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Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

Category: United Arab Emirates

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: Authorities step up crackdown on companies linked to Iran


Is it a public relations offensive meant to ease pressure on it from the United States, or is the United Arab Emirates finally cracking down on illicit trade with Iran?

The Dubai-based Gulf News reported Monday that the government has shut down more than 40 companies with alleged links to the Iranian government or the Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The UAE, and its glittery city-state of Dubai in particular, have been criticized in the past for acting as a conduit for banned materials and laundered money in and out of Iran.

Earlier this month, the United Nations approved a fourth round of sanctions against Iran, citing its unwillingness to cooperate over its nuclear enrichment program. The sanctions singled out 40 companies linked to Iranian financing, imports and shipping, including 15 tied directly to the Revolutionary Guards.

A number of those companies were based or maintained offices in the Emirates, sometimes hiding behind front companies that were registered in a third country. As a result, all Iranian-owned companies in the UAE have come under suspicion, even those that are not subject to sanctions.

"Everyone is being investigated," Theodore Karasik, director of research and development at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai, told Babylon & Beyond.

'"These closures have been going on for a while,"  he said.

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DUBAI: Alleged victim of gang rape sentenced to one year in prison

British_woman_arrested_in_Dubai_when_she_tried_to_report_rape-topImageThe Criminal Court of Abu Dhabi, in the capital of the United Arab Emirates, ruled this week that an 18-year-old Emirati woman who accused six men of gang-raping her will herself serve a one-year sentence for consensual sex.

It's one of in the latest in a scourge of reported rape cases in Dubai, The court proceedings were marred by legal travesties, experts say.

While the plaintiff was not granted a lawyer, the defendants were. Moreover, the plaintiff could not have any family members present with her during the trial, the court decided. The prosecution also argued that simply because the plaintiff agreed to enter the police officer's car, this action somehow constituted partial consent to sex, The National reported.

Emirati authorities had kept the plaintiff imprisoned since she made the allegations last month.

Meanwhile, the accused rapists mostly got off lightly. A police officer will serve one year in prison for extramarital sex and two of the other defendants were sentenced to three months for being in the company of a woman not related to them by blood.

Two more defendants must pay a fine of 5,000 dirhams, or $1,361.50, for violating public decency.

The court dropped charges against the sixth defendant.

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DUBAI: At Germany's behest, Poland reportedly arrests alleged Israeli Mossad agent linked to Hamas killing


Here's another piece in the puzzle of a mysterious Middle East assassination in January that continues to reverberate around the world. 

The website of the German magazine Der Spiegel reported (in German) on Saturday that Polish authorities, at the request of Germany, arrested an Israeli suspect connected to the January assassination of Hamas commander Mahmoud Mabhouh.

The report, citing German security officials, says the suspect was traveling through Warsaw airport under the name "Uri Brodsky."

According to Spiegel, a request by Berlin to extradite the suspect has caused a diplomatic clash with Israel, which has asked Warsaw not to comply.

According to the report, the man had accompanied an alleged Mossad operative who fraudulently obtained a German passport in Cologne last year under the name "Michael Bodenheimer," an identity that was among those allegedly used by a member of the hit team that struck Mabhouh in his hotel room.

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UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: Stricter smoking ban expected soon as anti-tobacco fervor sweeps Middle East

Shisha_smoker The United Arab Emirates may breathe easier under a strict ban on smoking, the details of which are still being hammered out five months after the actual bill was signed by President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper The National reported this week.

The new bylaws would ban smoking in all public places, including hotels, cafes and restaurants, and outlaw all forms of tobacco advertising. Even the ubiquitous nargileh, the traditional water pipe puffed across the region by teenagers and grandmothers alike, would be subject to tighter regulations.

The original law required only a partial ban on public smoking, and the wording was so vague that it could not be implemented, forcing health officials back to the drawing table.

They ultimately adopted more or less the exact language prescribed by the World Health Organization, banning even special smoking areas within public establishments and requiring smokers to stay at least 25 feet away from the entrance to a public building.

"We want to prevent the use of tobacco products in all public venues in the country. We want to fight this," Dr. Salim Adib of the Abu Dhabi Health Authority told The National. "I don’t think we should accept anything less than what is happening in Western Europe."

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ISRAEL: Australia expels Mossad station chief over passports in Dubai killing

W-forged-passport-cp-RTR2ATIt would be difficult to weave as intricate a web as the international spy thriller that first unraveled in Dubai in January. Yet another sinew has been threaded out of the ongoing, worldwide investigation on the killing of Hamas arms procurer Mahmoud Mabhouh. 

