With the credit crunch and markets in the West tightening their belts, more and more attention is becoming focused on the Middle East as a source of potential revenue and growth.
And with a host of Sharia-compliant products on offer, both local and international finance houses are scrambling to secure their slice of a lucrative market.
Islamic finance has grown by between 15 and 20% in each of the past three years, and since the inception of modern Islamic banking, the number and reach of Islamic financial institutions worldwide has risen from one institution in one country in 1975, to more than 300 institutions operating in more than 75 countries today.
Although Islamic banks are concentrated in the Middle East and southeast Asia, they are also niche players in Europe and the US. Islamic banking assets and assets under management now exceed US$1.7 trillion, and the Islamic finance sector is expected to reach US$2.7 trillion by 2010.
Malaysia, Dubai 'should develop Islamic finance'
By Babu Das Augustine, Banking Editor Published: October 03, 2008, 23:41
Dubai The Malaysian Islamic financial sector is seen as one of the most progressive and attractive in the world given the numerous incentives planned and further liberation in the coming years.
Over the past decade, the international financial community has taken note of Malaysia's strategic direction in developing and nurturing Islamic banking and finance. The strategies are being implemented through clear and deliberate policies spelt out in both the Financial Sector Master Plan as well as the Capital Market Master Plan.
Currently, Malaysia is the largest Islamic banking and financial services market in the world that has the critical mass of diversified players - Islamic banks, investment banks, takaful companies, development financial institutions, savings institutions, fund management companies, stock brokers and unit trusts.
Malaysian Islamic insurer to expand in Mena region
ReutersPublished: October 03, 2008, 22:23
Kuala Lumpur: Malaysian Islamic insurer Takaful Ikhlas is in talks to sell its products in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena), its chief executive was quoted as saying.
Al Ain (Arabic: العين, transliteration: al-ʿayn, literally The Spring) is the fourth largest city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). With a population of 614,180 (2008 estimate), Al Ain is dubbed the Garden City of the UAE. It is located in Abu Dhabi, directly adjacent to the border with Oman. The freeways connecting Al Ain, Abu Dhabi and Dubai form a geographic triangle in the center of the country, each city roughly 150 kilometers from the other two.
Al Ain is actually a city of so many roundabouts that we may get lost to follow all the roundabouts to nowhere or return to where we begin.
Our annual trip to Al Ain is in Syawal since 2004 and this year we visited our Singaporean and Malaysian Muslims on the 4th day of Raya.
11 vehicles with about 40 Dubai-based Malaysians convoyed to Al- Ain this year. It took about 1 hour drive from Dubai Outlet Mall to Dr. Jaafar's villa.
It is more special this year because we have 38 senior Malaysians working with the UAE Airforce. 18 of them celebrated Raya in Al Ain and they seemed so excited to meet us.
Wikipedia - The Muslim conquest in the Indian subcontinent mainly took place from the 11th to the 17th centuries, though earlier Muslim conquests made limited inroads into the region, beginning during the period of the ascendancy of the Rajput Kingdoms in North India, from the 7th century onwards.
Since Dubai has a lot of India nationals and most of them are Muslims, it is interesting to see Islam through their perspectives. I know a prominent Indian Muslim who is not only a succesful businessman (mostly education with over 20 schools in India and UAE) but a well-known philanthropist and a Tabligh man. And I know hundreds of other Indian Muslims and Hindus who seem enjoying living and working in the UAE for good life.
I read this piece in Khaleej Times, the title is similar to an article by Raja Petra who is now detained under ISA for allegedly defaming Muslims and Islam.
Muslims are Their Own Worst Enemies
Aijaz Zaka Syed 2 October 2008
Every time I manage to write something, I wait for the readers’ feedback with bated breath. This is always the case, week after week.
One awaits the readers’ verdict as a nervous student waits for results after a critical exam. The feedback is invariably instructive; even if you do not always agree with the views.
Look at this take, for instance, on my recent piece on Islam and how some of its followers distort and misrepresent its humane teachings. I had argued that if the world has a negative view of the great religion, we Muslims are largely to blame.
Frankly, I was really shocked by Dr Vijaya Rajiva’s response and her views on Islam and Muslims. Because Vijaya is not only a fellow Indian but like me she has also been a passionate supporter of the Palestinian cause, frequently writing on the Palestinian dispossession and struggle. In her take on my piece, Medium is the Message, (KT, Sept 26) Vijaya wrote: “I have nothing against Muslims, especially Indian Muslims who are basically converts from one of the indigenous religions. My quarrel is with Islam itself. Its history has been one of war and violence. The conquest of southern Europe, the other countries of the Middle East, Iran, Iraq and later Afghanistan, the Muslim conquest of Sind in the 8th century AD (have all been the result of Islam’s war). Well, I’m sure you know your history!
To give an example, Mohamed of Ghazni did come and plunder and loot India but that was only one of his aims.
“The other (aim) was conversion of the infidels, at the point of the sword. Those who did not convert were summarily killed. Nadir Shah standing on the ramparts (of Delhi) watching the inhabitants of the city being put to death because they were infidels is a well-known fact. The entire history of Muslim conquests is well known. Hundreds of temples were destroyed, sacred books burned and thousands were killed or converted.
"I would be interested in knowing when exactly Islam morphed into a ‘peaceful’ religion!”
Then Vijaya goes on to say: “Intellectually, I find it insulting that there is only one God, and one Prophet (or with the Christians, one son of God). I much prefer the truth that the divine principle is a Mystery and each of us has access to it, without mediation. (There is) not just the One Way!”
Well, I wish I could reproduce the fascinating letter in its entirety but cannot do it for obvious space constraints.
One could write a whole book in response to these familiar rants steeped in ignorance and mostly based on hearsay and utter lies shamelessly peddled by European crusaders dressed as historians and scholars for a thousand years now.
I respect Vijaya for her activism on behalf of the Palestinians. But I have to say this. Her ignorance and mixing of historical facts with fiction is most shocking.
Mahmoud of Ghazni, who she calls Mohamed of Ghazni, and numerous Muslim rulers who invaded or ruled India at one time or another, were not driven by a missionary zeal to convert the subcontinent to Islam. They were merely greedy kings and conquerors like hundreds of others who came to India for its fabled riches.
Be it Mahmoud of Ghazni or Mohammed Ghouri, who invaded India 17 times, they were not ideal Muslims nor did they represent Islam. Like other kings and conquerors in history, they were merely men driven by a craving for power, not by a mission to spread Islam. They just happened to be Muslim, just like the European kings happened to be Christian or ‘indigenous’ Indian rulers happened to be Hindu.
Just as Ashoka the Great was not driven by any religious zeal when he painted the whole of Kalinga blood red, Muslim conquerors were not inspired by any noble religious agenda. This is why they were equally ruthless in dealing with their fellow Muslim rulers. What Babar did to Ibrahim Khilji and what Sher Shah Suri did to Humayun is what emperors and kings routinely did to each other -- and not just in India.
Nadir Shah of Iran, who Rajiva says watched from the ramparts of Delhi while the ‘infidels’ were killed, did not kill Hindus. If this is any consolation, almost all of those killed in Delhi at the time were Muslim subjects of the reigning Muslim king Mohammed Shah.
If Muslim rulers fought and killed Hindu kings and their subjects, they killed their fellow Muslim rulers and their subjects too with equal impunity. Mughal emperor Aurangzeb incarcerated and killed his own father and brothers.
This was all for power and the religion of these rulers had nothing to do with the whole unsavoury business. Even the most benign of Muslim emperors like Akbar did not represent Islam or Muslims, just as most of the current lot of Muslim rulers do not.
If these men had indeed been real models of Islam and its teachings, their subjects would have pleaded with them to stay and rule them, as the persecuted Jews did when Omar, the second caliph of Islam, entered the holy city of Jerusalem or as the oppressed Christians did when Tareq bin Zyad led the Muslim army into Spain.
As for the charge of forcing the Hindus and Christians to convert to Islam, there’s a very simple answer to the accusation.
If the Muslims had indeed converted the Hindus at sword’s point, India would have been a Muslim country today — which is not the case. The Muslims are still a minority in the country of a billion.
The same would have been true of Spain. Remember, both India and Spain were ruled by the Muslims for nearly a thousand years.
That said, I understand if well-read and informed friends like Vijaya Rajiva demonstrate such incredible ignorance about Islam and Muslims. Frankly speaking, despite the wealth of resources at their disposal and their growing numbers (recently the Vatican admitted Islam has replaced Christianity as the world’s biggest religious bloc), the Muslims have done little to address this issue.
They remain the real and worst enemies of their faith doing little to present its true, pristine face before the world. They’re busy pursuing trillions of dollars of worthless dreams in concrete while the world builds on its prejudices against Islam and Muslims. Is it any wonder then the world can barely conceal its contempt for us?
Aijaz Zaka Syed is Opinion Editor of Khaleej Times.
The views expressed here are his own. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are still not familiar with the region's megalomaniac term, Cityscape Dubai 2008, in its 7th year, is the largest business-to-business real estate investment and development event in the world.
