Speak Victorian, Think Pagan Wed, 14 Nov 2012 22:05:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Cominganarchycom From Belletrist to Blogger: What progress, and the internet, has done to public intellectualism Wed, 14 Nov 2012 22:03:27 +0000 Continue reading ]]> I wrote this essay on my personal blog, but when it was retweeted by Adam Elkus, our old friend of Rethinking Security, I thought maybe the (remnant) audience here might appreciate it, or have some feedback.

From Belletrist to Blogger: What progress, and the internet, has done to public intellectualism

Basically, the argument is that the internet’s ability to fragment audiences has negatively impacted the role of public intellectuals. For what do you call a public intellectual without an audience?

Further to this, I would ask our esteemed readership who they look to for their public intellectualism these days. I have a few on my list (some of whom I mention in the post), but I fear they might be part of a dying breed.

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Are the Gulf Countries “Realist Anomalies”? Wed, 14 Nov 2012 09:46:26 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Stephen Walt, writing in Foreign Policy, is titled “The curious case of small Gulf states” and asks if the UAE, along with countries such as Qatar, Bahrain, and Brunei are realist anomalies:

The puzzle is this: How is it possible for very small, very rich, yet militarily weak countries to retain their independence? Why haven’t rapacious great powers or greedy neighbors gobbled these countries up long ago, and seized all that valuable oil and gas for themselves? If the world is as dog-eat-dog as realists depict, why are these states still in business?

There are several possible explanations. The most obvious is that these states have enjoyed great power protection for a long time, originally from Great Britain and subsequently from the United States. Their rulers have accommodated their protectors in most ways, in exchange for implicit or explicit security guarantees. In short, realism does explain a lot of why these states have survived: It was in the interests of some powerful countries to keep them safe and secure.

But why didn’t Britain or the United States take these places over and keep all that oil wealth for themselves?

That’s an interesting questions, but I don’t agree with his answer:

Simple. It turned out to be easier to let local elites run these societies, instead of turning them into sullen and resentful colonies. In the British case, moreover, the emergence of the Gulf as a major oil-producing center coincided with Britain’s imperial decline, signified by the Suez debacle in 1956 and the decision to withdraw military forces east of Suez in 1967. So Britain was in no position to take these places over anyway.

The United States has never been a very enthusiastic colonial power, and U.S. leaders wisely preferred to exercise influence indirectly and keep U.S. ground forces out of the region. As the experiments with “dual containment” in the 1990s (which helped fuel the rise of al Qaeda) and the invasion of Iraq in 2003 showed, getting too heavily engaged trying to run the region directly is not something the United States is very good at. Nor was it necessary.

Actually if either Britain or the US had the imperial will to control the states, they could have done so easily. And had world leaders in the 1960s and 1970s have known that Abu Dhabi and Qatar would hold such wealth today, they might well have done just that.

The second reason is also not quite convincing:

A second reason for the peculiar stability of the Gulf is the absence of a regional great power with the capacity to absorb the others, which in turn makes it possible for balance-of-power politics to work. The Shah of Iran did some minor muscle-flexing and territorial expansion in his day, but he never made a grab for any of his oil-rich neighbors. Saddam Hussein is the exception that proves the rule, and look what happened to him. Moreover, the militarily weak but oil-rich Gulf states all understand that trying to gain more wealth at someone else’s expense was both unnecessary and bad for business.

I think that the Persian Gulf War that kicked Iraq out of Kuwait was critical in preserving this illusion that powerful states cannot invade and rule weaker, smaller countries. Stopping Iraq made an invasion seem too risky. If Saudi Arabia – or Iran – were to, say, take over a country such as Bahrain, countries such as Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE would look much more vulnerable.

The third reason why these states retain their independence is the norm of sovereignty. It may be an accident of geology that the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, and others ended up with so much wealth underneath their soil, but once a country’s government and borders have been recognized by others, the status quo takes on a life of its own and efforts to overturn it face an uphill fight. Saddam Hussein tried to convince the world that Kuwait was Iraq’s “19th province” in order to make his invasion seem more legitimate, but nobody bought the argument and his invasion was seen as naked aggression. Because altering borders via force has become less and less legitimate over time, states can be really rich and really vulnerable and still be somewhat protected.

This is, I think, the core issue. Self-rule for sovereign states is just accepted as being the norm. Baring a major game-changing event, no one wants to go and take over a country. And the Persian Gulf War in 1991 made the adventure seem too risky.

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Big Things Have Small Beginnings Mon, 12 Nov 2012 03:45:44 +0000 Continue reading ]]> What led to the revelation of the affair that brought down General Patraeus? Turns out it was a Lebanese-American Florida housewife

Jill Kelley, a 37-year-old mother of three, became close with the disgraced for CIA director when he was serving at nearby MacDill Air Force Base between 2008 and 2010.

