27 February 2009

* Dubai's bail-out

Jebel Ali port in Dubai boasts of being the largest man-made harbour in the world. Its “quad-lift” cranes can hoist four 20-foot containers at once. The port’s second terminal will raise its capacity to 14m containers. But plans for a third terminal look premature. Dubai is suffering from a slump in the trading, lending, holidaying and profiteering that buoyed this remarkable emirate for so long.

On February 22nd Dubai was hoisted out of its financial trouble by its oil-rich neighbour, Abu Dhabi. The central bank for the United Arab Emirates (UAE) bought $10 billion-worth of Dubai’s five-year bonds. The bail-out confirmed everyone’s assumption that Abu Dhabi would not let the second-biggest member of the UAE fail. But its benefactor waited long enough to plant a seed of doubt in people’s minds. In recent weeks, the spreads on credit-default swaps for securities issued by Dubai’s government and several of its biggest corporations have widened alarmingly, if a little hysterically.

Having long ago depleted most of its oil reserves, Dubai has reinvented itself as a “sell-side” emirate, dreaming up ingenious schemes for other people to invest in. Chris Davidson of Durham University, who has written a history of the emirate, describes it as a “spongelike economy”, designed to absorb foreign money. The government imposes few levies (Dubai has no income tax) and accounts for only $10 billion of the emirate’s debts. But its rulers sponsor an extended family of companies. Between them, these corporations have amassed about $70 billion of liabilities (see chart), adding to a debt pile that almost matches the emirate’s 2008 GDP of $82 billion. 

On the other side of Dubai’s ledger, the government claims to have $90 billion in assets on top of the $260 billion held by its corporations. But it has not revealed the composition or liquidity of its holdings. The very fact that it had to turn to its neighbour for help suggests that its own family silver is not that easy to sell.

The bond proceeds will allow Dubai to meet its obligations this year (which amount to about $10 billion-15 billion) and probably next. But what will Abu Dhabi ask in return? On the face of it, not much. Tristan Cooper, of Moody’s, a rating agency, had expected Abu Dhabi to be “a bit more fussy” about how the funds were used. It might, say, have taken equity stakes in Dubai’s freewheeling corporations or sought some control over their managers.
But Mr Davidson thinks the unstated price of Abu Dhabi’s support will be stiff indeed. “It is the end of the second emirate’s economic autonomy, which it has fiercely protected,” he says. Why else did Abu Dhabi put Dubai through “months of pain and humiliation”, if it did not see some long-term gain from chastening its neighbour and strengthening the UAE federation, Mr Davidson asks. Dubai will now have to be more accommodating of its neighbour’s wishes, he says. It will, for example, have to forgo its independent foreign policy, which had seen it become Iran’s outlet to the world, even as Abu Dhabi kept a careful distance.
Dubai will also have to “lose its ambitions to become the Monaco of the Gulf,” Mr Davidson says. Abu Dhabi will insist on greater prudence and Dubai’s go-getting rulers may also now feel defeated. Their economic ambitions were driven partly by their political insecurities. “A lot of the urgency we saw in the last ten years was fuelled exactly by Dubai’s need to keep its autonomy,” Mr Davidson says.
But for all Dubai’s woes, the Gulf still needs a financial centre, a port, and a secure place to live, Mr Cooper points out. With a little less gumption and a lot less gearing, “Dubai is plausible”.


* A7besh freed ahead of elections

The three A7bash men who were jailed for more than three years in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri were set free on bail on Wednesday... funny thta thi sis just ahead of the election times!!!!!!!!!!!! and days before an international tribunal was to begin trying the case. 

21 February 2009

* Zionist Logic: Malcolm X on Zionism

Taken from The Egyptian Gazette -- Sept. 17, 1964

The Zionist armies that now occupy Palestine claim their ancient Jewish prophets predicted that in the "last days of this world" their own God would raise them up a "messiah" who would lead them to their promised land, and they would set up their own "divine" government in this newly-gained land, this "divine" government would enable them to "rule all other nations with a rod of iron."

If the Israeli Zionists believe their present occupation of Arab Palestine is the fulfillment of predictions made by their Jewish prophets, then they also religiously believe that Israel must fulfill its "divine" mission to rule all other nations with a rod of irons, which only means a different form of iron-like rule, more firmly entrenched even, than that of the former European Colonial Powers.

These Israeli Zionists religiously believe their Jewish God has chosen them to replace the outdated European colonialism with a new form of colonialism, so well disguised that it will enable them to deceive the African masses into submitting willingly to their "divine" authority and guidance, without the African masses being aware that they are still colonized.


The Israeli Zionists are convinced they have successfully camouflaged their new kind of colonialism. Their colonialism appears to be more "benevolent," more "philanthropic," a system with which they rule simply by getting their potential victims to accept their friendly offers of economic "aid," and other tempting gifts, that they dangle in front of the newly-independent African nations, whose economies are experiencing great difficulties. During the 19th century, when the masses here in Africa were largely illiterate it was easy for European imperialists to rule them with "force and fear," but in this present era of enlightenment the African masses are awakening, and it is impossible to hold them in check now with the antiquated methods of the 19th century.

The imperialists, therefore, have been compelled to devise new methods. Since they can no longer force or frighten the masses into submission, they must devise modern methods that will enable them to manouevre the African masses into willing submission.

The modern 20th century weapon of neo-imperialism is "dollarism." The Zionists have mastered the science of dollarism: the ability to come posing as a friend and benefactor, bearing gifts and all other forms of economic aid and offers of technical assistance. Thus, the power and influence of Zionist Israel in many of the newly "independent" African nations has fast-become even more unshakeable than that of the 18th century European colonialists... and this new kind of Zionist colonialism differs only in form and method, but never in motive or objective.

At the close of the 19th century when European imperialists wisely foresaw that the awakening masses of Africa would not submit to their old method of ruling through force and fears, these ever-scheming imperialists had to create a "new weapon," and to find a "new base" for that weapon.


The number one weapon of 20th century imperialism is zionist dollarism, and one of the main bases for this weapon is Zionist Israel. The ever-scheming European imperialists wisely placed Israel where she could geographically divide the Arab world, infiltrate and sow the seed of dissension among African leaders and also divide the Africans against the Asians.

Zionist Israel's occupation of Arab Palestine has forced the Arab world to waste billions of precious dollars on armaments, making it impossible for these newly independent Arab nations to concentrate on strengthening the economies of their countries and elevate the living standard of their people.

And the continued low standard of living in the Arab world has been skillfully used by the Zionist propagandists to make it appear to the Africans that the Arab leaders are not intellectually or technically qualified to lift the living standard of their people ... thus, indirectly "enducing" Africans to turn away from the Arabs and towards the Israelis for teachers and technical assistance.

"They cripple the bird's wing, and then condemn it for not flying as fast as they."