In recent days, the Australian foreign minister informed the Israeli Embassy that its Mossad station chief, whose identity remains secret, would be leaving the island continent within a week.

Stephen Smith spoke to the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, claiming that the officer in question was "involved in state intelligence." He argued that Australian passports "were deliberately counterfeited and cloned for use" and investigations had proved "beyond doubt" that Israel was involved, reported the Australian publication International Business Times.

Israeli authorities had a warrant out for Mabhouh's arrest, as did the Egyptians and Jordanians. In 1989, Israeli authorities had failed to arrest Mabhouh for his recently confessed participation in the murder of two Israeli soldiers.

Smith concluded that Australia "remains a firm friend of Israel." 

However, he lamented, "this is not what we expect from a nation with whom we have had such a close, friendly, and supportive relationship."

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DUBAI: Another suspect identified in alleged Mossad killing of Hamas commander

2385687682 In the latest twist to the Persian Gulf spy thriller, Dubai police have identified yet another suspect, a British national, in the assassination of Hamas military commander Mahmoud Mabhouh, the British consulate confirmed to the Palestinian Ma'an Agency on Monday.

Unlike the other 32 suspects, including two alleged members of the Palestinian Authority, the latest alleged agent to enter the United Arab Emirates actually did so with his real passport. Though Interpol and Dubai authorities maintain they have the biographical information of the suspect, all that is known publicly is that the 62-year-old Brit’s father was a Jew who fled Palestine after the onset of World War II and immigrated to the United Kingdom.

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MIDDLE EAST: The idea of filming 'Sex and the City 2' in Dubai or Abu Dhabi? Perish the thought

Writer and director Michael Patrick King envisioned "Sex and the City 2" unfolding in an earthly paradise where self-indulgence and excess never raises an eyebrow.

So naturally, he flew the four fabulous ladies, Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall), Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon) and Charlotte York-Goldenblatt (Kristin Davis), to the Persian Gulf.

"I thought about where's there a lot of money with no shame attached," King told, the entertainment website. "Then I thought about the Middle East because of Dubai and Abu Dhabi and their extravagance. It's the new Middle East and the future."

But the vision was immediately clouded by the Arabian Gulf's perplexing contradictions, as one smooching British couple recently learned.

Though the film's masterminds originally wrote the script with the divas vacationing in blingy Dubai, they had to substitute it with the neighboring United Arab Emirates state of Abu Dhabi and film it in Morocco after authorities rejected permission to film there because of the word "sex" in the movie's name.

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DUBAI: Court upholds one-month jail sentence for couple smooching in public

Dubai_couple A kiss on the cheek is one thing. But don't get caught smooching in public in Dubai, or you might end up serving time behind bars. 

A court in the United Arab Emirates city-state upheld the one-month prison sentence Sunday of a British couple accused of locking lips and touching each other at a restaurant, in violation of public decency laws, the daily paper Gulf News reported.

Dubai resident Ayman Najafi, 24, and visitor Charlotte Adams, 25, (pictured at right) both British nationals, were arrested in November and charged with indecent behavior and public drunkenness after they were accused by an Emirati woman of locking lips at a restaurant in front of her kids. 

The high-profile case is the latest in which the loose lifestyles of the United Arab Emirates' large expatriate community have run up against the prim and puritanical values of the Arabian Peninsula.

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ARAB WORLD: Britain's booting of Israeli diplomat over Dubai passport scandal not enough, media says

Britain's decision to expel an Israeli diplomat earlier this week was a good slap on the wrist, but the nation can do better, according to Arab media.

Britain booted an Israeli diplomat, widely believed to be the Jewish state's spy chief in London, over the forging of British passports thought to have been used in the January assassination of Hamas weapons procurer Mahmoud Mabhouh in Dubai.

Qatar's pro-government Al-Watan daily called for Britain to expel Israel's ambassador to London. It called the expulsion of the suspected Mossad station chief a slap on the wrist.  

"The British people, whose deputies called for expelling the Israeli ambassador from London and trying the people involved in Dubai's crime and described Israel as a rogue state, will soon leave this case to die away in order to protect relations with Israel," it said.

A commentary by Zuhair Majid in Oman's daily Al-Watan said Britain should shut down Israel's embassy in London. "What is needed is to close the Israeli embassy once and for all, as anyone who did these violations must have done it before and perhaps did it several times without being discovered," the piece said. 

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UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: Skype plans to open Persian Gulf office in effort to tackle ban


The Internet phone service Skype appears to be taking the bull by the horns.

At a recent media conference in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, Skype announced plans to open an office in the Persian Gulf in the next few months in a move to try to lift a ban imposed on the service in several parts of the region and develop strategic partnerships in the area, media reports say.

