Mandatory military service sign-up for Qatari men to begin on Sunday (Dohanews, 20/02/2014)

Acting quickly on a new law that requires male Qataris between the ages of 18 and 35 years old to serve in the country’s armed forces, the Ministry of Defense has announced plans to open registration for trainees on Sunday, Feb. 23.

Training is expected to begin with the first batch of enrollees – estimated at around 2,000 men – on April 1, in a temporary camp in Al Shamal. There, recruits will be taught how to use certain types of weapons and military vehicles.

More permanent grounds are expected to be established soon, government officials said at a press conference yesterday.

Qatari women are currently not required to enroll in the program, but may be subject to compulsory service starting next year, said Major General Mubarak Mohammad Al Kumait Al Khayarin, Commander of the Qatar Emiri Air Force and Head of National Service, according to QNA.

Al Khayarin added, however, that women would not have to pursue military training, but instead be assigned social, cultural and medical roles.

Law details

The conscription law gained Cabinet approval in November, but it is unclear when the Advisory Council gave its nod, or when the Emir ratified the legislation.

At the press conference, officials said a national service law would be issued soon and address any questions about the conscription process, including exemptions and delays.

Under the law, men must train in the military for at least three months if they are college graduates, and four months if they have high school diplomas or have dropped out of school. Those enrolled in university can delay conscription until after graduation.

Men who are employed would continue to receive their full salary while serving in the armed forces, and those without jobs would be paid an amount that has yet to be determined, Al Khayarin said.

According to the Gulf Times, once the training period is finished, nationals would be subject to two phases of reserves. The first would continue for around five to 10 years, with the recall period being no longer than 14 days.

The second reserve phase would last until the recruit becomes 40 years old, with the length of service depending on demand.

When the law was first discussed, the government said the aim was to “achieve the interests of the defense of the homeland, and constant readiness to maintain the security and stability of the country.”

Yesterday, QNA reported Minister of State for Defense Maj. General Hamad bin Ali Al-Attiyah as saying that service would help make Qataris “ideal citizens” and that there would be no exceptions.

However, local media reports indicate that those who do not pass their medical exams, who don’t have other male siblings and others could be exempt from serving in the armed forces.

However, the non-exempt who fail to sign up for military service and “age out” of the requirement could face up to a year in jail and a QR50,000 fine.

Ambivalence

Reaction from the Qatari community to the new law appears to be mixed. Speaking to Doha News, a 32-year-old national who preferred to only be quoted by his first name said he thought the legislation was a positive step forward for Qatar. According to Mohammed:

“The country faces a lot of challenges ahead and they need reserves ready to be called when needed. Also, they are looking I guess to tackle some health issues, (including) obesity.”

Mohammed, who works in the private sector, added that reserve forces could prove helpful in securing Qatar during the 2022 World Cup. However, he said timing matters, and that he hopes to be accepted with the first batch of trainees.

“I have plans to do my Master’s degree by the end of this year, and maybe marriage soon, so I’d rather finish now so i (am not) preoccupied,” he said.

Other Qataris are less excited about serving. One new university graduate called the mandatory service “a major disruption” that was essentially a “form of collective punishment” for the lack of discipline exercised by some young men here.

“It will do nothing to make Qataris better at their jobs, and will put them months behind. And there is pretty much no national security benefit,” he said.

Elsewhere in the Gulf, Kuwait has been mulling a return to compulsory military service for men aged 18 to 35 years old.

And last month, the UAE passed a similar measure, announcing compulsory military service for Emirati men aged 18 to 30 years old, to serve from nine months to two years. The service would be optional for women.

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Saudi Arabia: German Envoys Are Attacked (Reuters, 13/01/2014)

Two German diplomats survived an ambush while on a drive to eastern Saudi Arabia on Monday, the state news agency SPA reported, but their vehicle was burned. SPA quoted a police spokesman as saying that Saudi authorities were investigating the rare episode, which took place in the town of Awamiya. No other details were immediately available. In Berlin, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman confirmed that the diplomats had been attacked but were not hurt. The area where the attack occurred has experienced unrest since 2011 as Shiite Muslims accuse the Sunni-led government of persistent discrimination, an allegation the government denies.

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The Russian-Saudi Showdown at Sochi (December 31, 2013, Consortiumnews, Robert Parrish)

Monday’s terrorist bombings only 400 miles away from the site of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, have a geopolitical back story involving implied threats from Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan to Russian President Vladimir Putin last summer when Bandar was pressing Putin to withdraw his backing for the Syrian government.

According to a diplomatic leak detailing the Bandar-Putin meeting in Moscow on July 31, Bandar suggested that Putin’s agreement to abandon the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad would lead Saudi Arabia to restrain its Chechen terrorist clients who have been attacking Russia targets for years. Putin reportedly grew furious, interpreting Bandar’s offer as a warning that the Sochi games would be threatened by terrorism if Putin didn’t comply.
Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief, meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
At the time, I was even told that Putin warned Saudi Arabia of potentially severe consequences – suggesting military retaliation – if Bandar’s implied warning was followed up by actual terrorist attacks like the ones in Volvograd on Monday, killing more than 30 people.

Of course, it is always hard to trace specific terrorist acts back to their origins and many terrorist cells operate with much autonomy. But Putin has staked much of his prestige on a successful Olympics in Sochi, and he also would risk losing face if it were perceived that Bandar had executed a terrorist plan to disrupt the Winter Olympics and that Putin was powerless to stop it.

According to the leaked diplomatic account of last summer’s meeting, Bandar sought Russia’s cooperation on several Mideast concerns, including Syria, and told Putin, “I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics in the city of Sochi on the Black Sea next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us.”

Putin reportedly responded, “We know that you have supported the Chechen terrorist groups for a decade. And that support, which you have frankly talked about just now, is completely incompatible with the common objectives of fighting global terrorism that you mentioned. We are interested in developing friendly relations according to clear and strong principles.”

