Saturday, February 25, 2006

The not-so-clean United Arab Emirates?

In light of the controversy surrounding the purchase of Dubai Ports World of US ports operations, part of its £3.9 billion P&O acquisition, The Village Voice published the following stories that tie the UAE to the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden:

Don't jump to conclusions, but there are ties between the UAE, bin Laden, and the Taliban

by James Ridgeway
February 22nd, 2006 9:42 AM

WASHINGTON, D.C.—No matter what Bush and his supporters say, there is indisputable evidence of tight connections between the United Arab Emirates and leadership of both the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The country is the center of financial activity in the Persian Gulf, and has next to no laws controlling money laundering.Two of the hijackers came from the UAE and hijacker money was laundered through the UAE. The details are spelled out in documents in the government's case against Moussaoui.

The ties with bin Laden and the Taliban reach far back into the '90s. Prominent Persian Gulf officials, including members of the UAE royal family, and businessmen would fly to Kandahar on UAE and private jets for hunting expeditions, the Los Angeles Times reported in 2001. In addition to ranking UAE ministers, these parties included Saudi big wigs like Prince Turki, the former Saudi intelligence minister who now is ambassador to the U.S.

General Wayne Downing, Bush's former national director for combating terrorism, was quoted on MSNBC in September, 2003 saying, "They would go out and see Osama, spend some time with him, talk with him, you know, live out in the tents, eat the simple food, engage in falconing, some other pursuits, ride horses. One noted visitor is Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktum, United Arab Emirates Defense Minister and Crown Prince for the emirate of Dubai.''

Bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar joined the hunting parties, and there are suspicions Al Qaeda and Taliban personnel are smuggled out on returning flights.

Here is one report, sourced to the 9-11 Commission, appearing in Paul Thompson's 9-11 timeline:

"February 1999: Bin Laden Missile Strike Called Off for Fear of Hitting Persian Gulf Royalty. Intelligence reports foresee the presence of bin Laden at a desert hunting camp in Afghanistan for about a week. Information on his presence appears reliable, so preparations are made to target his location with cruise missiles. However, intelligence also puts an official aircraft of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and members of the royal family from that country in the same location. Bin Laden is hunting with the Emirati royals, as he did with leaders from the UAE and Saudi Arabia on other occasions (see 1995-2001). Policy makers are concerned that a strike might kill a prince or other senior officials, so the strike never happens. A top UAE official at the time denies that high-level officials are there, but evidence subsequently confirms their presence. (9-11 Commission Report, 3/24/04 (B))"

It remains a key center of operations for Victor Bout, the notorious arms dealer, with ties to Taliban and Al Qaeda. There were also ties to the infamous BCCI.

As the Financial Times put it, in the UAE, "Western fraud investigators may find a link here or a connection there, with a person suspected of breaking western laws. But in Dubai, and its neighbor Sharjah, trails tend to vanish like wind-blown tracks in desert sands . . . Secrecy keeps everyone guessing—and speculating . . . 'Medieval feudalism' is how one senior western banker described Dubai's style of government, 'with a veneer of 21st century regulations.' "

A Russian arms merchant funnels money, guns, and dope through the United Arab Emirates

by James Ridgeway
February 23rd, 2006 11:09 AM
by James Ridgeway

WASHINGTON, D.C.—To hear the administration and its supporters talk, you'd think the workers in New York ports are carefully vetted by the Waterfront Commission, the ports themselves protected by the ever watchful Coast Guard, and routinely surveilled by U.S. Customs.

In truth,one administration after another has slashed the operational capability of the Coast Guard. Reagan even contemplated its privatization by a major defense firm. As for the Customs Service, it inspects as little as 5 percent of the cargo going through the New York ports.

This is a dream setup for any arms or dope dealer, and that's exactly what the United Arab Emirates is all about.The ties between its top officials and royal family with the Taliban and Al Qaeda go back at least a decade.

The UAE is not only the center of financial dealings in the Persian Gulf, it is switching central for dope and arms dealing. The dope comes out of Afghanistan into the UAE where tax monies are collected and used to buy arms, which were sent back in for the Taliban. Some of this money is thought to have helped finance the 9-11 attacks. A money trail is set forth in the government's filings in the Moussaoui case.

