31 December 2007

30 December 2007

Year 2007 Coming To An End

This year was not a happy one at all for Lebanon, and I'm afraid to predict what the near future holds in the closet for us.

We pray for all lebanese to come to their sences and grow up beyond their greedy interests.

Happy New Year Lebanese Tag!

Call to boost small scale sector

MUSCAT — The 2007 His Majesty the Sultan’s Cup awards for the best five factories were given away yesterday with an underlying note to boost the small-scale industrial sector.

Dr Rajiha bint Abdulamir bin Ali, minister of tourism, gave away the HM’s Cup to three factories with investment of over RO3 million and two factories with investment of less than RO2 million at a grand function held at Shangri-La’s Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa.

The five HM’s Cup winners are Gulf Stone Company; Oman Chlorine; Oman Fiber Optic Co; Future Pipe Industries; and United Date Factory.

The shield of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry was awarded to Areej Vegetables Oils and Derivatives; Majan Glass Company; Al Intaj Sulphochemical Industries Co; Al Waqia Shoes; and Windows 2000.

The certificates for best achievement were given to Ali & Abdul Karim Trading Company; Sharq Sohar Steel Rolling Mills; and Al Anwar Ceramic Tiles Company.

A total of 34 participants had entered the competition for the prestigious His Majesty the Sultan’s Cup which is one of the initiatives taken by the government to encourage the industrial sector to improve the quality and quantity of their productions, providing job opportunities for job seekers and providing the required training for Omani human resources.

This year the competition was divided into two categories. The first included companies whose investment exceeded RO3 million and the second category included companies whose investment was less than RO3 million.

Maqbool bin Ali Sultan, minister of commerce and industry, and Khalil bin Abdullah Al Khonji, chairman of Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry spoke on the occasion of the prize-giving ceremony.

Two documentaries on the developments witnessed by the Omani industry and highlights on the distinguished 10 factories will be displayed. An exhibition of Omani companies and factories that have participated in this year’s competition was also organised.

The awards instituted in 1991 are given away to factories which meet the criteria set up by the technical committee of the competition and give the small, medium and large size enterprises an equal opportunity to participate.

The criteria include Omanisation, marketing, replacing imported items with local products, the size of sales at the local market, the financial performance, the value addition, the use of local materials, integration with other industries, production efficiency, the quality standards and HSE requirement.

Maqbool bin Ali Sultan, minister of commerce and industry expressed his satisfaction that all the companies did very well. “The industry as a whole this year has done well and we encourage them to do better and they have, in fact, shown a lot of interest. The private sector is playing a big part now in the industrialisation of the country and the privatisation of the industries has also helped,” noted Maqbool.

The minister said more changes will be made in the competition to make it better in the future. “We have also encouraged for the first time the smaller companies and industries by dividing the awards between the large and small companies keeping a benchmark of RO3 million,” Maqbool informed the Times of Oman.

Khalil bin Abdullah Al Khonji, chairman of Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in his comments said that as private sector, they have asked for more awards.

“Next year we hope to see the new industries, especially the small and medium industries being encouraged and getting the awards,” Khonji stated. In his speech at the ceremony, Khonji emphasised on formation of labour representative unions which helps in speedy redressal of disputes between employees and the management. “There are many companies which have helped their employees to create a labour union but some are still hesitant. The companies need not be afraid as it will help in negotiations,” Khonji added.

Khonji also said that even as industries are flourishing, care should be taken about pollution matters. “The industry should take maximum protection because we are building the tourism sector in a big way and we should be careful in selecting the right industries to prevent pollution and environmental damage,” pointed out Khonji.
-(Times of Oman)

29 December 2007

Sarkozy ends his vacation to start an official visit to Egypt

Beirut / Cairo - Nicolas Sarkozy's holiday with his new girlfriend Carla Bruni and a swarm of paparazzi ends Sunday as the French president makes his Middle Eastern diplomatic debut with an official visit to Egypt.

Having visited Pharaonic monuments in the ancient city of Luxor and spent moments of balmy isolation at a villa in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh with ex-supermodel turned singer Bruni, Sarkozy must now face the thorny politics of the region.

Sarkozy breakfasted with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Friday in Sharm. They were joined for the second half of the meeting by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and his Egyptian counterpart Ahmed Abul Gheit.

Before heading to Egypt on a private jet controversially loaned by a French tycoon, Sarkozy hailed Mubarak as someone "whose experience has made him one of the most enlightened observers in the region and on its developments," according to his spokesman.

Regional veteran Mubarak, 79, had a warm relationship with Sarkozy's predecessors Jacques Chirac and Francois Mitterand and his support for the French leader's Mediterranean Union project is essential.

The two men met twice this year already, shortly before and after Sarkozy's May election win, promising to continue their "excellent" relations. Now he will have to reassert French policy in the volatile region.

Since becoming president in May, Sarkozy has ruffled Arab feathers by showing friendship for Israel and rejecting anti-Americanism -- widely seen as a change of policy from his pro-Arab and pro-African predecessors.

Sections of the Egyptian press deride him as President George W. Bush's new poodle, replacing British ex-premier Tony Blair.

