Saturday, January 28, 2006

To be a Muslim or not to be

When Muslims from India to Europe boycott products from Denmark in protest at racist and disrespectful caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper then something is rotten in the state of Islam.

Although the drawings are, to say the least in bad taste, there are more pressing issues to protest and there are more unjust countries to boycott.
What about Israel and all its allies that have always ignored the Palestinian tragedy for quite a while. What about the US that has boycotted Iraq, impoverished its population, bombarded it and invaded it. What about Libya, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and Iran where human rights violations are rife.

I guess after 58 years of boycotts, peaceful and violent protests, wars, diplomacy, peace talks, revolutions and counter-revolutions and guerilla warfare that have amounted to nothing, protesting a few caricatures and getting an apology from a European government is a great victory.

Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders can always get a little prickly when it comes to their sacred icons, but a few drawings in far away Denmark? What is that all about? Why are they giving these racists so much publicity.
It is exactly what happened to Ayatollah Khomeiny who made a very rich celebrity out of a pedantic author like Salman Rushdie.

It seems that there is a general Muslim state of bankruptcy and depression. A feeling of inferiority that can only be reversed by violence and protest at the slightest insult.

"Why do they hate us?" can be asked by every US think tank and populist politician and the problem will not be solved until they start asking themselves "why have we hated them for so long?"

Indeed, the colonial history of Europe, the thirst for oil of the West and its pro-Israeli and anti-nationalist policies have certainly played the most important role in destroying the natural development of many Arab and Muslim states.

All secular leaders that wanted to develop their nations were either fought or removed at crucial times in the history of their states. Remember Nasser in Egypt or Mossadegh in Iran.

The US and Europe encouraged the expansion of Islamism during the cold war in all Arab countries and the protests against worthless drawings, the fatwas against words and even the suicide bombings have their origins in short-term and unjust Western foreign policies.

With active encouragement from the US, it was Saudi oil backed capital that permitted the expansion of hardline Islam throughout the world. And the country of the Saud family and their Wahhabi allies have always been under the military and political aegis of the US.

16 years after the end of the Soviet empire, the US and its allies are tasting the poison they had fed to the communists. And everyday this poison becomes more lethal.

Indeed, Jyllands-Posten editor Carsten Juste received several death threats after he published the cartoons last September and hired bodyguards to protect his journalists. The two cartoonists were forced to go into hiding.

Ending the injustices in the Middle East is the best way to fight fundamentalism. US troops should leave Iraq and the UN Security Council should pressure Israel to implement all UN resolutions concerning it.
After that Jyllands-Posten can publish again the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse, portray him as a middle-aged prophet standing in the desert with a walking stick in front of a donkey and a sunset or draw him with a bushy grey beard and holding a sword, his eyes covered by a black rectangle, and nobody would really care not even Bin Laden if he were still alive.

A brief note on Hamas

The victory of Hamas in the Palestinian territories is good for Israel and bad for the Palestinians.

As far as Israel is concerned Hamas will certainly not create settlements in Tel Aviv, order its air force to bomb Haifa, nor build a wall in Israeli territory and tear families apart.

Having won the elections, Hamas fell into a trap. From now on Hamas is responsible towards Israel and the international community. And any wrong move could surely result in the isolation and annihilation of the Palestinian Authority.

Israel and the US, although publicly weary, got Hamas were they want it. Azmi Bechara, the Israeli-Arab legislator, wrote in As Safir that without the very strong objections of Israel and the US on the Hamas candidates, the fundamentalist party would never have gotten this large a majority.

The only fear is for the moderates in Palestine. Although Hamas does not have a sufficient majority to change the constitution to turn Palestine into an Islamic Republic, it could impose its values on everything from education to public appearance.

The territories could be brought back to the middle ages and nothing could bring the Palestinians out of their misery. And unlike Saudi Arabia where oil compensates for the ignorance and worthless education of the majority of its people, Palestine only relies on the wits of its citizens.

Hamas is no enlightened Islamic party, Hamas is not even Iran where Shiisme encourages thought and discussion, no Hamas is the Taliban.

