Archive for September, 2011

GCC courts new kingdoms

Ahmed Shihab Eldin
01 Jun 2011

Social media commentators analyze Saudi Arabia’s proposal to ask Jordan and Morocco to join with Gulf monarchies.

It all started – as many stories do these days – on Twitter.

In May, rumors that Jordan and Morocco might be asked to join the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) spurred a flurry of tweets questioning the motives of Saudi Arabia, the main proponent of the project, and speculating on the respective incentives for this potential alliance.

At dinner tables across the Arab world many gawked at and mocked these apparent rumors. But soon it became clear that not only was this a serious proposal, but also that it could mark the beginning of a seismic shift in regional policy.

Muna Abu Sulayman, a Saudi TV anchor with the MBC broadcasting company tweeted:

New GCC is about ensuring no one has power except Old GCC…Big lesson to Egypt – they have rendered Arab League obsolete

Perhaps her claim is overstated. Still, the initiative can be seen as an effort by the six-nation group to counter the growing influence of Iran and to find new ways of defending common interests following the successful popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

“This movie is primarily about the internal politics of each country concerned,” said Steven Fish, professor of political science at the University of California Berkeley.

“The GCC plus Jordan and Morocco is a coalition of the trembling. Each of the timorous monarchs is far more afraid of his own people than he is of Iran, the United States, or any other external power,” Fish told Al Jazeera.

The Iranian threat?

Iran’s threat, whether perceived or real, intensified earlier this week when its military announced a new ballistic missile system, demonstrating the country’s advances in weapons production.

This followed the February arrival – and Egypt’s allowing – of two Iranian warships through the Suez Canal for the first time since the 1979 revolution.

“I don’t believe the Iranians take this seriously at all,” said Seyed Mohammad Marandi, an associate professor at the University of Tehran.

“Jordan and Morocco are unpopular dictatorial regimes that are firmly in the American camp. These regimes are weak and they are extremely worried about the winds of change sweeping through the region and they are in no position to influence events in the Persian Gulf.”

As Iran seems to be strengthening its footing, the region continues to witness unprecedented expressions of revolt from its people. After former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was driven from power in a popular uprising, many Arab leaders, including those from GCC countries, took steps to appease voices of dissent and opposition.

Kuwait’s Emir, Sheikh Sabah al Ahmad al Sabah, ordered the distribution of $4bn and free food for 14 months to citizens, just three days after Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ousted from power on January 14.

On February 11 in Bahrain, prior to anti-government protests, King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa ordered approximately $2,500 to be paid to every Bahraini family, according to the state news agency.

In Morocco, one week before anti-government rallies were held, the government announced on February 20 that it would offer approximately $2bn in subsidies to curb price hikes for staples.

And Jordan’s King Abdullah, who welcomed GCC leaders to his country on May 9 to wish them “every success in their joint Gulf work to achieve the nations’ ambitions and aspirations,” dismissed his government and appointed a new prime minister after three weeks of protests over rising food prices and the unemployment crisis.

Saudi Arabia also tried to quell its own voices of dissent, when on February 23 King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz announced $36bn worth of handouts. When this did not succeed in suppressing a flurry of protests across the country, he added another $67bn worth of spending on March 18.

A club for kings

In light of these developments, the GCC countries are hoping to strengthen their base by allowing Jordan and Morocco to join, despite having turned them down in the past.

The idea of solidifying a region-wide alliance and pooling resources from fellow monarchies looks all the more appealing.

Sultan al Qassemi, a UAE commentator on Arab affairs, tweeted:

Basically the GCC is turning into a club for Arab monarchies. #Morocco #Jordan

As the region scrambles to re-align itself within a fast-changing political landscape, the proposal to have Jordan and Morocco join the GCC highlights the anti-revolutionary roots of the group’s foundation in 1981.

The GCC was founded in part as a response to the revolution in Iran that took place in 1979 and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Among its main goals were plans to allow citizens to travel without visas and to develop a common currency and trade tariffs. Military cooperation was also one of its aims, but was never achieved, until Saudi Arabia’s deployment of troops to Bahrain last month.

Jordan’s armed forces, also known as the Arab Army, has more than 100,000 soldiers and the force is considered to be among the most professional and well-trained in the region. They have a relatively sophisticated special forces unit and almost all their equipment comes from the US, France and Taiwan.

