Monthly Archives: February 2010

I did a book review for Executive Magazine on Jim Krane’s new book in Dubai. Due to space limitations the book review was edited down to size, below is the full version of my review that  gives a much better idea of what  the book is all about:

The first power plant was established in the Emirate of Dubai in 1961 when citizens of the small city-state still lived a life dominated by their desert environ. Fifty years later residents of Dubai consume more electricity per capita than any other person on the planet. Now the global financial crisis is slowing things down. The long time residents in Dubai, who did not lose their jobs, and Dubai citizens will no doubt be breathing a collective sigh of relief and undergoing a period of reflection.

What has just happened over the past fifty years in Dubai? Jim Krane, a journalist who was the AP’s Persian Gulf correspondent, in his new book, City of Gold: Dubai and the Dream of Capitalism, attempts to tell the story of Dubai and in doing so tries to make sense of the phenomena that is Dubai:

“Dubai is a city of incongruities. The roads are modern but the network is incoherent. The cars are advanced but driving is anarchic. Malls are rife but there is no art museum. The airport is world class, but education is substandard. An optimist would say that’s the essence of an emerging market, the reason Dubai crackles with opportunity. A realist would point to a government that preferred impulsive decisions to level-headed planning,” he writes.

City of Gold is a book that is steeped with the knowledge of someone who has spent a long time in and thinking about the economic phenomena that is Dubai and the oil rich Gulf at large. The economic success story of Dubai is there for all to see and Krane does an excellent job detailing it. Krane gives fascinating accounts of how the ideas for the Burj al Arab, the palm and the tallest building in the world the Burj Dubai Kahlife came to life. The style of the book is very journalistic, keen to allow both sides of the story to come out and to ensure that the people he interviews do most of the talking. The book is a whirlwind tour of all the different issues that have been in and out of the newspapers in recent times.

The book is mapped out into two halves: The first detailing the rapid rise of Dubai from its early history to the present day and its grasping of the capitalist system; the second half of the book deals with the arguments thrown against Dubai such as the labor abuses, the environmental degradation, the sex and slavery. However, this is a book that is written knowing that certain perspectives, such as the profile given of Sheikh Mohammed, have to be elevated and negative aspects need to be minimal. There is a reluctance by Krane to stick his neck out and delve into areas that may get it chopped off. Subsequently, the book contributes little new information or perspective into understanding Dubai.

A Liberal Dictatorship

In summing up the strange peculiarity that is Dubai, as a place that is strongly capitalist but also run by an autocratic regime, Krane summarizes that Dubai, “…enjoys broad social freedoms which substitute for its lack of political ones.” But Krane does not do well enough in convincing us why this is the case. Instead Krane does the unthinkable: he quotes British diplomat Anthony Harris. “People don’t want to replace tribal rule. It is my absolute conviction that they are happy with it.” Krane made it quite clear that the British government especially, has done more than anyone to keep the Maktoum family in power, what else would or could a British diplomat say? Instead Krane should be asking Emiratis or even different residents of Dubai to add to the official narrative. Do they enjoy “broad social freedoms” and if so have they have successfully substituted for Dubai’s lack of political freedoms. A fuller picture needs to be fleshed out in virtually all the topics that Krane approaches.

There is a general narrative in the book that takes the official line for granted. Questions are not asked hard enough. Do, or rather can, social freedoms substitute for political ones? Are they interchangeable? What do those living in Dubai think? Krane systematically fails to bring out fully what Emirati citizens and long term residents think, feel and express regarding their transformation from small scale traders to the capitalist elite. We know Dubai has been an economic success but has it been a social one?

Not asking these tricky questions fully and questioning assumed facts is where that City of Gold systematically fails. It is packed with superficial generalizations that lead to dubious conclusions and giant leaps of faith; sometimes of the worst order. When it comes to ‘Arabs’ Krane seems to patricianly revel in stereotypes: “Sheikh Rashid maintained a punishing work ethic in a region known for languor.” Describing Arabs as lazy is not something you expect a journalist who works for the Economist or the AP to fall into. Despite, the racist stereotyping that unfortunately slips into other places in the book there are redeeming features to this book. It is full of strong individual stories. Krane shines when he is talking about the various characters in the book or recounting narratives of how the Burj al Arab came about. His writing style is also highly readable.

In adding to our understanding of the hugely complex phenomena that is Dubai, Krane largely fails. But in explaining the landscape, how Dubai became an economic powerhouse and some of the fascinating stories that Dubai holds within it, Krane is excellent.


Where this book fails is also where Dubai has been most criticized: originality. “They [Dubai] haven’t produced anything useful for the human condition,” Krane quotes the Director of the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut Rami Khoury as stating. It is here where Dubai will really live or die, in terms of whether it can create the institutions that can really contribute something new. Can Dubai create knowledge as well as money? As Khoury says again to Krane when asked if Dubai can achieve the heights of Cordoba: “It’s noble to aim that high. But does he have the courage to go all the way? Cordoba needed creative and scientific talent. People were allowed to discuss ideas, do research, engage in debates. It’s not yet clear whether the leadership in Dubai is prepared to open the system to full use of intellectual and cultural talent.” Or will everything that is solid melt into air?


