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Assad speech coming

According to Al Arabiya, President Bashar al Assad will give a national address on recent developments in Syria.  The Arab League, which has suspended Syria’s membership and sent in a mission to encourage peaceful resolution to Syria’s internal dissent, is now being criticized by the opposition in Syria.

The [Syrian National Council] expressed disappointment at the “slowness and reluctance of the Arab League in implementing the Arab plan, which clearly states the need for the military to return to their barracks, release all detainees, authorize peace demonstrations and give access to observers and journalists.”

The umbrella group made up of Arab and Kurdish nationalists, Marxists and independents urged the League to “immediately” begin talks with U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon on proposing the Arab peace plan to the Security Council to “prevent procrastination.”

It called for “the protection of civilians by all legitimate means in the context of international humanitarian law, including the establishment of safety and no-fly zones.”

Within the United Nations Security Council, Russia and China have already demonstrated a willingness to veto resolutions allowing for military intervention in Syria.  It may be that such actions must come out of the Arab League itself.  However, despite the hints that are out there, it seems incredibly unlikely to me that the Arab League could succeed in coordinating the use of force in Syria.

Arab League officials said the future of the monitoring mission, due to make a full report on Jan. 19, depended on the Syrian government’s commitment to ending the daily bloodshed.

“If the … report comes out saying the violence has not stopped, the Arab League will have a responsibility to act on that,” Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani told a news conference after the Cairo meeting.


Turkey, and Qatari Soccer, and Cartoons

First of all, Turkey’s defense minister has announced the conclusion of an operation against the PKK, according to Al Arabiya.  The operation included incursions into Iraq in an effort to pursue the PKK.  This of course comes several days after an earthquake that shook Turkey and has resulted in at least 500 deaths.

Next, a Qatari soccer team is doing well in the Asian Champions League.  The future World Cup host in 2022 ought to have its national team start to winning more, so I suppose this club team is a good sign.

Finally, the New York Times has a nifty read up about Arabs’ expanding interest in animation as a medium.  Especially online, cartoons are an affordable way to create content that carries political messages, or is simply entertaining.

Online Arab creativity has also been galvanized by high Internet and mobile penetration, affordable Internet and cellphone services, censorship in traditional media outlets and the fact that most of the world’s 300 million Arabs are tech-savvy youths who scour the Internet for content that piques their interests.

The two things to pay attention to are whether or not cartoons will be able to make the jump to television, and whether or not the cartoonists themselves can find the financing needed to  expand their operations (basically, a la South Park).

Qatar votes in a minor way

Al Jazeera is reporting that Qataris are headed to the polls in local municipal elections.  Those elected will have minimal political power.  A quote:

A new constitution, passed in a 2003 referendum and introduced in 2005, placed legislative power in a parliamentary-like council, made up of 45 members, two thirds of whom would be elected and the rest appointed by the country’s emir. But currently, the entire council is named by the Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.

The prime minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jasem Al Thani, said in February that Doha was moving toward legislative polls “in the near  future.”

The interesting aspect of this story is its contrast to the Arab Spring.  Qatar is an American ally, fairly liberal, and seemingly committed to gradually increasing democratic participation.  Can that work?  Or is sudden radical change necessary?  Perhaps Qatar is on the best path to democracy, but equally possible is that they will never get there.

Turkey and Qatar give up on Lebanon mediation as well

BBC News is reporting that the ministers from Turkey and Qatar are heading home after several days of failure to make progress.  The deal that they were working on, which derives from a plan by Syria and Saudi Arabia, involves dissolving the UN tribunal investigating the Hariri assassination in exchange for Hezbollah offering “guarantees” about its weapons.  The main concern is still this:

Correspondents say a protracted crisis is likely to follow, and there are widespread fears that it could lead to the type of sectarian violence last seen in May 2008, which left 100 people dead and brought the country close to civil war.

Saudi Arabia gives up on Lebanon

According to this Al Jazeera article, Saudi Arabia will no longer endeavor to solve the problems plaguing Lebanon.  The Kingdom had been working with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.  The countries stepping in to fill the diplomatic void are Turkey and Qatar.

The article also includes some colorful quotes from Iranian President Mahmood Ahmadinejad, addressing the United States and other Western interlopers:

“You are on a rough downhill path that will take you into a deep valley and your actions show that your decline is on a fast track,” Ahmadinejad told a cheering crowd in the city of Yazd in a speech broadcast live on state television.

“With these actions, you are damaging your reputation. Stop your interference. If you don’t stop your sedition [in Lebanon], then the Lebanese nation and regional countries will cut your nasty, plotting hand.”


More Qatari soccer money

Don’t be confused by this BBC News article calling soccer “football.”   FC Barcelona now has the highest shirt sponsorship in all of soccer, with a new £125m deal over five years from the Qatar Foundation. 

The Qatar Foundation is a non-profit organisation concerned primarily with education projects in the Middle East.  It is chaired by Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned, the wife of the Emir, who was central to Qatar’s final World Cup bid last week.

The interesting issue will be reconciling two logos on one shirt, as Barcelona intends to keep the UNICEF logo on the shirt as well.

Spotlight on Qatar

I came across an interesting portrait of the emir of Qatar –  Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani – in the Independent today. Qatar, of course, is very much in the news thanks to its winning World Cup hosting rights in 2022.  In the link to the article, you’ll see a photo of the smiling emir with the World Cup trophy. An interesting guy he is. Did you know a meeting he held with Dick Cheney lasted a mere seven seconds before he stormed out? In fact, sitting on the sidelines isn’t his thing – he’s inserted himself into regional issues in Israel, Lebanon and Egypt, using the television network Al-Jazeera as a bargaining chip to advance Qatar’s interests. That’s caught the ire of many of his neighbors or allies – from Iran to the United States. The article is full of rumor and conjecture, but it’s a fun and gossipy read. For better or worse, thanks to Wikileaks, that manner of news is undoubtably in vogue.