The imperialists always make themselves look good, but it is only because they are competing against economically crippled newly independent countries whose economies are actually crippled by the Zionist-capitalist conspiracy. They can't stand against fair competition, thus they dread Gamal Abdul Nasser's call for African-Arab Unity under Socialism.


If the "religious" claim of the Zionists is true that they were to be led to the promised land by their messiah, and Israel's present occupation of Arab Palestine is the fulfillment of that prophesy: where is their messiah whom their prophets said would get the credit for leading them there? It was Ralph Bunche who "negotiated" the Zionists into possession of Occupied Palestine! Is Ralph Bunche the messiah of Zionism? If Ralph Bunche is not their messiah, and their messsiah has not yet come, then what are they doing in Palestine ahead of their messiah?

Did the Zionists have the legal or moral right to invade Arab Palestine, uproot its Arab citizens from their homes and seize all Arab property for themselves just based on the "religious" claim that their forefathers lived there thousands of years ago? Only a thousand years ago the Moors lived in Spain. Would this give the Moors of today the legal and moral right to invade the Iberian Peninsula, drive out its Spanish citizens, and then set up a new Moroccan nation ... where Spain used to be, as the European zionists have done to our Arab brothers and sisters in Palestine?...

In short the Zionist argument to justify Israel's present occupation of Arab Palestine has no intelligent or legal basis in history ... not even in their own religion. Where is their Messiah?


* May Chidiac

Prominent journalist and survivor of a 2005 assassination attempt that left her partially handicapped, May Chidiac delivered a surprise on-air resignation during the Tuesday-night broadcast of her LBC political talk show. The following is excerpts:
- At the end, with heartache, yes, with heartache, I have decided to leave.
- I will say it simply: The time has come for me to say goodbye.
- Last week, I underwent my 30th operation. It is not easy. The 30th operation in three years.

- When I was fighting my suffering and pain … the result of the assassination attempt on September 25, 2005, I thought a lot.

- Initially, I was pleased, and pleased with myself, and at least I was honest with myself. I challenged myself and I went back to work ten months later, and I made those who tried to silence me see they could nail neither me nor my principles, nor my mind, which has remained intact, thank God, because this is the will of God and Jesus and Saint Mary and Saint Charbel. I am convinced that God alone decides, and not the hands of treachery. Whoever dies dies because their visit is over.

- It is not we who will judge whoever plants such large quantities of explosives [in reference to the assassination attempt], but God.
- I hope the Special Tribunal will succeed in nailing them and that we will not end up like Lockerbie.
- To my colleagues in this institution, who launched a relentless war against me, I say: I go when I decide to go and not when they wage their battles, and when their battles were lost, I say that I have decided to stop.

- Thanks [head of LBC] Pierre Daher

- I challenged everyone and I challenged myself.

- But I say this with heartache, because this [LBC] is my home.

- I stop today because my dignity is at stake. [cries]

- I can no longer hold back my tears. I can no longer appear objective and against my convictions.

- I am disgusted.
- It’s ok – bear my tears. This is the last time you see these tears.
- Do not tell me to be patient.

- [Thanks her team and all those who helped her] There is a new team that joined recently, and they are shocked now, because no one had news of the decision I made.

- But at the end, I can no longer betray the blood I shed. I can no longer betray my principles and my dignity to placate anyone who is below standards, whose name I do not even know, and who prevents anyone scheduled to appear [on her show] from appearing at the last moment. I am tired of people turning off their phones minutes before they are due to appear on the program. Why? Because I committed a crime: I am a martyr, a living martyr.

- No more deception.

- I cannot say more than that. They know themselves in any case.

- No, it is not true that those who committed all these crimes are no longer in Lebanon. We can at least wait for jurisdiction to make its decision.
- Sheikh Pierre, I want to tell you: I love you. [pauses] I have only one wish, and that is that [LF leader] Samir Geagea and Pierre Daher reconcile.

- I paid my dear blood.

- Bye bye.


20 February 2009

* Builder John Laing files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection

The company that does business as John Laing Homes filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in Delaware on Thursday, claiming between $500 million and $1 billion in debts.
Irvine-based WL Homes LLC, which builds under the John Laing brand primarily in California, Colorado, Arizona and Texas, has an estimated 25,000 to 50,000 creditors, according to its bankruptcy filings.
The company said in a recent statement that it was “reviewing all potential options to meet capital requirements.”
According to Bradley Sharp, the company’s chief restructuring officer who filed a declaration in the case, unaudited financial statements for WL Homes fiscal year ending Nov. 30 show that the company had assets with a book value of approximately $1.3 billion and debts totaling $977 million at the time. Sharp said revenue fell from $948 million in 2007 to $248 million last year.
A list of secured creditors had not been filed as of Thursday. According to Sharp’s affidavit, the company has revolving credit facilities with Bank of America, Wachovia Bank, RFC Construction Funding LLC and Guaranty Bank, and other secured debt totaling $350 million. Among its largest unsecured creditors are employees who are owed wages.
John Laing issued a statement saying the company “anticipates that the Chapter 11 process will allow it to significantly reduce debt from its balance sheet while facilitating a strategic reorganization of the company, which will place it in the strongest possible position to sustain its momentum despite extremely challenging market conditions.”
The company said it plans to use a debtor-in-possession line of credit to maintain operations. The company filed several motions to allow it to pay employees, hire bankruptcy lawyers and retain restructuring specialists.
John Laing started out as a builder in the United Kingdom and came to the U.S. market in 1984. The company was sold to Dubai-based Emaar Properties in 2006 for $1.05 billion, just as the housing market began to turn. Emaar Properties is Dubai’s largest publicly listed developer and had intended to expand the company into a national builder, Sharp said.
Emaar invested an additional $613 million in the company, but eventually shut off funding, Sharp’s affidavit said. The company had a work force of 1,100 in 2006, but trimmed employees to about 90 by the first week of this month, he said.
Sharp’s affidavit said the builder has 105 real estate developments across the country. It also builds luxury and custom homes.


* Israeli Soldier Disappears on Border with Lebanon

Al-Arabiya television channel was the first to report that an Israeli soldier disappeared while doing physical exercise near the border with Lebanon.

Israel notified UNIFIL Friday evening that an Israeli soldier went missing near the Lebanese border
Israel also notified UNFIL that an Israeli boat disappeared yesterday in the Lebanese territorial waters . Israel did not explain what the boat was doing in Lebanese water
Shortly after the news report, bomb flares lit the sky over the border area of Naqoura, where the United Nations Interim Forces in southern Lebanon (UNIFIL) is located.
UNIFIL spokesperson Yasmina Bouziane told VOL: So far we still have no reports about the disappearance of an Israeli soldier near the border with Lebanon. She did however confirm that flares were fired over Lebanese territorial waters, but gave no further details.
Unconfirmed Lebanese reports indicated that the missing Israeli soldier might have drowned, explaining why flares were being dropped along the coastal area of Naquoura.
Hezbollah which fought with Israel for 34 days in 2006 over the kidnapping of 2 Israeli soldiers has denied Friday any involvement in the disappearance of the missing Israeli soldier.

