Thursday, April 28, 2011

Shortages of petrol in Russia, world's largest oil producer

How can it be? Easy -- the Russian government's price controls on petrol. The government wants the public to believe it's market manipulation by the oil companies. It's the government is the one manipulating markets, and public opinion.

Meanwhile, in the US,
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission, one of the federal agencies involved in the Obama administration's new investigation of rising gasoline prices, determined just a few days before being named part of the investigation that prices are going up because of normal market forces.

Dianne Rehm nailed Energy Secretary Chu on just this point Monday -- when gas prices go up, politicians posture that they'll do something about it by looking into market manipulation. But none is ever found -- because it isn't there. It's a case of politicians not wanting to admit they are impotent to stop the natural forces of markets, evidence to the contrary. Rehm asked Chu whether he had any reason to believe this time was different.


Take a cue from the House of Windsor

Arab royals need to find a way to stay in the picture in a world where they are likely to lose power. The United Kingdom provides a model says Foreign Policy entitled Royal Flush, as in the loo, as in Waterloo. It's not such a bad life being a figurehead, and better than some of the alternatives.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Op-ed is a stealth criticism of nation's leadership

With the detention of Emirati citizens who have expressed a desire for the nation's rulers to permit greater democratic freedoms, it has become more evident that even if you express your views in a careful, respectful way, criticism of the government can come at a personal cost.

What to do if you want to criticize the government's behavior? Criticize the behavior, but criticize its manifestation in others leaving out any mention of that sort of behavior by the government.

Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi's op-ed's appear frequently in the Gulf News. In my reading of his recent op-ed he is main objective is an indictment of the UAE government's crackdown on advocates of greater freedoms, but he does it implicitly by making a point about tolerance and character assassination in the social media in the Gulf. A Facebook group I was added to recently reflected this trend; it included pict
ures of individuals, some of whom I recognised, others unknown to me, all with the word ‘traitors' under it in Arabic. The administrator of the page goes as far as to ask members to attack those ‘traitors' on their personal Facebook pages ‘under every comment.'

On Twitter, a common response I receive after posting a news item about Gulf individuals who were called in for questioning or have been dismissed from work for their political activity is the phrase ‘the traitors deserve it.' Comments such as ‘this person's family isn't even pure nationals' are also common.

The Gulf has suffered from a sort of McCarthyism before; takfir or the labelling of the other as infidels and heretics was an easy way of discrediting others. the Gulf there is no official channel for debate that is tolerant even when the three ‘untouchables' of God, Country and Leader are off the topic. This also shows that many Gulf citizens are unable to debate topics that are sensitive and polarising without resorting to personalising the matter....

The renowned Islamic jurist Imam Al Shafei said more than a thousand years ago: "My opinion is right but it could possibly be wrong. Your opinion is wrong but it could possibly be right." No one has exclusivity over what's right and what isn't, and certainly no one has a monopoly on wisdom.
It's all here.


UAE files charges

Over the past few weeks five UAE citizens have been rounded up. They are dissidents to the current form of government, having advocated free elections involving all UAE citizens and to giving more than an advisory role to the federal national council.

Charges against the five have finally been made public:
Five Emiratis have been arrested for crimes including insulting members of the country's ruling families and posing a threat to state security, the Attorney General said.

Salim Saeed Kubaish said the five were being investigated for "crimes of instigation, breaking laws and perpetrating acts that pose threat to state security, undermining the public order, opposing the government system, and insulting the President, the Vice President and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi".

Read it all in The National.

I'm seeing discussion of the wording of the charges on Twitter. When I find a solid link, I'll add it.

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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Jurist group violated Section 16 says UAE government decree

Human Rights Watch
"UAE authorities have staged a hostile takeover of one of the country's leading rights groups," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "The government is reacting to domestic criticisms by banning websites, detaining peaceful activists, and intensifying its chokehold on civil society."