Long at the center of this operation is the mysterious Russian arms dealer, Victor Bout. The U.N. has accused Bout of providing arms to brutal regimes in Sierra Leone,Angola and to Charles Taylor in Liberia. The Center for Public Integrity, a Washington, D.C. research organization that operates a network of foreign correspondents, published a report on Bout in January 2002, citing Belgian intelligence documents from before the 9-11 attacks it had obtained. These documents reportedly show Bout earned $50 million in profits from selling weapons to the Taliban after they came to power in the late 1990s. The Center states, "Another European intelligence source independently verified the sales, and intelligence documents from an African country in which Bout operates—obtained by the Center—claim that Bout ran guns for the Taliban 'on behalf of the Pakistan government.' " Peter Hain, the British Foreign Office Minister for Europe who has led the international effort to expose criminal networks behind the conflict diamonds and small arms trade in Africa, told the Center's reporters, it was clear that Bout's supply of weapons to the Taliban "and to its ally, Osama bin Laden" posed a real danger.

Der Spiegel, the German magazine, said in early January 2002 that Vadim Rabinovich, an Israeli citizen of Ukrainian origin, along with the former director of the Ukrainian secret service and his son sold a consignment of 150 to 200 T-55 and T-62 tanks to the Taliban. Spiegel said the deal was conducted through the Pakistani secret service and uncovered by the Russian foreign intelligence service, SVR, in Kabul, the Afghan capital. A Western intelligence source told the Public Integrity Center that Rabinovich's weapons had been airlifted by one of Bout's airfreight companies from his base in the UAE.

Rabinovich denied all this, and Bout said "For the record, I am not, and never have been, associated with Al Qaeda, the Taliban, or any of their officials, officers, or related organizations," Bout said, according to a copy of the statement released in the United States by one of his associates. "I am not, nor are any of my organizations, associated with arms traffickers and/or trafficking or the sale of arms of kind [sic] anywhere in the world. I am not, nor is any member of my family, associated with any military or intelligence organizations of any country."

No one is suggesting Bout has any great love for the radical Muslim fundamentalists of Taliban ilk. He sold guns to the Russians fighting the CIA-backed Afghan mujahideen in their war with the Soviet Union and to the warlords opposing the Taliban. His planes are registered to various companies all operating out of the United Arab Emirates.

In fact, the United Arab Emirates have been viewed as hub for trade going and coming to Afghanistan, with drugs coming from Afghanistan on their way to the West, and weapons from Bout, going back. While transportation was via Bout's different air cargo interests, it also involved the Afghan state airlines, called Ariana Airlines. The airline was controlled by Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda agents masquerading as Ariana employees flew out of Afghanistan, through Sharjah, one of the emirates, and on to points west.

During the late 1990s Bout's center of operations was Ostend, Belgium, but when he came under pressure there, he left Belgium. The UAE office grew in importance.

Bout used various air cargo outfits. One of them was called Flying Dolphin, which in the early 2000s was owned by Sheikh Adbullah bin Zayed bin Saqr al Nayhan, a former UAE ambassador to the United States and member of the ruling family in Abu Dhabi. He was described by the United Nations as a "close business associate of Bout." According to the December 20, 2000, U.N. report, Zayed's company is registered in Liberia, but its operations office is in Dubai.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Lahoud Swims in a Sea of Insults

MPs Atef Majdalani and Serge Torsarkissian at the protest tonight

"Swim Away Lahoud," is the most polite slogan that has been chanted and written in Martyr's square in the last two days.

Protesters are hurling insults at the President, whose favourite sport is swimming, live on Future TV and on LBC. And because such attacks are illegal, the Lebanese judiciary has issued arrest warrants against the protestors.

A number of MPs signed a petition claiming that they had voted for Lahoud's presidential extension in 2004 under Syrian threats and a popular petition demanding the resignation of the President is being signed in Martyr's square this evening.

MP Serge Torsarkissian, from the Hariri parliamentary bloc, said today that "Lahoud made us [the Lebanese people] hate swimming and politics". Last night a protestor said that if Lahoud should quit the presidency and start a swimming school, he would definitely not join it. Others chanted: "we want revenge from Lahoud and Bashar".

President Emile Lahoud is the target of a political and media campaign aiming to oust him. Up to this moment, Hezbollah and other pro-Syrian parties are the only ones clearly defending Lahoud.
Indeed, Syria and its allies consider Lahoud as a line of defence against the implementation of UN resolution 1559 which calls for the dismantling of armed militias in clear reference to Hezbollah and other Palestinian groups.

In the next couple of weeks, Walid Jumblat, Saad Hariri, Samir Geagea and their allies hope either to force Lahoud to resign or for Parliament to declare the 2004 constitutional extension to the Presidency illegal. But in order for such a bill to pass, two thirds of Parliament must vote for it.
The March 14 coalition are betting on Nabih Berri, the speaker of the Parliament and a Hezbollah ally, to dissent from his coalition and call on his MPs to vote in favour of this resolution.