Mrs Kelley served as an unpaid, unofficial social liaison for U.S. Central Command, which Petraeus led at the time, and was reportedly a fixture at parties among the top brass — along with her husband Scott, a prominent cancer surgeon.

Petreaus biographer Paula Broadwell, revealed to be his mistress, sent harassing emails to Mrs Kelley that said ‘I know what you did,’ ‘back off’ and ‘stay away from my guy,’ a source told the New York Post.

Mrs Kelley responded by calling the FBI, which stumbled on Broadwell’s affair when agents examined her email account and found steamy exchanges with Petraeus.

]]> 4 unveiled Wed, 05 Oct 2011 02:49:16 +0000 screencap

CA patron saint Robert D. Kaplan has an official home on the web! Check out to learn about his history, see all his articles and books, and to contact his assistant.

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Interview with Edward Luttwak Thu, 08 Sep 2011 10:45:31 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Interview here with the always wise and insightful Edward Luttwak.

A rather humorous selection:

There have been many different explanations given over the past 10 years for the strength of the American-Israeli relationship, ranging from the idea that Israel has the best and most immediately deployable army in the Middle East, to the idea that a small cabal of wealthy and influential Jews has hijacked American foreign policy.
You mean the Z.O.G.? The Zionist Occupied Government?

Personally, from an emotional point of view, myself, as me, I prefer the Z.O.G. explanation above all others. I love the idea that the Zionists have sufficient power to actually occupy America, and through America to basically run the world. I love the idea of being a member of a secretive and powerful cabal. If you put my name Luttwak together with Perle and Wolfowitz and you search the Internet, you will get this little list of people who run the American government and the world, and I’m on it. I love that.

Anytime you need an added jolt of ego gratification, you open your laptop and confirm the fact that you rule the world.
In Pakistan, there are millions of people who go to schools where they are taught that I am the ruler of the universe. So, emotionally speaking, I would explain everything that happens by referring to the Z.O.G., the Zionist Occupied Government, which is run by a small cabal of people, and that I am one of them.

Now, if I’m forced to actually think about this question, I would say that the cleanest analytical way of understanding the American-Israeli relationship is to say that the post-1945 career of the United States as a world-meddling, imperialist power has forced Americans to be very foreign-oriented. Many American families have had their sons killed overseas, and many other Americans have become foreign-oriented for many reasons. Among them there is a group of Christians who read the Bible, who believe in the Bible to some degree as a document that registers God’s will. For them, Israel is the proof of the truth of the Bible. Hence, the notion that the United States should be supporting rather than opposing Israel has now become expected, which was absolutely not true in 1948 when the United States did every possible thing to prevent the existence of Israel by systematically intercepting arms flows to the Jews.

Therefore, if we in the Z.O.G. didn’t really run everything, and there was no Zionist influence, then this solid mass of foreign-aware Americans, who also happen to be Bible-believers—we’re talking 50 million people—to them, the only foreign policy that counts is America’s support for Israel. Period.

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History of Tokyo subway lines map Fri, 29 Jul 2011 17:42:35 +0000 History of Tokyo subway lines map

Shared by +Andrew Wright

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Genocide in Sudan, Part 2? The Worst Case Scenario for Southern Sudan Independence Sun, 19 Jun 2011 15:30:52 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Sudan is scheduled to be cleaved in two, as previously posted on here, here and here. While many are celebrating this as a great move for freedom, the problem from the beginning has been deciding where Southern Sudan begins, as I noted in a previous post:

But where exactly is Southern Sudan? This is the bigger question that most news articles trumpeting the referendum are ignoring. The new border has not yet been precisely drawn, and beyond the local squabbles over grazing rights and water rights is the larger issue as the border will become the new border between Black Africa and the Arab World. The geographical margin is small, but any doubt leaves open the possibility of local violence that could mushroom into something much worse. The key hotspot is Abyei, a town located on the western most light blue box on the map below, and which is representative of a larger problem in what is increasingly likely to be a demarcation creating a new country in Southern Sudan.

There have been several reports over the past week about fighting erupting in multiple spots across the border. Abyei appears to be the most contested area, but there are stories of violence in a number of villages. And the United Nations Peacekeeping Force has a mandate that expires next month upon the scheduled independence of Southern Sudan, with Northern Sudan insisting that they leave by then. There is a proposal for an Ethiopian force to take its place.

The latest reports are that Sudan — which may soon be known as “Northern Sudan” — is gathering its forces near the disputed territories, and also reports that there could be genocide all over again in the border territories in the attempt to limit the territory that becomes Southern Sudan. As evidence that this is already occurring, the New York Times quotes a report that tens of thousands are fleeing, mass graves containing thousands of bodies have been found, and vigilante (or government forces) are going door-to-door in bordertowns to carry out executions on the spot.

So Sudan’s independence is not as smooth as some had expected, and as warned on these pages more recently. Independence — now scheduled for less than a month away — is not going to be easy.

