Forbes Friendliest Countries: Bahrain Number 1


Forbes conducted a survey study of the "world's friendliest countries" using indicators: 1) making friends 2) making local friends 3) joining community groups 4) organizing school for my children 5) organizing my finances 6) organizing my health care 7) finding somewhere to live 8) setting up utilities. Bahrain came out number one, and was strongest on making local friends. Spain also came out on the list at number 9, and oddly enough United States came next, ranking highest on organizing my health care. Hat tip to SOME Contrast. I am dying to know where Kuwait ranks, but I can't access the full story.

The rankings are as follows:

6South Africa6283146314
7Hong Kong31712172583
10United States1574122024107

Back to Beirut


Flying to Beirut later today. Will be in touch.

Postcard from Naples: Cheeky Humour in Nativity Scenes


I have some family members living in Naples (one of the most chaotic places in th European Union) and they sent me some images of the Christmas fair there, which makes a big amount of money off of the figurines for the nativity scenes-locally known as "il presepe." Often these dolls poke fun at celebrities, world leaders or current events. Here are two pictures that had me cracking up.



Another minuscule issue turned dramatic by an op-eder! What is the target this time? None other than Christmas trees! Mr. Israa AlـMatouq "addresses religious tolerance" in just about the same line of thought as the conservative Swiss argument for banning the minaret.

In a nutshell, the Christmas tree is not an innocent, aesthetically and olfactory pleasing fauna. Oh no kids! Do not be mistaken, it is an invasive symbol of Western culture=religion=capitalism (all lumped into one demon for him). Thus, the presence of Christmas trees is an attack on the preservation of our societies and Islamic values.

Mr. Israa, nobody in the West necessarily sees the Christmas tree as a religious symbol. We are not talking about a nativity scene here. In fact, I think the origins of the custom are originally pagan. I do not think this detail would help win my argument with you that the Christmas tree is benign, but lets get some facts straight. The only thing truly Christian about it is the angel or star that often gets put on top. We could always substitute that for a minaret if you want to strike a compromise between you and your other side of the mirror-the Swiss conservatives.

You would do much better banning Western invasions such as Kentucky Fried Chicken, MAC makeup products, Starbucks and blackberrys, all of which I believe have had a much more disruptive effect on society.
"The responsibility of protecting any religion lies on the shoulders of the State and not on certain individuals. The UNESCO has identified and promulgated religious tolerance since it does not call for indifference or blindly following what others believe. But what is happening today is that we are blindly following what others are practicing under the pretext of religious tolerance.

The Christmas tree is not just an ordinary tree but a lifestyle; and imitating the West and adopting its concepts without judging what suits our societies; weakens our loyalty and compliance to Islamic issues. I think that the best solution is to raise new generations that will be able to maintain their thoughts and beliefs and strengthen the Islamic identity armed with culture."

FC Barcelona Kuwait Match. Don't forget the other FC: FIRE CODE


I have been to many stadiums and many packed venues in my life, but I have never seen something like this. Not only were people locked from getting in, creating commotion among crowd with paid tickets who were denied entry, but people were also locked in. One of my friends had to jump a fence just to get out since he had to leave early. Where is the fire code? Where are safety measures. Just another startling reminder of how dysfunctional things can get here and how personal security is often the first thing to go.

Al-Watan Daily"Egyptian liberal thinker banned from entering Kuwait" by Hussain Al-Qatari


To the disappointment of Kuwait's liberal front, the Ministry of Interior has banned Egyptian liberal Islamist thinker Nasr Abu Zaid from entering Kuwait. As soon as he arrived at Kuwait International Airport on Tuesday evening, Abu Zaid was told that his visa was invalid and informed that he would be sent back to Egypt on a return flight the same night.

Abu Zaid had been invited by the Women's Cultural Social Society to give two lectures on Islam and democracy. Abu Zaid, who is known for his radical theories on Islam, has previously been accused of abandoning the Islamic faith, leaving in the mid 1990s for Europe, where he now lives.

The Ministry of Interior's decision to ban Abu Zaid from entering Kuwait appears to have been influenced by pressure from Islamist MPs, most of whom had adopted a negative stance against Interior Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Khaled Al-Sabah, whose no-confidence vote session in the parliament is due to be held today.

