rascott.com                                                                                 news, views and an occasional blog

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This is a personal site that reflects my interests in news,
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email me: robert@rascott.com


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Relaunching Open Skies

28 February 2011

At last an airline magazine that you should want to take home with you. Emirates has relaunched its monthly Open Skies magazine and the relaunch is commendable.

The magazine is also likely to get better as the publishers gather feedback on this first edition.

There are some teething issues.

Burying the contents page on the 19th page is a problem. Too much advertising on the first 18 pages.

The Twitter Pitch for cafes in a city is a good idea - but there must be more than 3 cafes in New York.

At article on shopping for "Booty" in Bangkok is already out of date - of the seven items two are from Suan Lum which is already closed down - and two from the airport duty free and no one should ever pay KingPower prices !

I enjoyed Pico Iyer's artcle and the travel literature section should be a monthly feature.....

Hanoi photo shoot - great - love the photo feature. More please !

And sorry - the route maps are different and I dont like them. I miss thinking about all the other places to fly to not yet on the network!

But overall it is a great makeover - some real thought has produced a genuinely interesting, quality airline magazine.

Qatar starts Montreal at end of June

27 February 2011

Qatar Airways will open services between Doha and Montreal on 29 June, serving the city three times per week. The airline's debut comes at a time of tension between the Canadian Government and Qatar Airways' Gulf rival Emirates, which has been battling for greater access to Canadian routes.

Canadian nationals arriving in Qatar may enter the country without prior visa arrangements. Passengers with Qatar as their end destination may enter by obtaining a visa on arrival, a service extended to 33 countries, with Canada being one of them.

The Boeing 777-200LR used on the Montreal route has a two-class operation, offering 42 seats in Business in a spacious 2𣇼 cabin layout, with a seat pitch of 78 inches.

In Economy, the Boeing 777 offers 217 seats in a 3𣛩 configuration with a pitch of up to 34-inch, which is among the most generous of any international airline flying wide-body aircraft on long-haul routes. Emirates by comparison has a 3-4-3 economy configuration.

"Montreal is one of the most sought after destinations in the world and we hope to have paved the way for expanded capacity into Canada and operate to additional cities in the future," says Qatar Airways chief Akbar Al Baker.

The new rights, granted last year after a series of bilateral talks, is a thorny reminder to Emirates of its own 12-year effort to persuade Canadian authorities, via intergovernmental talks, to allow additional flights from the United Arab Emirates.

Emirates and Etihad both operate only to Toronto, sharing six flights a week and using the entire permitted allocation of flights per week from the UAE to Canada. Emirates has pressed for a "modest" increase, indicating that it would like to increase frequency to Toronto and open flights to Vancouver and Calgary.

Dubai-based Emirates insists that it poses no threat to Air Canada and that any suggestions Star Alliance - with which Emirates has engaged in a long-running public spat - would be badly hit by its plans "lack credibility".

China's heavy handed controls

27 February 2010

Massive drought in Northern China, an awful harvest, global food prices spiking, widespread revolution in the Middle East. Calls for a Jasmine Revolution in China. Memories of 1989.The PRC leadership is not comfortable.

And their solution. Large numbers of police - and new tactics like shrill whistles and street cleaning trucks to squelch overt protests in China for a second Sunday in a row after more calls for peaceful gatherings modeled on recent democratic movements in the Middle East.

Near Shanghai's People's Square, uniformed police blew whistles nonstop and shouted at people to keep moving, though about 200 people - a combination of onlookers and quiet sympathizers who formed a larger crowd than a week ago - braved the shrill noise. In Beijing, trucks normally used to water the streets drove repeatedly up the busy commercial shopping district spraying water and keeping crowds pressed to the edges.

Foreign journalists met with tighter police controls. In Shanghai, authorities called foreign reporters Sunday indirectly warning them to stay away from the protest sites, while police in Beijing followed some reporters and blocked those with cameras from entering the Wangfujing shopping street where protests were called. Plainclothes police struck a Bloomberg News television reporter, who was then taken away for questioning.

Police also detained several Chinese, at least two in Beijing and four in Shanghai, putting them into vans and driving them away, though it was not clear if they had tried to protest.

While it isn't clear how many people - if any at all - came to protest, the outsized response compared with last week shows how the mysterious calls for protest have left the authoritarian government on edge.

Unlike Egypt and Tunisia where popular frustrations with economic malaise added fuel to popular protests to oust autocratic leaders, China has a booming economy and rising living standards. But there is clearly concern that democratic movements could take root if unchallenged.

One thing is for certain. China has a massive, well equipped, security apparatus. After blocking entrance to Wangfujing, police took away foreign news photographers, camera crews and reporters from The Associated Press, the BBC, Voice of America, German state broadcasters ARD and ZDF, and others. They were taken to an office where they were told special permission was needed to report from Wangfujing.

In doing so, the government appears to be extending a ban on reporting at Tiananmen Square and reinterpreting more relaxed rules put in place ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

This is not over. People will find a way to make their voices by heard.

DSI changes its story - no one believes it

27 February 2011 -

"Thailand's Department of Special Investigation (DSI) has concluded that Reuters cameraman Hiro Muramoto, who was killed during political protests last year, was not shot by security forces, the head of the DSI said on Sunday.

That conclusion contradicts a preliminary finding in a DSI report leaked to Reuters in December, which indicated the bullet that killed the Japanese journalist on April 10 came from the direction of troops.

DSI Director-General Tharit Pengdith said the bullet came from an AK-47, which did not match the weapon used by soldiers in the street in Bangkok that day.

"Now we know for sure the bullet that killed him was a Russian-made AK-47, which we do not have for military use," Tharit told Reuters, adding there would be a news conference on Monday to outline the findings.

Muramoto, 43, was based in Tokyo and had come to Bangkok to help cover anti-government "red shirt" protests that lasted from March to mid-May last year. He was among 91 civilians and members of the security forces killed during the unrest.

Army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd was not immediately available for comment.

He was quoted in Sunday's Bangkok Post as saying soldiers did not use AK-47 rifles on the day in question.

However, the Bangkok post also reported "claims that the army chief of staff paid the DSI head a visit to complain about an initial department finding" that blamed soldiers for the journalist's death. The DSI's initial findings which were leaked to Reuters
 found that soldiers should in fact be blamed for Muramoto's death during the rally at Khok Wua intersection on April 10 last year.

"The DSI is likely to face questions about why it changed its stance," said the Post.

The Post says that Tharit has denied meeting the army chief of staff.

The army has backed the DSI report, saying troops deployed to disperse the red shirt rally that day were not armed with AK- 47 rifles, only with US-made M16 and Israel-made Tavor rifles.

"The soldiers did not use AK-47 rifles that day," said spokesman Col Sansern Kaewkamnerd. Sanserd remember was the spokesman for the CRES; and has throughout the last year been creative in many of his press briefings.

Tharit has declined to comment on the change from the original report other than to say the earlier report did not say categorically that the army was to blame for the cameraman's death.

An army source told the Bangkok Post that the army had imported about 20,000 AK-47 rifles into the country two decades ago. About 19,000 of them had been distributed for use at military camps nationwide, while the rest were kept at the army's weapon storage site.

Meanwhile, about 4,000-5,000 red shirt supporters are expected to gather at Wat Pathum Wanaram today to make merit for those killed during the protests between March 12 and May 19 last year.

Why has it taken 10 months to come to this convenient conclusion. An autopsy after Hiro's death would have told the type of bullet that killed him. If the Army had no AK47s this could have been confirmed immediately.

A nation mourns

25 February 2011

Forget the red and yellow shirts for a day - the biggest news out of Thailand is that Paradorn and his wife Natalie have parted ways.

He ruled the tennis court, and she reigned over beauty queens. Yet, even for a perfect match, it's "game over".

Last night, Chanachai Srichaphan, father of the former tennis star Paradorn, said that his son and wife Natalie Glebova - former Miss Universe - were still living together, but "not as husband and wife". The couple got married in September 2007.

Chanachai shrugged off all speculation about the reasons, saying it was a private matter and that they had made the decision as grown-ups.

It is still not confirmed if the star couple have already signed divorce papers. However, another source from Paradorn's family insisted that there was no bitterness, and that the marriage had ended due to "different lifestyles".

"They are still good friends," said the source, who admitted to having given advice to Paradorn over the past three or four months. Still, the source insisted that the couple had agreed to separate without it having any legal ramifications on their assets. The source also denied that "flirtations" were behind the break-up, though people in the motor-racing circuit think otherwise.

When Paradorn's career was interrupted by a wrist injury in 2007, he turned his attention to motorbike racing and was often spotted in the company of different girls, many of them university students.

Amazing Thailand. Paradorn has a gik or more; and thinks that his wife should be OK with that. But surprise! She is not Thai and better a divorce than she cuts off his (tennis) balls.

My Thai wife thinks it is all Natalie's fault. She only married him for the fame she says. But who is more famous; a Miss Universe or a has been tennis player.

Aerotropolis: -The Way We'll Live Next

25 February 2011
By John D. Kasarda and Greg Lindsay - and reviewed by Business Week

If only Ryan Bingham had read Aerotropolis. Perhaps then the corporate hatchet man, portrayed by George Clooney in Up in the Air, would understand the global forces keeping his lost soul aloft梐nd relocate to a fledgling city in Asia. A collaboration between John D. Kasarda, a professor at the Kenan-Flagler Business School of the University of North Carolina, and Greg Lindsay, a journalist who has written for publications including this one, the business-cum-sociology tome describes how the airborne movement is reshaping business and urban life from Chicago to Shenzhen and almost certainly redefining our future.

Although he receives credit as lead author, Kasarda darts in and out of the book as a central character, portrayed in the third-person. Occasionally awkward narration is just a small flaw, however, in an otherwise fascinating and important work. An evangelist of sorts, Kasarda travels the world preaching to companies, cities, and countries that they must embrace the new rules of commerce or risk getting left behind. These rules center around the "aerotropolis"梥ome combination of an enormous airport, planned city, shipping hub, and futuristic office park. The Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, designed in the 1970s, became a proto-aerotropolis and generated economic growth in that sprawling metroplex, the authors say. Among the burgeoning aerotropoli are Dubai and South Korea's New Songdo City梡roposed finish date, 2015梬hich will serve as an offshoot of Inchon International Airport, a ginormous facility opened in 2001. Companies are already moving offices and employees to New Songdo's prefab precincts, only a two-hour flight from Shanghai and Beijing.

The 20th century Jet Age, the authors argue, was channeled by airports constructed on the peripheries of cities. The 21st century Instant Age梬ith its ubiquitous travel, 24/7 work schedules, and global supply chains梬ill require a reconfiguration. Cities, they write, will need to be arrayed around airports in concentric circles of business and residential zones, as they are in New Songdo and Hyderabad, India. They believe the economic and technological forces driving this transformation are too powerful to resist. Smart Western executives and urban planners need to get with the program, they warn, since South Korea梟ot to mention China and India梐re already on board.

Aerotropolis follows in the tradition of works such as Edge City (1992) that blend jargon-free scholarship with shoe-leather reporting to tell readers why they're living and working as they are. In Edge City, Joel Garreau traced how transportation has molded urban life (CliffNotes version: Donkeys defined hilly Jerusalem; sailing ships made Lisbon; railroads powered Chicago; and mass-produced automobiles begat metropolitan Los Angeles). Garreau also charted how asphalt, airplanes, and networked computers combined, in the 1980s, to produce exurban population centers in places such as northern Virginia. In essence, Kasarda and Lindsay pick up the story from there, pointing out that Reston, Va., and other Dulles Airport feeder-cities can be seen as immediate precursors梠r even early iterations梠f a full-fledged aerotropolis.

That Kasarda and Lindsay are onto something big seems beyond dispute. Yet the best material in Aerotropolis is the often-poignant case studies of established cities too sclerotic to adopt the Kasarda Doctrine. Progressive thinkers in Chicago, Detroit, New York, and London know it would be better if they could knock down congested airports, build new ones with better runways, and connect close-in businesses and commuters via high-speed rail lines. Yet inertial politics, incumbent commercial interests, tight budgets, and not-in-my-backyard activists impede change. The authors suggest darkly that failure to evolve spells doom for older cities. Still, New York and its aging brethren梠ther than Detroit, which has its own special problems梥omehow seem to have life left in their overburdened boulevards and even their delay-ridden airport lounges.

The authors are vague about whether the airport city of the future is an upgrade or a fresh circle of hell. Exactly who wants to live in a tract home on a former wetland near Seoul's monster airport? Just what precisely life is梠r will be條ike in New Songdo doesn't become entirely clear in Aerotropolis, but the hints aren't encouraging. The authors enthuse about how New Songdo and its "clones" in China will be assembled by a consortium that includes Cisco (CSCO), 3M (MMM), and United Technologies (UTX). "We're trying to replicate cities," Cisco's chief globalization officer, Wim Elfrink, tells them. "We have no standards. Every city is a new project." Whatever that means, many may feel reluctant to move to the aerotropolis Cisco is helping build on the outskirts of Chongqing in western China梕ven if there is a billboard in the arrival hall that says, in several languages, "If you lived here, you'd be home by now."

Revolts expose tawdry policies of west

25 February 2011 - The Financial Times 

The chain of uprisings across the Arab world plainly caught the US and Europe, as well as allied Arab rulers, on the hop. Comfortably aligned with dictators who ostensibly guaranteed them stability and cheap oil, western leaders dispensed liberal nostrums while checking in their democratic principles at the palace gate or the tent flap.

Their response to Arab revolution is evolving. From the first shocked vacillations between wobble and waffle, western rhetoric has become more assured. Yet the west抯 performance still looks inadequate, especially in the face of the increasingly unhinged Muammer Gaddafi.

The Arab crisis has exposed mercilessly the cosiness of links between western and, above all, European leaders and their regional counterparts. The fawning greed with which Britain, France and Italy have sought oil and business opportunities from Colonel Gaddafi抯 murderous regime now looks particularly tawdry. Is that only with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight?

Not entirely. The UK, in particular, rushed with indecent haste to the Brother Leader抯 tent. Tony Blair抯 揹eal in the desert, sold at the time as turning the colonel away from terrorist adventurism and bringing him back into polite geopolitical society, paved the way for a lucrative contract for BP.

Famously, the US and the UK presented Col Gaddafi抯 decision to give up his weapons of mass destruction in 2003 as a result of their decision to invade Iraq, where they found no WMD, in spite of the drumbeat of alarmist propaganda and dodgy intelligence that led up to the war. Yet that deal had been years in the making.

Britain started talks with Libya, initially about the Lockerbie bombing, six years earlier. These came to fruition in 2003 when Libya抯 nuclear programme was still not much more than a Meccano set. In 2003, moreover, after Col Gaddafi forswore terrorism, Libyan agents were implicated in a plot to kill King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

It is more than just Libya. Beyond the lust for oil and lazy equation of autocracy with stability, western leaders have had a blind spot about Arab countries. Europeans have struggled to come up with convincing policies towards what is their backyard.

The 43-state Union of the Mediterranean, a pet project of President Nicolas Sarkozy, is a case in point, an almost meaning-free piece of European Union architecture, a cathedral built on a pinhead. Designed to spread EU prosperity to the southern shores of the Arab Mediterranean, the union looks suspiciously like a halfway house, a sort of parking lot for Turkey, to whose EU membership Mr Sarkozy (and German Chancellor Angela Merkel) is strongly opposed.

Since its Paris launch in July 2008, the union has not met at summit level. Now Mr Sarkozy has lost his co-president of this august body: Egypt抯 fallen dictator, Hosni Mubarak. The European-dominated Socialist International, another grouping of uncertain purpose, has also seen its ranks depleted: the collapsed ruling parties of Mr Mubarak and his fellow ex-despot Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, neither distinguished by their passion for social justice, were both members.

European leaders can embrace tyrants yet look askance at Turkey, where the so-far successful marriage of Islam and democracy has mesmerised the most dynamic currents of Arab opinion, the very people who have unleashed revolution.

揟unisia, Algeria, Morocco this is part of the known world for the French political class. Turkey is not part of their known world, observes a French diplomat tersely.

But Europe and the west are part of the known world of the Arab revolutionaries and their allies. And Arab television stations are channelling their increasingly loud pleas for western help against the murderous finale of Col Gaddafi抯
42-year rule. Panels of commentators at the same time remark caustically on western irrelevance and impotence.

But whether in desperation or in anger, Col Gaddafi抯 opponents hope that the western powers will at least impose a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent the regime bombarding them with its warplanes and importing more mercenaries to fight them. Not just the fate of a tyrant but the reputation of Europe and America is at stake in Libya and the Middle East.

Al Maktoum to get some general aviation

24 February 2011

The Gulf news says in today's headline that Al Maktoum International is now fully operational. That must be why if gets a handful of flights each day.

The reality is that Al Maktoum International Airport has now opened for general aviation operations in addition to its cargo flights. The General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) granted this approval following a review of safety, security and standard operational procedures at the Jebel Ali airport.

One day, many years from now, Dubai World Central (DWC) might be the world's largest urban development project. The project includes Al Maktoum International Airport, a logistics city, an aviation services city and numerous residential and commercial projects.

Al Futtaim Services Company, in a joint venture with European jet operator DC Aviation, will provide a range of general aviation services at the airport including business jet charters, aircraft maintenance and aircraft management.

Al Futtaim, the first client at Aviation City, operates a fleet of aircraft including Airbus A319 Corporate Jets and Bombardier Global Express.

Forget the daft Gulf  News headline - the move of general aviation to Jebel Ali is a necessity. Business jets movement accounted for about 22,500 movements out of Dubai International Airport in 2010.

Phase 1 (maybe no more?) of the Jebel Ali airport will operate one A380 capable runway, 64 remote stands, one cargo terminal with an annual capacity of 250,000 tonnes of cargo and a passenger terminal building designed to accommodate five million passengers per year as part of Phase 1.

Thank goodness for the Gulf News

24 February 2011

What would we do without the Gulf News - Independent, incisive, thorough, critical, investigative? Their editorial is a hoot!

"Handle new media with care - Gulf News Editorial:

Websites can complement and enhance the flow of news if the law keeps pace with them

There is no doubt new media such as online news forums is a credible threat to the long reign of traditional media like newspapers and broadcasting. Also, new media is increasingly gaining importance due to its role in the popular uprisings in the Arab world, dubbed the 慒acebook and Twitter revolutions'.

However, experts question the authority of the new media because of the massive quantity of unsubstantiated information floating in cyberspace. Rumours and photoshopped images are sometimes taken seriously.

But, according to the Gulf News annual State of the Press report released on Tuesday, some local news websites such as Al Rams take their job seriously and offer professional news service. In the UAE the threat might not be as serious as in many other countries. But with the flexibility of the law, those websites can grow to complement and enhance the flow of information and news an important aspect of modern societies."