It is amazing to note that one of the main reasons why Cityscape Dubai is becoming so successful is the access it gives to the wealthiest and most liquid group of investors in the world.
Cityscape Dubai 2008, all set to take place from October 6-9, will showcase the potency of the UAE real estate market and it’s imperviousness to global property recession coming next month.
For some reasons which are related to my current job, there is a big expectation as well as concern in the property market. Cityscape is a developers exhibition and many people have made huge of profits in the past by buying from these developers and selling those properties the next day or even hours later.
There is a doubt that this year scenario of buying and selling for huge gains will be that easy - there is still huge inventory out on sale with difficulty.
It is the uncertainty that comes with the current economy turmoil and collapse of USA financial industry. The crash requires goverment humongous bailouts with its magnitude affect around the global, including the UAE which the government has put some 50 billion dirham on standby.
Cityscape may not bring life back into the market as well as it may not live up to the ultra high expectations as per previous years and it could be a flop. Consequenly, there would be more stories and rumours about the burst of Dubai property market. Like a domino effect typhooning and breaking all the myths into pieces of dreaded reality.
There will be a lot of new local and regional projects to be launched at decent and more affordable prices. However, I do not expect the ever growing crowd to fight over each other to buy lot of them. However, investors and speculators may return with a bang even though there are rules and regulations to regulate the transactions.
What about some welcoming surprises like Robot in 2006?
Cityscape is just a place to be for all the relevant questions and if there are any answers, if not signs of the time!
It is so big that I had lost interest since 2005 to visit Gitex as the crowd and the traffic jam are unbearable. It may take at least one hour to beat the traffic jam on all the roads leading to the venue and then at least another half an hour to find a vacant parking bay, if lucky.
Then to walk through the exhibition itself is another nightmare with crowd looking for freebies and peeping for latest products or meeting friends from the region.
There are two Gitex venues, one for exhibition only and the other one for consumer products which sells directly to the customers who throng for good bargains. Both will be packed and the crazy crowd will go wild for any offers as well as hourly prizes like a laptop every hour!
I am contemplating to join the crazy and wild crowd this time for a free laptop or i-phone or blackberry though!
Sifting through the junk for jewels
Last Updated: October 01. 2008 9:12PM UAE / GMT
After a quiet summer, the technology industry will soon play host to globe-trotting chief executives, high-profile product launches and the ongoing corporate soap opera that is the IT business.
The biggest technology conference in the region is just over two weeks away from hitting Dubai. Gitex Technology Week, which opens on October 19, has a reputation for size, with the event occupying the entire sprawling mass of the Dubai World Trade Centre.
Most visitors say the biggest challenge of the event is cutting through the clutter: making it past the noise and the giveaways to find the truly interesting things that make the whole week worthwhile.
Like any crowded trade show, the ratio of junk to value is high. But among the hundreds of stands filled with salesmen eager to talk about their revolutionary new printer cables and accounting software, there are always a few gems.
Gitex has, on occasion, been the platform for the announcement of major industry deals, such as the 2007 acquisition of SAP Arabia by its German parent group. There will always be a superstar international executive or two, just begging to be networked with. And for gadget lovers, the halls chirp and pulsate with an entire biosphere of toys. Unless a bigger name is revealed in the coming days, the most prominent global leader at this year’s event will be Scott McNealy, the chairman and co-founder of Sun Microsystems.
In the young, fast-moving technology sector, Mr McNealy is a veteran of almost unsurpassed proportions, having been at the top of Sun for almost 25 years. His advocacy of networked computing and open-source software preceded their widespread adoption by almost a decade, and he remains one of the sharpest and most influential minds in the industry. Sun’s Middle East business has been turning over at a healthy – but not remarkable – rate, and the company certainly has room to grow here. Whether Mr McNealy’s visit is to reveal a grand new plan for the region or to simply spread the hi-tech gospel, his public appearances will certainly be highlights of the week.
One to watch this year will be the first appearance of the computing group HP, following its acquisition of the American technology services company EDS. The UAE’s largest local technology company, Injazat Data Systems, is a joint venture between EDS and Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Development Company; how HP plans on approaching its newfound stake in the country’s biggest and fastest growing IT business remains to be seen.
Executives from HP and Injazat have stayed very quiet since the deal was finalised in late August, saying only that an announcement on the future of the partnership would be made in the coming weeks. Almost 25,000 people, most of them EDS employees, will lose their jobs as part of the acquisition, with almost half the job losses happening in locations outside the US. With Injazat still using plenty of EDS talent in its managerial and technical ranks, and responsible for some of the biggest outsourcing deals in the UAE, HP’s approach to the partnership is a big deal for the industry.
Although Gitex presents a great stage for the drama and politics of the tech business, it is also a runway where the hottest new gadgets are paraded to buyers and the public. And for lovers of new toys, this year’s highlights will be all about the mobile. One such event will be the product launch by Research in Motion (RIM), the Canadian company that has muscled its way into the smartphone market with its BlackBerry line of email-enabled mobile phones.
While the BlackBerry has become a corporate icon, the company is yet to break into the mainstream market, where stylish design and entertaining features rule the day. RIM had long been rumoured to be developing an iPhone-style touch screen device for the consumer market, and finally revealed the new phone to the US market last month. The new touch screen Blackberry, known as the Storm, is currently only available in the US, tied to the Verizon network. A Middle East launch at Gitex would certainly shake up the market – with Apple yet to secure significant distribution deals in the region, the market for a great touch screen phone remains wide open.
Another mobile maker that will make waves at Gitex is Taiwan’s HTC, which will also be hosting a launch event at the conference. Until recently, HTC was a contract manufacturer of no-name phones that was rebranded by partners like the Dubai-based I-mate. But the company has stepped out into the spotlight in a big way in the past year, launching the successful Diamond touch screen phone, and most prominently, partnering with Google to build the first mobile based on the new open-source Android mobile operating system.
The chance to play with an Android phone for the first time will have plenty of mobile lovers lining up at HTC’s stand. But even better would be an announcement on a Middle East launch for the device, which like the BlackBerry Storm would enter a market that has so far been neglected by Apple.Of course, the announcement that would blow both of these out of the water would be Etisalat or du revealing that they would be bringing the real thing to the UAE. Both companies have reportedly been in negotiations with Apple regarding the iPhone, and both say they will be making news at Gitex. But don’t hold your breath on that one.
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
Unfortunately, unlike Pak Lah, Olmert has just woken up from his terrorist dream by advocating that Israel terrorist regime should withdraw from almost all of the occupied territories.
It is a fresh hope but then again, he is the outgoing PM and has nothing much to influence as he has already resigned from his post.
Back to Pak Lah, I have read Zaid Ibrahim's letter to Pak Lah in Malaysiakini and he states, even in Israel, a nation that is perpetually at war, the power to detain is not vested in one man and detention orders require endorsement from a judge.
His parting shot:
Mr Prime Minister, I remember very clearly what you once said; that if one has the opportunity to do what is good and right for the country, then he must take on the task. I respect you deeply for that and if I were confident that I would have been able to do some good for Malaysia, I would have remained on your team. Sir, you are still the Prime Minister and you still have the opportunity to leave your footprint in Malaysian history. I urge you to do so by repealing the ISA once and for all.
But I would say, DREAM ON....Pak Lah will never dare to make that quantum leap for a better Malaysia as he is allegedly now also busy negotiating Eurocopter deal on behalf of his son...a raya deal for next 30 years makan tak habis for his beloved son.
I hope this is not true and I still dream that Pak Lah during his final days as PM would have more sensible things to act for lasting legacy like, repel ISA, release all ISA detainees and immediately charge them properly if there is enough evidence to prosecute, and, well, sack all his stooge ministers. That's beside other urgent things like economy plans for rakyat's welfare after he had foolishly raised the fuel price.
I have been watching a lot of US's TV channels helmed by Jews. I feel these Jews (not necessarily Zionists) have more sense (love their sense of humour) on certain world's issues. They have brains, network, money and power to influence the world through mass media and we have to admit, these Jews control the world. Sadly, we are still whining for little things after 51 years of merdeka!
And Olmert makes sense at last after all these years, except, too late and too little. Again, it could be a ploy as anyone of Israel's PMs, dead or alive, will not make make his/her legacy by recognising fully the legitimate and historical claims of all Palestinians, like no UMNO/BN leaders will dare to abolish ISA!
Time reports Olmert's Lame-Epiphany About Palestinian Peace
He is a former leader in the rightist Likud Party who for decades staunchly believed that the West Bank and Gaza Strip belonged to the Jewish people and that the territories, along with the Golan Heights, should remain part of Greater Israel forever. Along with former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert gradually came to understand that this was a fantasy.
They broke away from Likud and created the centrist Kadima ("Onward") Party three years ago. Now, as Olmert hands the reins to Tzipi Livni and leaves office amid a corruption scandal, he's made a series of stunning departure statements that form a swan song of historical importance. Peace advocates, Israeli dreamers, Arab skeptics and U.S. mediators in a future McCain or Obama Administration should read his words carefully and take note.
