Tuesday, 15 January 2008

We Has a Bush!

George Bush Came to Dubai and All We Got Was These Lousy Traffic Jams.

We has a Bush! And then, we hasn't. He came, he saw very little, he made noises about Iran to stop the hawks of Washington from indulging in a snit, he buggered off to Saudi to promise cheap weapons and beg for cheaper oil.
We did get a public holiday though, making Bush for once moderately popular here.
'Before flying to Dubai, Bush began his activities Monday by viewing a cultural exhibit and visiting business leaders in Abu Dhabi. At an exhibit on energy economy in the Gulf, Bush praised the United Arab Emirates federation for examining how to move beyond a reliance on oil.

"It's amazing, isn't it?" Bush said. "This country has gotten its wealth from the ground and is now reinvesting in alternative forms of energy."
Good point, so good that he then went to Saudi and asked them to pump more.


Finally a copy of Trofimov’s The Seige of the Grand Mosque, a bag of violet creams and a Saturday lie-in.

For those who don’t know the story, Juhayman was a Sunni fundamentalist out of the National Guard who, getting all hissy-fit about such things as the behaviour of senior princes and television being allowed in the Kingdom, suddenly spotted the Mahdi amongst his close friends and relations (kind of like realizing your small cousin is the second coming), and as a way of throwing his boy a welcome party, promptly took over the Grand Mosque, seized about 400 hostages and started taking potshots at perambulating princes from sniper nests in the Minarets

According to Trofimov, the raggle-taggle bunch of followers (including, in a nice inversion, two Americans) smuggled guns in in coffins to be blessed, and had a great deal of knowledge about the complex of underground tunnels and cellars under the mosque. Known as the Qaboo, this complex became an essentially invulnerable centre from which 1- 200 rebels fought the Saudi army. In those days the army numbered only 20 – 30,000 men, and Juhayman’s crew were able to inflict some serious collateral damage.

This was 1979 – year of all-around interesting times. The weeks preceding the siege saw the sacking of the American embassy in Iran. While Carter swore blind that this would prove an isolated incident, the Ayatollahs pumped out sufficient propaganda to persuade half the world that the Americans were behind the attack on the Grand Mosque. Result: American embassies then sacked from Libya to Bangladesh, including the notorious firing of the American embassy in Islamabad.

Juhayman’s militants were aided by a number of factors, which included the Saudi’s reluctant to break the prohibition on fighting in holy places, a reluctance from the Wahabi clerics to criticize or condemn that nice religious boy Juhayman and competition within the chain of command (three senior princes, three private armies, all had to be involved in the assault, and none of their radios could even speak to one another).

The generally rubbish response also included an episode in which the ever effective Saudi military chucked gas canisters down into the cellars in order to flush out the militants hiding there. Perched up above to watch the effects, they apparently forgot that CS gas rises. After that they got the French in.

The Saudi state dependent on foreign military aid - how far away those days seem now.

That Subtle Sheikh

More moments to like Dubai:

When Sheikh Mohammed’s daughter was born on UAE National Day – ok, cynical rumour has it that the baby was induced, but people, that there was a moment.

Reading the Dubai strategy documents for 2015 and noticing that Sheikh Mohammed’s introduction is signed quite simply, Mohammed.

The Adulterers Are Coming

Jordan, Restaurant near the Baptism Site:

American Lady Pilgrim 1: (Passionately) ‘The thing about Mary Beth is that she really responds to my spouse or to your spouse, or to anybody’s spouse, batting her eyelashes at them in the office or in the church, and convincing them that she’s available and that’s just straight out inappropriate. I don’t care what the Minister says about charitable thinking, I don’t know at what point things started to change and folks started having affairs all over the place and fifty-seven percent of marriages end in divorce and forty percent because one or the other of them has straight out been unfaithful, but there has been a change right there. People just didn’t used to behave like that.’
American Lady Pilgrim 2: ‘The Book of Mormon, Luanne – dollars to donuts, adultery started right there in the nineteenth century and the bible code proves it.’