Israel reportedly fired flare shells off the town of Naqoura in the south Friday night amid information that an Israeli soldier disappeared while doing physical exercise near the border with Lebanon.
Al-Arabiya TV network said that Israel fired the shells off Naqoura.

Other information said an Israeli soldier drowned on Thursday while doing water sports and Israel is still looking for his body.

UNIFIL spokesperson Yasmina Bouziane told Voice of Lebanon Radio station that U.N. peacekeepers have no information about the disappearance of a soldier and Israel fired the flare shells 4-6 kilometers off the Lebanese coast.


* Dubai vs Abu Dhabi in the Financial Crisis

Due its exposure to the international credit system, the emirate of Dubai is the Middle Eastern economy hit hardest by the global financial crisis. The effects are such that Dubai will need help from the more powerful, oil-rich emirate of Abu Dhabi. While it will struggle to limit the extent to which it has to accept financial assistance from Abu Dhabi, it is unlikely that Dubai can altogether avoid the dependency. As a result, there will be a further tilt in the balance of power toward Abu Dhabi, which will assume a more dominant position in the seven-emirate federation of the United Arab Emirates. 

Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, chairman of state-owned firm Dubai World, said Feb. 17 that the United Arab Emirates is preparing a plan to help domestic banks resume lending. In an interview with Bloomberg, Sulayem -- who also sits on the committee examining the effects of the international credit crisis on Dubai's economic health -- explained that the UAE central bank and federal government were working on a plan to lend money to ailing state-owned enterprises and financial institutions. These comments follow Feb. 8 reports quoting Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development, as saying that Abu Dhabi should lead federal efforts to ease the economic slowdown across the seven-emirate federation. Four days before that, the government announced that Abu Dhabi's top banks would receive a total of $4.4 billion from the government to buffer losses from the global credit contagion.

Abu Dhabi, with its massive oil wealth and the world's largest sovereign wealth fund, is the major power in the United Arab Emirates. Dubai is in second place because of its status as the Persian Gulf's financial hub; the five lesser emirates -- Ajman, Umm al Qaywayn, Ras al Khaymah, Al Fujayrah and Sharjah -- follow. Dubai's financial clout (from its tourism, trade, real estate and financial services industries) historically has given it enough power that its ruling al-Maktoum family has held the UAE federal government positions of vice president, prime minister and defense minister. The al-Nahyans of Abu Dhabi have held the federation's presidency since its inception in 1971 and retained control of it when the country's first (and until then, only) president, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, died in 2004.

The power-sharing arrangement between the al-Nahyans and the al-Maktoums has been the political foundation upon which the United Arab Emirates has not only maintained domestic stability, but also emerged as a major international economic and financial player, acquiring assets around the world. This was the case up until the global financial crisis began spreading throughout the world. Abu Dhabi has not been immune, as is evident from the need to inject cash into the emirate's banking system. But Dubai has been hit the hardest because of its exposure to the international markets, and particularly because its real estate bubble crashed when global credit that had been used to fund enormous, fanciful construction projects became scarce. Due to the relative lack of transparency, the extent of the financial carnage in Dubai was not readily apparent.

But on Feb. 2, the international credit rating agency Moody's announced that it would be downgrading the ratings of six of Dubai's largest state-owned firms, including global port operator Dubai Ports World and Emaar Properties, the developer responsible for the partly-constructed world's tallest building, located in the city's center. Utility operator Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, conglomerate Dubai Holding Commercial Operations Group, industrial park and trade zone operator Jebel Ali Free Zone and Dubai International Financial Center Investments, a branch of Dubai's 4-year-old international financial center, also are in line for downgrades.

Dubai reportedly has $90 billion in assets, but because of the opaque nature of its balance sheets it is unclear whether these assets are easily convertible to hard cash, which would allow the firms to raise short-term capital to meet their obligations. Its actual financial weakness notwithstanding, Dubai has been reluctant to seek assistance from the cash-flush Abu Dhabi, given the larger political challenges associated with doing so. Even though it is not raking in the billions it was collecting when oil prices were high in mid-2008, Abu Dhabi has been very financially prudent (in sharp contrast to Dubai). It still has enough of a cushion to bail out itself as well as Dubai, as its sovereign wealth fund was estimated at $328 billion at the end of 2008, according to a study by economists at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Dubai is unlikely to be able to avoid the need for financial assistance from Abu Dhabi, but it wants to be sure that accepting that assistance will not further empower Abu Dhabi. This is why the issue is being framed in the context of a national economic stimulus package. From Dubai's point of view, the bailout should not be a matter between the two emirates, but a decision made by the national government, in which Dubai has considerable say.

There are two problems with this. First, Dubai is the one that needs most of the assistance, and Abu Dhabi is the only emirate in a position to extend help. Second, the structure of the United Arab Emirates is that of a loose federation, which means the ruler of each emirate has a great degree of autonomy. Together, these two structural factors make it very difficult for Dubai to prevent Abu Dhabi from gaining disproportionate influence, both in their bilateral relations and over the federation. And yet, no matter what Dubai tries to call it, it is very apparent that the emirate needs help and needs it fast.

Depending on the nature of the financial arrangement, Abu Dhabi could end up having a major stake in Dubai. But Abu Dhabi, in the interest of maintaining balance in the federation, does not want Dubai to feel threatened. Therefore, in the short term, this emerging imbalance of power is unlikely to create any serious ruptures. But depending upon the extent of the bailout and Dubai's future financial position, there could be friction between the two emirates, which could have a negative impact on the United Arab Emirates' stability.


17 February 2009

* Goodbye Dubai?


