriad complications in the conflict over Iran’s nuclear program, analysts say.

Darioush Rezaie, 35, a university lecturer, was shot dead by gunmen in eastern Tehran Saturday, the third murder of a scientist since 2009. One was killed in a car bomb, the second by a device detonated remotely. The Iranian government’s responses to past such incidents have appeared confused but the Rezaie case has surpassed previous levels, with the authorities speaking in strikingly different voices from the outset. […]

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The Mohammed Al-Buflasa speech

Monday, 25. July 2011 3:27


Bahraini former army officer Mohammed Al-Buflasa was released today after he was detained for several months for making a speech at Pearl Roundabout about Sunni-Shi’ite unity in their demand for a democratic Bahrain. This is the speech. He was arrested immediately after making it.

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Saudi Arabia: The realm of rigor mortis

Sunday, 24. July 2011 19:18

It’s summer in Saudi and that means one thing: Saudi ‘foreign policy’, such as it is, is on hold. The Saudi foreign ministry amounts to the minister, Saud al-Faisal and … well, that’s about it. Except that the king appointed this week his son Abdelaziz as Saud al-Faisal’s deputy, which suggests that the portfolio will eventually pass out of the hands of the Faisal branch of The Family to Abdullah’s. Both are seen as representing the more liberal wing of Al Saud and there’s no leading prince to represent the Faisal’s any more, since all are merely grandsons of the kingdom’s founder Ibn Saud. Despite his best efforts to charm the Westerners, Saud’s brother Turki continues to be haunted by suspicions that he cut a Family deal with Bin Laden when he was intelligence chief in the 1990s. […]

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