"It's important to answer this," a French diplomat said recently.

"Today, we have re-established a relation of trust with Israel, but that doesn't stop France, which now has the trust of its Western allies, speaking to Syria or Iran."

During talks with Mubarak, Sarkozy will push his proposed Mediterranean Union grouping countries of the Mediterranean rim that is to be set in motion at a Paris summit in July.

Presented as a bridge between Europe, Africa and the Middle East, the Mediterranean Union has also been seen as an alternative to Turkish membership of the European Union.

Mubarak said in August he thought it was "an excellent proposition, which needs to be studied."

In a sign of good faith, Sarkozy will also add France to the queue of nations offering Mubarak technology for his atomic energy programme, restarted in October after a 20-year freeze.

Iran, Russia and the United States have also offered Egypt nuclear cooperation, while France has already proposed its civilian nuclear know-how to Lebanon and Algeria.

The Elysee Palace said the two leaders would also exchange views on regional issues including the constitutional crisis in Lebanon, the Middle East peace process, the conflict in Sudan's Darfur and anti-terrorism.

The French president is due to return to Paris to see in the New Year on December 31, while Bush is expected in the region a few days later as part of a Middle East tour from January 8 to 18.

French mission to Lebanon is over

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said after meeting his Egyptian counterpart in Cairo that France's mission in Lebanon has been complete.

France "has completed everything it had sought to achieve regarding the Lebanese file related to the presidential election," Sarkozy said in an interview with Al Ahram newspaper.

According to reports circulating in Beirut, the French pulled back from Lebanon after the US became active again . Deputy Secretary of State David Welch showed up twice in Beirut after French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner left the Lebanese capital. President Bush also showed more interest in Lebanon when he told the parliament majority “ we support the French initiative , but if this fails you should go ahead and elect a new president based on half plus one quorum “.

PSP leader MP Walid Jumblatt criticized the French effort on Monday when he launched a veiled attack on France for seeking a settlement with Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime over Lebanon's political crisis.

"To some silly propagandists in the international community who ask for a settlement with the Syrian regime we say: The free Lebanese people would not have mercy on those who come in the name of democracy to prostrate to the Damascus tyrant," Jumblatt wrote in the PSP weekly mouthpiece, al-Anbaa.

"Regardless of changes in regional and international circumstances, Lebanon will not rest assured as long as this junta continues to rule Damascus," he added.

Picture: Sarkozy with new his new girlfriend ex-supermodel turned singer Carla Bruni

22 December 2007

Plastic Pipe Opportunities in the Middle East

The Middle East is experiencing rapid growth and there are excellent opportunities for suppliers to the construction industry in the region. There are major applications of pipe in the development of new housing, business areas and industry. Water is a critical resource for the region and plastics are being applied both in new projects and renewal of existing pipelines and sewers. Polyethylene, polypropylene and PVC are the predominant thermoplastic pipe materials in use, and there is extensive application of glass-reinforced plastic (GRP) pipe in industrial and large pipes.

AMI has organised a conference in Dubai from 2-4 June 2008 on Middle East Plastic Pipes. There will be extensive opportunities to look at the markets with papers from regional producers on polyolefin, PVC and GRP pipes. The pipe industry in Libya will be covered by local researchers.

The specific conditions of higher temperatures, wind and sand erosion put pressure on pipes – this has been studied by King Saud University, among others. Material suppliers will be talking about the developments in plastics to meet the demands for performance and ease of processing, including SABIC, Dow, Basell and Total.

Pipe producers with expertise in durability and applications in the Middle East are giving a range of papers on the latest pipe design and key application areas, including Amiantit, Misr El Hegaz, Georg Fischer, Agru Kunststoffttechnik, Subor Boru, Uponor, Farassan, Krah and ZamZam Plastic Industries. The latest in quality control and production will be described by KraussMaffei, Cincinnati Extrusion and SKZ.

Standards vary across the globe despite attempts at harmonisation. There will be an overview of the regional testing procedures as compared to international standards, and applied research in the region.

Middle East Plastic Pipes 2008 provides a unique forum for pipe producers and industry suppliers to network and examine the possibilities for the application of polymer piping solutions in the MENA region.

21 December 2007

Israel Releases Captive Tapes

Israel has released an interview with a Hizbullah operative it is holding, an official said Friday, in an apparent gesture to the Lebanesegroup to win the release of soldiers the group captured last year.
The tape of the Hizbullah prisoner was aired Thursday on the satellite channel MBC, Israel's Army Radio reported Friday.

An Israeli government spokesman, Mark Regev, confirmed that Israel had released the tape aired on MBC. But he would not say why.

The radio said the publication was apparently part of an Israeli goodwill gesture to get Hizbullah to release two Israeli soldiers it captured in July 2006 in an incident that sparked a 34-day war between the militant group and Israel.

Hizbuolah in Lebanon refused to comment and it is not known whether they are alive or dead.

Israel is thought to be holding seven Lebanese prisoners.

Talks of a new prisoner swap to bring home the two captured soldiers have not yielded any results so far.

But Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in October that there had been "positive progress" in negotiations.(AP/naharnet)


"If any question why we died, Tell them, because our fathers lied": Rudyard Kipling

The greater the state, the more wrong and cruel its patriotism, and the greater is the sum of suffering upon which its power is founded. Leo Tolstoy

There are bad people who would be less dangerous if they were quite devoid of goodness. Francois de La Rochefoucauld

When rich people fight wars with one another, poor people are the ones to die. Jean Paul Sartre 1905-1980 French philosopher, writer, educator, anti-authority figure, regarded by scholars as one of the most important intellectuals of all time.

Lost Freedom in Lebanon

Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir said in his Christmas message on Friday that the Lebanese have destroyed their democratic system.
"We have destroyed our democratic system and the freedom that has been granted to us, (the freedom) that we cannot find in countries around us," Sfeir said.

"The presidency is lost and we have not been able to elect a head of state for the first time in the history of the republic, Parliament has been crippled for more than a year and the government is amputated with some (cabinet) ministers abstaining from carrying out their duties," he added.

"How did we reach this stage of power abuse and we are about to destroy the vitals of the nation," Sfeir asked.

"The nation is for all," he stressed. "Let's have mercy on it so it will have mercy on us and on our future generations."

20 December 2007

Israel Upgrading Radar System Following War with Hizbullah

Israel successfully test fired an improved Patriot missile as part of efforts to upgrade the country's radar system following last year's war against Hizbullah.
The test-firing was conducted on Tuesday in southern Israel as "part of series of improvements conducted in the missile's operational system towards a new radar system that allows a wider cover and detection ranges," the army said.

The experiment launched the missile at a target imitating an airplane flying on an operational mission.

In August, it was reported that the Israeli air force was to buy advanced Patriot PAC-3 missiles, made in the United States and capable of intercepting aircraft and long-range ballistic missiles, to upgrade the air defense system.

The Patriot PAC-3 was reportedly capable of intercepting missiles possessed by Syria, Israel's arch enemy to the north.

The missile, weighing 320 kilos (700 pounds), increases the firepower of the Patriot battery, as 16 of them fit on a launcher, compared with four PAC-2s.

Israel first deployed the Patriot system in 1991, when then Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein fired Scuds on the country during the first Gulf War.(AFP)

18 December 2007

15 December 2007

Lebanon War

Dubai's Debt Cloud

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Dubai is on a spending spree, and financial analysts are starting to wonder about the amount of debt the city-state is racking up.

Its oil production is dwindling, and its debt load is four times the average among other Persian Gulf states. Credit-rating companies are asking for more information to determine how sound the government really is.

"From published documents, it is difficult to get a picture of the complete financial situation," said Standard & Poor's analyst Farouk Soussa. "The transparency isn't good."

One of seven emirates making up the United Arab Emirates, Dubai, like other Middle East governments, has been on a deal-making binge. Companies owned or backed by the government have signed agreements or made plays for billions of dollars in assets this year, including stakes in American and European stock exchanges, a Las Vegas casino operator and, most recently, a chunk of Sony Corp. Part of Dubai's deal-making is financed by debt.

At the same time, other Dubai entities have launched expansion plans relying on public borrowing. Nakheel, a government-controlled company building a giant, palm-tree-shaped island development, placed $750 million in bonds this month to finance its plans. Government-owned Jebel Ali Free Zone recently listed 7.5 billion dirham ($2 billion) of bonds.

Demanding Dubai Data

Moody's Investors Service, Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor's Ratings Services are handing out credit ratings to many of these government-backed companies, and they are starting to ask for more disclosure from the emirate, which they assume will bail out the companies if they get into a jam.

"The rapid economic development of Dubai is certainly being accompanied by increased levels of leverage from companies that are closely associated with the government," said Tristan Cooper, a Moody's analyst in Dubai. "Without a clearer picture of the overall financial position of the central government and the broader public sector," investors could become more cautious.

The situation highlights a broader issue. Many of the world's governments and the companies they control are notoriously opaque, especially in the Middle East. But big regional investors like Qatar, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi (also part of the U.A.E.) have big hydrocarbon reserves to back up their deals. Production can be relatively easy to estimate from public figures. Dubai's reserves have been shrinking for years.

Dubai also has taken a more-complex approach to investing overseas. Most other deal-making countries have used massive investment authorities to pursue their deals. The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, for instance, bought a $7.5 billion stake in Citigroup Inc. last month. In contrast, Dubai's ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, has entrusted a cadre of lieutenants to run his own and his government's business interests. They often compete with one another and hunt for deals independently, but they all ultimately answer to Sheik Mohammed.

The government association has helped a handful of Dubai corporate entities get high credit ratings. The assumption is that Sheikh Mohammed or his government will come to the rescue in a pinch. And if Dubai gets overextended, analysts expect the emirate's much-richer cousins in Abu Dhabi will lend a hand. Abu Dhabi is the capital of the U.A.E., and its ruler is the country's president. Sheikh Mohammed is prime minister.