The Royal Moustaches of the Hashemites

To Jordan, land of very intelligent people making good breakfasts and muttering about the Iraqi presence in their country. In general Jordan feels a little like Switzerland, equally blessed by mountains, a little more dusty. Like Switzerland, Jordan is determinedly neutral, much put upon by the neighbours. Traditionally, and with all the authority of their descent from the Prophet, the Hashemite Kings are the Middle East’s region’s favorite negotiators (so much so that they considered offering King Abdullah the Iraqi crown as a way of calming down the post war situation).

Unlike Ibn Saud, who essentially paid a man down the souk to come up with his ancestry, the Hashemite line of succession is real, and it makes the Jordanian monarchy close to sacrosanct – one of the reasons that this tiny, undefended country has survived without being snacked upon by one of the hungry neighbours.

Famously characterized by Rory Bremner as between Iraq and a hard place, Jordan’s geographical position isn’t exactly admirable. A regular influx of refugees from various neighbouring countries drives property prices and unemployment through the roof on a roughly ten year cycle. Despite this, the Jordanians remain good-humoured, and despite some muttering, generally impressively tolerant of immigration. The borders with Iraq may now been closed – but it took three years to close them. The authorities may now be discouraging calling shops or cafes, the Baghdad CafĂ© or the Ma-e-Sharif Dry Cleaners, but the fact that so many businesses had an Iraqi linked name is testament in itself to some impressive toleration.

One of the best things about this Jordanian moderation is the way that it is expressed sartorially. The women in Jordan wear neat collared coats and coloured headscarves, Islamically correct but also rather natty. The Hashemite Kings take a similar approach, usually appearing in a suit and tie, and ignoring the general Islamic dislike of cutting beards. Instead, King Abdullah, as with his father, King Hussein before him, opts instead for a dashing Errol Flynn type pencil moustache.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Western Governments: E for Effort

From Frauke Heard-Bey’s ‘From the Trucial States to the United Arab Emirates:’


By Sir Geoffrey Arthur, KCMG, formerly Political Resident

‘When the United Arab Emirates was established as a state at the end of 1971 it had few admirers in the West: it was incomplete, it looked loose and ramshackle, and it was born – so said the facile commentators of the day - under the ill star of British patronage. It has since acquired a host of fair-weather friends, but I do not recollect that a single special correspondent of a major Western newspaper – let alone a politician or a statesman – took the trouble to attend the ceremony of its formation.’

Well, get you, Western Governments!

That’s super-random. Who would have thought our glorious elected leaders would behave like a bunch of bitchy tweens and shoot themselves in the foot so spectacularly? I mean, hello? Oil? Thick black stuff? Oozes out of the ground here? Worth about a thousand dollars an ounce?

Was the internal combustion engine not invented until the 1980s? Because I’m pretty sure there was a massive energy crisis in the 1970s, and if so, declining to attend the ceremony establishing the UAE seems about as clever as sleeping with the window open during a forest fire. Civil Servants breed like cockroaches, I'm sure we could have spared a couple for the afternoon.

They should have just called OPEC the Organisation of Last Laughs.

Excuses Excuses

(Board meeting)

TD: You missed your plane again?
BH: I tried my best!
TD: How hard can you have tried? In the time since your scheduled departure Orville Wright could have grown the trees and built a whole damn plane!
BH: The queues at the airport were really, really bad… I only got out of the meeting an hour ago….
TD: Uh-huh…
BH: I tried! I really did!
TD: How hard?
BH: I bribed the anti-terrorism unit to escort me to the airport with their lights flashing! I inconvenienced traffic all the way from Beijing to Jakarta!


TD: You know we would never countenance behaviour like that…. I hope you’re ashamed
BH: I am, I really am
TD: (audibly, to secretary) Put another couple of thousand on her bonus for creativity.