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RIP Patrick Leigh Fermor Mon, 13 Jun 2011 22:56:50 +0000 Continue reading ]]> One of Robert Young Pelton’s favourite authors — and I am certain referenced by Robert Kaplan — Britain’s greatest travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor has died. He was eulogized this week by none other than Christopher Hitchens.

UPDATE: Kaplan on Fermor in the NYT.

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Expanding the GCC Tue, 17 May 2011 18:52:07 +0000 Continue reading ]]> I previously described the Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC) as the future EU of Arabia. It is certainly the most successful multinational cooperative body outside the EU, and is made up of the six monarchies of the Gulf: Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE, and Oman. 25 May 2011 will mark the 30th anniversary of the organization’s founding.

For years there has been discussion that Yemen, the poorer republic to the south, could become a member state. And after the fall of Saddam, there was further discussion that Iraq could become a member as well. But both these candidate states have always seemed unlikely to me — they are republics that overthrew their monarchs, with larger and significantly poorer populations that make it an uneasy fit with the rest of the GCC.

But there has been much speculation in the news recently that the GCC could expand to include Jordan and Morocco. Jordan has officially submitted an application to become a member, and there is support and guidance for Morocco to submit an application soon.

There has been some criticism in international papers that the new members confirm the GCC as a club of monarchies. This could also increase the likelihood that democratic reformers inspired by Egypt and Tunisia will be subject to a Bahrain-like transnational army stopping protesters. But certainly Jordan stands to reap great economic benefits by tying up with the rich countries of the Gulf.

Endnote: Interestingly, a number of Gulf women fear that the admission of Jordan and Morocco to the GCC will result in the local men looking for wives in the two countries. With all the barriers for women in the Gulf countries to marry foreigners when compared to few restrictions on the men, an estimated 25% of men in the UAE are married to foreigners, causing a serious problem that has brought the spinster rate to as high as 30+%.

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Osama’s Will, Arabic Names, and Romanization of Arabic Thu, 12 May 2011 05:35:59 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Osama’s “Will” was recently released by a Kuwaiti newspaper. The title of the document is misleading — a will, as a document that distributes assets and property, is not recognized in Islam, as inheritance must take place in accordance with Shariah principles. The document is in fact a final message to his children (not to join Al Qaeda) and wives (don’t remarry!). It was written in December 2001 — when Osama was on the run in Afghanistan and when he thought he might be killed. Notably, there is no message or mention of people such as Mullah Omar or Ayman Al Zawahiri, his comrades in arms in Afghanistan.

You can read an English translation of the will here. But without further commenting, reading the signing name, I thought this would be a good chance to introduce Arabic names. Osama signed the will as:

Abu Abdullah Osama bin Muhammad bin Laden

He is referred to in the Western press as Osama bin Laden? What do all the other names mean?

Arabic Names
On birth, in most Arabic countries that I’m familiar with, children are given one name. Osama bin Laden was named Osama at birth, and that was probably the only given name written on his birth certificate.

Osama’s father was Mohammed, so his name is extended to “bin Mohammed” (“ibn” is also used in place of “bin”). In some cases, the grandfather’s name will included as well. In some countries such as in the Levant, neither are used, resulting in a string of names.

(Other official spellings of his name are “Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden” — Awad being his paternal grandfather.)

Bin Laden is the family name — unusual, in that it begins with “Bin”. A common beginning of tribal and family names in the Arab world is “Al”.

What about the first name, “Abu Abudallah”? When a man has a son in Arabic, he adopts that as part of his name used with friends. As Osama’s son was named Abdullah (after then-crown prince of Saudi Arabia Prince Abdullah), he adopts the name “Abu Abdullah.”

So if I was to Arabize my own name, it would be George bin Alfred Al Curzon — and as I had three daughters, some friends might call me Abu Mary. (Just remember that’s Sheikh George bin Alfred Al Curzon when addressing me properly.)

Arabic Romanization
Osama Bin Laden is also written as Usama or Bin Ladin, among other variants. That’s because Arabic has no unified system of romanization. Unlike Japanese, which has two or three majority schools of romanization used by various institutions, in Arabic, it’s a free-for-all when it comes to spelling in English. This causes all sorts of problems in today’s English-centric globalized world, as you can read about in more detail here.

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Koizumi Yukon: Canadian General Election 2011 Tue, 03 May 2011 16:46:10 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Yesterday was the 41st Canadian General Election to elect members to the House of Commons of Canada in which the conservative government won what I would call a Koizumi-esque victory. The election saw a number of historical firsts, and may mark a turning point in Canadian political history.