The Maronite Patriarch does not object to Lahoud's removal as long as it does not lead to violent street protests, while General Michel Aoun, who is calling for a national dialogue on the Presidency, will only accept Lahoud's ouster if he is the next President.

So far, however, Riyadh Salameh, the Governor of the Central Bank, is the most likely candidate to the post in case Lahoud leaves.

A Joke of a Country

A few hours after landing in Beirut, I felt I was in a large hospital.

In Kuwait the constitutional crisis ended in a week, in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, with all their in-fighting, the transfer of power was smooth and refined.

Back home the leaders we have elected are taking the country to the brink of civil strife and economic disaster.

The problem is that their followers are plenty and each “tribe” claims that it is doing its duty towards Lebanon.

15 years of war and nothing has changed. 15 years of war and the new generation of Lebanese is taking the cause of the same old secterian leaders to heart.

The irresponsible breed of politicians hijacked the new Lebanon that we dreamt of on March 14. The Lebanon that would compete economically with Dubai has become a fantasy. The Lebanon, free of Syrian troops, is faltering under the overweight ambitions of its new masters.

Two hospital jokes that are making the rounds in Lebanon illustrate in a humorous way our predicament:

- Michel Aoun and Samir Geagea enter an asylum. The psychiatrist in charge asks Geagea who he is.
Geagea replies: “Jesus of course”.
The puzzled director then asks Aoun the same question. Aoun says: “First let me start by saying that Geagea is a liar. I barely know him and he is definitely not my son.”

- Hassan Nasralllah goes to the nativity ward of a hospital to visit his new born child. He sees an area with 10 babies and asks the doctor whether his kid is amongst them and the doctor replies that those are Christian babies.
Sayyed Hassan sees another group of 20 babies and asks whether his new born is present. But the doctor says that the babies are Sunnis and he takes him to an area with 800 babies and he points towards baby Nasrallah.
The happy Sayyed runs to him, holds him and tells him: “Googoo, gaagaa, inguerra, inguerra.”
Suddenly all 800 babies shout in unison with risen fists: “Googoo, gaagaa, inguerra, inguerra.”

Welcome to planet Lebanon where the grass is greener, the pockets emptier and the minds have emigrated!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Bogus Threat!

A fellow blogger claims that The Daily Star was "threatened by the Syrian Mukhabarat" .

The "From Beirut to the Beltway" blog says:

"According to the staff member, there is a disturbing reason why the Daily Star continues to publish Shaaban's pieces; one that might not strike you as surprising.

In early March [2005], after reviewing the Shaaban piece I mentioned above, the paper's editorial team decided against publishing it. A couple of weeks later, their managing editor received an early morning phone call at his home from a man who identified himself as a "member of the Syrian Mukhabarat" (Syrian intelligence).

The Syrian agent demanded to know why the Daily Star had not published the article.

According to my source, the managing editor asked the man how he had gotten his phone number.

"We have all the phone numbers and addresses of every journalist in Beirut," was his chilling response.

The Daily Star's management took the safe road and published the piece...".

What "From Beirut to the Beltway" forgot to mention is that the Daily Star sells copies in Syria on a daily basis and that as a newspaper it has to publish the opinions of all sides. Therefore I think that the claim is to say the least exaggerated if not totally bogus.

The Daily Star publishes Israeli writers and therefore Butheina Shaaban is as intitled to publish her opinion as any other columnist.

Furthermore, Shaaban's columns are also published in Asharq Al Awsat and many other Arab newspapers that have criticized Syria, and I do not think that "the Mukhabarat" threatened them. But most importantly late PM Rafic Hariri's Mustaqbal newspaper was publishing Shaaban's articles right up to September 2005.

Government officials and press attaches often call newspapers to publish the opinions of their officials and most of the times the newspapers oblige.

Finally, if the Syrians wanted to hurt the Daily Star they would have forbidden it from selling in Syria. And unlike An Nahar, which is forbidden from entering Syrian territory, the Daily Star is available on the same day.

Fear and Trembling

I believe in the total separation of religion and state and I believe first and foremost in humanity. Being a believer, an unbeliever or an agnostic is something very personal that should not regulate our reltionship with others or our respect of their religious convictions.

For a great many Lebanese who identify themselves as Christians in Lebanon it is either let us emigrate or let us “confederate”. For the other Lebanese who identify themselves as Shiites and Sunnis it is a contest of who is the largest sect and who will take power.