Morocco’s military, founded in 1956, consists of almost 190,000 active personnel, with a similar number on reserve.

Both countries have well-trained Sunni armies which the GCC can call on to counter the “Iranian threat”, which some say is seen in Bahrain’s manifestation of civil unrest, as the majority Shia population are protesting against the Kingdom’s Sunni-led royal family’s rule.

While the Saudis and GCC have much to gain, at least militarily, from allowing Jordan and Morocco to join them, some are still skeptical.

“I don’t see what the Gulf is getting out of this,” said Ahmed al Omran, a Shia Saudi blogger made famous by his blog

“Economically Jordan will benefit a lot from this. If it becomes part of the GCC market, their labor force will have access to work freely in the gulf,” al Omran told Al Jazeera.

The much-needed economic incentives for Jordan and Morocco are clear. Both countries face high unemployment and serious budget deficits.

But perhaps most tangibly, the largest incentive would be that their citizens would be able to easily work in the Gulf, where employment opportunities are plentiful. Jordan and Morocco, like the rest of the GCC countries, are pro-Western, Sunni-led monarchies, but unlike the Gulf, their per capita gross domestic product is just around $5,000 whereas Saudi Arabia’s is $24,200 (2010) and Qatar’s, for example, is a whopping $88,000 (2010).

In March the GCC provided Oman and Bahrain with $10bn each over a decade to meet protesters’ demands for improved living conditions. This type of cash influx would immediately alleviate some of the economic problems troubling Jordan and Morocco.

Already the US is sending large amounts of money to the two countries. Overall US aid to Jordan this year is expected to surpass $700m, including the economic assistance plan announced last week by president Obama.

It is plausible that part of the reasoning behind the GCC initiative is that Saudi Arabia wants Jordan to know it can rely on Saudi too, not just the United States.

It is unlikely Jordan or Morocco will become full members anytime soon; instead it is likely that they will be granted observer status, which could begin with improved bilateral investments, but still with restrictions on travel and residency.

Still, if the GCC leaders want the Jordanian and Moroccan armies to be ready to die on GCC soil, they will need to provide full economic and travel rights. Currently, it is extremely difficult for Jordanians to get jobs and visas in many Gulf countries.

US role

The US was caught off-guard on January 25 when Egypt’s 18-day revolution began. It found itself in the role of a fair weather fan at a sports game, first supporting Mubarak and then quickly siding with the Egyptian people against him.

“There’s no question that the Saudi rulers, like other US-allied dictators in the region, despise the Obama administration’s quick abandonment of Mubarak and the rapid deterioration of its support for [president Ali Abdullah] Saleh after the popular uprisings started in Yemen,” Fish told Al Jazeera.

“The US would aid Saudi Arabia in the event of a real threat from Iran, and Saudi rulers know it. The question is whether the US would protect the Saudi government against its own people. Here, Saudi rulers fear – and rightly so – that the US government would not and could not protect them.”

These concerns mark what some are calling the beginnings of a souring in Saudi-American relations.

“There was a big disagreement over Mubarak and Bahrain,” al Omran told Al Jazeera.

“Saudis were supporting Mubarak and they did not want him to go, prompting King Abdullah to make two very angry phone calls to Obama in less than two months.”

Since then, Saudi Arabia has been campaigning to have other Muslim countries join an informal alliance at the cost of heightening sectarian divisions that would permeate the Arab world.

Should civil unrest sweep across the GCC, Saudi Arabia may fear that the US will, as was the case with Egypt, side with the people against the leader. So, it is looking to pursue new alliances.

The Saudis have been diversifying their exports of oil, rather than solely relying on the United States, which purchases nearly 15 per cent of Saudi’s exports (150,000,000 barrels) each year.

“For the last couple years, Saudis have been pushing for a more independent foreign policy, but also economically, they are selling more oil to India, China and Brazil,” al Omran said.

Through the potential GCC alliance, Saudi Arabia would inject massive amounts of cash flow into the Jordanian and Moroccan economies, in an attempt to shore up relations with the remaining monarchs in the region.

But as Professor Fish points out: “Obama does not want to be seen as a bully or as a self-righteous preacher; in this respect he aims to differentiate himself clearly from Bush. Saudi aid didn’t do Ben Ali or Mubarak much good; nor is it saving Saleh. The uprisings are demonstrating the limits of Saudi financial power to shape events in a region whose people are fed up with tyranny.”