Friday, January 27, 2006

A tennis champion with Lebanese roots is born

Unseeded tennis player Marcos Baghdatis, a Cypriot with Lebanese roots, will meet world No.1 Roger Federer in the Australian Open final on Sunday. [He lost...better luck next time].

The 54th-ranked Baghdatis, a 250-1 long shot at the start of the tournament, upset fourth-seeded Argentine David Nalbandian in the semi-finals. Baghdatis is trying to become the first unseeded player to win the tournament since Mark Edmondson in 1976.
Baghdatis is a wonderfully ebullient character who radiates

immense enjoyment whenever and wherever he plays, and in Melbourne he has acquired a loyal throng of fans who roar his every winning point.

"I feel like I am at home," Baghdatis, 20, said to an Australian newspaper. "I have 21 cousins here from my Lebanese father's side and I have uncles here too. I love the atmosphere and I love the fans. They are crazy and make me feel very, very comfortable. They help me play my best tennis and feel really confident."

[Al Anwar newspaper wrote on Saturday 28 January 2006 that Christos Baghdatis, Marcos' father, is from Tripoli and that his original family name is Baghdadi. Christos, who lives in Limassol, told the paper that the family along with Marcos will visit Lebanon soon.(].

Baghdatis, who started playing aged five, was packed off to a French boarding school to develop his game when he was 14 under an Olympic Solidarity scholarship.

His tough on-court mentality was shaped by this parting from his family and particularly his mother Androulla, highly unusual in the close-knit communities of Lebanon and Cyprus.

"He has sacrificed everything -- his parents, his life here," says Simon Aynedjian, the Cyprus over 35 and over 45 champion.

"I've seen him with his mother, and how affectionate and lovey-dovey they are. He misses it, he has given everything for the game."

He has a younger sister, Zena, and two older brothers who also played Davis Cup for their country. His girlfriend (see picture) is called Camille.

However, The military draft could wreck the tennis player's career if army chiefs on the east Mediterranean island decide to call him up, and his family says the uncertainty is affecting his game.

Not that you would guess from his performances at the Australian Open.

After his extraordinary run at the tournament, Baghdatis is the talk of both Lebanon and Cyprus, countries with virtually no tradition in tennis.

Unfortunately for the unseeded 20-year-old it is virtually impossible to dodge the draft in Cyprus, with all males aged over 18 having to spend 26 months in the armed services.

"We are pleading with the military to give him exemption from the army... they should at least inform him that he will not have to do the army until he is 35. But they are not willing to do that," Baghdatis's Lebanese father Christos was quoted as saying by the Cyprus Mail.

"He is constantly being given postponements from the Ministry of Defense regarding his draft. It is in itself a worry for our son."

Josh's Freudian Slip

Joshua "I love Assad" Landis wrote: "Part of the reason for Frist’s tough words is that Rafiq Hariri has been in Washington to meet President Bush. Yesterday he spoke at the Woodrow Wilson Institute in Washington DC. I couldn't make his talk as I was speaking at the Middle East Institute in DC at the time and then at Georgetown University with many other Syrianists, in what turned out to be an interesting series of panels organized by Michael Hudson and the Arab Studies Center."

Dear Josh,

Although Rafiq Hariri is dead and the person who was in Washington and at the Woodrow Wilson Institute was his son Saad, your Freudian slip makes perfect sense.
Maybe the Syrian regime should adopt your line and not only deny that they killed Hariri but also deny that he is dead.
The Syrian mukhabarat should start spreading rumours that Rafic Hariri was seen eating falafels at Sahyoun in downtown Beirut.
And he was even seen in Israel at Lahd's restaurant.
Josh you are a genius. Bashar Assad should have invited you to attend the Arab Lawyer's conference. You could have clapped for him in Damascus instead of Washington DC and shouted at the top of your voice "I saw Rafic Hariri in Washington...He ain't dead...Assad you're a can bring people back from the dead".