The results for each of the main four parties were as follows:

    1. The centre-right Conservative Party won a clear victory, and it moved from its precarious position of a minority party leading the government to a majority government.
    1. The Liberal Party was wiped out and won the fewest seats in their history. Former academic and party leader Michael Ignatieff was defeated in his own electorial district.
    1. The separatist Bloc Québécois, which had always won a majority of seats in Quebec in every election since its founding in 1991, lost nearly all their seats, including the seat of their leader Gilles Duceppe.
    1. The leftist New Democratic Party saw a major surge in the last weeks of the campaign won the largest number of seats in their history, including a large majority of seats in Quebec.
  • Whereas previously elections in Canada were formed around the Conservatives and the Liberals, with Bloc Québécois as an interesting third-party spoiler, we now see a realignment between a genuine centre-right party (the Conservatives were created after the Progressive Conservative Party merged with another centre-right party in 2003) and the New Democrats taking their position as leading opposition party.

    I call the victory of the conservatives “Koizumi-esque” because the election only came about the PM asked the Governor General to dissolve the house after the House of Commons passed a motion of non-confidence against the government, led by the Liberals. This non-confidence motion affirmed the charge of “contempt of parliament” found by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs — the first time in the history of any Commonwealth nation that a government was found in contempt of parliament. Notwithstanding this charge, the popular vote was clear, and the Conservatives now have a solid majority from which to govern.

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    How Osama Bin Laden was found and killed Mon, 02 May 2011 09:35:31 +0000 Continue reading ]]> It was announced several hours ago that Osama Bin Laden was killed in a raid on his private compound on the outskirts of Islamabad, Pakistan. The raid was almost a year in the making, but the raid itself was over in 40 minutes.

    Map from CBS News.

    The compound was discovered by US Agents in August 2010 through detective work on the compound’s courier. Build in 2006, it was eight times larger than anything else in the area and was built at the end of a road. The building had no phone or Internet, had 18-foot high walls with no exterior windows, and two electrified security gates. On a third-floor balcony there was a 7-foot high privacy wall. The residents–Bin Laden, his youngest wife and their family, plus a courier and his brother, burned their garbage and it was not collected.

    After discovering in August 2010, the CIA spent eight months of detective work until they came to the conclusion that the compound housed Bin Laden. It was built at cost of US$1 million, yet the courier and his brother had no explainable source of income.

    The small team made up entirely of CIA personnel (the US military does not have authority to operate in Pakistan) went in with two Black Hawk helicopters. Pakistan was not informed of the raid beforehand, as the intelligence agency the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate has long been suspected by the US of maintaining links to groups close to al-Qaida.

    A firefight ensued when bin Laden resisted and he, the couriers and several others were killed, possibly including bin Laden’s son. While one helicopter circled, it had mechanical failure before leaving the raid and was brought down. It was destroyed by its occupants before leaving the scene.

    Muslim practice calls for a body to be buried within 24 hours of death, and U.S. officials have said that bin Laden has already been buried at sea in accordance with Islamic practices.

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    The 2011 Geography of the Mexican Drug War Wed, 27 Apr 2011 18:41:21 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

    STRATFOR has a status update on the Mexican drug cartel wars, with an interesting animated map on developments over the past year.

    The full report is only for subscribers, but the most important point in the summary report is: all cartels are suffering except one — the Sinaloa Federation. Although they may soon dominate the drug trade, the situation is likely to become more violent until the Sinaloa hegemony is complete.

    STRATFOR reports that:

    In order to reduce the violence, compromise with the lead cartel — once unspeakable — now looks like a real option for the Mexican government, which is incapable of eliminating cartels completely.

    But that’s very inaccurate. Allegations of collusion between the Mexican government and the Sinaloa are at least two years old. More insidious is the fear that the favoritism towards the Sinaloa is because the Sinaloa have and continue to further their infiltration of the military and the police.

    (See the map as of 2007 at a previous post here.)

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    Another connection between the Royals in Jordan and Britain Mon, 25 Apr 2011 12:56:06 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Last year, I wrote about how Jordan’s King has an English mother. Now, we see a somewhat similar reversal — the newest member of the British Royal Family, and the likely future queen, spent two-and-a-half years as a young child in Jordan.

    In May 1984, Mr Middleton was offered a posting to Amman, the capital of Jordan. Kate was two years old and Mrs Middleton was on extended maternity leave with eight-month-old Pippa.

    “They lived in a two-storey rented villa, close to a park and the nursery where Kate went. I remember she was a very beautiful little girl.”

    While Mrs Middleton looked after Pippa at home, Kate was enrolled in Assahera nursery, one of the most expensive nurseries in the area with an annual fee of about US$1,000 at the time.

    From Sunday to Thursday, the nursery day began at 8am and ended at 12.30pm, recalled the founder of the now-closed nursery, Sahera al Nabulsi, 67, in Amman.

    Kate was in a class of 12 children and the nursery as a whole looked after close to 100 children between 3 and 5 years of age. As well as British nationals, Jordanians, Japanese, Indian, Indonesian and American children were enrolled in the nursery. In the morning, the children were brought together and taught in both Arabic and English, before separating into different classes.

    “The morning routine was to have all the children sitting in a circle where they would all sing, Incy Wincy Spider, both in English and Arabic,” Mrs Nabulsi said.

    The singing was then followed with a short verse from the Quran.