Talking to the press, Islamist MP Walid Al-Tabtabae said that it is surprising that a person like Abu Zaid was invited to Kuwait in the first place, questioning the intentions of whoever organized this event. "Kuwait does not need to import issues; these radical views on religion are alien to our society and are not welcome," he said.

MP Ali Al-Omair asserted that Kuwait is a land of faith, where religion figures hugely and thanked the Ministry of Interior (MoI) for its efforts, saying, "Such radical ideology has no place here in Kuwait.

Tribal MP Mohammad Al-Mutair said that a "blasphemous irreligious person like Abu Zaid is not welcome to enter Kuwait with his beliefs because it is damaging to our society," adding that religion is a red line that cannot be crossed in the name of freedom. (for full article
click here)

Al-Watan Daily: "Are embassy labor departments to blame for rising fatalities?"


Are you for real Al-Watan Daily?! Embassies have very little authority in handling the issues of labor. First of all, recruitment is done in labourers' home countries, none of the recruitmet process has to do with the destination embassy. Secondly, Kuwaiti newspapers never have the "cojones" to use the word "blame" with any sort of Kuwaiti government institution when it comes to the pitiful labor record in this country. At the end of the day, this reputation is a reflection on the country's internal institutions and regulations. Embassies have nothing to do with that.

Here is what an embassy CAN do. They can repatriate citizens who come to their door. They can, as a reflection of their governments' decisions, put a ban on bringing citizens to Kuwait, as many countries have, or have threatened to do to Kuwait, and lastly, they can release public statements condemning pandemic abuse against their nationals, as the Philippines Embassy has done. The truth of the matter is that many embassies are going far beyond their mandate in this country, such as those who have begun to provide shelters for formerly abused domestic workers.

Asking embassies to work harder is targeting the problem at the source just about as well as a bandage on a broken limb. Embassies have marginal capacities and leverage to tackle the ABYSMAL record in this country on labor rights. I am pleased to see that Al-Watan is bringing to light the sharp and alarming increase in the number of fatalities and suicides of migrant workers in recent months, however, I am flabbergasted that this is the first culprit that Al-Watan Daily has identified as the source of the problem. You must be joking.

KUWAIT: The increase in number of fatalities among Asian workers in Kuwait has alarmingly risen in 2009. Several foreign nationals have raised concerns over this upsurge and many pinpoint the embassies and their labor offices as contributing to the increase in numbers. Al Watan Daily spoke to officials of five Asian embassies that refuted the accusations and explained the factors that contributed to the rise in numbers.

A counselor of the
Sri Lankan Embassy in Kuwait explained that the total number of death cases among its nationals in 2009 totals sixty nine with varying reasons that include suicide, sicknesses, accidents and other labor related incidents such as domestic helpers being beaten to death by employers. The counselor said that its embassy is equipped with personnel that look after legal cases field against their nationals by employers and vice versa.

"There are 300 nationals who are currently housed in our shelter and each of them receives legal, medical and psychological assistance. We provide repatriation on a daily basis so long as their cases have been resolved," disclosed the counselor.

He added that "The huge amount of fatalities that occurred in 2009 is relatively high as compared to previous years" but he refuted the complaints that its labor and consular sections were responsible for the deaths of its nationals. "Most related cases of suicide based on reports are personal and not labor related. It is not appropriate then for our nationals to say that we neglected or ignored them and that these are the reasons for committing such crime," added the counselor.

Labor Attachأ) of the Philippines Embassy in Kuwait stated that there are at least fifty three reported incidences of fatalities in 2009 and that five were suicide related cases. The Labor Attachأ) explained that there could be three possible reasons that are to be considered as to why suicide is committed. Topping the list is because of personal reasons that include marital or relationship issues, extreme poverty and financial concerns and finally those that are labor related such as
maltreatments and abuses.

The attachأ) added that the fatalities of their nationals in 2009 included sicknesses and complications, murder, accidents and suicides, some of which may not have been intentional but a means of escape from their employers. "The embassy and labor department''s main concerns are to protect its nationals and provide all possible assistance needed to ensure their safety and welfare. We have 160,000 Filipinos in Kuwait and that figure includes the unregistered ones. The ratio is such that we have at least 15,000 Filipinos for every one embassy and labor personnel but we manage to cope with the problems," added the attachأ).

He added "Fatality such as suicide has no connection with the embassy as these crimes were committed out of the victims'' desperation or extreme depression over other issues." Furthermore, he stated that "If any of such cases were reported, the embassy still requests for investigations to substantiate the cause and provide all possible assistance to repatriate the body."

On the other hand, an Indonesian attachأ) disclosed that there has been one reported case of suicide among the 18 cases of fatality for the year 2009 and that the reason is similarly a relationship issue. "Our embassy''s mission in Kuwait is focused on our nationals'' welfare and the embassy has never denied anyone of our services and support. We rely on newspaper reports daily and should we find any Asian (without identifying specific national) reported, our Assistant to the Nationals makes it a point to find out the identity of the victims. The number of fatalities this year has increased slightly from that of last year but mostly were of medical related reasons," added the attachأ).

Two other Asian embassies that deploy foreign workers to Kuwait opted not to comment on the issues.

BBC: "European Muslims prefer mixed areas - survey" by Rob Broomby


Most of Europe's Muslims want to live in mixed communities, not segregated neighbourhoods, a new report says.

The work by the Open Society Institute (OSI), an independent think-tank, looked at the social integration of Muslims in 11 West European cities.

It calls for improved efforts to tackle discrimination.

Europe's Muslim population is expected to double by 2025 and could reach 40 million. But data on them is very limited, OSI says.

The report says religious discrimination remains a critical barrier to their participation in European society, and the situation has worsened in recent years.

The OSI says its aim is to promote tolerance and fairness. (for full article, click here)



UN HABITAT now has a facebook fanpage. Its a great place for people to meet and discuss urban issues in the city. Check out their discussion topics and updates.

Gimme Some Truth: John Lennon


Although this song was written in 1971 as protest anthem against the Vietnam War, somehow (in an age of tepid climate change talks by leaders with immense carbon footprints and swift citizen punches to Berlusconi's spray-tan, spray-hairline face) the frustrated tone of this song really continues to resonate. If you want to hear the melody, see the video starting at the 0:11 mark.

I'm sick and tired of hearing things
From uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocritics
All I want is the truth
Just gimme some truth
I've had enough of reading things
By neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians
All I want is the truth
Just gimme some truth

No short-haired, yellow-bellied, son of tricky dicky
Is gonna mother hubbard soft soap me
With just a pocketful of hope
Money for dope
Money for rope

No short-haired, yellow-bellied, son of tricky dicky
Is gonna mother hubbard soft soap me
With just a pocketful of soap
Money for dope
Money for rope

I'm sick to death of seeing things
From tight-lipped, condescending, mama's little chauvinists
All I want is the truth
Just gimme some truth now

I've had enough of watching scenes
Of schizophrenic, ego-centric, paranoiac, prima-donnas
All I want is the truth now
Just gimme some truth

Staring Night Series: Nobody Told Me There'd Be Days Like These


days of shouts delivered in casual emission
visual and accidental puffs like cold days' exhalations
days of shouts hanging desperately to teeth

days of locked doors and eaten keys
a smirking contemplation hiding under the bed
days locked in the first rainfall the Fall met

Staring Night Series: Confiscated Postcards


We never stepped on the plane

that trip handed over to parallel what-if rifts
a boarding pass jammed up a gumball machine dispenser

murmurs of the potential and hypothetical
boiled down to a syrup, matted sticky congeal

we still have each other; a flat weekend vacuum-sucked
a bottled best regards catching the dust of the inert

BBC: Iranian Men Don the Hijab in Solidarity with the "Be a Man" Campaign to Free Activist


Iranian opposition supporters have launched an online campaign to free a student activist accused of dressing as a woman to try to avoid arrest.

Hundreds of men have posted photos of themselves wearing Islamic headscarves as part of the "Be a man" campaign to show solidarity with Majid Tavakoli.

He was arrested during protests in Tehran on Monday and state media showed images of him in headscarf and robes.

The opposition say the pictures were staged in a bid to discredit him.

They say he was not wearing the headscarf and robes when he was arrested. Iranian state media say Mr Tavakoli was arrested as he sought to leave Tehran's Amir Kabir university "disguised as a woman" after Student Day protests.

He is a leading activist who spent 15 months in jail along with two fellow students after being arrested in 2006 on charges of insulting religion and the country's leadership in student publications, AFP news agency reports.

One US-based website for Iranian expatriates,, has posted scores of photos submitted by readers.

"Iranian men are showing their solidarity with Tavakoli by wearing a hijab and posting their photo on the web," reads its appeal to send in photos.

Some of the website's readers argue that the campaign is also a gesture of solidarity with Iranian women, who are obliged by the authorities to wear the hijab in public.

Many of the contributors openly show their faces, in headscarves, while some have all but their eyes covered.

"Life is so short and so many fine, fine men around," one woman reader quipped.

"It is getting harder to be a girl these days."(For article link, click here)

Taste the Rainbow


Kit Kat Gives Fair Trade a Break!


Kit Kat has gone fair trade-with the certification label to prove it. Here is an article by Rebecca Smithers of The Guardian explaining the move.

The UK's best-selling chocolate biscuit bar, Kit Kat, is to receive ethical certification through the Fairtrade quality mark, it will be announced today.

After lengthy talks between the UK arm of the Swiss food giant Nestlé and the Fairtrade Foundation, the familiar blue and green logo will appear on the wrappers of Kit Kats in the UK and Ireland from January. Initially the certification will only apply to the larger four-finger Kit Kats but it will be extended to the smaller bars.

The move represents a major coup for Fairtrade, which earlier this year certified Cadbury's Dairy Milk, and means chocolate is now a mainstream Fairtrade product alongside bananas, tea and coffee.

It follows the October launch of Nestlé's global Cocoa Plan, a £65m investment programme over the next 10 years to tackle the key economic, social and environmental issues facing cocoa farming communities. Farmers living and working in Ivory Coast, the world's largest cocoa producing country, will be the main beneficiaries.

As well as the Fairtrade price (or market price if higher) for the cocoa, farmers' groups receive extra Fairtrade premium payments to invest in long-term community and business projects of their own choice, such as education and healthcare. The sugar in the product will also be Fairtrade certified, sourced from Belize.

Children's Books on Climate Change


I tried to get a ticket for the T-REX 3D showing tonight at the Scientific Center, but was told that unfortunately, the movie would only be shown in 2-D, as the 3-D mechanisms of whatnot were broken. I decided to hold back and wait to see the film later when it is back in full throttle.

As you all might already know, however, to exit the Scientific Center, one must pass through the gift shop, which aside from the tacky glass models of skyscrapers in Shanghai (?) and the strange ceramic and crystal figurine collectibles of animals, is actually quite good.

It is a great stop to find very high quality coffee table books on Kuwait, and I also found out that the store sells en.v magazine, one of the greatest publications in the Gulf. And while they also stock some amazing, creative and educational toys and experiments for the younger ones, I noticed this time around another great feature this store has to offer.

They stock several children's books on the environment, on endangered species and biodiversity and on human impact on the ecology. Seeing that this month is the build up to the Copenhagen meeting, I thought to all you primary educators out there or parents, why not dedicate some time to reading a book with you child(ren) on these topics. I strongly recommend the gift shop as a start. You could even purchase one of their stuffed animal puppets and have "it" read the story to them.

Fire Me by SMS


I read on the Foreign Policy Blog that several guest workers in Dubai were fired via a text message-and all this just in time for the Eid holidays!

According to one of the workers, Sajid, in an article for The Times of India:
``It was early morning when I received a text message from my office, Al-Hamid, telling me that I need not bother returning to Dubai. My contract has been discontinued and my work permit stands terminated. It said my dues will be sent through post and my belongings will be duly returned.''
Another 64 workers received their notification in the same way. Although there is some criticism that Dubai is being unfairly villified, beated down and targeted, especially in the wake of its financial troubles with Dubaiworld, this kind of treatment affirms that the city and its companies, are continuing to do a fair amount of beating down themselves. The act of sending an SMS as a seemingly adequate termination only reinforces the high lack of accountability and transparency on behalf of the Dubai economy in affronting the crisis and the unequal playing field of non-negotiation with low-income migrant workers, thats seems to be instutionalized be it in times of growth or contraction.