Monday, January 4, 2010

Action urged on Pakistan acid attacks


MPs in Pakistan's Punjab Province have urged tougher sentencing for people convicted of acid attacks on women.

Zarina Ramzan's face was disfigured in an acid attack last year

Read Zarina's story

A resolution passed in the state assembly on Tuesday called for national legislation that would treat such attacks as attempted murder.

The resolution also calls for acid attack cases to be tried in court, rather than by tribal elders or within families.

Reporting of acid attacks against women has increased in recent years in Pakistan, especially in its largest province, Punjab.

There were 46 cases of acid attacks on women reported in Punjab in 2002.

'Good step'

The resolution was tabled by a female assembly member, Humaira Owais Shahid.

Human rights activists have long been calling for more to be done to bring those found guilty of crimes against women to justice.

Kamila Hayat, an activist with Pakistan's Human Rights Commission, welcomed the move.

"Any legislation is a good step," she told the Associated Press.

The BBC's Shahid Malik in Lahore says assembly resolutions, unlike bills, carry no legal weight.

In order to become binding such proposals would need to be incorporated into federal legislation.

He says there are no signs to suggest such legislation is currently being considered at federal level.

US warns of global Yemen threat




The US has offered to support the Yemeni government's fight against al-Qaeda, saying instability in the country could have "global implications".

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said on Monday that the US sees "global implications from the war in Yemen and the ongoing efforts by al-Qaeda in Yemen to use it as a base for terrorist attacks far beyond the region".

But Yemen's foreign minister ruled out direct US military intervention to tackle al-Qaeda fighters operating in his country.

"Yemen is going to deal with terrorism in its own way, out of its own interests and therefore I don't think it will counter fire," Abu Baker al-Qirbi told Al Jazeera on Monday.

Al-Qirbi said Yemen was happy to receive "development assistance" but not military intervention, adding: "The negative impact on Yemen is if there is direct intervention of the US and this is not the case."

'Not satisfied'

In her first comments since the attempted attack, she said the US administration was "not satisfied" with the Christmas Day incident.

Clinton told reporters after a meeting with Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani, the visiting Qatar prime minister, that she would discuss additional steps with other US administration members this week.

"[We] will be meeting with the president tomorrow to go over our international reviews, to hear what others in our government also have concluded and to take whatever additional steps are necessary."

She said a meeting on Yemen planned to be held in London this month would give the international community a chance to assess both the threat in the Middle East country and the world's response.

Clinton also said the US embassy in Yemen – which closed on Sunday along with the British, Spanish and French embassies due to unspecified al-Qaeda threats – would only reopen when security conditions permit.

Yemen is battling to control an al-Qaeda movement estimated to have hundreds of fighters in the country, as well as so-called Houthi rebels in the north of the country and a secessionist movement in the south.

Economic aid

Al-Qirbi told Al Jazeera that Yemen needed development aid to improve social conditions in the country.

"Economic growth is a necessity for Yemen because one of the main challenges facing Yemen is to improve the standards of living, create jobs and fight poverty because these are the elements that contribute to extremism in Yemen.

"Our first priority is development assistance and then we need also assistance to build and expand our counter-terrorism units," he said.

"I know the Americans have committed more money for our counter-terrorism units and that is one area we need support in."

Detroit attack

Over the weekend, Barack Obama, the US president, accused al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula of arming and training a Nigerian man accused of trying to blow up a US airliner bound for the city of Detroit on Christmas Day.

The Yemen-based group, which claims to be affiliated with Osama bin Laden's organisation, had earlier claimed responsibility for the failed attack and called for strikes on embassies in Yemen.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula said the failed attack was in response to a series of raids in western Yemen, which the group says were carried out by US warplanes.

Washington and Sanaa have denied the claims.

The intensification of security efforts in Sanaa comes just days after the British government announced plans to join the US in funding an "anti-terrorist" force in Yemen.

Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, has said he would hold a meeting in London on January 28 to discuss how to counter radicalisation in Yemen.

On Monday at least two suspected al-Qaeda members were killed during a raid near Sanaa, and up to three other suspects wounded during the operation in the Arhab district, around 30km northeast of the capital.

Security concerns

Security officials told The Associated Press news agency the raid was not connected to the threats that prompted the Western embassy closures.

The Japanese embassy has also suspended consular activities and Yemeni authorities have increased security in the city.

John Brennan, the US president's assistant for homeland security and counter-terrorism, warned on Sunday that "there are indications that al-Qaeda is planning an attack against a target in Sanaa".

Hillary Mann-Leverett, a former US diplomat who worked at the national security council, told Al Jazeera that Yemen had long been a troubled state plagued by poverty and violence.

"The most important thing here for geopolitics globally and within the region, is that Yemen has been a fractured, desperately poor and deeply fractious country that all the countries in the region and the superpowers have used as a battleground," she said.

But she also said the Obama administration's policies towards the region were partially to blame for threats against Washington and its allies.

"We have given the Saudis a green light to militarily intervene in Yemen and to characterise what is happening in Yemen as a Sunni-Shia war [with] the Saudis there to defend the Sunnis against craven Shia," she said.

"We're paying the price today of outsourcing our policy to the Saudis."


"We see global implications from the war in Yemen and the ongoing efforts by al-Qaeda in Yemen to use it as a base for terrorist attacks far beyond the region"

Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Yemen, the joke is on you ...


By Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera's senior political analyst

Marginalised by regional developments and intimidated by Washington's Cold War and Gulf War victories, two Yemenis - so goes the joke - wondered if their country should declare war on the US, force it to occupy Yemen and care for it.

"But what if we won?" wondered one. "We would have to care for America!"

As the US and Britain prepare for covert war on Yemen, and following on their failures in Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan/Pakistan, Yemenis might wonder if the joke is becoming a reality.

Over the last few days, London has called for an international conference on Yemen (after it called for another on Afghanistan) under US-British auspices to see how best to support the government of Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Yemeni president, against al-Qaeda.

From fragile to failed

In depth


Profile: Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
The $30bn pair of underpants
Neither wars nor drones


One does not have to be a Yemen expert to tell you that further destabilising Yemen along the lines of Pakistan or Somalia is not sound policy, and that Yemen's proximity to the Gulf and the Horn of Africa does not bode well for regional stability.

But that is exactly what will happen if the US/UK "counterterrorism" policy focuses on providing military support to a three-decade-old government that presides over an unstable and decentralised country.

By offering more military training, arms, naval patrolling, intelligence sharing and possibly shared offensive operations, the West might help prolong and sustain an autocratic regime that faces secessionist movements in the North and South.

Mostly, though, it will aggravate a fragile state of Yemen into a failing state.

Even if estimates are exaggerated (Yemen's interior minister in 2002 put the number of guns at 60 million), Yemeni tribes are better armed than any other in the region and will not surrender their weapons quietly to the central government, especially in light of the declared foreign intrusion into their country's affairs.

Forgotten front?

But the US military presence, like that of al-Qaeda, is hardly new. In the decade since the bombing of the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen in 2000, Washington has sent special forces into the country, took out suspected "terrorists" and shared in various raids against al-Qaeda targets in the country.

But that is ignored by an ever more influential class of pseudo-experts and self-declared "terrorogists" whose careers revolve around advising the US/UK government on how to advance their interests in the Middle East through force.

They reckon Yemen has been the ignored "forgotten front" of the "war on terror" and advise much more of the same security and military solutions.

They disingenuously ignore the decade of covert American military co-operation and security operations in Yemen that utterly failed, and they dangerously advocate raising the stakes in a country that suffers from any number of tribal, religious, regional, cultural and economic tensions and conflicts that only feed into instability and violence.

Blowback

Dealing with Yemen must begin with understanding why this country can serve as fertile ground for al-Qaeda and recognising the US' role in it (not to mention the old colonial British rule).

Young Yemenis were first radicalised in Afghanistan, where tens of thousands went to fight the Soviets under the auspices of a CIA covert war there. But the end of the Cold War did not mean the end of the "Arab Afghans", who later formed the core of al-Qaeda, whether in Afghanistan or in their homelands.

Thousands who came back to Yemen and joined local radical religious groups looked on with bitterness and betrayal as half a million US soldiers deployed next door in Saudi Arabia in 1991, the birthplace of the prophet.

The fact that the Yemeni government, as well as popular sentiment, opposed US military action against Iraq only empowered the newly formed radical groups.