Both Saudi Arabia, Iran and the US are vying for influence and trying to protect their interests in the rapidly transforming political scene in the Middle East.

After the announcements by president Obama to relieve up to one-billion-dollars in debt and guarantee another one-billion-dollar loan for Egypt, the Saudis last week pledged to provide Egypt with $4bn US dollars to support its economic recovery.

“I don’t think it’s really a matter of the US and Saudi Arabia competing for influence in the Arab world,” Professor Fish said, “but more a matter of Saudi rulers being more assertive in defending their fellow despots – and, by extension, themselves – given the Obama administration’s inability or unwillingness to prop up dictators in the region.”

Prince Waleed bin Talal al Saud, a high-profile member of the Saudi royal family, told The New York Times’ editorial board recently: “We’re sending a message that monarchies are not where this is happening… We are not trying to get our way by force, but to safeguard our interests.”

Although the Saudi Arabian ambassador Adel al Jubeir was sitting in the front row during Barack Obama’s first speech on the Middle East since the recent uprisings, Obama did not refer to Saudi Arabia once in the speech.

This omission of Saudi Arabia, Washington’s closest ally in the region, is indicative of the strained relations between them.

“Truth be told, the Arab revolts are very popular among the American people,” Professor Fish said. “Obama and much of Congress are facing elections next year and American politicians do not want to be seen – or characterized by their political rivals – as protectors of despotism.”

Hypocrisy and militarization

Obama also made no mention of Saudi Arabia’s active support for the crackdown in Bahrain because it was the first instance of the GCC making use of its option to intervene in member countries’ conflicts. With Morocco and Jordan in the mix, this ability would be greatly strengthened and make the military option potentially more appealing than negotiations.

Obama spoke about women and freedom in his speech, but did not mention the women’s fight for freedom in Saudi Arabia or the sporadic protests across the eastern part of Saudi Arabia.

Malak Jaaphar noted:

@AJStream He gave a shout out to women & freedom but failed to mention Saudi Arabia? Hypocrisy.

As noticeable as Obama’s omission of Saudi Arabia was, he reserved some of his harshest words for Iran, accusing them of taking advantage of the turmoil in the region.

“Thus far, Syria has followed its Iranian ally seeking assistance from Tehran in the tactics of suppression. This speaks to the hypocrisy of the Iranian regime,” Obama said.

Marandi, the Tehran university professor, accused Obama of trying to justify what he calls “the crimes of the Bahraini and Saudi governments”.

“Obama attacks Iran for verbally supporting the oppressed people of Bahrain, yet he is completely silent about the brutal Saudi-led invasion and occupation of the country,” Marandi said

Jordan and Morocco’s military might aside, the UAE has already taken its own protective measures, hiring a company run by Erik Prince, the billionaire founder of Blackwater Worldwide, to provide “operational, planning and training support” to its military.

Blackwater’s $529m contract with the Emirati government to recruit and train a foreign battalion for counter-terrorism and internal security missions highlights the much-desired ability to strengthen the GCC’s military capabilities, clarifying the logic behind the potential acceptance of Jordan and Morocco.

Singling out Iran and citing it as a justification is no longer convincing, al Omran said. “The Saudis and other countries in the region use Iran as a bogey man to justify their policies. Everyone is trying to increase his or her influence in the region. They say Iran is meddling in Lebanon and Bahrain – well, the Saudis are too.”

Source: al-Jazeera.

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Iraqi Shiite vice president resigns

BAGHDAD, May 30 (Xinhua) — Iraqi Shiite Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi submitted his resignation in protest of creating “unnecessary” top government positions after two weeks of his appointment, a Shiite religious leader said on Monday.

“The resignation of Adel Abul-Mahdi from his position as a Vice President came in response to popular will and in line with the reservations of the (Shiite) religious leadership over the creation of unnecessary government positions,” Ammar al-Hakim, head of the Shiite religious party of Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC), told reporters in Baghdad.

Hakim hoped that the resignation of Mahdi, an SIIC leading member, would be a message for other political blocs not to fight on positions and to demand slimming Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’ s cabinet.

Mahdi submitted his resignation letter on Friday to President Jalal Talabani, but the president did not accept it yet, a source from the SIIC said on condition of anonymity.