    I recently had a discussion with a Coming Anarchy reader as to whether or not America was an “international” country or not. My view has long been that America is international in the origins of its people — but not in its outlook of the world. Certainly President Obama has faced criticism and suspicion for years that he attended a “Muslim Madrasa” in Indonesia and that he is a secret Muslim. I have not yet heard — and do not expect to hear — the same type of ludicrous comments about the soon-to-be Princess Catherine/Kate for spending her early years in a Muslim country, learning Arabic and reciting verses from the Koran.

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    How a lone hen turkey saved our relationship with the Saudis Wed, 20 Apr 2011 06:55:50 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

    This is a story from more than six months ago being noticed in the Middle East — how a lone hen turkey on Bush’s ranch saved our relationship with then Crown Price and Regent of Saudi Arabia, Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz — now King of Saudi Arabia.

    During the second intifada in 2002, when relations between the two countries were at a critical low point, George W. Bush tried to charm the Saudis. He first tried to win them over with an earnest conversation about religion — which, for some reason, did not go down well. But on learning that the Crown Prince liked his farm, George Bush decided to invite the regent of the Kingdom to Crawdord to share his farm with Prince Abdullah, which they toured on Bush’s Ford pickup.

    I point out the different kinds of hardwood trees, the native prairie grasses that Laura had planted, and the grazing cattle. The crown prince sat silently. I wasn’t making much headway.

    Then we reached a remote part of the property. A lone hen turkey was standing in the road. I stopped the truck. The bird stayed put.

    “What is that?” the crown prince asked.

    I told him it was a turkey. “Benjamin Franklin loved the turkey so much he wanted it to be America’s national bird,” I said.

    Suddenly I felt the crown prince’s hand grab my arm. “My brother,” he said, “it is a sign from Allah. This is a good omen.”

    I’ve never fully understood the significance of the bird, but I felt the tension begin to melt…The next day, I got a call from Mother and Dad. The crown prince had stopped in Houston to visit them. Mother said he had tears in his eyes as he recounted his time in Crawford and talked about what we could achieve together. For the rest of my presidency, my relationship with the crown prince — soon to be king — was extremely close. I had never seen a hen turkey on that part of the property before, and I haven’t seen one since.

    Benjamin Franklin was right after all!

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    In Defense of Dubai Sun, 17 Apr 2011 06:51:13 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Reuters has as one of its “pictures of the day” a photo of Sunil. Sunil is a 14 year-old working at a brick quarry in western India. He is paid two Indian rupees ($0.04) for each brick he carries out of the quarry. Each brick weighs about 40kg. He carries out about 100 bricks per day, making him daily wage of US$4. He has no safety gear, no protective clothing, likely has no health care if he is sick or injured, and probably has to work our and pay for his commute, residence, and food out of his own pocket. This type of labour sounds brutal — but these type of conditions are probably not unlike what many of our ancestors were doing between 100 and 200 years ago.

    Sunit is one of tens of millions — maybe even hundreds of millions — of laborers in the subcontinent who would do significantly better if he came to Dubai (although that option is probably not open to him until he is 18 years old). He would likely be paid a minimum of US$200 a month (around AED600-800), and would probably live in a labour camp, be provided with meals, and be transported to his job, which would likely be in construction, but which could also be in mining, drivers, or other general labour. He would have one month of paid leave every year or two years in which he would fly back to see his family. And he would be provided with a uniform and safety gear — he wouldn’t be scrubbing around a quarry in shorts and sandals.

    About half of the population in the UAE — and more than 70% of the population in Dubai — are from the subcontinent. These Indian, Pakistani, Nepali and Sri Lankan workers work in the Persian Gulf and send money to their families in their home country. You can easily meet South Asians in Dubai who have lived here a year, or two, or five, or even ten or more.

    I see this as an opportunity for these workers. And while there are certainly issues — which are being addressed at various paces — overwhelmingly Dubai (and other states of the Persian Gulf) present an opportunity for these workers. But the situation of laborers in Dubai is generally reported in Western media as a scandal. Certainly there are real problems — delayed wage payments being one that was a real problem during the financial crisis — but Dubai, and the rest of the UAE, should not be judged by the labour standards of developed countries. There are already too many people trying to get into Dubai from South Asia as it is — were conditions much better, illegal immigration would be even worse problem.

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    Kuwait House of National Memorial Museum, Part 1 Mon, 11 Apr 2011 12:28:42 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Kuwait is not well known for its tourism. Indeed, I have heard it called one of the most boring countries you can visit. (When I visited, I was most excited by the ruined oil fields.)

    Yet one of the country’s hidden gems is the “Kuwait House of National Memorial Museum” — a small house converted into a museum in the western part of Kuwait City regardgin the Gulf War. Open intermitently, you are most likely to get in if you show up in the morning. Admission is KD1 (US$3) and you walk through a brief introduction on Kuwait’s founding and early history, and you are then greated by a narrative of the Gulf War, played out with toy miniatures and full audio-visual affects — although the experience feels very early-1990s.