Gulf News has something to say:-
Bitter reality of Olmert's parting words
Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been in a caretaker role since quitting on September 21. Obviously feeling unencumbered and unfettered by the natural restraints placed upon the leader of the Jewish state, Olmert actually dared speak his mind to an Israel newspaper in an end-of-term interview.
" I am saying what no previous Israeli leader has ever said: we should withdraw from almost all of the territories, including in East Jerusalem and in the Golan Heights," he said in an interview with Yedioth Ahrohoth. He also said Israel should shed its occupied colonies in the West Bank.
"We have to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, meaning that in practice we will withdraw from nearly all of the territories, if not all of them... I'd like to see if there is one serious person in the State of Israel who believes it is possible to make peace with the Syrians without eventually giving up the Golan Heights," Olmert said.
How interesting that the hawkish leader has suddenly learnt the ways of the doves whom he so pilloried in the interests of political expediency. For generations, those who have sought peace have always argued the Golan must be returned to Syria. That argument comes not from political expediency, rather than simple necessity and natural justice.
According to Palestinian and Western officials, Olmert has proposed in peace talks that Israel would withdraw from 93 per cent of the occupied West Bank, plus all of the Gaza Strip from which the Jewish state pulled out in 2005. The lame-duck leader should, however, have gone further: Nothing less that 100 per cent is acceptable, and all Israel colonies must be returned.
The Israeli press called Olmert's musings a legacy interview. Too bad he chose not to make his legacy one of recognising fully the legitimate and historical claims of all Palestinians. Too little, too late.
The celebration of Eid is in three parts: first, gratefulness for blessings received; second, thanksgiving for a fast completed; and third, a celebration of faith. Foremost is the recognition and acknowledgment of all that Allah has given us.
We celebrate the good fortune to have witnessed this Ramadan and to have completed the fast. For many young people this was your first year to fast the entire month – congratulations. The Prophet (PBUH) is proud to see your effort. “And say: work righteousness; Allah will see your work, and His Messenger, and the believers,” (al-tawbah 9:105). For many of you this month was a renewal of faith, the turning of a new page in your relationship with Allah; and this renewed effort reminded you of the enthusiasm of your own first Ramadans – congratulations. We must carry this renewal with us into the year ahead.
We can find so much to be grateful and thankful for in a world where 80 per cent of its population currently lives in sub-standard housing. Where over 30 per cent of the world’s adult population still remains unable to read or write. Where 50 per cent of the world is suffering from malnutrition; and 33 per cent of people do not have access to clean or safe drinking water.
If you woke up healthy this morning, you are better off than the one million people who will not survive to the end of this week – and you have much to be grateful for.
If you never had to suffer the danger of war, the isolation of prison, the agony of torture, or the pain of hunger, then you are better off than 500 million people in the world today – and you have much to be thankful for. If you have food in a refrigerator somewhere, a fresh change of clothes and a place to sleep tonight, then you are more comfortable than 75 per cent of the people in the world today – and you have a great deal to be thankful for. If you have any money in the bank or in a wallet, and spare change in your pocket, then you can count yourself among the top eight per cent of the world’s wealthy – and you have so much to be grateful for.
To my young brothers and sisters here; I am reminded of a documentary I listened to just last week of an interview with a 12-year-old boy sitting in the ruins of his schoolhouse in the Burmese delta. After cyclone Nargis they don’t even have the money or materials to rebuild their homes, let alone their schools; but that doesn’t stop the kids from wanting to go back to class. This boy told of how he lost his entire family except for his mother in the cyclone and flooding. His father was swept away and drowned in the flood waters. His grandmother had been left to protect the small children, his grandfather went out to check if she was safe, neither of them was ever seen again. His older brother’s neck had been injured and he couldn’t walk.
We said that we should be motivated and driven by our principles to embrace the concerns of the human community of which we are a part. We noticed eight symptoms of spiritual crisis in the modern world:
We saw that in order to be effective agents of change and contribute to the amelioration of these issues, it would be required of those would-be agents of positive change to have the constitution of the “Strangers” that the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) celebrated in his famous narration.
Brothers and sisters – there are 1.5 billion Muslims in this world today. Imagine if only half of them were to embrace the primary shama’il character traits of our beloved Mohammed (PBUH): patience and forbearance; generosity and forgiveness; courage and fairness; modesty and humility; truthfulness and reliability; dignity and simplicity; and, of course, mercy and compassion. That would be 750 million catalysts of positive change in the world.
But what, instead, if we began as individuals, in our own lives and the lives of our families, making these characteristics of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) the footing upon which we interact with the members of society around us? I’m certain that would contribute to the wellbeing of the ecology of our human and natural environment, as well as the lived experience of the people that inhabit it.Allah’s Messenger Mohammed (PBUH) was sent for the sole purpose of compassion emanating from a heart of God-consciousness.
Hooman Majd, The Ayatollah Begs To Differ
“This stylish, witty, and enlightening portrait of contemporary Iran brilliantly captures the too-often-misunderstood character of the people and their complex, paradoxical, and changing nation.” So says one of the book’s blurbs.
Hooman Majd introduces the book to us as a result of his personal experience. “In 2004 and 2005 I spent several weeks in Iran as a journalist, and in 2007 I spent almost two months in Tehran, working on what was to become the manuscript.” He, of course, has been in touch with whatever and whomever is marked “Iranian” to make sure he is as informative and as accurate and as objective as possible. In his book, and also a letter to his publisher (I have used the editor's copy of the book issued prior to its publication), he writes that his friends consider him 100% Iranian and 100% American which puts him in a unique position.
Being the son of a diplomat and the grandson of an enlightened ayatollah, Hooman seems pretty well connected to all sides, secular and religious, Western and Eastern, modern and traditional, all in one package. Knowing a little of his family, I’m sure that, if it would have been necessary or relevant, he could have pulled a few more social connections, in England for instance, in additions to one with president Khatami.
I liked the preface of the book. It was witty; it was concise; it was diverse; and all together interesting. But, either I was too taken by visualizing a young Iranian man, half aristocratic, standing at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, shouting until his voice was hoarse, the song of his liberation with his British accent, through an Islamic Revolution, or I missed the clue when his Jewish friend admired Ahmadinejad’s sincerity and patriotism. His encounter with the “Egyptian vendor in the vicinity of Ground Zero, full of admiration for Iran as the only country standing up for the Islam and Muslims, as well as the United States, which, by the way, is a dream land of his earthly opportunities,” did not alter what the title of the book suggested, that modern life is paradoxical and Iran is no exception.
Neither was I alarmed when, on page 12, he wrote on the subject of hijab:
“Let me tell you a story about hijab. ….Reza Shah made the chador for women and turban for man illegal in mid 1930s; he wanted, fascist as he was, to emulate turkey’s Kemal Ataturk, who not only had banned the fez and the veil but had even changed the Turkish script from Arabic to Latin, rendering the vast majority of Turks illiterate overnight to force his people into a modern, which he saw as European, would.”
“…during the early days of Islamic Revolution women were harassed and sometimes beaten and imprisoned for not wearing proper hijab, but the exact same things, for opposite reasons, occurred on the streets of Tehran less than fifty years earlier. In 1930s women had their chador forcibly removed from their heads…”
Was it my poor reflexes or the lack of a conspiratorial mind which did not allow me to go beyond the book's face value? When the author said,
“I refer to some of these failures whether they be the imprisonment of student protesters or feminist activities or the crackdown on civil liberties, but this book is not about the injustices of Iran’s political system or, more important, the sometimes outrageous abuses in that system which many courageous Iranians such as lawyers, journalists, and activists living in Iran, fight against every day. Rather, my hope is that this book, through a combination of stories, history, and personal reflection will provide the reader a glimpse of Iran and Iranians, often secretive and suspicious of revealing themselves, that he or she may ordinarily have the opportunity to see.”
I did believe him. It took me days to think why he omitted the mass executions, mass murders, chain murders, murder of prisoners, long jail sentences without any specific charges, from the list of these "failures"? Or why he used the word "failure" rather than "crime"? It took me even longer to think why talking about the hijab he has to bring about the names of two dictators (Reza Shah and Ataturk), twice repeating the word "fascist", and his choice of words such as"forcefully", "beaten", "rendering the population illiterate overnight"? (By the way, for Hooman’s information, it was by Ataturk’s forcefulness that the primary education became mandatory in Turkey, just as in Iran in Reza Shah’s time. Prior to that, the people were in fact illiterate. Illiteracy did not happen overnight with the change of script from Arabic to Latin. Indeed, the people were illiterate.) It was almost towards the end of the book that I figured out the answer to most of my bewilderment, though many remained still unanswered.
Hooman Majd is adamant that there is misunderstanding of Iran and Iranians which needs to be explained, and that he is uniquely qualified to do so. (These two words "understanding" and "misunderstanding" always send a shiver down my spine since the time President Carter tried to "understand" us.) Of course what needs to be understood is always the weird, antisocial, and irrational behavior of our beloved regime which does not translate to any social codes accepted by the international community.