Besides safety for the Sochi Olympics, Bandar raised the potential of Saudi cooperation with Russia on oil and other investment matters, saying, “Let us examine how to put together a unified Russian-Saudi strategy on the subject of oil. The aim is to agree on the price of oil and production quantities that keep the price stable in global oil markets,” according to the diplomatic account.

I was told by a source close to the Russian government that this mix of overt inducements and implied threats infuriated Putin who barely kept his anger in check through the end of the meeting with Bandar. Putin viewed Bandar’s offer to protect the Sochi Olympics as something akin to a Mafia don shaking down a shopkeeper for protection money by saying, “nice little business you got here, I’d hate to see anything happen to it.”

Putin then redoubled his support for the Syrian government in response to Bandar’s blend of bribes and warnings. The source said Russia also issued its own thinly veiled threats against the Saudis. The Saudis may have substantial “soft power” – with their oil and money – but Russia has its own formidable “hard power,” including a huge military, the source said.

Bandar and Terrorism

Over the years, Bandar has often treated the issue of “terrorism” as a situational ethic, an ambivalence well-honed since the days when Saudi Arabia and the Reagan administration teamed up to pour billions of dollars into the Afghan mujahedeen and their Arab jihadist allies fighting Soviet troops in the 1980s.

The anti-Soviet effort in Afghanistan brought to prominence Saudi national Osama bin Laden and the terrorists who later consolidated themselves under the global brand, al-Qaeda. In the 1980s, these roving jihadists were hailed as brave defenders of Islam and even “freedom fighters,” but – in the 1990s – they began targeting the United States with terrorist attacks, leading up to 9/11 in 2001.

At the time of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, Bandar was the Saudi ambassador to the United States and was so close to the Bush family that he was nicknamed “Bandar Bush.” Bandar was also very close to the bin Laden family. After the attacks, Bandar even acknowledged having met Osama bin Laden in the context of bin Laden thanking Bandar for his help financing the Afghan jihad project.

“I was not impressed, to be honest with you,” Bandar told CNN’s Larry King about bin Laden. “I thought he was simple and very quiet guy.”

However, immediately after 9/11, Bandar undermined the FBI’s opportunity to learn more about the connections between Osama bin Laden’s relatives and the perpetrators of 9/11 when Bandar arranged for members of the bin Laden family to flee the United States on some of the first planes allowed back into the air – after only cursory interviews with FBI investigators. The only segment of the 9/11 Commission’s report to be blacked out was the part dealing with alleged Saudi financing for al-Qaeda.

Now, as chief of Saudi intelligence, Bandar appears to be back in the game of coercive geopolitics, arranging weapons for some of the most brutal Syrian rebels and Arab mercenaries operating inside Syria, while offering carrots-and-sticks to foreign leaders who are seen are malleable toward Saudi regional interests. The technique may have failed with Putin but had greater success in lining up the French behind Saudi opposition to a negotiated agreement with Iran on its nuclear program.

As a repressive monarchy that preaches the ultra-conservative Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam, Saudi Arabia is bitterly opposed to the democratic reforms of the Arab Spring and the growing influence of Shiite Islam, which now stretches from Iran through Iraq and Syria to the Hezbollah enclaves of Lebanon.

Saudi Arabia backed the military coup in Egypt that ousted the elected Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohamed Morsi. The Saudis also have stepped up assistance to Sunni-dominated rebels in Syria seeking to overthrow the Assad dynasty that is based in the Alawite religion, a branch of Shiite Islam.

The commonality of interests between Saudi Arabia and Israel has given rise to a de facto alliance between the Saudi monarchy and the Jewish government of Israel. Though historically enemies, Israel and Saudi Arabia are now on the same page in backing Egypt’s military regime, in viewing Iran as their principal adversary, and in wanting a rebel victory in Syria.

The shifting sands of Middle East interests also have pushed the United States and Russia closer together, with the former Cold War rivals sharing an interest in tamping down disorder across the region. President Putin and President Barack Obama cooperated in reaching a tentative nuclear deal with Iran and in convincing Syria’s Assad to surrender his chemical weapons. Putin and Obama are pressing for Syrian peace talks, too.

Now, however, a new complication has been introduced: Islamist terrorist attacks aimed at undermining the Sochi Olympics. If Putin concludes that the Saudis are behind these bombings – that the attacks are the equivalent of a Mafia don having a store torched after the owner rebuffed an offer of “protection” – then the issue of Russian retaliation could suddenly be on the table.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

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Pourquoi EDF est en conflit en Arabie saoudite (Capital.fr, 30/12/2013)

Bandar ben Abdallah al Saoud, neveu du roi Abdallah d’Arabie saoudite et patron du conglomérat Soroof International, a le sens du timing. A 15 heures tapantes, dimanche 29 décembre, au moment précis où atterrissait à Riyad l’Airbus de François Hollande, il a annoncé son intention de porter plainte contre EdF dans son pays. Un choc pour son président, Henri Proglio, membre de la délégation officielle française, qui comprend 4 ministres et 33 dirigeants d’entreprises. Ce coup de théâtre survient en effet au moment où Edf et Areva se battent pour emporter ensemble le futur marché de 16 réacteurs nucléaires que le royaume wahhabite entend mettre en service d’ici 2030.

Très discret sur les raisons de son différend avec l’électricien français, le groupe Soroof s’est contenté d’évoquer un « défaut d’exécution par EdF » d’un accord entre les deux parties. Capital.fr est en mesure de révéler les motifs réels d’un conflit larvé, qui trouve son origine dans une bataille de réseaux franco-saoudiens.

En mai 2011, Henri Proglio avait signé un partenariat avec Soroof International pour créer en joint-venture la filiale EdF Saudi Arabia. Objectif : la construction et la maintenance de centrales électriques dans le Royaume. Mais un an plus tard, un juin 2012, EdF a annoncé l’ouverture à Riyad d’un bureau commun avec Areva, à la grande surprise du prince Bandar ben Abdallah.