Gordon Brown sent shivers down the spines of many ordinary citizens. Yes, in reaction to Israel abusing British sovereignty by using British passports to assassinate a senior Hamas official Brown is going to set up a inquiry.

Taxpayers all over London could be heard collectively groaning as another inquiry gets added to the “Load of old Chilcot” and “Have you seen my Butler?” inquiries.

Yes, an inquiry. Brown did not think it was suitable to call the Israeli ambassador to Downing Street. After all just because many Israelis are all saying it is Mossad and the Israeli government has not denounced it does not mean it was Mossad! Obviously there are thousands of people/organisations/countries with the desire, capability and technique to assassinate a senior Hamas official with a team of operatives with European passports.

Brown has already made sure that an escape route is well established:

“The evidence has got to be assembled about what has actually happened and how it happened and why it happened, and it is necessary for us to accumulate that evidence before we can make statements.”

The reality is that clear evidence will never be obtained, it never is in these types of operations. So knowing this the Guardian reported:

Earlier, the Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, broke his government’s silence saying there was no proof that Mossad was behind the killing. However, he did not explicitly deny any Israeli involvement, saying his government had a “policy of ambiguity” on intelligence issues…Lieberman said he believed that relations with Britain would not be damaged. “I think Britain recognises that Israel is a responsible country and that our security activity is conducted according to very clear, cautious and responsible rules of the game. Therefore we have no cause for concern,” he said.

Lieberman said it: no cause for concern.

A great article on the Arab booker prize entitled A literary prize fight articulates indirectly what is really wrong with the Middle East. It is all hear: mistrust over corruption (wasta), conspiracy theories going wild, strong nationalist sentiments, resignation, disorganisation.

the literary community has been polarised into pro- and anti-Booker factions, ensuring that future rounds will continue to be clouded by suspicion, particularly over the nomination of younger writers whose reputations have not yet been established.

Yes, that is right. The Popular Committee for the Arab Booker is coming to an Arab city near you soon!

Eleven European citizens, six of them British the rest Irish, French and German passports enter Dubai and assassinate senior Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. Of course they were not European citizens, they were Mossad agents.

Such is the murky world of assassinations in this ravaged region that the Dubai police will no doubt not find out who did it conclusively. But all fingers point to Mossad.  Haaretz Correspondent, Yossi Melman has argued that the operation was done Mossad style:

The bits of information and the camera images suggest methods used by the Mossad that Mishka Ben-David wrote about in detail in his novel “Duet in Beirut.” Ben-David, who served as the intelligence officer for the Caesarea operations branch of the Mossad, insists that his novel is a work of fiction. However, it is obvious to all that the experience he accumulated in the Mossad over the years appears in his book.

There are those of course that will try and state the weak arguments that it was not Mossad. Like the appalying commentary by James Hider that suggests there are plenty of “red herrings”. But then changes his mind and that no it must be Mossad, Hider argues: “First of all, there was the professionalism of the 11-strong hit team, whose movements were revealed this week by the Dubai police.” (My emphasis).

Well yes, Mossad’s wonderful professionalism. They have done some pretty spectacular acts over the years. But they have also been caught red handed a few times trying to steal passports. New Zealand imposed diplomatic sanctions against Israel and suspended high-level contacts in 2004 because of two Israeli citizens trying to obtain fake New Zealand passports. Helen Clark, then Prime Minister, stated that it was a violation of New Zealand sovereignty.

Britain will not do the same. They will bury this issue, as in 1987 when a similar incident happened. In 1987 as many reports from Britain are pointing out Israel also forged British passports. The Associated Press reported at the time:

Britain said today that Israel had admitted using fake British passports, and a newspaper said the documents were intended to help agents of the Israeli secret service attack foes abroad. … a ”furious” diplomatic argument between Israel and Britain, with Israel at first refusing to apologize.

The last sentence says it all. There is no doubt a similar stage show will again be put on by the foreign office. Despite the flagrant abuse of British sovereignty and an act that only endanger British citizens, nothing will be done. Israel will not be messed with. Such confidence is illustrated by the fact that Israel would use British passports in such an audacious attack.

British officials will again view this issue  one dimensionally: through Israeli security and Israel protecting its citizens.

The “Israeli security” doctrine is again making British citizens less secure.

At the bottom of a British foreign office press release reporting that Britain is granting the Britain-Israel Research and Academic Exchange £29,000 it adds a sweet little message that Foreign Office Minister Ivan Lewis:

… welcomed Israel’s response to the Goldstone report and urged Israel to initiate an independent investigation into the allegations of abuses during the Gaza conflict.

Lewis is applauding Israel for burying a report that painstakingly details Israeli war crimes during its Gaza onslaught. The British government is formally congratulating Israel for avoiding accountability for the death of one thousand one hundred civilians. Bravo Lewis! Hurrah for Britain! Or is that Israel? And how can anybody in their right mind state that Israel itself should set up an “independent” inquiry.