He defined Iran as a “Muslim country, a Shia country and significantly a Persian country.” As Shiites, Iranians are marked with an inferiority complex, and are devoted to protect their rights (haqq). Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, who was killed by Yazid, has become the embodiment of haqq for Iranians and his death is still mourned by men and women in commemoration of his anniversary at Tashu`a and Ashura.
It is through the revival of this monumental wrong that Iranian will celebrate the Shia’s creed of crying for haqq. According to Majd, the understanding of this little word haqq is the key to understanding Iran's puzzles and paradoxes, from the emergence of the Islamic Revolution in the most secular nation in the region to the implementing the laws of the Sharia, designed for an uncivilized nation centuries ago, in the country which has a claim over to culture and civilization.
Majd argues further that even the nuclear issue is a misunderstanding of Iran’s obsession with its rights or haqq, the centerpiece of Shia dogma. For him, what appears as a confrontation with the international community is nothing but Shiism's pursuit of haqq and its persistence in not letting its rights to be violated.
The notion of pursuing haqq to the point of death, symbolized by Imam Hussein's martyrdom, is so embedded in Shiite Iran that it has become a model of conduct as well as part of the nation's language and thinking. Colloquial Iranian expressions such as “haqqam khordeh shodeh” (meaning ‘my rights are eaten’) and also khak bar sar kardan (meaning putting dust over the head) are taken as testimony.
However, his arguments are shorn of any merit. His examples of Ali the American who believes his rights had been taken away because he had not been born in the United States might be witty and humorous, but far from proving any point; and his example of dust and mud being heaped over the heads of the mourners in Tasu`a and Ashura suffers from misinterpretation of expression linked to it. The expression khak bar sar is used when some intense grief has befallen someone or when grief is wished upon someone against whom one has hard feelings. Placing mud or dust over the head is just a very old mourning sign, (it appears in the Hebrew Bible) and stems from a belief that soil-dust would cut off the emotional attachments one has towards a departed loved one. In burial sites, a pinch of dust is poured over the head of the mourners to relieve them. (The expression of khak bar sar indicates a wish for an intense grief as of a mourning for a dead one.)
I wish he would have clicked on Youtube for Shia’s mourning and seen for himself the kids, with drums and dafs and sometimes with other instruments doing raps for Imam Hussein, who do not appear to have any intention as of dying for anybody. They are simply participating in a ritual, nothing more and nothing less.
I do not know when and where this genre of writing became so fashionable among the Iranians. This is the second book (the first being Jasmine and Stars) of this nature in which the author tries to cherry pick the evidence to prove his/her point and ignore whatever does not suit his or her purposes, or to connect points without any causal relations between them, or reduce and minimize evidence to the contrary to almost null, or divert the real problem to a banality and then defend it, or, in short doing whatever makes an argument fallacious and delivering as if it is sound. I found Majd a smart, talented and educated enough to be able to avoid all these errors if he wanted so. But unfortunately he chose not to avoid them, if I dare say, quite intentionally and purposefully. Though it might be the political subject matter of these books that legitimizes the use of manipulations, or just that author's relying on and praying for the carelessness of the readers, or the book has different function unknown to me.
Hooman Majd, unfortunately, did not live in Iran long enough to notice that there is a vast majority, at least seventy percent of the people, who are only nominally Muslim. They are the vast majority of people who do not even perform their daily prayers (noticed by almost all journalists and observers who traveled to Iran.) He tries to maneuver his way in response to such obvious omissions by attributing them to the flexibility of prayer times in Shia Islam.
As a matter of fact, Iranians are notorious in being more lax in their religious rituals than any other Muslim nation in the world. “Do you mean there is prayer in this religion?” is a joke among Iraqi Shiites referring to this laxity. Had he stayed a few more years in Iran, not only would he not give that much weight to Iranian piety but he would have written his book differently.
The other enigma which has puzzled the world as well as many of us Iranians is the Islamic Republic's endurance despite its apparent extreme unpopularity owing to its abuse of its citizens' rights, returning to the Sharia (stoning, public lashing, execution without the trial), and setting the clock back at least to the nineteen century if not fourteen. Majd sees the magical factor in the perseverance of the Islamic Republic its ‘respect for privacy’!
Since the Islamic Revolution, the ruling clerics have been under attack both by foreign journalists and observers as well as Iranians for creating a double life for their citizens. Iranians were among the first to express their dissatisfaction over this dual existence, forcing them to tell lies to their children and behave differently in private than in public. Majd very cleverly turns the table around to the advantage of the Islamic Republic. He argues that Iranians were the first one who built walls around their gardens so they could separate the outside from their private domains.
Through a labyrinth of name changing to indoor gardens to paradise, Iran to Persia, Reza Shah's fascism, to Hitler's Third Reich and many more, he concludes that it is only in this private domain and inside this wall that Iranians need to be free and that the Islamic Republic is clever enough to respect this wall around the privacy of people and does not cross it as the Shah had. (I do not know why I have such an urge to say Jall al-Khaleq!) Numerous example are given from the parties in resorts of Shemshak’s ski ramps to those of northern Tehran, where people are free to have booze, music and dance, where people can express their ideas freely to each other without being worried that they are being spied on. Even president Khatami and Ambassador Javad Zarif and some other ambassadors (no names given, just in the case!) could sit in Zarif’s apartment and laugh at the fanaticism of those mullahs in Iran without being worried that anybody would spy on them while all these are taking place in their respected privacy! (another Jall al-Khaleq!)
Missing in this book is Iranian humanity. Majd’s view of Iran is devoid of any humanity, as if the country is populated by robots that just perform the way they are programmed to work. Two days holidays in a calendar, for centuries, would create a whole dictionary of meanings and associations around it which sometimes has nothing to do with the original intent of the holiday. Tasu`a and Ashoura are no exceptions. They are mixed with fourteen centuries of millions of people practicing it, adding to it bits of their compassion and modifying it to fit into their sensibilities and the surrounding norms. (I’m surprised he did not refer to the celebration of this occasion in New York City.)
Today, the ritual is simply a commemoration of a religious rite like any other rites observed and celebrated by other religions. Easter, Shavuos, Simchas Torah, Lag B'Omer, and various Saints Days such as St. Patrick’s Day and St. Francis' Day are just a few that brings people together in commemoration of a cause and ideas attached to each, and with people things does not stay static, never!
Shocking, however, is the degree of detachment that author exhibits not only from Iranian culture but from the people. Among dozens of books written on Iran, this book was unique as how the author perceive himself as a breed apart and how unimpressed he was by the life around him. I recall reading books, even highly critical of the regime or even the people, mostly by journalists yet one still felt how at one the author was with the people, if only for a time.
I recall reading books in which at least once or twice the author refers to the Iranian people's humanity which surpasses all mundane calculations, where the author bends his/her self to the love, compassion and humanity of the Iranians which goes way beyond political necessity or social pretence, when the author sees people with souls within them that sometimes react freely without any attention to what is required of them. I recall time and again reading simple pages of these books and being touched. Oddly enough, there was none of this in Majd’s book. Iranians in this book were a bunch of Islamic rational beings who responded to life exactly as the ayatollahs expected them to do, and as is convenient for Majd to summarize them.
However, my objections all lose their validity if we look at the book from a different angle, if we see it as a cover resume in an application for a position as consultant to the State Department or a liaison between the Islamic Republic and the United States. Majd, with his grandiose invitation, “Give it to me whatever mess you have, I’ll fix it the way you can not believe it was any mess at all,” pictures himself as magician who can put his hands in a hat and bring pulling out doves of peace. And, gee, he is a magician. In some 265 pages there is not a single mess, horror, shortcoming, abuse or mismanagement which is not somehow justified, evaded, or dismissed deftly. Well, hats off man, hats off!
Dear reader, I still recommend the book, though I call your attention to the usage of every anecdote. And I beg your opinion as if I’m wrong or somehow hyper-sensitive.
To those of my readers who are not very patient, I recommend they not miss the last two chapters of the book, The Ayatollah Begs to Differ and Fear of Black Turban. And be patient, be patient. It is just a book, just one person’s ideas. It is about just one person looking through a looking glass sorting out the jumble of masses entangled together and trying to put them into some order. It just happens that he looks for legitimacy and stability of a very shaky and illegitimate system which has nothing to do with us Iranians, as we know ourselves. The good news is that he is not the only one with a looking glass. We each have one too.
He is still extending his already extended 'vacation' while sleepin on the job since became PM. He might have some personal reasons like his own pride and he is reported planning to change some rules to ensure he will get enough nominations to defend his presidency.
In the USA as we are celebrating Eid in the UAE, stocks plummeted on Wall Street even before the 228-205 vote to reject the bill was officially announced on the House floor. Bush and his economic advisers, as well as congressional leaders in both parties had argued the plan was vital to insulating ordinary Americans from the effects of Wall Street's bad bets. The version that was up for vote Monday was the product of marathon closed-door negotiations on Capitol Hill over the weekend.
But the congress thought otherwise as one lady said on CNN something like this, "The working class voted againts of bailing out the corrupt corporate players! Enough of using our money to bail these criminals out for nothing!"
It sounds familiar. US is the brink of an economic disaster....which will affect the world and Malaysia may hit hard by the standard of leadership's management and actions.