Or Areva s’était déjà liée sur place au groupe de construction saoudien Bin Laden, dirigé par Bakr Bin Laden, demi-frère du fondateur d’Al Qaïda. Lorsque son ennemie intime Anne Lauvergon était encore à la tête du groupe nucléaire, Henri Proglio entendait continuer à faire bande à part. Mais après son départ en juin 2011, les choses ont commencé à changer. Surtout lorsque le ministre de l’industrie Arnaud Montebourg a poussé les deux champions français à regrouper leurs forces en Arabie saoudite. Avec quel partenaire local ? En coulisse, de nombreux intermédiaires officieux et officiels se sont mobilisés pour que le groupe Bin Laden, le Bouygues local, soit le seul choisi.

Parmi eux, le centralien Jalel Allegue, représentant de GDF Suez en Arabie saoudite, tout en dirigeant sa propre affaire de consulting. Et Olivier Fric, consultant en énergie via sa société domiciliée à Lausanne et époux d’Anne Lauvergeon. Quant à Bertrand Besancenot, ambassadeur de France en Arabie saoudite depuis juillet 2007 (l’un des rares à avoir conservé son poste après la défaite de Nicolas Sarkozy), il a lui aussi défendu bec et ongles Saudi Bin Laden, au point d’obtenir que François Hollande remette ce lundi, juste avant le déjeuner, la légion d’honneur à l’un des membres du clan familial, Mohamed Bin Laden, président du conseil d’affaires franco saoudien.

Autant de manœuvres considérées comme un affront par le prince Bandar, qui entend réclamer un dédommagement de plusieurs centaines de millions d’euros à EdF.

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Un groupe saoudien veut porter plainte contre EDF (Challenges, 29/12/2013)

Soroof International, un conglomérat contrôlé par un prince saoudien, a l’intention de porter plainte devant la justice saoudienne contre le groupe public français EDF, évoquant un « défaut d’exécution » par le groupe français d’un accord entre les deux parties sur la création d’une coentreprise en Arabie saoudite censée développer des projets dans l’électricité.Dans un communiqué, Soroof précise que sa plainte sera déposée dans les prochains jours. Il ne donne pas de détails sur la nature du conflit, arguant du respect de la confidentialité d’une procédure d’arbitrage déjà engagée à sa demande devant la Chambre internationale de commerce.

Le conglomérat saoudien est dirigée par le prince Bandar Ben Abdallah Al Saoud, lié par le sang au roi Abdallah même si la branche de la famille régnante à laquelle il appartient ne joue pas un rôle clé dans les structures du pouvoir. EDF n’était pas dans l’immédiat en mesure de faire un commentaire sur le sujet dimanche.Le président français, François Hollande, effectue dimanche et lundi un déplacement officiel en Arabie saoudite.Les projets de développement de l’énergie nucléaire lancés par l’Arabie saoudite devraient se traduire par des contrats de plusieurs milliards de dollars pour certains spécialistes étrangers du secteur, parmi lesquels EDF et son compatriote Areva espèrent figurer.

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Unpaid workers going hungry in Qatar (Egypt Independent, 23/12/2013)

More than 80 construction workers hired to work in Doha’s high-rise towers and stadiums, mostly from Asia’s poorest countries, are facing a “serious food shortage” after working for almost a year without pay, Amnesty International said on Wednesday.

“Their conditions are still the worst as they have not been paid for almost a year; they are starving as they cannot afford buying food. They also can’t afford to send money back home to their families, »said Salil Shetty, Amnesty’s secretary general.

The allegations leveled by the leading human rights organization place further pressure on the tiny but wealthy Gulf state over its treatment of overseas laborers as it prepares to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup .

The London-based organization claims laborers working on two floors of the Al Bidda Tower in the Qatari capital are still waiting for up to a year’s worth of salaries from their employer for a project finished in October. The tower is home to the Qatar Football Association.

Workers in general complain about abuses ranging from passports being withheld by Qatari employers and not being provided with healthcare to working for long hours without adequate pay.

Affected laborers come from Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Nigeria, China and Bangladesh. Few Egyptians work in this construction field; most work in hotels. It is still unclear why the workers’ employer, Lee Trading and Contracting, did not pay. Documents suggest the workers are owed about US$412,000, according to Amnesty.

The project was completed in October 2013, and since then the laborers have been stranded in their camp, the rights group said.

The company could not be reached by phone and Qatari officials could not be reached for comment.

One Nepalese laborer told Amnesty researchers: “‘Do the work and we’ll pay you tomorrow’, they said … We kept doing the work and they kept changing the date and we never got paid.”

The same man said that his sister had committed suicide in Nepal in mid-2013 because of the financial problems that his family was facing. He had not been able to send them any money for many months and was not able to return home for her funeral.

Qatar has vowed it would review the workers’ conditions and publish a report of claims of widespread abuse of migrant workers, revamping Qatar for the upcoming World Cup within the next few weeks, as organizers prepare to start work on the first of 12 stadiums.

Amnesty’s claims emerge at time in which the oil and gas-rich country is under international scrutiny after a Guardian investigation brought light to the plight of workers and Qatar’s use of exploitionary tactics in preparing for the World Cup.

According to documents the Guardian says were obtained from the Nepalese embassy in Doha, at least 44 workers died between 4 June and 8 August. More than half died of heart attacks, heart failure or workplace accidents.

Last month, Amnesty called on the international football governing body FIFA to ensure an end to the exploitation of migrant workers, and warned that laborers face dangerous working conditions, poor accommodation and unpaid wages.

“It is shameful to think that in one of the richest countries in the world, migrant workers are being left to go hungry. The Qatari authorities must take action immediately,” Shetty said.

Egyptians in Doha, stuck between a rock and a hard place

Thirty-four-year-old Ahmad Shedid left Egypt for Doha three months ago after shutting down his small business in downtown Cairo. His business was hard hit by the country’s economic crisis that resulted from nation-wide political turmoil following the 25 January uprising in 2011.

Like many Egyptians who find it hard to get a working visa to Europe, a visa to an oil-rich Gulf country was possible but a “bitter pill to swallow,” Shedid said.