Moody's recently gave one of its highest corporate ratings, A1, to government-controlled DIFC Investments LLC. DIFC owns a stake in Borse Dubai, the holding company that recently agreed to acquire Nordic exchange OMX AB for some $4.9 billion. The complex deal aims to eventually give Dubai a stake of nearly 20% in Nasdaq Stock Market Inc. In a ratings note, Moody's said the rating reflects "the credit support the Government of Dubai is likely to provide in a distress situation."

This year, S&P rated Dubai Holding Commercial Operations Group LLC single-A-plus, citing "strong implicit support from the Emirate of Dubai." Sheikh Mohammed owns the entity's parent, Dubai Holding. A Dubai Holding subsidiary recently bought the Sony stake.

Mystery Investments?

The trouble with these corporate ratings is that without more disclosure, it is difficult to evaluate the financial soundness of these entities and the government backing them. As its oil supplies dwindle, Dubai has diversified its economy into financial services, tourism and real-estate development, among other pursuits. Those revenue streams and their underlying assets are difficult to pin down without access to government books.

In an emailed response to questions, a Dubai government spokesman said the emirate's debt load is "very moderate" by international standards, and the debt raised by Dubai entities "has all been in their capacity as leading international players that are successfully expanding in a number of profitable markets." He said Dubai is in the process of obtaining a rating on its sovereign, or government, debt. Such a rating gauges a government's ability to pay back its borrowing, and it is used to price publicly sold debt.

S&P credit analysts estimate Dubai's debt, relative to gross domestic product, is about 42%. Compared with the U.S., where gross debt stands at more than 60% of GDP, according to the International Monetary Fund, that isn't bad. But in Abu Dhabi, debt is equal to just 2.9% of GDP.

Analysts think Dubai's assets, including real estate, aviation and tourism interests and taxes, far outweigh its debt, but they would like to know more.

Of course, credit-rating companies have another motivation: In most cases, they are paid to rate the creditworthiness of firms and governments, and the big three firms are eager for clients like the government of Dubai.-(WSJ)


Last Chance

March 14 has discovered that Speaker Nabih Berri is unqualified for negotiations, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy is beginning to wonder whether he was wrong to have put faith in the Assad regime.

Friday ended with verbal warfare between Berri and Saad Hariri, and Sarkozy saying Monday is Lebanon's “last chance” to elect a president. And I think he threatened to cut off "those (who) would take the risk of killing off that chance". As if "those" care.

The day had begun with a funeral, and the news that Aoun is put in charge of “dialogue” with the parliament’s majority, which is the Assad regime’s way of plunging the country’s into vacuum. For it’s either Aoun’s folly, or Hizbullah's.

The sad thing is, all the talk of “action” by March 14 dissipated after the assassination. We are now left with useless statements and passive rejection.

If you’re wondering what the cat did with lone presidential candidate Suleiman’s tongue, join the club. We did hear him yesterday though, when he told slain Hajj’s family that there are hundreds like their son willing to fill in his shoes.

Suleiman’s improvised (and insensitive) speech is, of course, meaningless. The Lebanese army is not capable of even acknowledging the existence of the other enemy. Many like Hajj died in Nahr El Bared, and all they got from Suleiman was silence on the identity of their killers. Wasn’t it Hajj who sat there near Suleiman’s other generals covering up for the culprits?

Hajj’s assassination should have shown Suleiman the futility of pretending something didn’t exist. The big lie that he told about the Assad regime’s involvement in Nahr El Bared did not make the country safer, or bring him closer to the presidency.

Sadly, even March 14 did not see the end of the road they took. The other big lie they lived for over two years about Nabih Berri did not save the country or make it safer. For that same reason, their decision to back Suleiman was yet another exercise in delusion, and proof that, as Michael Young said, they lack imagination. Time has never been on their side, yet they let their opponents buy it all the time. Now that they’re out of it (time), I cannot but marvel at the continuation of their stupid decision to never take risks.-(bbeirut)

14 December 2007

Foreign Direct Investment: U.S. and Global Concerns

Foreign direct investment (FDI) has been an increasingly contentious issue
since congressional opposition in 2006 forced a halt to the Dubai Ports
World acquisition of several U.S. ports. More recently, new concerns have
been raised over the rising number of high-profile investments by
government-controlled sovereign wealth funds. Outside the United States,
there are some growing signs of resistance to foreign investment, sometimes
on narrow national security grounds but also on broader economic security
grounds. A number of countries are considering creating their own versions
of the U.S. CFIUS process, which could have implications for U.S.
investments abroad. Is there a danger of a broader backlash that could
significantly restrict FDI in the United States, or curb U.S. investment
abroad? What are the Bush administration strategies for trying to prevent
new restrictions on FDI and how successful are these likely to be? Join
Edward Alden as he discusses these issues and more.