According to the decree, the Jurist Association violated section 16 of the UAE's 2008 Law on Associations, which prohibits nongovernmental organizations and its members from interfering "in politics or in matters that impair State security and its ruling regime." The associations law tightly controls
nongovernmental organizations permitted to operate in the UAE.

The Jurist Association, established in 1980 to promote the rule of law and raise professional standards in the legal profession, has faced mounting government restrictions in recent years. In 2010, the government prohibited association representatives from attending meetings abroad and cancelled symposiums in the UAE that it considered controversial. Members told Human Rights Watch that officials pressured them to quit the association.

Read it all.

The father of the UAE, Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, died in 2004.

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Obama to host Abu Dhabi crown prince

US President Barack Obama will host Abu Dhabi crown prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan on April 26 to discuss "common strategic interests" in the Middle East, the White House said Friday.

I hope there will be a discussion of why the political detentions by the UAE are wrong and are not in either country's interest.

Jurist Association board dismissed by UAE authorities

Mohammed al-Roken says he received a hand-delivered note from officials dismissing 11 elected members of the Jurist Association's board and replacing them with state-appointed substitutes.

Thursday's decision appears linked to efforts to silence calls for democratic reforms in the Gulf federation....
al-Roken is president of the lawyer's association.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

No one is "above the law" says UAE foreign minister

United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan warned that no one “is above the law,” when asked about the recent arrests of several pro-democracy activists.

“The prosecution in the U.A.E. has sent subpoenas to a number of people,” Sheikh Abdullah said in Abu Dhabi today. ‘This is fully in procedure with laws and rules of U.A.E. We have full trust in our judiciary and I do not believe that any person is above the law.” He didn’t elaborate on the charges or say how many people have been arrested.
Sheik Abdullah, a member of the ruling family, told reporters in the capital Abu Dhabi that prosecutors issued subpoenas “to a number of persons” in the seven-state federation. He didn’t say how many.

“This procedure is fully in line with the rules and the laws of the United Arab Emirates,” he said. “We made sure that these laws and rules of the UAE are fully implemented. These are transparent rules.”
The foreign minister didn’t say how many subpoenas had been issued or disclose the charges, referring questions to state prosecutors, who themselves have yet to comment on the arrests. Officials at the UAE’s Ministry of Justice couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday evening.

Sheik Abdullah described his nation’s justice system as “trustworthy.”

“We have full trust in the judiciary in the United Arab Emirates. And I do not believe any person should be above the law,” he said.

Ironically, "no one is above the law" means the law is king -- i.e., that the government exercise its power within the scope allowed by law.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Chronicle of Higher Education turns spotlight on UAE political detentions

Lecturer's Arrest in the Emirates Stirs Debate Over Academic Freedom in the Middle East
The arrest of Nasser bin Ghaith, a lecturer at the Abu Dhabi branch of the University of Paris IV (Paris-Sorbonne) who has participated in the Doha Debates, a respected regional political forum, leaves observers asking what freedoms the academics working at new Western branch campuses in the emirates will enjoy. "Are professors only protected in the 90 minutes when they are giving seminars, and after that they are fair game?" asks Samer Muscati, a researcher on the United Arab Emirates for Human Rights Watch.
Josh Taylor, a spokesman for NYU Abu Dhabi, said in an e-mail message that the administration will stay silent on the arrests. "We believe that we can have a far greater impact on creating a more informed, responsible, and just world, by creating powerful centers of ideas, discourse, and critical thinking, than by simply firing off a press release," Mr. Taylor wrote.
As is often the case in the United Arab Emirates, who is doing what, and why, can be difficult to discern. Little can be found out about the detention of Mr. bin Ghaith, including whether the government has filed specific charges, what kind of due process will be followed, and if he will be allowed legal representation.
The Sorbonne's Web sites are silent about the arrest, and e-mail messages from The Chronicle to communication offices at the Paris and the Abu Dhabi campuses of the Sorbonne were not answered.
In the emirates, Mr. Ross of NYU notes that "faculty and students at NYU Abu Dhabi have immeasurably more rights than longtime citizens of Abu Dhabi." Even arguments for academic freedom, he said, risk straying into illogical territory. The idea, for instance, that only academics should be protected, he says, is "not a very desirable argument for universities to be making."
This tweet sums it up well:
Blake Hounshell
Arresting Nasser bin Ghaith was a huge own-goal for the UAE. Exhibit A:

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

4th UAE activist arrested says Gulf Intellectuals Forum

The UAE government is behaving as if it is insecure. What threat can a few dissidents be? My years of defending the UAE to acquitances, as quite an advanced and free country, and not like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are not looking good in hindsight.

Another Emirati rights activist has been arrested, bringing to four the number jailed in the oil-rich Gulf state in the past month, a group of Gulf intellectuals said on Saturday.

Abdullah al-Shehhi was arrested on Friday by security forces, said a statement from the Gulf Discussion Forum, which groups intellectuals in the Gulf Arab states.

His family has not heard from him and does not know where he is detained, it added.
Shehhi, a former member of the UAE armed forces who was originally from the northern emirate of Ras al-Khaimah, was one of 133 signatories of a March 9 petition calling for direct elections and a parliament with legislative powers in the UAE, which has not yet seen protests that have swept other Arab states.

The group has called recent arrests part of "a 'protests phobia' regimes in the region are suffering from."

"The repression by Bahraini authorities of movements calling for freedom and democracy is an example," said the group, adding that Oman, which has also cracked down on pro-reform protests, is another.

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Saturday, April 16, 2011

NYT on NYU-Abu Dhabi

The New York Times has an article today on New York University in Abu Dhabi. Some extracts:
Many American colleges and universities have created outposts around the world. But N.Y.U. is the first to open a liberal arts college intending to roughly reproduce the experience students get in Washington Square. It aims to have 2,200 undergraduates within the next 10 years, part of a plan by New York University’s president, John Sexton, to create a worldwide network with N.Y.U.’s name on it. Last month, he announced a similar project for Shanghai, to open in 2013. Mr. Sexton says that the original founders of N.Y.U. saw it as a university “in and of” the city. Now, he believes, it is time for the university to become “in and of the world.”

The financing of N.Y.U. Abu Dhabi is noteworthy. The college is being entirely paid for by Abu Dhabi....
Some efforts to expand in this region have ended badly. Michigan State, which opened a branch campus in Dubai in 2008, announced last July that it would be canceling all its undergraduate programs. Meanwhile, George Mason, one of the first American universities to open in the United Arab Emirates, closed its Ras al-Khaimah campus in May without having graduated a single student. Both institutions had trouble attracting strong students and lost financial backing during the economic downturn.

It's a long article, notable for what it does not say. This link goes to the single page version.


Davidson's strongly worded critique

In Foreign Policy, Christopher Davidson says the UAE is verging on a police state, and that the recent detentions of UAE citizens is only evidence of a core problem. I agree the recent detentions are both unnecessary and reactionary, but I'm withholding endorsement of his larger argument. But the argument deserves a hearing, and I hope UAE citizens are not barred access.

The title and subtitle:
Making of a Police State

Over the last few years, the UAE has become increasingly oppressive. The recent crackdowns show how bad it really is.

The tough language:
Previously a collection of federated, tribe-based, traditional monarchies, led by the well-liked Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan until his death in 2004, the UAE has since been morphing into a sophisticated police state led by Zayed's two principal sons from their Abu Dhabi power base -- the UAE's oil-rich, wealthiest emirate. Unlike their father, who had to consult with other tribal elders and powerful merchants across the entire country, the new rulers now govern with zero accountability over an increasingly urbanized and Abu Dhabi-dependent population, the movements and communications of which are now carefully monitored and censored.
Where's the evidence for that claim? For me it's unproven.

