The fatwa hotline: ‘We have heard everything’

Hamida Ghafour writes: Sheikha Naeema lifts her glass to take a sip of water, but the large grey telephone on her desk blinks again, red and insistent. It is only 9am and she has already spoken to 11 callers. The woman on the other end of the line is in distress.

“Peace be upon you, blessings be upon you,” Sheikha Naeema says in a soothing tone. The woman tells her she has given birth twice and that both babies were stillborn. Now she is pregnant again. Her doctor has said the foetus is showing signs of severe complications and will probably die. The woman wants to know if Islam will permit her to have an abortion. After clarifying a few other details, Sheikha Naeema issues a fatwa. “If the foetus is severely ill and will not survive, you may have an abortion,” she tells the woman. “You must take advice from your physician, he will guide you. Religion does not conflict with medicine.”

She explains that abortion is allowed under certain circumstances: within 120 days, or 17 weeks after conception if doctors believe the baby has life-threatening defects. The fatwa – a non-binding religious ruling – is justified on the basis of a hadith, a saying attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, which states that at 120 days a baby is given a soul, or spirit. When Sheikha Naeema finishes the call, she swivels in the office chair and makes a note. “Normally it’s quiet on Thursday mornings,” she says.

We are in the small, cramped office of the fatwa hotline on the eighth floor of the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments in Abu Dhabi, better known by its Arabic acronym, the Awqaf. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

$1.3 billion of weapons flowing from Europe to Middle East

The Guardian reports: Eastern European countries have approved the discreet sale of more than €1bn of weapons in the past four years to Middle Eastern countries that are known to ship arms to Syria, an investigation has found.

Thousands of assault rifles such as AK-47s, mortar shells, rocket launchers, anti-tank weapons and heavy machine guns are being routed through a new arms pipeline from the Balkans to the Arabian peninsula and countries bordering Syria.

The suspicion is that much of the weaponry is being sent into Syria, fuelling the five-year civil war, according to a team of reporters from the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) and the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).

Arms export data, UN reports, plane tracking, and weapons contracts examined during a year-long investigation reveal how the munitions were sent east from Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Montenegro, Slovakia, Serbia and Romania.

Since the escalation of the Syrian conflict in 2012, the eight countries have approved €1.2bn (£1bn) of weapons and ammunition exports to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey – key arms markets for Syria and Yemen. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Gulf states guarding their interests in Saudi-Iran rift

iran-saudi

The New York Times reports: For all the diplomatic dominoes that have fallen across the Middle East in recent days, with ambassadors from different countries flying home as a result of the explosive rift between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the map of allegiances has not significantly altered.

Certainly, several countries offered muscular shows of solidarity to Saudi Arabia after an Iranian mob attacked its embassy in Tehran over the weekend, prompting a crisis that has put the United States in a bind and has threatened to set back the prospects for a resolution to the conflict in Syria.

By Tuesday, Kuwait had recalled its ambassador to Iran, the United Arab Emirates had downgraded its diplomatic relationship, and Bahrain and Sudan had joined Saudi Arabia in severing its relationship with Tehran entirely.

Yet many other Sunni Muslim countries signaled that they intended to take a more measured approach to the argument — sympathizing with Saudi Arabia, a rich and powerful ally, but also determined to avoid getting sucked into a harmful conflict with Iran, a country governed by Shiite clerics, with potentially grave costs.

“The smaller Gulf states are worried they will get caught in the middle,” said Michael Stephens, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London. “It worries them greatly that things could go badly.”

Some countries, like Turkey, Egypt and Pakistan, are already battling their own domestic insurgencies. Others are keen to guard their strategic interests or to keep the door open to trade with Iran while there is a prospect of American sanctions being lifted.

Qatar, which shares with Iran access to the world’s largest natural gas field in the Persian Gulf, has yet to declare its hand. Oman has also been quiet, sticking to its longstanding position of neutrality on Saudi Arabia and Iran.

In Turkey, where senior officials have warned about the impact of the crisis on a “powder keg” region, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu offered his country’s services to help resolve the conflict peacefully. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

The mercenaries commanding UAE forces in Yemen

Middle East Eye reports: An Australian citizen is the commander of an elite UAE military force deployed in Yemen as part of the Saudi-led coalition, which human rights groups accuse of war crimes.

Mike Hindmarsh, 59, is a former senior Australian army officer who is publicly listed as commander of the UAE’s Presidential Guard.

The Presidential Guard is a unit of marines, reconnaissance, aviation, special forces and mechanised brigades, according to the US State Department website.