Short of opening a Radio Shack in an Amish town, Dubai is the world’s worst business idea, and there isn’t even any oil. Imagine proposing to build Vegas in a place where sex and drugs and rock and roll are an anathema. This is effectively the proposition that created Dubai - it was a stupid idea before the crash, and now it is dangerous.
Dubai threatens to become an instant ruin, an emblematic hybrid of the worst of both the West and the Middle-East and a dangerous totem for those who would mistakenly interpret this as the de facto product of a secular driven culture.
The opening shot of this clip shows 200 skyscrapers that were built in the last 5 years. It looks like Manhattan except that it isn’t the place that made Mingus or Van Allen or Kerouac or Wolfe or Warhol or Reed or Bernstein or any one of the 1001 other cultural icons from Bob Dylan to Dylan Thomas that form the core spirit of what is needed, in the absence of extreme toleration of vice, to infuse such edifices with purpose and create a self-sustaining culture that will prevent them crumbling into the empty desert that surrounds them.
Dubai is a place for the shallow and fickle. Tabloid celebrities and worn out sports stars are sponsored by swollen faced, botox injected, perma-tanned European property developers to encourage the type of people who are impressed by fame itself, rather than what originated it, to inhabit pastiche Mediterranean villas on fake islands. Its a grotesquely leveraged version of time-share where people are sold a life in the same way as being peddled a set of steak knives. Funny shaped towers smatter empty neighborhoods, based on designs with unsubtle, eye-catching envelopes but bland floor plans and churned out by the dozen by anonymous minions in brand name architects offices and signed by the boss, unseen, as they fly through the door. This architecture, a three dimensional solidified version of a synthesized musical jingle, consists of ever more preposterous gimmickry - an underwater, revolving, white leather fuck pad or a marina skyscraper with a product placement name that would normally only appeal to teenage boys, such as the preposterous Michael Schumacher World Champion Tower.
But if there is one problem with the shallow and the fickle, its that they are shallow and fickle, they won’t put down deep roots and they won’t remain loyal to Dubai. The people who appear in People magazine need to be told what is cool by Wallpaper magazine who in turn will discover something after the hipsters have moved on. The problem is that Dubai was never hipster-cool and is no longer Wallpaper-cool. This realization will have the same impact as suburbanite bachelorette party in a Wallpaper-cool nightclub. It will spread like the sighting of a floating turd in a public pool, flushing people to the exits with silent panic, unacknowledged for fear of embarrassment.
As people scramble for the exits in Dubai, there is no ‘key mail’, like in America, where people can often mail back their house keys and walk away from a mortgage without the immediate threat of jail. People are literally fleeing this place, to date leaving 3000 cars stranded at the airport with keys still in the ignition. And the reason for this is that if you default on your Dubai mortgage, you can end up in a debtors prison. Perhaps Dubai will at least create a new Dickens?


16 February 2009

* The Unemployment issue of Dubai and the UAE spreads further

Looking at unemployment in Dubai, one must look at the context of the region, and how one move in the labour transfer game impacts many many others on the chain:


15 February 2009

* Italy police warn of Skype threat

Criminals in Italy are increasingly making phone calls over the internet in order to avoid getting caught through mobile phone intercepts, police say.

Officers in Milan say organised crime, arms and drugs traffickers, and prostitution rings are turning to Skype in order to frustrate investigators. The police say Skype's encryption system is a secret which the company refuses to share with the authorities. Investigators have become increasingly reliant on wiretaps in recent years.

Customs and tax police in Milan have sounded the alarm.

They overheard a suspected cocaine trafficker telling an accomplice to switch to Skype in order to get details of a 2kg (4.4lb) drug consignment. Use of wiretaps by prosecutors in Italy has grown exponentially in recent years.

Heated debate

Investigators say intercepts of telephone calls have become an essential tool of the police, who spend millions of dollars each year tracking down crime through wiretaps of landlines and mobile phones.
But the law may be about to change. 

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's right-wing government has drawn up a bill which would restrict police wiretaps to only the most serious crimes. Much crime reporting in the Italian media is based on leaks of wiretaps and leading politicians, including Mr Berlusconi himself, have found to their embarrassment that details of their private telephone conversations have sometimes been leaked to newspapers. Under the new law reporting of details of criminal investigations obtained through wiretaps would become illegal until a final verdict has been delivered.

Given the extreme slowness of Italian justice, this would mean that details of cases now before the courts might be reported by the press only in 15 years time. Not only have Italian journalists been protesting at the new draft bill, but a heated debate is also going on about it within the country's highest body for the administration of justice - the supreme council of the magistrature, composed of the country's top judges.


* KSA.. King Abdullah's Bold Move

Saudi Arabia announced Feb. 14 massive Cabinet changes, replacing conservatives with more liberal officials. The new composition of the government is the boldest move by King Abdullah in his modernization efforts. The Saudis seem to have things under control; but at a time when the kingdom is fast approaching a period of transition, these changes could trigger a backlash from the country's ultraconservative elements.

The changes are as follows:

Norah al-Fayez, currently an official at the Saudi Institute of Public Administration, was appointed deputy education minister for female education affairs.
The ultraconservative head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, Sheikh Ibrahim al-Ghaith, was replaced by Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Humain, who was quoted as saying that the religious police would strive to be closer to the hearts of the public.
Sheikh Saleh al-Lihedan, chief of the kingdom's highest tribunal, the Supreme Council of Justice, who made headlines in September 2008 for his edict that it was permissible to kill the owners of satellite TV channels broadcasting immoral programs, was replaced by Saleh bin Humaid, who was head of the Consultative Council (the Saudi equivalent of a legislature); the Consultative Council will now be headed by Sheikh Abdullah al-Sheikh.
The monarch's son-in-law Prince Faisal bin Abdullah -- a senior official in the country's elite military force, the Saudi National Guard -- was given the job of education minister.
The former Saudi ambassador to Lebanon, Abdul-Aziz al-Khoja, has become information and culture minister.
Legal expert, Sheikh Mohammed al-Issa, was named justice minister; and Bandar al-Iban, a liberal senior official of the Saudi Human Rights Commission, was appointed as the head of the commission.
Lt. Gen. Hussein was appointed Deputy Chief of General Staff, and Maj. Gen. Abdul Rahman was made commander of ground forces.
Mohammed al-Jasser, the vice governor of Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency, replaced outgoing central bank chief Hamad Saud al-Sayyari, who had held the position since 1983.
The Supreme Administrative Court got a new chairman, Mohammed al-Dossari; and Ibrahim al-Huqail was named of head of the Bureau of Public Grievances.
The membership of the Council of Ulema (the highest clerical authority in the kingdom) was expanded to 21 -- to include, for the first time, representatives of all four Sunni Islamic schools of jurisprudence. Until now, only those from the Hanbali school of thought (upon which Wahhabism is based) had representation on the council.

It should be noted that the most-powerful Cabinet portfolios of oil, finance, foreign affairs, interior and defense -- which are held by the elite of the ruling al-Saud family -- remained unchanged.

That said, the reshuffle is highly significant in terms of the changes taking place in the kingdom, as King Abdullah tries to steer the country away from its deeply conservative past at a time when the country is at the cusp of a major transition, given that the Crown Prince is thought to be terminally ill.

The king, though quite healthy, is himself in his mid-80s, and the next three in line are in their 70s. Given the probability of a major change in the Saudi hierarchy over the course of the next five years, the moves toward reform and these sweeping changes are risky. The fact that Saudis have historically held a risk-averse attitude toward change makes the ongoing changes even more daring.

However, the Saudi leaders at critical moments in their history have shown their resilience through their ability to make the difficult decisions. Abdullah, therefore, would not have embarked on changes of this magnitude if he wasn't reasonably certain that his government would be able to live with them. He is responding to a significant demand for a more open society from a growing cross section of the public.

But the changes affecting social and religious norms carry with them, to a certain degree, a risk of backlash -- particularly, given that the kingdom only recently began an anti-extremism and de-radicalization campaign to combat Islamist terrorism. Since this project will be a work in progress for the foreseeable future, the ultraconservative elements within the kingdom -- especially those in the religious establishment -- are bound to be unhappy.