But the UAE's role in putting down dissent in Bahrain, plus detentions of its own citizens are enough for me to agree with Davidson that
...questions should have already been asked by those world-leading institutions -- many of which are based in democratic states -- that cooperate closely with the current regime, in return for generous wealth transfers and other benefits. Perhaps now their question mark will be a bit bigger. The UAE's rulers draw massive legitimacy from these external links...
Read it all.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

UAE prison watch

The UAE has made international news with these two events -- the death of a man in prison, and a 14 year old being held on the charge of adultery.

Father distressed as 14-year-old girl set to be tried for adultery - Gulf News
Ajman: A 14-year-old girl will appear in court on a charge of adultery later this month, court sources have told Gulf News.
"The law states that the minimum age of suspects in crimes related to sex must be 15 years. Such cases should be conducted in special juvenile courts. Otherwise, suspects are considered victims rather than suspects," another law expert told Gulf News.

The suspect was detained by the Ajman police on March 22, something her father said could ruin her future. The 14-year-old girl was charged with adultery when she was caught meeting with her 25-year-old boyfriend on the roof top of the building her family lives in.

She was locked up for more than two weeks at the Ajman central jail with older women before being transferred to a juvenile centre in Sharjah, a day after Gulf News published her story. The young girl was also locked up for three days in solitary confinement in a section reserved for Emiratis. Expatriate children who commit crimes are usually locked up at central jails with adults, but the case of the girl was handled differently.
[Her father] had earlier revealed how his daughter had been referred to a gynaecologist for a virginity test [which she passed].
The story is flying around the web.

Meanwhile, The National's story on the death of a man in a Dubai prison seems to have disappeared:

Thus, we are left with this British tabloid version:

Cops beat Brit to death in Dubai cell - The Sun
A BRITISH tourist was savagely beaten for two days by brutal Dubai cops who then left him to die in his cell, sickened inmates said last night. Lee Brown, 39 - arrested after a hotel row - was stripped and handcuffed before being pulverised by up to six officers with their feet, fists and batons.
Added. Thanks to the first commenter below it is confirmed that The National did run the story linked above; check out this Google search.

The National now has an additional story on the death.

Postmortem confirms cause of British tourist's death - The National
DUBAI // A British tourist who died in police custody after being arrested in Dubai suffocated on his own vomit, the Dubai Attorney General has said. An autopsy revealed the cause of death and found traces of hashish in his blood stream.

Lee Bradley Brown, 39, was arrested on April 6 at the Burj Al Arab after assaulting an Asian hotel worker by pulling her hair and attempting to throw her off a sixth-floor balcony overlooking the lobby, according to the Dubai Attorney General. He was restrained by several hotel workers and police were called to the scene.
He was held in custody at Bur Dubai Police Station, where he was visited by consular officials on April 7. "We were aware that he had been arrested and he was visited by UK consular officials in Dubai last week," said a spokesman for the British Foreign Office. At the time of the visit, Brown was said to be in good health.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

5 countries where they literally have "fashion police"

Foreign Policy on the fashion police in France, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Bhutan, and Sudan. Penalties range from fine to flogging. Ouch.

A Saudi Arabia version of the TLC network's What Not to Wear would make interesting viewing.


NYU AAUP asks university to speak out against political detentions

NYULocal has letter sent by the New York University American Association of University Professors to the NYU President. An excerpt:
These arrests raise deep concerns about the limits of free speech in the Emirates and respect for academic freedoms for those teaching at American and European universities there. We urge the NYU administration in New York and Abu Dhabi to speak out strongly on behalf of the human rights of these three Emirati citizens and to join Human Rights Watch and other international organizations in demanding to know the reasons for their detention and the charges against them.