Edward Alden is the Bernard L. Schwartz senior fellow at the Council on
Foreign Relations, specializing in U.S. competitiveness. His expertise
includes U.S. immigration and visa policies, U.S. trade policy, and the
impact of homeland security policy on U.S. economic competitiveness. Before
joining the Council, Mr. Alden was the Washington bureau chief for the
Financial Times, writing on U.S. economic issues, trade policy, and homeland
security. He was previously the Canadian bureau chief for the Financial
Times based in Toronto, a senior reporter with the Vancouver Sun
specializing in labor and employment issues, and was the managing editor of
the newsletter Inside US Trade, widely recognized as the leading source of
reporting on U.S. trade policies. He has won several national and
international awards for his reporting. Mr. Alden holds a Master's degree in
international relations from the University of California, Berkeley, and
pursued doctoral studies before returning to a journalism career.

12 December 2007

Lebanon's Existence is Targeted by el-Hajj's Assassination

Prime Minister Fouad Saniora said Wednesday's car bomb assassination of chief of military operations Brig. Gen. Francois el-Hajj aims at blocking the election of a new president for the nation.
"This is one of a series of crimes that targeted Lebanese institutions and leaders... and now is targeting the military and the army command in a bid to foil the presidential election," Saniora said.

El-Hajj, a key figure in the army's victory against Fatah al-Islam terrorists in a 15-week battle earlier this year, was tipped to replace army commander Gen. Michel Suleiman, who is the frontrunner to become Lebanon's next president.

He was killed a day after parliament postponed until December 17 a session to elect Suleiman, amid a tug-of-war between the ruling majority and an opposition allied with Syria and Iran.

Since 2005 Lebanon has been rocked by a series of assassinations targeting anti-Syrian figures. The ruling majority has blamed the attacks on Damascus that has rejected the accusations.

"The criminals wanted to terrorize and shake the morale of the institution (army) which has succeeded in carrying out great national missions," Saniora said, referring to the army's victory over the Fatah al-Islam militants earlier this year.
Saniora vowed that "the Lebanese people will not surrender, and the Lebanese army and security forces will not back down or be scared."

"The message was clear, and the response to it is more determination," he said. "The existence of Lebanon is targeted, but Lebanon is here to stay."-(AFP)

Car explosion kills General Hajj and 3 others

Beirut - A car bomb attack killed Brig. Gen. Francois Hajj and at least three others Wednesday, the military and state media said, putting even more pressure on the country's delicate political situation.

On Wednesday a car bomb killed him and several bodyguards. (Security sources said five people were killed and several wounded by the car bomb that exploded as Hajj’s convoy drove through Baddbda, a suburb that houses the presidential palace and several embassies

Hajj, one of Lebanon's top military generals and a top Maronite Catholic in the command, was considered a leading candidate to succeed the head of the military, Gen. Michel Suleiman, after Suleiman's is elected as the new president to replace Emile Lahoud , whose term expired on November 23.

Hajj, 55, was hailed as the hero of the military campaign against the terrorists of Fatah al-Islam in the Nahr el-Bared Palestinian refugee camp.

The slaying of Hajj and its timing amid the deadlock over the presidency raised immediate speculation over who was behind the bombing, which blasted Hajj's SUV as he drove through a busy street of Baabda district.

Anti-Syrian politicians blamed Damascus, as they have for a string of bombings over the past two years that killed eight prominent opponents of Syria. Damascus has denied any role in those killings.

Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh, speaking to Associated Press Television News, accused the "Syrian-Iranian axis" of hitting the military, "the only body in Lebanon who can balance the power of Hezbollah and other militias in the country."

But the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah, which has good relations with the army, denounced the assassination. It called Hajj's death a "great national loss" and praised the military's "great national role" in preserving security.

The main Christian opposition leader, Michel Aoun, an ally of Hezbollah, told reporters that he had supported Hajj to succeed Suleiman as army commander. Aoun, a former head of the military, praised Hajj and said it was "shameful" for political forces to take advantage of the crime, a reference to the anti-Syrian groups.

Suspicion also fell on al-Qaida-inspired Sunni Muslim militants, whom the army crushed at the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr el-Bared in northern Lebanon in an operation led by Hajj, a battle that cost hundreds of lives.

Hikmat Deeb, a leading member of Aoun's opposition Free Patriotic Movement, said Hajj ( pictured speaking ) was "a hero of Nahr el-Bared," suggesting the battle there was a factor in the assassination.

The military refrained from laying blame, saying in a statement that "the criminal hand" killed Hajj, along with "a number of soldiers, and wounded others." It said the military was investigating.

The blast went off at 7:10 a.m. (12:10 a.m. EST) on a busy street near the Baabda Municipality building as school buses and people were setting off for work. Hajj, who lives in the area, had left his home few minutes earlier, probably heading to the nearby Defense Ministry, security officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity in accordance with military rules.

A BMW parked car packed with 77 pounds ( 35 Kg) of TNT exploded as his SUV passed, knocking a crater two yards wide and a yard deep into the pavement.

Two bodies were thrown about 15 yards by the force of the blast. Troops sealed off the area as firefighters tried to put out the flames in at least two cars. The road was blacked with the soot as black smoke covered the area.

The security officials said three people were confirmed dead, including the general, his driver and bodyguard. Emergency workers were searching in nearby bushes for a possible fourth body.