Assange to be extradited

24 February 2011

I think this is correct. Julian Assange is accused of a serious crime in Sweden. He needs to defend those charges in Sweden. His role at Wikileaks and in the publishing of the US diplomatic cables is irrelevant to the extradition case.

Julian Assange is to be extradited to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault. If his appeal is unsuccessful he will be extradited to Sweden in 10 days.

Assange has been fighting extradition since he was arrested and bailed in December. He has consistently denied the allegations, made by two women in August last year. But he needs to fight those allegations in court.

Assange fears that an extradition to Sweden would make it easier for Washington to extradite him to the US on possible charges relating to the release by WikiLeaks of leaked US embassy cables.

If this was to happen, Sweden would have to ask permission from the UK for the onward extradition. No such charges have been laid, though the website's activities are under investigation in the US.

The most serious of the four allegations relates to an accusation that Assange, during a visit to Stockholm in August, had sex with a woman, Miss B, while she was sleeping and without a condom, and without her consent. Three counts of sexual assault are also alleged against another woman, Miss A. If found guilty of the rape charge he could face up to four years in prison.

Libya fall out will be a crisis

23 February 2011

With Libya in turmoil the fallout could be an economic and humanitarian crisis. This starts of course with estimates of 1,000 Libyans already dead from givernment action against the protests.

On economics: Libya抯 oil output has plunged by at least a fifth as foreign companies have shut down production.

Oil prices have surged to US$110 a barrel - its highest level in nearly three years - and boosting output from Saudi will not replace the Libyan production.

High oil prices further weaken the US dollar. Oil prices climbing at the same time as the world faces inflation threats and rapidly rising fuel prices raises the spectre of double dip recession.

On the humanitarian side 70% of working Libyans work for and are paid by government controlled organisations. There is already an outflow of people from Libya to other countries in North Africa and across the Mediterranean; why have so many European countries propped up Gaddafi. Out of fear of a massive refugee crisis.

Cities to live in

23 February 2011

The Economist Intelligence Unit produced its annual list of the world's most liveable cities; and for the the fifth straight year Vancouver was placed first, while Melbourne claimed second place from Vienna. Australian and Canadian cities dominated the list's top 10 spots.

In the annual survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit, the Canadian west coast city and 2010 Winter Olympics host scored 98 percent on a combination of stability, health care, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure - a score unchanged from last year.

The EIU clearly does not measure the weather!

Although Melbourne pipped the Austrian capital for silver medal, there was no other major change near the top of the list of 140 cities worldwide. Auckland, New Zealand, came in 10th.

"Mid-sized cities in developed countries with relatively low population densities tend to score well by having all the cultural and infrastructural benefits on offer with fewer problems related to crime or congestion," said Jon Copestake, editor of the report, in a statement.

Pittsburgh was the top US city with 29th place - just ahead of Honolulu - while Los Angeles moved up three places to 44th and New York held onto the 56th spot.

London moved up one place to 53rd while Paris came in at number 16.

The top Asian city was Osaka at number 12, tying Geneva, Switzerland and beating out the Japanese capital of Tokyo, which came in at 18.

Hong Kong came in at 31 but Beijing, capital of the world's most populous nation and No. 2 economy, straggled in at 72. Pollution !

There was also little change at the bottom, with Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, once again claiming the worst position with a rating of 37.5 percent, narrowing beating out the Bangladesh capital of Dhaka.

The Economist Intelligence Unit survey ranks cities based on 30 factors such as healthcare, culture and environment, and education and personal safety.

If Not Now, When?

23 February 2011 Thomas L. Friedman,
New York Times

What抯 unfolding in the Arab world today is the mother of all wake-up calls. And what the voice on the other end of the line is telling us is clear as a bell:

"America, you have built your house at the foot of a volcano. That volcano is now spewing lava from different cracks and is rumbling like it抯 going to blow. Move your house! In this case, 搈ove your house means 揺nd your addiction to oil.

No one is rooting harder for the democracy movements in the Arab world to succeed than I am. But even if things go well, this will be a long and rocky road. The smart thing for us to do right now is to impose a $1-a-gallon gasoline tax, to be phased in at 5 cents a month beginning in 2012, with all the money going to pay down the deficit. Legislating a higher energy price today that takes effect in the future, notes the Princeton economist Alan Blinder, would trigger a shift in buying and investment well before the tax kicks in. With one little gasoline tax, we can make ourselves more economically and strategically secure, help sell more Chevy Volts and free ourselves to openly push for democratic values in the Middle East without worrying anymore that it will harm our oil interests. Yes, it will mean higher gas prices, but prices are going up anyway, folks. Let抯 capture some it for ourselves.

It is about time. For the last 50 years, America (and Europe and Asia) have treated the Middle East as if it were just a collection of big gas stations: Saudi station, Iran station, Kuwait station, Bahrain station, Egypt station, Libya station, Iraq station, United Arab Emirates station, etc. Our message to the region has been very consistent: 揋uys (it was only guys we spoke with), here抯 the deal. Keep your pumps open, your oil prices low, don抰 bother the Israelis too much and, as far as we抮e concerned, you can do whatever you want out back. You can deprive your people of whatever civil rights you like. You can engage in however much corruption you like. You can preach whatever intolerance from your mosques that you like. You can print whatever conspiracy theories about us in your newspapers that you like. You can keep your women as illiterate as you like. You can create whatever vast welfare-state economies, without any innovative capacity, that you like. You can undereducate your youth as much as you like. Just keep your pumps open, your oil prices low, don抰 hassle the Jews too much and you can do whatever you want out back.

It was that attitude that enabled the Arab world to be insulated from history for the last 50 years to be ruled for decades by the same kings and dictators. Well, history is back. The combination of rising food prices, huge bulges of unemployed youth and social networks that are enabling those youths to organize against their leaders is breaking down all the barriers of fear that kept these kleptocracies in power.

But fasten your seat belts. This is not going to be a joy ride because the lid is being blown off an entire region with frail institutions, scant civil society and virtually no democratic traditions or culture of innovation. The United Nations Arab Human Development Report 2002 warned us about all of this, but the Arab League made sure that that report was ignored in the Arab world and the West turned a blind eye. But that report compiled by a group of Arab intellectuals led by Nader Fergany, an Egyptian statistician was prophetic. It merits re-reading today to appreciate just how hard this democratic transition will be.

The report stated that the Arab world is suffering from three huge deficits a deficit of education, a deficit of freedom and a deficit of women抯 empowerment. A summary of the report in Middle East Quarterly in the Fall of 2002 detailed the key evidence: the gross domestic product of the entire Arab world combined was less than that of Spain. Per capita expenditure on education in Arab countries dropped from 20 percent of that in industrialized countries in 1980 to 10 percent in the mid-1990s. In terms of the number of scientific papers per unit of population, the average output of the Arab world per million inhabitants was roughly 2 percent of that of an industrialized country.

When the report was compiled, the Arab world translated about 330 books annually, one-fifth of the number that Greece did. Out of seven world regions, the Arab countries had the lowest freedom score in the late 1990s in the rankings of Freedom House. At the dawn of the 21st century, the Arab world had more than 60 million illiterate adults, the majority of whom were women. Yemen could be the first country in the world to run out of water within 10 years.

This is the vaunted 搒tability all these dictators provided the stability of societies frozen in time.

Seeing the Arab democracy movements in Egypt and elsewhere succeed in modernizing their countries would be hugely beneficial to them and to the world. We must do whatever we can to help. But no one should have any illusions about how difficult and convulsive the Arabs return to history is going to be. Let抯 root for it, without being in the middle of it.

Berlusconi抯 Arab Dancer

23 February 2011
The New York Times OpEd

It says something about the miserable European response to the Arab spring that Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi抯 personal contribution to North African affairs his alleged liaison with a then-17-year-old Moroccan dancer only just takes the prize for most abject performance.

His foreign minister, Franco Frattini, was not far behind with his response to the brave uprising of the Tunisian people that ousted the longtime dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali: 揚riority number one is the deterrence of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorist cells.

All manner of worthy things may be wished for Arabs just across the Mediterranean and they were by President Nicolas Sarkozy抯 fatuous brainchild, the 43-member Union for the Mediterranean but of course democracy and freedom are not among them.

The Barcelona-based Union, which should be disbanded forthwith, preferred to concentrate on matters like the 揹e-pollution of the Mediterranean. That, for Europeans, generally meant keeping Arabs away.

No wonder Orhan Pamuk, the Nobel-prize winning Turkish novelist, wrote an essay late last year called 揟he Fading Dream of Europe. He noted the inward, small-minded, anti-immigrant turn of a European Continent that had once represented the summit of his own and many Turks aspirations. And that was penned before the latest European niggardliness.

In his own way the aging multibillionaire Berlusconi with his too-black hair and his fawning entourage and his control of the media and his private villas and his debasement of the Italian state has aped the manners of the very Arab despots the peoples of Egypt and Tunisia and Libya and Bahrain have risen to oust. Like them he has confused self and nation, entranced by the cult of his personality.

Or, and it hardly matters which, these Arab dictators and their business acolytes have aped Berlusconi, mimicking the worst of the West while bringing nothing of its political openness, creating a valueless simulacrum of moneyed European sophistication while their people languished without the most basic rights the European Union upholds.

Designer labels without freedom of speech or the rule of law constitute a virulent form of contemporary savagery.

Berlusconi epitomizes a long trans-Mediterranean connivance with Arab subjugation a marriage of convenience that condemned Arabs to be supplicants (Moroccan dancers there to titillate). Men and women across North Africa have taken to the streets to overturn this dignity-denying status quo. They want to stand on their own two feet rather than forever being cast as peoples in decline.

A judge, Cristina Di Censo, has now indicted Berlusconi, 74, on charges that he paid for sex with a 17-year-old girl, Karima el-Mahroug, who has denied having sex with him. People power, Italian-style, brought a half-million protesters into the streets on Feb. 13.

I抎 say this particular Italian soap has run long enough: A leader more consumed with his virility and Arab women one quarter his age than with governance does not serve Italy well.

Berlusconi抯 is not the only European resignation in order. The French foreign minister, Mich鑜e Alliot-Marie, has piled gaffe on gaffe since the Tunisian uprising began on Dec. 17.

It抯 not enough that she offered the 搆now-how of French security forces to Ben Ali. It抯 not enough that she accepted a ride on a private jet from a Ben Ali business partner while on a Tunisian vacation during the protests. It抯 not enough that her parents signed a property deal with this Ben Ali sidekick. It抯 not enough that she was on the phone to Ben Ali although she earlier denied she had any 損rivileged contact.

Yes, Madame Minister, it is enough.

True, Prime Minister Fran鏾is Fillon was also accepting flights and lodging from Hosni Mubarak at the time. But Egypt had not arisen then; and Fillon抯 record is distinguished, unlike Alliot-Marie抯 comedy of errors since becoming foreign minister.

The European Union must rethink its relations with the Muslim world at its doorstep, beginning with accepting Turkey, whose membership would help usher the Continent from the small-mindedness Pamuk describes. I抦 not sure booming Turkey抯 still interested; keep someone at the door long enough and that person will turn away. But a Union with Turkey in it would not have responded to the Arab awakening with such tiptoeing awkwardness.

A new European pact with democratizing Arab neighbors is also urgently needed. Cancel the funds for nice environmental projects and those Barcelona bureaucrats salaries. Put European money behind forming decent democratic societies across the water. This will be a generational project, but it抯 the only way to stop the desperate human tide into southern Spain and Italy.

The first major international challenge for post-Lisbon Europe has revealed that the 2009 treaty did nothing to change the lowest-common-denominator approach that makes the E.U. such a foreign-policy pygmy. I guess that must be the way middling-power European nation states want it.

One shout-out is called for: to Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen for being first to say: 揗ubarak is history. Mubarak must step down. Contrast those declarative sentences with Brussels mumbo-jumbo. Danes, as World War II showed, sometimes stand apart from the crowd and do right.

The US and Bahrain

22 February 2011 The Guardian

We are all concerned about the events in Libya of course, but from an American geopolitical perspective, it's less pressing than the Egypt situation was (and remains) for the simple reason that Libya was and is not a US client state. So there's less urgency for America to declare itself. And anyway there's no tension: obviously, the US isn't going to be propping up Gaddafy. Although it is a bit mordantly amusing to think back to 2006 or so when the neocons were telling us, now Gaddafy, there's a fellow who's come to his senses, a man with whom we can do business.

The tougher nut for the US among the current flare ups is Bahrain. I'm no expert, but I've been doing a bit of reading. When the regime (members of the Sunni minority, who've ruled the island for 200 years) was shooting at the mostly Shiite protesters in the capital of Manama, one can be sure that small-d democrats across the region took note of US inaction. The US has had a naval base there since 1947, and lots of oil is shipped through those waters.

It now appears that the Obama administration's interventions had something (how much, I'm not clear) to do with the regime's standing down on the violence front. But after that, how far can and should the US go? The catch here is the suspicion that the Shia majority, or some portion of it, has ties to Iran. One Wikileaks cable showed that the king, Hamad bin isa al-Khalifa, told David Petraeus that he thought (but could not prove) that some opposition figures had been in Lebanon, training with Hezbollah.

Here is the 2010 Freedom House country report on Bahrain. The country's freedom status was lowered from partly free to not free. Here is another excellent rundown of the country's political "societies" (not parties, because while parties were officially un-banned a few years ago, change happens slowly).

There's an interesting piece in today's New York Times about Bahrain by Michael Slackman, who reports that US officials are loathe to engage with the Shia population. The "Todd" in the story below is Gwyneth Todd, a former political adviser to the US Navy in Bahrain who was fired in 2007 for "unauthorized contact with foreign nationals," "financial irresponsibility" and "disclosure of classified information." But she has her defenders, too. Anyway the story is this:

As an example of the policies that concerned Ms. Todd, she described one case in which the Navy asked her to organize a gift drive for the children of the poorest Shiite families. She called it a "Giving Tree."

"I went out with the chaplain and we committed to provide whatever each child asked for," she said in an e-mail. "I received a list of about 400 requests, some for gadgets, many for bicycles and toys, and some for bookcases, tables and desks. I committed to meet the requests on behalf of the Navy."

But she said that she was ordered to cancel the promise by a commanding officer who thought it would upset the leadership. "I could not bring myself to do it," she said. "I worried about the implications for Shia attitudes towards the Navy and feared it could lead to hatred and endanger our people. So I spent over $30,000 of my own money to fund the whole thing myself, in the name of the Navy. Big Brother was not happy, but the Shia never knew the story."

Her account was confirmed by the present government adviser.

This is awfully complicated. And this is a small little country with about 1 million people, where there's basically little to no poverty (per capita income $38,000). I think it goes to show that anyone sitting around hoping that suddenly in a year's time we're going to have four or five new democracies in the Middle East is kidding him/herself. If Egypt becomes democratic, the impact could be profound. But this whole process is going to take a while.

And that creates potential tension for the Obama administration, because presidents tend to want dramatic good things to happen while they're in office so they get the credit. It's like the old US political joke about no governor ever funding a highway project scheduled to take 10 years because he probably wouldn't be around to cut the ribbon. Here's hoping Obama and Hillary are able to take the longer view.

Cruel. Vainglorious. Steeped in blood.

And now, surely, after more than four decades of terror and oppression, on his way out?

22 February 2011 -
The Independent - Robert Fisk on Muammar Gaddafi, tyrant of Tripoli

So even the old, paranoid, crazed fox of Libya the pallid, infantile, droop-cheeked dictator from Sirte, owner of his own female praetorian guard, author of the preposterous Green Book, who once announced he would ride to a Non-Aligned Movement summit in Belgrade on his white charger is going to ground. Or gone. Last night, the man I first saw more than three decades ago, solemnly saluting a phalanx of black-uniformed frogmen as they flappered their way across the sulphur-hot tarmac of Green Square on a torrid night in Tripoli during a seven-hour military parade, appeared to be on the run at last, pursued like the dictators of Tunis and Cairo by his own furious people.

The YouTube and Facebook pictures told the story with a grainy, fuzzed reality, fantasy turned to fire and burning police stations in Benghazi and Tripoli, to corpses and angry, armed men, of a woman with a pistol leaning from a car door, of a crowd of students were they readers of his literature? breaking down a concrete replica of his ghastly book. Gunfire and flames and cellphone screams; quite an epitaph for a regime we all, from time to time, supported.

And here, just to lock our minds on to the brain of truly eccentric desire, is a true story. Only a few days ago, as Colonel Muammar Gaddafi faced the wrath of his own people, he met with an old Arab acquaintance and spent 20 minutes out of four hours asking him if he knew of a good surgeon to lift his face. This is need I say it about this man? a true story. The old boy looked bad, sagging face, bloated, simply "magnoon" (mad), a comedy actor who had turned to serious tragedy in his last days, desperate for the last make-up lady, the final knock on the theatre door.

In the event, Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, faithful understudy for his father, had to stand in for him on stage as Benghazi and Tripoli burned, threatening "chaos and civil war" if Libyans did not come to heel. "Forget oil, forget gas," this wealthy nincompoop announced. "There will be civil war."

Above the beloved son's head on state television, a green Mediterranean appeared to ooze from his brain. Quite an obituary, when you come to think of it, of nearly 42 years of Gaddafi rule.

Not exactly King Lear, who would "do such things what they are, yet I know not, but they shall be the terrors of the earth"; more like another dictator in a different bunker, summoning up non-existent armies to save him in his capital, ultimately blaming his own people for his calamity. But forget Hitler. Gaddafi was in a class of his own, Mickey Mouse and Prophet, Batman and Clark Gable and Anthony Quinn playing Omar Mukhtar in Lion of the Desert, Nero and Mussolini (the 1920s version) and, inevitably the greatest actor of them all Muammar Gaddafi. He wrote a book appropriately titled in his present unfortunate circumstances called Escape to Hell and Other Stories and demanded a one state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which would be called "Israeltine".

Shortly thereafter, he threw half the Palestinian residents of Libya out of his country and told them to walk home to their lost land. He stormed out of the Arab League because he deemed it irrelevant a brief moment of sanity there, one has to admit and arrived in Cairo for a summit, deliberately confusing a lavatory door with that of the conference chamber until led aside by the Caliph Mubarak who had a thin, suffering smile on his face.

And if what we are witnessing is a true revolution in Libya, then we shall soon be able unless the Western embassy flunkies get there first for a spot of serious, desperate looting to rifle through the Tripoli files and read the Libyan version of Lockerbie and the 1989 UTA Flight 722 plane bombing; and of the Berlin disco bombings, for which a host of Arab civilians and Gaddafi's own adopted daughter were killed in America's 1986 revenge raids; and of his IRA arms supplies and of his assassination of opponents at home and abroad, and of the murder of a British policewoman, and of his invasion of Chad and the deals with British oil magnates; and (woe betide us all at this point) of the truth behind the grotesque deportation of the soon-to-expire al-Megrahi, the supposed Lockerbie bomber too ill to die, who may, even now, reveal some secrets which the Fox of Libya along with Gordon Brown and the Attorney General for Scotland, for all are equal on the Gaddafi world stage would rather we didn't know about.