We are into another period of uncertainty as the world is reeling for another shock and bumpy ride to the global recession, hang on there and.....Selamat Hari Raya Malaysia!
Weight of expectation
Commentary by Abd Ghani Hamat
The general election last March 8 could yet be remembered as marking a downward spiral of the country’s economy.
There’s no denying that a prolonged political uncertainty stemming from Barisan Nasional’s (BN) inability to secure a two-thirds majority in parliament has spooked the stock investors and added to the misery of businesses that are barely surviving record energy prices and a spike in raw material costs.
Suddenly the country finds itself deflated and despondent, sunk by the weight of its expectation of an impending economic rejuvenation amid a new political landscape. Contrary to its hopes, the wake-up call on Umno-led BN in the election has resulted in a political morass instead. The country finds itself in what promises to be its longest “election year”.
Until the dust of general election settled, we would not be able to have a clear view of where the government wanted to take the country economically, said a GLC chief executive, over lunch. In his estimation, the dust of March 8 would clear up by the turn of the year (2009), when the main political parties would have had their polls.
In an election year, he argued, conditions on the ground tended to get distorted as politicians engage in posturing while jockeying for party positions and pay less attention to national issues. That was five months ago, at a time talk of politicians crossing the floor was only beginning to gather momentum.
Now that Umno has postponed its polls till March next year, the wait for a new, party-endorsed prime minister has been extended by at least three months.
We can thus surmise that decisions made in the meantime are provisional at best, as the new prime minister may have his own ideas, assuming also that there’s no change of government, of course.
From the perspective of the national economy, this state of affairs is extremely unfair, particularly in light of the harsh external factors, which have already pushed Ireland into recession (two quarters of negative growth).
There is clearly an urgent need at this time for the government to focus on keeping the economy ticking — help industries and businesses tackle their problems, or even facilitate their expansion.
Who knows, the financial meltdown in the US and Europe could have opened a window of opportunity for Islamic financing and sukuk issuance, the country’s pride, to make a quantum leap into the international capital market.
Then there is the need to relook at the country’s subsidy structure by adopting a holistic approach that emphasises its sustainability as much as the competitiveness of industries over the long term.
Also pertinent are regional trade and investment issues, such as the resolution of Maybank’s proposed purchase of Bank Internasional Indonesia. The flip-flops in decisions pertaining to this deal are not characteristic of Bank Negara Malaysia and suggest more than meets the eye.
Indeed, Umno’s internal strife is not only distressing the economy but also its BN partners. How could the coalition function fully if its main partner is engrossed in its own affairs?
What puzzles most political observers, however, is how mighty Umno has let itself drift into the sticky mess. Perhaps there’s truth in the observation that it has become a party of reaction, not action. And it only reacts when it hits the wall.
How else do you explain that, after successfully scaring away voters at the last elections, its leaders are now threatening to alienate party members by squabbling over leadership succession?
That Umno is unable to come to terms with diminished power is not news. But the inability of its leaders to think and act in a coherent manner should be a cause for worry.
Their inability to comprehend public mood and expectations at the 2004 elections and their reluctance to accept accountability for poor showing four years later, could easily translate into a denial of the present economic realities, which does not bode well for the country.
But surely an old party like Umno would have enough clever people in its ranks to see its own folly. Surely they can see that the blame is not on the voters but their own leaders. But will they see beyond the veneer of democracy that masks what truly ails the party? Not unless it rids itself of the penchant for passing every trivial practice as “adat”.
We have heard claims by other BN component parties that they had been powerless in their discussions with Umno. Could it be that similarly “democratic” practice characterises decision making within the party? After all, Umno is a bunch of happy families.
To assure the masses, however, Umno has to be more transparent about its decisions, particularly those involving public funds, which rightly should not be even a subject for discussion at party meets.
Being transparent would not solve the economic issues of the entire society, but at least it points to a truer level of expectation of what’s possible and what’s not.
Now after retirement, his blog is already among the top with more than 6 million hits within 6 months of existence. That's really amazing for someone of his age. He is still sharp in his writing and with his blog, he is even closer to the young generation.
Nothing much to be said about his successor's IT literacy even though he used to have a web site for rakyat to send our comments. Then again, to be fair for him, it is generally nothing much to shout about the outgoing lame duck PM of Malaysia of his premiership.
I can safely say that Pak Lah is like other normal old men who are intimidated by technology. Not because he is dumb or something like that, maybe his fear of the unknown and he is scared of gadgets and does not care less about improving his knowledge or skills. He is the PM, so what and who cares if he never switches on any computers, except of course for officiating certain IT-related event.
What about the two PMs-in-waiting?
I have no idea about Najib's IT literacy but the deputy PM had recently launched his own web site. I visited his site once and nothing much to say as no comments are published for public consumption. He could be good enough in using computer applications like typing a surat sumpah in Word.
Anwar's blog is one of the top blogs with thousands of hits per day. He looks more IT savvy and literate than Rosmah's husband. He is also a Blackberry user. But he could never be a PM with the current political situation.
What about other ministers or leaders? I do not know most of them but I met a deputy president of PAS and he was so proud to show off his new gadget. But that not really a criteria of good leaders, right?
Most politicians now have Facebook presence if not their own blogs. I guess majority of them will have somebody else to maintain and update their facebooks and blogs.
Therefore, should our PM and ministers be IT literate? Or it is not important as long as they perform their duties well and better than expectations? As long as they are not corrupt and put our nation's interests first than themselves or their families and cronies, I can still bear with their IT illiteracy.
Our ministers, MPs, ADUNs are busy with a lot of duties, especially to pacify their supporters/cronies and of course they have assistants. They can be IT literate on their own accord but please do not look dumb and stupid as the world is already into a new century.
I read an interesting article about US presidential campaign:
Of course, this Libertarian viewpoint of mine gets very interesting when it comes time to elect a President or a major government official, especially over sometimes not-so-pleasant dinner conversation with my wife Rachel and other members of my extended family. When I told my wife in the car ride home from the airport this week that I would be voting for McCain, she said to me quite flustered, “Okay, I understand your reasons, but c’mon, the man doesn’t even know how to use a computer.”
Well, I’m not sure exactly what to make of this one. Should your President know how to use a computer? I mean, a President is a busy guy who has to be in constant meetings and speak with other world leaders, how much time should he be spending mucking about in emails or on on web sites anyway? Doesn’t he have a secretary to print out his most important emails and such?
I know that Obama is a Blackberry Junkie. Palin’s use of Yahoo email is, uh, well
McCain, unfortunately, “has to rely on his wife“. Does that make him less qualified to be President of the United States?
Then the suicide bombers struck with series of blasts that killed civilians in Syria, Lebanon, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. One name is always linked to these acts of terror and you know who.
Then again, with Bush presidency is about to expire and the arrival of a new president of the world's most powerful nation, black or white, do we have peace sooner than later in the Middle East? It is where the mother of all problems has never been solved under so many presidents and promises as well as billions already spent, as long as US keeps Israel dearly as its sleeping partner and the Arab regimes keep their bargains to stifle any dissents under the name of war on terror.
In reality, we are still not secured after 9/11 event changed the world or Iraq war changed the landscape of Iraq with more American soldiers lost their lives for nothing, not to mention collateral damage on Iraqi civilians.
A recent report states that a worldwide poll shows people across the world think the war on terror has reached stalemate.
People across the world think the US-led “war on terror” has not weakened Al Qaeda and many believe it has actually strengthened Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network, according to a new poll.
The worldwide poll of almost 24,000 citizens found people in 22 out of 23 countries surveyed thought attempts to counter Al Qaeda since its September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States had not weakened it.
The predominant view was that neither side was winning, the BBC poll said.
“Despite its overwhelming military power, America’s war against Al Qaeda is widely seen as having achieved nothing better than a stalemate and many believe that it has even strengthened Al Qaeda,” said Steven Kull, director of the Programme on International Policy Attitudes, which helped carry out the research.
Kenya - which experienced deadly Al Qaeda attacks on the US embassy in 1998 and on an Israeli-owned hotel in 2002 - was the only country where a majority thought Al Qaeda has been weakened.
In the United States, only 34 per cent believed Al Qaeda had been made weaker with 26 per cent reckoning the “war on terror” had had no effect and 33 per cent thinking it had made the militants stronger.
The majority US perception was that neither the United States nor Al Qaeda were winning the war.More than 40 per cent of citizens in France, Mexico, Italy, Australia and Britain believed that the “war on terror” had strengthened Al Qaeda.
While the majority of people questioned had negative views of Al Qaeda, more citizens in Egypt and Pakistan had mixed or positive views of the group than negative feelings.
The poll, which was conducted by GlobeScan with the Programme on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, involved 23,937 people in 23 countries between July and September this year.
There is a big number of Iranians making Dubai as first home with a long historical link. Iranian community here is somehow wealthy and influential with their own business network and 'mafia'. Iranian Hospital for example has been providing affordable medical service for all nationalities and very popular.
I have Iranian friends as well as colleagues but we do not talk about politics or religion, except when Israel is the topic of the conversation, then we are Muslims kind of brotherhood come alive.