Early in the year, the Iraqi parliament voted by majority on assigning three vice presidents for President Jalal Talabani. But divisions among the Iraqi political blocs, which fiercely fought to gain power by seizing as much positions as they can, delayed the appointment for months.

On May 12, the Iraqi parliament eventually voted for two Shiite politician Adel Abdul Mahdi and Khudair al-Khuzaie from the National Alliance, and Sunni Arab Tariq al-Hashimi from the cross sectarian bloc of Iraqia, to fill the vacancy of the three vice presidents.

Source: Xinhua.

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Mistrust abounds as Bahrain to lift emergency law

By Ali Khalil (AFP) – May 31, 2011

MANAMA — Tanks have begun withdrawing from Manama’s streets ahead of the planned lifting Wednesday of a state of emergency enacted amid a crackdown on demonstrators but mistrust still abounds in Bahrain.

Bahrain’s King Hamad, meanwhile, called for a national dialogue to begin on July 1, the BNA news agency reported.

Backed by Saudi-led Gulf troops, Bahraini forces in mid-March crushed the Shiite-led pro-democracy demonstrations that had paralyzed central Manama, the capital of Sunni-ruled Bahrain, for a month.

Authorities continued with a crackdown on Shiites, who make up the majority of the kingdom’s population, storming their villages and arresting hundreds of men and women, mostly for the mere accusation of supporting the peaceful protests.

But with the apparent gradual return to normality, stories are told behind closed doors of continued persecution of Shiites and mass dismissals from public-sector jobs for people accused of participating in the protests.

Sunnis, on the other hand, have been radicalized, with many of them welcoming the government’s heavy-handed approach as a measure that saved the tiny kingdom from an Iranian-backed Shiite plot to overthrow the regime.

Many do not trust the Shiites.

Abdullah Hashim, a leading figure in the Sunni National Unity Assembly group spoke of “high tension” and accused the country’s majority community of raising fears among Sunnis, who enjoy protection under the current rulers.

“The call to topple the regime has opened a deep rift in Bahraini society that will take tens of years to heal,” he told AFP, referring to a slogan chanted by Shiite demonstrators during a month of protests.

Nabil Rajab, a Shiite rights and opposition activist, lamented what he described as the government’s success in driving a wedge between the two communities.

“Authorities have been successful in separating Sunnis from Shiites, and they have played the Iran card very well,” he said.

Tension between the Gulf Arab monarchies and Shiite-dominated Iran heightened after Tehran repeatedly criticized the crackdown on its Bahraini co-religionists.

But although Shiites and the Al-Khalifa ruling family have had a history of conflict, especially in the 1990s before some partial reforms, this year’s crackdown on peaceful mass protests is regarded by many as a step too far.

“They have gone too far. People are still in a state of shock,” said Rajab, pointing out that Shiite families that have traditionally been known to be apolitical or pro-regime, have also been targeted.

An opposition figure who requested anonymity described the backlash by the authorities against Shiites as “bedouin revenge”, adding that the collective punishment inflicted on the majority community, including the detention of women, reflects a nomadic mentality.

He added, however, that those who had decided to resort to brutal force had not thought of an exit policy.

“As this was tribal revenge, they did not think of tomorrow,” he said, adding that the government is already “in trouble” over finding a partner for dialogue in the future.

“If no political solution is presented, I think we are heading towards a big crisis,” said Rajab.

In February, in response to the protests, Crown Prince Sheikh Salman had proposed a broad national dialogue, as opposition groups demanded the establishment of a “real” constitutional monarchy.

And on Tuesday, King Hamad called for a national dialogue to begin on July 1.

The BNA news agency quoted the king as calling for “all necessary steps to prepare for a serious dialogue, comprehensive and without preconditions”, adding that it should “start from July 1.”

The opposition had also called earlier for the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman, an uncle of King Hamad who has been in office since independence from Britain in 1971 and is widely despised by Shiites.

“Everybody wants reform, but not stupidly,” said Hashim, adding that his Sunni group considers itself an opposition movement although it does not believe Bahrain is ready for a real constitutional monarchy.

“We are for a gradual reform process,” he said.

Meanwhile, the economy is still suffering from the fallout from the crackdown.

Moody’s Investors Service last week downgraded Bahrain’s government bond ratings by one notch to Baa1 from A3, citing a “significant deterioration in Bahrain’s political environment since February.”

Copyright © 2011 AFP. All rights reserved.

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Iraqi vice president resigns in sign of infighting

May 31, 2011

BAGHDAD: One of Iraq’s deputy presidents has stepped down, a top Shiite leader said on Monday, a sign of divisions in the coalition government formed by Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factions.

Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s resignation came as Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki fends off critics who say he has not delivered on power-sharing promises since forming a fragile multisectarian government in December after nine months of political deadlock.

Ammar Al-Hakim, the leader of the Iranian-backed Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (ISCI), said Abdul-Mahdi, a senior Shiite politician in ISCI, had presented his resignation but it had yet to be approved by President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd.

“We were supposed to present this resignation before, but the president was abroad, so once he came back the resignation was submitted to him,” Hakim said.

Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite, was one of three deputies appointed by Parliament this month to the government led by Al-Maliki.

Hakim said he hoped the resignation would prompt others to follow suit to reduce the size of the government. There have been divisions among the Shiite allies.

The vice president’s post is largely symbolic as it carries no real power but it was a part of the power sharing deal between Iraq’s political factions to form the government.

Abdul-Mahdi’s departure is unlikely to pressure the coalition, which still has the backing of most other Shiite blocs in the government, including the powerful Sadrist bloc with 39 seats in Parliament.

But it highlights increasing political wrangling in Iraq as US troops prepare to withdraw by the end of the year.

Opposition leaders are already seeking to pressure Al-Maliki, who faces a self-imposed early June deadline to show progress to Iraqis demanding much-needed basic services after years of war and violence.

More than eight years after the US-led invasion that toppled Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein, Iraqis complain their governments have not done enough to resolve day-to-day problems such as supplying electricity and creating jobs.

The Sunni-backed Iraqiya alliance, led by former premier Iyad Allawi, also criticizes Maliki for failing to form a national advisory body Allawi was meant to head and delaying the naming of key posts such as the defense and interior ministries.

Iraq was ravaged by sectarian violence unleashed by the invasion. Overall violence has dropped sharply from the dark days of sectarian slaughter in 2006-07, but attacks by insurgents and Shiite militia continue daily.

Source: Arab News.

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UAE seeks $100m in support for F-16 fleet

May 31, 2011

DUBAI: The US Defense Department says the United Arab Emirates is seeking $100 million worth of supplies and maintenance services for its fleet of F-16 fighters.

The Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a statement posted last week it notified Congress of the sale May 24.

It says the proposed deal would include a range of classified and unclassified equipment, munitions, spare parts as well as training and ground support. It calls the UAE “an important force for peace, political stability, and economic progress in the Middle East.” The UAE in March deployed six of its F-16s to help enforce the NATO-led no-fly zone over Libya. One of those planes crashed on landing at an air base in southern Italy last month.

Source: Arab News.

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Bahrain parliamentarians demand treason charges after WikiLeaks

May 29, 2011

Cairo – Sunni Salafist parliamentarians in Bharain Sunday called on the authorities to prosecute their former Shiite lawmaker colleagues for treason, in the wake of WikiLeaks documents suggesting the al-Wefaq opposition group met US embassy officials in Manama.

In a statement the al-Asalah Islamic Society, which represents Salafists, called al-Wefaq – which held almost half of the 40-seat assembly – a ‘poisoned dagger’ threatening national security on the Gulf island in the wake of the leaked US diplomatic cables.

Al-Wefaq, the country’s leading Shiite opposition grouping, resigned its parliamentary posts in February in protest over the lethal security crackdown against pro-reform protesters in the capital Manama on February 14th.

According to al-Asalah, the cables reveal high-level cooperation between al-Wefaq, which is also accused of having links to Iran, and the Americans.

‘Such meetings reveal that al-Wefaq is not a typical political opposition grouping but a sectarian one that jumps in the lap of the Americans and has a clandestine agenda to betray the country,’ the statement said.

‘The meetings also prove that al-Wefaq is not just an agent for the Iranian agenda in the country but also the American one’.

The Salafist grouping claim that such meetings reveal the extent of the foreign ‘conspiracy’ against Bahrain by powers such as the US, Britain and Iran, among others.

At least 30 people have been killed during government crackdowns on protesters, which included the use of live ammunition, activists say.

Four policemen were also killed, according to the Interior Ministry.

Hundreds of people had been arrested, and more than 1,500 were sacked from their jobs – including medical staff, educators, other professionals and students – for taking part in the anti-government rallies.

