Holding workers accountable

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, visits an empty government office.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, visits an empty government office.

This article was printed in Arab News on September 11, 2016:

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

The surprise inspection of government offices in Dubai on the morning of Aug. 28 by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, the UAE’s prime minister and ruler of Dubai, found that many managers were not at their desks working. Video released of the ruler showed him walking around empty offices, looking at papers piled on desks and not looking pleased at all.

His surprise inspection tour took him to the municipality, Dubai international airport, the

Land Department and the Department of Economic Development. The next day his office announced the retirement of nine of these managers, mentioning their titles and full names. It was a way of naming and shaming. Just imagine if a similar thing happened here in Saudi Arabia? It would send shockwaves through our bloated bureaucracy.

The ruler felt he could not fire subordinates for not being at work when their superiors were also skipping work. He also stressed that the retirements were a method of retiring the older generation, who had already proved their abilities, to allow the younger generation a chance at running things.

The problem with public servants all around the world is that they often become entrenched and entitled bureaucracies that only want to do their duties when they feel like it and at their own pace. Egypt and India are two countries that have huge civil service contingents that are very efficient when they want to be, and incredibly slow, hard-headed and lazy when it suits them.

Go to any government office in the developing world and more often than not you will find long queues of people waiting to be attended to by bureaucrats. Meanwhile, the government workers can be seen drinking endless cups of tea and bantering among each other, seemingly oblivious to the waiting public. It seems that the quasi-for life jobs that they have, shield them from the efficiency standards that the private sector is subject to.

A recent cartoon in a Saudi newspaper showed a worker running out of an office while hurriedly telling a tea boy to leave a glass of tea on his desk so that his boss would think that he is somewhere in the building and coming back soon. I think everyone who has ever worked in an office laughed at reading the cartoon’s text as it must have struck a chord. But it captured perfectly the attempt of many in Saudi Arabia to appear to be working, while in fact slacking off to go to a social gathering, to smoke or just to bunk off work at the expense of the employer.

Unfortunately far too many Saudis and Gulf citizens think this is still acceptable behavior as long as they don’t get caught neglecting their professional responsibilities. This leads to a loss of morale among other workers in the offices where this occurs. It is also incredibly inefficient and unfair as well; as more often than not someone else in the office will have to do the shirker’s work on top of their own work.

I am sure that there some Saudis who work extremely hard and do not fit this pattern of behavior. Often, we have been lulled into this sense of entitlement and consequent slacking off because of the immense oil wealth we as a nation have been fortunate enough to be blessed with. “Oh, someone else can do my work,” has normally been the attitude. But with the plunge in oil prices, and the realization that our oil reserves will not last forever, Saudis have better wake up soon to their new reality and work much harder than they have ever before.

http://www.arabnews.com/node/983096/columns

Tehran gains more leeway for meddling

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir.

This column was printed in Arab News on Jan. 24, 2016:

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

The lifting of nearly all the economic sanctions against Iran last week was celebrated worldwide as a victory of American and European diplomacy. A victory because Iran has accepted the need to downgrade its nuclear energy program and has pledged to no longer try to develop nuclear weapons.

From Washington to Paris and Moscow, political leaders are patting themselves on their backs as saviors of world peace for having gotten the Iranians to accept their demands and sign the agreement. But they left out of the document a crucial part of what causes most of the tensions in the Middle East: The insistent Iranian meddling in the internal affairs of several Arab countries. Americans admit this failure, but insist that they could not include it in the agreement because of Iran’s objections.

With the lifting of sanctions, it is estimated that Iran will now have access to $100 billion of its own money, which was frozen in bank accounts abroad for years. This will leave the country with more resources to continue its interference in the Arab world. From Iraq to Lebanon, Syria and even in Yemen, the fingers of the Iranians are everywhere, arming and providing economic and political support to the Iraqi government and its Shiite militias; to Hezbollah; to the government of the dictator Bashar Assad, and to Houthi rebels.

In Syria alone it is estimated that the Iranian government has injected billions of dollars in support of the Assad government, and up to 3,000 soldiers of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard are fighting there against the Syrian rebels.

In an article in the New York Times this week, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir insisted that the Kingdom and its Gulf allies will continue to resist Iranian expansion in the region and respond with force to acts of aggression from Tehran.