Leaders like Samir Geagea, Michel Aoun, Hassan Nasrallah, Walid Jumblat and Saad Hariri embody the desperation of the majority of our secterian population.

As an example, secterian Christians once loved Geagea for his idea of a Lebanese confederation but now they are not sure anymore because of his alliance with “the Sunnis and the Druze” and for his soft talk about a united Lebanon.

Those who identify themselves as Christians today love Aoun today for his aggressive ways. They feel that he is their will to power. He is saving them from 15 years of feeble and limited participation. He is their way to safety – to a confederation where they will not fear and they will not tremble.

Not that I feel sorry for Samir Geagea, after all he is a guilty murderer and a convict that will slowly but surely regress into his previous monstrous self and become a "Christian hero" once again.
His little bold head and his thin moustache have been popping up on LBC and Future for the last several weeks.
A criminal giving us moral lessons and political theories, Geagea sits comfortably in his heated Chalet in one of the most beautiful parts of our country, the Cedars, and wants to impose a new order on Lebanon.

As for Aoun, his talk of being non-sectarian is a sham. He wants to impose himself as "the leader of the Maronites" and if all else fails than confederation is not a bad idea, as one of his MPs said.

Geagea and Aoun are the products of a deep conviction among the secterian Christians that they have a different culture from their Muslim brothers, when in fact Lebanese moderates accidentally born into any sect are as close culturally as Muslim fanatics and racist secterian Christians are.

Political leaders use religious identity to boost their popularity and it works every time because the Lebanese love it.
Today every sectarian and religious identity is embodied in a leader but unfortunately they are all highly strung and they all serve a lofty purpose that contradicts the interest of 4 million Lebanese.

Moderates, intelligent and cultured politicians like Nassib Lahoud, Selim El Hoss, Hussein Al Husseini and Habib Sadek are not accepted. The people want Aoun and Geagea, Nasrallah and Berri, Saad Hariri and Jumblat and their lackeys. It is the same situation in every sect where the lowest common denominator is the prime motivator: fear of the other.

The Lebanese population has a long process of social and political re-education and if it does not start soon, Lebanon will be torn apart once again until the next foreign power takes us over and that will only prove that we are the prisoners of our history.

Pop Goes AUB

At the age of 140, AUB embraces the modern.

With the mushrooming of American universities and colleges in the region, AUB is cleverly projecting its true value through the global personalities it chose to bestow honorary doctorates on, and its liberalism and modernism through a Zaha Hadid building and a Coca Cola Chair.

Indeed, amidst the traditional buildings of the American University of Beirut will rise a structure that is bold and post modern.
Zaha Hadid, the world famous Iraqi architect and once an AUB student, won the competition to design the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs.

A day earlier the AUB announced that the Coca Cola foundation donated US$2 million to "strengthen the school's academic programs and promote the study of the field of marketing through teaching, research, and service".

The new Hadid designed building and the establishment of the Coca-Cola Chair in Markeing give the AUB an Andy Warhol pop aura.

Although cynics might say that the money would be better spent on human capital rather than on high maintenance buildings, AUB will remain a leader and a beacon of free-thinking and high quality education, unrivalled not only in Lebanon but also in the Middle East.

The Art of War

Our 15 year civil war is art.

It has been exposed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York for quite some time and through March 11 it can be admired and bought at The Kitchen gallery on West 19th Street in New York.

Walid Raad and his Atlas Group capture the madness and absurdity of the Lebanese conflict. Through his art, Raad re-examines his (and our) fears and hopes at a dangerous and crazy time in our history.
He mocks them and belittles them in an obvious effort to control them and to brake free.

Raad transforms car bombs into art. His focus is on the engines that are the only intact remnants of the detonated car bombs, like souls that are religiously and poetically the only remnants of the dead.
He does not show us the victims, just the cars and their engines. It is both cold and satirical, devoid of humanity like our war, like our leaders who ordered the dreadful acts.

The Village Voice had this to say about his art:

"He lets us know that there were 3,641 car bombs detonated in Beirut between 1975 and 1991. In seven collages titled Notebook Volume 38: Already Been in a Lake of Fire, an invented character named Dr. Fadl Fakhouri presents pictures of cars and Arabic writing. One image reads, "Silver Volvo; August 20, 1985; 56 killed; 120 injured; 100 kg of TNT; 24 cars burned; 11 buildings burned." Raad/Fakhouri fetishizes the facts of violence in Beirut the way Henry Darger recorded the weather in Chicago. Elsewhere, he gives us the serial numbers of engines that were blown from car bombs, how far each motor flew, and where it landed.