In the wake of the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, protests demanding political reform and greater freedoms in Sunni-ruled, Shi’ite majority Bahrain began on February 14.

Bahrain, which is the home of the US Navy 5th Fleet, and other Sunni-ruled countries in the region have accused Shi’ite-led Iran of meddling in the country’s internal affairs.

Violence escalated in March, when Gulf troops were deployed to the small island kingdom and a state of emergency was declared to help quell the unrest.

The state of emergency, which is set to be lifted on June 1, bans all public gatherings and allows for arbitrary arrests and the trial of civilians in military courts.

Source: Monsters and Critics.

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Bahraini female doctors recount detention ‘horror’

By Ali Khalil (AFP) – May 29, 2011

MANAMA — Out of prison but in fear of being rearrested, Bahraini Shiite women doctors have spoken of abuse and torture by police after being accused of backing pro-democracy protests in the Sunni-ruled monarchy.

Although medics usually enjoy protection in conflicts by virtue of their profession, many Shiite doctors and nurses in Bahrain were rounded up in the March crackdown on a month-long pro-democracy protest.

Authorities accused them of abusing their jobs and siding with their co-religionist protesters.

Doctors at Manama’s Salmaniya central hospital, not far from the capital’s Pearl roundabout that became the focal point of protests inspired by the Arab uprisings, were also accused of lying and exaggerating on satellite channels to pile pressure on the government.

Some of the women doctors recently freed told AFP how they were made to confess to such allegations under torture and after being subjected to verbal abuse.

They requested anonymity for fear of further persecution.

“I advise you that we will get you to say whatever we want, either by you saying it willingly, or we will beat you like a donkey and torture you until you say it,” one female doctor said, citing her interrogator.

The doctor said she was asked about her role in the February 14 Revolution, the name given by cyber activists to the demonstrations after two protesters were killed on that date.

She said she was smacked in the face by a female interrogator when she answered that she was just a doctor treating those wounded during the crackdown on the uprising.

“It seems you don’t want to cooperate,” the female officer told her, while accusing medics of “stealing blood units to splash on the wounded” to exaggerate their injuries for television.

Blindfolded and handcuffed, the female doctor who claimed to have always been apolitical, said she was stunned with an electric shock to the head. She was then thrown on the floor, legs up, and beaten severely on the feet with what felt like an electric cable or a hose.

“Even policewomen were shocked when they saw my state as I came out of the interrogation room,” she said.

The following day, male interrogators took over, subjecting her to verbal sexual harassment and threatening to rape her.

“You must have had Mutah with demonstrators at the (Pearl) roundabout,” she cited the interrogator telling her, referring to a form of temporary marriage for Shiites which Sunnis frown upon as adultery.

“I will have Mutah with you,” she quoted him as saying.

“I will hang you from your breasts and rape you,” she quoted another as saying.

The woman eventually agreed to sign every confession paper she was given for fear of being raped.

Afterwards she spent more than 20 days in prison. She was released only after signing many pledges, including not to take part in any protests and not to talk to media.

Other female doctors, each of whom has had at least 20 years of professional experience, too spoke of humiliations and beatings.

“Nobody expected this” said one doctor who said she too was arrested and tortured. “Doctors are supposed to be a red line.”

She also spent over 20 days in detention and was subjected to beating to extract confessions that doctors had tried to “expand wounds in order to make them look bad,” for cameras.

The authorities claim that such actions led to the deaths of two protesters who they said had arrived at the hospital suffering only minor injuries.

“I couldn’t tell on which side of my head the slaps would land” said the veiled doctor describing how she was made to stand blindfolded in the interrogation room, where she claimed she was repeatedly called a “whore.”

At night, the soft-spoken mother was made to sleep on a chair.

Another doctor said she managed to lie down, albeit on a cold floor, blindfolded and handcuffed, only after she faked dizziness.

Apart from wanting her to testify against some male doctors accused of mobilizing medics to join the protests, they also ordered her to say that she served medicines “only to one sect of people who wanted to topple the regime” — a reference to the Shiite protesters.

She said she was struck several times in the face by a female interrogator.

Though freed, the doctors are barred from traveling and remain suspended from work with salaries overdue since March. They now fear being put on trial.

AFP approached Bahraini authorities for comment on abuse claims, but there was no response.