Long resistant to change, Saudi's ultraconservative elements are not going to accept the direction in which the country is headed. Thus, they might become more open to the criticism from al Qaeda and other radical Islamist tendencies that the Saudi leadership is now openly tampering with the religious character of the country rendering it a secular state in order to please the West. Consequently, the possibility of conflict within the world's largest producer of oil remains large -- and this would come at a bad time, given the external threat in the form an emergent Iran and its Arab Shia allies.

Therefore, these cultural and leadership changes designed to move Saudi Arabia toward a relatively more liberal society at a time of transition could lead to unrest within the country.


14 February 2009

* Removing religious affiliation from the records

Every Lebanese can now remove any reference to religion from his or her Civil Registry record.

Every Lebanese can now remove any reference to religion from his or her Civil Registry record. But what will the consequences of doing so be in a country where one’s sect legally defines such personal matters as marriage and inheritance?  How will it affect electoral status given that voter’s rolls are still classified according to religion, as are candidates? To answer these questions NOW Lebanon spoke to activists, lawyers, pollsters and other experts.
Interior Minister Ziad Baroud has the will to enact change. 

If all goes according to plan, the state will eventually be obliged to create civil laws that govern the affairs of citizens, and if this is the case, then surely civil marriage is not far behind.
Religious diversity is ingrained in Lebanese cultural heritage and is an asset, but Baroud’s initiative will determine to what extent the Lebanese are ready to co-exist as individuals, and whether they are ready to live in a non-confessional system.  

Sticking with your sect
According to lawyer and activist Marie Rose Zalzal, striking out one’s sect from the civil record does not mean abandoning one’s religion. The freedom of belief guaranteed by the Lebanese constitution has always included the right to belong or not to belong to a certain sect, the right to declare or not this belonging at the Civil Status Registry, and the right to strike it out or amend it.
“It maintains the relation with the sect, but the difference is one need not declare his religion or sect to the state to be [a full citizen].” 
Therefore, one can choose to organize his or her personal affairs on the basis of a sectarian law or choose to do the opposite and seek a civil law. The act is thus only the exercising of an already existing right and does not contravene with one’s religion.

The effects of striking out your sect
Nayla Geagea, a lawyer and civil status activist, says the aim of this act is to show that the citizen’s relationship with the state is not necessarily sectarian and that a citizen can still abide by religious law. 
“The sectarian laws are still there, and it is only needed that one present his certificate of baptism to state he is Christian to the officer of the Civil Status Registry or make a formal declaration of faith to any Sheikh to prove he is Muslim, so if one wants to maintain his religious identity and abide by the laws it grants, he can always do so. On that account, one can still marry at the sheikh’s or in church. As for inheritance, Muslims can still refer to their Islamic Religious Tribunals, and the judge is obliged to act according to the Islamic Sharia, and Christians already have a civil law covering inheritance. If one wants to comply with civil laws, Muslims and Christian alike can seek a civil marriage abroad and then register it in Lebanon. On issues of inheritance both can seek to abide by civil law.”
As for electoral status, Geagea explained that Minister Baroud’s statement announcing that he would implement the law was made with the cooperation of the Consultation Committee at the Justice Ministry. Accordingly, the decision to remove the religious reference assures that the civilians doing so are entitled to all their civil rights, including standing for election. “The act is covered by both the Justice and Interior ministries, and there’s no danger at all in doing it.”

However, there are still questions regarding non-confessional electoral ballots, which it is hoped will lead to further changes in the future.
“Electoral rolls include the sect, and upon striking it out, the name is still there registered. The ballot boxes, on the other hand, are still classified according to confession or place of birth. This year, minor consequences may result given that the voter’s rolls were presented before this circulation took place, and the elections of 2009 may pass with no mishaps. However, from now till next elections, if the number of those striking out their confessions increased, the state will have to find a solution by creating another roll based on either place of birth or residence,” Geagea said.

How will Lebanese react?
Sociologist Mona Fayad says that while some people will support Baroud’s circular,  others won’t, a resistance some politicians might try to exploit.

However, on the whole, she sees Baroud’s move as a positive step.
“People are fed up and are open to change. I am expecting that the move would get a positive response from the masses that have been waiting for this change. This does not mean that there will not be opposition…This should not make anyone feel as if it would strip them of their identities. A civilian in Europe or even in Third World countries in South America is still a Catholic if he chooses to be without mentioning it to the state. Faith is personal.”  
But Fayad stresses that the circular is just a first step and should be followed by lobbying and campaigning by NGOs to publicize the issue. “Mobilized individuals may know of it, but others may not, and some may even fear taking the initiative unless he or she is provided with the right information to quiet people’s fears and reassure them.”


* 14 February Anniversary of Rafic Hariri Assassination

Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese flocked to Beirut's Martyrs' Square on Saturday to mark the fourth anniversary of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's assassination as Lebanon gears up for parliamentary elections.


10 February 2009

* Kuwait to fall into recession predicts Standard Chartered

Kuwait’s economy will fall into recession this year, a senior economist at Standard Chartered has warned.

Marios Maratheftis, the bank’s regional head of research, said that Kuwait would be likely to cut government spending this year, while other Gulf states had announced expansionary budgets.

“This is not the right time to be reducing spending,” said Maratheftis.

“It just pushes the economy further down into a recession. I do not expect to see any growth for the full year in Kuwait. I expect to see a recession in Kuwait during the first half of the year.”
Maratheftis warned that policy in the UAE had also become pro-cyclical amid the global financial crisis.

“I think liquidity is way too tight and market interest rates are extremely high,” he said.

By contrast, he praised the measures taken by Saudi Arabia and said he expected the country to avoid a recession in 2009 and “exhibit decent, positive rates of growth”.

Last year, “hot money” flowed into GCC states as investors bet on a revaluation of dollar pegs and continued high oil prices.

But once the global environment changed, these flows rapidly reversed, leaving banks that had lent out this money long-term hugely overleveraged.

However, banks in Saudi Arabia were prevented from using these short-term speculative flows to hand out long-term loans, Maratheftis explained.

“The authorities were very conservative and they placed strong controls on their banking sectors and they were not tolerating banks taking short money and lending out long,” he said.

“As a result, I think the banking sector in Saudi Arabia is in a very good situation.”

In addition, Saudi has announced an expansionary budget for 2009 “which is exactly what the economy needs”.  