“We opened our Arabic language website last November," Russ Shaw, the vice president of Skype for the Middle East, was quoted as saying by the National newspaper at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit. "But we thought another step forward for us was to have a physical presence in the region.”

Aside from allowing Skype to lobby governments to scrap the ban, Shaw hopes that a physical presence in the region will help develop partnerships with Gulf telecom operators.

That might prove a challenge since some telecom operators in the Gulf previously have given Internet phone services such as Skype and Truphone a thumbs down over fears they will lose the lucrative revenues they generate from international phone calls if Skype and similar services are allowed to operate on their turf.

The UAE telecommunications regulator has reportedly imposed a general ban on the use of Voice over Internet Protocol, VoIP -- the transmission technology used by Internet phone services.

Skype is today only blocked in a few countries, including North Korea, the UAE and Kuwait.

Speaking at the same summit, Skype CEO Josh Silverman criticized the UAE's current ban on the service.

He called it "short-sighted" -- especially for a place like Dubai, which prides itself on being a dynamic free trade hub with a large immigrant population.

"When you're trying to attract a large immigrant population and support a large emigrant population, (Skype is) a vital tool," Silverman was quoted telling reporters at the sidelines of the summit. "We think it is in the interest of the residents of the UAE and the Emirati government and economy to allow Skype as almost every other country on Earth does."

The vast majority of the UAE's residents are foreigners, many of them laborers earning low wages. According to some media reports, making a phone call to India from the UAE during peak hours can cost  the equivalent of  44 cents a minute, a steep price for a manual laborer or domestic worker who often doesn't earn more than a couple of hundred dollars a month.

Skype has not yet decided where to open its regional office, but Shaw said the UAE is on its short list.

-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

Photos: Skype CEO Josh Silverman at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit on Thursday. Credit: Ana-Bianca Marin/Getty Images.

DUBAI: Questions continue to surround alleged Mossad killing of Hamas operative


Dubai police and United Arab Emirates security officials have launched an expensive, high-tech and no-holds-barred investigation into the killing of Hamas operative Mahmoud Mabhouh, which has continued to rock the Middle East and the half-dozen other countries involved with every high-profile revelation.

Even weeks after images of the suspects bearing phony Western passports captured on closed-circuit television around Dubai were broadcast across the world, the suspense continues. 

The UAE’s Central Bank is also pressing the U.S. to disclose what documents the suspects used to obtain pre-loaded credit cards used to pay for their travels. The cards have been linked to a U.S. company headed by a self-described former Israeli Defense Forces commando and co-financed by a former Israeli military intelligence officer. 

But gaping questions continue to cloud the investigation into Mabhouh’s murder. Perhaps the biggest puzzle: What was Mabhouh, a native of the Gaza Strip now living in Damascus, doing in Dubai with no security detail in the first place? To buy weapons? Transit to another country? Meet a girlfriend? Conduct family business? 

The answer may ultimately prove the key to unlocking the mystery of the killing.

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DUBAI: Martin Amis set to add ‘fireworks’ to upcoming literature festival

Dubai-martin-amis-wikimedia To most outsiders, Dubai appears a town of ludicrously tall towers, bumbling Mossad agents sporting unconvincing tennis gear and leaky aquariums in oversized malls.

But away from the recent headlines, the city has also been trying to position itself as a land of culture and sophisticated debate.

The Festival of Literature (sponsored by Emirates Airlines) kicks off this week at the aptly named Festival City, another of the United Arab Emirates city-state's shopping mall and hotel complexes.

While the venue may not sound the most inspiring for a cultural chin-stroking session, the attendees – one in particular – should ensure some rather lively banter.

Outspoken author and England’s "punching bag" Martin Amis probably hadn’t considered his future travel plans when he made a few comments during a 2006 interview in the English newspaper The Times.

Discussing issues of terrorism and security back then, he suggested “strip-searching people who look like they're from the Middle East or from Pakistan” and “discriminatory stuff” against the Muslim community, “until it hurts the whole community and they start getting tough with their children."

His words, as one might expect, went down like a Hummer at a Greenpeace picnic. UK writer Yasmine Alibhai-Brown described Amis as “with the beasts” with it came to dealing with Islam, along with “the Muslim-baiters and haters,:

Novelist Ronan Bennett described Amis’ views as “symptomatic of a much wider and deeper hostility to Islam and intolerance of otherness."

The director of the Dubai literary festival has been fielding a lot of queries regarding Amis’ involvement. In an interview with Abu Dhabi-based, English language newspaper The National, Isobel Abulhoul said she expected “fireworks” during his talk.

But, she added, “Isn’t that what it’s all about?”

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