Furthermore, Gulf regimes disappointed by Yemen's opposition to the war to liberate Kuwait, sent around a million Yemeni expats home, thus exasperating unemployment levels and reducing foreign remittances by a high margin, and in the process, fertilising the ground for extremism.

But the US role in Afghanistan in the 1980s and its role in the Gulf in the 1990s are only two examples of how US military interference has had major political repercussion in Yemen.

US support for Israel and its occupation of Arab Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian lands, and Washington's intervention in neighbouring Somalia have also led to direct and indirect hostility towards the US.

Domestic politics

A soldier and savvy political operator, President Ali Abdullah Saleh was not exactly innocent or idle as international and regional events affected his country.

Although Saleh has made serious attempts to strengthen the state's unity, economy and institutions since taking power in 1978, his main concern has been the stability and primacy of his regime.

In the first of three decades in power, Saleh the military man secured his position in then North Yemen by playing off the tribes, some of which were supported by Saudi Arabia.

In the 1990s, he secured national unity with South Yemen, merging the two into one state, first through political process and establishing partnership, and later by winning the war (1994) against the Southern leaders who tried to secede once again. But most importantly, he achieved unity by solidifying his power and boxing in his potential adversaries by playing off Northern-led Islamists against Socialist secular Southerners.

And over the last decade, Saleh has exploited the US "war on terror" to break his once-empowered Islamist partners turned political adversaries.

Following al-Qaeda's attack against British interests and the USS Cole in 2000, Saleh was reluctant to co-operate overtly with the US administration.

However, after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington (and an attack on a French oil tanker in 2002), Saleh agreed to co-operate with the US on all security fronts after obtaining American assurances that Yemen would not be targeted by the US in the "war on terror" as was Afghanistan and Iraq.

The US put the guru of the Yemeni Islamist movement, Sheikh Abdul Majid Az-Zindani, on its "terrorist watch list", and the Yemeni government put all the religious schools under its supervision.

To no avail

However, none of this helped Saleh secure his regime. Recent clashes in the Northern region of the country with the Houthis led to Saudi military interference on the side of the government and exposed the weakness of the regime.

Likewise, Saleh's inability to reduce the unabated political and security tensions in the South, as socio-economic conditions continued to deteriorate in the rest of the country, has all but exposed and amplified the weakness of his regime and its dependency on foreign economic and military aid.

However, with half of the population illiterate or living under the poverty line and one third unemployed, any attempt at a military solution could only exacerbate an already untenable situation.

Barack Obama, the US president, would be well advised to remember the advice given to his predecessor by General Colin Powell: "If you break it Mr president, you will own it."

Paradoxically, if the US continues to fail successfully in its "war on terror", it is those local autocratic leaders like Saleh who end up caring for its security instead of their own national interests.

The joke is on all of us ...

Karzai's humiliation



By Hashem Ahelbarra


President Karzai has suffered a public humiliation when 70% of his cabinet choices were ruled out by the parliament.

The rejection comes at a very crucial time for the country. The Taliban are gaining more ground, conducting daring attacks, like the suicide bomb attack at a CIA base in Khost province. Seven CIA operatives were killed.

The country is marred by instability, and a growing public mistrust of Nato forces, especially after the string of deadly attacks against civilians.

Eager to limit the impact of the damage made by the vote, Karzai’s dispatched his spokesperson Waheed Omar to reassure the Afghan people that things are still under control. He told the media that while the president was “surprised by the rejections”, he respects the process which he qualifies as “the beauty of democracy”.

But “surprise” is an understatement. The vote is already setting a chain of negative reactions in Karzai’s clan.

Junbish–e-milli, the party of the Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum said the vote was “politically motivated”. Three Uzbeks were among the 17 nominees which were rejected. Without Dostum’s support during the presidential election, Karzai would have lagged far behind in terms of votes in the north of the country. Karzai owes Dostum an explanation as to why his people were turned down.

It is hard to tell whether the parliament acted on its own to express its discontent with the cabinet picks, or was it Karzai, a master tactician, who had been pulling the strings from the presidential palace to affect the outcome of the vote.

The man holds a formidable sway among many Pashtun MPs. He also relies on veterans like Sibghatullah Mojaddidi, Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf, Khalili and others to win more votes in the parliament.

Karzai is left with very few options. He has to submit a list of new choices to the parliament and hope this time that they won’t be rejected.

Politically beholden to the warlords and tribe chieftains who backed him in the elections, he won’t risk going down unexplored alleys, on the contrary he will confine himself to safe and cautious moves so as not to upset the West and his allies. But by doing so he might end up alienating both.

Although the vote is not likely to erode Karzai’s chances to form a new government in the future, but he might still go alone to the important London Conference set for January 28th..

But going to London prior to forming a government may not be a good strategy. His caretaker government is more of a liability. Beset by allegations of graft, infamous for its crippling bureaucracy and ineffectiveness, that government stands no chance whatsoever to convince the international community to commit more cash and troops?

Only a new government committed to good governance, can change Western perception on the Afghan political establishment. Former Nato chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer once echoed the perception saying : "The basic problem in Afghanistan is not too much Taliban; it's too little good governance."

Al-Qaeda in 'Sahara Emirate'




An offshoot of al-Qaeda has emerged in the deserts of North Africa, claiming an area it calls the Sahara Emirate.

The group roams the border region of Algeria, Mauritania, Mali and Morocco.

Al Jazeera has obtained exclusive footage showing the fighters posing with bombs and rocket propelled grenades at a desert camp.

Mohammed Vall reports from Mauritania.


Source: Al Jazeera

US group to protest terrorism in name of Islam


DUBAI (Loukia Papadopoulos)

A Detroit-based American attorney told Al Arabiya on Tuesday he is organizing a peaceful protest against terrorism in the name of Islam on the day the U.S. District Court has scheduled a hearing for the Nigerian who attempted to blow up a Delta airlines flight.

“For eight or nine years Muslims are attacked by the media and by terrorists who pretend to represent us. It is time we take a stand and show Islam is not an evil religion, it is a religion of peace. Those who would commit terrorism do not represent Islam,” Majed Moughni, organizer of the Dearborn Area Community Members, told Al Arabiya.

" For 8 or 9 years Muslims are attacked by the media and by terrorists who pretend to represent us. It is time we take a stand and show Islam is not an evil religion, it is a religion of peace. Those who would commit terrorism do not represent Islam "
Majed Moughni, organizer

The Detroit bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, is accused of trying to attack Northwest Airlines flight 253 en route to Detroit Metro Airport on Christmas Day, by attempting to detonate an explosive device on board. He claimed he was acting on al-Qaeda orders.

Moughni’s Facebook group, the Dearborn Area Community Members, called for local Muslims and other citizens to join the protest and take a strong stand against Abdulmutallab’s actions.

One post read: “Please bring your signs, and American flags: theme: "NOT IN THE NAME OF ISLAM."


Support
" Marhaban! I am not Muslim(…), but I attend the University of Michigan-Dearborn and definitely understand that Islam is not about anything this terrorist has done. I hope this protest can show the rest of the world and help them understand "
Facebook post

The group’s motto is to “provide a network of support for a stronger country, one community at a time,” and it seems to be working as both Muslim and non-Muslims posted comments showing their support for the Muslim community.

One member wrote; “Marhaban! I am not Muslim(…), but I attend the University of Michigan-Dearborn and definitely understand that Islam is not about anything this terrorist has done. I hope this protest can show the rest of the world and help them understand.”

Other members showed enthusiastic support for Moughni’s protest.

“It is time for American Muslims to stand up and protest against all the violence and actions taken by people who pretend to be Muslims. Islam is about peace, love and faith not about violence, terrorism and destruction,”stated another post.

So far the group has 380 members, a number that Moughni says is continuously increasing with media attention.

“We hope to have thousands of people at the protest,” the Dearborn attorney said.
عودة للأعلى

Files show UK did not want to host Iran’s shah


LONDON (AFP)

Britain was desperate for the shah of Iran not to move near London after the 1979 revolution despite previously supporting him, even planning a cloak-and-dagger mission to the Bahamas to put him off.

Prime minister Margaret Thatcher was "deeply unhappy" that Britain could not offer sanctuary to a "firm and helpful friend".

But her predecessor James Callaghan and officials had already decided before she was elected in May 1979 that the shah's would pose a huge security risk and damage relations with the new regime, secret files released Wednesday showed.

Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi left Iran on Jan. 16, 1979 and in February, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned from exile in France and became supreme leader of the Islamic republic.

Meanwhile, the shah moved between a series of countries including the Bahamas while desperately trying to persuade someone to give him a permanent home.