08 February 2009

* Car-theft ring from Canada to Lebanon

Two men are facing charges after a two-month police investigation into an illegal exporting operation that sent stolen cars and car parts from Canada to Lebanon.
Ottawa police worked with the RCMP, Canada Border Services Agency and the Insurance Bureau of Canada on the investigation, which recovered $400,000 worth of vehicles and parts.
So far, 14 vehicles have been recovered, with more expected to be found, said Det. Marshall Clark of the Ottawa Police organized auto theft section.
Police believe the stolen vehicles were being cut in half and shipped via the port of Montreal to Lebanon, where they would be reassembled or sold for parts. They tended to be expensive models by manufacturers such as Hummer, Infiniti and Lexus.
“It’s not the first time we’ve uncovered this,” Det. Clark said. “It is a common problem.”
Hanna Tanios, 39, of Ottawa was arrested and charged with fraudulent concealment and possession of stolen property over $5,000. Ayad Tirani, 39, formerly of Ottawa, was also charged but has not yet been arrested, as police believe he is in Lebanon.
Both men are also charged with conspiracy to commit an indictable offence.
On Wednesday, police executed a search warrant at Anthony’s 31 Collision & Auto Sales in Gloucester, where they say Mr. Tanios was an employee and former owner and out of which they believe the operation was being run.
A search warrant was executed Friday at a storage facility in Ottawa where cars and car parts were being stockpiled in a rented storage space. Five warrants have been executed as a result of the investigation.
“Out goal is to ultimately find out who else is involved,” Det. Clark said.
When reached at home, Mr. Tanios’s wife would not comment on the charges.


07 February 2009

* 30,000 Immigrants Expected to Vote in Lebanon Elections

Some 30,000 Lebanese immigrants are expected to arrive in Lebanon during election week to vote.
Both March 8 and March 14 forces are not embarrassed by efforts to mobilize Lebanese immigrants.

The various political parties that make up March 8 and March 14 have been organizing periodic meetings to keep in touch with their partisans who live overseas.

Meanwhile, Middle East Airlines refused to answer questions as to how many immigrants were expected to fly to Lebanon during elections and whether the company had plans to deduct prices of tickets.


05 February 2009

* BMI sees lower growth rate for Lebanon in 2009

BMI revised downward its growth projection for the Lebanese economy for 2009 to 2.5 percent from 4.5 percent, citing negative external conditions, infrastructure shortages and a potential real estate correction as factors keeping growth below its potential, according to Lebanon This Week, the economic publication of the Byblos Bank Group.

It said Lebanon's relative insulation from the global financial crisis, as well as the low base of growth and the availability of financing from the donor community will keep the economy from outright recession, while decisive election results and an improvement in the reform outlook would lead to upside risks. It forecast growth to pick up again in 2010 to 4 percent, adding that growth in Lebanon is far below its potential and that the economy could be growing much faster for a state that is recovering from long periods of stagnation and is supported by billions of dollars in aid and loans. BMI's forecast is based on an ongoing unstable political situation with very slow, if any, progress on reforms. It noted that any major progress in the political situation or in terms of reforms would likely lift the growth rate closer to the 6-7 percent mark.

In parallel, BMI ranked Lebanon in 9th place in country risk among 15 countries it rates in the Middle East and Africa region. Lebanon ranked ahead of Iran, Algeria, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria and Zimbabwe, and came behind Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, Israel, South Africa, Kuwait and the UAE. Its score of 54 points was below the regional average of 55.8 points. The report said Lebanon's score and ranking reflect a high to medium level of risk associated with continuity in policy direction, as well as the degree of strength and balance of the country's economy, among other factors. It added that the key rationale behind the country's score includes the instability of the government, a poor legal framework and excessive red tape.

BMI noted that economic activity indicators have shown positive trends in 2008, and pressure on the Lebanese pound is, for once, on the upside. It anticipated government spending to remain elevated, as the state will continue to spend, irrespective of the level of the deficit, in order to maintain stability.

It said export revenues have grown strongly but still account for less than a third of import costs, resulting in net exports remaining a drag, rather than a driver of growth. It expected consumer spending to remain dependent on political stability, and to improve with a sustained period of political calm. It said inflation is still a threat, adding that it should start to recede toward the end of 2008 and early 2009. -


04 February 2009

* Iran calls for joint committee to probe fate of abducted citizens

A decades-old dispute over the fate of four abducted Iranian diplomats was revived on Tuesday after Iran called for the formation of an Iranian-Lebanese committee to investigate their disappearance. Then-charges d'affaires Sayyid Mohsen Mousavvi, military attaché Ahmad Motevaselian, embassy driver Taghi Rastegar-Moghadam and Islamic Republic News Agency journalist Kazem Akhavan disappeared in 1982 while Lebanon was under military occupation by Israel. It is widely believed the men were kidnapped by the Christian Lebanese Forces militia at a checkpoint in Barbara, northern Lebanon. Iran and Hizbullah say the Lebanese Forces, now headed by Samir Geagea, then handed the men over to Israel, where they remain imprisoned. But an Israeli report given to Hizbullah last year claimed the four Iranians were murdered by the Lebanese Forces and were never taken to the Jewish state.
"The Islamic Republic is calling for an Iranian-Lebanese committee to be created to look into the details and circumstances of this incident," Iranian Ambassador to Beirut Ali Reza Shebani told reporters after Tuesday's meeting with Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Sallukh.
Iranian frustration with the lack of progress made in tracking down the men was echoed by Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani on Monday, who said the Islamic Republic had "not yet received any proper response in that regard."
An official statement circulated on Saturday by the Iranian Embassy in Beirut held Israel responsible for the men's disappearance. "We in Iran do not accept the Zionist point of view, and we are not bothered by the Zionist entity's [Israel] denial of responsibility," Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hassan Qashqavi said. "We still consider the Zionist entity responsible for the fate of the four Iranian diplomats currently inside Zionist prisons," Qashqavi said, citing Israel's "secret and open" relations with the men's Lebanese kidnappers.
"Only a few months ago Raid Mousavvi [son of Sayyid Mohsen Mousavvi] came to Lebanon to push for answers. But nothing has been achieved and the families are still waiting. We don't even know if the men are still alive."
Iran had spoken to every Lebanese government since 1982 regarding the men's fate, Hershi said, and although little had materialized, he was "optimistic" that the truth would be uncovered eventually.
Hizbullah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah last week said the Lebanese government was responsible for uncovering the men's whereabouts. The Lebanese Forces also had to give up any information they had, Nasrallah said. "If they turned them over to Israel, let them say that. If they killed them, let them deliver their bodies," he said.
Replying to Nasrallah on Tuesday, MP Walid Jumblatt said that Iran, rather than Lebanon, was responsible for uncovering the fate of the missing diplomats. In his weekly editorial in Al-Anbaa magazine, Jumblatt said that the investigation into the missing Iranian diplomats should proceed in "exactly" the same way as investigations into the whereabouts of Lebanese citizens missing in Syria.
Nasrallah's comments also attracted ire from Geagea, who asked last Friday, "Who can explain the pressing interest of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah in the four Iranian diplomats? Is this issue more important than Lebanese detainees in the Syrian prisons?"
The fate of the missing Iranians was primarily a humanitarian question, said Hershi, suggesting the issue was being manipulated for political purposes. "When Europeans were kidnapped in Lebanon in the 1970s, all political parties gave whatever information they had. So why are people not doing the same for the kidnapped Iranians?"
"We say to the Lebanese, if there is anyone out there with information about the whereabouts of the men, please tell us," Hershi urged.
Ambassador Shebani will meet with Lebanese Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar on Wednesday to discuss the men's whereabouts.