Saad Hariri, leader of the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority, said the attack came at a "pivotal time at which Lebanon's enemies are seeking to consecrate the vacuum in the presidency."

The failure to elect a president has embroiled Lebanon in its worst political crisis since the end of the 1975-90 civil war. The country has been without a president since Nov. 23 when Emile Lahoud left office and a deadlocked parliament failed to elect a successor.

Parliament is sharply divided between anti-Syrian supporters of the government of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora and the opposition, led by Hezbollah, an ally of Syria and Iran.

The two sides are locked in a dispute over how to elect the army commander, Suleiman, as compromise candidate to fill the vacant presidency. His election requires a constitutional amendment because currently a sitting army commander is barred from the post.

Lebanon has been rocked by a series of explosion since a massive truck bombing killed former Premier Rafik Hariri in central Beirut in 2005.

The last major explosion on Sept. 19 killed anti-Syrian lawmaker Antoine Ghanem on a Beirut street, an attack blamed by his supporters in the government coalition on Syria. Syria denied involvement.

French FM denounces the killing
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner denounced the killing as a "cowardly" attempt to destabilize the country.

"France condemns in the strongest terms the attack that claimed the life of a senior Lebanese army official, Francois El-Hajj, as well as several Lebanese citizens," the minister said in a statement.

"This cowardly act, committed against one of the chief figures of the Lebanese military... is part of an obvious attempt to destabilize" Lebanon.

Kouchner said the "only response" should be to "elect without delay a new president" and keep the country functioning to "ensure its security, liberty and sovereignty."

He urged the "entire international community to exercise the greatest possible influence" to help the country do so.

11 December 2007

As Dubai Heats Up, Is Israel Frozen Out?

There are many factors pointing to Dubai's emergence as a new Middle Eastern economic hub, but one particularly revealing item is the number of foreign visitors patronizing the city's hotels.
Since 2001, the number of Americans staying at this Persian Gulf port city's hotels has nearly quadrupled, while Iranian visitors have doubled and Sudanese travelers tripled. Indeed, these days the guest logs at Dubai's hotels list a panoply of nations, with one conspicuous exception: Israel, against which the United Arab Emirates government has a legally enshrined boycott.
As a result mainly of the skyrocketing price of oil, the UAE's twin metropolises of Dubai and Abu Dhabi have entered the big leagues of the world's economic capitals. A handful of analysts are beginning to ask what it might mean for Israel - the region's most vibrant economy over the past few decades - to be legally barred from what is fast becoming the Middle East's new financial hub.
Israelis have been unable to attend international conferences recently held in Dubai, and a private equity firm has been questioned for its decision to set up a new fund that will target every country in the region except Israel. At the same time, however, the UAE's growth appears to be prodding the government to open up a bit toward Israel; just this year, two delegations of Jewish organizations traveled to the UAE for the first time. Insiders say that amid all the growth, it is too soon to know what will happen with the murky relationship to Israel.
"If Dubai becomes a genuine place for capital - and Israel couldn't share in that - then there would be consequences for Israel," said Stanley Gold, who is president and CEO of Shamrock Holdings, an American private equity firm that invests in Israel.
Gold added, "This is something to keep your eye on."
Economic antipathy toward the Jewish state is nothing new. In 1948, the Arab League first declared its boycott, with member countries adopting legislation barring local companies from any direct financial dealings with Israel - or even with companies that use Israeli parts or that do business with Israel. In 1979, the United States government passed legislation barring American companies from complying with the boycott in any way. Since then, the secondary elements of the boycott have been dropped by most countries, including the UAE, and it is widely known that many Israelis work around it by using non-Israeli passports.
Just this week, an Israeli real estate magnate announced a deal with a Dubai company to build a development in Singapore.
But the ban is still in effect. Statistics collected by the U.S. Department of Commerce show that companies from the UAE led the way in asking American companies to comply with the embargo. In 2006, American companies reported receiving 486 requests to comply with the boycott from companies in the UAE. That was more than three times the number of requests received from any other Arab League country. These figures have not gone unnoticed by Israelis.
"For a country that wants to be a leader - and an international financial center - it really behooves them to put this behind them," Ron Dermer, head of Israel's economic mission in Washington, told the Forward. "You're either going to be in the 21st century or the seventh century. You've got a choice."
Now that Dubai is not simply a source of capital but also a thoroughfare for commerce in the region, the boycott could take on even greater significance. This new status was apparent when Dubai's government-owned stock exchange purchased a 20% stake in the Nasdaq - a move that is seen as a step toward developing Borse Dubai into a major international exchange.
Perhaps the clearest sign of the UAE's arrival was the decision of The Carlyle Group - one of the most prominent private equity firms - to set up an office in Dubai and an investment fund for the region. Carlyle has drawn attention in the past for its ties to the Middle East, particularly when it emerged, after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, that Osama bin Laden's family had investments in the company. More recently, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority purchased a 7.5% stake in Carlyle.
The new Middle East fund, which will raise $250 million for leveraged buyouts, has attracted scrutiny because of the announcement that it would be targeting investments in all the countries surrounding Israel - but not in Israel itself. Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said he had received a number of calls about the fund and had made inquiries at Carlyle as to why the fund was not targeting Israel.
"We reached out to find out what the situation is," Foxman said. "We have not come to a conclusion."
Chris Ullman, a spokesman for Carlyle, said the fund is not investing in Israel because it is focusing on countries that are "less economically established than Israel." He said that the Middle East fund, like all other funds, will not be barred from investing in Israel. Ullman also noted that, in the past, Carlyle had made $50 million worth of investments in Israel, and that it is currently looking to set up a fund to invest in Israel.
The head of Carlyle, David Rubenstein, worked in the White House office that helped establish America's anti-boycott legislation in 1979. Stuart Eizenstat, who was Rubenstein's boss at that time in the Carter administration, told the Forward that he has had conversations with Rubenstein about Carlyle's Middle East fund and was convinced that the intention was not to isolate Israel.
"I think the fact that he is interested in creating a separate Israeli fund should mitigate any concern," Eizenstat said.
For Laura Goldman, a former Merrill Lynch investor and a financial columnist in Israel, the bigger concern is what will happen when Carlyle begins purchasing companies in the region that are legally obliged to boycott Israel.
"Are they going to be investing in hotels that attract conventions that exclude Israelis?" Goldman asked.
Ullman said that Carlyle has not made any investments yet but will not do anything that violates American anti-boycott legislation.
Much of Dubai's growth has been in the real estate, hotel and convention business. Last October, the annual meeting of the International Association for Freight Forwarders Associations was held in Dubai for the first time. The Israeli affiliate was initially told that it would be able to attend - with delegates even going so far as to book hotel rooms - but the visas never came through.
"It is sad that a political decision has damaged promising business relations, but that is life in this region," said Barry Pintow, director general of the Israeli Federation of Forwarders and Customs Clearing Agents.
Israelis are not the only ones afffected by the barriers to business. Jane Kinninmont, an editor with the Economist Intelligence Unit, said that when she travels to the UAE, she frequently hears businessmen bemoaning the fact that they can't do business in Israel. She added that while within Dubai there is little pressure to strengthen the boycott, there is a great deal of subtle pressure in the other direction from businessmen who want Israeli technology relating to water development and electricity.
"I think we've seen a clear trend over the last few years of the boycott becoming less extensive and there being more cracks in it," Kinninmont said.
One sign of this thaw came when delegations from both the ADL and the American Jewish Committee journeyed to the UAE earlier this year. Foxman said that while there don't seem to be open business deals between Arab and Israeli businessmen, he did hear that the two sides were finding creative, more covert ways to interact.
"They are making efforts to establish better contacts, and we are prodding them," Foxman said. "That's probably the best one can expect right now."
Goldman is not so sanguine. "In the long term, Dubai is going to be what Switzerland was 10 years ago," she said. "When that happens, Israel is going to be left out in the cold."-(NPopper)