The authorities have said that 47 medics — 24 doctors and 23 nurses — have been referred to a special court set up under the state of national safety declared by King Hamad a day before the March 16 crackdown on demonstrators.

Bahrain state television repeatedly aired footage from Salmaniya hospital showing scenes it said proved the facility had been transformed into a protest bastion.

“What happened at Salmaniya will not be permitted again,” Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman said last week.

The freed women doctors say they fear for the fate of the male doctors who remain in custody.

“If the women have been treated in such a (harsh) way, what would the situation be with the men!” exclaimed one doctor.

Some medics also expressed fear over the conditions of the female head of nursing at Salmaniya hospital, Rola al-Safar, who remains in custody.

Safar was forced to confess on camera that she “splashed blood units on the patients” to exaggerate, one medic said.

International rights groups have strongly criticized Bahrain over its heavy-handed crackdown on the Shiite-dominated protests, and abuse of medics, teachers and other employees accused of backing the protest.

Copyright © 2011 AFP. All rights reserved.

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Iraq, Jordan Sign Deal for Railway Line Linking Port of Aqaba to Baghdad

By Nayla Razzouk
May 29, 2011

Jordan and Iraq signed a Memorandum of Understanding for a rail line linking the Jordanian Red Sea port of Aqaba with the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, Petra said, citing Jordanian Transport Minister Muhannad Qudah.

The agreement for a line that would provide passenger and cargo services was signed by Qudah and visiting Iraqi Transport Minister Hadi al-Ameri in Amman today, the Jordanian official agency said. There were no further details on the project. Those will be decided later by a joint committee, Petra said.

Jordan has plans for a $3.1 billion rail network running 950 kilometers (590 miles) to connect the kingdom with Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The kingdom is due to start the first bids for the project by the end of June, Qudah said April 11.

Jordan’s government will provide 370 million dinars ($522 million) for the project and potential lenders include the World Bank, European Investment Bank, France’s state-run Agence Francaise de Development, the Islamic Development Bank, the Saudi Fund for Development, the Kuwaiti Fund for Arab Economic Development, the Kuwait-based Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, the Japan Bank for International Cooperation and Germany’s state-owned development bank KfW, he said.

Source: Bloomberg.

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Iraqi Airways to Appeal Assets Freeze Court Order in Jordan

By Nayla Razzouk
May 29, 2011

Iraqi Airways will appeal a court order to freeze its bank accounts in Jordan following a lawsuit by Kuwait Airways Corp., Karim al-Nuri, a spokesman for the Iraqi Minister of Transport, said.

“We are preparing to appeal the Jordanian court order,” he said in a phone interview from Baghdad today. “Our appeal is based on the fact that Iraqi Airways is a state company and thus enjoys immunity and cannot have its offices seized.”

The Iraqi national carrier’s offices in Amman were seized three day ago and assets of $1.5 million were frozen after the May 10 order by a Jordanian court, he said.

State-run Kuwait Airways is seeking $1.2 billion in compensation for 10 aircraft taken when Iraq, under the rule of former President Saddam Hussein, invaded Kuwait in August 1990. Kuwait Airways won a U.K. court order to freeze the Baghdad- based airline’s global assets on April 25 last year, the same day as an Iraqi Airways flight landed in London for the first time in 20 years.

The Iraqi government decided in May 2010 to dissolve Iraqi Airways within three years because of the legal battle with Kuwait. The airline has cancelled flights to Europe since last year and continues to fly to destinations in the Middle East.

Iraqi Airways is planning to pursue negotiations with Kuwaiti officials in order to find a solution to the conflict that would benefit both parties, al-Nuri said.

New Company

The Iraqi airliner is also still considering government plans to operate under a new company to avoid the legal dispute and compensation claims raised by Kuwait, he said. “We are considering some contracts with local and foreign companies, although there is nothing final for now,” he said.

Kuwait Airways “seized multi-million dollar funds in various Iraqi Airways bank accounts in Amman,” following the May 10 Jordanian court order, Kuwait Airways lawyer Christopher Gooding of law firm Fasken Martineau said in an e-mailed statement on May 24.

The claim is in addition to $40 billion in debt amassed by Iraq under the regime of Saddam Hussein. The country, holder of the world’s fifth-largest crude reserves, is struggling to rebuild its damaged infrastructure and continues to allocate 5 percent of its annual oil revenue to repay the debt, roughly half of which it owes to Kuwait.

Source: Bloomberg.

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