Take Care

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Good Americans

“Do you live in a tent?” was a question American kids always asked the children of Marijean Boueri , Jill Boutros, Joanne Sayad, Tatiana Sabbagh during their summers in the U.S..
This question prompted these three American ladies living in Beirut to author “Lebanon A to Z, A Middle Eastern Mosaic”, a beautifully illustrated children’s book exalting everything positive about our country.
Tatiana Sabbagh, a Russian lady married to a Lebanese, painted the portraits gracing the book from cover to cover.
The content and writing style are simple and rich in facts about archaeology, religions, geography, food, traditions, lifestyle, music and many other themes that truly capture what is great about Lebanon.

The authors wrote about very diverse subjects that portray our small country well, including chapters on “kaak” bread in which they say that the Lebanese think that “zaatar” (wild thyme) enhances the abilities of the mind, and on Gebran Khalil Gebran who was quoted by President John F. Kennedy when he said: “'Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country”.
The book, a celebration of Lebanon's diversity, culture and history, is most valuable for Lebanese immigrants wishing to implant the seeds of Lebanon inside their children.
Although the title makes it sound like another guide which is not the case, the hardback should be present in every Lebanese child’s library. And in case his (or her) foreign buddies come up with ignorant clichés about his roots, he will have a most valuable tool to convince them otherwise.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Shakira for President!

The Lebanese-Colombian singer Shakira has an IQ of 140, according to the New York “Village Voice”, making her, along with Madonna, the smartest woman in show business today.
“A pro since she was 14 and a Latin American teen idol before the Backstreet Boys hit the Hot 100, 28-year-old Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll was only 21 when she conceived a career move more ambitious than Christina Aguilera herself has ever dared: to learn English so she could dye her hair blond and take her art to the next level,” wrote Robert Christgau in the Voice.(,christgau,71724,22.html)

Sexy, Brainy, talented and rich! Forget Aoun, (Nassib) Lahoud or Harb, we want President Shakira.

President Shakira will solve many issues:
1- Every diplomat will surely visit her and spend more time with her than with the Speaker of the Parliament or the Prime Minister.
2- Gulf Arabs will invest all their money in Lebanon just for an audience and a dance from the President.
3- Bashar Assad will surely improve relations with Lebanon.
4- Hezbollah will drop their weapons after the President threatens Sayed Hassan Nasrallah to visit him at his headquarters in her stage clothes.
5- The LBC weather person will stop greeting the viewers with "bonsoir", instead he would start by saying: "Que Passa, Hombres?"

Viva Shakira!

The Ambition of Nagib Mikati

The very ambitious Nagib Mikati might think that his time has come, especially after the Saudi spat with Saad Hariri and PM Fouad Seniora over their refusal of the initiative to improve the relations between Lebanon and Syria.
Mikati is presenting himself as a moderate politician that can be relied upon to lead the Sunni community in Lebanon with Saudi backing.
And now that he is loaded with cash after he took his company, Investcom, public, he is ready to spend some of it on his political future.

As a first step ex-Prime Minister Mikati, a telecom tycoon and a close friend of Bashar Assad, recruited Joseph Samaha, Editor in Chief of As Safir, to head his new daily.

Samaha, an ex-communist and a supporter of Hezbollah will be joined by Ibrahim Al Amin, the pro-Hezbollah journalist, as managing editor.

Faycal Salman, the brother of Talal Salman who owns As Safir, had reported that a group of Shiite investors intended to found a newspaper, apparently Mikati has joined them.

Mikati's project to conquer the Prime Minister's throne has just begun. Can Hariri Jr. stop him?

May Chidiac to the Rescue?

The political end of the 14th of March parliamentary dominance is on the horizon. And they know it, this is why Saad Hariri, Walid Jumblat and Samir Geagea are looking to present a vote proof candidate such as May Chidiac, who lost her arm and her leg to a bomb placed under her car last year, or Dori Chamoun, the Christian leader.

After legislator Edmond Naim’s natural death, a very important election in the districts of Baabda and Alley will take place to replace him. The results of the contest could deal a great blow to the majority’s dominance that brought the current government.

Indeed, the 14th of March alliance got its current status in parliament thanks to the 11 parliamentarians from the region of Baabda-Alley, especially after the backing of Hezbollah.