    Here is the narrative of Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait:

    And here is the narrative of Desert Storm:

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    OPEC, Evil Genius Cartel? Tue, 05 Apr 2011 12:06:53 +0000 Continue reading ]]> I was somewhat surprised to see this recently appear in a report on the future of energy published by HSBC. In a summary of that report just provided to me:

    OPEC plays a tantalising game of making oil just about affordable and supply just about enough to make other energy sources expensive.

    “Opec tries to manage oil prices to maximise revenue while at the same time keeping prices below the level that might encourage investment in long-term, unconventional supplies of liquid fuels (such as tar sands and biofuels) or promote efficiency improvements,” HSBC notes. “After all, some members have many years of reserves left and need to ensure that oil has a long-term role in the energy equation.”

    Is OPEC that manipulative in deciding how to supply crude oil? I was very surprised to see an institution such as HSBC make this type of statement.

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    Fourteen Centuries of the Arab Homelands Sat, 02 Apr 2011 12:08:02 +0000 Continue reading ]]> In my trip to Lebanon last year, I spotted in an Arabic language school this timeline of the Arab world since the growth of Islam. The chart was published in the late 1980s, and the timeline goes up from 530 until 1986.

    Click image to enlarge

    The timeline is a fun way to see the history of the Arab world, and I spent some time looking at the timeline. But without being seen as a critic, I do have an issue with the accuracy of some of the information.

    Granted, the chart is many decades old, and accurate records (and the Internet) may not have been so available to the authors of the chart. But if I were to amend the chart with regard to just the UAE in recent years, I think the image on the right reflects some amendments that correct some of the years, and are the minimum amendments that would have to make. (The lefthand timeline reflects the original map, and the righthand timeline reflects my amendments.)

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    Trip to the Enclave of the Enclave Tue, 22 Mar 2011 10:04:44 +0000 Continue reading ]]> I previously posted on the pages of these blog an explanation of the enclave of an enclave (or is that an enclave of an exclave?), by which a small part of the UAE, called Nahwa, is located in a small part of Oman called Madha, which is itself located in the UAE.

    Some European readers of this blog made a visit to the UAE and asked if it would be possible to visit Nahwa — to which I responded, why not? We rocked up into Curzon’s Jeep and made our way east from Dubai, north of the the mountains of Fujairah, then turning south along the coast, looking on our right for the road into Oman.

    The road to Narwah is by no means obvious. Driving down the eastern coast of the UAE, there are no clear signposts for either Madha or or Nahwa, so looking at the map, we guessed which was the proper turn. We knew we were on the right path when suddenly, all the buildings had Omani flags. There were no checkpoints, border crossings, or fences as we drove into Oman.

    It took more time to get to Narwah, as this small town was truly hidden at the end of a maze of roads, and was made up of just a few houses, a palm oasis, a police station, and a large school, on which an enormous UAE flag was draped.

    It was my hope that we could drive through Nahwa and head west back into the UAE, and maps indicated that a small road might exist. But it soon became clear that no such route was possible, as the paved road gave way to gravel, which gave way to makeshift route, which ended at a mountain face. We ultimately turned around and headed back the way we came.

    Why does a small piece of Oman survive in the UAE, and why does a small piece of the UAE (of the Emirate of Sharjah) survive inside that enclave of Oman? It probably originates in the ethno-cartography carried out by the Trucial Omani Scouts in the 1960s that set the borders of the Emirates before the UAE was founded — but I must admit that I’ve found precious few reliable sources on this topic and would always welcome educated readers that have access to better sources (or memories).

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    The British Evacuation of Japan and Bahrain, compared Sat, 19 Mar 2011 19:43:23 +0000 Continue reading ]]> This is rather amusing.

    Britain has warned all of its citizens to evacuate, and flights have been chartered to evacuate citizens back to Britain. Enough flights have been chartered to bring 17,000 nationals back to the motherland.

    Now let’s look at Bahrain. Here also, Britain advised its citizens to leave — but a seat on a chartered evacuation jet is £260 – 310! The result? The chartered flight left empty – probably difficult to justify such a seat when that price is not very competitive with commercial airline alternatives.

    But I’ve spoken with friends living in Bahrain and things sound relatively fine — as long as you stay out of the Pearl Square where the centre of the violence is.

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    The Educators Thu, 17 Mar 2011 17:49:54 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Henry Kissinger and Donald Rumsfeld are the two most reviled men to have served in the position of Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense. Yet the irony — and majestic genius — of the careers of both men is that they have, and will, each do more to educate the public (and academia) about the conduct of US foreign policy than any other men in their respective positions.