Iran fishing in troubled waters
Recent reports on the presence of cells of Iranian spies in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states and the skirmishes over the differences of opinion of religious scholars from Sunnis and Shiites sects respectively are distinctive factors which are shaping the strategic scene in our neighbourhood.
This will also continue to influence the outcome of the on-going policies in shaping the future of our volatile region, which continues to oscillate between peace and the ominous prospect of a cataclysmic war, in the final months of the waning Bush administration.
The US seems to be divided on how to deal with Iran. Hawkish neoconservatives are opposed to those who are in favour of a dialogue with the Islamic Republic. Against this background, there is also a bipartisan call made by four former US secretaries of state calling on the next American president to open up a dialogue with Iran. They have argued that "diplomacy is talking to your adversaries and not only to your allies".
On the other hand, four former US officials, Richard Holbrooke, James Woolsey, Dennis Ross and Mark Wallace wrote an editorial piece in the Wall Street Journal in which they highlighted the dangers of a nuclear Iran.
"Everyone should be worried about Iran," they wrote and stated that "a nuclear-armed Iran would likely destabilise an already dangerous region that includes Israel, Turkey, Iraq, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan, and poses a direct threat to America's national security".
Further, they said that "to lay the groundwork for effective US policies in coordination with our allies, the UN and others by a strong showing of unified support from the American people to alter the Iranian regime's current course.
The American people must have a voice in this great foreign-policy challenge, and we can make a real difference through national and international, social, economic, political and diplomatic measures".
However, we cannot rule out an October surprise - an agreement between the US and Iran, such as the one that was made 29 years ago by Ronald Reagan that ended the US hostages crisis. It too was made in October.
The Emir of Qatar, Shaikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, pointed out recently in Syria that the GCC states have no problem with Iran, except for the occupation of the UAE three islands of Abu Mousa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs. Nevertheless, the GCC-Iran schism seems to have been inching towards more confrontation and tension due to the lack of confidence building between the two sides.
Clearly, there is apprehension in the GCC states over Iran and its grandiose expansionist design in the region. They fear that Tehran is keen to fill the strategic void in the region and exploit it in its favour. If Iran achieves its goal, it will become the most influential country in the region and will hold the keys to various strategic and potentially flashpoints in the Middle East.
Moreover, it is now benefiting from the Russia-Western standoff over Georgia, which is inching towards another cold war. Thanks to US miscalculations, the toppling of Saddam Hussain's regime in Iraq and the Taliban's in Afghanistan have worked to Iran's advantage. As such, the Islamic Republic has become a regional power by default.
The concern of the GCC vis-a-vis Iran is not limited only to Tehran's policy in Iraq, they are worried about its nuclear programme, its repeated threats to shut down the Strait of Hormuz, its perceived attempt to spread Shiism, and the bullying of the region. What's more, they are alarmed at Iran's lack of cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the damning report presented by the IAEA on Iran's nuclear programme.
Iran's menacing actions in the past few weeks are more alarming and created a flutter in the GCC states. Tehran has opened an administrative office in the UAE's island of Abu Mousa. All the GCC states in a joint statement lambasted Iran's illegal act. Members of Al Shura Council of Saudi Arabia equate Iran's occupation of the UAE islands with the Israeli occupation of Arab land. In retaliation, Iran ejected the bureau chief of Al Arabiya TV, the Saudi owned pan Arabist news network.
Meanwhile, a leading Sunni religious leader, Shaikh Yousuf Al Qaradwi, an Egyptian with Qatari citizenship warned about the menace of Iran with its Shiism brand of Islam threatening Sunni countries in the Middle East.
To make matters worse, Kuwaiti Members of Parliament claimed that there are about 25,000 Iranian revolutionary guards in Kuwait disguised as Iranian expats working in Kuwait! What fanned the flames even further was a report, published by a first-time Kuwaiti MP in a leading Kuwaiti newspaper, which stated that Iran could occupy Kuwait to make things difficult for the Americans in order to deter them from launching a military strike against Iran. What was frightening was, the MP's insistence that some of the spies are Kuwaiti citizens. These revelations brought to the fore the loyalty issue, once again. A couple of years ago, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak asserted that most Shiites in the Arab world are loyal to Iran and not to their own countries. King Abdullah of Jordan, too has sounded a warning of a Shiite crescent stretching from Iran to Lebanon.
However, the presence of Iranian covert operators was denied by Kuwait's Minister of Interior Shaikh Jaber Khalid Al Sabah, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his Defence Minister Brigadier General Mustafa Mohammad-Najjar. The Iranian embassy in Kuwait too denied such assertions.
However, in an interview with Gulf News, Adel Alassadi, a former Iranian diplomat who is living in exile, confirmed the presence of a network of Iranian spies in the GCC states.
Such claims and counter claims stoke more tensions and fear in a region described as a powder keg with many matches stoking it from many directions. The real challenge for all the concerned players in the region and beyond is how to navigate the region away from the abyss which no one wants to fall in.
Dr Abdullah Al Shayji is Professor of International Relations and the Head of the American Studies Unit - Kuwait University.
Vehicles were less and no traffic jam at all.
However during this festive season, life is tough for some of us here in the UAE. The spiralling cost of living esp. rising rents, food prices and school fees escalate inflation further and affect a section of working class expats.
Read the following report.
Driven into kerbside bedrooms
Last Updated: September 27. 2008 11:36PM UAE
SHARJAH // Every evening, “Shafiq”, a Pakistani driving instructor, searches for a parking space in the crowded streets of Abu Shagara, tilts his car seat back as far as it will go and, leaving the engine and the air-conditioning running, does his best to get a decent night’s sleep.
Luckily for him, petrol is still a lot cheaper than rent.As Sharjah, Ajman and Ras al Khaimah absorb the ever-increasing exodus of house-hunters from Dubai, migrating along the coast in search of affordable rents, it is the working poor in those emirates who are paying the price.
Shafiq is one of a growing number of people being driven out of homes and into cars by rising rents and increasing living costs. A year ago, he was sharing one room with three friends in the Ghaefiya area until the municipality demolished the old building to make way for a new development.
Since then, he says, he has had no choice but to use his company Toyota Corolla as a kerbside bedroom. “At first I thought I would find another house,” he says. “I looked for one for about a week and all the deposits, real-estate commission and rent itself was too much for me and my colleagues.
“After staying in the car for a week I thought it was normal and I am pushing on with it.
”His family in Pakistan knows he is now homeless. Whenever he calls home his eldest daughter, aged 10, cries and says: “Dad, I just can’t stand it that you are living in a car.”
He does his best to reassure the family: “I’ll say, ‘You know what? This is OK for now because I’m safe, healthy and have a job; things will get better with time.’ But I don’t think so.”
There are now several areas in Sharjah where, late at night or early in the morning, people can be seen sleeping in cars. Although it provides no figures, the municipality says it has come across an increasing number of people like Shafiq. Guilty of a bylaw offence, for some of them a Dh500 fine has been added to the burden of homelessness.
In one case, “We also found someone who had also stocked a lot of alcohol in his car,” said Hareeb al Tunaiji, the head of the municipality’s inspection team. In addition to receiving the standard fine, this man was also referred to the public prosecution office.
In another case, he said, inspectors discovered that mechanics working at a large garage were sleeping in customers’ cars left in the workshop overnight, apparently with their employer’s consent. The garage owner had accepted the situation could not continue, but said most of his workers could no longer afford to rent anywhere to live.
Mr Tunaiji said the man had told officials: “Most of the old cars we have here have no air-conditioning, and since it’s the hot season we allowed them to use the customers’ cars at night and clean them in the morning before the owner comes.”
Discomfort is not the only risk faced by the “car people”.
In February last year a 58-year-old jobless Palestinian was found dead in a broken-down car in which he had been living on Al Wahda Street. Residents told police that Bassam Shariff, who had been in the UAE for 20 years, was unable to afford rent and had been living in the vehicle for two years, relying on the bathrooms in mosques.
In Dubai, the municipality said it had not had any reports of people living in cars in the city, but that it would take action against anyone who did.
“Of course this is unhealthy,” said Redha Salman, the director of the Public Health and Safety Department, “but the main issue in such cases is of security as people risk their lives and spoil the environment.”
Many expatriates who work in Dubai say they are now forced to live in Sharjah, Ajman and Ras al Khaimah as rents in Dubai have become unaffordable.
“When I was a bachelor I lived in Dubai and paid just for a bed space,” said Narayan Kutty, a sales representative who now lives with his family in Rolla.
“However, when I decided to bring my family here, I had to move to Sharjah because I can’t afford even a small room in Dubai.”
Other complications are putting further strain on housing stock.
In May, officials proposed an amendment to labour laws that would prevent companies that were not licensed to operate in the emirate from using Sharjah as a dormitory in which to house workers cheaply. The move, which followed a series of protests and violent skirmishes over the rising cost of living among workers whose jobs were in Dubai or Abu Dhabi but whose quarters were in Sharjah, is also expected to complicate life further for workers who commute from Sharjah to escape Dubai’s high rents.