Even if they lose the contest for this Maronite seat, the alliance will still hold a physical majority in parliament, but Hezbollah and Aoun would have proven that it is not legitimate and that will certainly lead to early general elections based on a new electoral law.

Now that the electoral alliance between Hezbollah, Hariri and Jumblat ended after sharp political disagreements emerged, Hezbollah is expected to back Michel Aoun’s candidate and prove that the current parliamentary majority is but a mirage.

The LF being an important member of the 14th of March, had chosen Naim as their candidate last fall, and their leader, Geagea announced that they will choose another candidate to replace him.

Aoun, who is in the opposition, said that he will also choose his candidate, which will probably be Hikmat Deeb.

Only TV presenter May Chidiac, a supporter of the LF, or Dori Chamoun, whose supporters are mainly located in the district, could present a challenge to the Aoun-Hezbollah electoral alliance. The only problem is that although originally Maronite, Chidiac became an Orthodox after her marriage.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Swiss Banks stops dealings with Syria and Iran

News agencies and newspapers reported today that Union de Banques Suisses (UBS) stopped all its transactions with companies and individuals from Syria and Iran.(Credit Suisse followed UBS and probably other Western banks will also soon).
One of the largest banks in the world, UBS said yesterday that it has stopped doing business with Iran and very soon with Syria to.

UBS will no longer deal with individuals, companies or state institutions from Iran. A similar policy is also being implemented in the case of Syria, he said.
All existing business with customers in Iran will be canceled, but Iranians in exile are not affected by the decision,

Iran has an estimated $50 billion in European banks and the Islamic Republic’s Central Bank governor said on Saturday that it will move its reserves quickly if it deems it necessary to do so.
UBS holds around $200 billion of assets from the region, especially from Gulf countries, according to a London-based wealth manager.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

UK financial authorities target star Lebanese banker

[2 March 2006 update: The FSA slapped both Philippe Jabre and GLG with a £750,000 fine, according to today's Independent newspaper]
[28 February 2006 update: French regulators are investigating Phillipe Jabre, as part of a wider insider trading probe of London-based hedge funds, The Wall Street Journal reported today.]
[20 February 2006 update: Phillippe Jabre reportedly quit as a director of GLG Partners.]

Philippe Jabre, the most successful Lebanese banker in the world today is being investigated by the Financial Services Authority (FSA) of the UK for profiting from privileged information on two occasions.
“Philippe has been made a scapegoat,” said George Asseily, a London based Lebanese banker, to the Sunday Times today.
Jabre, who co-owns GLG Partners, Europe's third-biggest hedge fund with $11.5 billion under management, is a major donor to educational institutions and humanitarian causes in Lebanon.
The verdict will be delivered at the end of the month and Jabre may be both fined and banned from trading in the City of London.

The Sunday Times wrote a full page story on Jabre in its business section today. Following is an excerpt:

"“PHILIPPE JABRE was born into a prominent Maronite Christian family in Lebanon on May 23, 1960. “His family owns land near Mt Lebanon,” said George Asseily, a Lebanese banker. “They owned a brewing business which they recently sold to Heineken.”

After studying at the American University of Beirut, Jabre earned an MBA from Columbia University in New York, trained at JP Morgan, then went to work for Banque Nationale de Paris in London. There he became an expert in trading an arcane species of bonds — bonds convertible into shares.

“Philippe was a star and a popular one,” said Neil Tunley, now an executive at the financial firm Charles River Development, who worked for him at BNP.

Jabre joined GLG as a partner two years after the hedge-fund group was founded in 1995. The firm was part of the first wave set up after the industry’s founding fathers, including George Soros and Warren Buffett, blazed a trail from the 1960s to the 1980s.

GLG’s three original partners are Noam Gottesman, 44, an Israeli-American whose family built a commodities business in Amsterdam, Pierre Lagrange, 43, a Belgian, and Jonathan Green, 42, a British broker trained at James Capel.

All three worked at Goldman Sachs in London from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s as brokers for private clients in Europe and the Middle East. In 1995, the three decamped after getting backing from rival Lehman Brothers to start their own business. “They left Friday. They were in business Monday. It was a long time before Goldman would do business with them,” said a former colleague.