And who knows what the Green Book Archives and please, O insurgents of Libya, do NOT in thy righteous anger burn these priceless documents will tell us about Lord Blair's supine visit to this hideous old man; an addled figure whose "statesmanlike" gesture (the words, of course, come from that old Marxist fraud Jack Straw, when the author of Escape to Hell promised to hand over the nuclear nick-nacks which his scientists had signally failed to turn into a bomb) allowed our own faith-based Leader to claim that, had we not smitten the Saddamites with our justified anger because of their own non-existent weapons of mass destruction, Libya, too, would have joined the Axis of Evil.

Alas, Lord Blair paid no heed to the Gaddafi "whoops" factor, a unique ability to pose as a sane man while secretly believing oneself like miss-a-heart-beat Omar Suleiman in Cairo to be a light bulb. Only days after the Blair handshake, the Saudis accused Gaddafi of plotting and the details, by the way, were horribly convincing to murder Britain's ally, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. But why be surprised when the man most feared and now most mocked and hated by his own vengeful people wrote, in the aforesaid Escape to Hell that Christ's crucifixion was a historical falsehood and that as here I say again, a faint ghost of truth does very occasionally adhere to Gaddafi's ravings a German "Fourth Reich" was lording it over Britain and America? Reflecting on death in this thespian work, he asks if the Grim Reaper is male or female. The leader of the Great Libyan Arab People's Popular Masses, needless to say, seemed to favour the latter.

As with all Middle East stories, a historical narrative precedes the dramatic pageant of Gaddafi's fall. For decades, his opponents tried to kill him; they rose up as nationalists, as prisoners in his torture chambers, as Islamists on the streets of yes! Benghazi. And he smote them all down. Indeed, this venerable city had already achieved its martyrdom status in 1979 when Gaddafi publicly hanged dissident students in Benghazi's main square. I am not even mentioning the 1993 disappearance of Libyan human rights defender Mansour al-Kikhiya while attending a Cairo conference after complaining about Gaddafi's execution of political prisoners. And it is important to remember that, 42 years ago, our own Foreign Office welcomed Gaddafi's coup against the effete and corrupt King Idriss because, said our colonial mandarins, it was better to have a spick-and-span colonel in charge of an oil state than a relic of imperialism. Indeed, they showed almost as much enthusiasm as they did for this decaying despot when Lord Blair arrived in Tripoli decades later for the laying on of hands.

As a Libyan opposition group told us years ago we didn't care about these folks then, of course "Gaddafi would have us believe he is at the vanguard of every human development that has emerged during his lifetime".

All true, if now reduced to sub-Shakespearean farce. My kingdom for a facelift. At that non-aligned summit in Belgrade, Gaddafi even flew in a planeload of camels to provide him with fresh milk. But he was not allowed to ride his white charger. Tito saw to that. Now there was a real dictator.

Advantage UAE

22 February 2011

This may not be the right time to say this but there is one country above all that will benefit from the unrest across the Middle East and North Africa. And that dear reader is the UAE.

The unrest continues to spread to many countries. It is inevitable. Only the timelines are in question. But the UAE will be one country that will not see unrest and which could in fact benefit from the regional unrest.

It is clear that revolution in the Arab world may prompt investors to cut exposure in wealthy Gulf oil producers in the short term allowing more stable countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Qatar may benefit from a shift in capital flows.

Weeks of spreading unrest have sent debt protection costs and yields on government debt up across the Gulf, the world抯 top oil exporting region, while stocks and currencies most of them pegged to the U.S. dollar have been volatile.

At the peak of Egypt抯 political turmoil, Citi has estimated capital outflows from the most populous Arab country at $500-million (U.S.) to $1-billion a day.

On the other hand the unrest leads to rapidly increasing crude prices and guess which nations benefit - the Gulf's oil producers.

Investor concerns will be focused on states that have seen unrest, but some some will have put their plans for much of the region on review.

Gulf Arab stocks have also been edgy, heading back towards January lows, as popular unrest spread to Bahrain and Libya, while currency forward markets have been on a roller-coaster ride.

Traders expected pressure on currencies to increase if bloody turmoil in Libya continues. The planned passage of Iranian naval vessels through Egypt抯 Suez Canal appears to add to the regional uncertainty.

What is clear is that the premium for political risk has gone up throughout the region. But investors do look to places like the UAE, where the political system is broadly much more stable.

Tourist arrivals and spending are also key for the region. Egypt's inbound tourism has collapsed. Travelers connecting through Bahrain will not look to Qatar and the UAE. And it will be some time before stability returns. Now this may be an issue for carriers such as Emirates who rely on regional traffic through their Dubai hub but the likelihood is that EK will benefit from travelers who choose Dubai over Bahrain, Egypt, Tunis as a regional destination.

Libya on the edge

21 February 2011

Gaddafi has never been a rationale leader; he has ruled his country through brutality and fear. He has intimidated the rest of the world but bough favour through oil. Now his regime is toppling. But international action is just words. I fear that Libyans need real assistance before more are killed.

All internet and telecommunication is cut off in and out of Libya. There is no international media working in the country. It is hard to get reliable information on what is happening. But it sounds like a mixture of mutiny and brutal oppression. The message in confused and dangerous.

There are defections, military and diplomatic from the Qaddafi regime. His long rule does look like it is over. The question is when and how much blood spilled.

As of late this evening these appear to be the likely facts:

Libyan fighter pilots left Libya for Malta after having been ordered to bomb protesters - The defected pilots reportedly told Maltese officials they were based in Tripoli and ordered to attack protesters on the ground in Benghazi. After seeing their fellow pilots begin the airstrikes, they diverted course toward Malta. This appears to confirm the use of airstrikes against civilian protesters in cities around the country. Source -  Times Of Malta

Similar reports of the Libyan navy firing on targets onshore also are emerging, as well as reports that Gadhafi has given execution orders to soldiers who have refused to fire on Libyan protesters.

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi may be heading to Venezuela, Foreign Secretary William Hague has suggested, citing "information that suggests he is on his way." The Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister denies Gaddafi has fled to Venezuela -Libyan TV

Ibrahim Dabbashim Libya's Deputy Ambassador to the UN, tells Al Jazeera English that if Gaddafi does not get out, "the people will kick him out"- he adds that this is the end of the game; the whole of the regime is crumbling; it will not be long before it is over.

Reuters reports the Libyan justice minister has resigned in support of the protests. The Libyan ambassadors n China, India, Indonesia and Poland have resigned - AJE/BBC

Nine people working at the Libyan embassy in London join demonstrators protesting against Col Gaddafi outside - BBC

Witness on Al Jazeera Arabic says there are "cars full of foreign fighters" roaming streets. BBC World News says that eyewitnesses report that mercenaries are killing people in Tripoli.

The silence from Arab leaders is a huge concern. I can understand Arab leaders' unwillingness to speak out against Ben Ali (in Tunisia - the first one to fall) and against Mubarak (who was a regional leader and ally to most Arab leaders)...but why not stand up to Gaddafi. Why not get on the right side of history?

Note that Qatar's foreign ministry has now condemned the use of airstrikes against civilians - and also criticises "the silence of the international community over the bloody events in Libya".

Where are the UN, the EU and the USA. Is this time for direct intervention to save the Libyan people from further killings? There are calls from within Libya for direct intervention to stop the bloodshed.

Instead the best the EU will do is agree a statement condemning the use of violence. Meanwhile people are dieing.

Thailand's airline start ups

21 February 2011

There are at least four new Thai airlines three regional airlines and one domestic that expect to start operations during the first quarter of 2011.

All of them have been awarded air operations licenses from the Department of Aviation without having taken to the skies and without in most cases even having taken delivery of an airplane.

The one all-domestic airline will operate out of Chiang Mai International Airport. Kan Air is owned by Kannithi Aviation. It claims it will be ready to start service from Chiang Mai to Pai and Chiang Rai using a 12-seat Cessna turbo-prop 208 Grand Caravan. This looks like a repeat of Nok Mini which previously flew these routes with the same airplane.

In its business plan it says it will consider other short hops in the North from its Chiang Mai base to Nan, Mae Sarieng and Mae Hong Son.

Beyond its initial plans it talks of basing an aircraft in Phuket to offer similar commuter services. Its website www.kanairlines.com will be up and running soon.

Of the three regional airlines PC Air has created the most publicity by hiring 搕hird gender cabin attendants. Ladyboys.

The other two start-up airlines are Crystal Thai Airline and Sunny Airway. Both appear to have links either with Asian tour operators, or local travel agencies and that should guarantee a minimum payload on flights.

PC Air is registered as a 100% Thai-owned airline with a capital of Bt200 million. Co-owners are Piyo Chantaraporn, a former THAI steward, fortune teller and real estate business man and Chatwiwat Klamkomol a retired government official.

Its charter operations will begin late March or April. The first of two A310s, leased or purchased, is now undergoing a C-Check overhaul in Singapore. It secured the two aircraft from Air Bagan with 228 seats each (210 in economy and 18 in business).

The second aircraft will join the fleet in three months also to serve charters. A third aircraft will be considered later when the airline prepares to launch scheduled flights in the region. The website is www.pcairline.com

Sunny Airways named Preecha Kongkate as its managing director, previously linked to ThaiJet Intergroup, which flew charter services. They were terminated in May 2004 after its Turkish Atlas aircraft was withdrawn. Also, he was the founder of Focus Jewelry, Super Star Travel and Kongkate Express.

According to its commercial manager, Chompoo Kongkate, Sunny Airways will start charter operations to Japan and Germany using a B767-200ER to be delivered next month. The airline will consider scheduled service only when charters services are profitable and stable.

The website is www.sunnyair.net

Crystal Thai Airlines is a Thai-South Korean joint venture between logistics business tycoon, Manika Sawasdipan and a Korean partner. The airline like the other start-ups will offer just charter services, but hopes to go into the competitive scheduled airline market later.

It will take delivery of its first 174-seat A320-200 this quarter and hopes to have its second plane in the air by the last quarter. The airline said on its website a service could operate during the first week of February, but that has since been postponed.

Crystal Thai made the following announcement in pidgin English on its website today (sic):

"We apologize to delay our first flight.

CTA Fleet is in Montpellier, Fracne and finished a demo flight sucessfully on 31st of January 2011. However, It's occured technical snags and then CTA Fleet is under the repair. CTA think safety is the first for customers so we decided to postpone our first flight.

we expect our fleet will be in Thailand on 12 of March 2011 and our first flight will be the end of March.

we hope our customer's understanding.

Thank you."

This is not the first Thai-Korean joint venture airline. JetAsia Airways had been promising to start service from Phuket and Bangkok to Seoul since Q3 of 2010. However, due to aircraft leasing problems it remains grounded.

JetAsia Airways was registered, 29 December, 2009, with a capital of Bt240 million. The major shareholders are: Retired Air Chief Marshal, Paiboon Chanhom named president; Micko Travel managing director, Athikom Chanwerawong and a Chiang Mai businessman, Pichan Chantamanee.

At the end of December 2010, there were 53 companies all holding variations of the DoA抯 air transport business permits including authorisations to fly helicopters, balloons and airships.

To register as an aviation company in Thailand requires a registered capital of at least Bt200 million for scheduled airlines.

Most of the 18 non-scheduled airlines hold a license for scheduled and non-scheduled services, too. The active ones in the current market are Siam General Aviaition (Nok Mini), Bangkok Airways, Thai Airways international, Thai AirAsia, Nok Air, Solar Aviation (Solar Air), Happy Air Traveller, Orient Thai Airlines and Business Air Center (Business Air).

Other airlines who have announced their intentions to operate services are:

Legacy Air: Still holds a valid license, but could lose it in March if it fails to start operations within a year of registration.

AVA Airline: Registered October 2010, accepts crew recruitment and says it will operate with a B737NG http://www.avaairlines.co.th/

Quality Airway: Has a scheduled international service license and is said to have two B767-300 and one Airbus A300. But I cannot find a website of more details.

There is a long list of airlines in Thailand that either never flew or that have had a very short life. Some of the above will join that list.

In Bahrain, the Bullets Fly

19 February 2011 By Nicholas Kristof New York Times

"A column of peaceful, unarmed pro-democracy protesters marched through the streets here in modern, cosmopolitan Bahrain on Friday. They threatened no one, but their 21st-century aspirations collided with a medieval ruler and the authorities opened fire without warning.

Michael Slackman and Sean Patrick Farrell of The New York Times were recording video, and a helicopter began firing in their direction. It was another example of Bahrain targeting journalists, as King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa attempts to intimidate or keep out witnesses to his repression.

The main hospital here was already in chaos because a police attack nearby was sending protesters rushing inside for refuge, along with tear gas fumes. On top of that, casualties from the shootings suddenly began pouring in. A few patients were screaming or sobbing, but most were unconscious or shocked into silence that their government should shoot them.

A man was rushed in on a stretcher with a shattered skull and a bullet lodged in his brain, bleeding profusely. A teenage girl lay writhing on a stretcher; doctors later said she had suffered a heavy blow or kick to her chest. A middle-age man was motionless on a stretcher. A young man had bullet wounds to both legs. A young man trying to escape had been run over by a car said to have government license plates.

Different doctors had different views (and perhaps not much expertise) about whether the bullets were metal or rubber, but there seemed to be some of each. Two X-rays that I saw both seemed to show metal bullets, according to doctors familiar with reading X-rays, and a surgeon told me that the wound he had treated had probably been caused by a metal bullet rather than a rubber one.

Several large emergency wards quickly filled up completely. Patients with lesser injuries or who had merely been overcome with tear gas lay outside.

It turns out that members of Bahrain抯 medical community have been reading my Twitter postings, and doctors and nurses rushed me from patient to patient so I could see and photograph the injuries and write messages to the world and get the news out right away. They knew that King Hamad抯 government would wrap its brutality in lies.

The doctors spoke in enormous frustration about what they termed butchery or massacres, but they encountered evidence of the danger of speaking publicly. In the midst of the crisis, a democracy activist staggered in for treatment from a fresh beating by security forces. He had made public statements about police brutality he had witnessed, and so, he said, the police had just kidnapped him and brutalized him all over again.

The hospital抯 ambulance drivers had been beaten on Thursday morning by Bahrain抯 army and police for attempting to rescue the dead and injured, and some had been warned that they would be executed if they tried again to help protesters. But they showed enormous courage in rushing to the scene of the carnage once again.

One ambulance paramedic, Yasser, was still recovering in the hospital from the beating he suffered the last time. But when he heard the call for all hands in the emergency room, he staggered over to the ambulance bay and went out to pick up the wounded.

揟hose people needed help, and I had to go, he told me. 揃ut when we got there, the police blocked us and wouldn抰 let us through.

Indeed, the army temporarily seized four ambulances and their crews, hospital staff said, although this time it apparently spared them beatings. The first ambulances on the scene had reported many, many casualties, and doctors were aghast at the idea that there were many injured who were not being treated. So a group of them decided to drive out to army lines and beg to be allowed to collect the dead or wounded. This was considered an extremely perilous mission, so they decided that only male doctors would participate. But several female doctors immediately clamored to go as well.

When our close ally behaves in such a way, America finds itself in a tough position, and that probably explains President Obama抯 very cautious statement saying that he is 揹eeply concerned. We value Bahrain as the host of the United States Navy抯 Fifth Fleet, we worry (probably too much) about Iranian influence, and it抯 not clear how much leverage we have. King Hamad has strong Saudi support and has so outraged his subjects that he may feel that his best hope for staying in power is to shoot his subjects.

But we should signal more clearly that we align ourselves with the 21st-century aspirations for freedom of Bahrainis rather than the brutality of their medieval monarch. I抦 not just deeply 揷oncerned by what I抳e seen here. I抦 outraged."

Also read Robert Fisk in the Independent - 'They didn't run away. They faced the bullets head-on'

Emaar's Pavilion Gallery

19 February 2011

Welcome to the neighborhood. A new contemporary art space, The Pavilion Downtown Dubai, is set to open on Thursday February 24. The non-commercial space aims to provide a place to view, discuss and participate in work by local and international artists.

The building hosts two gallery spaces. It was formerly a sales office and is situated on Emaar Boilevard in Downtown Dubai, opposite the Burj Khalifa and a walk across the building site from Executive Towers.

The Pavilion will present an annual programme of exhibitions, public art initiatives and will develop direct audience participation in two spaces: Gallery One and Gallery Two.

A cafe will open, as well as a cinema, espresso bar and library.

Bike rentals will also soon be on offer for those who wish to experience Downtown Dubai.

Public arts including a 40 metre banner that is commissioned annually and wraps around the corner of the building's fa鏰de, as well as outdoor sculptures and installations will be visible from the street and neighbouring buildings. Book launches, artist talks, film screenings, musical performances, workshops and children's events will create opportunities to engage artists, writers, students, scholars and the public to contribute to the cultural landscape of Dubai.

A series of sculptural installations will be exhibited on the front lawn throughout the year. The first is an architectural installation by Lebanese interior designer Pierre Abboud. This untitled piece was created in honour of UAE national day on December 2, 2010.

The new art space will present an opening programme including a panel discussion and sound performance on Thursday.

For the first annual banner commission, Haig Aivazian will present The Unimaginable Things We Build, a film strip comprising stills from user-generated cell-phone videos documenting the historic launch of the tallest building in the world, Burj Khalifa.

Currently living in Chicago, Aivazian is an artist, curator, writer and the associate curator for the upcoming Sharjah Biennial 10. His work investigates the intersections between the migration of peoples, the circulation of consumer goods and the propagation of ideologies. A unique light installation by James Clar will also inaugurate Gallery One. A media artist whose work is a fusion of technology, popular culture, and visual information, Clar explores the limitations of various communication mediums and their effect on the individual and society.

The first exhibition in Gallery Two will be an installation by street graffiti artist The Bow Terrorist. The Bow Terrorist stencils minimal and humorous phrases and 慴ow' tags in arbitrary locations across the city. Lebanese electro-acoustic musician Tarek Atoui will present extracts from his Un-drum sound performances during the opening reception.

Welcome to our building site

18 February 2011

Picture credits - Imre Solt at www.BurjDubaiSkyscraper.com

Skirting the Issue

18 February 2011 The Irrawaddy

Apparently out newly installed (but still the same people) government in Burma has been making an unusual fashion statement. The sight of junta supremo Snr-Gen Than Shwe and his close aides on national TV dressed in women's longyis at a state dinner in Naypyidaw has become the talk of Burma.

Marking the 64th anniversary of Union Day on Feb. 12 in Naypyidaw, 78-year-old Than Shwe appeared at the event accompanied by other top military brass wearing gongbong (traditional Burman headscarves), and acheik (colorful sarongs worn by women at weddings and formal occasions).

It was the first time this year that Than Shwe has appeared without his uniform at a state dinner.