Lewis has said previously when asked in parliament if the UK would be voting for the Goldstone report:

The UN General Assembly in New York considered the Goldstone report on 5 November 2009 where we made our position clear: some aspects of the report were flawed-particularly its failure to acknowledge fully Israel’s right to protect its citizens, and the inadequate attention paid to Hamas’ actions. We eventually decided to abstain on the resolution, with France and 42 others, because voting for the resolution would have meant endorsing the report and ignoring its flaws. However, the issues raised by the report were very serious, and they should be credibly and independently investigated.

On what basis Lewis makes these statements is completely unclear. To add some context according to B’Tselem 1,385 Palestinians were killed, 762 of whom did not take part in the hostilities. Nine Israeli’s were killed by Palestinian fire. The Goldestone report clearly condemned Hamas for firing rockets against Israel. As Tony Judt puts it:

To be sure, the Goldstone Report also itemizes the crimes of Hamas, notably in its campaign of rocket-firing into Israel. But the scale of human rights abuses by Israel vastly outdoes anything Hamas could hope to have achieved: Israeli civilian victims of Hamas rocket attacks numbered less than ten. The attack on Gaza by the IDF resulted in at least 1,100 Palestinian civilian deaths. The major perpetrator of human rights abuses in this conflict is without question the State of Israel, and Justice Goldstone records as much.

So why Lewis is Britain supporting an “independent inquiry”? How exactly is the Goldstone report not independent? How does the report not “acknowledge fully Israel’s right to protect its citizens” despite the fact it was written by a self confessed zionist and condemned Hamas for firing rockets into Israel? Is the ability to kill 1,100 civilians with no accountability the right to protect your citizens.

Back to Judt:

In the first place he [Goldstone] is not only Jewish but has close family links to Israel and the Zionist ideal. Secondly, Richard Goldstone has an impeccable resumé as a critic of racism, prejudice and repression — most notably as an active opponent for many years of the apartheid regime in his native South Africa. During the ’90s he served as Chief Prosecutor at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunals dealing with human rights abuses, crimes and genocide in the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda. It would be hard to fictionalize a more convincing biography for an engaged and ethically uncompromising jurist in the great tradition of Jewish political activism. Goldstone’s standing in the world will only rise as a consequence of Israel’s short-sighted attempts to discredit the man, the report and the facts. That our own government has chosen to join in this unworthy exercise should be a source of deep embarrassment and shame.

Whose interests are you serving Lewis/Brown? This goes to the heart of what is wrong with the foreign policy of Britain in the Middle East. I am deeply embarrassed and ashamed of this labour government. Spineless directionless cowards does not even come close to describing them.

Again we see a foreign policy that blindly follows and purses short-term Israeli security interests above all else. Marc Lynch describes what could happen if a more intelligent policy was approached towards the report. The legacy of Blair continues of which more will come later…

All this comes as the Goldstone report is fully buried as any sense of justice and human rights is completely eradicated as Ban Ki Bloody Useless actually applauds Israel for the probing of its actions in Gaza. Putting to sleep his own report.

(Thanks for the image)The hope of change in Obama’s foreign policy has rather spectacularly collapsed. In Cairo Obama appeared to articulate a radical shift in the nature of politics in the Middle East:

“I’ve come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition.”

But on the anniversary of his first year as President a whole spate of articles appeared on how Obama has carried on the foreign policies of the Bush era. He has been labled by some as George W. Obama.This has been regrettably true. On Palestine Obama promised change:

And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.

On Iran Obama promised change:

Rather than remain trapped in the past, I’ve made it clear to Iran’s leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward.  The question now is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build.

This is to name but two. And these two statements did not live up to what his administration has delivered.

Well respected commentators have called on his Middle East Advisor to resign due the complete lack of purpose and clarity on the Middle East peace process. The recent announcement that the US will deploy a missile shield in the Gulf shows the continued belligerent policies towards Iran.

Foreign Policy often involves a lot of movement but, much like a fountain seen from a distance, remains remarkably constant. Why is this? How is it that Obama a man so remarkably different from Bush has been unable to change the foreign policy of the US? Is it simply the nature of power? Obama cannot really move in this region in the right direction without radically altering the whole region. Is this too much to bear?

But did we not expect too much? Yes, Obama did fed that beast of expectation to delirious levels. Would it have been different if  he focused solely on a couple of particular issues instead of trying to establish a global agenda? Is that the problem with our globalised age. That the greatest idol of the modern age had to give all things to all people at all times and ended not knowing where or how to start? Creating a vacuous nothingness.

Obama is not Bush but he is not a political radical either. He is a leader that is part of the same system as Bush, a system that has a foreign policy that cannot be changed by the President alone and not without great political ramifications at home. He still remains a hope for the potential for change in the region but we know now not change itself. For change itself you have to alter the source to stop the continuous flow.