Eventually, tensions abated. Goldman became one of GLG’s prime brokers. It did not hurt that Green is a personal friend and business partner of Michael Sherwood, the London-based co-chief executive of Goldman. Green and Sherwood are co- investors in Sepura, a digital-radio company, and Bane Corp, through which they lease private aircraft.

Like most hedge-fund businesses, GLG is based offshore and discloses no meaningful figures about sales, earnings or net value. And, as with most, it makes its money investing other people’s capital and charging clients an annual administration fee of 1%-2% of funds under management, then taking 20% of the profits it generates.

In the late 1990s GLG consistently earned double-digit returns for clients — partly on the back of Jabre’s Market Neutral fund. The fund, which is listed on the Dublin exchange, took hedged positions in convertible bonds.

Then in 2000 the three original partners plus Jabre formed a new company. The four men bought out all but 20% of the Cayman Islands-based parent firm and stuck the stakes in their personal offshore trusts.

The dotcom bust was bad for average investors. It was bad for most pension funds which got stuck holding shares in technology, phone and media companies — but it was good for hedge funds which beat the sinking stock and bond-market indexes.

Over the past five years the hedge-fund community has grown from fewer than 1,000 to 8,000 firms. Funds under management have doubled to £1,100 billion.

In November 2002 Vivendi Universal, the French media giant, was financially overstretched and desperately in need of cash. It employed the London arm of Germany’s Deutsche Bank to manage a sale of convertible bonds. Following industry practice, Deutsche canvassed hedge funds and other investors to get a sense of what size of a Vivendi convertible-bond issue would be digestible at what price. In the course of these conversations, a Deutsche banker spoke to Jabre and his counterparts at several other hedge funds.

The deal was successful. Vivendi has recovered from its financial emergency. But in the three days before the convertible-bond sale was launched Vivendi shares fell 14% as investors sold stock ahead of a dilution of their value as a result of new securities coming onto the market.

The French financial regulator AMF began investigating this fall in Vivendi’s share price. In January 2005 it issued a so-called notice of grievance against GLG and several other hedge funds. Its investigation continues.

TWO months later, more or less the same thing happened with GLG, Sumitomo, and the managers of the Japanese bank’s March 2003 stock sale. In addition to Goldman, the lead manager, Sumitomo also hired JP Morgan and Daiwa Europe to help out with the sale.

In the 1980s Sumitomo was a financial juggernaut. In 1986, when Goldman Sachs needed capital to expand, Sumitomo provided it, buying a 12% stake in the Wall Street firm. Then the Japanese economy imploded. Property values crashed and businesses defaulted. Sumitomo and most Japanese banks were stuck with billions in bad loans.

In the 1990s Japanese banks came under increasing government pressure to clean up their balance sheets. The government set a deadline for problems to be solved by March 31, 2003.

To meet this deadline, Sumitomo merged with another troubled Japanese bank and restructured. In January 2003 Goldman Sachs took a stake, buying $1.3 billion of the Japanese bank’s preferred stock convertible into ordinary stock.

Rumour in the City was that Sumitomo was planning a second sale of preferred stock convertible into common stock — this one on the open market. The talk resulted from soundings being taken by Goldman, JP Morgan and Daiwa Europe. Bankers at the three firms were speaking to London hedge funds to gauge interest in the deal.

The FSA has rules regarding such conversations. If a discussion between a hedge-fund manager and investment banker is vague enough, it is allowed. If, for instance, an investment banker tells a hedge-fund manager, “a large multinational corporate is thinking of doing something in the next few months. What would be your appetite?” that would not stop the hedge-fund manager from trading.