In accord with the spirit of the AAUP, we hope that NYU administrators will see why it is important to defend the freedoms of faculty of whatever nationality who teach at American and European universities in the UAE. Silence on this serious issue will set a precedent that could also have ominous consequences for the speech protections of NYUAD faculty. As the foreign university with the largest and most visible presence in the UAE, the NYU administration should speak out firmly against these violations of basic rights.
Read the rest of the letter, and NYULocal's coverage of the detentions. NYULocal has talked with NYUAD's spokesperson.

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Human Rights Watch objects to UAE crackdown

HRW issued two items on its website today about the detention of three UAE democracy advocates.

Foreign Institutions Should Condemn Crackdown
NYU, Louvre, Guggenheim Silent on Arrests of Activists

International public institutions opening branches on Saadiyat Island should send a clear message to Emirate authorities that they strongly condemn the United Arab Emirate's attack on rights advocates, Human Rights Watch said today.

The Guggenheim, New York University (NYU), and the French Museum Agency (Agence France-Museums, responsible for the Louvre Abu Dhabi) should urge the immediate release of three activists detained since April 8, 2011, in what appears to be a politically motivated campaign of intimidation against political reformers, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to the institutions.

Letter to NYU, the Guggenheim Foundation, and Agence France-Museums Regarding the Arrest of Ahmed Mansoor

As institutions that have invested a great deal in the United Arab Emirates, in particular a vision to lead the region's development as a free society that appreciates art and education and celebrates artists and academics, the Guggenheim, New York University and French Museum Agency have a responsibility to condemn publicly this outrageous attacks on activists. These institutions need to do so not only because those targeted include an artist and an academic, but because they are leading voices for freedom in their country. We know that your institutions are well placed to condemn such politically motivated arrests; for instance, Richard Armstrong and the Guggenheim Museum recently launched a petition demanding that the Chinese government release Ai WeiWei.

While the three detained activists may not have the renown or standing of Mr. WeiWei, in the context of the UAE, their principled stand for freedom is no less a threat to the UAE government than Mr. WeiWei's to the Chinese. And of course, the role of your institutions in the UAE is far more significant and prominent.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

An analysis of the detention of Dr Nasser bin Ghaith

Habiba Hamid has a masterful analysis of the detention of Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith, putting it into the larger context of UAE government and society.

It's too good to excerpt. Read it all here.

More about Hamid at her twitter account.

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Davidson on the UAE democracy crackdown

Christopher Davidson in Current Intelligence:
Three UAE nationals have been arrested in the past 72 hours, their current whereabouts still unknown. As pro-reform individuals, their detention seems to be a testimony to the failing ‘liberal autocracy’ experiment in the United Arab Emirates. The international community should take immediate note.

With a tribal leader legacy, and credited with founding the UAE federation and harnessing its oil wealth for economic development, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan was generally well liked by his people. He had no real need to implement meaningful political reform during his lengthy reign. Instead the plan seemed to be to hold back this particular card so that his succeeding sons would be able to offer reform as their particular ‘gift’ to the people. However, since Zayed’s death in 2004 no such reform has taken place.
... The removal of all three UAE nationals from their homes is alarming and requires thorough investigation. If the media reports on Dr. Ghaith’s arrest are accurate then the Sorbonne, along with New York University and all other western universities establishing campuses in the country should probably begin reviewing their ties with the UAE government.

Read it all.

Some tweeters to follow:

@dr_davidson (Christopher Davidson)


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Sunday, April 10, 2011

UAE detains third Emirati democracy advocate

UPDATED (see addendum to #3 below).

Not cool, UAE.

1. WaPo: Ahmed Mansour was detained Friday at his home in Dubai, his wife and a colleague told The Associated Press. Mansour’s wife, Nadia, said 10 policemen — some wearing civilian clothes — searched their house for three hours before taking her husband into custody and seizing two laptops and several documents. ... [He is] a blogger and rights activist who had said he’s gotten death threats for calling for political freedoms and an elected parliament in the Gulf nation. ... Another political activist and a prominent Emirati lawyer, Mohammed al-Mansouri, also reported the arrest.