Shedid is still looking for a job in Qatar.

“Yes there is a lot of money here, but being treated like a slave is disgraceful,” said Sameh Abdul-Aziz, an Egyptian car-driver who has been in the country for almost four years.

Slavery here is manifested through the “kafala” system, a form of sponsorship in which a Qatari citizen sponsor, or « kafeel », becomes legally responsible for a laborer. The kafeel holds onto laborers’ passports and provides them with employment, a work visa and basic services.

“You have to blindly follow the sponsor’s orders, and you cannot leave the country for any reason without his permission, and in most cases, he is a bad guy,” Abdul Aziz said.

The indentured servant must also receive the kafeel’s permission to rent a home, open a bank account, get a driver’s license or change jobs.

Shedid used all of his savings, amounting to LE20,000, for a one-year visa to Qatar that allows him to look for a job. If he does not find an employer to hire him and extend his visa, he has to leave the country. After three months in the country, Shedid is still looking for work.

“Life here is very expensive, I spent all my savings I have made in Egypt in just three months, but I cannot get back to Egypt until I, at least, get the money I paid so far back,” Shedid said.

,Shedid described both sides of the security and order of Qatari life.

“I was impressed with the order here when I first arrived, but you feel like it is dead city, no soul, not like Cairo’s downtown coffee shops, no fun. Here you just work and go back home to sleep to wake up the following day to work again. Just a routine life,” Shedid said, adding, “it is all for money, your main objective is to save money, but no life.”

While kafala affects all countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council, it is most prevalent in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which have some of the highest amounts of migrant laborers relative to the native population. Bahrain claimed to have abolished its system in 2008, but analysis by Human Rights Watch showed that while laborers’ were given expanded rights to change employers without requiring permission, de facto realities indicated lack of compliance with the decision.

Earlier this year Kuwait Times announced that the country would replace the system with an alternative in which laborers are managed by a new ministry, but changes have yet to take place. Qatar made similar unrealized intimations in 2012, when Labor Undersecretary Hussain Al Mulla told Al Arab newspaper that the system would be replaced by one involving contracts signed between laborer and employer.

The Guardian featured an expose detailing major widespread labor abuses, including dozens of deaths resulting from tough conditions faced by construction workers that equated to to slavery. The account was confirmed by Egyptians working in Doha.

“I saw a dead body in the street in the blistering heat of summer,” said Moataz Ahmad, an Egyptian waiter in a Qatari hotel who preferred to remain anonymous for fear of being fired from his job.

The alleged abuses generated widespread international outrage and condemnationfrom international labor groups, trade union bodies, human rights organizations and FIFA, which pledged to further scrutinize plans for the event, whose bid was won by the smallGulf state three years ago.

Asian workers are the worst affected

In one of many stadium construction sites, Robert, a 36-year-old Philipino was working after midnight. He stood among others covering his face, initially too shy to speak about his conditions. After breaking the ice for a while, he uncovered his face. His eyes– pale, reddish, and worn from not sleeping for 24 hours– spoke far louder than his quiet voice.

Robert was probably not his real name. He came from his tiny village in the Philippines to Doha eight months ago, leaving his wife and two kids. Before he was in Saudi Arabia, where he made less money under worse conditions.

Robert works almost 14 hours a day in order to earn a monthly salary 3,300 Qatari Riyals, equivalent to US$900., He lives on a quarter of his wages, sending the rest to his family.

When asked why his eyes are pale, he said “I sleep only four hours a day, and one week I sleep in the morning because I have night shift, and another week I sleep at night to work in the morning,” explaining that the drastic shifts in sleep times cause him to be continuously exhausted.

The worst part of the experience for Robert is being away from his wife for almost wo years without being able to visit or bring her to Qatar.
“For two years I cannot sleep with my wife, I masturbate,” Robert said.

“My passport is withheld by the company I work for and I will not be allowed to take it back until after two years when my contract terminates otherwise I will lose my job and will be banned from working in the country again.”

HRW called on Gulf states to do more to guarantee workers’ rights on Wednesday

The group highlighted the potential for abuse within the « kafala » system of sponsorship that ties workers’ status in the country to their employers, as well as the risk of exploitation of female domestic workers in private homes across the region.

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Nucléaire: Areva et EDF signent deux protocoles d’accord en Arabie Saoudite (Dow Jones, 30/12/2013)

Le groupe public de technologie nucléaire Areva (AREVA.FR) a annoncé lundi qu’Electricité de France (EDF.FR) et lui avaient signé deux protocoles d’accord auprès d’entreprises et universités saoudiennes visant à accompagner le Royaume d’Arabie Saoudite dans son programme d’énergie nucléaire.

Ces accords ont été conclus à l’occasion de la visite lundi du président de la République, François Hollande, à Riyad, a précisé Areva dans un communiqué.

Les cinq partenaires industriels saoudiens sont les groupes Zamil Steel, Bahra Cables, Riyadh Cables, Saudi Pumps et Descon Olayan. La seconde série d’accords concerne les universités saoudiennes King Saud University à Riyad, Dar Al Hekma College et Effat University à Jeddah et enfin Prince Mohammad bin Fahd University à Al-Khobar. L’Institut international de l’énergie nucléaire (I2EN), regroupant les institutions françaises en charge de la formation nucléaire, est également signataire de cette seconde série d’accords, a souligné Areva.

Ces accords ont pour objectif « de créer un réseau élargi de fournisseurs saoudiens en vue des futurs projets nucléaires dans le pays », a déclaré le groupe français.

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Increase of IDPs number in Lattakia and Tartus (28/12/2013)

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Hollande en Arabie saoudite fin décembre (Le Figaro, 19/12/2013)

François Hollande se rendra en Arabie saoudite les 29 et 30 décembre pour une visite officielle de 24 heures dominée par la situation régionale et les enjeux économiques, a-t-on appris aujourd’hui auprès de l’Elysée.