An informal approach
" The prime minister made it clear that she was deeply unhappy about the Government's inability to offer sanctuary to a ruler who had, in her view, been a firm and helpful friend to the UK "
Files

On Feb. 9 1979, a freelance journalist close to the shah called Alan Hart contacted Downing Street to say the deposed royal was interested in living full-time at his lavish estate in Surrey, southwest of London.

Hart said "he had been asked by the Shah... to make an informal approach to the British authorities to sound out their reaction to the possibility that he might seek to come to the UK to settle more or less permanently," according to a letter from Downing Street to the Foreign Office.

In response, a senior Foreign Office official wrote to Downing Street that any such move "would be bound to complicate and very likely damage our relations with any successor government", plus "saddle us with an enormous security problem".

Callaghan, who was still in office before being ousted by Thatcher later that year, echoed this analysis.

"He is an intensely controversial figure in Iran and we must consider our future with that country," Callaghan wrote in a note on the situation on Feb. 19. "He will need to make interim arrangements."

Within a few months, though, Thatcher was in Downing Street and voicing discontent about the situation.

"The prime minister made it clear that she was deeply unhappy about the Government's inability to offer sanctuary to a ruler who had, in her view, been a firm and helpful friend to the UK," a letter from Downing Street to the Foreign Office revealed on May 14.

In the meantime, officials were plotting to send an emissary, the former ambassador to Iran Sir Denis Wright, under an alias to the Bahamas to discourage the shah.

"His cover will be breaking a business trip to spend a weekend with an old friend -- yourself. Your old friend's name is Edward Wilson!" another former ambassador, Anthony Parsons, telegrammed to Britain's high commissioner in the Bahamas on May 16.


"The wrong man for the job"

" he would have made a first class senior civil servant or head of a public corporation in a Western country", his regime was guilty of "arrogance, meretricious glitter, touchiness and pretentiousness... which Western diplomats found hard to stomach "
Anthony Parsons

After travelling between countries including Egypt and Morocco, the shah headed to the U.S. for cancer treatment.

Once he arrived, Iranian students took 63 hostages at the U.S. embassy in Tehran in November 1979, demanding that the Shah return to Iran to face trial in the 444 day-long Iran hostage crisis. He died in Cairo in 1980.

Other previously secret files reveal Parsons' assessment of the shah as "the wrong man for the job" in his valedictory dispatch from Tehran on Jan. 18.

Although "he would have made a first class senior civil servant or head of a public corporation in a Western country", his regime was guilty of "arrogance, meretricious glitter, touchiness and pretentiousness... which Western diplomats found hard to stomach," Parsons said.

Reports that the shah's brother Gholam Reza Pahlavi was plotting in London against the new regime were dismissed by Parsons in April, who wrote that Gholam was "incapable of plotting his way out of a bucket of used Kleenex."

Officials were also dismissive of Khomeini's regime -- "the court surrounding Khomeini is like an oriental bazaar", said a telegram from the Tehran embassy back to London on Feb. 15.

Afghanistan's first skatepark mixes rich and poor


KABUL (Reuters)

Afghanistan's first skateboarding park and school opened in Kabul on Tuesday with a boarding showdown between dozens of youngsters -- ranging from ministers' children to street kids -- that it aims to bring together.

"Skateistan" started two years ago in a dried-up fountain in the heart of the Afghan capital, when two Australians with three skateboards started teaching a small group of fascinated kids.

Now dozens of boys and girls from across all social classes can mix in a giant indoor park that looks like a cross between a military hangar and an urban hangout, decked out with the names of fashionable skating brands that have sponsored the park.

" I want to be a professional skateboarder in future like my teacher, and help other children learn how to skate "
Mahro

Classes are free, and at the back of the skating section are neat changing areas and classrooms where children can study everything from basic literacy to advanced computing when they put down their boards and take off their helmets.

"A year ago this was empty land, there were just dogs here," said Fraidoon Ilham, who helps write speeches for President Hamid Karzai as his day job but also helps Skateistan sort through the legal and government pitfalls of operating in Afghanistan.

One of the world's poorest and most conservative countries seems a strange place to set up a skateboarding school, but the founders say it has proved a remarkably successful way to reach out to marginalized children, particularly girls.

Sports such as football are seen as men's activities, but skateboarding is novel enough to be open to women.

"I want to be a professional skateboarder in future like my teacher, and help other children learn how to skate," said 10-year-old Mahro, a star student who seems undaunted by either traditional ideas about women or the steepest ramps in the park.

She has been skating for a year and would like to come every day, she says, shrugging off grazes on her hands from tumbles.


Olympic support
" We managed to bring together about 200 street children, this sport is not only entertainment for them, it is also giving them hope for their future "
AOC head Mohammad Zahir Aghbar

So far Skateistan have won donations of $650,000, around two thirds of which went towards the 1,800 sq m (19,380 sq ft) indoor arena.

The head of the Afghan Olympic Committee, which has donated the land for the park and is providing water, power and security, officially opened the indoor park and launched an enrolment drive. An outdoor area will follow.

"We managed to bring together about 200 street children, this sport is not only entertainment for them, it is also giving them hope for their future," said AOC head Mohammad Zahir Aghbar.

"I am working hard to expand this process, not only in the capital but further out, in the provinces also."

The children he hopes to help are those like 11-year-old Fazila, who used to sell chewing gum on the street, but was allowed to go to school and skate classes after Skateistan arranged to pay her parents the $1 a day she used to earn.

"I want to be able to jump like teacher Ollie. I can do a little already," she said with a shy grin, before wheeling off to tackle the two quarter ramps that make up the "Afghan gap" in her traditional headscarf and shalwar kameez, beside the children of Afghanistan's elite.

US airport terminal locked down over security


WASHINGTON (Agencies)

Terminal C at Newark International Airport near New York City was locked down early Monday because of a security breach, TV reports said, citing the Transportation Security Administration.

The terminal was being cleared and passengers were being rescreened after a man walked through the wrong side of a checkpoint without being screened.

Joshua Brown of Toronto, who was waiting in the terminal to board a flight for Lisbon, said the terminal lobby was packed with perhaps 2,000 to 3,000 people, waiting for a large number of security forces to complete their checks.

About two hours after the incident, he said, "The security checkpoints are still empty and nobody is queuing up."

Major U.S. airports have been at a heightened level of security since a botched attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day by a Nigerian man who had explosives in his underwear when boarding at Amsterdam and who is believed to have been trained by al-Qaeda in Yemen.

U.S. officials announced earlier on Sunday that citizens of 14 nations who are flying to the United States will be subject to intensified screening at airports worldwide.


Intensifies screening
" The directive also increases the use of enhanced screening technologies and mandates threat-based and random screening for passengers on U.S.-bound international flights "
U.S. Transportation Security Administration statement

Air travelers from Nigeria, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and ten other countries will face full-body pat downs before boarding airliners under new security screening procedures targeting foreign passengers, the officials said.

Passengers traveling from or through nations listed as "state sponsors of terrorism" will face heightened screening, an Obama administration official said.

Such passengers will be patted down, have their carry-on luggage searched and could undergo advanced explosive detection or imaging scans, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Transportation Security Administration, the U.S. agency responsible for air security measures, announced the "enhanced screening" procedures, adding that any passengers on U.S.-bound flights could be subjected to random security searches.

Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian, was arrested by U.S. authorities after being accused of carrying a bomb sewn into his underwear onto a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Dec. 25. He got through security screening in Amsterdam, and was subdued by passengers and crew after trying to blow up the plane.

U.S. President Barack Obama said on Friday it appeared Abdulmutallab was a member of al-Qaeda and had been trained and equipped by the militant network in Yemen.

The announcement of the new security steps comes amid rising criticism by U.S. Republicans and others that American diplomatic and intelligence officials failed to prevent the Dec. 25 incident despite having evidence about Abdulmutallab.

U.S. intelligence officials said they believe that al-Qaeda leaders are hiding out in Pakistan after being chased from Afghanistan during the war that began in 2001 in the weeks after the group's Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

Yemen also is emerging as a major area of al-Qaeda activity, according to security experts.

The new rules apply to anyone with a passport from any of the 14 countries, and anyone stopping in those countries, the administration official said.