The cross-dressing fashion seems to have initiated when cabinet members, including Thein Sein, wore pink, yellow and white longyis to meet Lao Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh in June.

But many political observers, astrologists and ordinary people in teashops around the country said they believe the generals' cross-dressing is an intentional act of superstition, known locally as yadaya.

揟hey [the generals] know and must know that these acheik were designed for women, said a senior journalist in Rangoon. 揃ut they wore them nevertheless. We all know this is yadaya to counter the influence of The Lady [Aung San Suu Kyi] and to reverse her karma.

Many fortunetellers have predicted that a woman will rule Burma one day, and so the generals fortune-tellers have advised them to dress as women, he added.

Presumably the same fortune tellers that persuaded the government to fell Rangoon and build an extravagant new capital in the middle of the jungle.

Enter the Orange Shirts

17 February 2011 - The Economist

In a city of clogged streets, motorbike taxis are the essential lubricant. They weave through rush-hour traffic, mount pavements and roar down the labyrinthine alleys known as soi. They lurk in gangs on street corners, waiting to carry people or goods, or run errands. Some 200,000 drivers sporting orange jackets are reckoned to ply their trade in Bangkok.

The motorbike drivers are mad about politics, which in Thailand is colour-coded. The drivers are overwhelmingly 搑ed and loyal to a former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra. Most hail from the pro-Thaksin north-east, and were in the thick of the action during last year抯 rowdy red-shirt rallies. Motorbikes were the red-shirt cavalry, keeping tabs on the movements of state troops, who ended the protests with the loss of 91 lives.

This is an election year, and every vote counts. So the prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, no red shirt he, has singled out motorbike taxis for attention under a new, pro-poor programme called the People抯 Agenda. Along with millions of other informal workers, motorbike drivers will be eligible for social security, loans from state banks and other benefits. To drive the point home, Mr Abhisit posed with an orange-clad motorbike driver at the launch of the programme, which he described as a 揘ew Year抯 gift to Thai people.

But access to credit and sick pay do not top the drivers agenda. More important, they say, is taking on the 搃nfluential people, mostly corrupt cops, who extort money. Those who do not pay may not work, so almost everyone coughs up. 揥e don抰 want a gift from the government, says Wichart Chungchuen, a veteran driver. 揥e want to make sure that if we make 500 baht a day, it stays in our pocket.

One reason why Mr Thaksin remains so popular is that he cracked down on the overlords. He also ensured that motorbike taxis were registered with city hall and that their drivers were issued with numbered jackets. After Mr Thaksin was ousted in a military coup in 2006, the extortionists returned to demand their cut. The registration system unravelled as drivers traded jackets or dropped out and others arrived with unregistered bikes. Some jackets ended up in the hands of the 搃nfluential people, who rented them out or sold them on for up to 150,000 baht ($4,900).

Starting on February 15th all motorbike taxis began to be reregistered. This should make it easier to curb the pay-offs. But Mr Wichart is sceptical that the government means business. Whereas Mr Thaksin broke bread with drivers and listened to their gripes, an aloof Mr Abhisit merely sent his aides.

Last year Mr Wichart and other motorbike taxi drivers formed a trade union. Wary of being painted as red-shirt partisans, the union tries to steer a moderate path. Leaders insist that they are neither red nor yellow, the colour of the staunchly conservative rival movement. They are orange shirts, after their distinctive jackets.

Yet neutrality may prove a stretch in Thailand抯 polarised politics. Drivers are keen observers, says Claudio Sopranzetti, a Harvard anthropologist studying the tribe. They slip between the cracks in society, flitting between rich and poor quarters, city and countryside. Better than anyone, they see Thailand抯 inequalities.

Manx2 in shameful legal dispute

17 February 2011

A week ago six people died in a Manx2 Airlines plane crash at Cork airport.

Mark Dickens from Watford was one of those who survived. His lawyers, Stewarts Law, have written to Manx2, seeking details of insurance provison and an advance payment for Mr Dickens of more than 15,000.
Stewarts Law is seeking the payment to cover costs of humanitarian support to Mr Dickens, who was to be transported by aircraft to the UK for medical care on Thursday from Cork University Hospital.

Manx 2's solicitors said the airline was not responsible for such claims.

In a letter to Stewarts Law, Appleby Solicitors for Manx2 said the airline had acted as "ticket provider or booking office" and that according to the terms and conditions of Mr Dickens' ticket purchase the carrier was Flightline BCN and his contract was with them.

It added that Mr Dickens' claim should be directed to that company, which is based at Barcelona in Spain.

Stewarts Law disagree and their head of aviation at the law firm has said that under the Montreal Convention and European regulations "a passenger that suffers death or injury has the right to seek compensation from either the contracting carrier or the actual carrier".

In a statement, the chairman of Manx2, Noel Hayes, said that under the terms of the contract, the airline had chartered the aircraft involved in the Cork crash from Flightline BCN. He said that under the European Air Operators Certificate, such carriers maintained full insurance provision.

Flightline BCN is the Barcelona, Spain-based company that operated the Manx2 flight using its crew and the Swearingen Metroliner that crashed at Cork. The aircraft was owned by Airlada, based in Seville, Spain.

Mr Hayes said Manx2 continued "to extend our deepest sympathy to the families of those who lost their lives in Cork and to those who are still recovering from this terrible incident".

The two pilots and four passengers died when the aircraft turned upside down on landing following an approach in fog. There were six survivors. Since the accident Manx2 has cancelled its contract with Flightline.

The trouble with this is that if you ask any passenger who booked with Manx2 they will be convinced that  Manx2 is the contracting carrier.

It also suggest a major flaw in the airline operating regulations in the UK. There are bereaved families as a result of this accident; and only a week later, their despair is now the matter of a legal battle with the respective airlines all denying any responsibility.

Dubai airshow remains at DXB for 2011

17 February 2011

The Dubai Air Show will remain at its Dubai International Airport location for 2011. The planned move to its new location at the Dubai World Central complex at Jebel Ali has been postponed.

Simple really. The Dubai World Central airport and infrastructure are simply not ready.

This has prompted the Dubai Government抯 decision for the show to remain in its current home at the Airport Expo centre alongside Dubai抯 International Airport.

But there is a problem. Land previously used by the Dubai Airshow at Airport Expo has already been taken up by hangar and terminal expansion. The Dubai Civil Aviation authority (DCA) is apparently developing expansion plans at the current site that will ensure the Dubai Airshow can maintain its position as the world抯 third largest business to business aviation event after Paris and Farnborough.

The show is due to take place between November 15 19.

Thuggery in Bahrain should be condemned

17 February 2011

In early morning Bahrain there are more than a dozen tanks, several military trucks and military ambulances still on central streets in the capital; what on earth were the authorities thinking in Bahrain last night.

Yes there were protestors camped at the central Pearl square. But every report says that the protestors were peaceful; that there were women and children there.

But at 3am the security forces stormed into the square with tear gas, rubber bullets and batons. There are at least 2 deaths and hundreds injured. Some of the injured have shot gun wounds.

Most of the protesters in Pearl Square were asleep when the assault began, witnesses said, noting that no steps had been taken to guard the area against the security forces, even though two people had been killed in earlier clashes with them. The King himself has apologised for the earlier violence so why the crackdown last night.

Doctors have said they expected the death toll to rise. The Los Angeles Times reports a woman in a hospital hallway who said as she tearfully held a small child being treated with oxygen. "Tomorrow the King will say, 'Sorry,' but this was done with his permission. He is the one telling these men to do these things."

Two days earlier protesters had set up camp in the square some with their families to signal their intent to stay until King Hamad ibn Isa Khalifa forced his uncle to step down as prime minister and guaranteed an end to discrimination and repression.

Unlike the heavily nationalist revolts in Egypt and Tunisia, Bahrain's unrest is rooted in the discrimination felt by the impoverished Shiite Muslim majority at the hands of the governing Sunni Muslim royal family.

Bahrain is unique in its situation in the region, and has complex dynamics and demographics. The protestors were not united in their demands. Some demanding the removal of the King, some the removal of the Prime Minister; some changes in the constitution.

What really united them was their wish for a better life, to escape oppression and injustice. But that cannot happen until the majority of people have a voice and believe that they will be heard.

The biggest question then from last night is Why? The brutality was not needed. The demands of the protestors were not new. When rulers start killing their own people then they lose all authority and respect.

Meanwhile the USA is in a difficult position; the island nation of nearly 800,000 people is also crucial to U.S. interests in the region: It hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet strategically based to watch over Iran. But the US government needs to condemn this brutality.

The silence from other Middle Eastern states is also telling.

As the first Gulf state to discover oil, Bahrain built its economy from oil refining and export. With dwindling reserves that are expected to run out in 10 to 15 years, however, the country has diversified to also become a major center for Islamic banking.

More than half of the 1.2 million people living in Bahrain are expatriates.

The not so adventurous Aussies

16 February 2011

In a bid to boost domestic tourism; take a paddle if you are heading to Queensland, the Australian dept of Foreign Affairs has re-issued its travel warning for Thailand: heck - stay at home guys!

The notice is as follows - fair enough some of it is sensible.

"This advice has been reviewed and reissued. It contains new information in the Summary and under Safety and Security: Terrorism (recent terrorist attacks and locations that may be subject to attack), Safety and Security: Civil Unrest/Political Tension (activation of Internal Security Act in seven districts of Bangkok) and Border Regions (ongoing border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia). The level of the advice for the area surrounding the Pra Viharn temple on the Thai-Cambodia border has increased to 揜econsider your need to travel.


We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in Thailand due to the possibility of further violent civil unrest and the threat of terrorist attack.
Pay close attention to your personal security at all times and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.
On 8 February 2011, the Thai Government activated the Internal Security Act (ISA) in seven districts of Bangkok. The districts covered by the ISA are Phra Nakhon, Watthana, Pathumwan, Dusit, Pomprab Sattruphai, Wang Thonglang and Ratchathewi. The ISA gives the military a role in overseeing domestic security and provides security forces with additional search and detention powers.
On 21 December 2010, the Thai Government lifted the state of emergency that had been in place in Bangkok and other parts of Thailand since April 2010. The Government established a Situation Monitoring Centre to keep track of security threats across Thailand.
Large scale political demonstrations and related incidents in Bangkok and other parts of Thailand have resulted in fatalities and injuries in recent years. Firearms, grenades and small explosive devices have been used at various locations. Between April and October 2010, a number of small explosive devices were detonated in Bangkok and some other provinces, including Chiang Mai.
The political situation remains unpredictable. Further political unrest and violence cannot be ruled out in Bangkok and other provinces. Thai officials have warned that more attacks in Bangkok are possible.
You should avoid protests and political rallies, and any security deployments associated with such events. You should monitor developments that might affect your safety in Thailand, including the possibility of further violent civil unrest and the risk of terrorism.
Australians should avoid any prominent buildings associated with the Thai Government and military, such as Government House, the Parliament Building and the Supreme Court in Bangkok, all Provincial Government buildings and all military installations.
Penalties for drug offences are severe and include the death penalty. The possession of even small quantities of "soft drugs" for recreational purposes can result in lengthy jail sentences.
Carefully consider your safety and the implications of accidents if you hire a motorcycle or jet ski. You should check with your travel insurer whether these activities are covered by your policy. You may be detained and arrested by police following jet ski and motorcycle accidents until compensation, often in thousands of dollars, can be negotiated between parties.
Tourists may be exposed to scams and more serious criminal activity in Thailand. Be aware that food and drink spiking occurs in Thailand, including around popular backpacker destinations such as Khao San Road in Bangkok and the night-time entertainment zones in Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket.
We strongly advise you not to travel at this time to the southern provinces of Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat and Songkhla or overland to and from the Malaysian border through these provinces due to high levels of ongoing violence in these regions, including terrorist attacks and bombings resulting in deaths and injuries on an almost daily basis. Since January 2004, several thousand people have reportedly been killed and many more injured, including a number of foreigners. If you are in these provinces, you should consider leaving.
We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to the area surrounding the Preah Vihear Temple (known as Khao Pra Viharn temple in Thailand) located in the border region between Sisaket Province in Thailand and Preah Vihear Province in Cambodia due to the ongoing border dispute. In February 2011, there was renewed fighting and use of heavy weapons and artillery. Tensions remain high.

The dogfight over Canadian skies

16 February 2011 
Brent Jang for CTV News

For Emirates Airline, all routes lead to Dubai. The strategically located aviation hub is the centrepiece of the carrier抯 ambitious expansion strategy to tap economic growth in India, China and the Middle East.

For its competitors, the renegade carrier and its grand plans have the potential to change global air traffic patterns, disrupting a fragile industry that抯 already under pressure from rising fuel prices.

Emirates game plan funnelling travellers through Dubai instead of Europe, and on larger and larger planes has worked wonders so far. The state-owned carrier has managed to not only survive but thrive as an independent carrier, declining to join one of the three major airline alliances in the world Star, SkyTeam and Oneworld. When it launched in 1985, Emirates flew only to Pakistan and had just two planes. Now, it flies to more than 110 destinations in 66 countries and has some 150 wide-body jets, including 15 Airbus A380 double-decker planes and 85 Boeing 777s. Emirates has become the world抯 sixth-largest airline for international passenger traffic.

Emirates success reflects the emergence of a new world economic order, one in which other Gulf carriers such as Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways and Doha-based Qatar Airways are also rapidly expanding, said Robert Kokonis, president of airline consulting firm AirTrav Inc. 揟he balance of economic power is shifting away from North America and Europe, said Mr. Kokonis, who depicts Emirates as a trailblazer seeking to take advantage of Dubai抯 location in the thick of global air traffic routes.

But an array of nervous rivals warn the carrier is trying to muscle in on territory long held and amply served by the old-guard 搇egacy airlines.

Air Canada and Germany抯 Lufthansa, partners in the Star Alliance of global airlines, are pitted against the Dubai-based carrier for transatlantic traffic. They view Emirates, owned by the Dubai government, as a clear and present danger to their lucrative international flights.

Seeking to protect their Frankfurt hub, the two partners allege that Emirates receives subsidies from the Dubai government in the form of cheap landing fees at Dubai International Airport, an accusation that Emirates hotly disputes.

The airline抯 transition from tiny regional carrier to global player has happened quickly. During its first two decades, Emirates easily won approval for landing slots from foreign governments because it was too small to be considered a threat by other carriers.

That started to change last year, after Emirates sharply increased its orders for new Airbus A380s and Boeing 777s planes that are larger and more fuel-efficient than the Airbus A330s and A340s in its fleet. More than 190 aircraft are on order, including about 75 Airbus A380 double-decker planes, which seat almost 500 passengers, and nearly 50 Boeing 777s, which have room for about 400 travellers. In 2015, the 350-seat Airbus A350 will be introduced into the Emirates fleet.

Alarmed by Emirates steady stream of new plane orders, some of the world抯 leading carriers including Lufthansa, British Airways, Air France/KLM and Australia抯 Qantas have publicly criticized its expansion strategy. Air Canada, for one, warned that Emirates is unfairly seeking to siphon off international traffic, and accused its rival of trying to dump seats into the Canadian market. 揊ew Canadians actually travel to Dubai as a destination and fewer still residents of Dubai travel to Canada, Air Canada chief executive officer Calin Rovinescu said in a speech last fall. Others critics pointed out that the A380 jumbo jets have been designated for Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary, alleging Emirates wants to pick and choose among the top Canadian destinations, hammering at the heart of Air Canada.

Last fall, the Canadian government denied additional landing rights beyond the three already held by Emirates, a decision that the Harper government has stood by, despite heavy political pressure from the United Arab Emirates. Germany is still deciding whether to acquiesce to Lufthansa抯 lobbying and turn down Emirates requests for more German landing rights.

Andrew Parker, senior vice-president of international affairs at Emirates, bristles at what he terms 揕ufthansa propaganda. He said Emirates prides itself on having a young fleet of planes, and will retire about 100 jets, including older models of the Boeing 777, within the next decade as it takes delivery of new ones.

As for comparisons between Canada and Germany, Mr. Parker said they抮e overblown because the Gulf carrier already has access to 49 landing slots in Germany, compared with just three in Canada. A recovery in European carriers revenue last year and 搒ubstantial aircraft orders from every region should counter the pessimism and cries for protection from some carriers, and confirm it is not just Emirates that believes long-term investment underpins profitability and growth, he said.

After Ottawa refused demands by Emirates and Etihad Airways for new landing rights at Toronto抯 Pearson International Airport in October, the UAE responded by ousting Canadian soldiers in November from Camp Mirage, a staging base near Dubai that had been used for nine years to supply the Afghanistan war. In December, the UAE imposed visa fees of up to $1,000 on Canadian visitors, further escalating tensions between Canada and the Arab country.

So far, the political feuding hasn抰 scared off air travellers, who appreciate Emirates far-reaching network and its attentive in-flight service and quality meals impressive enough for Air Transport World magazine to name it the world抯 揳irline of the year for 2011. The carrier specializes in long-haul flights connecting the globe抯 major cities: Are you flying from Toronto to Mumbai, or Sao Paulo to Delhi, or Milan to Sydney? Aboard Emirates, the common theme is a stopover in Dubai, one of seven sheikdoms in the UAE.

Even travellers who could take a non-stop flight between western Europe and southeast Asia have opted for Emirates since it offers the comfort of bigger and newer planes, as well as better departure times on competitive flight paths and posh seating pods in first class and the executive-class cabin. On the upper level of the Emirates-operated A380, there are 14 suites in first class and 76 lie-flat seats in business class. First class includes a lounge and two shower spas.

But in opting for Emirates and its mandatory Dubai stopover, passengers are forsaking the traditional aviation map, in which national-flag carriers carved out lucrative routes for themselves and their alliances by focusing on such cities as London, Paris and Frankfurt.

Many passengers are accustomed to flying through these European hubs en route to China, India and the Middle East. But Emirates wants to increase its flights from North America, South America and Europe via Dubai to China and India, and to a lesser extent, Africa and Russia. It抯 also counting on boosting traffic east to west, hoping to persuade more travellers in China and India to catch its planes when flying to Africa, Russia, North America, South America and Europe.

Those plans are of particular importance to Britain, for one, according to a research report by Royal Bank of Scotland, because of 搕he attraction of Dubai抯 tourist product to U.K. consumers and Dubai抯 position as a transit point to India and Australia.

揑t is a common concern that the very substantial aircraft orders of the Gulf carriers will take significant market share from European, Asian and U.S. network carriers, the report states, 揳nd will threaten to upset the long-haul airline market in the way that low-cost carriers have destabilized the short-haul markets.

Fears that European airlines will be displaced by Emirates and other Gulf carriers are overstated, the report argues. But the RBS study does pinpoint concerns for air service to Canada: 揊rom the perspective of European carriers, we think the major strategic issue will be that Gulf carriers are likely to gain very significant market share on traffic flows from India to the U.S. and Canada.