The National (Sunday): Blogger Ahmed Mansour has been arrested in connection with a criminal case, police confirmed today. Lt Gen Dahi Khalfan Tamim, the Dubai Police chief, said the arrest was made in the emirate based on a request from the UAE attorney general.

2. AP: Fahad Salem al-Shehhy was detained late Saturday in Ajman, an emirate north of Dubai, after participating in an online forum calling for democratic reforms in the UAE, said Mohammed al-Mansouri, an activist. Authorities in the United Arab Emirates detained a second pro-democracy advocate just two days after they took a leading reformist blogger into custody, [the] prominent lawyer and political activist said Sunday.

3. On Twitter, Sunday:
Authorities in UAE detained Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith a prominent emirati economist


Al Jazeera English: ...The pair include Nasser bin Ghaith, one of the country's most outspoken academics, who is a financial analyst and an economics professor at the Abu Dhabi branch of Paris' Sorbonne university. He was detained on Sunday in Dubai, according to Mohammed al-Mansouri, the lawyer and a fellow activist.

In a recent article on a UAE website, bin Ghaith voiced unusually bold criticism of the Western-allied Gulf Arab states' political system and their moves to create jobs and raise social spending in a bid to prevent the eruption of popular unrest.

"They have announced 'benefits and handouts' assuming their citizens are not like other Arabs or other human beings, who see freedom as a need no less significant than other physical needs. So they use the carrot, offering abundance. But this only delays change and reform, which will still come sooner or later," he wrote.

"No amount of security -- or rather intimidation by security forces -- or wealth, handouts, or foreign support is capable of ensuring the stability of an unjust ruler."

Nasser bin Ghaith participated in a Doha debate on Dubai in late 2010.

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Thursday, April 07, 2011

Another UAE petition for political rights

All I see on it so far is this tweeter's twitter stream:!/kshaheen

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Saturday, April 02, 2011

UAE Facebook petitioner says he received death threat

Sultan Al Qassemi
.@Ahmed_Mansoor who was behind the UAE petition says on his Facebook page that he received a "death threat"

Ahmed Mansoor
Human Being


Friday, April 01, 2011

Weather report: No Arab spring in Qatar or UAE

So says HSBC.

The National:
The UAE is one of only two states in the Mena region that will be virtually unaffected by the economic fallout from the political turmoil that has hit the area, according to HSBC. In a report written by the bank's economic analysts in Dubai, HSBC says that, along with Qatar, "confidence in political stability and security remains undimmed" in the UAE.
"For all its debt woes and recent economic slump, the UAE's combination of vast hydrocarbon wealth and a dynamic export-oriented service sector has created an economy that has delivered growth and relative prosperity to its small local population."
HSBC estimated that the recent financial intervention by the government of Saudi Arabia amounted to US$10,000 (Dh36,730) per adult member of the kingdom's population, or some 30 per cent of GDP.


Emiratis are 11.5% of population

From 2006 to 2010 the population of the UAE population grew 65 percent according to official statistics. Unsurprisingly, the proportion of the population who are Emirati citizens fell. A lot. Immigrants Migrants cannot gain citizenship. [Strikeout courtesy of commenter below who is correct that the UAE aims to have no immigrants, only transients.]

The population of the United Arab Emirates grew 65 percent to 8.26 million people in the first half of 2010 compared with the same period in 2006, the U.A.E. Statistics Bureau said on its website today.
Emirati nationals accounted for 11.5 percent of the population at the end of June, or about 948,000 people, the data showed. The country’s expatriate population rose 75 percent from 2006 to the end of June, to 7.3 million people.

In 2010 there were 5.8 million non-national males and 1.6 million non-national females.

Follow the label "demographic imbalance" for previous posts on the UAE population.

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