U.S.-bound flights
" Because effective aviation security must begin beyond our borders, and as a result of extraordinary cooperation from our global aviation partners, TSA is mandating that every individual flying into the U.S. from anywhere in the world traveling from or through nations that are state sponsors of terrorism or other countries of interest will be required to go through enhanced screening "
TSA

The Transportation Security Administration said it issued security directives to all U.S. and international airlines with inbound flights to the United States that would include random screening of passengers. This random screening policy applies to any airport in the world for flights coming to the United States, the official said.

"Because effective aviation security must begin beyond our borders, and as a result of extraordinary cooperation from our global aviation partners, TSA is mandating that every individual flying into the U.S. from anywhere in the world traveling from or through nations that are state sponsors of terrorism or other countries of interest will be required to go through enhanced screening," the agency said in the statement.

"The directive also increases the use of enhanced screening technologies and mandates threat-based and random screening for passengers on U.S.-bound international flights," it added.

All passengers are screened electronically for weapons and bombs regardless, and the new rules that include random enhancements appear more agreeable to airlines, which chaffed at broad requirements imposed after the Dec. 25 incident.

Carriers complained about widespread delays and other passenger inconveniences, especially in Canada and Europe.

However, airlines will not be able to assess the full impact of the new regime on their operations for a few days.

Last week, airlines told Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano that the system could not manage efficiently under a 100 percent pat-down mandate over the long term. Any changes to that routine would be welcome.

Egypt fatwa on Gaza wall stirs controversy


CAIRO (Mustafa Suleiman)

Egypt's top Islamic body issued a fatwa sanctioning the construction of a steel wall between Cairo and the impoverished Gaza Strip, causing a stir amongst several scholars who accused Egypt of stifling the resistance in the strip.

The Center for Islamic Research (CIR) at the al-Azhar school, the world’s leading institution of Sunni Islam, issued a fatwa last week saying the construction of a steel barrier between Egypt and Gaza was in line with Islamic teachings as it was part of Egypt’s right to defend its territory.

"It is Egypt’s legitimate right to erect barriers that would stop the damage caused by the tunnels linking Rafah to Gaza," an Azhar statement said, after it was approved by al-Azhar's Grand Imam Sheikh Mohamed Sayyed Tantawi.

" This barrier will besiege our brothers in Gaza and offer them no way out of the three-year old Israeli blockade. It will deprive them of food, medicine and fuel and will crush the resistance "
Scholars argue

"What is smuggled through those tunnels threatens the security of the country."

Several religious scholars, mostly affiliated to al-Azhar, argued that the latest fatwa contradicts earlier ones issued by the CIR in 1965 and 1970 that called for supporting the Palestinian cause.

“This barrier will besiege our brothers in Gaza and offer them no way out of the three-year old Israeli blockade,” said the scholars’ statement of which Al Arabiya obtained a copy. “It will deprive them of food, medicine and fuel and will crush the resistance.”

The scholars called on the Egyptian government to halt the construction of the wall and to officially apologize to Palestinians living in Gaza.

Yehia Ismail, secretary general of al-Azhar Scholars’ Front, which is leading the campaign against the wall, argued that the last fatwa steps away from the stance the CIR has always adopted on the Palestinians.

“According to the resolutions of the second CIR conference, held in May 1965, the Palestinian struggle is the struggle of all Muslims,” he told Al Arabiya. “Palestine is part of Muslim heritage and history and Muslims will not rest in peace until it is liberated.”

Ismail argued that since the liberation of Palestine is the duty of every Muslim, abstaining from doing so or becoming involved in activities that would hinder supporting Palestinians is considered a grave sin.


Religious minister okays fatwa
" We will always support the Palestinian cause and we lost thousands of our sons in the struggle for Palestine. However, Egypt has the right to protect its borders "
Minister of Religious Endowment

Meanwhile Egypt's Minister of Religious Endowment, Mohamed Hamdi Zaqzouq, defended the wall and the fatwa and refused to associate them with abandoning the Palestinian cause.

“We will always support the Palestinian cause and we lost thousands of our sons in the struggle for Palestine,” he told a conference of pioneer imams in Alexandria. “However, Egypt has the right to protect its borders.”

Zaqzouq rejected criticism of the fatwa and a-Azhar.

“The center represents al-Azhar scholars and the fatwa was issued on valid religious basis. There are no camps in al-Azhar.”

Egypt, Zaqzouq added, will not accept any compromises as far as the steel wall is concerned.

“I am sure no Arab country will accept a violation of its borders,” he concluded.



(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)

Egypt bypasses face veil ban with flu masks


CAIRO (Mustafa Suleiman)

An Egyptian student filed a complaint Sunday for being forced to remove a flu mask she wore as a way of circumventing a recent ban on the face veil on university grounds.

Amal Lotfi filed an official complaint with the East Cairo prosecution after school officials prevented from entering the campus of Ain Shams University wearing a flu mask. A move, she said, that was in violation of the instructions given by the Ministry of Health regarding swine flu protection.

" We will keep going to court till we get a ruling in our favor "
Amal Lotfi

Lotfi and her colleagues had to take off the face veil after the ban imposed by three universities; Cairo, Ain Shams, and Helwan. After the Cairo Administrative Court dismissed a lawsuit filed by 55 face-veiled students to annul the universities’ decision, they then resorted to wearing flu masks until they win the legal battle.

“We will keep going to court till we get a ruling in our favor,” Lotfi told Al Arabiya. “But till this happens, we have decided to wear the masks so that we do not give up our right to cover our faces.”

She explained that she and her colleagues had to find a way around the ban in order not to miss classes, especially since exams will start soon. Exams in Egyptian universities are scheduled for mid-January.

According to the Administrative Court ruling, university administrators have the right to stop face-veiled students from writing their exams as the inability to see students’ faces makes the proctoring process harder and increases the chances of cheating.

University officials reported many cases where face-veiled students were caught cheating through a cell phone hidden under their scarves.

Nezar Ghorab, the lawyer of the aggrieved students, argued that all these steps taken by the Egyptian government and the university administrations illustrate the prosecution that face-veiled women in Egypt face.

“Wearing the face-veil is a matter of personal freedom and this is granted by law,” he told Al Arabiya.

A few weeks ago, the court ruled in favor of face-veiled students after they filed a lawsuit protesting a ban that restricted their access to university hostels.

For years, the Egyptian government has been against the face-veil for the security hazards it is likely to trigger and because of the problems it causes in cases where a woman is supposed to show her face to have her identity verified such as in driving license checkpoints.

According to government reports, many crimes have also been committed by men pretending to be women by wearing a face veil.




(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid).

UAE to cut oil output from February


DUBAI (Agencies)

The Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, the largest such company in the United Arab Emirates, has announced it will cut back its production from February, the official WAM news agency said Monday.

The move is "in line with (an) OPEC decision to cut production," the report said without providing further details.

The company will cut production by between 10 percent and 15 percent in four major oilfields in Abu Dhabi, which alone holds more than 95 percent of UAE oil reserves, estimated at around 100 billion barrels, it added.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) at its meeting in Angola last week decided to keep its production quotas unchanged, but several members have asked for more production compliance to reduce inventories in the international oil market.

According to the Middle East Economic Survey, UAE production stood at 2.250 million barrels per day in November, slightly above its OPEC quota of 2.230 million bpd.

The last time OPEC decided to cut its output was in December 2008 when it reduced the 12-member production, excluding Iraq, by 4.2 million bpd to 24.845 million bpd.

" It is a part of the integrated gas development (IGD) project which is... to process and supply the gas to meet the growing needs and development plans of Abu Dhabi "
Fahim Kazim, general manager of ADGAS

Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi Gas Liquefaction Company Ltd (ADGAS) has formally signed an agreement worth $1 billion with Hyundai Heavy Industries Co for the construction of an integrated gas development plant on Das Island, state news agency WAM reported on Monday.

The South Korean firm said in July it had won the $1 billion gas equipment project order in the United Arab Emirates.

ADGAS, a subsidiary of ADNOC plans to complete the project over a 49 month period and will involve multiple offshore and onshore sites, said Fahim Kazim, general manager of ADGAS.

"It is a part of the integrated gas development (IGD) project which is... to process and supply the gas to meet the growing needs and development plans of Abu Dhabi," he added.

Limited land area on Das Island had been a challenge facing the project, said Kazim.

"Due to the limited area on Das Island, we had to reclaim an additional 108,000 square meters of land for the project facilities and to build a 100 meter long jetty for off loading of heavy 1500 Tons modules."

Around 85 percent of the LNG produced at Das Island is exported to Japan's Tokyo Electric Power Co. ADNOC is the government-run oil company for the emirate of Abu Dhabi, the leader of the seven-member federation of the United Arab Emirates.