In Hostage: The Bachar Tapes, Raad, 38, recounts what he calls the "captivity narrative" of five American hostages held in Lebanon in the 1980s, adding a fictitious Arab who describes nocturnal homoerotic encounters.

In Miraculous Beginnings we see a hallucinogenic 52-second film made by Dr. Fakhouri in which he exposed a frame every time he thought the war had come to an end. It's an abstract image of lost hopes and wishful thinking.

In I Only Wish That I Could Weep we see furtive views of sunsets filmed by a Lebanese army intelligence officer posted to monitor a boardwalk in Beirut."

Walid Raad's work is also exhibited at the Sfeir-Semler gallery in Beirut.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Notes From Kuwait 2

Kuwait in transition - between the old and the new (Beirut Notes)

- The Kuwaitis I met in the past couple of days love Lebanon and are shocked by what our politicians are doing to "their second home". They do not understand the vulgar and dangerous bickering of our leaders. A Kuwaiti journalist told me that a Lebanon without Syria is almost like Iraq without Saddam Hussein: Chaotic.

- A Russian diplomat in Kuwait told me today that Lebanon needs the intervention of an outside power if it wants security and stability. He added that it is his point of view and not that of his government.
He also said that Lebanon is pro-American today.

- A few days ago there was a ceremony at the Lebanese Embassy here in memory of murdered PM Rafic Hariri. Supporters of Walid Jumblat were the loudest, shouting: "Abou Taymoor, Abou Taymoor."
On the occasion, Ghazi Youssef represented Saad Hariri. An official present said that Youssef told him that he was preparing an optional civil marriage bill.
When such a bill was put forward in 1998, it drew fire from both Muslim and Christian religious leaders.
The Mufti of the Republic Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Kabbani said back then that the decision hurts the essence of religion and the Shariaa.

Notes From Kuwait

- "You are a Lebanese leader and not a Shiite Leader," Jassem Al Kharafi, the speaker of the Kuwaiti Parliament told his Lebanese counterpart, Nabih Berri, during his last trip to Kuwait, according to a local editor.
Nasser Al Kharafi, Jassem's brother, and the head of the Kharafi Group conglomerate reportedly bought 50 percent of NBN satellite TV, the channel founded by Berri.

- Kuwaiti Alshayah group, the largest franchise operator in the Middle East, is bringing the UK's leading health and beauty retailer, Boots, to the region, the H&M clothing stores and Footlocker, adding to other leading retail brands, such as Mothercare and Starbucks.
Alshayah employs over 8,500 people in the region. The company makes profits in all markets, except in Lebanon, where it has been operating for more than 10 years.

- Kuwaitis are heading to Lebanon in droves during the long-weekend of the Kuwait National Day. All Airlines heading to Beirut are fully booked for the next six days.

- The new Emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah replaced the ailing Sheikh Saad Al Abdallah, after the latter was deposed by Parliament following the death of Sheikh Jaber Al Ahmed, the former long reigning Emir.
The change occurred street without any insults, threats or street demonstrations. It was done through dialogue amongst the ruling family and leading political figures.
Maybe there is a lesson there for those who seek to depose lame duck President Emile Lahoud.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Get Him Some Prozac Please!

General Michel Aoun is desperately in need of Prozac.

I couldn't believe my ears when the General warned today that four young men with some petroleum fuel could burn Solidere in case the March 14 coalition tries to topple President Emile Lahoud through street protests.

I knew he had a Napoleon complex but not an Emperor Nero one.

In my earlier posts I had criticized Walid Jumblat, Samir Geagea and Hassan Nasrallah for their violent language and Saad Hariri for his inexperience but Aoun exceeded my worst expectations today.

I had thought that the General had calmed down after his understanding with Hezbollah and with the Lebanese Forces on the Baabda elections. But I was wrong. The man is as unfit to lead Lebanon as any current sectarian leader.

Does he know the impact of his words? Does he know that the well being of four million Lebanese is more important than his political career? Does he know that his anger can make the Lebanese economy lose tens of millions of US dollars by scaring investors and tourists? Does he know that tonight parents and children in Lebanon will sleep in fear of tomorrow?

Why is he adding fuel to the fire? Why isn't he trying to build concensus? Why aren't the leaders that we elected to serve our interests concerned about our welfare?

So many questions and so many fools without an answer. On days like these I often wonder whether we deserve our independence and our freedom and whether we weren't better off under Syrian hegemony.