“The Iranian government’s behavior has been consistent since the 1979 revolution,” wrote Al-Jubeir. “The constitution that Iran adopted states the objective of exporting revolution. As a consequence, Iran has supported violent extremist groups, including Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen and sectarian militias in Iraq. (…) It is clear why Iran wants Bashar Assad of Syria to remain in power: In its 2014 report on terrorism, the State Department wrote that Iran considers Syria ‘as a crucial causeway to the its weapons supply route to Hezbollah,’” he added.

The cynicism of the agreement with Iran was echoed by many Saudi analysts. “Khamenei (the religious leader of Iran) traded a bomb he did not have for a document that gives carte blanche to the Revolutionary Guard in the region and stripped the P5 + 1 of any influence over Iran,” Mohammed Alyahya told the British newspaper Guardian.

“Riyadh has decided not to allow Iran to posture itself as the protector of the Shiites in the Arab world as it has been doing since 1979,” wrote Emirati professor Abdulkhaleq Abdulla in Gulf News. “They (the Saudis) have had enough of Iran’s bullying, and genuinely feel they are being targeted by Tehran as much as by Daesh.”

And the Iranians themselves are now admitting that with the end of economic sanctions, the country will have more money available to help its allies in the region. An Iranian security official told the Reuters news agency that funding for the Revolutionary Guard and its international arm, the Quds Force, would increase.

“It is clear that our leaders will not hesitate to allocate more funds for the Revolutionary Guard when needed. More money (available) means more funds for the Guard,” another Iranian official told Reuters.

Saudi Arabia is seeing a new and decisive leadership in Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman, who took the throne in January 2015.

The military intervention in Yemen, led by the Saudis to contain the spread of the Houthi rebels, has lasted over 10 months and we show no sign of withdrawing from the conflict. Internally, reacting to the very low price of oil on the international market, our government increased the price of gasoline in December 2015 and, soon after, also increased the tariffs for electricity and water.

This new tough stance of the Saudis will not let the Iranians continue to present themselves to the world as innocents in the region. It is estimated that last year Iran executed a thousand people accused of various crimes. This is much more than the 150 that were executed in the Kingdom last year. From the outside, Iran may seem to be a more progressive country than Saudi Arabia, but behind the scenes it is the ayatollahs who hold power. And it is in Iran where government supporters still chant “Death to America! The United States is the Great Satan,” and not in Saudi Arabia.

http://www.arabnews.com/columns/news/869781

Learning to pay more for gasoline

The new gasoline prices are displayed at a gas pump recently in the UAE. (Photo courtesy of The National)

The new gasoline prices are displayed at a gas pump recently in the UAE. (Photo courtesy of The National)

This column appeared in Arab News on Aug. 02, 2015:

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

The move by the United Arab Emirates to raise the price of gasoline at the pump by 24 percent from Aug. 1 was a brave one and is a sign of the times. Once again the UAE is being a trailblazer among the Gulf countries, realizing that despite our vast reserves of oil and our low production costs, compared to the US and other countries, our oil will not last forever and we can get much more for it by exporting it rather than selling it at heavily subsidized prices at home.
The initial reaction of Gulf citizens at this news most probably is one of shock and outrage. After all, most of us have grown up with dirt cheap gasoline as our birthright, costing only a few halalas a liter. Having to pay 1.72 dirhams per liter, let alone the new price of 2.14 dirhams per liter, is outrageous to your average Gulf citizen.
But with the drop in the world price of oil from over $100 a barrel over a year ago to the current average of $52 a barrel of today, our rulers have begun to realize that despite our large foreign currency reserves that we accumulated during the years of high oil prices, which are now helping cushion our budget shortcomings, we must stop wasting so much energy domestically both in our cars and in our homes.
Most citizens think that cheap gasoline and electricity have no cost to the government or to society, but they are wrong.
Today, Saudi Arabia has to use one-third of its oil production just to meet electricity demand at home, oil which could have been exported and sold to earn much more income for our government.
And our electricity consumption just keeps on growing. The main reason of course is because of our high temperatures, especially in the summer, where everything has to be air-conditioned 24-hours a day, just to make life bearable. But then our cheap, subsidized power rates encourage people to waste electricity by leaving lights on in their homes all day long, even when they are not at home, and to leave lights on in rooms, when they are at home, in rooms that they are not using.
Some families even leave their air-conditioners running constantly when they go on vacation, even though no one is left at home during that period.
Our cheap gasoline price in the Kingdom, currently 57 halalas a liter (16 US cents) leaves us with the third cheapest gasoline in the world. Only Libya and Venezuela have cheaper gasoline than ours. But is that really something to be proud of? I don’t think so as it just encourages waste. Have you seen how many of our young men drive aimlessly around the streets of our cities on the weekends and during holidays?
If gasoline were SR1.50 a liter, I doubt we would see so many of them roaming the streets as before, which would be a big relief to the young women who get harassed by them.Saving our natural resources and using them wisely should be seen as a patriotic duty and the right thing to do for our nation’s future. Our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) encouraged us not to be wasteful and to help the less fortunate. Let us follow his advice and stop wasting our oil and electricity so that we can help ourselves and our future generations.

http://www.arabnews.com/columns/news/785271

Qatar shooting itself in the foot

llustration by Cruz/O Globo

llustration by Cruz/O Globo

This is my column which appeared in Arab News on March 09, 2014:

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

Tiny Qatar has always liked to be different. And its immense wealth, which comes from its deposits of natural gas, has given it the courage to continue being different and not depend on anyone economically. But now its strong and continued support of the Muslim Brotherhood caused a break with its neighbors in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced on March 5 that they were withdrawing their ambassadors from Doha in protest against the fact that Qatar has not implemented a security agreement signed on Nov. 23 last year.

In this agreement, that Qatar signed along with five other members of the GCC, all adhered to a commitment to the principles that guarantee non-interference in the internal affairs of any of the member countries, both directly or indirectly. The agreement also pledged all members not to support any activity that may threaten the safety and stability of any of the GCC countries, organizations or individuals, including support for hostile media.

Although such a commitment to non-interference in the internal affairs of other members of the GCC was made, Qatar has allowed Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi — the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who has lived in the country for years and is close to the royal family — to attack the UAE and Saudi Arabia for their support of the Egyptian military regime. The government of Qatar gave several billion dollars in economic aid to Egypt when Mursi, a leader of the Brotherhood, won elections and governed for a year.

The Emirati commentator Sultan Al-Qassemi told me in a phone interview that he does not think the Qataris will abandon the Brotherhood, but that several economic projects involving Qatar and Saudi Arabia and the Emirates would be delayed because of this diplomatic rupture.

“This reprimand was very public, unlike traditional Gulf reprimands, which are usually done in private, behind the scenes,” said Al-Qassemi.

A victim of the latest tensions will likely be the new airline company, owned by Qatar Airways, which was supposed to launch domestic flights in Saudi Arabia by the end of this year after the Saudi government decided to open the domestic travel market to foreign companies. And as these tensions have been felt for several years, the UAE were already decreasing its imports of natural gas from Qatar, Al-Qassemi said.

Despite these strategic differences, I do not think the GCC will have a dramatic break because of Qatar. The only land border that Qatar has is with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and its location and huge deposits of natural gas are too important to be excluded from the union. But Al-Qassemi told me that a new union within the GCC would probably now exclude Qatar.

The government of Qatar in a statement said it was surprised and regretted that the three ambassadors of fraternal countries had been called back to their capitals, stressing that such measures had nothing to do with the interests, security or stability of the peoples of the GCC but was actually a difference in positions on issues outside the GCC.

It is unfortunate that Qatar allows Qaradawi to attack its neighbors. That does not help calm tensions in the Gulf and the Arab world in general, which is experiencing the aftershocks of the revolutions of the Arab Spring, which saw dictators being toppled from Libya to Tunisia to Egypt. Maybe Qatar believes it can survive solely with its billions in revenue from its sales of gas, but it would do well to remember that it is in an explosive region, and should try to calm tensions with its neighbors, instead of adding fuel to fire. One hopes fervently that Qatar is not ready to sacrifice its Gulf allies for its support to the Brotherhood.

http://www.arabnews.com/news/537036

Gulf calls for film’s ban

Egyptian protesters tear down the US flag at the US Embassy in Cairo on Sept. 11, 2012. (Photo courtesy AFP)

This story appeared in the 20-26 September, 2012 issue of Al-Ahram Weekly

Gulf citizens upset at the US-made film mocking Islam have called for worldwide bans on attacks on Islam and PR campaigns to explain the religion better, reports Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

The trailer for the US-made film mocking the Prophet Mohamed, The Innocence of Muslims, has upset Muslims across the Gulf, who have condemned the movie but have also called for a calm and united front in the face of such slanderous attacks and for a worldwide ban on attacks on Islam.

The Saudi grand mufti, Sheikh Abdel-Aziz Ibn Abdallah Al-Sheikh, denounced the attacks on American diplomats and diplomatic missions across the region that have taken place in the wake of the film’s release, saying these were un-Islamic.

“It is forbidden to punish the innocent for the crimes of the guilty, or to attack those who have been granted protection of their lives and property, or to expose public buildings to fire or destruction,” he said in a statement in a clear reference to the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which was set ablaze on 11 September leading to the deaths of US ambassador Chris Stevens and three other US staff.

Both the Saudi and the United Arab Emirates governments have condemned the attacks, but they have also criticised the film. ‘Saudi Arabia has expressed its condolences to the United States for the victims of the violent actions in Libya that targeted the American consulate in Benghazi,” reported the Saudi Press Agency. “The kingdom also denounces the irresponsible group that produced the film.”

“I was extremely angered, or rather disgusted, by excerpts from the film. I didn’t think that insolence could push anyone on the face of this earth to be so abusive of God’s messenger and my beloved Prophet Mohamed (PBUH),” wrote Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Al-Hayat daily.

“Nevertheless, I won’t join or support calls for any uncontrolled protests, let alone an attack on an American embassy. On the contrary, because of my fervent commitment to the beloved messenger of Allah and his teachings, I urge all assailants of the foreign embassies and those behind them to be severely punished. We Muslims must have the courage to condemn our people’s crimes before condemning the crimes of our enemies.”

Professor Abdallah Al-Shayji, chair of the political science department at Kuwait University, called for a global ban on attacks on all religions. “The US would do itself, the Muslims and the relationship between the West and Islam a big favour if it addressed the real causes for discontent and grievances among Arabs and Muslims, in order to avoid a real clash of civilisations. The US should be as vocal, resolute and vehement about criminalising those who defame and denigrate faiths and religions, as it is about anti-Semitic expressions,” he wrote in Gulf News.

But many of those interviewed admitted that a ban on blasphemous attacks would be, if not impossible, then very hard to implement and probably not effective.

“A call for a global ban on attacks on Islam is unnecessary,” said Hasnaa Al-Mokhtar, a Saudi journalist. “There is nothing new here. The man who carried the burden of the message was fought, attacked, ridiculed, tortured and went through severe hardships 1,433 years ago. Islamic history is rich with incidents that highlight one major fact: no matter how oppressive or offensive any given situation is, Islam always stands for tolerance and peace.”

“This is an old call made by the mufti and the king four years ago,” said Khashoggi in an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly. “The king called for a ban on all blasphemous attacks against all religions and not just Islam. But it is very difficult to pass such laws in Europe. It is a philosophical question. Most Muslims did not grow up in democracies and don’t know how to interpret freedom of expression.”

He added that he had searched online for videos criticising Jesus Christ and had found plenty of material.

Saudi commentator Abeer Mishkhas agreed, saying “it’s not possible. You can’t stop everyone from criticising religion. The people in the Gulf region have to accept and understand that the rest of the world is going to criticise us. Protesting is fine as long as it is peaceful. You shouldn’t set buildings on fire, killing diplomats, and then wonder why they call us terrorists.”

Khashoggi believes that Muslim leaders must come out and calm down their populations. “The Tunisian leader came out and explained that the US could not ban the film. President Mursi and our other leaders should come out and say the same thing, even at the risk of being criticised by more extremist elements of being puppets of the US government.”

In his Al-Hayat column, Khashoggi went further and accused Arab leaders of cosying up to extremist elements in the hope of gaining their votes or avoiding their wrath.

Both Mishkhas and Mokhtar believe that the best way to counteract such anti-Islamic films is to launch films and public-relation campaigns that explain and defend Islam and its believers.

“Just try to have a PR campaign,” said Mishkhas. “Israel hired a PR company after the Gaza invasion of 2008-2009, and it got much good publicity out of it. This is what we should be doing.”

“Muslims need to strive to become better human beings morally, ethically, socially, culturally and politically, and fight their egos,” said Mokhtar.

“They need to lead by example. Chaos doesn’t bring about change. A united, productive and intelligent Muslim nation can definitely spread a more positive image of Islam in the world. In this time of social and digital media we need to educate people and raise awareness about the true essence of Islam.”

“One online campaign called ‘Inspired by Mohamed’ (www.inspiredbymuhammad.com) is a brilliant example of a fun website designed to improve the public’s understanding of Islam and Muslims.”

The dark side of the UAE

Activist and blogger Ahmed Abdul Khaleq was deported to Thailand by UAE authorities. (Reuters photo)

This is a translation of my column that appeared in O Globo on 10/08/2012:

Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

Most of the time in Brazil when I tell someone that I have lived in the Middle East for a long time, I almost always get the same reaction: “Oh, do you know Dubai? My dream is to visit this city!”

I am astonished at the enthusiasm with a city that only 25 years ago had only one skyscraper and was famous for its traditional boats called “dhows”. But Dubai, one of seven emirates comprising the UAE, without the huge amounts of oil of its neighbor Abu Dhabi, which is the federal capital, had to become a center of commerce and international entrepreneurship to survive.

Today, the city has the world’s tallest building, the Burj al-Khalifa tower, huge shopping malls with all the luxury brands, and an airline, Emirates, which was deservedly voted several times the best and most efficient airline in the world.

In the Arab world, Dubai has been a magnet for many professionals overwhelmed by social and religious restrictions in their home countries, attracted by the relative freedom to live their lives there as they see fit.

Dubai does not have the notorious religious police of Saudi Arabia to push the faithful to pray in mosques five times a day, or to check the papers of couples dining in restaurants to make sure that they are married to each other. In addition there is easy access to alcoholic beverages in bars and nightclubs for those who like to drink — something forbidden in Saudi Arabia.

But it is the issue of the lack of political participation of Emiratis where it gets ugly. The country is a federation of absolute monarchies. They decide amongst themselves who will be president and vice president of the country every five years. There is a legislature, the Federal National Council, with only 40 members from all the emirates, half appointed and half elected by a small group of only 130,000 voters of both sexes.

Until 2006, only 1,600 citizens could vote. Only 13 percent of the population of the UAE, of a total of just over eight million, are Emiratis. The rest are expatriates from other Arab countries, Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas, there to work in the country. In contrast, in neighboring Saudi Arabia, municipal elections have been held nationwide since 2005, open to all adult Saudi men, without restriction. And last year, King Abdullah announced that Saudi women would be entitled to vote in upcoming municipal elections in 2015. For sure, Saudis do not have much political power, but at least there is no discrimination in deciding who will be eligible to vote.

These facts and the recent uprisings in several Arab countries have had a resonance in the few political activists in the UAE, who have asked their government for a greater voice in the future direction of the country. The demands, for a parliament with greater powers and the right of every Emirati citizen to be able to vote in elections, were not well received.

Since March of this year, 50 activists were arrested, with 35 of these in July alone. The authorities accused them, many of whom are Islamists, of trying to form a group abroad to overthrow the government of the UAE.

And we had the bizarre spectacle of the police chief of Dubai, Dahi Khalfan, get into a recent spat on Twitter with Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi — an Egyptian religious leader who has lived in exile for years in Qatar, for being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood — about how he would never let supporters of the Brotherhood in the UAE achieve power or allowed space to grow.

The fate of the activist and blogger Ahmed Abdul Khaleq, who was born in the UAE and lived there all his life, but who is part of the “bidun” community  — or those who have no Emirati citizenship — is one of the saddest. On July 16, he was deported to Bangkok, Thailand, using a passport of the Comoros Islands. “I never before traveled outside the country in my life,” said the 35-year-old activist to the British newspaper “The Independent”. “I do not know anyone there, I’ll be a stranger in Thailand.” The family scraped together some money so he would not starve.

The human rights groups, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have asked the UAE government to release all the political detainees.

The reality is that Islamists have been the most active within the democratic movement, both in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The reason is simple, because in the name of the religion, they have had more freedom to organize themselves into study and discussion groups. And, more importantly, they have been the most willing to confront the conservative monarchies to ask them to share more power.

The UAE, understandably, wants to safeguard its economic and social progress, however, arresting activists — who never asked to overthrow the current government — is not the way to do it. Giving all citizens the right to vote in elections, expanding the Parliament and giving it real powers, would all go a long way to satisfy the thirst of the people to having a real say in their future.

The ruler of Sharjah has promised that the prisoners will not be mistreated, and said that a good surprise awaits activists during Eid, the celebration marking the end of Ramadan, when the president usually pardons prisoners. Hopefully it will happen.

The cold war between the US and Iran just warmed up

Here is a translation of my column that appeared in Portuguese on January 13, 2012, in O Globo newspaper of Brazil:

RASHEED ABOU-ALSAMH

The announcement by Iran earlier this month that it could close the Strait of Hormuz, was an aggressive reaction to the new US law signed by President Barack Obama on the last day of December, which says the US may impose sanctions on any country in the world having financial dealings with the Iranian Central Bank.

Soon after the EU announced it would impose sanctions on Iranian oil imports to the continent. Both actions were seen in Tehran as a declaration of economic war against the Islamic Republic. A few days earlier, just before Christmas, the United States announced the sale of a package of F-16 fighter planes to Saudi Arabia and other weapons worth a fantastical $30 billion, part of a wider arms sale of $60 billion to the kingdom.

That was not by chance. For decades now a permanent Cold War of containment between the US and Iran has been taking place in the Persian Gulf and the greater Middle East with the Gulf Arab countries always in the forefront of this battle.

The conflict between the West, the Sunni Arab kingdoms of the Gulf, and Iran has been ongoing for 33 years, ever since the Islamic revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini toppled the pro-American dictatorship of Shah Reza Pahlavi in 1979. Since the beginning of the rule of the ayatollahs, Iran has tried to export its Islamic revolution to the rest of the Middle East. This led Iranian pilgrims to hold annual anti-American and anti-Israeli demonstrations during the Haj in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, beginning in 1981. They culminated in a deadly confrontation with Saudi security forces in 1987, which left 400 pilgrims dead and thousands wounded. After this tragedy, Saudi Arabia broke diplomatic relations with Iran for several years, and relations have been rocky ever since.

Iranians have always had a predilection of wanting to help their co-religionists and the weak in the Middle East, leading Iran to support economically, diplomatically and morally the Shiite Hezbollah movement in Lebanon, and even the Sunni Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip. But this has led to a frontal collision with American and Saudi interests in the region.

The Iranian nuclear program, which was started in the 1950s by the Shah with American aid, and resumed in the 1980s by the ayatollahs, which even received technical assistance from Argentina, is the pivot of the latest confrontation between Iran and the West. The US, France, Britain and Germany have accused Iran of developing nuclear energy to make atomic bombs, a charge Tehran vehemently denies.

The reality is that Iran needs nuclear power to produce electricity to meet the needs of its nearly 74 million citizens. Even the UAE and Saudi Arabia announced last year the beginning of civilian nuclear energy programs worth billions of dollars with support from the US and South Korean and French companies. All these countries are embarking on the wave of nuclear power to release valuable oil reserves, now used to generate electricity for their people at subsidized prices, for export.

Although Iran is a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta admitted in an interview with CBS television this month that the Iranians are not trying to develop a nuclear weapon, but a nuclear capability, the beaters of the drums of war, unfortunately, seem to have the advantage for now in Washington.

It is ironic that a Democratic president, Obama, has been far more belligerent towards the Iranians than the Republican President George W. Bush was. But the problem here is that the US is sending mixed signals, claiming that it wants a dialogue with the regime of Mahmoud Ahmajinedad, while threatening Iran with a possible attack on its nuclear facilities if it does not stop trying, allegedly, to develop a nuclear weapon.

Observers in the region have said they do not think Iran will block the Strait of Hormuz, as they would be the biggest losers, given that their biggest buyers of oil are India and China. In any event, the UAE are almost ready with their pipeline that bypasses the Strait of Hormuz and, when ready in June, will carry oil from Abu Dhabi directly to the Gulf of Oman. Saudi Arabia has a ready network of pipelines that could carry crude oil to the Eastern Province ports on its western Red Sea coast.

The West along with Israel, which has felt threatened by Iran ever since Ahmajinedad said some years ago that he wanted to push the Jewish state into the sea, are undertaking a subversive war against the Iranian nuclear program with a series of murders of Iranian nuclear scientists, the latest this Wednesday, and the introduction of viruses to sabotage Iranian computers.

Everyone knows how disastrous to the whole world a war between Iran and the West would be, but still there are many in the US government who want to bet on tightening sanctions on Iran so strongly that it would lead to regime change in Tehran. But Iran has survived more than 30 years of economic sanctions and a bloody eight-year war with Iraq. The Iranian people see their nuclear program with nationalist pride, so any attack on Iran would strengthen popular support for the regime.

What the world needs urgently is the intervention of regional powers like Brazil and Turkey in order to defuse the tension between the West and Iran, which if ignored will possibly lead to a disastrous and totally avoidable war.

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