Abu Dhabi holds most of the oil and gas reserves in the UAE, the world's third-largest oil exporter.
عودة للأعلى

Most Gulf markets end year up after huge losses


DUBAI (Reuters)

Most Gulf Arab markets ended the year higher on Thursday, with local and international factors weighing on investor sentiment and appetite.

Analysts say that Saudi Arabia and Qatar markets could be the key regional performers in 2010.

"This year's performance was affected by three main factors: volatility in the price of the U.S. currency against major currencies, the absence of local market makers who turned focus to their core business, and the Dubai debt crisis," said Marwan Shurrab, at Gulfmena Alternative Investments.

"There is no doubt all these issues are still weighing on the performance."
Top

Global financial crisis
" The Tadawul (Saudi market) should do well in the coming weeks "
Daniel Broby, Silk Invest, London

Dubai's index ended slightly lower on Thursday, but gained 10 percent on the year, after slumping 70 percent in 2008 as a consequence of the global financial crisis.

"We anticipate that the Dubai market will remain under pressure," said a report from Beltone Financial, predicting the index will underperform its peers next year.

"Its economic model has lost one of its legs -- real estate -- despite reports of interest in specific projects, and we see little likelihood of a notable recovery in demand in the foreseeable future."

The debt troubles afflicting troubled state-owned holding company Dubai World and its property units will continue to weigh on investor sentiment.

"Our only concern is more clarity with respect to the restructuring of debt - this will give the market good sentiment going forward," Shurrab said.

Bellwether Emaar Properties ended the year 71 percent higher, while plans for a possible merger of the developer -- which is to inaugurate Burj Dubai, the world's tallest tower on Jan. 4 -- with three other real estate firms, have been shelved.

The region's best performing bourse in 2009 was also its largest, Saudi Arabia's market whose ended 27.5 percent higher, after declining nearly 60 percent in 2008 at the height of the global crisis.

"The Tadawul (Saudi market) should do well in the coming weeks," said Daniel Broby, chief investment officer at London-based Silk Invest, an asset management company.

"Not only is crude oil 75 percent higher than it was a year ago but the kingdom continues to show that it is independent of Dubai's fixed income woes."

Malaysia rules Catholic paper can use 'Allah'


KUALA LUMPUR (Agencies)

Malaysia's high court ruled Thursday that a Catholic paper had the right to use the word "Allah" after a long-running dispute between the government and the weekly in the Muslim-majority nation.

The ruling overturns the government's controversial threat to cancel The Herald's annual publishing permit.

" The applicant has the constitutional right to use the word 'Allah' "
Judge Lau Bee Lan

"The applicant has the constitutional right to use the word 'Allah'," Judge Lau Bee Lan told a packed courtroom, declaring the government's ban on the paper's use of the word "illegal, null and void".

"Even though Islam is the federal religion, it does not empower the respondents to prohibit the use of the word," he added.

The weekly used the word "Allah" as a translation for "God" in its Malay-language section but the government argued "Allah" should be used only by Muslims.

Lau said the home ministry, which licenses all newspapers in the country, had taken into account "irrelevant considerations" when making the paper's publishing permit conditional on it not using the word.

She said it had shown no evidence that the use of the word by Christians was "a threat to national security".

The Herald's editor, Father Lawrence Andrew, said he was pleased with the decision and the paper would use the word 'Allah' in its upcoming Sunday edition.

"This also means that... the Christian faith can now continue to freely use the word 'Allah'... without any interference from the authorities," he added.

Government lawyers have not yet decided whether to appeal the ruling.

The Herald is printed in four languages, with a circulation of 14,000 copies a week in a country with about 850,000 Catholics.

The court case was among a string of religious disputes that have erupted in recent years, straining relations between Muslim Malays and minority ethnic Chinese and Indians who fear the country is being "Islamized".

Religion and language are sensitive issues in multiracial Malaysia, which experienced deadly race riots in 1969.

Malaysia to cane beer-drinking Muslim model


DUBAI (Al Arabiya)

A Singaporean Muslim model who drank beer at a nightclub in Malaysia will be caned, press reports said Tuedsay.

A Malaysian religious court sentenced the tearful 22-year-old Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno to six strokes of the cane after she pleaded guilty to consuming alcohol, the English-language New Straits Times newspaper reported.

" The rotan is aimed at making the accused repent and serves as a lesson to Muslims "
Abdul Rahman Yunus, judge

"We feel the sentence is fair after going through the prosecution's argument and since the rotan (cane) is provided for in the law," Pahang Sharia High Court judge Abdul Rahman Yunus said, according to the paper.

"The rotan is aimed at making the accused repent and serves as a lesson to Muslims," he added, also fining Kartika 5,000 ringgit ($1,412).

The part-time model said she would appeal the sentence.

She was with her Singaporean husband in a hotel nightclub in the eastern state of Pahang last year when syariah officers raided the lounge, nabbing 20 other Muslims for drinking alcohol, which is forbidden in Islam. Her husband was let off, according to an earlier report in the Times.

Noorazah Baharuddin, believed to be first woman in Malaysia sentenced to caning for drinking alcohol

She told the newspaper before the trial that “it was sheer bad luck” the lounge was raided.

Kartika is not the first woman to be caned for drinking alcohol. In January, the same court sentenced a Muslim waitress to six cane strokes in what was believed to be the first such sentence for a woman.

The Muslim-majority Malaysia has a two-track legal system and its non-Muslim Indian and Chinese minorities are permitted to drink alcohol. Civil courts operate alongside state-based sharia courts, which are based on Islamic law, that can try Muslims for religious offences.

Malaysian villagers amazed by "Allah meat"



DUBAI (Al Arabiya)

A family of Malaysian villagers became the talk of the town after they found the word Allah, meaning God in Arabic, inscribed on meat bought from the local market, the country's press reported on Tuesday.

Housewife Rashadah Abdul Rani, 57, said her son bought the meat from a market in the village and it was her daughter who discovered the inscription.

" I cut the meat into six pieces and soaked them in the water. It was my daughter, who was helping me in the kitchen, who saw the word Allah on all six pieces of the meat "
Malaysian housewife

"I cut the meat into six pieces and soaked them in the water. It was my daughter, who was helping me in the kitchen, who saw the word "Allah" on all six pieces of the meat," Rani told reporters at her house in Kampung Alur Gunung.

Rani said the discovery had changed her plans of cooking the meat for feast and said she would now dry the meat and keep it to use for medicinal purposes.

In 2008, a similar story was reported from northern Nigeria where a restaurant served a piece of meat inscribed with Allah. The customer who discovered the meat said he was about to eat it when he suddenly noticed the words.


Also a similar incident was reported in 2006 when hundreds of Muslims flocked to a pet shop in Liverpool, England to see two gold fish hailed a "miracle" as one's scales spelled Allah and the other Muhammad, Islam's prophet.

The internet is also rife with videos of animals thought to be growling Allah's name.

For Muslims such occurrences only further signal the greatness of their Lord as Islam teaches that everything in the world from the sun and moon to everything with a soul is commanded by God.

Malaysia to appeal 'Allah' ruling: minister


KUALA LUMPUR (AFP)

Malaysia's minister in charge of Muslim affairs has said the government will appeal a court ruling allowing a Catholic paper the right to use the word "Allah".

Malaysia's high court ruled last week the Herald weekly had the right to use the word "Allah" after a long-running dispute between the government and the newspaper in the Muslim-majority nation.

" It is important for Muslims here to guard the use of the word and if there is any attempt to insult or misuse the word we must take all legal action as allowed under the federal constitution "
Jamil Khir Johari, Malaysia\\\'s minister in charge of Muslim affairs

The paper has been using the word as a translation for "God" in its Malay-language section, but the government argued the word should be used only by Muslims.

Jamil Khir Johari said the country's national fatwa council had ruled in May 2008 that "Allah" could only be used by Muslims in Malaysia, state news agency Bernama reported late Saturday.

"It is important for Muslims here to guard the use of the word and if there is any attempt to insult or misuse the word we must take all legal action as allowed under the federal constitution," he was quoted as saying by Bernama.

Premier Najib Razak urged people to remain calm, saying he was concerned about reactions to the court decision.

"The issue is very sensitive and touches on the feelings of Muslims, we need to be calm now and let the matter be resolved through the courts," he was quoted as saying by Bernama Sunday.

Meanwhile the Herald's website was hacked at the weekend, causing the site to shut down, editor Father Lawrence Andrew told AFP.