Le président, qui s’était déjà rendu dans le royaume un an plus tôt, le 4 novembre 2012, s’entretiendra de nouveau avec le roi Abdallah avec lequel il devrait évoquer ces questions régionales (Iran, Liban, Syrie….), a-t-on précisé de même source. « L’Arabie saoudite est un partenaire de confiance et de référence pour la France au Moyen-Orient et il s’agit de conforter cette relation excellente », souligne-t-on à l’Elysée.

Au cours de cette visite, plusieurs accords commerciaux devraient être signés et des perspectives d’investissements saoudiens en France évoquées, a-t-on précisé de même source. Les entreprises françaises sont d’ores et déjà présentes dans de nombreux secteurs économiques en Arabie saoudite (défense, transports, pétrole, services urbains…).

La France a également développé une coopération institutionnelle avec le Royaume en matière judiciaire, universitaire, de santé ou culturelle.

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Collective Frustration, But No Collective Action, in Qatar by Justin Gengler | December 7, 2013 Merip Report.

In late June 2013, as neighboring Ara states continued their struggles against popular pressure for political reform or regime change, the Gulf emirate of Qatar undertook its own, voluntary transfer of power. Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, patriarch of modern Qatar, appeared on state television to name as successor his 33-year old son, Sheikh Tamim. The outgoing leader was hobbled by serious health problems, it was said, and in any case most observers agreed that a recalibration of Qatar’s domestic and international agendas was perhaps just what the doctor ordered.
In the weeks and months prior, Qatar had witnessed a decided backfire of its strategy of greater regional involvement and even interventionism pursued since the beginning of the Arab uprisings. Former Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi, whose brief administration Qatar had supported to the tune of several billion dollars, faced debilitating protests and was but days away from ouster. In Syria, Qatar’s year-long competition with Saudi Arabia over patronage and coordination of the opposition was nearing an end, with an overmatched Doha effectively conceding the field to its wealthier and better-organized rival.
And in Libya, protesters burned Qatari flags and effigies of the former emir, while gunmen more than once blocked the arrival of passengers on Qatar Airways. Far from grateful for Qatar’s military and humanitarian assistance in service of the revolution, many Libyans accused the Gulf emirate of unwanted interference for its alleged support of salafi movements and groups tied to the Society of Muslim Brothers. For fear of retribution from the country’s many new enemies, ordinary Qataris now regularly hid their identities while traveling abroad, posing as Emiratis or other less conspicuous nationalities.
Thus it was that while the June leadership transition did evoke the expected feelings of apprehension, as well as genuine affection for Sheikh Hamad, it also raised popular hope for a change, if not in policy substance, at least in policy emphasis. Whereas ordinary Qataris remain generally supportive of or indifferent to the state’s foreign exploits in principle, the same cannot be said of the money used to fund them, which most agree would be better spent at home. Indeed, in a scientific public opinion survey administered in February 2013, [1] a full 77 percent of Qatari respondents felt that “the state should spend more resources inside the country.” Only 13 percent wanted increased spending on “international affairs and investments,” while 10 percent said they were content with the current balance.
The wholesale cabinet shakeup that attended Emir Tamim’s succession, in which only a few junior ministers retained their posts, seemed to signal the state’s appreciation of this general concern. Out not only of the cabinet but indeed of politics and reportedly the country altogether was influential Prime Minister Hamad bin Jasim Al Thani, who in his second role as foreign minister had long served as co-architect of Qatar’s personality-driven foreign policy. His replacement as premier, Sheikh ‘Abdallah bin Nasir Al Thani, would double not as foreign minister but as interior minister, a duality taken to be symbolic of a shift in state priorities toward the domestic arena. The foreign ministry, by contrast, was now to be headed by a non-royal, Khalid al-‘Attiyah, for the first time since 1992.
Out of the Frying Pan
That attention has turned now more to local matters does not necessarily imply smoother sailing for the state, however. On the contrary, the state has effectively reopened public debate over a long list of citizen concerns including rampant inflation; a sense of unchecked Westernization; maddening gridlock due to ubiquitous construction; perceptions of inequality in the treatment and compensation of Qataris and non-Qataris; and the sustained population explosion. The population has doubled in five years and increased by 9 percent — with 170,000 new expatriate residents — in the month of October alone. [2] Such trends show no signs of slowing as Qatar quickens preparations for its great prize — hosting the 2022 World Cup.
These misgivings have inspired much individual grumbling but so far only the hint of collective action. Qatar has remained the sole redoubt amid the wave of popular protest washing over the Arab world, even other Gulf states, since the beginning of 2011. Home to the richest people in the world, the country has annual oil and gas revenues that alone amount to more than $165,000 per citizen, much of which is duly distributed via a vast complex of salaries, allowances, land allotments and other economic benefits. That Qataris should feel no strong desire to alter this comfortable status quo, whatever the attendant annoyances, would seem to require little by way of explanation.
Beyond its resource wealth, Qatar also has other features that militate against political activism. Its citizenry is tiny — barely 250,000 people, fewer than the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu — and it is not riven by the sectarian, ethnic and regional cleavages of the other Gulf states. Unlike Bahrain and Kuwait, Qatar has no tradition of popular political consultation or participation. And, although the state has been an active promoter of revolutionary Islamic ideologies abroad, it does not confront them at home.
Yet such advantages for the state do not amount to immunity from criticism. Nor does an unrivaled capacity to enrich make boundless the soporific effects of material contentment. Qataris are wealthy by regional and even international standards, yes, but all politics is local, and blatant inequality differentiates citizens themselves — and, from the Qatari point of view, locals and expatriates. This sense of disparity not only increases economic expectations but also lowers overall satisfaction, dampening the pacifying effect of plenty on political orientations.
The aforementioned national survey, for instance, asked respondents to rate the economic situation of a hypothetical Qatari family. “Imagine,” it asked, “a Qatari family with three children. Its monthly income is [the equivalent of $100,000 per year], its primary vehicle is a Landcruiser, and in the summer the family vacations in Europe but doesn’t own a house there. How would you evaluate the economic situation of this family?” Just 22 percent of respondents said that this family was doing “very well,” whereas a combined 36 percent rated it as “moderate” or below — “weak” or “very weak.” The question for Qataris is not simply one’s absolute standard of living, then, but how well one is doing relative to others, such as fellow citizens whose enormous wealth is often on showy display.