In Canadian skies, Emirates is a fairly recent arrival. It launched its service here in 2007, and introduced an Airbus A380 jumbo jet on its Toronto-Dubai route in mid-2009. With only three flights a week, the airline argues business travellers require daily service hence its request for additional landing rights.

Canada is seen as a key battleground, because if Emirates can be halted here, that would provide ammunition for carriers in Europe and elsewhere to step up lobbying of their governments to reject or limit its expansion requests. But there抯 another factor affecting those political decisions: The main components for the Airbus A380 are built in France, Germany, Britain and Spain, employing thousands of workers. So industry analysts weren抰 surprised when France, ignoring Air France-KLM抯 lobby, recently granted approval to the UAE for 22 more French landing slots, boosting the total to 57 a week for the country抯 carriers.

In Germany, Lufthansa uses the Canadian dispute to bolster its lobbying. 揂 remarkable battle for market access is playing out between Canada and the UAE, Lufthansa said in a policy briefing to German politicians. 揌undreds of long-haul aircraft and enormous overcapacity have to be filled. Pressure is mounting on Germany, as well.

Lufthansa and other critics complain that the UAE subsidizes Dubai International Airport, effectively clearing the way for Emirates to grow at a 揵reakneck pace, and that it has unfair advantages that amount to 損redatory competition stemming from Dubai抯 low-tax regime and access to cheap labour, notably immigrant workers from India and Pakistan.

Emirates Mr. Parker shrugs off the criticisms as sour grapes, saying Lufthansa is over-reacting to the airline抯 attempts to enter Stuttgart and the new Berlin-Brandenburg Airport, set to open in mid-2012.

He said Ottawa considered 搈inuscule improvements that were 搖tterly ridiculous, adding that Emirates would have been satisfied if it had been allowed daily landing rights in Toronto, with a promise to review potential expansion into Calgary and Vancouver.

That day will come, he believes. For in the world according to Emirates, it is only a matter of time before Ottawa and other governments bend, in a trend that will ultimately redraw the world抯 aviation maps.

A limited vote

16 February 2011

With all the changes across the Middle East I wonder how long an elite electoral college can continue without significant change.

The advisory body of the UAE is called the Federal National Council. The Federal National Council  is the legislature of the United Arab Emirates. It has advisory tasks rather than legislative power.

Half of the 40-member FNC will be elected by an electoral college, which is to be at least 300 times the number of its representatives in the Council, according to a decree issued by President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The 20 remaining legislators will be appointed by the Rulers of the emirates.

A broader electoral base sounds good; yet only 12 out of every 1,000 Emiratis will be entitled to vote.

The last election for the FNC was held in 2006. In 2011 the electoral college will be doubled to more than 12,000 Emiratis, picked by Their Highnesses the Members of the Supreme Council and Rulers of the Emirates.

The decree states that a National Elections Committee led by Dr Anwar Mohammad Gargash, Minister of State For FNC Affairs, will be formed.

Members of the committee, which will oversee the elections and determine polling stations and regulations, include ministers of justice, education and culture, youth and community development. A date has not been set for elections, but several former representatives of the House predicted they will be held in September.

Members of the FNC have repeatedly sought greater empowerment, steps to broaden political participation and the creation of a full-fledged legislature.

Speaking last week as the House ended its 14th legislative term, nearly five years since half of its members were elected, Sultan Saqr Al Suwaidi, a member from Dubai, said the FNC must have more powers to take part in the decision-making process, not just submit recommendations, which may or may not be implemented.

In an address to the nation marking the end of the polling process in 2006, Shaikh Khalifa said that the FNC had helped the government to achieve legislation and address many issues. He said its role would be expanded in the coming era "to enrich and develop our parliamentary experiment."

Political participation: How numbers add up

- The electoral college will comprise more than 12,000 members with Abu Dhabi and Dubai having the largest representation with 2,400 members each.

- Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah will each have 1,800 members while Ajman, Umm Al Quwain and Fujairah will each have 1,200 members.

- Abu Dhabi and Dubai will each have eight representatives in the 40-member Federal National Council, Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah will have six each while Ajman, Umm Al Quwain and Fujairah will have four each.

Reality check - modern TV golf is dull

15 February 2011

Golf needs a reality check.

The European Tour was in Dubai last week for its four day Dubai Desert Classic.

But for all the attempts at hyping the event it was basically a bore - and it really did not matter whether you were watching at the course or on TV - it was dull. A couple of highlights do not save four days of tedium. There were some 120 golfers starting the tournament. But in reality maybe there were 20 that anyone wants to watch.

Can you remember who won? Yes. Can you remember who came second and third? Have not got a clue!

Leading golfers make so much money in appearance fees and endorsements that they do not need to even turn up for many events. McDowell, Poulter, Casey were all absent from Dubai. Yet this is meant to be one of the leading tournaments of the year.

Tiger Woods was there - but I doubt we will see him again. Paid an outrageous appearance fee he showed how much he enjoyed the tournament with an extravagant gob on the 12th green.

There was plenty of scowling, club throwing and bucket kicking. Not just from Mr. Woods. There were very few who appeared to take any interest in the crowds that paid good money to watch or who appeared to be even vaguely enjoying their work.

These golfers are so pampered. Hotels, courtesy cars, immaculate facilities, drooling sponsors, fawning uncritical (except for the gobbing Tiger) commentators. Protected from crowds by virulent caddies and over zealous marshalls.

Meanwhile the crowds at the course are shepherded around through the sand and bushes. While the pampered pets take up to 5 hours to play a round of golf. And these guys are meant to be good. 3 hours is good. 4 hours acceptable. 5 hours farcical.

It says little for the state of the game that golfers have to be told that deliberately spitting on green or a tee is out of bounds.

Temple Trouble

15 February 2011 - The Economist

Sitting on her straw mat, Pisamai Poonsuk recalls how her family of ten fled their border village in a pickup truck soon after the shells began falling. After staying the night with relatives, the family moved into a temporary camp. Ms Pisamai, a cassava farmer, is waiting for the all-clear to go home. She prays the ceasefire will hold between the Thai and Cambodian soldiers ranged along a disputed border. She has little time for Thai jingoism. 揥e should trade with the Cambodians. We should be brothers.

Fat chance. The clashes that erupted on February 4th were the fiercest since July 2008, when the two armies first began rumbling at each other in the vicinity of Preah Vihear, an 11th-century Khmer temple that Cambodia wants to develop for mass tourism. Six people died and dozens more were injured during four days of fighting. The temple itself was only slightly damaged. Each side accuses the other of firing first into populated areas.

Though the shelling has stopped, any ceasefire remains fragile as long as nationalists in both countries keep stoking the dispute. Thailand抯 prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, faces street protests by the ultra-conservative People抯 Alliance for Democracy (PAD) over his alleged failure to defend Thai soil. Cambodia抯 prime minister, Hun Sen, does not tolerate protests but is sensitive to claims of lost sovereignty. He quickly castigated war-mongering Thailand and called for UN peacekeepers on the border.

It is not the first time that an ancient temple has bred violence. In 2003 anti-Thai riots erupted in Phnom Penh after a Thai actress was misquoted as saying that Angkor Wat, which appears on the Cambodian flag, belonged to Thailand. On February 8th PAD leaders said that Thai troops should threaten to invade, forcing a return of Preah Vihear. To Cambodians, resentful of being pushed around by big neighbours, this is bully-boy stuff.

In 1962 the World Court ruled that Preah Vihear, which sits on a ridge, was on Cambodian soil. But it did not rule on overlapping claims to the temple抯 hinterland. In 2008 UNESCO listed the temple as a World Heritage site, to the delight of Cambodia抯 tourist industry. The PAD cried foul over what it claimed was a loss of Thai territory. The controversy became a pretext for marathon protests that helped topple an elected government and sweep Mr Abhisit into power. Now the PAD vows to topple its erstwhile ally.

Despite international concern, Mr Hun Sen抯 plea for UN intervention seems a non-starter. Thailand insists that bilateral talks can resolve the border dispute and rejects outside mediation. This did not stop Indonesia from dipping a toe into the row. It currently holds the rotating chair of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), to which the two feuding parties belong. Its foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, flew to both capitals this week for talks. But, an ASEAN diplomat sniffs, Indonesia should keep its own ambitions in check, lest the tables are turned in future. Nobody wants anyone 搈eddling in his own affairs, he says. So much for Ms Pisamai抯 brotherhood.

(See also - Loose stalks posing as a sheaf as The Economist dissects ASEAN)

Dubai, the LSE and the TMX

13 February 2011

This is complicated.  But if the proposed merger of the TMX Group (Toronto) and the LSE (lonodn) is approved, Sheik Mohammed, Vice President of the UAE and the ruler of Dubai,  will end up with an 11.3-per-cent interest in the combined exchange, the largest single holding.

Sheik Mohammed is already the largest shareholder of the London Stock Exchange, indirectly owning roughly 21 per cent through a private holding company. He also indirectly owns 15 per cent of the Nasdaq OMX, the second largest stock market in the United States, and controls Dubai抯 two stock exchanges.

Borse Dubai is a joint venture between the Sheik抯 private company and a government investment fund. Within weeks of its creation in August, 2007, Borse Dubai acquired for $4.9-billion the 21-per-cent stake in the LSE as well as a 31-per-cent position in Nasdaq. It also took control of the Dubai exchanges and announced plans for many more acquisitions. The ambition faded with the impcat of the global financial meltdown in 2008.

The crisis hit Dubai hard. Borse Dubai hurt. The value of its holding in the LSE fell by half, trading and listings on the Dubai stock markets dried up and expansion plans were shelved. Last December, the company sold roughly half its position in Nasdaq at a sizeable loss, raising $672-million that will go toward paying down Dubai抯 $100-billion debt.

The TMX-LSE merger could breathe new life into Borse Dubai. One of the selling points of the merger is that the new exchange will dominate listings for mining and energy companies, something still relevant to the oil-rich Gulf state. And, it will give Borse Dubai the expansion it has long craved.

The combined entity would become a top centre for trading mining and energy shares, with $4.1 trillion of stock changing hands a year.

That抯 probably one reason the company endorsed the proposed merger within hours of it being announced. 揃orse Dubai has always been supportive of management initiatives to create shareholder value in the London Stock Exchange, the company said in a statement. 揥e continue to support the management in their efforts to create both a stronger platform and a more valuable enterprise for stakeholders.

But the Canadians may still move to block a proposed $6.7bn merger because of fears of the impact of Dubai's ownership.

Ontario抯 Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said the idea Dubai would be the largest single shareholder in the exchange raised political red flags that could prompt the Canadian government to step in and derail the deal. 揥e do business with the Middle East. I am just not sure I want them owning our stock exchange, Duncan told the Globe & Mail. 11% is not ownership! But under Canadian law, the province of Ontario can move to block the stock exchange deal if it deems it not to be in the public interest.

The ongoing dispute over Emirates landing rights in Canada and access to the UAE's Camp Mirage have already created significant distrust between the two countries.

Some details and background:

Who owns the Toronto Stock Exchange?

The exchange used to be owned by Canada抯 largest brokerage firms, but it became a for-profit company in 2000 and then a publicly traded company with much wider ownership in 2002. The exchange is currently owned by parent company TMX Group Inc., which is based in Toronto. No one owns more than 10 per cent of the shares of TMX Group and no one can do so without approval of the Ontario and Quebec securities regulators.

Who would own the new merged company?

Short answer: Dubai and Qatar would own a lot of it. Borse Dubai owns 20.6 per cent of the London Stock Exchange and Qatar Investment Authority owns 15.1 per cent, giving the two Gulf states a 36-per-cent total stake. The deal terms say LSE shareholders would own just over half of the merged company 55 per cent which means Borse Dubai and Qatar Investment Authority would own almost 20 per cent of the new company. Borse Dubai is controlled by the emirate's ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

What would the new merged company be called?

揌oldco has a nice ring to it. The TSX and LSE would continue to operate under their existing names. No name has been determined yet for the parent company that would own the two operations. Legal documents are generically calling it 揌oldco short for holding company 杅or now. Shares of the new merged company would trade in both Toronto and London.

Where would the head office be?

The company would have co-headquarters in Toronto and London, and the agreement requires 搊ne or more global business units and one or more support functions be headquartered in Toronto. There is an undertaking in the merger agreement that the global primary stock markets business would be based in Toronto and the group抯 finance function would be run from Toronto. Montreal would be the headquarters of the global derivatives operation and Calgary would house the global energy business unit.

Who would run it?

Initially, the chief executive officer of the new company would be Xavier Rolet, the London-based CEO of London Stock Exchange Group PLC. TMX Group CEO Tom Kloet would become president of the new company while TMX Group chief financial officer Michael Ptasznik would become CFO. Both Mr. Kloet and Mr. Ptasznik would be based in Toronto.

How would it be governed?

The company would have a 15-member board of directors, chaired by TMX chairman Wayne Fox. It would have seven Canadian directors on the board, including the most senior executive of the new company who is based in Canada and at least four independent Canadian directors. Initially, the Canadian directors would include the chairman, CEO and CFO of TMX Group and four independent directors. It is envisioned that three of the eight board seats appointed by the LSE would be from the Borsa Italiana, which the LSE controls. One-third of the board meetings would be held in Canada and a majority will be held in Britain.

Can these commitments be changed?

Yes. The board composition conditions would be in effect for four years and could change after that. The merger agreement lays out conditions under which Canada could lose directors from the board and lose executive positions. Business functions could be shifted to other jurisdictions at any time as long as there is an overall balance between global business units headquartered in Canada, Britain and Italy. The balance is subject to adjustment in the event of a significant acquisition or business expansion in other regions.

What is a 搈erger of equals?

In a takeover, one company acquires another, usually smaller, entity by paying cash or stock to the target抯 shareholders. In a 搈erger of equals, however, two companies of roughly the same size combine through some form of stock swap. What抯 more important, though, is who is running the show. Key executive roles might be divided up initially, but sometimes it becomes clear over time that one firm is predominant in management or control. In this case, LSE shareholders would end up with about 55 per cent of the combined entity's stock, the British firm would have eight of 15 directors, and the chief executive officer would come from the LSE. But the TSX would supply the company chairman and chief financial officer.

What抯 the deal worth?

TMX Group shareholders would receive 2.993 London Stock Exchange PLC shares for each of their TMX shares, which means they would own 45 per cent of the merged company. After the deal closes, the London company would be renamed to reflect its broader scope. The combined companies currently have a market value of $7.1-billion (Canadian).

Who must approve the deal?

A slew of bodies have to give their nod before this deal can be done. First, a majority of LSE shareholders have to say 搚es, as do two-thirds of TMX shareholders. An Ontario court has to approve the plan, and securities regulators in Britain, Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba will have a say. Because the two companies have operations in the United States and Italy, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Italian securities commission will get a chance to weigh in. And of course Ottawa will play a key role, because the merger is subject to the Investment Canada Act and the Competition Act.
If the merger of the Toronto and London stock exchanges goes through, the largest shareholder of the new entity won抰 be a Canadian or a Brit. It will be Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the billionaire ruler of Dubai who loves racehorses and giant yachts and once dreamed of turning his tiny emirate into a world financial centre.

Egypt's euphoria

12 February 2011 The Economist

"Jubilation is catching. It is impossible, for me at least, to watch the crowds in Egypt, overjoyed at Hosni Mubarak's hotly-desired resignation, with dry eyes and an unclenched throat. The best explanation I have heard today for the mass euphoria rippling through Egypt came earlier this morning when one Al Jazeera reporter, choking back sobs, described the rise of Egypt's people and the fall of Egypt's dictator as "everything I've ever hoped for". Everything! Another correspondent, reporting from Alexandria, described Egypt's collective elation as the release of 30 years of bottled-up emotion. He said he had seen birth, that he had seen marriage, but he had never seen happiness like this, and it is everywhere. This is sublimely powerful stuff. It may be the most powerful stuff.

I admit that I am more than a little tempted to rain on the parade and note that Mr Mubarak's departure guarantees nothing and that it is not unreasonable to fear a turn for the worse. There's a tiny, stability-loving Burke on my shoulder, and I'm afraid he's no devil. All the same, for now I'm not listening. Well, I did listen a little, but I've heard enough. It is partly due to my Burkean worries that I feel the pessimist in me should just stuff it for now. Whether or not Egypt flowers into a model democracy, whether or not Egyptians tomorrow live more freely than Egyptians today, today they threw off a tyrant. The surge of overwhelming bliss that has overtaken Egyptians is the rare beautitude of democratic will. The hot blush of liberation, a dazzled sense of infinite possibility swelling millions of happy breasts is a precious thing of terrible, unfathomable beauty, and it won't come to these people again. Whatever the future may hold, this is the happiest many people will ever feel. This is the best day of some peoples' lives. The tiny Dionysian anarchist on my other shoulder is no angel, but I cannot deny that there is something holy in this feeling, that it is one of few human experiences that justifies life梩hat satisfies, however briefly, our desperate craving for more intensity, for more meaning, for more life from life. Whatever the future holds, there will be disappointment, at best. But there is always disappointment. Today, there is joy."

Tiger in the desert

11 February 2011

US golfer Tiger Woods plays a shot during the first round of the Dubai Desert Classic golf tournament in the Gulf emirate on February 10, 2011.

Getty Images

Avoiding a New Pharaoh

11 February 2011By Nicholas Kristof New York Times

So Hosni Mubarak is out. Vice President Omar Suleiman says that Mubarak has stepped down and handed over power to the military. This is a huge triumph for people power, and it will resonate across the Middle East and far beyond (you have to wonder what President Hu Jintao of China is thinking right now). The narrative about how Arab countries are inhospitable for democracy, how the Arab world is incompatible with modernity that has been shattered by the courage and vision of so many Tunisians and Egyptians.

It抯 also striking that Egyptians triumphed over their police state without Western help or even moral support. During rigged parliamentary elections, the West barely raised an eyebrow. And when the protests began at Tahrir Square, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that the Mubarak government was 搒table and 搇ooking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people. Oops. So much for our $80 billion intelligence agency. On my Facebook fan page, I asked my fans (before the Tahrir protests began) what the next Tunisia would be. A surprising number said Egypt if you were among them, you apparently did better than our intelligence community. Indeed, Egyptians in Tahrir told me that they were broadly inspired by America抯 example of freedom, but that their greatest inspiration came from Tunisia and Al Jazeera. On Tahrir Square, there were signs saying 揟hank you, Tunisia. So, all of you Tunisians and Egyptians, 搈abrouk or 揷ongratulations! You抳e made history. The score in Egypt is: People Power, 1; Police State, 0.