Hedge-fund managers could then try to guess which company was about to sell stocks or bonds and position themselves accordingly. If, on the other hand, an investment banker tells a hedge-fund manager, “Sumitomo is planning a $2.9 billion sale of preferred stock in March” that is privileged information. Passing on such information is not in itself illegal, but it cannot be acted on. In the City it is called “taking an investor over the wall”. Once taken “over the wall”, hedge-fund managers are not allowed to trade in the securities of a company about to do a deal. It is the February 24, 2003 conversation between GLG’s Jabre and Goldman’s London banker John Rustum about Sumitomo three weeks before the sale of its stock became public knowledge that is at the heart of the FSA investigation into GLG and its star trader. Making its case against Jabre and GLG, the FSA has reviewed transcripts of taped conversations. It has matched the time of these conversations with the time Jabre traded in Sumitomo securities. Buy and sell orders are recorded on electronic trading platforms and by tickets written by investors and brokers. In the February 24, 2003 conversation, the FSA’s investigators allege that Rustum supplied details on the forthcoming Sumitomo stock sale. Rustum then said to Jabre: “You’re over the wall,” meaning he could not trade Sumitomo securities until the sale was announced. FSA investigators told the regulator’s panel that Jabre replied: “I already have a position in Sumitomo.” The regulator’s investigators said Jabre then asked Rustum if he could adjust his pre-existing position in Sumitomo securities, and Rustum replied: “I’ll get back to you on that.” Lawyers for Jabre argued that GLG’s star trader took this to mean he had not been “taken over the wall” after all. So, when he dealt further in Sumitomo securities, he was not breaking the law. The FSA’s lawyers argued that, whatever the vagueness on Rustum’s part, Jabre was “over the wall”.

ON JANUARY 9 Jabre took leave from GLG, citing his knee injury and the need to marshal his defences against the FSA. Sources close to the regulator say the FSA’s regulatory decisions committee will issue its decision by the end of the month. The star hedge- fund trader could face a record fine and a bar from working in the City or he could be cleared. The FSA is also considering its decision about GLG. This may depend on how the firm itself deals with Jabre. There is speculation that GLG wants him to resign and sell his stake in the firm. Jabre’s friends are already rallying round. They believe he is a victim of the FSA’s desire to claim a high- profile scalp, and that his partners at GLG are willing to distance themselves from him to protect the firm. “Philippe has been made a scapegoat,” said the Lebanese banker Asseily. How the FSA handles the announcement of its finding will go a long way toward establishing the credibility of its investigation and the regulator’s reputation. It may also give an indication of whether the FSA sees the affair as a one-off or the first round in an ongoing effort to lift the lid on suspicions of insider trading among a circle of hedge-fund managers and investment bankers."

The Billion Dollar Wise Guy

Prince Talal Bin Abdel Aziz is outraged at the Lebanese who refused the Saudi initiative to end the tensions between Syria and Lebanon and he dismissed Walid Jumblat as a mercurial character.
He also asserted the superiority of the Saudis when he described the Lebanese in general derogatory terms. But he respected Hezbollah describing them as Jihadists and thought that Aoun has all the potential to become President.

Prince Talal is really enjoying undermining Saad Hariri. After all, late PM Rafic Hariri had humiliated the Prince’s son Waleed when the latter made his bid to take over Beirut politically.
And Prince Talal apparently can hold a grudge.
He remembered that Walid Jumblat had insulted his kingdom, his king, his son and least but not last, him and he surely remembered how Hariri broke Prince Waleed political raid on Lebanon.

Why else is this rich-but-unsatisfied-until-I-become-King Talal spreading his wisdom on the Lebanese situation all over newspapers and TV? Let him wise up some more and take his “liberalism” to his family that desperately needs it.

Next time, I suggest that if Prince T. has something to say about Lebanon, let it be positive. If not than let him stick his big nose in the affairs of his father’s kingdom, alternatively he can mail me a check.

"Defending Syria is..." writing proper English!

The banner behind Assad as he spoke today reads: "Defending Syria is National Right and Duty".
Who is Assad's sign writer? He should blow him up.
How credible are Assad's words if he says them under a flawed syntax.
I thought the tall-geeky-dictator was educated in London but then again he spoke of "treeessson" with Christiane Amanpour on CNN when he meant "treason".
His "I struck a deal with Kissinger and the Israelis to stay in power" dad stuck to Arabic, mini-Assad should instruct his mustachoid fans at the ministry of information to that effect.
In Beirut, the banner written in proper English would be:"Offending Assad is our National Right and our Duty."