Also among these others are expatriates, especially the Western professionals who fill a disproportionate percentage of administrative and supervisory positions in universities, multinational corporations and the many quasi-governmental institutions that serve as virtual private-sector shadow ministries. Despite a 60 percent salary increase in September 2011 for nationals working in the public sector — doubled to 120 percent for those in the police and military — many Qataris still feel they remain at a disadvantage in both hiring and pay.
Respondents to the February survey were asked whom they thought more likely to be hired for an opening at “a major company” in Qatar, a Qatari or a non-Qatari of equal qualifications. Only 36 percent believed the Qatari would be hired, and 9 percent thought the decision would be made fairly, while the remaining 55 percent said the non-Qatari would get the job. Similarly, only a third thought the Qatari would be offered a higher salary than the expatriate, with just 14 percent believing the salaries would be similar. Analogous results obtained in the area of higher education, with Qataris predicting overwhelmingly that Western students would be favored over national applicants in admissions decisions.
More importantly, not only do Qataris tend to perceive inequality in society and the economy, but these negative views work to dampen overall economic satisfaction even as individuals and households report financial prosperity. As a measure of fairness in society, Qatari respondents were asked to rate the necessity of wasta — personal influence and connections — for accomplishing a variety of practical objectives: securing a good job, gaining entrance to a top school or university, receiving a desirable land allotment from the state, and so on. Even after controlling for household income, negative perceptions regarding the prevalence of wasta are strongly associated with lower overall economic satisfaction. Indeed, a Qatari who perceives little wasta in society is 20 percent more likely to report being “very satisfied” with his or her economic situation, and a third less likely to be “not very” or “not at all satisfied,” compared to one with identical household income but who reports a high prevalence of wasta. [3] A similar result emerges if one takes as an indicator instead the aforementioned question about fairness in hiring.
Bounds of the Acceptable
In May, noted Harvard political scientist Gary King published an academic paper on the nature of Internet censorship in China. [4] Analyzing millions of social media posts captured before they passed through government filters, King and his co-authors demonstrated that it is not criticism — even vitriolic criticism — of officials and policy that China works systematically to block, but rather any content that might spur or facilitate collective action. Individual grousing is permitted and perhaps even welcomed as a relatively innocuous outlet for frustration, they show; joining together with like-minded others is potentially dangerous and thus intolerable.
Such a lesson has obvious parallels in other non-democracies, including in the Middle East, where a common description of government-citizen relations runs, in the imagined words of the state, “You say what you want, and we do what we want.” In Qatar, the art of tanfis, or controlled venting, reaches an impressive height, not least in the form of a daily program on state-owned radio called “Good Morning, My Beloved Nation.” For two hours, callers lodge complaints ranging from insufficient retirement benefits to unfair standardized tests to the poor quality of local fish. The two empathetic hosts duly promise to follow up with the concerned authorities, before moving on to the next caller. Intermittent follow-ups by previous callers make it clear that some cases are resolved more satisfactorily than others.
In September, however, a rare thing happened. Rather than take solace in the mere airing of grievances, a group of citizens animated by a perennial issue — the state of the country’s primary and secondary education system — took the bold step of seeking to organize in pursuit of shared policy aims. Beyond its poor quality per se — as of 2009, Qatar surpassed only Panama, Peru, Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan in student performance in math, science and reading [5] — citizens also criticized the system’s perceived Western curriculum and independent school model. In addition, Qataris resented the high enrollment fees charged by some schools, these taking advantage of a newly introduced government voucher system, meant to subsidize citizens’ schooling costs, by charging nationals double the rate of expatriates.
The upshot is that by the time of the national survey administered in early 2013, only 29 percent of Qataris reported being “very satisfied” with the K-12 education system, whereas the same proportion were either “somewhat” or “completely unsatisfied.” What is more, a clear majority of Qataris indicated that they would like a greater say in changes to the education system, with only 42 percent of citizens believing that such changes “should be left up to the concerned authorities.”
When parents returned from summer vacation to find inflated fees and limited spaces at desirable schools, frustration boiled over in an unusually public — and collective — manner. A social media campaign launched by the well-known and outspoken Qatari columnist Faysal al-Marzouqi called on parents to keep their children home on October 1. [6] Titled “First of October, I Will Stand Up,” the unprecedented boycott came complete with a list of demands printed in the popular Arabic-language daily al-‘Arab. The campaign was effectively defused when, a day before the scheduled boycott and following weeks of government silence, the minister of education met with school operators and agreed to limited changes. Yet his concessions were soon negated by the Supreme Education Council, chaired by the emir himself, prompting renewed if less organized anger. [7] The boycott in any case was averted, and the effort prompted no actual change in policy.
It is of course an open question how many Qataris would have taken the unusual and very visible step advocated by their more voluble peers. Indeed, asked about the significance of this seemingly extraordinary mobilization, several individuals suggested that its real purpose was precisely to identify those citizens with questionable allegiance to the new ruler — a sort of early loyalty test. For now, at least, the expected price to pay for overstepping the bounds of acceptable citizen action remains too great a risk for most Qataris, whose protests seem destined to be heard only on Twitter, in the opinion pages and, of course, on call-in radio.
Endnotes
[1] The survey was developed by faculty and undergraduate student collaborators at Northwestern University in Qatar, led by Jocelyn Mitchell, and the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar. It was funded by a grant from the Qatar Foundation, and was administered by the Social and Economic Survey Research Institute of Qatar University.
[2] The Qatar Statistics Authority reports a population of 1,864,817 as of August 31 and 2,035,106 as of September 30.
[3] These effects correspond to predicted probabilities evaluated at –1 and +1 standard deviations, respectively, from the mean response for this question regarding the prevalence of wasta in Qatar.
[4] Gary King, Jennifer Pan and Margaret E. Roberts, “How Censorship in China Allows Government Criticism but Silences Collective Expression,” American Political Science Review 107/2 (May 2013).
[5] OECD, “PISA 2009 Results: What Students Know and Can Do: Student Performance in Reading, Mathematics and Science” (2010).
[6] The Peninsula, September 19, 2013.
[7] The Peninsula, October 2, 2013.