But the game isn抰 over, and now a word of caution. I worry that senior generals may want to keep (with some changes) a Mubarak-style government without Mubarak. In essence the regime may have decided that Mubarak had become a liability and thrown him overboard without any intention of instituting the kind of broad, meaningful democracy that the public wants. Senior generals have enriched themselves and have a stake in a political and economic structure that is profoundly unfair and oppressive. And remember that the military running things directly really isn抰 that different from what has been happening: Mubarak抯 government was a largely military regime (in civilian clothes) even before this. Mubarak, Vice President Suleiman and so many others including nearly all the governors are career military men. So if the military now takes over, how different is it?

The military ostensibly played a neutral role in recent weeks, and protesters certainly feel much more sympathetic to the military than to the police. But some elements of the army have been involved in repression of pro-democracy protesters, including arrest and torture. The Guardian noted:

One of those detained by the army was a 23-year-old man who would only give his first name, Ashraf, for fear of again being arrested. He was detained last Friday on the edge of Tahrir Square carrying a box of medical supplies intended for one of the makeshift clinics treating protesters attacked by pro-Mubarak forces.

Ashraf was hauled off to a makeshift army post where his hands were bound behind his back and he was beaten some more before being moved to an area under military control at the back of the museum.

揟hey put me in a room. An officer came and asked me who was paying me to be against the government. When I said I wanted a better government he hit me across the head and I fell to the floor. Then soldiers started kicking me. One of them kept kicking me between my legs, he said. 揟hey got a bayonet and threatened to rape me with it. Then they waved it between my legs. They said I could die there or I could disappear into prison and no one would ever know. The torture was painful but the idea of disappearing in a military prison was really frightening.

That kind of thing happened to a lot of people, and those millions of brave Egyptians who went to the streets were protesting not just against Mubarak but against the police state as a whole. May Mubarak抯 resignation mark a milestone toward their goal and I think it is, but it抯 not the end of the journey. And let抯 hope that the United States makes absolutely clear that it stands for full democracy, not just for some kind of false stability that derives from authoritarianism. The Obama administration missed the boat in the last few weeks, but I thought yesterday抯 speech and statement by President Obama marked an improvement. Let抯 hope it continues. May Mubarak抯 resignation mark a new beginning in Egypt, and also in wiser American policy toward Egypt and the Arab world.

The Pharaoh Refuses to Go

11 February 2011
By Nicholas Kristof New York Times

President Hosni Mubarak just appeared on television and didn抰 step down, as many had thought he would. Instead, he insisted that he would stay in office through the September elections. He offered cosmetic changes and promises of reform down the road. For example, he said that he would lift the state of emergency卍own the road卻ometime when the time is right. He seems to have delegated some powers to his vice president, Omar Suleiman, while remaining in office himself.

This is of course manifestly unacceptable to the Egyptian people. Mubarak抯 speech was a striking reminder of the capacity of dictators to fool themselves and see themselves as indispensable. If he thinks that his softer tone will win any support, he抯 delusional. As he was speaking, the crowd in Tahrir was shouting 揑rhal! or 揋o! And the Egyptian state media from television to Al Ahram, the dominant newspaper have been turning against Mubarak, so he抯 losing control even of his own state apparatus. An Arab friend of mine who has met Mubarak many, many times describes him as 揳 stubborn old man, and that seems exactly the problem right now. Suleiman just spoke as well, praising Mubarak and asking the youth of Egypt to go home and stop watching satellite television. Only possible conclusion: he抯 delusional, too. The regime seems so out of touch as to be almost suicidal.

It was interesting that Mubarak tried to push the nationalism button and blame outside forces (meaning the United States) for trying to push him out. That won抰 succeed, but it抯 actually beneficial to America, giving us credit for siding with people power that I don抰 think we actually deserve.

My guess is that we抣l see massive demonstrations in many cities not just Cairo on Friday, a traditional day for demonstrations. In effect, Mubarak and Suleiman have just insulted the intelligence of the Egyptian people and they will respond. The regime has managed to galvanize the protesters, and it may be committing suicide. And I worry a bit that somewhere or other we may see violence. People are getting frustrated, and police are scared.

One crucial question is what the military does next. It is sending signals of impatience, and there are hints that a coup could come. Senior generals have a huge stake in continuing the existing system, and at this point Mubarak is becoming an obstacle to their retaining their privileges. But in an Egyptian context, what would a coup mean? Mubarak抯 regime is a largely military one (in civilian clothes): Mubarak, Vice President Omar Suleiman and so many others including nearly all the governors are career military men. So if the military now takes over, how different will the system be?

Another question: what should the United States do? At the end of the day, Washington has relatively little influence, but its messaging will be hugely important. And the flaw with our messaging has been that we抳e been too wishy-washy, and we抳e been perceived as supporting a slow and gradual transition under Suleiman rather than siding with democracy. I hope that we will speak out more clearly (and Obama抯 speech today was a step in that direction) to show respect for popular aspirations and against any kind of crackdown. One of the big questions in the next 48 hours is whether the authorities will crack down and we should always be very clearly on the record against any use of violence.

To me, this speech is a reminder of how entrenched the powers that be are in Egypt. They have their entire way of life and billions of dollars at risk, and they抮e not going to go easily. My hunch is that at some point they抣l throw Mubarak overboard, but even then they may then seek to maintain Mubarakism without Mubarak. This could get uglier. It will certainly be historic.

Protest impact on Emirates

10 February 2010

Emirates Airline says that it has seen a significant drop in its global business since the start of the unrest last month in Tunisia and Egypt.

The Dubai-based carrier's president, Tim Clark, told reporters in Washington DC today that Emirates' system-wide load factor has been averaging 75% in recent weeks, compared to a typical 81% to 82% during this time of the year.

Emirates is the largest airline in the Middle East and is one of the largest carriers in all the markets which have witnessed political instability in recent weeks, including Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen.

Clark did not quantify the financial impact but acknowledges the instability in the region will dent Emirate's financials for its current fiscal year, which ends on 31 March 2011. "It's a pity because it's been a very strong year for us," he says.

That is one way to downplay the annual bonus!

However, Emirates remains profitable. Clark points out that every year there is typically "two traumas" to work around. This fiscal year has been no different with the ash cloud crisis in Europe impacting revenues at the beginning of the year and now the instability in the Middle East and North Africa having an impact in the final quarter. In April Emirates estimated the European flight disruption caused by the ash crisis was costing the carrier $10 million per day.

Clark says even if demand remains depressed in April in some markets the carrier by then will have responded by adjusting capacity across its network to match the new demand picture.

Emirates has already reduced capacity in several of the affected markets including Egypt and Tunisia. But Clark says it takes six weeks to two months to absorb what has happened, fully analyse the impact and reallocate capacity.

Clark says several other markets have sufficient demand to absorb additional capacity. He points out that Emirates overall has "a robust network" and always uses the diversity of its network to work around crises in certain markets or regions.

Clark says Emirates in particular carries a lot of Chinese tourists to the region and this traffic has completely "disappeared". He says business travel to the affected countries also has dried up.

However, he is not concerned at all about the prospect of the unrest spreading to Emirates' home country. "I'd be very, very surprised if anything happened like this in the UAE," Clark says.

New A380 business class unveiled on Koh Lanta

9 February 2010


Picture: http://twitter.com/travelhappy

Scoring a quick single on Emirates

9 February 2011

Emirates airline has said that it is investigating alleged misbehaviour by a New Zealand cricket player aboard an Emirates flight.

An Emirates spokesperson in a statement said, 揈mirates can confirm that it is looking into an alleged incident on EK413 from Sydney to Dubai. Emirates places the highest importance on the flight experience of its passengers and any behaviour which may impact that is taken very seriously.

Meanwhile Black Caps team manager Dave Currie says reports of a player behaving in a "lewd" manner toward a woman on an international flight were not factual and the matter would not be taken any further.

A passenger on the flight between Sydney and Dubai told Newstalk ZB radio that the incident involved a Black Caps player and a woman he met on the plane. The passenger described it as the "worst possible sort of lewd behaviour", the station reported.

Currie confirmed that the player was Tim Southee but said he had investigated and established the reports were not factually correct.

The New Zealand team version is that Mr Southee met a female passenger and struck up a conversation They spent a bit of time and had a drink together on the plane. The at some stage the female passenger came to his seat and perhaps spent a maximum of 30 seconds with Tim and there may well have been a kiss on the cheek, but that was it.

The team's media manager, Ellery Tappin, said he was "dumbfounded" by the amount of attention the reports had garnered. "We've done a thorough investigation and found absolutely nothing substantial, so are incredibly surprised by the amount of attention it's generated and are all a bit dumbfounded, to be perfectly honest, about how this has escalated," he said.

Emirates seems to be taking the media noise a bit more seriously and when asked if it had received any complaints, the spokesperson said, 揑t is not necessary that a passenger should register a complaint. We have our in-flight staff who would have witnessed the incident.

The team is heading to India to play in the 2011 cricket world cup starting on February 19 and being played in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Online people are having more fun with this story: "Finally, someone in the NZ cricket team managed to score a quick single" while someone else joked "Black Cap had sex on a plane? I don't believe it. None of them can stay in longer than a minute."

No smoke without fire. A sports team drinking on an airplane can be very little fun for the other passengers. Emirates is investigating. That can only mean that some of the other passengers were distressed. And the very early protests of innocence from Southee and his management may prove to be misguided.

Maybe they were just taking advantage of Emirates companion fares for a minimum of two people to travel together!

Thai Tiger going nowhere soon

9 February 2011

The low-cost joint venture airline between Thai Airways International and Tiger Airways is likely to begin operations only in this year's third quarter at the earliest, putting it at least six months behind schedule.

A senior Thai executive says ThaiTiger Airways is still awaiting approval from the government to start flights, and the airline is still ironing out details on the operational level.

The two partners had said earlier it plans to begin flights by March 2011, operating services out of Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport.

The new airline's launch route will likely be a service between Bangkok and Singapore. A route already served Tiger, Jetstar and Air Asia as well as a number of full servive carriers.

Tiger's spokesman says both airlines are still committed to the joint venture, but acknowledges that the new airline is not likely to begin operations in this quarter.

However, he adds that the delay is due to the wait for Thai government approval. "If the approvals are in place, we can begin in March," he adds.

Thai will have a 49.9% share in ThaiTiger, with another 1.1% to be held by employees of the new joint venture. Tiger will own 39% of the new airline, and Declan Ryan's holding company Ryan Asia will own the remaining 10%.

No real surprise, sadly.

The wrong side of history

9 February 2011

The protests in Cairo and across Egypt entered their 15th day today. And President Mubarak is still in office and appears more determined by the day to remain there.

He is trying to show that business continues as normal and was helped hugely yesterday by a visit from Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who became the first senior international diplomat to meet the leader since protests to his 30-year rule began two weeks ago.

Sheikh Abdullah's visit to Cairo showed "extraordinary political support" for Egypt, an Arab diplomat in the UAE said, in light of the security situation in the country.

How sad this is. There is much to admire about the UAE but such a show of support for a failed regime is a misjudgment.

The USA is similarly trying to seek a suitable response to the uprising in Egypt but it has not shown such brazen support for its former ally.

Clearly the USA is under pressure from insistent and persuasive voices among Egypt抯 neighbors.

Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates have all pressed the United States not to give up too hastily on Mubarak. They have told the USA not to throw its weight behind the democracy movement in a way that could further destabilize the region.

But what does the USA stand for if it is not for the voice of the people; the very democracy on which the USA was founded and which underpins her constitution.

While each country has its own concerns, all worry that a sudden, chaotic change in Egypt would destabilize the region or, in the Arab nations, even jeopardize their own leaders, many of whom are also autocrats facing restive populations.

And of course these autocrats have also been staunch US allies. Which is why the USA appears to have embraced a transition process in Egypt that does not demand Mr. Mubarak抯 immediate departure. But is Vice President Suleiman any advocate of change? He is a long time ally of Mubarak committed to the status quo. Mr. Suleiman is also a longstanding Egyptian contact for the Israelis, and as a 2008 cable made public by WikiLeaks showed, he has been the Israeli government抯 preferred successor to Mr. Mubarak for several years.

On Sunday Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi, the UAE's defense chief, emphasized to the US President the need for 搒tability in Egypt, according to a statement put out by the United Arab Emirates after the call. The crown prince 揳lso stressed the necessity that the period of transition in Egypt should be smooth and organized through the framework of national institutions, it said.

Gulf countries including the UAE have expressed concern over the threat to Egypt's stability; there are allegations of "foreign" meddling in the country. Egypt however is too important on the world stage for the rest of the world to sit back and watch a potential civil war. The presence of the international media and active intervention by Arab and Western leaders has probably helped avoid a military crack down and far worse loss of life. 

"The UAE rejects all foreign attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of Egypt," Sheikh Mohammed said on Monday in comments published by WAM, the state news agency. He stressed that the transition in Egypt should be smooth and organised. But is not being the first foreign leader to sit down with Mubarak since the protests started interfering in exactly the way that the UAE has rejected? 

Build a Wall

8 February 2011 - The Economist

"The Chinese Communist Party抯 Publicity Department (or Propaganda Department, a closer rendering of the Chinese) is adept at controlling news from abroad that might inflame sentiment at home. As communism collapsed in Eastern Europe 20 years ago, it kept all but the barest news out of the domestic media, jammed foreign broadcasts and ordered vigilance over fax machines.

In response to the unrest in Egypt, the department has apparently instructed the Chinese media to use only dispatches sent by the official news agency, Xinhua, and either to bury news of events there or play up aspects that show the costs of turmoil. Reporting the travails of stranded Chinese tourists, or the government抯 noble attempts to rescue them, is fine, but sympathy with the protesters is taboo. The department抯 instructions to the media are, as usual, a secret, but their effect is clear.

The party has also been busy trying to control the internet. Twitter has been blocked in China since 2009, but home-grown versions are hugely popular. Anyone trying to follow postings by users with an interest in Egypt, however, might struggle. Merely searching for the word 揈gypt in Sina Weibo, one of China抯 leading Twitter-like services, produces a warning that 揳ccording to the relevant laws, regulations and policies, the search results have not been displayed. On Baidu, a big news portal, a prominent list of 揾ot search terms includes 搕he return of compatriots stranded in Egypt, but nothing else.

Chinese news reports have briefly mentioned the disruption of internet and mobile-phone services in Egypt. They have not, however, discussed China抯 pioneering use of such techniques to impede the mobilisation of crowds. Use of the internet and mobile phones for international calls and text-messaging was cut off for months in the far-western region of Xinjiang after ethnic clashes there in 2009.

On February 1st the party抯 main mouthpiece, the People抯 Daily, relegated Egyptian politics to five terse paragraphs on page three but published a full page of articles under the headline, 揟he Internet is Warming the Whole of Society. The internet, one scholar was quoted as saying, is a 揼reat promoter of social change. The party knows that all too well."

Be careful with that wok!

8 February 2011

The AFP is happily reporting that a Hong Kong adult channel is set to debut a cooking show headlined by a nude host who will prepare Cantonese dishes wearing a transparent apron -- an apparent bid to encourage more men to cook.

This sound's much more fun than Ching's Kitchen on BBC entertainment where a nice Chinese girl with a posh English accent keeps saying "great".

In Hong Kong host Flora Cheung will start each 30-minute show shopping for fresh ingredients in the city's famous wet markets; she will undress once she is back in the privacy of her studio kitchen. And then she will cook. Hope she is careful with splashing oil from the hot wok!

Cheung, who admits she has never worked in a restaurant kitchen, said she hopes the risque show will draw more men into the kitchen. The first episode is set to air later this month.

The host will be wearing a tailor-made, transparent apron but promises that it will not leave much to the imagination.

"It covers pretty much everything but hides nothing," she was quoted as saying.

Producer Jesse Au told the paper that the show may spawn similar offerings with nude hosts cooking up a range of Asian cuisines: "This could be an endless series if it proves popular."

Flip flop Blatter

7 February 2011

I do wish that he would make his mind up. The 2022 World Cup in Qatar will be played in the summer as originally planned and will not be co-hosted with neighbouring countries, FIFA president Sepp Blatter has now said.

Blatter said there were no plans to stage a winter World Cup and any request to do so would have to come from the Qatari hosts who have already said they plan to stage the event in summer.

"Everything is settled now for summer and with all 64 matches in the territory of Qatar," he told the BBC in an interview.

Qatar were chosen as hosts in December, winning a contest also featuring Australia, Japan, South Korea and United States. Their bid was based on a summer World Cup using air-conditioned stadiums to combat the desert heat.

Despite this, there has been wide support for a winter World Cup with Franz Beckenbauer and UEFA president Michel Platini backing a January-February tournament.

Platini also suggested a "World Cup in the Gulf" with Qatar sharing matches with neighbouring countries.

Blatter seems to have dismissed the views of Herr Beckenbauer and Monsieur Platini. Blatter denies supporting a winter tournament himself and said he was impartial, although he feared a winter tournament could clash with that year's Winter Olympics.

Dubai Airports to focus on existing terminals

7 February 2011 Khaleej Times

I thought this was interesting although it has a very low profile in the local media. But the Khaleej Times is reporting that  Dubai抯 new Al Maktoum International Airport is likely to see another delay in opening of its passenger terminal, which is set to open in October this year.

The new reasoning is that Dubai Airports, the operator of the two airports in the emirate, is fully focused on its existing passenger terminals as demand is increasing every day. It cannot focus on growth at two airports at the same time. Or it cannot afford to develop both at the same time.

Last month the operator announced its full year 2010 results that revealed a 15.3 per cent growth in passenger demand over 2009. It is estimated that the airport will handle 52.2 million passengers by the end of 2011 with 11 per cent growth, according to the operator.

The cargo terminal of Al Maktoum International Airport has been operational since June last year; originally a passenger terminal was to be opened in March 2011. It was postponed to October and now Dubai Airports hints at another possible delay.

揥e are focusing on our growth here [Dubai International airport] and reason for that is because the growth is so strong and exceeding our expectations, said Paul Griffths the CEO of Dubai Airports. Why would it exceed expectations. Just the additions to the Emirates fleet will drive most of that growth if the planes are full.

Growth will be driven by a projected 10 per cent increase in Emirates passenger numbers and an anticipated doubling of flydubai traffic in 2011 as both airlines continue to expand their respective fleets and networks, according to Dubai Airports.

Dubai Airports says that before the end of the decade passenger numbers will approach 90 million making Dubai International the busiest airport in the world in terms of international passenger traffic.

Dubai International airport is undergoing a massive development for its Terminal 2 and a new Concourse 3. Concourse 3, set to become the world抯 first dedicated A380 facility, will boost capacity from the current 60 million passengers annually to 75 million, which, when combined with other facility enhancements and operational efficiencies will boost capacity to 90 million by 2018.

They will need to make a better job of spreading arrivals and departures throughout the day and in maximising available air space and ATC on routes into and out of Dubai. It may not be Dubai that is the issue, but capacity of air routes over countries like Iran, Iraq and India.

The Tim Hortons' news gets better

6 February 2011

We already know that Tim Hortons, Canada's largest restaurant chain, will open this year in Abu Dhabi. But the deal is bigger than that. Tim Hortons has signed a deal with Dubai-based Apparel Group to open up to 120 restaurants in the UAE and wider Gulf region.