In Abu Dhabi, where municipal officials also say they have not heard of people living in cars, the pressures of high rents and low supply have created a different problem: the illegal partitioning of villas and apartments. This in turn is putting further pressure on housing stock.
Since March, the municipality has been waging a campaign against violators, many of whom are what Salem al Maameri, the municipality’s director of municipal services, describes as “investors” who rent properties and then modify them into separate apartments, which they then sublet.
“Any building modification has to be approved,” he said. “Sometimes it is external modification, sometimes internal, but it is against the law. This is a big problem and we are fighting it.”
Following a fire that started in a makeshift rooftop development in Abu Dhabi this month, the municipality is also conducting inspections of all high-rise apartment blocks, with the intention of removing such “penthouses”, often home to many workers.
Over the past two years the tide of workers seeking an affordable lifestyle has created a shortage of housing and driven up rents in Ras al Khaimah. The situation is exacerbated by the emirate’s electricity shortage; new houses are being built but, without power, remain empty, leaving more people to squeeze into existing properties.
Ahmad, a driver for a local company, shares two rooms in a partitioned villa with eight men from Peshawar, Pakistan. The rent is Dh1,100 per month, excluding electricity and water. Although they like RAK and count their blessings – they can still afford to send some money home – when Ahmad moved to the emirate 10 years ago four rooms cost him Dh250. His cousin, uncle and son have all returned to Pakistan because of the rising costs and he plans to follow them soon.
Though the room already looks overcrowded, they have a plan in place for the next rent increase – they will replace their mattresses with bunk beds to accommodate yet more people in their room.
In another area of the city, old houses that were abandoned 20 years ago have been converted into small compounds, where each room is shared by up to 10 men. Five or six years ago, rooms that today cost between Dh1,000 and Dh1,500 would have fetched only Dh300.
However, the population explosion in RAK is now making it increasingly profitable for owners to rent these villas to middle-income families, whose companies will offer Dh40,000 or more.
In one such building, 13 men who work as labourers, repair men and drivers are facing eviction from their two-bedroom villa within two months. Some hope to stay with friends and commute to work in RAK. Others are unsure of their future.
The RAK authorities are aware of the problem, says engineer Majid Awwad, a technical adviser to the municipality. The municipality has plans to build low-income housing for labourers and others, but this is not a short-term solution; it will not be ready for at least another two years.
* With additional reporting by Praveen Menon, Zoi Constantine, Anna Zacharias
Mengenang arkitek pendidikan negara
Oleh ROOSFA HASHIM
PADA 9 Disember 2004 telah diadakan suatu majlis perasmian bangunan di Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris, Tanjung Malim. Dalam majlis tersebut, salah sebuah pusat di kampus itu diberikan nama Pusat Global Pendidikan Aminuddin Baki.
Nama 'Aminuddin Baki' begitu menyengat dalam otak Rozeman Abu Hassan, anak muda berusia 37 tahun yang hadir dalam majlis itu. Siapa gerangan Aminuddin Baki yang disebut-sebut itu sehinggakan banyak institusi yang memakai namanya? Bermulalah penggalian beliau akan diri tokoh yang dikatakan amat berjasa kepada sistem pendidikan negara itu.
Pengabdian diri Rozeman keluar masuk arkib dan perpustakaan menemukan beliau dengan pelbagai dokumen yang memukau minatnya. Semua bahan itu berkaitan sumbangan Aminuddin berupa artikel, syarahan, catatan, gambar, sijil dan yang paling autentik adalah buku harian saku milik Aminuddin antara 1961 - 65 dan diari peribadi beliau yang juga catatan perjalanannya ke United Kingdom.
Kebanyakan buku dan tulisan yang ditemui Rozeman sebelum ini tentang Aminuddin lebih tertumpu kepada aspek agenda pendidikan yang diperjuangkan oleh tokoh pendidikan itu. Hal peribadinya, latar belakang keluarganya dan kehidupannya yang membentuk jati dirinya hampir tidak ada sama sekali.
Rozeman pun menukar arah penggaliannya daripada arkib dan perpustakaan kepada kampung halaman Aminuddin di Chemor, Perak menemui ahli keluarga dan saudara mara Allahyarham. Demikianlah bermulanya projek penulisan buku Biografi Aminuddin Baki: Arkitek Pendidikan Negara yang baru saja diterbitkan. Rozeman menyodorkan buku barunya ini kepada saya dua hari lalu.
Aminuddin Baki lahir di sebuah perkampungan Mandailing di Chemor, Perak. Keluarganya, orang Mandailing berasal dari Sumatera dan Aminuddin dibesarkan dalam sebuah keluarga tujuh adik beradik. Beliau mendapat pendidikan awal dalam suasana sekolah atap dan mengikuti kelas agama Islam sebelah petang dan malam di bawah bimbingan Ustaz Dahlan.
Sekolah Anderson di Ipoh kemudian memberi tempat kepada Aminuddin menduduki Special Malay Class. Sepanjang belajar di Sekolah Anderson, Aminuddin mengayuh basikal sejah 20 km tiap hari antara Chemor dengan Ipoh.
Kedatangan tentera Jepun telah menghantar pula beliau ke Sekolah Convent, Jalan Gopeng di Ipoh bagi mempelajari Kamigayo, iaitu pelajaran bahasa Jepun sehingga melayakkan beliau menjadi guru bahasa Jepun.
Kemudian Aminuddin menjalani latihan perguruan di Hyoin Yosei Jo, di Brewster Road. Di sinilah Aminuddin mula akrab dengan tokoh-tokoh pendidikan lain seperti Hamdan Sheikh Tahir dan Abdullah Ayob. Dalam kalangan teman-teman akrabnya, Aminuddin dikenali dengan sikap dirinya yang jujur, mempunyai keazaman tinggi, berprinsip dalam tindakannya dan berpegang kuat dengan mengamalkan setiap ajaran Islam.
Selepas tamat perang, Aminuddin kembali menyambung pengajian dan memperoleh School Certificate pada 1946 dan menyambung pengajian di Raffles College, dan kemudian ke Universiti Malaya, Singapura. Dalam masa itu juga Aminuddin menimba pengalaman menjadi guru dengan mengajar di Anglo-Malay Evening School di Singapura antara 1949-1951.
Bersama Abdullah Majid, Aminuddin mengaturkan pelbagai kelas bahasa Inggeris untuk anak-anak Melayu di beberapa tempat di Singapura dengan Aminuddin sendiri mengajar di Sekolah Telok Belangah. Selain seorang pemidato dalam bahasa Melayu yang baik, Aminuddin boleh bertutur dengan fasih dalam bahasa Inggeris, Jepun, Cina dan Arab.
Dalam biografi ini sikap bencikan sistem penjajah amat kental pada diri Aminuddin. Beliau dipetik berkata "Saya tidak tahan lebih lama lagi menuntut di sekolah penjajah, saya tidak mahu menjadi anak jajahan. Bagaimana saya boleh belajar dengan sistem pelajaran penjajah sekarang ini? Bagaimana saya boleh menimba ilmu dari perigi yang kotor?"
Aminuddin bertekad melanjutkan pengajiannya di Universitas Gadjah Mada di Indonesia. Beliau mahu menjadi pelajar Melayu pertama di universiti tersebut. Sahabat beliau, Abdullah Hussain memberi nasihat kepada Aminuddin, "Memang benar perigi itu kotor, tetapi di dasar perigi itu ada mutiara. Apa salahnya kalau saudara menyelam mengambil mutiaranya tanpa menggunakan airnya yang kotor itu? Walaupun tubuh saudara akan kotor tetapi mutiara yang saudara peroleh di dasarnya dapat membersihkan kotoran itu."
Bakat kepimpinan Aminuddin jelas apabila ketika baru berusia 20 tahun beliau menubuhkan dan memimpin Persatuan Pelajar-Pelajar Melayu Insaf (PERMI) di Ipoh pada April 1946. Beliau memperkenalkan perjuangan PERMI dengan slogan "Belajar terus belajar!"
PERMI yang diterajui Aminuddin kemudian berjaya menghimpunkan pemimpin pelajar Melayu dari seluruh Semenanjung pada 14 dan 15 Ogos 1948 bagi menubuhkan Gabungan Pelajar-pelajar Melayu Semenanjung (GPMS).
Aminuddin tidak menerima pelantikan sebagai Yang Dipertua GPMS yang pertama, tetapi selepas itu beliau dilantik dua kali menerajui GPMS. Kepimpinan GPMS terpaksa ditinggalkan oleh Aminuddin apabila beliau menerima Queen Scholarship bagi melanjutkan pelajarannya di peringkat sarjana di London. Beliau kemudian dilantik menjadi Penasihat GPMS sehinggalah beliau meninggal dunia.
Selepas pulang dari London, Aminuddin menjadi pensyarah di Sultan Idris Training College, Tanjong Malim. Pengalaman beliau dalam PERMI dan GPMS digunakannya bagi menggerakkan persatuan penuntut di SITC pula.