02 February 2009

* "Tanassot" is back?

.. وفجأة ودون سابق إنذار، عاد "التنصت" لـ"يقرع جرس الانذار" في لبنان مرة أخرى!
هكذا، وفيما كان اللبنانيون منشغلين بـ"مجلس الجنوب" والموازنة التي لا تزال الحكومة "عاجزة" عن إقرارها، أطلّ "التنصت" مجدداً لـ"يخرق" الهدوء و"يهزّ" أهل الحكم في "سيناريو" جديد لا يُطبّق إلا في لبنان..
فبين كشف "فضيحة" من هنا وتحقيق "إنجاز" من هناك، كان ملف "الاتصالات" يتصدّر كلّ الأخبار قبل أن "يلتهب" بـ"حملة" غير مسبوقة محورها قديم جديد ألا وهو "التنصت". فبعد ساعات قليلة على إعلان وزير الاتصالات عن تحقيق "الانجاز" الذي لطالما "وعد" به وهو تخفيض الأسعار، انطلقت "الحملة"..
وما هي إلا دقائق حتى ارتفعت أصوات نواب أكثريين ووزراء يفترض أنهم "زملاء" وزير الاتصالات في الحكومة المسماة "حكومة الوحدة الوطنية" متحدثين عن "خرق" مطالبين بـ"تحقيق" وحتى داعين لـ"محاسبة" الوزير المعني على خلفية "معلومات صحافية".
أما الوزير المعني جبران باسيل، والذي أعلن أنه سيعقد مؤتمراً صحافياً لايضاح كل الحقائق وإظهار كل التفاصيل للرأي العام خصوصاً أنّ "تكرار الكذب يرسخ منه شيء في عقل الناس"، فردّ على "الحملة" ضده في سلسلة أحاديث صحافية ركّز فيها على ضرورة "تطبيق القانون" معتبرا أنّ ذلك أدى بالبعض لـ"يفقدوا عقولهم ويجنّ جنونهم" بعد أن رأوا "أننا ندقّ بالمحرمات".
الوزير باسيل تحدث أيضاً لصحيفة "السفير" فشدّد على أنّه سيتمسك بتطبيق القانون 140 الذي يصون حرية التخابر، وأكّد أنه سيطالب بالتحقيق في أعمال أي جهاز أمني يعمل من خارج القوانين. ولفت إلى أنّ المسألة بسيطة، "هناك قانون صادر وهناك مراسيم تطبيقية له وأنا أسعى الى تنفيذه مع الأخذ بالاعتبار أمن البلد وحقوق المواطنين في سرية التخابر، فأنا أرفض استمرار الفلتان في التنصت ومهما مارسوا من تهويل فلن يستطيعوا ان يجبرونا على السير معهم في مخالفة القانون". وتحدى "المتحاملين" عليه أن يكشفوا ولو بدليل واحد عن وجود غرفة مستحدثة للتنصت في وزارة الاتصالات، "ولكن ماذا يقولون في المقابل عن أصحاب الحقائب المتنقلة والغرف السوداء التي تحترف التنصت، ومن يضبط هؤلاء الذي يرسلون نسخاً من تقاريرهم الى السفارات، متسائلاً: هل هذه أجهزه للدولة ام أجهزة سفارات؟"
ورداً على اتهامه بمحاولة عرقلة مسار التحقيقات في جرائم الاغتيال، اعتبر باسيل أنّ ما يساق ضده في هذا المجال إنما ينطوي على خلفية انتخابية، وأضاف: "لقد جاء وقت الانتخابات وبالتالي حان وقت الاستثمار مجدداً على دماء شهداء جرائم الاغتيال.. إنهم يكررون التجربة ذاتها التي خاضوها قبل أربع سنوات". وختم قائلاً: "من الواضح ان مفهوم العرقلة لديهم صار مطاطاً وربما يصل بهم الى حد اعتبار وجودنا في لبنان كتيار وطني حر عنصراً معرقلاً للتحقيق الدولي".
ومن المتوقع أن تشكل هذه القضية محور الاستقطاب خلال هذا الاسبوع، في وقت يعقد اليوم اجتماع وزاري ـ قضائي ـ امني برئاسة رئيس الحكومة فؤاد السنيورة للبحث في واقع التنصت وكيفية إخضاعه لمقتضيات القانون 140 الذي يصون حرية التخابر، فيما توحي المؤشرات، بحسب صحيفة "السفير"، بأن الاجتماع سيكون ساخناً في ظل وجود نية لدى ممثلي بعض الأجهزة الأمنية بمواجهة وزير الاتصالات جبران باسيل بما يعتبرون انها "معطيات ليست في مصلحته"، بينما يتجه وزير الاتصالات بدوره الى الكشف عن المخالفات المتمادية للقانون تحت ستار الذرائع الأمنية.
كما سيكون موضوع التنصت أيضاً محور لقاء يعقد اليوم بين رئيس المجلس النيابي نبيه بري ورئيس اللجنة النيابية للاعلام والاتصالات النائب حسن فضل الله لدراسة الخطوات المجلسية التي يمكن اتباعها للتصدي لهذا الملف الخطير، إضافة الى البحث في جدول اعمال جلسة اللجنة الخميس المقبل، والتي سيدعى اليها وزراء العدل والداخلية والدفاع والاتصالات، إضافة الى مدعي عام التمييز القاضي سعيد ميرزا، على أن يجري لاحقاً تحديد الخطوات التالية.
ومع بروز أصوات نيابية تنادي بتأليف لجنة تحقيق برلمانية، سارع رئيس المجلس النيابي نبيه بري الى تلقف ذلك، مشدداً على عدم السماح باستمرار امر خطير كهذا، ومؤكداً أنه سيأخذ باقتراح تشكيل لجنة تحقيق برلمانية لجلاء كل تفاصيله مع تحديد المسؤوليات كاملة. وأكد بري لصحيفة "السفير" أن هذا الموضوع لن نسكت عنه. وسأل "لماذا لا يطبقون القانون والمراسيم التطبيقية التي صدرت قبل أربع سنوات؟"
وفي سياق متصل، ذكرت صحيفة "الأخبار" أنّ نواباً من تكتل "التغيير والإصلاح" سيردّون على الاتهامات التي أطلقها رئيس "اللقاء الديمقراطي" النائب وليد جنبلاط بشأن التنصّت. وينوي نواب التكتل المقارنة بين أداء الوزير جبران باسيل في الوزارة وأداء سلفه الاشتراكي مروان حمادة، طالبين من الرأي العام المستفيد من الخدمات التي وفّرها باسيل أن يحكم. كما ينوي النواب تقديم ما لديهم من معلومات عن فرع المعلومات في قوى الأمن الداخلي وحقيقة علاقته بالتنصّت.