    Henry Kissinger made the bold step in 1976 to turn over his entire personal papers to the Library of Congress under a special deed that would keep the papers private from the public (but accessible to him for the purposes of continuing his books) until after his death. A law suit resulted in him turning over many of the transcripts of his meetings following a court ruling in 2001 (which, much to the frustration of many people, did not prove the criminal activity they so expected to find in the “secret” papers). But Kissinger’s complete personal papers — his handwritten notes, personal letters, and meeting memorandums — are to be made public five years after his death. The disclosure of so many of his personal files to a public government archives is a move made by very few (if any) persons who served in the positions he did, and this is made all the more remarkable that Kissinger’s tenure was so controversial and he is hounded, even to this day.

    But what makes Kissinger unique is that in all his books, he has placed a special emphasis on educating the public about foreign policy, and frequently warns that when it comes to foreign policy, the American public — and as a result, their elected representatives — just don’t get it. They are excessively optimistic, assume that every problem has a solution, and apply their own cultural values to other societies where they are not compatible, often with disasterous consequences. Kissinger hopes with his papers to give academic and the public access to all his papers so that historians can understand the history of what took place in the Nixon White House — and what made it one of the most successful foreign policies of any US presidency in history.

    Yet as extraordinarily transparent as Kissinger’s move was when he did it back in 1976, Donald Rumsfeld has gone a step further with his book Known and Unknown. At his own personal expense, he spent four years digitizing his entire personal files from his time at the Pentagon from 2001 – 2006 and made them available online at — together with many other documents from his political career with the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations. All of his endnotes in his new book are listed exhaustively — and almost all of them (all that are not copyrighted material) appear on, often as original documents. You can read the State Department Cable following on Rumsfeld’s visit with Saddam in 1983 or his memorandum to Bush following on his visit to the ME/CIS region a month after 9/11, unedited, showing an exact snapshot of the information that was available at the time — a key issue that Rumsfeld has always focused on and which forms the title of his book, the phrase: “known and unknown.” I have never heard of another statesman going to the lengths to inform his readership of his sources.

    Like Kissinger, Rumsfeld is keenly interested in educating the public so that they know what was behind the decisions at the Department of Defense during his tenure there — something he recently explained on C-Span’s Q&A (watch here).

    Say what you will about both men. Maybe you don’t like their personalities. Maybe you don’t like their policies. But their legacies in making public information that was previously critically confidential viewed by only a few people in government. That’s why I call these men the Educators — and know that history will show that both of them were unfairly reviled.

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    The ingredient in Mummia is… Tue, 15 Mar 2011 00:06:05 +0000 Continue reading ]]> In 1867, a jar was found in a Paris pharmacy with the inscription “Remains found under the stake of Joan of Arc.” The jar contained a blackened human rib, carbonized wood, a piece of linen and a cat femur–the later being explained by the practice of throwing black cats onto the pyre of witches. For more than a century and a half, they were believed to be genuine relics of Joan of Arc, until 2006 when scientists performed spectrometry and carbon tests on the relics. They found that the remains were not from 800 years ago, but from an Egyptian mummy from the sixth to the third century BC. Ordinarily, a fake relic from the distant past would be something newer, not older — and how did pieces of an Egyptian mummy end up in a Paris pharmacy anyway?

    It turns out that starting in the 15th century, Mummia — a powder taken from the bodies of Egyptian mummies — was a major part of medieval European pharmacopeia, with a particular emphasis on extending life and preserving the body. The practice apparently originated during the Crusades (possibly with King Fulk of Jerusalem), when Crusaders were reportedly amazed to see the dead bodies that had perished so long ago remain in such a preserved state. It remained part of European medicine for many centuries — the French king Francis I (1515-1547) took a dose of “mummy” daily, and the English King Charles II (1630-1685) rubbed ground up mummy powder on his skin as he believed this would turn him into a ‘Pharaoh’.

    By the 16th century, exporting mummies to Europe was a big business — to such an extent that a French physician visiting Egypt at the time found that fresh corpses were dug up to meet market demand. The practice of using even domestic fresh corpses to make mummia may have been rather common, as is suggested by English Renaissance literature. Indeed, the particular jar discovered in 1867 may have been renamed either during a time of French nationalism, or because the body of a saint may have believed to have special powers — as “Egyptian Mummies” may have gone out of style at some point.

    We can be horrified by the morbid practice and consuming mummified corpses. But we can also be appalled at the lose to history. How many Egyptian mummies disappeared due to this practice?

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    Where can an international lawyer go adventuring? Wed, 09 Mar 2011 04:31:27 +0000 Continue reading ]]> As some readers may know, Curzon is a lawyer — qualified in the US, but working first in Japan and now in Dubai. A common question that I’ve heard through my years of practice is, “How do you practice law if you’re a US lawyer in [Tokyo/Dubai]? Are you advising on US law?”

    The answer to that is: no, not really. The role of many US and English lawyers working overseas is that of “international counsel.” (Why that role is generally limited to US and English lawyers is a story for a different day.) International counsel will often know or learn local law, but the biggest role for these lawyers is to “manage the deal.” Consequently, it’s not surprising that one of the core skills that international law firm say they are looking for today in lawyers is “project management skills.”