08 December 2007

La. Economic Chief to Join Pipe Maker

Louisiana's outgoing head of economic development plans to go to work for an international fiberglass pipe systems company.

Michael Olivier, who leaves his post as economic development secretary with the change of administrations, will be regional president of the Americas for Future Pipe USA, part of Dubai-based Future Pipe Industries.

His hiring, effective after he leaves office, was announced Thursday by the company. Future Pipe has domestic manufacturing operations in Houston and Gulfport, Miss. and has 3,500 people employed globally.

Olivier, who has been economic development secretary since 2004 under Gov. Kathleen Blanco, had said he wanted to stay in the post under the administration of Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal, who takes office Jan. 14.

On Wednesday, Jindal instead chose Stephen Moret, who has been head of the nine-parish Baton Rouge Area Chamber of Commerce since 2004.

03 December 2007

The game is not over

Did a US-Syrian deal make Suleiman the candidate of choice? Did March 14 capitulate? Wrong questions and conclusions for two reasons:

First, this isn't about the United States, and what it can do for Lebanon. This has always been about what the Lebanese can do for themselves. Sadly, after two years of patchwork politics, it turned out the Lebanese, March 14 included, are not capable of much. Last month, those in March 14 banking or counting on American and European support in their defensive fight against Syrian aggression, realized that at the end of the day, as Kouchner repeatedly reminded them, they were on their own. The best they could get was a president elected through a majority vote, enjoying international support but ruling over something that resembles Somalia. It was Jumblatt, now grudgingly promoting the "Better Suleiman than Chaos" solution, who said Lebanese democracy cannot survive with a regime like Assad's acting with impunity. We, Lebanese, who placed hope in March 14 leaders, even as we berated them every time we felt they strayed from the right path, knew all along that the battle against the Assad regime was not a battle between equals. The coalition that was born after the Hariri assassination had the odds stacked against it from the start. This isn't Middle Earth. This is the Middle East.

Second, the real battle was never about the presidency. Note that even after March 14 accepted Suleiman as a lone candidate, the other camp is still demanding "guarantees". The real issues have always been Hizbullah's weapons, the Hariri tribunal and the latter's implications on the Assad regime. A Suleiman presidency may comfort the Assad regime, but it will not change the parliament's majority. If anything, it might reinvigorate parliament, unless March 14 is stupid enough to offer more concessions. In other words, the Assad regime has not won. Not yet.