من جانبه، أكّد وزير العدل إبراهيم النجار أن "وزارة العدل ممثّلة بالنيابة العامة التمييزية، في موقع يشرف إلى حد ما على الأذونات التي تعطى للتنصّت، وهذا يعني أن عدداً معيّناً من الخطوط يُتنصّت عليها، وهذا من ضمن تطبيق القانون المتعلق بهذا الشأن". ولفت إلى أن الأذنونات "تصدر عن المدّعي العام التمييزي، وتوجه بالطبع إلى وزارة الاتصالات التي تستجيب للأمر. فهذا موقع وزارة العدل"، مضيفاً "هناك تشابك في هذا الموضوع بين التصريحات والمعلومات، آثرنا في الوزارة بالتنسيق مع النيابة العامة التمييزية اللجوء إلى رئاسة الحكومة لكي تكون هي الراعية للاجتماع المنوي عقده يوم الاثنين، وسيكون هناك نوع من التنسيق في العمل، وسيكون هناك آلية بحث في جدوى الدخول بتحديد من يمثّل من في غرفة الاتصالات والتنصّت، إذا كانت موجودة".
في هذه الأثناء، دافع رئيس كتلة "المستقبل" النائب سعد الحريري عن شعبة المعلومات في قوى الامن الداخلي وعن سائر مؤسسات الدولة، معتبراً أنّ "مشكلة 8 آذار هي في نجاح تلك المؤسسات لأنها لا تريد قيام دولة قوية واقول لهم ان لا يتعبوا انفسهم لأن الدولة ستقوم".
الحريري، الذي أدلى بحديث طويل لصحيفة "المستقبل" عشية الذكرى السنوية الرابعة لاغتيال والده رئيس الحكومة الأسبق رفيق الحريري خصّص الجزء الأكبر منه للتذكير بأهمية التحقيق في الجريمة وتسهيل عمل المحكمة التي ستصبح "حقيقة" في شهر آذار المقبل على حدّ تعبيره، أعلن "أننا فتحنا الحوار السياسي مع حزب الله، هم احرار في ان يعاتبوننا على بعض التصريحات، ونحن ايضا سبق وارسلنا اليهم رسائل عتب لكننا لا نكشف عن مضمونها اعلامياً" وذلك في تعليق على "العتب" الذي أشار إليه الأمين العام لـ"حزب الله" السيد حسن نصرالله.
بيد أنّ اللافت في كلام الحريري أيضاً كان "استنكاره" لما أسماها "الحملات" التي تطال مصر ورئيسها حسني مبارك معتبراً أنّ "أحداً لا يستطيع التشكيك في الدور المصري حيال القضية الفلسطينية"، وقال "قد يعتقد مَن ينظم هذا الهجوم انه سيتمكن من إسقاط مصر من أجل إسقاط العروبة برمّتها وأنا اطمئنه إلى أن مصر لن تسقط بل هو الذي سيسقط".
وترافق كلام الحريري مع "حملة عنيفة" بدأت "الصحافة المصرية" بشنّها على السيد نصرالله على خلفية خطابه الأخير الذي اتهم فيه النظام المصري بـ"الكذب على العالم العربي والاسلامي" وجدّد إدانته عدم فتحه للمعابر مع غزة. وانطلاقاً من ذلك، لم يكن غريباً أن تتصدّر الصحافة المصرية "افتتاحيات" تتمحور حول السيد نصرالله وتصفه بـ"أبشع الأوصاف" على غرار "رجل عصابات ميليشياوي صغير" وتتهمه بـ"التحريض الطائفي" كما قالت صحيفة "الأهرام". أما صحيفة "الجمهورية" فذهبت أبعد من ذلك حين دافعت عن "القوات اللبنانية" دفاعا مستميتا من دون تسميتها ووصفت السيد نصرالله بـ"الفيروس" وصولاً لدرجة الدعوة لـ"التخلّص" منه دون أي "حرج".
في غضون ذلك، وفيما تراجع الحديث عن موازنة مجلس الجنوب مع بدء مهلة الايام العشرة التي حدّدها مجلس الوزراء والتي تغيب أي مؤشرات عن قرب "حلحلتها"، جدّد رئيس المجلس النيابي نبيه بري تأكيد عدم التراجع عن مطلب تخصيص موازنة 60 مليار ليرة لمجلس الجنوب، على اعتباره مؤسسة ما زالت قائمة بحكم القانون وليس من المقبول ابداً ان تحرم من موازنتها. وأوضح لصحيفة "السفير" المطلوب منهم امر واحد فقط هو تطبيق القانون، وهنا فقط يكمن الحل لهذه المسألة. وأشار بري الى انه احال اقتراح إنشاء وزارة التخطيط الى الادارة والعدل تأكيداً على جديته في اقتراح إلغاء مجلس الجنوب ومجلس المهجرين والهيئة العليا للإغاثة ومجلس الإنماء والإعمار، واستحداث وزارة للتخطيط على أن ينشأ فيها مجلس للإنماء المتوازن، تكون له ادارات في محافظات بيروت، الجنوب، البقاع، جبل لبنان والشمال وتوضع له آلية تخرجه من الروتين الاداري لمن يتذرع بأن مجلس الإنماء حاجة ضرورية للبت بموضوع القروض والاتفاقيات الخارجية.
وكان بري قد أحال على لجنة الإدارة والعدل اقتراح القانون المقدم من النائب علي حسن خليل والرامي إلى إعادة العمل بوزارة التصميم واستبدال اسمها باسم "وزارة التخطيط" وإلغاء القوانين والمراسيم الاشتراعية التي أنشأت مجلس الإنماء والإعمار، ومجلس الجنوب، والصندوق المركزي للمهجرين والهيئة العليا للإغاثة، وذلك لدرسه ووضعه على جدول أعمال جلسة مجلس النواب المقبلة.
وقد ذكرت صحيفة "الأخبار" أن الرئيس ميشال سليمان يتجه إلى تبنّي معالجة شخصية لأزمة الموازنة العامة لعام 2009 يرجح أن تقوم على أساس وزارة التخطيط التي كان سلفه الأسبق الرئيس فؤاد شهاب أول من تبنّى مفهومها.
وسط كل ذلك، ومع تصاعد "الحملات الانتخابية" من هنا وهناك وإطلاق الماكينات الانتخابية على غرار ما فعل حزب "الكتائب" في احتفال رسمي، كان لافتاً "الاقرار" الرسمي بوجود "تحالف ضمني" بين الموالاة وما يسمى بـ"الوسطية" خصوصاً أنه الأول من نوعه. فقد أكدت مفوضية الاعلام في "الحزب التقدمي الاشتراكي" في بيان رسمي صادر عنها أن الحزب "يدرس كل الخيارات والإحتمالات التي من شأنها أن تفضي في نهاية المطاف إلى فوز الخط الإستقلالي والكتلة الوسطية في الإنتخابات المقبلة".


* Project Cancellations and Suspension in the UAE


01 February 2009

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.