"Our website was attacked by hackers and was shut down and we suspect it was done by those unhappy with the present situation," he said, while declining to comment on the government's plan to appeal.

The court ruled on Thursday the Catholic paper had the "constitutional right" to use the word "Allah", declaring the government's ban on the word "illegal, null and void".

Muslim groups have said they plan to protest the ruling.

Universiti Teknologi MARA political analyst Shahruddin Badaruddin said the main issue among Muslims was the fear that the use of the word by non-Muslims would inflame religious tensions.

"It is all about the fear that allowing use of the word will make it easier for Christians to convert the local population," he told AFP.

Former premier Mahathir Mohamad said the use of the term had to be governed strictly but that Muslims would still be angry over the ruling, according to the New Straits Times.

The Herald is printed in four languages, with a circulation of 14,000 a week in a country with about 850,000 Catholics.

New Saudi shipping terminal to lure back trade


JEDDAH (Reuters)

A new $530 million terminal in Saudi Arabia's main shipping hub will ease congestion and help lure back trade which had gone to other ports in the past few years, a senior executive said.

Aamer Alireza, chief executive of Red Sea Gateway Terminal Co., said the 2 billion riyal facility has already started operating.

" The Red Sea Gateway Terminal is part of the solution to address that problem by adding capacity and more importantly, next generation ship handling capability "
Aamer Alireza, chief executive of Red Sea Gateway Terminal Co.

Jeddah, on the Red Sea, is the main port for the world's top oil exporter but congestion has led to hefty charges for many delayed ships as well as the diversion of some shipping lines to other ports over the past two years.

"The Red Sea Gateway Terminal is part of the solution to address that problem by adding capacity and more importantly, next generation ship handling capability," Alireza said in an interview. "We received our first vessels on Dec 22."

Red Sea Gateway is a majority owned unit of Saudi Industrial Services Co (Sisco) and led the expansion under a 40-year scheme that allows it to build and operate the facility.

The new terminal is ramping up its volume and expects to run on its full capacity of 1.8 million TEUs (Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units) by September of next year, Alireza said.

Container trade is measured in TEUs.

Jeddah's Islamic Port (JIC), the largest in the kingdom with a capacity of 3.2 million TEUs, represents 73 percent of the country's container traffic. It is expected to nearly double its capacity to 6 million TEUs by 2011 as the port's two other terminals are undergoing expansion as well.

"We will represent roughly 64 percent of that expansion, taking Jeddah (container port capacity) from 3.2 million to 5 million TEUs," Alireza said.

While the capacity has increased this year, container volumes at the port are estimated to have dropped due to the global economic slump.

"This year Jeddah will (handle) 3 million TEUs because of the global slowdown," Alireza said. "The transshipment businesses have come down in Jeddah."

He added that Jeddah expected to see a 10 percent drop in volumes from its 3.32 million TEUs in 2008, when the port operated beyond its capacity.

"It will be very difficult to quantify exactly how much Jeddah is able to attract because of the expansion," Alireza said.

"That will depend on the global financial situation because the shipping business is, probably after banking, the second largest industry affected by the financial crisis."

Shipping markets have suffered in the global economic downturn though port operations have continued to make money.

An American or Iraqi Failure?


Jaber Habib Jaber

The question asked by many people is: Why has the United States succeeded through the Marshall Plan and the security umbrella in contributing to the introduction of successful well-established and practical democracies in both Germany and Japan, and why there is a great chance of success for this project in both Iraq and Afghanistan?

The most important answer, among more than possible ones, is that you cannot manufacture a modern democratic system in societies that have not completed the modernization plan. Moreover in these societies the project has suffered a major setback.

The fact is that the United States that occupies Iraq and Afghanistan is not the same United States that occupied Germany and Japan. When it occupied Germany and Japan, the United States at that time was still in the stages of being the proud model of the dream, progress, coexistence, and prosperity, and it was under the control of rational ideologies with liberal tendencies, and not under the control of the ideas of the neo-conservatives and the myths of the right-wing Christians. Moreover, our societies themselves belong to a different era than that to which Germany or even Japan - which is known for its conservatism - belonged.

Also the regional environment has not been suitable or encouraging for any U.S. tendency to ripen a modern project of nation and democracy building in the region. Let us go back seven years in our memories to remember the way most of our regional media dealt with the change in Iraq, and the volume of the waged war, the suspicions, and even the deception that tried to hide the hopes of some people that the experiment would fail, even if the Iraqis and the Afghans were the ones who would pay the price; the only reason was a morbid hatred of everything western.

It is no secret that despite everything, and all the slogans about occupation and resistance, the majority of the Iraqis wanted change, wanted to see a new horizon, and they were even ready to experiment after a long time of closed and blocked political and social horizons and destructive wars. However, four primary factors gathered to sabotage the opportunity.

The first factor is that the United States was not sure of what it wanted in Iraq. Within the United States two tendencies were in conflict with each other. One tendency wanted to undertake a difficult, long-term, and costly process to build the nation, a process that would be able to introduce a radical change, similar to the change introduced by the U.S. policy in Europe after World War II. The other tendency considered Iraq as a mysterious fabric of Islamic culture, conservative customs, and oil. This tendency did not have any inclination to deal in the long-term way with the complexities of Iraq, and opted to adopt a purely pragmatic course. This pragmatic course reached in the case of some - especially at the U.S. State Department - the level of pushing forward in the direction of consecrating the ethnic and sectarian hostilities within the Iraqi society on the basis of the traditional colonialist logic "divide and rule."

The second factor is the cultural and mental structure of the Iraqi citizen. This structure is based on a mixture of mistrust of authority and any state project, suspicion of everything that stems from the west, and some kind of religious conservatism, which was quickly polarized by the concept of crusade invasion, and then by the sectarian divisions.

The third factor is the huge political, religious, and media flux from the neighboring countries, and which aimed to nurture the elements of doubt, mistrust, and negative attitude toward any new project. With that, the concept of armed resistance was launched; a concept for whose adventures some regions in Iraq paid a high price. Another product of this factor also was that the Sunnis boycotted the political process in the beginning; this disturbed the process, and made it incomplete for a long time.

The fourth factor is the arrival of an inexperienced political class that has no project for building the nation and the state, a class that cannot move outside the framework of the limited and narrow-minded bargaining, and that is controlled by ethnic and sectarian divisions and suspicions.

All these factors combined together based on a strong ground of hatred of the democratic project, or inability to understand it. This is the ground of the society in which the modernization project suffered a setback, and faced by this setback it had to return to its old tools (the tribe, the sect, and the clan) after the state, especially after the defeat in Kuwait in 1991, abandoned its role as provider of services and promoter of the change project. In the eyes of many Iraqis, the state was transformed into intelligence and security organizations and partisan groups whose members knocked on doors to collect donations, to mobilize for demonstrations in support of the "wisdom of the leadership," to recruit people, or to recover the price of the bullet that was used to execute their sons.

Also in the nineties the state adopted a wide-scale revival of tribalism and clannish tendencies, and their institutions. This meant the demolition of what was left of the modernization project that the Baathists adopted at the beginning of the seventies, and even made a considerable progress in it through projects such as combating illiteracy and mandatory education, despite the fact that they were wrapped in propaganda and ideological controls. This was before the Baath was demolished as a party and turned into a property of an alliance of clans and peasants led by a gang of ignorant and semi-educated individuals.

I point out this fact in order to encourage the minds to bypass our traditional concepts, which we use in dealing with our near past and our present, including the dysfunction in understanding the phenomenon of the Baath Party. I believe that the Baath Party died as a political and ideological organization in the mid seventies, and that what we have known as the Baath Party after that was nothing other than a security and military organization subordinate to Saddam Hussein.

Understanding the past, specifically the social dimension, is the gateway to understanding what is taking place now. The nature of the Iraqi crisis is that it is a structural crisis coupled with the chronic failure of the state to reconcile itself with the society, and to lead a real and modern project of change in the society.

*Published in the London-based ASHARQ ALAWSAT on Jan. 4, 2009.

U.S. man wants $5 million for Burj Dubai URL


DUBAI (Alarabiya.net, AFP)

An American entrepreneur is offering to sell the Internet address for Burj Dubai, the world's tallest building being built in the booming UAE emirate of Dubai, for 5 million dollars, local media reported Thursday.

The internet address Burjdubai.com is owned by Emaar Properties, the developer of the tower, but the English version – thedubaitower.com – is on sale for five million dollars or 18.3 million dirhams, local English daily Emirates Today reported.