Hindmarsh oversaw the guard’s formation in early 2010 shortly after he took up his estimated $500,000-a-year, tax-free job in Abu Dhabi, where he reports directly to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan.

The Presidential Guard has been lauded for playing a key role in the Saudi-led coalition seeking to reinstall the exiled Yemeni government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Where is the outrage on David Cameron’s scandal in the Gulf?

Nicholas McGeehan writes: Whether it’s ‘cash for questions’ or ‘homes for votes’, there is often a tawdry quid pro quo at the heart of a good British political scandal. So it’s worth asking why there has not been more public outrage about explosive revelations that David Cameron was offered lucrative arms and oil deals for British businesses if he helped reign in the Muslim Brotherhood’s activities in the UK.

Leaked emails obtained by The Guardian revealed that in June 2012 the United Arab Emirates tried to influence the UK to take steps against the Muslim Brotherhood in return for keeping or getting lucrative contracts. The emails suggest that the UAE government is supremely confident of its ability to influence British policy, which in turn begs the wider question as to what the UK’s priorities are in the UAE, and the rest of the Gulf.

In 2013, during a Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry into the UK’s relationship with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, MP Rory Stewart quite reasonably asked whether there is any proof that the UK can exert a positive influence over its foreign allies, where governance and the rule of law are concerned. Increasingly, the behaviour of the UK suggests that a more pertinent question is whether the UK’s Gulf policy is actually strengthening repression and emboldening authoritarian rulers in the region. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

UAE accused of threatening to destabilise Tunisia for not acting in Abu Dhabi’s interests

Middle East Eye reports: The United Arab Emirates has threatened to destabilise Tunisia over concerns the country’s leadership is not serving the interests of Abu Dhabi, a senior Tunisian source told Middle East Eye.

Algerian officials warned their Tunisian counterparts in early November about an Emirati plan to interfere in their country, the source, who is a senior political figure in Tunisia, said on the condition of anonymity.

“The Algerian state has given an unambiguous warning that the UAE seeks to interfere with Tunisian security,” the source said. “They [the Algerians] were very unambiguous and said that they [the UAE] may try to destabilise Tunisia as it is at the moment.”

The Tunisian source said the message was communicated to them by a “source close to the palace” in Algeria. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Outsourcing war: UAE secretly sends hundreds of Colombian mercenaries to fight in Yemen

The New York Times reports: The United Arab Emirates has secretly dispatched hundreds of Colombian mercenaries to Yemen to fight in that country’s raging conflict, adding a volatile new element in a complex proxy war that has drawn in the United States and Iran.

It is the first combat deployment for a foreign army that the Emirates has quietly built in the desert over the past five years, according to several people currently or formerly involved with the project. The program was once managed by a private company connected to Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater Worldwide, but the people involved in the effort said that his role ended several years ago and that it has since been run by the Emirati military.

The arrival in Yemen of 450 Latin American troops — among them are also Panamanian, Salvadoran and Chilean soldiers — adds to the chaotic stew of government armies, armed tribes, terrorist networks and Yemeni militias currently at war in the country. Earlier this year, a coalition of countries led by Saudi Arabia, including the United States, began a military campaign in Yemen against Houthi rebels who have pushed the Yemeni government out of the capital, Sana.

It is also a glimpse into the future of war. Wealthy Arab nations, particularly Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the Emirates, have in recent years embraced a more aggressive military strategy throughout the Middle East, trying to rein in the chaos unleashed by the Arab revolutions that began in late 2010. But these countries wade into the new conflicts — whether in Yemen, Syria or Libya — with militaries that are unused to sustained warfare and populations with generally little interest in military service.

“Mercenaries are an attractive option for rich countries who wish to wage war yet whose citizens may not want to fight,” said Sean McFate, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and author of “The Modern Mercenary.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

The UAE’s disappeared: Economist who criticised government disappears after arrest

The Independent reports: When plain-clothes security officers arrested prominent Emirati economist, Dr Naser bin Ghaith, in Abu Dhabi they drove him to his home in Dubai which was then searched. He was bundled back into a car. That was the last time he was seen by his family.

Nearly three months later they still have no idea where he was taken, why he was arrested and what charges he may be facing. They are terrified of speaking to the press or raising his case with the authorities. There has been no official comment about his arrest. The authorities have not even confirmed that he has been arrested. Dr Bin Ghaith has joined the ranks of the UAE’s disappeared.

