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Most MERS Cases Undetected, report shows

Interesting, Qatar announced today their fourth case – this article says they have had eight confirmed cases and one Tunisian who visited Qatar and came down with MERS. From the Gulf Times:

 

Most Mers cases going undetected, study says

Researchers estimate that for each case that has been found, five to 10 may have been missed

  • Gulf News Report
  • Published: 21:32 November 16, 2013

  • Image Credit: Reuters
  • The Mers coronavirus typically causes severe respiratory problems.

Dubai: A new analysis of Mers case data suggests a large number of infections are going undetected, with the researchers estimating that for each case that has been found, five to 10 may have been missed.

The scientific paper, from European researchers, further suggests that transmission of the Mers virus is occurring at a rate close to the threshold where it would be considered able to pass from person to person in a sustained manner. In fact, the authors say based on the available evidence they cannot rule out the possibility that person-to-person spread is the main mode of transmission of the virus at this point. The other option, they say, is that the virus is spreading via a combination of animal-to-person and then person-to-person transfer.

“We conclude that a slow growing epidemic is underway, but current epidemiological data do not allow us to determine whether transmission is self-sustaining in man,” they write in the article, published in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases.

The scientists are from Imperial College London, the University of Edinburgh and the Institut Pasteur in Paris. The work was done with funding from Britain’s Medical Research Council, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other agencies.

To date there have been roughly 155 confirmed MERS cases and at least 65 of those infections have ended in death. All the cases trace back to infections in a handful of countries on the Arabian Peninsula: Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman.

On Wednesday, Kuwait reported its second case Mers coronavirus for a man who just returned from abroad, the health ministry said.

In a statement cited by the official KUNA agency, the ministry said the new case was for a 52-year-old Kuwaiti national who was in a stable condition. Media reports said the patient had just returned from a visit to neighbouring Saudi Arabia.

The announcement came hours after Kuwait reported its first case of the Mers virus for a 47-year-old Kuwaiti man who was in critical condition.

Last weekend, Omani officials widened health checks following the country’s first death blamed on Mers. Officials looked for any sign of the virus in people who came in contact with a dead 68-year-old man.

Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College’s MRC Centre for Outbreak Analysis and Modelling, said that while publicly available data are spotty, calculations based on what is known support the argument that only a small proportion of cases are coming to light.

“At the very least there probably have been double that number of infections,” Ferguson said in an interview.

“But it’s considerably more likely in my view that we’ve had maybe five to 10 times more human infections than that. And symptomatic human infections, I would say.”

He stressed that he and his co-authors are not suggesting that the Mers-affected countries are hiding cases, just that the way they are looking for them is not capturing the full scope of the outbreak.

Experts have previously expressed concern that surveillance systems that look only for Mers among people who seek hospital care will only catch the sickest of cases. And in at least one affected country, Saudi Arabia, the criteria for who gets tested for Mers may be less inclusive still.

Dr. Anthony Mounts, the World Health Organisation’s leading expert on Mers, said the agency has been told Saudi health officials are focusing their testing on people with Mers-like symptoms who are gravely ill.

“I know that their surveillance strategy is focused on intensive care patients,” Mounts said in an interview. “That’s the focus of their surveillance strategy.”

Mounts agrees that many Mers cases are probably being missed. But he noted that some other affected countries are taking a different testing approach. For instance, Qatar has tested over 3,000 specimens over the past six months, looking for Mers in people who seek medical help for influenza-like illness, and all people diagnosed with pneumonia.

“They really are testing a lot of people and they’re not seeing this,” he said.

Eight Qataris have been diagnosed with MERS since the virus hit the global public health radar in September 2012. As well a man from Tunisia who contracted the virus is believed to have been infected on a visit to Qatar.

Because of the scarcity of publicly available data, Ferguson and his colleagues used some different approaches to try to estimate the state of the outbreak. He acknowledged that their calculations are estimates, and said of the analysis “it’s not definitive … but I still think it’s informative at least.”

“I would say we’re doing the best we can with the data available to try and address a couple of key questions,” he said. “We would certainly be in a better position if there was fuller [case] reporting.”

A commentary by Canadian epidemiologists lauded the team for the techniques they used to reach their conclusions. Dr. David Fisman and Ashleigh Tuite, who are with the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana Faculty of Public Health, also hinted that the often-seen instinct to withhold information during infectious disease outbreaks may be futile in the era of computational biology.

“The ability to draw inferences about diseases from non-traditional data sources will hopefully both provide alternate means of characterising epidemics and diminish the temptation towards non-transparency in traditional public health authorities,” they wrote.

One of the questions Ferguson and his co-authors tried to answer relates to whether the virus is spreading person to person at this point or whether what is being seen are infections from an animal source that is igniting limited spread in people.

To do that, they tried to calculate what is known as the virus’s reproductive number — the number of people, on average, an infected person would pass the virus on to. For a virus to sustain itself in people, each person needs to infect at least one other person, a reproductive number of 1.0 or greater.

They could not come to a definitive conclusion, saying with what is known, either scenario is possible. But they said the evidence suggests the reproductive number is near 1.0.

— with inputs from agencies

November 24, 2013 Posted by | Cultural, Doha, ExPat Life, Health Issues, Interconnected, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Work Related Issues | , | Leave a comment

MERS Found in Saudi Arabian Camel

 

 From AOL/Huffpost/AP News:

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — The Saudi Health Ministry says it has discovered a deadly virus in a camel in Jiddah province, on the western coast of Saudi Arabia.

The ministry’s statement released Monday is considered an important development in the search for the origin the deadly illness. There have been more than 60 deaths from the virus known as Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, with all but a handful of the fatalities in Saudi Arabia.

The ministry said a sample from the camel was tested near the home of a patient infected with the virus.

An international research team in August found the mysterious virus that is related to SARS in a bat in Saudi Arabia. They suspected it was perhaps another animal that was spreading the virus directly to humans.

November 13, 2013 Posted by | Circle of Life and Death, Community, Environment, ExPat Life, Health Issues, Saudi Arabia | , | Leave a comment

Kuwaiti Woman Arrested Driving in Saudi Arabia

From today’s Kuwait Times:

Kuwaiti woman caught driving in Saudi Arabia

KUWAIT: A Kuwaiti woman was arrested in Saudi Arabia after she was caught driving in the kingdom where ultraconservative laws ban women from taking the wheel. According to a Khafji police report, the woman was caught driving a Chevrolet Epica on the ‘Sitteen Road’ in front of a hotel in the area located near the border with Kuwait, while a Kuwaiti man was in the passenger’s seat. The woman told the officers that the man was her father, adding that he is diabetic and cannot drive and that she had to take him to the hospital for treatment. The woman remains in custody pending investigations.

Saudi authorities have warned women of legal measures if they defy a long-standing driving ban in the kingdom. At least 16 women were stopped by police last Saturday and were fined and forced along with their male guardians to pledge to obey the kingdom’s laws, as more than 60 women said they defied the ban.

A growing number of men are quietly helping steer the campaign, risking their jobs and social condemnation in the conservative kingdom. Some of the men have even been questioned by authorities, and one was detained by a branch of the Saudi Interior Ministry – a move that sent a chill through some of the activists working to put women behind the wheel. In the run-up to last weekend’s protest, men played a key role in helping wives, sisters and female friends to enjoy what they believe is a fundamental right. Since the campaign was launched in September, they have produced videos of women driving and put them on social networks. They have helped protect the female drivers by forming packs of two or three cars to surround them and ward off potential harassment. And some have simply ridden as passengers with the women as they run their daily errands.

By A Saleh

 
I love it that this writer specified that this movement to allow women to drive in Saudi Arabia – where there is no law forbidding women to drive – is supported by husbands, brothers, fathers who want them to be able to drive. Most of the people discussing it in the US think the men don’t want the women to drive. I laugh, and say “they DO drive!” They drive all over the world, including Saudi Arabia, only in Saudi Arabia they have to disguise themselves as men, or drive out in the deserts. Their brothers, husbands and fathers teach them to drive. Time is on their side, their day is coming. Let’s hope women driving means fewer 12 and 13 year old boys behind the wheels, driving their Mums.

November 5, 2013 Posted by | Adventure, Cultural, ExPat Life, Kuwait, Law and Order, Saudi Arabia, Values, Women's Issues, Work Related Issues | Leave a comment

Happy Islamic New Year

My good friend and commenter, Daggero, left this comment for us yesterday announcing the new Islamic year:

 

For your information yesterday we entered the Islamic year 1435 Hijri ( hijri = immigration ) which marks the year the prophet Muhammad peace be upon him, emigrated after 13 years of calling people to Islam from Mecca to Medina, ( where he is burried in his Mosque , Masjid an Nabawi, the second holliest mosque in Islam after the Mecca )

Al-Masjid-an-Nabawi

So total Islam time from begining to now is 1448 years, and on this auspicious occasion i wish you , AdventureMan and your family and the little ones a happy and a blessed New Islamic year.

 

 

We wish you the same, Daggero, and I smiled as I read that you discussed the topic we were discussing with your daughter on the drive to school in the morning. I remember those days so well, as young people begin to draw off into their own lives and the time we spend with them in cars can be so precious. Happy New Year to you and your family.

 

We had a friend from Libya whose family name meant “from Madina;” before we had ever lived in any Middle East country, he had told us a little about Madina, and what a beautiful city it is. The mosque is very beautiful. I think the tradition is that green was the prophet Mohammed’s favorite color?

 

Happy New Year, too, to all our Moslem friends.

November 5, 2013 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Events, ExPat Life, Faith, Family Issues, Interconnected, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia | , , , , | Leave a comment

Saudi Women Drive, No Problem

For your delight of the day, please go to YouTube and watch this hilarious Saudi video, No Woman, No Drive! Click on the blue type above :-)

 

Screen shot 2013-10-28 at 5.34.04 PM

From The Guardian:

Dozens of Saudi Arabian women drive cars on day

of protest against ban

Activists say at least 60 joined call to allow female drivers – making it country’s biggest ever demonstration against the ban

More than 60 Saudi women got behind the wheels of their cars as part of a protest against a ban on women driving in the kingdom, activists have claimed.

A Saudi professor and campaigner, Aziza Youssef, said the activists have received 13 videos and another 50 phone messages from women showing or claiming they had driven, the Associated Press reported.

She said it had not been not possible to verify all of the messages. But, if the numbers are accurate, they would make Saturday’s demonstration the biggest the country has ever seen against the ban.

Despite warnings by police and ultraconservatives in Saudi Arabia, there have been no reports from those who claimed to have driven of being arrested or ticketed by police.

A video clip of a protest by May al-Sawyan, a 32-year-old economics researcher and mother of two, was uploaded on the YouTube channel of the October 26 driving for women group, along with several other videos of women purportedly driving in defiance of the ban in Riyadh, al-Ahsa and Jeddah. It was not possible to verify when they were filmed. Another video to feature on YouTube was the spoof No Woman, No Drive.

“I am very happy and proud that there was no reaction against me,” she told AP. “There were some cars that drove by. They were surprised, but it was just a glance. It is fine. They are not used to seeing women driving here.”

Sawyan said she had obtained a driver’s licence from abroad. She said she was prepared for the risk of detention if caught but added that she was far enough from a police car that she was not spotted.

“I just took a small loop. I didn’t drive for a long way, but it was fine. I went to the grocery store,” she said.

Her husband and family waited at home and called her when she arrived at the shop to check on her, she said. She drove with a local female television reporter in the car. They were both without male relatives in the vehicle.

“I know of several women who drove earlier today. We will post videos later,” one of the campaign organisers told Reuters.

The Associated Press reported that a security official said authorities did not arrest or fine any female drivers on Saturday.

Youssef said she and four other prominent women activists received phone calls this week from a top official with close links to Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, warning them not to drive on Saturday, the day the campaign set for women’s driving.

She also said that “two suspicious cars” have been following her everywhere all day. “I don’t know from which party they are from. They are not in a government car,” she said.

Activists said they have 16,600 signatures on an online petition calling for change. Efforts to publicise the issue have been described as the best-organised social campaign ever seen in Saudi Arabia, where Twitter has millions of users and is used to circulate information about the monarchy and official corruption.

Previous attempts to promote change fizzled out in arrests for public order offences and demoralisation. In 2011, the activist Manal al-Sharif made a YouTube video urging women to drive their own cars, and was imprisoned for more than a week. But the signs are far more positive now.

Three female members of the shura (advisory) council – among 30 appointed by the 90-year-old King Abdullah – recommended this month that the ban be rescinded, though no debate has yet taken place.

Latifa al-Shaalan, Haya al-Mani and Muna al-Mashit urged the council to “recognise the rights of women to drive a car in accordance with the principles of sharia and traffic laws”.

The three – praised by supporters for “stirring the stagnant water” – framed their argument with careful references to religious edicts banning women from being in the company of an unrelated male driver. Other ideas designed to reassure critics are appointing female traffic police and driving instructors. Cost is another big factor, with families having to employ chauffeurs, as is convenience.

Though no specific Saudi law bans women from driving, women are not issued licenses. They mostly rely on drivers or male relatives to move around.

Powerful clerics who hold far-reaching influence over the monarchy enforce the driving ban, warning that breaking it will spread “licentiousness.” A prominent cleric caused a stir when he said last month that medical studies show that driving a car harms a woman’s ovaries.

October 28, 2013 Posted by | Adventure, Bureaucracy, Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Interconnected, Saudi Arabia, Women's Issues, Work Related Issues | 3 Comments

Saudi Cleric: Driving Hurts Womens’ Ovaries

From today’s Kuwait Times:

RIYADH: A Saudi cleric sparked a wave of mockery online when he warned women that driving would affect their ovaries and bring “clinical disorders” upon their children. The warning came ahead of an October 26 initiative to defy a longstanding driving ban on women in the ultra-conservative kingdom.

“Physiological science” has found that driving “automatically affects the ovaries and pushes up the pelvis,” Sheikh Saleh Al-Luhaydan warned women in remarks to local news website Sabq.org. “This is why we find that children born to most women who continuously drive suffer from clinical disorders of varying degrees,” he said. His comments prompted criticism on Twitter, which has become a rare platform for Saudis to voice their opinions in the absolute monarchy. “What a mentality we have. People went to space and you still ban women from driving. Idiots,” said one comment.

Luhaydan, a member of the senior Ulema (Muslim scholars) Commission and former head of the Supreme Judicial Council, said that “evidence from the Holy Quran and Sunna (the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) completely prohibit (women’s driving) on moral and social background.”

An online petition titled “Oct 26th, driving for women” amassed nearly 12,000 signatures, while access to it was blocked in the kingdom yesterday. Saudi Arabia is the only country where women are banned from driving. Activists declared a day of defiance against the ban on June 17, 2011, but few women answered the call to drive. Some of those who did were stopped by police and forced to sign a pledge not to take to the wheel again.

Saudi Arabia imposes other restrictions on women, including a requirement to cover themselves from head to toe when in public. The 2011 call, which spread through Facebook and Twitter, was the largest mass action since November 1990, when 47 Saudi women were arrested and severely punished after demonstrating in cars. – AFP

September 30, 2013 Posted by | Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Saudi Arabia, Social Issues, Women's Issues, Work Related Issues | 10 Comments

Happy 7th Blog-iversary to Me!

Once a year I get to troll the internet looking for cakes. It is so much fun. I had no idea there is so much creativity out there, so much daring. I found a wedding cake that is tilted! Something in me loved it, loved the spirit of a woman who would marry knowing life is often off-kilter and messy.

I love white roses, so this year I have sent some to myself:

Nov_10th_2012_004_edited-1

Come on by, have some virtual cake with me to celebrate seven years of blogging:

900x900px-LL-03b42713_ExclusiveCakesbyEva11

Jungle-theme-shower-cake

Britt.Kyle_SS13_perezphotography12

And here, an elegant combination of cake and white roses:

Elegant-Birthday-Cakes-For-Women

Seven years ago in Kuwait, I started blogging. There was a wild blogging scene in Kuwait, a lively community. Blogs were candid, and many were substantial, dealing (carefully) with political and economic issues in Kuwait. I remember reading and learning, and finally gathering up my courage to write my very first entry, and it has been a recurring theme, cross-cultural communication. I learned so much from my life in the Middle East, Tunisia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait. I made the most amazing friends. It changed my life and my perceptions utterly.

Of the three Kuwait female bloggers who inspired me to start blogging, Jewaira has gone private, 1001 Nights is a good friend, a mother, and an author :-) and Desert Girl is still going strong. Mark, at 2:48 a.m. is also still going strong, so strong that he has been able to leave his full time employment and operate on a consultant basis.

Of course, as any blogger will, I sometimes think of quitting. There are days I find myself with nothing to say, nothing in my life so interesting that I think it is worth sharing, not even a news story worth noting. So I’ve had to ask myself why I continue.

I do it for myself. When I started, I had a reason and that reason still stands. I forget things. This isn’t age-related, it’s busy-life busy-world related; we forget the details.

My Mother saved all my letters from Tunisia. I remember reading them and laughing because at three, my son’s best friend in his day school was a boy he called Cutlet. I know his real name is Khalid, but Cutlet was as close as this little American boy in a French-Tunisian school could get. I had totally forgotten, until I read the letter. So my primary reason for continuing to blog is documentary – just plain record keeping, like an old fashioned diary. Noting things in my daily life or the life around me.

Even now, sometimes I see a post written long ago, usually one of our Africa trips, Botswana, Namibia, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Zambia – will start getting a rush of stats. It thrills my heart. It makes it all worthwhile, knowing something I have put out there is helping others, even years later. Perhaps one day, I will quit blogging, but leave the blog up, with these informational articles.

My stats make no sense at all, one of my biggest stat gainers this year was a news article I tossed off about the prank on the South Korean pilot names after the plane crash landed in San Francisco. It just made me giggle, and I couldn’t resist printing it. It ended up with a life of its own, as many entries do – and you just never know. Someone pins an image and you get a million (ok hyperbole here) hits you never expected.

In the end, I believe that those who keep blogging do it because as Martin Luther once said, “I cannot other.” We do it because something within needs to be expressed, even if it is just some kind of daily record. I know it’s why I blog.

September 6, 2013 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Blogging, Botswana, Community, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Friends & Friendship, Interconnected, Jordan, Kuwait, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Tanzania, Travel, Tunisia, Zambia, Zanzibar | | 8 Comments

Camels Source of MERS?

00unconcernedcamel

From today’s BBC News:

Mers coronavirus: Dromedary camels could be source
By Rebecca Morelle
Science reporter, BBC World Service

Dromedary camels could be responsible for passing to humans the deadly Mers coronavirus that emerged last year, research suggests.

Tests have shown the Mers (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) virus, or one that is very closely related, has been circulating in the animals, offering a potential route for the spread.

00kuwait-camels

The study is published in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases.

But the scientists say more research is needed to confirm the findings.

The Mers coronavirus first emerged in the Middle East last year. So far, there have been 94 confirmed cases and 46 deaths.

While there has been evidence of the virus spreading between humans, most case are thought to have been caused by contact with an animal. But until now, scientists have struggled to work out which one.

‘Smoking gun’
To investigate, an international team looked at blood samples taken from livestock animals, including camels, sheep, goats and cows, from a number of different countries.

They tested them for antibodies – the proteins produced to fight infections – which can remain in the blood long after a virus has gone.

Professor Marion Koopmans, from the National Institute of Public Health and the Environment and Erasmus University in The Netherlands, said: “We did find antibodies that we think are specific for the Mers coronavirus or a virus that looks very similar to the Mers coronavirus in dromedary camels.”

The team found low levels of antibodies in 15 out of 105 camels from the Canary Islands and high levels in each of the 50 camels tested in Oman, suggesting the virus was circulating more recently.

“Antibodies point to exposure at some time in the life of those animals,” Prof Koopmans explained.

No human cases of the Mers virus have been reported in Oman or the Canary Islands, and the researchers say they now need to test more widely to see if the infection is present elsewhere.

This would include taking samples from camels in Saudi Arabia, the country where the virus is the most prevalent.

‘Priority search’
Prof Koopmans said: “It is a smoking gun, but it is not definitive proof.”

Commenting on the research, Professor Paul Kellam from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge and University College London, said the research was helping to narrow down the hunt for the source of the virus.

But he told BBC News: “The definitive proof would be to isolate the virus from an infected animal or to be able to sequence and characterise the genome from an infected animal.”

Health officials say confirming where the virus comes from is important, but then understanding how humans get infected is a priority.

Gregory Hartl, from the World Health Organization, said: “Only if we know what actions and interactions by humans lead to infection, can we work to prevent these infections.”

Data suggests that it is not yet infectious enough to pose a global threat and is still at a stage were its spread could be halted.

August 11, 2013 Posted by | Environment, ExPat Life, Health Issues, Interconnected, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Saudi Arabia, Travel, Work Related Issues | Leave a comment

Saudis Say MERS Virus Not Following SARS Path

What do you think? While ministers in Saudi Arabia seem unconcerned, this virus, which appears to have originated among an as yet unidentified animal in Saudi Arabia, kills about half the people infected with it. And soon, with the Hajj, the Moslem pilgrimage to Mecca, thousands will travel to Saudi Arabia, testing the theory that this virus does not spread easily. . .

Mers: New virus ‘not following Sars’ path’
By James Gallagher
Health and science reporter, BBC News

The new Mers virus, which has killed half of those infected, is “unlikely” to reach the same scale as Sars, ministers in Saudi Arabia say.

Most of the 90 Mers cases reported so far have been in Saudi Arabia.

Mers is from the same group of viruses as the common cold and Sars, which killed 774 people.

However, a detailed analysis of the Saudi cases, published in Lancet Infectious Diseases, did warn of “major gaps” in understanding of the virus.

The Middle East respiratory-syndrome coronavirus (Mers) emerged in 2012 and has infected 90 people worldwide, 45 of them have died.

The global concern is that cases could spread much further, echoing the Sars outbreak.

Cases have been centred on the Middle East – with patients in Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Additional cases in France, Germany, Italy, Tunisia and the UK have all been linked to travel to the Middle East.

Researchers in Saudi Arabia have published details of the 47 cases reported in the country.

They suggest a pattern of mostly older men being infected. Most cases were also in people with other medical problems, more than two-thirds of the reported cases also had diabetes.

Low threat
The lead researcher and Deputy Minister for Public Health, Prof Ziad Memish, said: “Despite sharing some clinical similarities with Sars, there are also some important differences.

“In contrast to Sars, which was much more infectious especially in healthcare settings and affected the healthier and the younger age group, Mers appears to be more deadly, with 60% of patients with co-existing chronic illnesses dying, compared with the 1% toll of Sars.

“Although this high mortality rate with Mers is probably spurious due to the fact that we are only picking up severe cases and missing a significant number of milder or asymptomatic cases.

“So far there is little to indicate that Mers will follow a similar path to Sars.”

A report earlier this month showed that the virus struggled to spread in people.

However, it and the latest Saudi investigation both highlighted the need to find where the virus was coming from.

Prof Memish’s report said: “Reducing the rate of introduction of Mers coronavirus into human beings is unpredictable because the source of the virus is not yet known.

“We are searching vigorously for the source.”

Here is a graph from a private report called Virology Down Under, a fascinating read on the identification and development of the MERS Virus by Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV)..

Last Updated 19-Jul-2013
Written by Ian M. Mackay, PhD on his personal time.
All opinions are his own and do not represent medical advice or the views of any institution.:

Screen shot 2013-07-26 at 10.54.52 AM

July 26, 2013 Posted by | Health Issues, Living Conditions, Saudi Arabia, Spiritual, Travel, Work Related Issues | | Leave a comment

“Heavyweight Saudi Arabia” Influence Counters “Over-Stepping” Qatar?

From the Kuwait Times, a fascinating comparative analysis of the influence of Saudi Arabia and Qatar on Islamic countries in transitions:

 

Qatar losing ground to Saudi diplomacy

headline2

 

DUBAI: Qatar, a key supporter of Islamists who rose to power in Arab Spring countries, is losing ground in regional politics to Saudi Arabia which appears to have seized the reins on key issues, notably Egypt and Syria. The decline in Qatar’s regional diplomacy comes as its powerful emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani unexpectedly abdicated in favor of his son Tamim last month.

The wealthy Gulf state had transformed itself into a key regional player but began to retreat as heavyweight Saudi Arabia re-entered the political arena after lagging behind in the immediate period following the eruption of the Arab Spring uprisings in December 2010. The ouster of Egypt’s Islamist president Mohamed Morsi last week by the army and the election by the Syrian opposition of Saudi-linked Ahmad Assi Jarba as new leader stripped Qatar of strong influence in both countries.

“Qatar had tried to take a leading role in the region but overstepped its limits by openly backing the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Syria, and other Arab Spring states,” said Kuwaiti political analyst Ayed Al-Manna. Jonathan Eyal, head of international relations at Britain’s Royal United Services Institute, argued that Qatar’s regional politics have failed.

“Qatar’s Middle Eastern diplomacy now lies in ruins: it failed to produce dividends in Libya, backfired in Syria and has now collapsed in Egypt,” local Emirati daily The National quoted him on Tuesday as saying. Realizing the damaging effects of their policies, Manna noted, “the Qataris sought to cut down on their commitments” which were already affected by the emir’s abdication and the sidelining of the influential prime minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jabr Al-Thani.

As a result, “Saudi Arabia, a historical regional US ally, regained its role” in coordination with other oil-rich Gulf monarchies, said Manna. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah was the first foreign head of state to congratulate Egypt’s interim president Adly Mansour, hours after he was named to replace Morsi. And on Tuesday, the kingdom pledged $5 billion in assistance to Egypt. The United Arab Emirates, which has cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood in the past few months, offered Egypt an aid package of $3 billion.

“Saudi Arabia wants to ensure stability in Arab Spring countries, regardless of its ideological interests,” said analyst Abdel Aziz Al-Sagr, head of the Gulf Research Centre. “It had supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt but reconsidered this support after the Brotherhood failed to run the country wisely,” he argued. But the Saudi researcher downplayed the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, both of which have been looking to expand their influence during the Arab Spring uprisings and prevent any potential revolt against their own autocratic regimes.

“The Saudi-Qatari harmony still exists and there is no battle for influence between the two countries,” said Sager. And as proof, “Riyadh was the first to be informed of the political change in Qatar, six months before it took place. And it welcomed it.” But the two countries, whose relations have been historically tense or at least marked by mistrust, support two different approaches of political Islam that emerged strongly in the wake of the Arab Spring.

Qatar sides with political parties linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, whose experience was cut short despite the strong media support they enjoyed from the influential Doha-based Al-Jazeera news channel. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia promotes Salafist groups that focus less on politics and more on implementing Shariah Islamic law on daily life matters such as forcing women to wear a veil and prohibiting the mixing between sexes. Saudi King Abdullah has reiterated his country’s stance against using Islam for political purposes.

“Islam rejects divisions in the name of one party or another,” he said in a statement marking the start Wednesday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The kingdom will never accept” the presence of political parties, that “only lead to conflict and failure.” But regardless of the political agendas of Saudi Arabia or Qatar, the people who rose up during the Arab Spring revolts will have the final word on their own political futures, argued former Bahraini cabinet minister Ali Fakhro. “It is the Arab people, not Qatar nor Saudi Arabia, who will determine the political future of the region.” – AFP

July 11, 2013 Posted by | Cultural, Doha, ExPat Life, Interconnected, Kuwait, Leadership, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Saudi Arabia, Women's Issues | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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