The paper said California-based engineer-entrepreneur T Rusly registered the URL and sent e-mails to scores of realty companies in the emirate offering to sell it, adding that he already has a “six digit” offer for the domain.

“Five million dollars is really minuscule compared to the potential gain that lies ahead,” Rusly is reported to have said in an e-mail to Emirates Today.

Rusly is a so-called domain-squatter – a person who registers Internet addresses related to other businesses or concepts.


Fake tours

Meanwhile, an online scam is charging 350 dollars for non-existent tours to the top of the tower, another community paper 7Days reported on Wednesday.

The English-language daily said a trader on a local Internet auction website was offering three-hour tours of Burj Dubai, which is expected to be completed next year and now surpasses Taiwan's Taipei 101 which is 508 metres (1,667 feet) tall with 141 storeys.

Burj Dubai developers Emaar told the paper it had not sanctioned the tours.

"Emaar has not sanctioned any public or for profit tours and we strongly advise members of the public not to subscribe to such claims," a spokesman said.

Emaar officials have said the skyscraper, which will have cost one billion dollars by the time it is completed at the end of 2008, will be more than 700 metres (2,296 feet) tall and have more than 160 storeys.

Dubai, one of seven emirates that makes up the United Arab Emirates, is fast becoming a global business and leisure hub.

Mystery investor splurges $12 mln on Burj Dubai


DUBAI (AFP)

A mystery investor logged onto a property website to buy office space worth 12 million dollars in the world's tallest tower being built in Dubai, the local press reported over the weekend.

The unidentified European investor bought more than 1,000 square meters (11,000 square-feet) of space on the 94th floor of Burj Dubai through the website of a local real estate company, daily newspaper Gulf News reported.

Burj Dubai is still under construction, but it overtook Taiwan's Taipei 101 tower as the world's tallest building when it reached 512 meters (1,533 feet) in June last year. Its eventual height remains a closely guarded secret.

Dubai is one of seven emirates that makes up the UAE federation and is positioning itself as a global hub for finance, leisure and transport.

A report published earlier in the week ranked Dubai as the eighth most expensive place in the world for office rental in 2007.

The survey, produced by commercial real estate services firm Cushman Wakefield, reported office space in the wealthy city-state cost about 1,350 dollars a square meter.

London was the most expensive place to rent office space last year at around 3,248 dollars a square meter.

Dubai to open world's tallest building Jan. 4


DUBAI (AFP)

Dubai will open the world's tallest skyscraper on Monday, boasting new limits in design and construction, hopeful of polishing an image tarnished by the debt woes afflicting the Gulf emirate.

Emaar, the giant property firm part-owned by the government and which developed the needle-shaped concrete, steel and glass structure, has declined to reveal Burj Dubai's exact height.

Apparently wanting to maintain the suspense, the company will say only that the tower exceeds 800 meters (2,640 feet), putting it far higher than Taiwan's Taipei 101 tower (508 meters).

The 160-floor tower, containing 330,000 cubic meters (11.55 million cubic feet) of concrete and 31,400 tons of steel, can be seen from as far as 95 kilometers (59 miles) away.


Y-shaped design
" We took that basic... plan and used references to Islamic geometries and pointed arches... as we go vertical with that shape we stepped it back in order to mitigate the wind issue "
George Efstathiou, SOM

Burj Dubai, designed by the Chicago-based Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM), contains 57 lifts, which will whisk people to 1,044 apartments and 49 floors of office space, as well as a hotel bearing the Giorgio Armani logo.

A spiraling Y-shaped design by SOM architect Adrian Smith was used to support the structural core of the tower, which narrows as it ascends. Higher up it becomes a steel structure topped with a huge spire.

To reach the final stages, concrete was propelled to a height of 605 meters (1,996 feet) -- a world record.

George Efstathiou, managing partner of SOM and the main project manager, said the tripod Y shape provides a stable base.

"We took that basic... plan and used references to Islamic geometries and pointed arches... as we go vertical with that shape we stepped it back in order to mitigate the wind issue," he told AFP.

"The building is very quiet. There are many storms that you wouldn't notice at all. This building is a lot quieter than a lot of the other super-tall that came before, even if they are shorter buildings."

Construction, which began in 2004, is estimated to have cost $1 billion (694.7 million euros).

It was carried out by South Korea's Samsung Engineering & Construction, Belgium's BESIX group and the United Arab Emirates' Arabtec.


Downtown Burj Dubai

The skyscraper is the centerpiece of a $20-billion new shopping district, Downtown Burj Dubai, which includes 30,000 apartments and the Dubai Mall, which says its space for 1,200 shops makes it the world's largest indoor shopping center.

Ahead of Monday's grand opening, estate agents said there has been a considerable rise in demand for the tower's residential units, which were sold by the developer several years ago.

Property prices in Dubai have plunged more than 50 percent over the past year, but brokers told AFP that the drop in the tower's prices has been less precipitous.

"I bought a one-bedroom apartment on the 80th floor for $3 million in 2008. With the slide in prices, my loss will be huge, at least theoretically," one Palestinian businessman told AFP.

One square foot in the commercial area of the tower fetched $4,500 to $5,500 at the height of the property boom in 2008, before the global recession hit.

Some believe Burj Dubai will be the last of the giant projects that have brought global fame to Dubai, such as the three-kilometer- (two-mile) long Palm Jumeirah artificial island developed by the troubled Nakheel company.

Other towers that have been announced but now look doubtful include the 1,000-meter Nakheel Tower, Kuwait's Silk City tower slated to be more than 1,000 meters tall, and the 1,600-meter Jeddah tower by Saudi billionaire Prince al-Waleed bin Talal.

Efstathiou says he believes it will be 10 years before Burj Dubai's record is broken.

"When Burj Dubai was conceived, it was a totally different time and the biggest driving force for these tall towers are the economics," he said.

"Veil martyr" family slam German officer ruling


CAIRO (Al Arabiya)

Egypt objected to a decision by the German prosecution to drop the case against the officer who shot at the husband of the Egyptian woman, dubbed the "veil martyr," murdered by a Russian immigrant in the city of Dresden.

The decision to drop the case was made by the Dresden Public Prosecutor's office after it determined that the officer who shot at Marwa al-Sherbini’s husband, Elwy Okaz, was a mistake and not intentional.

" They were very disappointed because the man who tried to shoot Marwa’s husband was not indicted "
Family lawyer

The officer was freed based on evidence that no criminal offence was intended and that it during the incident it was difficult to differentiate between the murderer, who was repeatedly stabbing Sherbini, and her husband who leaped forward in a bid to protect his wife.

Okaz and Alex Wiens, the murderer, were both covered in blood, said the prosecutors’ statement, and the Federal Police officer intervened at the time when Okaz managed to grab the handle of the knife from Wiens. It was a tragic mistake, the prosecutors concluded.

Marwa al-Sherbini's family objected the verdict and accused the officer of attempted murder.

“They were very disappointed because the man who tried to shoot Marwa’s husband was not indicted,” said Khaled Abu Bakr, the family’s lawyer.


Egypt to support Sherbini's husband
" Despite our respect for the German prosecution and the decision it reached regarding the mistaken shooting of Shebini's husband, we are still going to support the family in their appeal "
Egypt statement

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry vowed to support al-Sherbini’s family in their appeal against the German prosecution.

“Despite our respect for the German prosecution and the decision it reached regarding the mistaken shooting of Shebini's husband, we are still going to support the family in their appeal,” said the statement the ministry issued Saturday and of which Al Arabiya obtained a copy.

The statement added that as soon as the crime took place, the Egyptian Embassy in Berlin assigned the defense in the case to two German legal offices paid for by the government.

“The two offices worked on the case until the defendant got the harshest penalty in German law, a life sentence.”

The ministry explained its disappointment after several lawyers working abroad tried to cover up their failure to handle the case by accusing the ministry of negligence, which, according to the statement, is not the case.

Sherbini’s family announced holding a press conference Sunday in order to explain the latest developments in the case.



(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)

Hamas leader hails Saudi reconciliation talks


RIYADH (Agencies)

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said on Sunday the Islamist group was in the final stages of achieving reconciliation with the rival Palestinian Fatah party after he met Saudi Arabian officials to try to narrow the rift.

"We achieved great strides towards achieving reconciliation," Meshaal told reporters at the foreign ministry during a visit to the Saudi capital. "We are in the final stages now."

An Egyptian proposal to promote reconciliation between Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah group has called for presidential and legislative elections to be held in the West Bank and Gaza Strip next June.

" We still hope that the kingdom plays a special role alongside Egypt and Arab countries to help us first succeed in sponsoring the Palestinian reconciliation and unify the Palestinian position and also to prompt Arabs to confront the stubborn Israeli administration "
Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal

Meshaal said Hamas still had some points to resolve in the Egyptian proposal.

"We all agree that the signing of the (reconciliation) will take place in Cairo," he said.

Meshaal's visit with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal was designed to help reconciliation of the feud, Saudi officials said.

"We still hope that the kingdom plays a special role alongside Egypt and Arab countries to help us first succeed in sponsoring the Palestinian reconciliation and unify the Palestinian position and also to prompt Arabs to confront the stubborn Israeli administration," Meshaal said.


Peace process

" The United States is hoping that the two letters will serve as a basis for the relaunch of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations but we don't know if they will satisfy the Palestinians, who want a complete freeze of settlement activity before talks resume "
An Arab diplomat

Meanwhile, Palestinian President Abbas arrived in Egypt for talks aimed at relaunching peace talks with Israel, amid lingering divisions over Jewish settlement expansion.

Abbas met with Egypt's intelligence chief Omar Suleiman after jetting in to the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, where he is hold talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Monday before heading to Qatar, Kuwait and Turkey.

"President Abbas will present to President Mubarak the important developments that confront the Palestinian cause and the great challenges facing the entire region," Abbas' spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said.

The visit comes almost a week after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met in Cairo with Mubarak about the stalled peace process and as diplomats said Washington was drafting letters of guarantees for the peace talks.

An Arab diplomat told AFP last week that U.S. special envoy George Mitchell would present the letters to Israel and the Palestinian Authority on his next visit to the region.

"The United States is hoping that the two letters will serve as a basis for the relaunch of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations but we don't know if they will satisfy the Palestinians, who want a complete freeze of settlement activity before talks resume," the diplomat said.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit is also planning to visit Washington for talks with officials on January 7, and has said he will be accompanied by Cairo's intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.

U.S. President Barack Obama has repeatedly called on the two sides to resume peace talks, but the Palestinians have demanded Israel first freeze all settlement activity and commit to a framework for the talks.

US & UK close Yemen missions over Qaeda threat


SANAA (Agencies)

Britain closed its embassy in Yemen on Sunday, following a similar move by the United States, and prompting Spain to limit access to its embassy because of perceived threats from a local branch of al-Qaeda.

"The embassy is closed today (Sunday) for security reasons, and out of fear of possible al-Qaeda reactions," the official said on condition of anonymity. But he stressed there were "no direct al-Qaeda threats" against the mission.

The United States has closed its mission earlier and instructed its Yemeni employees to stay away until further notice, the embassy and foreign diplomats said on Sunday.

"The U.S. Embassy in Sanaa is closed today, January 3, 2010, in response to ongoing threats by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to attack American interests in Yemen," said the statement posted on the embassy's website.

" We call upon every Muslim who cares about his religion and doctrine to assist in expelling the apostasies from the Arabian Peninsula, by killing every crusader who works at their embassies or other places, declare it an all-out war against every crusader on Mohammad's peninsula on land, air and sea "

Qaeda statement

On Thursday the U.S. mission sent a warden message to American citizens in the country reminding them of the "continuing threat of terrorist actions and violence against American citizens and interests throughout the world."


Meanwhile the Spanish Embassy in Yemen restricted access to people but remained open.

"Spain's Yemen embassy is still open and operating as normal, but has restricted access due to security reasons," a foreign ministry spokesman said.

El Mundo newspaper said the embassy would be closed to the public on Monday.

Attacks on Westerners

" Any assistance provided to Yemen's counter-terrorism force will be most welcome "
Yemen govt official

AQAP had called on Monday for further attacks on Westerners in the Arabian Peninsula as it claimed the failed Christmas Day attack on a U.S. airliner.

"We call upon every Muslim who cares about his religion and doctrine to assist in expelling the apostasies from the Arabian Peninsula, by killing every crusader who works at their embassies or other places, declare it an all-out war against every crusader on Mohammad's peninsula on land, air and sea," said an AQAP statement.

The United States and Britain have agreed to fund special counter-extremism police in Yemen after U.S. President Barack Obama on Saturday for the first time blamed the al-Qaeda franchise in Yemen for the thwarted attack.

On Sept. 17, 2008, the U.S. embassy was the target of an attack claimed by al-Qaeda in which 19 people were killed -- seven attackers and 12 others, including Yemeni guards and civilians, one of them an American woman.

Last month the defense ministry newspaper said that a raid north of the capital on December 17 killed four suspects and foiled a plot to bomb the British embassy in Sanaa.

Yemen on Sunday welcomed the British and U.S. decision to fund its counter-extremism force.

"Any assistance provided to Yemen's counter-terrorism force will be most welcome," a government official who requested anonymity told AFP.

The official also said that Sanaa would also need to help to modernize its coastguard "in light of the danger coming from Somalia."

France rejects Iran's nuclear counter-proposal


PARIS/TEHRAN (Agencies)

France rejects Iran's latest move to set a new deadline to end the standoff over its contested nuclear program, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Monday.

"We are not the ones who have to decide whether to accept what they want to impose on us," Kouchner told RTL radio. "No, this is not the way it is done."

Iran said on Sunday that it had until the end of January to reach agreement on a deal to swap uranium for nuclear fuel after rejecting a Dec. 31 deadline set by world powers.

" We are not the ones who have to decide whether to accept what they want to impose on us "

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner

Kouchner said Iran was trying to "side-step" the issue by "giving an ultimatum to those who have offered to help them, that is the international community including France."

Turning to opposition protests challenging the Iranian regime, Kouchner said the establishment was "under threat by very determined people, some of them very religious, and by the Shiite leadership."

"There is enormous repression. We must condemn those that cause unarmed protesters to be exposed to bullets, arrests and very severe convictions including death sentences," he added.


Iranian threat

Despite the threat of tougher sanctions, Iran has rejected the offer drawn up by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and come out with its own proposal of a simultaneous and staged swap of low enriched uranium (LEU) with reactor fuel.

"Based on the talks Iran had with the relevant parties, it was decided to provide the Tehran reactor with the necessary fuel (from outside), and if not then we will produce it," foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said.

"Then the (negotiating) parties asked the Islamic republic to give them two months to reach an understanding and we accepted that," news agencies quoted him as saying.

"Now one month of that waiting period is over and one month is left. So if it does not materialize (the provision of fuel) then Iran will take the necessary decision."

Mehmanparast was speaking a day after Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki gave the West a one-month "ultimatum" to accept the Iranian counter-proposal.

Some western powers have dismissed the Iranian proposal and called on Tehran to accept the IAEA deal or face further sanctions.

Reacting to Mottaki's statement, the U.S. National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said on Saturday that the IAEA proposal was sufficient.

"If getting access to fuel is Iran's objective, then there is absolutely no reason why the existing proposal, which Iran accepted in principle at Geneva, is insufficient. The Iranian government is standing in its own way," Hammer said.

Last month Mottaki said Iran was open to exchanging uranium on Turkish soil. The IAEA has ruled out a swap taking place in Iran itself.

Pressure by world powers

Iranian President Ahmadinejad said that the nuclear rights of his country were not negotiable

World powers have been pushing for Iran to accept the U.N.-brokered deal and are also mulling fresh U.N. sanctions after Tehran dismissed the year-end deadline.

Iran is already under three sets of U.N. Security Council sanctions over its defiance and refusal to suspend enrichment, which lies at the heart of international fears about its nuclear program.

The process that makes nuclear fuel can also be used to make the fissile core of an atomic bomb.

The United States, Israel, and other world powers suspect Tehran is making a nuclear bomb under the guise of a civilian program, something Iran vehemently denies.

The United States is reportedly weighing targeted sanctions against members of Tehran's government and most notably the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps that runs the country's ballistic missile program.

The Washington Post said on Wednesday the U.S. administration wanted targeted sanctions to avoid alienating the Iranian public, while keeping the door open to a resolution of the crisis over Tehran's nuclear program.

The New York Times reported on Saturday that President Barack Obama's administration believes domestic unrest and signs of unexpected trouble in Iran's nuclear program make its leaders vulnerable to strong and immediate new sanctions.

Meanwhile, a top Israeli official said the U.N. Security Council will adopt a fresh batch of sanctions against Iran within a month.