    Of course, international lawyers practicing in various countries around the globe must comply with local law — and countries regulate foreign lawyers and their practice of law in a variety of different ways, which I break into four categories:

    1. “Free for All”
    A number of countries don’t really care what type of law you practice and what law you advise on. These countries include the UAE and Vietnam, among others — countries where, once you have a law license from somewhere (and you register it locally), there is generally no restriction on what legal advice you provide. Typically this emerges by accident — a local law allows international lawyers to “provide legal services” and local regulators are not sophisticated enough to differentiate between local law and the law of foreign countries.

    Representing clients in court is a different matter — for that, in the UAE, I would have to be an Arab and speak Arabic. Most lawyers who appear in court in the UAE are Egyptian and Lebanese. In Vietnam, only Vietnamese lawyers at independent local firms can appear in court — Vietnamese lawyers at international firms and joint venture firms are prohibited from appearing in court.

    2. The Global Standard
    This system is the most common in the regulated, developed world, by which foreign lawyers can open their own law firms but cannot advise on local law without being admitted locally. These regimes include most states in the US, most countries in the EU, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, Brazil, South Africa and China.

    In some countries such as the US and Japan, experience is a key requirement, while in others such as Singapore and Hong Kong, the registration is relatively straightforward. In some countries, partnerships with local lawyers are permitted, but some prohibit the practice (China) or regulate/restrict it (Singapore). In other countries, it’s quite easy to qualify as a local lawyer if you are already qualified overseas, with the principle of reciprocity applied in many countries.

    This regime arguably makes the most sense, and is followed by most developed countries. Furthermore, regardless of the law, this is how most law firms operate from a risk management perspective.

    3. Restrictions Apply
    Many countries that are less integrated into the global economy, and which are protective of local businesses, do not recognize independent foreign lawyer offices or the practice of foreign lawyers. However, in many countries, “associations” between local law firms and international lawyers and law firms is common, together with the secondment of lawers from international firms to local associated law firm offices. Such countries include Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Indonesia – countries that are important markets and where it is tolerated practice for foreign lawyers to be employed at local firms and for local firms to market themselves as being “in association” with an international firm. In some cases, the actual position of a lawyer–a partner in an international firm seconded to a local association firm–is not accurately reflected locally, where they are hired on fixed term employee contracts in order to be in compliance with local law (or be less likely to be seen as a breach by the bar association or other regulatory authority).

    4. No thank you!
    There are plenty of countries that are protectionist of local lawyers and do not allow foreign lawyers to practice in any capacity whatsoever. These countries include Korea, Malaysia and India. In practice, these countries tend to have the same law and regulations as those described in (3) above, but for either practical or regulatory reasons, no real associations between local firms and international firms have emerged. For example, in Korea, there are very few commercial law firms and none of them are interested (at present) in forming an exclusive relationship with an international law firm, and otherwise the country could have the same “associations” seen in Indonesia.

    The inevitability of globalisation will change these countries. Korea is moving towards liberalisation, and under a free trade agreement with the EU, European law firms can open foreign law offices in Korea sometime this year. But the bar association in India is fighting liberalization hard, and the courts are tightening the restrictions on lawyers that have association offices or which fly in to conduct business meetings, enforcing penalties and taxes against any lawyer or firm they find in breach of the law.

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    Al Karama, the lost capital of the UAE Sun, 06 Mar 2011 07:35:05 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Abu Dhabi is known as the political capital of the United Arab Emirates, and has held that position for the 39 years that the country has existed. But it wasn’t supposed to be that way. Under Article 9 of the UAE Constitution, signed on 18 July 1971, an Emirate-neutral federal capital (in the spirit of the District of Colombia) was supposed to be established on the border of Abu Dhabi and Dubai:

    1. The Capital of the Union shall be established in an area allotted to the Union by the Emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai on the borders between them and it shall be given the name ”Al Karama”.

    2. There shall be allocated in the Union budget for the first year the amount necessary to cover the expenses of technical studies and planning for the construction of the Capital. However, construction work shall begin as soon as possible and shall be completed in not more than seven years from the date of entry into force of this Constitution.

    3. Until the construction of the Union Capital is complete, Abu Dhabi shall be the provisional headquarters of the Union.

    Al Karama was never build, and Abu Dhabi stayed on as the capital of the UAE until 1994, when it was recognized as the permanent capital of the nation. The plan for a federal capital independent of any Emirate has been scrapped, but there are a few relics of the plan still to be found. Take for example the telephone areas codes of the UAE. The 02, 03 and 08 area codes are for Abu Dhabi; 04 is for Dubai; 05 is for mobiles; 06 is for Sharjah and Ajman; 07 for Umm Al Quwain and Ras Al Khaimah; and 09 is Fujairah. The 01 area code was, and remains, reserved for Al Karama phone numbers.

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