Filed under: Gulf Qatar
In late June 2013, as neighboring Arab states continued their struggles against popular pressure for political reform or regime change, the Gulf emirate of Qatar undertook its own, voluntary transfer of power. Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, patriarch of modern Qatar, appeared on state television to name as successor his 33-year old son, Sheikh Tamim. The outgoing leader was hobbled by serious health problems, it was said, and in any case most observers agreed that a recalibration of Qatar’s domestic and international agendas was perhaps just what the doctor ordered.
In the weeks and months prior, Qatar had witnessed a decided backfire of its strategy of greater regional involvement and even interventionism pursued since the beginning of the Arab uprisings. Former Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi, whose brief administration Qatar had supported to the tune of several billion dollars, faced debilitating protests and was but days away from ouster. In Syria, Qatar’s year-long competition with Saudi Arabia over patronage and coordination of the opposition was nearing an end, with an overmatched Doha effectively conceding the field to its wealthier and better-organized rival.
And in Libya, protesters burned Qatari flags and effigies of the former emir, while gunmen more than once blocked the arrival of passengers on Qatar Airways. Far from grateful for Qatar’s military and humanitarian assistance in service of the revolution, many Libyans accused the Gulf emirate of unwanted interference for its alleged support of salafi movements and groups tied to the Society of Muslim Brothers. For fear of retribution from the country’s many new enemies, ordinary Qataris now regularly hid their identities while traveling abroad, posing as Emiratis or other less conspicuous nationalities.
Thus it was that while the June leadership transition did evoke the expected feelings of apprehension, as well as genuine affection for Sheikh Hamad, it also raised popular hope for a change, if not in policy substance, at least in policy emphasis. Whereas ordinary Qataris remain generally supportive of or indifferent to the state’s foreign exploits in principle, the same cannot be said of the money used to fund them, which most agree would be better spent at home. Indeed, in a scientific public opinion survey administered in February 2013, [1] a full 77 percent of Qatari respondents felt that “the state should spend more resources inside the country.” Only 13 percent wanted increased spending on “international affairs and investments,” while 10 percent said they were content with the current balance.
The wholesale cabinet shakeup that attended Emir Tamim’s succession, in which only a few junior ministers retained their posts, seemed to signal the state’s appreciation of this general concern. Out not only of the cabinet but indeed of politics and reportedly the country altogether was influential Prime Minister Hamad bin Jasim Al Thani, who in his second role as foreign minister had long served as co-architect of Qatar’s personality-driven foreign policy. His replacement as premier, Sheikh ‘Abdallah bin Nasir Al Thani, would double not as foreign minister but as interior minister, a duality taken to be symbolic of a shift in state priorities toward the domestic arena. The foreign ministry, by contrast, was now to be headed by a non-royal, Khalid al-‘Attiyah, for the first time since 1992.
Out of the Frying Pan
That attention has turned now more to local matters does not necessarily imply smoother sailing for the state, however. On the contrary, the state has effectively reopened public debate over a long list of citizen concerns including rampant inflation; a sense of unchecked Westernization; maddening gridlock due to ubiquitous construction; perceptions of inequality in the treatment and compensation of Qataris and non-Qataris; and the sustained population explosion. The population has doubled in five years and increased by 9 percent — with 170,000 new expatriate residents — in the month of October alone. [2] Such trends show no signs of slowing as Qatar quickens preparations for its great prize — hosting the 2022 World Cup.
These misgivings have inspired much individual grumbling but so far only the hint of collective action. Qatar has remained the sole redoubt amid the wave of popular protest washing over the Arab world, even other Gulf states, since the beginning of 2011. Home to the richest people in the world, the country has annual oil and gas revenues that alone amount to more than $165,000 per citizen, much of which is duly distributed via a vast complex of salaries, allowances, land allotments and other economic benefits. That Qataris should feel no strong desire to alter this comfortable status quo, whatever the attendant annoyances, would seem to require little by way of explanation.
Beyond its resource wealth, Qatar also has other features that militate against political activism. Its citizenry is tiny — barely 250,000 people, fewer than the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu — and it is not riven by the sectarian, ethnic and regional cleavages of the other Gulf states. Unlike Bahrain and Kuwait, Qatar has no tradition of popular political consultation or participation. And, although the state has been an active promoter of revolutionary Islamic ideologies abroad, it does not confront them at home.
Yet such advantages for the state do not amount to immunity from criticism. Nor does an unrivaled capacity to enrich make boundless the soporific effects of material contentment. Qataris are wealthy by regional and even international standards, yes, but all politics is local, and blatant inequality differentiates citizens themselves — and, from the Qatari point of view, locals and expatriates. This sense of disparity not only increases economic expectations but also lowers overall satisfaction, dampening the pacifying effect of plenty on political orientations.
The aforementioned national survey, for instance, asked respondents to rate the economic situation of a hypothetical Qatari family. “Imagine,” it asked, “a Qatari family with three children. Its monthly income is [the equivalent of $100,000 per year], its primary vehicle is a Landcruiser, and in the summer the family vacations in Europe but doesn’t own a house there. How would you evaluate the economic situation of this family?” Just 22 percent of respondents said that this family was doing “very well,” whereas a combined 36 percent rated it as “moderate” or below — “weak” or “very weak.” The question for Qataris is not simply one’s absolute standard of living, then, but how well one is doing relative to others, such as fellow citizens whose enormous wealth is often on showy display.
Also among these others are expatriates, especially the Western professionals who fill a disproportionate percentage of administrative and supervisory positions in universities, multinational corporations and the many quasi-governmental institutions that serve as virtual private-sector shadow ministries. Despite a 60 percent salary increase in September 2011 for nationals working in the public sector — doubled to 120 percent for those in the police and military — many Qataris still feel they remain at a disadvantage in both hiring and pay.