Ketika berusia 36 tahun pada 1961, Aminuddin merupakan pegawai kerajaan yang termuda dilantik sebagai Ketua Penasihat Pelajaran bagi Persekutuan Tanah Melayu. Beliau berusaha kuat memastikan bangsa Melayu berdiri sama tinggi dan duduk sama rendah dengan bangsa lain di Tanah Melayu.
Jawatan Ketua Penasihat Pelajaran bukanlah diterimanya tanpa cabaran dan salah satu ujian getir yang dilalui oleh Aminuddin ketika itu ialah dalam menghadapi mogok pelajar Sekolah Dato' Abdul Razak (SDAR) di Tanjong Malim yang menuntut penukaran guru besarnya. Mogok ini merebak sehingga selama satu setengah bulan sebelum SDAR diarah tutup.
Sebagai salah seorang yang menggubal Laporan Razak beliau memastikan wujudnya sekolah menengah aliran Melayu. Keputusan ini membuka laluan dan peluang yang luas kepada pelajar Melayu mendapat pendidikan tinggi di universiti. Bagi memajukan lagi perkhidmatan pendidikan negara, Aminuddin memujuk pegawai Melayu menyertai profesion perguruan. Antaranya termasuklah Abdul Rahman Arshad dan Murad Mohd. Nor yang kedua-duanya kemudian menjadi Ketua Pengarah Pelajaran.
Dasar Pelajaran Kebangsaan yang digubal seperti termaktub dalam Akta Pelajaran 1961 menjadikan tugas Aminuddin semakin berat. Beliau menyusun dan menggerakkan jentera pelajaran dengan amat berkesan. Beliau merancang beberapa dasar pelajaran dalam negara untuk digubal dan digunakan sebagai dasar pendidikan kebangsaan.
Dua cabaran yang diatasinya ialah bagi mewujudkan aliran Melayu peringkat sekolah menengah dan meyakinkan ibu bapa akan keupayaan anak-anak mereka maju dalam aliran Melayu yang ketika itu tidak diyakini akan dapat memberi peluang kerjaya yang baik.
Satu lagi sumbangan Aminuddin Baki yang penting ialah bagi mewujudkan aliran sains di sekolah menengah Melayu bagi memperbanyak lulusan aliran ini dalam kalangan anak Melayu pada peringkat yang lebih tinggi di universiti.
Usaha beliau ini telah berjaya melahirkan graduan Melayu daripada aliran Melayu dan aliran sains yang sebelum ini dinafikan oleh sistem pendidikan penjajah. Justeru, sesuailah jolokan 'Arkitek Pendidikan Negara' diberikan kepada beliau.
Secara keseluruhan, buku ini telah berjaya mendokumentasikan dengan lengkap sumbangan yang telah diberikan oleh Aminuddin dalam sistem pendidikan negara. Buku ini harus dibaca oleh setiap kita khususnya yang terlibat dalam profesion pendidikan dan perguruan.
Pada hari pertama bulan Ramadan bersamaan 24 Disember 1965 negara ini kehilangan puteranya yang muda dan banyak berjasa dalam bidang pendidikan. Aminuddin bin Baki meninggal dunia pada usia baru mencecah 39 tahun.
- ROOSFA HASHIM, Pensyarah
di Pusat Pengajian Umum,Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.
According to Arabian Business, all six GCC states have appeared among the top 60 countries in the world to do business in, according to a report published jointly by the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation (IFC).
Surprise, surprise. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have been named in a report as the best places in the region to do business.
A fortnight ago global financial markets took a beating when US investment bank Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy protection and Merrill Lynch agreed to be taken over, so news that the GCC is a good place for business couldn't have been better timed.
But despite being the bearer of good news, the report didn't fail to raise a few eyebrows with its rankings.
In an overview of the report Doing Business 2009, it's been revealed that Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are leading the pack when it comes to the best places to do business. Qatar comes in third followed by the UAE in fourth place. Kuwait and Oman are last on the list.
According to the report, the economies have been ranked on their ease of doing business. The index averages the economy's percentile rankings on 10 topics, made up of a variety of indicators giving equal weight to each topic.
They include setting up business, dealing with construction permits, employing workers, registering property, getting credit, protecting investors, paying taxes, trading across borders, enforcing contracts and closing a business.
The data accumulated covers the period from June 2007 to June this year.
But after speaking to contractors and developers working in the region, Construction Week learnt that most have called the report "inaccurate."
Can Saudi Arabia really be the easiest place to do business?
"The UAE is the easiest place to do business," said Haytham Al Tajir, chairman of a Dubai-based development firm, Al Tajir Real Estate.
"Nowhere else even comes close. We have property all over the Gulf and I have to say, the UAE is the fastest and quickest place to conduct business. I don't agree with the report."
Some GCC states faired better than the others under different topics.
To start a business based on the procedures, time and cost involved and minimum capital required, Qatar came out tops followed by Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, UAE and then Kuwait.
Bahrain topped the list for least procedures, time and cost required for acquiring construction permits, with Qatar and UAE following close behind. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman came in after, in that order.
But Belgian construction firm Six Construct general manager Philippe Dessoy who is currently working on projects in the UAE, Qatar and Oman expressed his doubts over the report and said that if any place was easy to work in, it would have to be the UAE.
"Acquiring construction permits anywhere in the region is difficult. In fact, it's a nightmare, so I wouldn't rate any place higher than the other," he said.
Saudi Arabia was named first with regards to having the least procedures, time and cost to register property followed in order by Bahrain, UAE, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait.
With recent scandals in the UAE involving some developers attempting to cancel already sold-out projects coupled with many high profile arrests on alleged charges of bribery and embezzlement, it comes as no surprise that the UAE was last on the list for best places for investor protection.
Kuwait topped this list followed by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar.
Kuwait came in as number one again for the least procedures, time and cost required to enforce contracts. Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, and UAE followed in that order.
Despite Saudi Arabia topping the list on the whole, it came in last in this category.
The ease of pulling out or closing shop again saw the UAE come in last with Bahrain topping the category. Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait followed.
But Dahlia Khalida from the IFC and World Bank and co-author of the report said the rankings reflect reforms that have been made by these countries.
"The report is not recommending any country over another as best to do business in. It is based on the speed and level of reforms that have been made in these countries and Saudi Arabia has reformed the most."
"The UAE may still be the best place to do business in, but when based on the levels of reforms in the country, it is not among the top."
And the UAE is not beyond the need for reforms. Construction permits is an area that could do with some attention along with investor protection and contract enforcement.
Further, Rob Wagner, editor of Construction week wrote:-
While Saudi Arabia has reached out to Western businesses for trade and has brought contractors and developers to Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam, there remains much work to truly make the country a relatively friendly place to do business.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle is the lack of codified laws. The Kingdom only recognises Shariah as the law of the land.
That means little to Western companies that want to be protected if disputes arise. Most business and labour regulations are issued through a royal decree. Commercial courts have been established since the founding of the country, but commercial disputes are generally settled by two Shariah judges and one legal adviser. Decisions by this committee can be appealed to the Ministry of Commerce.
In addition, non-Saudis are not permitted to act as commercial agents. If a non-Saudi wants to open a business he or she is required to have a Saudi sponsor. Another obvious impediment to doing business in Saudi Arabia is the requirement that all women must be accompanied to the Kingdom by a male guardian, such as a father or brother or even a son. There is a large segment of independent businesswomen who could do well in Saudi Arabia, but are excluded due to guardianship issue.
There are other issues that would take an entire issue of Construction Week to address: Wasta, the mind-numbing bureaucracy, poor infrastructure that in many cases make large projects virtually impossible to get off the ground, and the lack of coordination between various ministries.
It also should be noted that the World Bank's report is not entirely glowing in its praise for Saudi Arabia.
While positive reforms have been implemented, the report notes that no progress has been made in issuing construction permits, employing workers, obtaining credit, paying taxes (there are no taxes in Saudi Arabia) and enforcing contracts.
Yes, much has improved, but Saudi Arabia has a long road to hoe before it becomes the most business friendly.
mencorak hitam, putih, kelabu
dan warna-warna musim perantauan
yang melebarkan perspektif jiwa
tentang rindu dari kehilangan
waktu, jarak dan ruang
sebagai musafir yang menumpang
asing kemeriahan suasana
Di sana jauh kehidupan berlalu
mengisi imej, wajah, peristiwa
dan langkah-langkah perjuangan
yang menyingkap memori manis
mengepung sentimental secebis emosi
kasih, sayang dan kebahagiaan
sebagai anak yang digamit pulang
lambaian kampung kelahiran
Kehidupan kita merentas benua
menjejak bumi semakin mendatar
bersama bulan, bintang dan mentari
tetap berputaran mengikut paksi
mungkin esok, mungkin lusa
sekiranya itu destini perjalanan
kita tidak lagi berhutang jasmani
dengan janji yang sering dimungkiri
Lantas syawal yang tiba
sehening takbir memecah fajar
jadilah kita insan kerdil yang tawakal
mengadap dan berharap
ramadan telah mengembalikan
kekudusan dalam usia tersisa
agar rohani tercalar tidak tersesat
sebelum tiba waktu itu
di destinasi nafas terakhir!