March 14's greatest mistake was to let its opponents neutralize their weapons: the parliament's majority, and the cabinet. Both institutions were made ineffective, thanks to Nabih Berri and March 14's own mistakes. The climax was made to be the presidential election, but March 14 found itself close to a rushed and costly resolution.

It is not over yet. We have not reached the end, and the battle has not been lost. You and I may not have faith in those leading the fight. But this is Lebanon, folks. And as someone once said, your glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time you fall.

That said, it is time for some of us to stop equating "March 14" with our vision for Lebanon. Our country never had the revolution that Bush said we had, and that we believed we had. If it did happen, it only lasted a day. Suleiman cannot end what has not started. The onus is on those who on March 14th, 2005 believed they walked for independence, to generate a true revolution.

01 December 2007

2008 Lebanon New Year Countdown Starts

You may have noticed the decrease in posts in the recent days... just hated to repeat the events over and over and over. People are just fed-up from hearing about elections being postponed once, twice, third time, fourth time, fifth time etc... Now  it is set till December 7! I thought I had to put that in perspective adding to it one year memory of the tents in down-town Beirut. Some are celebrating.... I don't know why!But it sure doesn't look smart as no one sees any achievement in that.

The army chief is now an added runner to the presidential elections.

As many prominent Lebanese politicians and leaders we are no more optimistic about the current situation in Lebanon. Many have left, some have been out since four month as they expect escalations around the clock. Luckily no recent assassination in the area which might put you at ease or even might stress the unsolved dilemma situation. These are still holding to their down-side opinion and expect the worse to come! Politics is a dirty m***f***...you cannot trust!

No one knows anymore what 14 wants or 8! Suddenly, Aoun might turn the table upside down, or even Sayyid can turn the whole area upside-down... while poor Hariri is roaming from US to France to KSA to etc... not knowing what he wants just asking for support. What kind of support is exactly needed here? for the Hariri family or the Sunnis or for Lebanon?

-If it was for the Sunnis, we would have seen a proper alliance between all Sunnis in Lebanon, as Hariri do not represent all the Sunnis in Lebanon, even if he claims to. Collecting votes with all kind of means might get you the chair, but soon you'll loose face. It is an eccentric strange fact of alliance between Hariri and GeaGea!!! the latter being a former prisoner of war, where he committed crimes and assassinations against Muslims and Christians!
Hariri was not in Lebanon at times, so he totally do not understand and feel it, as he was probably at school in France! If 14 cannot see that, all others can!

-If it was for Lebanon, the Prime Minister would have held a Lebanese stand with all Lebanese people. You cannot just support the resistance at one stage and reject it after six months! This makes the government look stupid and incredible. If you cannot run it from the inside, you can not even dream of running it from the outside... so I suggest to come back to senses and stay put in Lebanon near the locals who are suffering day and night from slumping economy to cost of living hikes. You cannot enforce peace... I think many lessons should have been learnt since 27 years of suffering.

-The third option; it is for Hariri, yes unfortunately the poor Lebanese do not care anymore, they want to hold to any thread of life just to get out of this mud... for them a new person with no history in politics, no experience at all!!!!!!! might be better than any existing personality! This can turn to be a disaster by itself. Bush, Fahed etc... can exert pressure enough.... but must be careful as the other parties have also their connections, and you might force them (if not done already) to resort too to external support from Iran, Russia, Syria etc... However, don't say that Oh! we don't want interferences and the Lebanese must solve their problems themselves!

You need skills to play the game of the Giants! otherwise you might get squashed by mistake!
Seriously now, do you think that Bush cares about Lebanon? Come on now.... do you really think that he has any kind of agenda for Lebanon... you're dreaming your brains out!

The fact of the matter is that: NO ONE CARES ABOUT LEBANON, NO ONE CARES ABOUT US!

Sorry to break it to all of you folks!

So we better start caring about each other as Lebanese, not as Sunnis, Chiite, Christians, or Druze!

It is worthy to ask oneself, what was the situation before the President elections come to surface? one year ago? Nothing..... the Lebanese people were just again occupied with protesting against each other and opposing MP's in parliaments issuing statements and freezing economy.

It's not that Orange or anything... but let's face it where were all these "balls" when the General was fighting Syrians alone in 89? Everyone was against him, just because of no-balls for saying no!
He chose freedom for Lebanon.... still no one was ready for it.
Today..... every one found their paper-balls and chose to stand against Syria... so be it, we just finished from this issue as Syria is out of Lebanon, so let's get back to life again, get over it, have a life!

We cannot drive everyone we stand against out of Lebanon; It would not be Lebanon otherwise!

If you choose to drive your neighbours out, then they will also do that....

It's civil war again!

You know it, but it seems after 27 years you forgot!!! You need to be reminded? You need to go through it again?

Get ready to pay the price again.

One Year Passed in Down Town Protests

Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.