The local Dubai media calls them restaurants. The reality is they are coffee shops that sell lots of doughnuts together will a soup and sandwich for lunch. They are significantly cheaper than premium brands such as Starbucks and Krispy Kreme which is probably why they are so loved in Canada where they are something of an institution.

The properties will be developed and operated by Apparel in the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman, Don Schroeder, CEO of Tim Hortons confirmed.

"There is an opportunity over the long term to explore international opportunities and seed the Tim Hortons brand in various markets outside of North America," Schroeder said.

The Ontario-based company, which has a few stores in Britain and at some military bases in the Middle East, had over 3,000 restaurants in Canada.

Apparel Group, which operates brands like Tommy Hilfiger and Aeropostale, has over 500 stores in about fourteen countries.

Magnificent men in their flying machines

6 February 2011

A day out at the Al Ain air show is like a trip back in history to the barnstorming shows of the pioneer flyers in the USA or revisiting the old movie - "Those Magnificent Men in their flying machines."

This is the  friendly air show. It is not a big commercial sales event. It is not a trade show. It is for people who love to fly and the rest of us who like to watch and dream.

Staged at the Al Ain International Airport, the show featured a number of acts and aircraft. Although it appears that some shows were cancelled on the Saturday when there was a near 90 minute break in flying mid afternoon.

There was a solo display from a Mirage 2000 of the UAE air force which excited the crowd. Formation flying came from the national air force squadrons of Saudi Arabia and Turkey in the form of The Saudi Hawks and fabulous Turkish Stars.

Blue Voltig fly two powered gliders in a nearly silent sky ballet. Lovely to watch.

Team Viper, the world's only Hawker Hunter supersonic fighter jet display squadron flew their three plane formation but did not show their mock ground formation attack (although if you read the local press you would think this was displayed as well). Middle East debutants the Baltic Bees from Latvia took off but decided not to fly their display on Sunday - maybe it was too windy. There were single aerobatics from Skip Stewart, the wing-walkers from the Scandinavian Airshow and another Hunter, Missdemeanor.

The show finished with Abu Dhabi's 揊lying Falcon, Hannes Arch, who showed his new 揜hythm & Air routine, which made its global premier at the show. This rather weird show was at the end of the day; when the sun was setting, it was cool, and many guests had left for home.

The show combined music, a ballerina and Arch's Abu Dhabi-branded Zivko Edge 540 aircraft. And in the finale, the plane came across the runway and up onto the stage, bringing it to a halt close behind a fire-coat cloaked actress with flaming wings.

One of the world抯 foremost aerobatic stars, Arch is a global ambassador for the show organiser, Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) and a former winner of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship.

Arch was supported by leading experimental music act, NOISIA, whose music was produced using several unique 搒ound sculptures made from stainless steel, and Cellist Irmi Vukovich, who has starred for the world-famous Vienna Symphonic Orchestra.

Taking centrestage was the beautiful Karina Sarkissova, principal ballet dancer of the Vienna State Opera, who lit up the stage with her graceful moves that combined dance and classical ballet.

My highlight of the day - the fabulous Turkish Star with a terrific display in their eight Thunderbolt P-5s accompanied by the most exuberant of commentaries.

There are pictures here.

And a link to the Turkish Stars here

Dubai's property woes

6 February 2011

Even a smart Dubai address cannot save an onwer from Dubai's contiuninig real estate woes; Selling prices are now as low AED704 ($191) per square foot, a far cry from the more spectacular prices of over AED2300 ($626) in 2007. That means that since the start of the property crash in late 2008, prices have now fallen by nearly 70% in some parts of the Palm.

As if this wasn抰 enough bad news, nearly all 10 planned hotel properties on the Palm archipelago have seen setbacks due to the global economic downturn. Fairmount Hotels & Resorts, Rixos Hotels, Kempinski, Movenpick Hotels & Resorts and Sofitel have all pushed back their launch dates by an average of two years when compared to initial opening dates, according PricewaterhouseCoopers advisory partner Mohammad Dahmash.

The hardest hit Palm Jumeirah project, however, is the equally iconic US$600 million Trump International Tower. Not only has the work stopped but the site has been levelled with no re-start date given.

The oversupply of residential property in Dubai is predicted to peak in 2012 with vacancies of between 25 and 28%, according to the latest real estate report by Landmark Advisory.

At the same time distressed sales are leading to accelerates price declines, according to the Dubai and Abu Dhabi Real Estate Report for the third quarter of 2010 from the consultancy.

慉s prices are falling faster than rents, this is pushing up yields, said Jesse Downs, director of research and advisory services at Landmark Advisory.

慣his is positive for the market as higher yields are required to attract investors wary of the weak market fundamentals and perceived downside risk. At the moment, financing remains limited, which means investors continue to dictate market trends, she explained.

The report found that sale volumes slowed in the second quarter, compared to the first. Prices for villas dropped by 5% and apartments fell by 5.8% as a result of limited buyers and tighter lending restrictions.

In neighbouring Abu Dhabi quality issues could lead to a rapid reshuffling of the market as the new higher quality supply is delivered, the report also points out. Downs expects only 20% of high end properties in the pipeline will meet the standard, which will have a knock on effect on prices for mid-range homes.

慔owever, we predict that this trend will be temporary, with performance weakening and not recovering once the truly high end developments are delivered, she added.

In Dubai and Abu Dhabi rental costs declined across the board with Dubai villas down 4.4% and apartments down 5.8% during the quarter. Abu Dhabi rents dropped by 11%, a sharp decline compared with 3% in the first quarter of the year.

慣hese declines are supply driven following new on-island deliveries such as Khalidiyah Palace, Al Aryam Tower, Silver and Wave Tower. Static sales prices and declining rents have resulted in further yields compression, currently at 5.1%, and we anticipate that yields will continue to compress in the short term, Downs explained.

The figures confirm those released by consultants Colliers International earlier this month which showed house prices fell by 4% in the second quarter of the year compared with an increase of 2% in the first three months of 2010.

The consultancy is predicting that around 33,000 new units will be released onto the market by the end of the year, less than its original estimate of 41,000 due to project delays or rescheduling.

慣here are already more than 340,000 residential properties in Dubai with an average occupancy rate of 87%, with further declines anticipated, said Colliers International抯 regional director, Ian Albert.

慣he market simply cannot absorb the additional supply unless the population grows and/or the release of stock is slowed down, he added.

Albert also warned that a dramatic drop in rents made home ownership a less attractive option for investors in terms of income generation, another factor that was weakening demand.

Deadly clash on Thailand Cambodia border

4 February 2010

Reuters and other media agencies are reporting that Thai and Cambodian soldiers exchanged fire in a two-hour border clash on Friday that killed two Cambodian soldiers and a Thai villager, the latest in an ancient feud over land surrounding a 900-year-old Hindu temple.

The number of dead and injured is reported differently by the Thai and Cambodian media.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said Cambodia would file a complaint with the U.N. Security Council, accusing Thailand of invading Cambodian territory.

Both sides accused each other of firing first in the 4.6-sq-km (two-sq-mile) disputed area around Preah Vihear, a jungle-clad escarpment claimed by both countries and scene of deadly, sporadic clashes in recent years.

Several Thai soldiers were also wounded and four Thai villages were evacuated, Thai media reported. Five Thai soldiers were captured, said army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd. He has subsequently denied that any Thai troops were captured.

The clash comes three days after a Cambodian court handed down jail terms of six and eight years to two Thai nationalists found guilty of trespassing and spying in the border region, a verdict that has angered some in Thailand.

Shelling began at about 3 p.m. (8:00 a.m. British time) and continued into early evening. Artillery shells landed at several villages on the Thai side, setting at least four houses on fire, witnesses said.

A Thai police colonel, Chatchawan Kaewchandee, said at least one villager was killed during the shelling. "We found one body of a male villager and there might be more," he said.

This will put even further pressure on Thai Prime Minister Abhisit whose restraint when provoked by Thai nationalists has been notable. 

The fighting was near a temple known as Preah Vihear in Cambodia and Khao Phra Viharn in Thailand, which sits on land that forms a natural border and has been a source of tension for generations.

The International Court of Justice awarded it to Cambodia in 1962 but the ruling did not determine the ownership of the scrub next to the ruins, leaving considerable scope for disagreement.

The fighting coincided with meetings in Cambodia between Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya and his Cambodian counterpart aimed at reducing tensions.

How to maximise DXB - by making JXB work

4 February 2011

Emirates Airline complains regularly that its growth is constrained by capacity issues at Dubai's international airport.

The issue is not about parking spaces - there is plenty of room at the airport, provide passengers accept being bussed in from remote stands.

The problem is that Emirates uses Dubai as a hub; it flies passengers in from Europe and out to Asia, Africa and Australia, and vice versa. The airline needs to minimise transit times, so arrivals are at capacity twice a day, between 11pm and 1am - and again between 5am and 7am. With departures peeking between 2.00am and 3.30am and again between 7.30am and 10.00am. This is simplistic as there is another departure bank in the early afternoon to Europe but there is plenty of capacity at that time.

There are also ATC limitations. The UAE ATC appears able to only handle a certain volume of incoming flights through the existing air routes and departures are throttled by capacity through Oman ATC and onto Indian airspace.

There is of course a new five runway 120million assenger a year airport being built in Jebel Ali. But financing this construction post the global financial crisis must be a significant problem for Dubai and construction has slowed down dramatically.

But there seems to be plenty that Dubai can still do to assist its home town airline: JXB, the Jebel Ali airport has a single runway; it has cargo facilities; it has an MRO for business jets and a small passenger terminal is under construction:

So immediately Dubai should move as much of the following traffic to JXB as possible:

All private jets and business jet operations

And cargo flight that has little or no connection to DXB traffic

The operations of Fly Dubai, once the JXB passenger terminal is finished. Sorry.

Other low cost point to point operators such as Air India Express, Bahrain Air and Air Blue.

I have landed in a business jet in Dubai in the late night rush hour. We were sandwiched between 777s and clogging up airspace!

At relatively low cost Dubai could make JXB an effective low cost airfield. Reduce the landing fees as an incentive and offer low cost handling services to attract operators. As there is no rail connection immediately introduce a convenient, frequent and comfortable bus service connecting to the Metro red line.

It will be years, maybe a decade, before Emirates can move to JXB. For the moment the airline is busy expanding at DXB with concourse 3 due for completion in 2013. Emirates could not move to JXB until terminal facilities exist for 90 million passengers a year with a high speed rail like into Dubai and also connecting Abu Dhabi. None of this work appears to have started yet.

The continuing woes of Dubai Aerospace

4 February 2011

Boeing has lost an order for 32 737 jets, valued at about $2.3 billion at list prices, from Dubai Aerospace Enterprise Ltd, reducing the leasing company's backlog for 737s to 35, according to a monthly update yesterday on Boeing抯 website, compared with 67 as of December.

Boeing抯 weekly order report showed 32 orders for the single-aisle aircraft had been canceled, without identifying the buyer.

Dubai Aerospace canceled plans last year to buy 47 jets from Boeing and Airbus SAS.

Dubai Aerospace was set up in 2006, entering the leasing market during the peak of an air-travel boom, with the aim of becoming one of the world抯 biggest airplane lessors. Airlines and leasing companies typically don抰 pay list prices.

Now it is Qantas against Emirates

4 February 2011

Qantas boss Alan Joyce is the latest airline CEO to express concern it the growth of the middle east airlines as he called yesterday for a moratorium on new international flights into Australia. He argues that the flood of new airlines has crippled Qantas International.

Qantas state that from 2003 to 2009, international capacity to Australia increased by 39 per cent, but inbound passengers increased by just 10 per cent.

This shows the market didn't expand much. The new airlines, particularly those from the Middle East, were simply taking market share, as evidenced by Qantas's fall from 35 per cent of the international market to 20 per cent.

Qantas is losing money on its international routes and it is looking to the government to erect barriers around its market.

The counter argument is that Australian consumers are better served by more competition.

Singaporeans told to breed in the rabbit year

3 February 2011

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has urged Singaporeans to have more babies in the new Year of the Rabbit, saying additional children would bring "more joy" to families.

Lee, a father of four, said in his Lunar New Year message that getting Singaporeans to produce more babies has been a challenge but he hoped more would be born during the Rabbit year.

Singapore's resident fertility rate -- the number of babies born per woman -- fell to an all-time low of 1.16 in 2010 during the Year of the Tiger.

While immigrants have filled in the population shortfall, "we also need Singaporeans to produce enough babies to replace ourselves, and that has proved extremely challenging," he said.

"I hope more couples will start or add to their families in the Year of the Rabbit. Chinese New Year is the time for families to come together in celebration, and more babies can mean only more joy in the years to come."

Local-born Singaporeans must maintain a clear majority in the population mix so they can "set the tone of our society and uphold our core values and ethos," the prime minister said.

Singapore the government has been running a matchmaking service for several years, especially trying to get the island republic's more nerdish graduates together, with events like ''Love is in the Aisles'' in the local supermarkets of the French-owned Carrefour chain.

It is a problem of Singapore's own creation. Women enjoy equal learning and employment opportunities; often filling key roles in many organisations. This has been very good news for equality in the workplace; but the high cost of living, from condominiums to cars, has meant that most couple require two incomes.

And hard working, tired, stressed parents will delay having a family and will have smaller families.

Singapore currently has a population of more than five million, a quarter of whom are foreigners

Canadian favourite Tim Hortons to open shop in UAE

3 February 2011

The first Tim Hortons location was opened in 1964 in Hamilton, Ont. and has since grown to Canada's largest coffee shop chain with over 2,200 locations.

Canada's beloved coffee and food chain, Tim Hortons, will open its first UAE branch at the capital's newest mall.

The coffee shop will take pride of place at Mushrif Mall when it opens its doors for the first time on April 5.

The store will be 1,200 sq ft and will have the full complement of brand favourites, including the "double-double" combination of double cream, double sugar.

"We have already noticed a lot of excitement and we are looking forward to hosting Tim Hortons' here," said the deputy mall manager Siddharth Khanna.

The branch is the only one of its kind in the Middle East, although the coffee is available to members of the military at a Canadian Armed Forces base in Afghanistan.

Around 80 per cent of the mall's shop spaces are currently leased out and a grand opening will be staged when the remaining units are filled, said Mr Khanna.

Emirates delivery plans for 2011/2012

3 February 2011

Emirates Airline has told Air Transport World that it plans to take delivery of 14 new aircraft in its upcoming fiscal year beginning April 1, and retain four others it had planned to remove, owing to strong traffic demand. The carrier currently operates 15 Airbus A380s, a number that will grow dramatically as deliveries ramp up.

揥e [will] start constant delivery of the remaining 75 A380s from September 2011, Divisional SVP-Commercial Operations Worldwide Richard Vaughan told ATW in Dubai. He said the A380s are still a kind of marketing tool and that passengers will change their schedules to be able to fly on the aircraft. Two of the airline's 14 full flight simulators at its training facility in Dubai are dedicated to the type.

揟he machine created a new landscape [for EK], he observes. Vaughan confirmed that EK has no plans to install a different cabin configuration for high-density routes such as to India. However, I suspect that a two class A380 will 600 plus passengers is inevitable and is in reality good business.

Emirates is constrained by capacity issues at its home base during peak hours. This is almost inevitable for a hub airport. Emirates says that the strain should be eased somewhat when Concourse 3 is fully operational in 2013. It is dedicated to the A380 and will be capable of handling 25 of them at once.

Commenting on the 2011 outlook, Vaughan said forward bookings are looking good but adds that "the price of fuel could be a problem if it rises to as much as $100 a barrel."

EK carried 27.5 million passengers in the 2009-10 fiscal year, 60% of them changing aircraft in DXB. I am surprised that number is not higher. It may reflect that many passengers have a short stopover in Dubai before flying to their final destination. South America is one of the areas where EK believes there is scope for further expansion, but no definite routes or dates have been announced. It currently serves Sao Paulo Guarulhos. Copenhagen will become EK's 27th European destination when it launches Aug. 1. The city of Basra, Iraq, became its 110th destination Feb. 2. EK will add a tenth daily flight to Australia in October, increasing the number of weekly offered seats Down Under from 22,000 to 25,000 in each direction.

"When we open a new destination in Europe, we need to add capacity in places such as the Far East and Africa to balance the network, Vaughan explained.

Malawi To Make Farting In Public Illegal

3 February 2011

Here is one country that most teenagers will not be able to visit as Members of Parliament in Malawi seek to approve a bill that will empower traditional leaders to criminalise any person found to be 慺ouling air.

The bill, which is likely to face opposition in Parliament, was formulated to ease pressure on the courts in Malawi by allowing traditional leaders to try minor civil and criminal cases within their areas of jurisdiction.

Among the offences that the traditional leaders will preside over will include the prosecution of any person that is deemed to have fouled the air to the discomfort of other people.

The bill reads in part: 揊ouling air: Any person who voluntarily vitiates the atmosphere in any place so as to make it noxious to the health of persons in general, dwelling or carrying on business in the neighbourhood or passing along a public way, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour.

Finally, a government that isn抰 afraid to take on the worst of criminals. 

Coup fever in Thailand

3 February 2011

Very day in the Thai press there is now speculation of another military coup d'etat.

One argument is that the army is planning a coup because the government had failed to solve the border disputes between Thailand and Cambodia; another view is that it is because the Department of Special Investigation had found that soldiers were responsible for a number of deaths among the red shirt protesters.

A string of denials has come from the Army.

But coups are part of modern Thai history. There were coup attempts in the early 1980s which tried to topple then prime minister Gen Prem Tinsulanonda.

Then came 1991 when then prime minister Chatichai Choonhavan was ousted from power.

Since then, no matter the denials, a military coup has always been a possibility depending on the political situation.

And it was not unusual for the opposition to make coup allegations.

On Sept 13, 2006, after returning from a three-day visit to Burma, Gen Sonthi dismissed talk of a possible military coup which was fuelled by troop movements in Bangkok. Gen Sonthi said at the time that people who had spread the rumours had intended them as a warning to soldiers not to think about staging a coup.

Yet on September 19, 2006 Prime Minister Thaksin was removed in a bloodless military coup with tanks taking over Bangkok .

The Army sees its role as the key protector of the nation's sovereignty and the crown. The public statements are not the reality. The reality is that the Army will protect its own status and financial well-being.

Simplicity; A Puea Thai government would not be supported by the Army.

Yet a general election is likely by the middle of the year. Presumably this will only go ahead if there is certainty that the Democrats, led by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, together with its power hungry coalition partners, will win. 

By staging the 2006 coup the Army significantly weakened Thaksin. The means justified the ends.

Without the coup it is likely that a Thaksin led or pro-Thaksin party would still be in power today.  Even after the coup his party won the 2007 general election, but they were severely weakened by political bans and court action.