Speaking in Dubai, the Emirati activist Ahmed Mansoor told The Independent that “there are hundreds of others” who have similarly disappeared. “The authorities tell the family ‘Don’t worry, it will only be a matter of days, he will call you’.” But the days turn into weeks and sometimes months before a call comes. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Leaked UAE emails could threaten peace talks in Libya

The New York Times reports: The United Arab Emirates was shipping weapons to favored belligerents in Libya over the summer in violation of an international arms embargo while simultaneously offering a highly paid job to the United Nations diplomat drafting a peace accord there, leaked Emirati emails show.

The leaked correspondence is threatening to undermine months of Libyan talks by tarring the diplomat with an apparent conflict of interest. The emails also open a new window into the hidden and contradictory machinations of regional players like the United Arab Emirates that have helped inflame the fighting even as their diplomats say they support a peaceful solution.

“The fact of the matter is that the U.A.E. violated the U.N. Security Council Resolution on Libya and continues to do so,” Ahmed al-Qasimi, a senior Emirati diplomat, wrote in an email on Aug. 4 to Lana Nusseibeh, the United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to the United Nations. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

UAE threatened UK: Crack down on Muslim Brotherhood or lose arms deals

The Guardian reports: The United Arab Emirates threatened to block billion-pound arms deals with the UK, stop inward investment and cut intelligence cooperation if David Cameron did not act against the Muslim Brotherhood, the Guardian has learned.

Internal UAE government documents seen by the Guardian show that the crown prince of Abu Dhabi was briefed to complain to the prime minister about the Muslim Brotherhood in June 2012, when one of its leading members, Mohamed Morsi, became Egyptian president.

In the briefing notes it was suggested that the crown prince demand Cameron rein in BBC coverage.

In return, Cameron was to be offered lucrative arms and oil deals for British business which would have generated billions of pounds for the jet divisions of BAE Systems and allowed BP to bid to drill for hydrocarbons in the Gulf.

A second set of papers from 2014 reveal that the UK’s ambassador to the UAE was warned by Khaldoon al-Mubarak – best known in Britain as chairman of Manchester City football club but also the right-hand man of the crown prince – that the UAE was still unhappy and that a “red flag” had been raised about the British government’s indifference to the Brotherhood’s operation.

The warning delivered to Dominic Jermey said the trust between the two nations “has been challenged due to the UK position towards the Muslim Brotherhood” because “our ally is not seeing it as we do: an existential threat not just to the UAE but to the region”. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Extreme heatwaves could push Gulf climate beyond human endurance, study shows

The Guardian reports: The Gulf in the Middle East, the heartland of the global oil industry, will suffer heatwaves beyond the limit of human survival if climate change is unchecked, according to a new scientific study.

The extreme heatwaves will affect Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha and coastal cities in Iran as well as posing a deadly threat to millions of Hajj pilgrims in Saudi Arabia, when the religious festival falls in the summer. The study shows the extreme heatwaves, more intense than anything ever experienced on Earth, would kick in after 2070 and that the hottest days of today would by then be a near-daily occurrence.

“Our results expose a specific regional hotspot where climate change, in the absence of significant [carbon cuts], is likely to severely impact human habitability in the future,” said Prof Jeremy Pal and Prof Elfatih Eltahir, both at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, writing in the journal Nature Climate Change.

They said the future climate for many locations in the Gulf would be like today’s extreme climate in the desert of Northern Afar, on the African side of the Red Sea, where there are no permanent human settlements at all. But the research also showed that cutting greenhouse gas emissions now could avoid this fate. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

UAE: Where rape victims routinely get jailed

BBC News reports: In the United Arab Emirates, migrant women are routinely jailed for having sex outside marriage. Desperate to leave the country, one Filipina maid who was raped found a dramatic way to escape.

There wasn’t much in the village Monica left behind. No clinic, no school, no street lights – just a crossing of dirt roads and a few concrete houses roofed with tin. What really troubled her, though, was the lack of prospects.

She had three young children and a husband who barely made enough to feed them. If she could work in the Gulf for even a few years, she thought, perhaps she’d be able to give those kids a different kind of life.

It took 10 hours for the bus to reach the capital of the Philippines, Manila. There, Monica signed up to an employment agency and flew to the United Arab Emirates, where she began work as a maid for an Emirati family.

The malls and skyscrapers of Dubai and Abu Dhabi were a world away from the rural poverty of her village, and at first Monica was excited to have a job. Gradually, though, she began to miss her children, and to feel ground down by the drudgery of the work and the meanness of her employers. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail