Showing posts from April, 2011

Israel puts itself in a corner by jumping the gun on Palestinian reconciliation

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas center to choose between Israel and Hamas.(Illustration by Ahmed Estaitia)   By   JAMES M. DORSEY   SPECIAL TO AL ARABIYA Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quick this week to reject Palestinian reconciliation and warn that Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas would have to choose between Israel and Hamas. In doing so, Mr. Netanyahu was banking with good reason on the Obama administration backing his refusal to deal with Hamas, denounced by both the United States and Israel as a terrorist organization.   At first glance, Mr. Netanyahu’s immediate instinctive response is hardly surprising or unreasonable. Israel has long been able to rely on the support of the United States and Europe in its position toward Hamas. A closer look at the changing world Israel lives in begs however the question whether Mr. Netanyahu would not have served Israel’s interests better by holding his horses and pac

Iranian FA Denounces Saudi Efforts to Move Matches To Third Country

Iranian Football Federation (IFF) President Ali Kaffashian has denounced what he described as Saudi efforts to portray the Islamic republic as too unsafe to host Asian championship matches, according to the government-controlled Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA). "We have given a reply to claims of Arab countries and sent letters to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in which we introduced Iran as the safest country to host the matches. AFC officials have confirmed our remarks. Unfortunately, Arab countries try to attribute their insecurity to Iran," Kaffashian said. Kaffashian was responding to a letter to the AFC sent by the Saudi Football Federation expressing concern about the security of four Saudi teams scheduled to play Asian championship matches in Iran in May. Soccer tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia first erupted in early March when Saudi immigration authorities demanded that Tehran’s Persepolis FC soccer team, Asia’s most popular club, be fingerprint

Abu Dhabi Women: To Play or Not to Play?

A decision by the organizers to include Abu Dhabi’s Amateur Women League in the second season of the United Arab Emirates’ soccer league competitions could see the amateur league’s majority of Emirati women players refusing to play because matches would be in the open air with male spectators. The decision to include the amateur league intended to grow the league further on its successful debut season in which women teams played behind closed doors. Emirati women players predict that their refusal to play in front of a male audience will mean that they will be replaced by expatriates. "The idea was to have a grassroots football league where expatriates and locals can participate together because…you have the first and second division and nothing else after that," The Gulf News quoted Eric Gottschalk, CEO of Mediapro Middle East - the ADFL's joint-organisers with Reem Investments –as telling XPRESS. "In regards to the women's league, we talked to the [Abu Dha

Fatah-Hamas ‘agreement’ returns Palestine to Arab center stage

Egypt’s success in bringing Fatah and Hamas together is one indication of which way the wind is blowing. (File photo) By  JAMES M. DORSEY SPECIAL TO AL ARABIYA An agreement to bury four-year-old differences between rival Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, has returned the Israeli-Palestinian dispute to the center stage of an Arab world wracked by anti-government protests. For much of the last four months, Palestine had receded to the backburner as protesters in a host of Arab countries—Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Oman, Bahrain and Syria—demanded political and economic reform with no focus on longstanding and emotive foreign-policy issues like the Palestinian problem. That could change as the United States and Europe face difficult choices following an agreement between Fatah and Hamas to bury their differences, which weakened Palestinian negotiators seeking to achieve peace with Israel. The two groups will form under the agreement an interim unity government in advance of legislat

Tunisian Bans Fans From Soccer Matches

Violent clashes during two recent Tunisian league matches has prompted the country’s soccer authority to ban fans from the rest of the season’s games. The decision by the Tunisian Football Federation (TFF) came after militant fans stormed the pitch last Sunday during matches between Olympique Beja and AS Marsa   and Club Bizertiain against CS Sfaxien. Referees declared a strike after the incidents to demand enhanced security. The strike forced the cancellation of two league matches on Wednesday. The referees are scheduled to discuss the situation with the TFF on Thursday. The incidents confirmed the government’s worst fears which last month only reluctantly agreed to restarting the league competition. The competition was suspended in January to prevent the pitch from becoming a rallying point for protesters who forced Tunisian President Zine Abedine Ben Ali to resign after 23 years in power. Militant soccer fans played a key role in the toppling of Ben Ali as well as in protests in

US bets on EU and Turkey to add sting to planned sanctions on Syria

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and his aides may face sanctions. (File photo) By  JAMES M. DORSEY SPECIAL TO AL ARABIYA The Obama administration’s hopes that sanctions to be imposed on Syria as well as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his family will spark dissent within Syria’s political leadership as well as the armed forces whose senior ranks are part of the country’s economic elite. To achieve that, the administration is looking to the European Union and Turkey to ensure that the sanctions hit where it hurts most: the pockets of those on which Mr. Assad’s power rests. The sanctions that are likely to target among others Mr. Al-Assad’s brother Maher al-Assad, the commander of the Syrian army’s elite fourth division who is widely seen as the second most powerful man in Syria, as well as the president’s business tycoon cousin, Rami Makhlouf, would freeze assets in the United States as well as ban US institutions and citizens from conducting business with people and enti

Bahrain Closes Shiite Soccer Clubs and Detains Players

Bahraini authorities have detained three players in the country’s national soccer team while six clubs have withdrawn from domestic leagues following widespread anti-government protests, according to Bahrain’s governing soccer body. The Bahrain Football Association (BFA) announcement came as a pro-democracy group, Youth of Feb. 14 Revolution, launched a Facebook campaign urging Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone not to reschedule the Bahrain Grand Prix until "until basic human rights and freedoms are restored." Bahrain has until May 1 to decide if it wants to reschedule the auto race, which was called off March 13 because of the unrest. The moves against the soccer players are part of a government crackdown on dissent following protests that have resulted in journalists, bloggers, doctors, lawyers and activists being detained. More than 150 athletes, coaches and referees also have been suspended since April 5 for their alleged involvement in protests against the country

Abu Dhabi Businessman Set to Acquire German Soccer Club

A 34-year old Abu Dhabi-based Jordanian businessman, Hasan Abdullah Ismaik, is acquiring financially troubled second division German soccer club TSV 1860 Munich, according to Sueddeutsche Zeitung . Mr. Ismaik’s €13 million acquisition of 49 percent of 1860 Munich would bring the club, burdened with a €14 million debt, back from the brink of bankruptcy. If concluded, the acquisition would be the second takeover in a week by businessmen in the UAE. Dubai-based Royal Emirates Group bought Spanish La Liga club Getafe FC for an estimated €90 million. Mr. Ismaik’s acquisition would be the first by a Gulf businessman of a club in Germany. Gulf investors have so far focused on teams in England and Spain. The proposed deal has yet to be approved by the German Football League. Mr. Ismaik hopes to return 1860 Munich to Germany’s premier league, the Bundesliga, from which it was relegated in 2004 by investing €20 million. He is offering to pay €5 million of the club’s debt provided that credi

War of words and expulsions notch Up Iranian-Gulf tensions

The hardening rhetoric towards Iran constitutes a bid to influence developments in Bahrain and elsewhere in the Gulf.(File photo) By  JAMES M. DORSEY SPECIAL TO AL ARABIYA Bahrain’s expulsion of an Iranian diplomat coupled with rising Saudi concerns about the safety of the kingdom’s diplomats in Iran as well as soccer players scheduled to visit the Islamic republic in May threatens to sharply escalate tensions in the Gulf. The expulsions alongside the soccer friction ratchet up the friction between Iran and the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)—which groups Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates alongside the kingdom— over alleged Iranian instigation of anti-government protests in Bahrain and plots to overthrow the governments of Bahrain and Kuwait. The tension is complicating Gulf relations with Iraq, which is emerging as a wildcard in the region. The hardening rhetoric constitutes a bid to influence developments in Bahrain and elsewhere in the Gulf. Kuw

Soccer Becomes Latest Flashpoint in Saudi-Iranian Cold War

Soccer is becoming the latest flashpoint in an escalating cold war between Saudi Arabia and Iran that is being fuelled by anti-government protests sweeping the Middle East and North Africa and assertions that Iran is meddling in the internal affairs of oil-rich Gulf states. Saudi officials and media are calling on the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to move Asian championship matches in Iran of four Saudi teams to a neutral third country after Iranian demonstrations in front of Saudi diplomatic missions in the Islamic republic against the kingdom’s dispatch of troops to Bahrain. Saudi Arabia has denied Iranian claims that its troops were involved in the crackdown on anti-government protesters in Bahrain. The Saudi Football Federation raised the kingdom’s security concerns in a letter to the AFC. At the same time, Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Prince Turki bin Saud al-Kabeer called on Iran to protect its diplomats. “We hope that these continuous violations will not lead us to tak

US and Europe prepare to back condemnation of Syria with deeds

Supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad shout pro-Assad slogans as they hold posters and pictures of him in Damascus on Saturday. (File Photo) By  JAMES M. DORSEY AL ARABIYA Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s resolve to brutally crush mass protests demanding an end to his authoritarian regime is forcing the United States and Europe to back verbal condemnations with deeds. The Western powers reacted sharply on Monday to Mr. Assad’s decision to seal Syria’s borders with neighboring Jordan. The Obama administration, in an initial response to the escalating violence in Syria, is reportedly drafting an executive order to freeze the assets of senior Syrian officials and bar them from engaging in business dealings with the United States. If adopted, the European Union will likely apply similar sanctions that would hit home harder because Syria has closer economic ties to Europe than to the United States. The sanctions, designed to cripple the Syrian economy, also constitute a bid by