The military probably does not need a coup for now; it already now wields significant power behind the scenes. The Army has doubled its budget in the last 5 years and still has the power to choose its favoured government.

All this could change with one hugely significant event that cannot be talked about. And Thailand waits.

Terror in Tahrir

2 February 2011 New York Times By Nicholas Kristof

"Today President Mubarak seems to have decided to crack down on the democracy movement, using not police or army troops but rather mobs of hoodlums and thugs. I抳e been spending hours on Tahrir today, and it is absurd to think of this as simply 揷lashes between two rival groups. The pro-democracy protesters are unarmed and have been peaceful at every step. But the pro-Mubarak thugs are arriving in buses and are armed and they抮e using their weapons.

In my area of Tahrir, the thugs were armed with machetes, straight razors, clubs and stones. And they all had the same chants, the same slogans and the same hostility to journalists. They clearly had been organized and briefed. So the idea that this is some spontaneous outpouring of pro-Mubarak supporters, both in Cairo and in Alexandria, who happen to end up clashing with other side that is preposterous. It抯 difficult to know what is happening, and I抦 only one observer, but to me these seem to be organized thugs sent in to crack heads, chase out journalists, intimidate the pro-democracy forces and perhaps create a pretext for an even harsher crackdown.

I have no idea whether this tactic will work. But the idea that President Mubarak should make the case that he is necessary for Egypt抯 stability by unleashing violence and chaos on his nation抯 youth it抯 a sad and shameful end to his career. And I hope that the international community will firmly denounce this kind of brutality apparently organized by the government."

A cautionary tale for UAE photographers

2 February 2011

This is simply silly. And the UAE simply sends the wrong message to visitors by taking this action.

The National newspaper reports today that two men were fined this week for taking photos of the Yas Marina formula 1 circuit.

According to the National 揟he State Security Court rejected the argument of two Bangladeshi residents of Abu Dhabi that the track a premier tourist attraction was commonly photographed and there were no signs prohibiting cameras.

Prosecutors said there were signs warning people not to take pictures, though the men dispute this. They received fines of AED 1,000 and AED 500.

The National says that the judgment is the latest in a series of verdicts making it clear that the onus is on a photographer to establish if taking photos is legal.

Yet it is only a few months ago that thousands of people were taking pictures of the race track at the Abu Dhabi grand prix.
50,000 attended the Grand Prix, and we抎 bet that most took a few pictures. Will they be next in court?

Abu Dhabi wants to position itself as a major tourism destination and has opened Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, new golf courses and resorts. But are we allowed to photograph them?

It is unreasonable to invite the world to visit and then to prosecute your visitors for taking pictures of the city's tourist attractions. 

Last week an Iranian tourist was sentenced last week to a month in prison for taking photos of the Presidential Palace in Ras al Akhdar, near the Corniche. He spent three months in jail before the verdict. The man told the court he took photos of the palace out of "admiration of the structure of the building" and that he did not have any "bad intentions".

"Photography is prohibited around the palace due to the nature and sensitivity of the place as a presidential palace," Chief Justice Shehab al Hammadi of the State Security Court said in his ruling. "It does not avail the defendant to say he did not know. He should have inquired if it was not forbidden to take photos."

An Indian man was arrested last month for taking photos and videos of planes taking off, and of the control tower at Abu Dhabi International Airport. He told prosecutors he was an amateur photographer and wanted to keep the pictures as "commemorative photos". He said he did not see a sign prohibiting photography. The judges ruled that his confession was sufficient for a conviction, and he was fined Dh1,000.

You have been warned. Get permission to photograph anything that might be remotely sensitive. Places where photography is automatically prohibited include embassies, royal palaces and security facilities.

Egypt: Death throes of a dictatorship

1 February 2011 Robert Fisk in the Independent

The Egyptian tanks, the delirious protesters sitting atop them, the flags, the 40,000 protesters weeping and crying and cheering in Freedom Square and praying around them, the Muslim Brotherhood official sitting amid the tank passengers. Should this be compared to the liberation of Bucharest? Climbing on to an American-made battle tank myself, I could only remember those wonderful films of the liberation of Paris. A few hundred metres away, Hosni Mubarak's black-uniformed security police were still firing at demonstrators near the interior ministry. It was a wild, historical victory celebration, Mubarak's own tanks freeing his capital from his own dictatorship.

In the pantomime world of Mubarak himself and of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in Washington the man who still claims to be president of Egypt swore in the most preposterous choice of vice-president in an attempt to soften the fury of the protesters Omar Suleiman, Egypt's chief negotiator with Israel and his senior intelligence officer, a 75-year-old with years of visits to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and four heart attacks to his credit. How this elderly apparatchik might be expected to deal with the anger and joy of liberation of 80 million Egyptians is beyond imagination. When I told the demonstrators on the tank around me the news of Suleiman's appointment, they burst into laughter.

Their crews, in battledress and smiling and in some cases clapping their hands, made no attempt to wipe off the graffiti that the crowds had spray-painted on their tanks. "Mubarak Out Get Out", and "Your regime is over, Mubarak" have now been plastered on almost every Egyptian tank on the streets of Cairo. On one of the tanks circling Freedom Square was a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Beltagi.

Earlier, I had walked beside a convoy of tanks near the suburb of Garden City as crowds scrambled on to the machines to hand oranges to the crews, applauding them as Egyptian patriots. However crazed Mubarak's choice of vice-president and his gradual appointment of a powerless new government of cronies, the streets of Cairo proved what the United States and EU leaders have simply failed to grasp. It is over.

Mubarak's feeble attempts to claim that he must end violence on behalf of the Egyptian people when his own security police have been responsible for most of the cruelty of the past five days has elicited even further fury from those who have spent 30 years under his sometimes vicious dictatorship. For there are growing suspicions that much of the looting and arson was carried out by plainclothes cops including the murder of 11 men in a rural village in the past 24 hours in an attempt to destroy the integrity of the protesters campaigning to throw Mubarak out of power. The destruction of a number of communications centres by masked men which must have been co-ordinated by some form of institution has also raised suspicions that the plainclothes thugs who beat many of the demonstrators were to blame.

But the torching of police stations across Cairo and in Alexandria and Suez and other cities was obviously not carried out by plainclothes cops. Late on Friday, driving to Cairo 40 miles down the Alexandria highway, crowds of young men had lit fires across the highway and, when cars slowed down, demanded hundreds of dollars in cash. Yesterday morning, armed men were stealing cars from their owners in the centre of Cairo.

Infinitely more terrible was the vandalism at the Egyptian National Museum. After police abandoned this greatest of ancient treasuries, looters broke into the red-painted building and smashed 4,000-year-old pharaonic statues, Egyptian mummies and magnificent wooden boats, originally carved complete with their miniature crews to accompany kings to their graves. Glass cases containing priceless figurines were bashed in, the black-painted soldiers inside pushed over. Again, it must be added that there were rumours before the discovery that police caused this vandalism before they fled the museum on Friday night. Ghastly shades of the Baghdad museum in 2003. It wasn't as bad as that looting, but it was a most awful archeological disaster.

In my night journey from 6th October City to the capital, I had to slow down when darkened vehicles loomed out of the darkness. They were smashed, glass scattered across the road, slovenly policemen pointing rifles at my headlights. One jeep was half burned out. They were the wreckage of the anti-riot police force which the protesters forced out of Cairo on Friday. Those same demonstrators last night formed a massive circle around Freedom Square to pray, "Allah Alakbar" thundering into the night air over the city.

And there are also calls for revenge. An al-Jazeera television crew found 23 bodies in the Alexandria mortuary, apparently shot by the police. Several had horrifically mutilated faces. Eleven more bodies were discovered in a Cairo mortuary, relatives gathering around their bloody remains and screaming for retaliation against the police.

Cairo now changes from joy to sullen anger within minutes. Yesterday morning, I walked across the Nile river bridge to watch the ruins of Mubarak's 15-storey party headquarters burn. In front stood a vast poster advertising the benefits of the party pictures of successful graduates, doctors and full employment, the promises which Mubarak's party had failed to deliver in 30 years outlined by the golden fires curling from the blackened windows of the party headquarters. Thousands of Egyptians stood on the river bridge and on the motorway flyovers to take pictures of the fiercely burning building and of the middle-aged looters still stealing chairs and desks from inside.

Yet the moment a Danish television team arrived to film exactly the same scenes, they were berated by scores of people who said that they had no right to film the fires, insisting that Egyptians were proud people who would never steal or commit arson. This was to become a theme during the day: that reporters had no right to report anything about this "liberation" that might reflect badly upon it. Yet they were still remarkably friendly and despite Obama's pusillanimous statements on Friday night there was not the slightest manifestation of hostility against the United States. "All we want all is Mubarak's departure and new elections and our freedom and honour," a 30-year-old psychiatrist told me. Behind her, crowds of young men were clearing up broken crash barriers and road intersection fences from the street an ironic reflection on the well-known Cairo adage that Egyptians will never, ever clean their roads.

Mubarak's allegation that these demonstrations and arson this combination was a theme of his speech refusing to leave Egypt were part of a "sinister plan" is clearly at the centre of his claim to continued world recognition. Indeed, Obama's own response about the need for reforms and an end to such violence was an exact copy of all the lies Mubarak has been using to defend his regime for three decades. It was deeply amusing to Egyptians that Obama in Cairo itself, after his election had urged Arabs to grasp freedom and democracy. These aspirations disappeared entirely when he gave his tacit if uncomfortable support to the Egyptian president on Friday. The problem is the usual one: the lines of power and the lines of morality in Washington fail to intersect when US presidents have to deal with the Middle East. Moral leadership in America ceases to exist when the Arab and Israeli worlds have to be confronted.

And the Egyptian army is, needless to say, part of this equation. It receives much of the $1.3bn of annual aid from Washington. The commander of that army, General Tantawi who just happened to be in Washington when the police tried to crush the demonstrators has always been a very close personal friend of Mubarak. Not a good omen, perhaps, for the immediate future.

So the "liberation" of Cairo where, grimly, there came news last night of the looting of the Qasr al-Aini hospital has yet to run its full course. The end may be clear. The tragedy is not over.

Dubai sandstorm

31 January 2011


Picture Mo Atia - on Picasa - more here

Serious allegations that Thai government will ignore

31 January 2011

Robert Amsterdam has filed a criminal complaint with the international criminal court against the Thai government for their crackdown on 搑ed shirt protesters last spring.

The big problem is that the ICC has no jurisidiction over Thailand which failed to sign the Rome agreement of 2002 (I think) which set up the ICC. And that ironically was Thaksin's government.

The report, prepared by the red shirts Toronto-based legal team, was filed with the International Criminal Court on Monday. It is asking the court to investigate whether the Thai government抯 actions constituted crimes against humanity.

An estimated 90 people died and nearly 2,000 were wounded in clashes with government forces after demonstrators took to the streets of Bangkok, demanding Abhisit dissolve the legislature and hold elections.

The report alleges that Prime Minister Abhisit, along with senior government and army officials, began drawing up plans for suppressing anti-government protesters shortly after he assumed power in a military coup in 2006.

The plans included the construction of a full-scale mock-up of Rachadamnoen Ave. an upscale street sometimes known as Bangkok抯 Champs 蒷ys閑s where protesters were killed and injured last April 10, the report contends. The mock-up, which was built at a training ground used by the 11th regiment of the Thai army, included 搆illing zones.

Thai military personnel, including snipers, rehearsed at the mock-up as early as February 2007, the report alleges.

Immediately after the 2006 coup, the country抯 leaders came to a consensus that the red shirts would eventually rise up in protest, so they began planning military countermeasures, says the report, which names 15 senior Thai government, army and police officers.

The report was prepared on behalf of the National United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, the formal name for the red shirt movement. Amsterdam has acknowledged that former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in the 2006 coup, is helping to pay the movement抯 legal expenses.

As part of their application to have the court investigate the events of last spring, the lawyers say they have affidavits from 88 witnesses who saw soldiers shoot at unarmed civilians, including three nurses, in a Buddhist temple on May 19, as well as affidavits from another 255 who witnessed the deadly April 10 confrontations.

Many of the witnesses are quoted in the report.

The application also includes a statement from 揂nonymous Witness No. 22 described as an amalgamation of testimony from several active-duty officers in the Thai military, who would be in grave danger if their identities were exposed, though the lawyers say they will provide all names to the court抯 prosecutors.

Amsterdam and Peroff argue that the ICC still has the power to investigate Abhisit for possible crimes against humanity because he is a British citizen, born in England on Aug. 3, 1964. The court has the authority to investigate and prosecute people who are citizens of countries that are its members, which the United Kingdom is.

While Thailand is not a member of the court, it is a member of the United Nations, and the UN Security Council can ask the court to investigate the government抯 role in last spring抯 demonstrations to determine whether it amounted to criminal activity, the report says.

A special website has been set up to host videos and witness testimonies of the dead and injured at http://www.thaiaccountability.org

A copy of the ICC application and accompanying materials will be published on http://www.robertamsterdam.com/thailand

The report is the most detailed commentary on the April and May protests. Abhisit's government will dismiss it. They will also dismiss alleged foreign interference. But the allegations are substantial and demand a response. The government's own investigations into the deaths, including those of two journalists, have been feeble.

Fitness trainer dies on Emirates flight

31 January 2011

Avherald is reporting that a medical emergency was declared on Emirates Airline flight EK-763 from Dubai to Johannesburg on 27th January after crew noticed that a 21-year-old female passenger was unconscious. The operating plane was A6-ECG.

The crew administered CPR and two doctors on board attempted to resuscitate the passenger, who was a fitness trainer. The airplane continued its approach and landing in Johannesburg.

An autopsy has been order by South African authorities to determine the cause of death.

The family reported that there had been no indication of any health problem prior to departure.

Deadlock in Egypt

31 January 2011 al-bab.com

"The Mubarak regime still doesn't get it. Nothing illustrates its attitude more clearly than the decision yesterday to send F-16 warplanes roaring low over the thousands gathered in Tahrir Square, in the expectation that they would scurry away like frightened sheep.

Instead, the protesters stood their ground and chanted more loudly. Some of them arranged their bodies to spell out the words "Down with Mubarak" big enough to be read from the air.

Meanwhile the regime's attempt to stop al-Jazeera's minute-by-minute TV coverage failed miserably and the "night-time" curfew (starting at 4pm and due to start at 3pm today) was widely ignored.

Today, in an effort to restore a semblance of normality, the police will be back on the streets reportedly with instructions not to confront the protesters. They had been withdrawn over the weekend, apparently to facilitate looting by the regime's thugs and provide the excuse for a crackdown. That move was thwarted by the public, who organised their own unofficial policing.

One of the most striking things about the uprising so far has been the resourcefulness of the protesters and their determination. At the same time though, on the other side, we have President Mubarak equally implacable and determined to stay put.

The result, for now, is deadlock. But the deadlock is not going to be broken on the streets by the army or the police. At some point there will have to be movement on the political front and that is not going to happen instantly. (It's worth repeating that the removal of Ben Ali in Tunisia took four weeks; the Mubarak regime is a tougher nut to crack and the uprising began less than a week ago.)

There seems to be widespread recognition, even by some of the regime stalwarts, that Egypt is moving towards "transition". The argument, basically, is whether it will be a transition supervised by Mubarak or not. The protesters' fear is that a transition under Mubarak will merely bring a change of faces without real change in the system they are protesting about. As far as the protesters are concerned, that is a deal-breaker.

Mohamed ElBaradei offered the regime a carrot yesterday by putting himself forward as "leader" of the opposition. Like him or not, this means a channel is now open for dialogue if and when the regime is ready to talk though on the protesters' side that can't happen until Mubarak goes.

The US will also have to shift its stance. Obama, of course, is in a tricky position. He talks about the "aspirations of the Egyptian people" while at the same time having to contend with worried allies especially Israel and the Arab autocrats and American "opinion-formers" who expect Egypt to turn into an Islamic republic the moment Mubarak goes.

Over the weekend, Obama consulted the leaders of Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Britain about their aspirations for Egypt which at present seem to be a higher American priority than the aspirations of the protesters themselves.

The time has come for the US and other countries to stop making supportive noises about the old tyrant (despite anything Israel may say to the contrary) and to stop buying into Mubarak's favourite line of defence: apr鑣 moi, le d閘uge.

Yesterday, an open letter to Obama signed by a large number of American academics involved with foreign policy and the Middle East urges him to take a firmer stand:

If you seek, as you said Friday, "political, social, and economic reforms that meet the aspirations of the Egyptian people", your administration should publicly acknowledge those reforms will not be advanced by Mubarak or any of his adjutants ...

In order for the United States to stand with the Egyptian people it must approach Egypt through a framework of shared values and hopes, not the prism of geostrategy."

Oman uncovers UAE 'spy network'

31 January 2011

This is a strange story; of course it is denied by the UAE. The two countries appear to have enjoyed close relations. So why strain relations now?

The Oman News Agency says that it has broken up a ring of spies placed by the United Arab Emirates, its neighbour. Authorities in Oman have arrested spies 揵elonging to the state security forces of the UAE targeting the regime in Oman and the mechanism of governmental and military work.

Why this is unusual is that public discussion of intelligence in the region is rare; even rarer are accusations of spying operations between two 揻raternal states, both of which are members of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Last November internet reports emerged that almost 20 Omani officials had been arrested in the sultanate for allegedly spying on behalf of Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, but there had been no official confirmation until Sunday.

The UAE foreign ministry denied knowledge on Sunday of the spy network, which it said runs counter to its dealings with 揵rotherly countries such as Oman. In a statement carried by the UAE抯 official news agency, the ministry said it would cooperate with any investiation to uncover those trying to damage bilateral relations.

Analysts said the UAE could nonetheless have been seeking intelligence on Iran抯 influence in the Arabian peninsula as Arab concerns about Iran抯 nuclear ambitions rise.

The WikiLeaks cables underlined the divide between Abu Dhabi抯 hardline view towards Tehran and a more conciliatory approach favoured by Oman, which has been negotiating with Iran over importing natural gas.

揟he UAE is likely interested in Omani-Iranian relations and where they stand today, said Theodore Karasik, head of research for the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, a Dubai-based think tank. 揙man and UAE may be headed for a rough patch that is now in public view.

Another suggestion is that the spies may have been interested in the issue of the succession of Omar's Sultan Qaboos, according to a security official quoted by the Agence France-Presse news agency.

The Sultan is 70 years old and does not have children.

Before it came into the open the spat had already apparently triggered a deterioration in relations. Some pointed to circumstantial evidence of rising tensions, such as delays on the land border between the UAE and Oman and disruption to a yacht race between Dubai and Muscat, the Omani capital.

The UAE was formed in 1971 when the UK withdrew from the region. The Omani sultanate perhaps the UK抯 closest ally in the region had declared independence two decades earlier.

But the UAE and Oman, both close UK allies, only finalised their land border in 2008, after reaching a partial settlement in 1999.