Respondents to the February survey were asked whom they thought more likely to be hired for an opening at “a major company” in Qatar, a Qatari or a non-Qatari of equal qualifications. Only 36 percent believed the Qatari would be hired, and 9 percent thought the decision would be made fairly, while the remaining 55 percent said the non-Qatari would get the job. Similarly, only a third thought the Qatari would be offered a higher salary than the expatriate, with just 14 percent believing the salaries would be similar. Analogous results obtained in the area of higher education, with Qataris predicting overwhelmingly that Western students would be favored over national applicants in admissions decisions.
More importantly, not only do Qataris tend to perceive inequality in society and the economy, but these negative views work to dampen overall economic satisfaction even as individuals and households report financial prosperity. As a measure of fairness in society, Qatari respondents were asked to rate the necessity of wasta — personal influence and connections — for accomplishing a variety of practical objectives: securing a good job, gaining entrance to a top school or university, receiving a desirable land allotment from the state, and so on. Even after controlling for household income, negative perceptions regarding the prevalence of wasta are strongly associated with lower overall economic satisfaction. Indeed, a Qatari who perceives little wasta in society is 20 percent more likely to report being “very satisfied” with his or her economic situation, and a third less likely to be “not very” or “not at all satisfied,” compared to one with identical household income but who reports a high prevalence of wasta. [3] A similar result emerges if one takes as an indicator instead the aforementioned question about fairness in hiring.
Bounds of the Acceptable
In May, noted Harvard political scientist Gary King published an academic paper on the nature of Internet censorship in China. [4] Analyzing millions of social media posts captured before they passed through government filters, King and his co-authors demonstrated that it is not criticism — even vitriolic criticism — of officials and policy that China works systematically to block, but rather any content that might spur or facilitate collective action. Individual grousing is permitted and perhaps even welcomed as a relatively innocuous outlet for frustration, they show; joining together with like-minded others is potentially dangerous and thus intolerable.
Such a lesson has obvious parallels in other non-democracies, including in the Middle East, where a common description of government-citizen relations runs, in the imagined words of the state, “You say what you want, and we do what we want.” In Qatar, the art of tanfis, or controlled venting, reaches an impressive height, not least in the form of a daily program on state-owned radio called “Good Morning, My Beloved Nation.” For two hours, callers lodge complaints ranging from insufficient retirement benefits to unfair standardized tests to the poor quality of local fish. The two empathetic hosts duly promise to follow up with the concerned authorities, before moving on to the next caller. Intermittent follow-ups by previous callers make it clear that some cases are resolved more satisfactorily than others.
In September, however, a rare thing happened. Rather than take solace in the mere airing of grievances, a group of citizens animated by a perennial issue — the state of the country’s primary and secondary education system — took the bold step of seeking to organize in pursuit of shared policy aims. Beyond its poor quality per se — as of 2009, Qatar surpassed only Panama, Peru, Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan in student performance in math, science and reading [5] — citizens also criticized the system’s perceived Western curriculum and independent school model. In addition, Qataris resented the high enrollment fees charged by some schools, these taking advantage of a newly introduced government voucher system, meant to subsidize citizens’ schooling costs, by charging nationals double the rate of expatriates.
The upshot is that by the time of the national survey administered in early 2013, only 29 percent of Qataris reported being “very satisfied” with the K-12 education system, whereas the same proportion were either “somewhat” or “completely unsatisfied.” What is more, a clear majority of Qataris indicated that they would like a greater say in changes to the education system, with only 42 percent of citizens believing that such changes “should be left up to the concerned authorities.”
When parents returned from summer vacation to find inflated fees and limited spaces at desirable schools, frustration boiled over in an unusually public — and collective — manner. A social media campaign launched by the well-known and outspoken Qatari columnist Faysal al-Marzouqi called on parents to keep their children home on October 1. [6] Titled “First of October, I Will Stand Up,” the unprecedented boycott came complete with a list of demands printed in the popular Arabic-language daily al-‘Arab. The campaign was effectively defused when, a day before the scheduled boycott and following weeks of government silence, the minister of education met with school operators and agreed to limited changes. Yet his concessions were soon negated by the Supreme Education Council, chaired by the emir himself, prompting renewed if less organized anger. [7] The boycott in any case was averted, and the effort prompted no actual change in policy.
It is of course an open question how many Qataris would have taken the unusual and very visible step advocated by their more voluble peers. Indeed, asked about the significance of this seemingly extraordinary mobilization, several individuals suggested that its real purpose was precisely to identify those citizens with questionable allegiance to the new ruler — a sort of early loyalty test. For now, at least, the expected price to pay for overstepping the bounds of acceptable citizen action remains too great a risk for most Qataris, whose protests seem destined to be heard only on Twitter, in the opinion pages and, of course, on call-in radio.
Endnotes
[1] The survey was developed by faculty and undergraduate student collaborators at Northwestern University in Qatar, led by Jocelyn Mitchell, and the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar. It was funded by a grant from the Qatar Foundation, and was administered by the Social and Economic Survey Research Institute of Qatar University.
[2] The Qatar Statistics Authority reports a population of 1,864,817 as of August 31 and 2,035,106 as of September 30.
[3] These effects correspond to predicted probabilities evaluated at –1 and +1 standard deviations, respectively, from the mean response for this question regarding the prevalence of wasta in Qatar.
[4] Gary King, Jennifer Pan and Margaret E. Roberts, “How Censorship in China Allows Government Criticism but Silences Collective Expression,” American Political Science Review 107/2 (May 2013).
[5] OECD, “PISA 2009 Results: What Students Know and Can Do: Student Performance in Reading, Mathematics and Science” (2010).
[6] The Peninsula, September 19, 2013.
[7] The Peninsula, October 2, 2013.

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