Image for post
Image for post
The headline from LGBTQ Nation

News that an international conference on “Gender Identity and LGBT Rights” is to take place in the United Arab Emirates is causing a stir in the gay media.

The idea of holding a conference on LGBT rights in the Emirates is not only surprising but potentially significant. It would be the first of its kind and, as Pink News and LGBTQ Nation point out, gay sex in the UAE is a crime punishable by imprisonment.

The conference is due to be held on May 6–7 and LGBTQ Nation reports that the emirate of Dubai will be its “host”. However, it’s doubtful whether the authorities in Dubai are even aware that the conference is taking place there, let alone hosting it. …

Image for post
Image for post
New Covid-19 infections recorded in the Middle East and North Africa, 1 March–31 December 2020. Daily average, week by week

New Covid-19 infections in the Middle East and North Africa averaged just under 28,000 a day during December, bringing the total since the pandemic began to almost five million, according to official figures.

Across the region as a whole, this represents a modest fall in new cases compared with November, which was the worst month so far.

The list below shows the daily average of new cases reported during December by each of the 20 countries monitored:

Image for post
Image for post
Crowds scurrying for cover moments after the first explosion at Aden airport

The attack on Aden airport in war-torn Yemen which killed at least 25 people and injured more than 100 on Wednesday appears to have had a political purpose rather than a military one.

Crowds had gathered to welcome a plane carrying ministers in one of the country’s two rival governments. Minutes after the aircraft landed blasts were heard — one of which struck the terminal building. A number of waiting passengers were among the dead, including two staff of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

While this was by no means the most lethal or destructive attack in Yemen’s six-year civil war, the political context makes it significant. …

Image for post
Image for post
Billionaire Mohammed Aboud al-Amoudi receiving his certificate

The American University of London is no ordinary university. Instead of having a campus it has a mailbox at a shop in the Old Brompton Road. And it once offered to sell a degree in business administration to a dog for £4,500.

Though operating from the UK, the American University of London (AUOL) is not recognised by the British authorities and lacks proper accreditation. It’s widely regarded as a degree mill.

Degree mills make their money by providing worthless certificates for the vain and the gullible. …

Image for post
Image for post
Dozens of students received worthless degrees at “graduation” ceremonies in Kuwait

Following the discovery that a Kuwaiti government minister who uses the title “Doctor” had got his PhD from a bogus university, more dodgy degrees among the Gulf state’s citizens have come to light.

Videos posted on YouTube show “graduation” ceremonies in Kuwait where dozens of people received certificates issued by the so-called American University of London (AUOL).

Fraudulent qualifications are a growing problem in the Middle East. For some they offer a short cut to a well-paid job while for others they are a way of acquiring social status.

Kuwait has been cracking down on the sale of forged certificates but forgery is only one part of the problem. There are also countless unrecognised “universities” — often consisting of little more than an office and a website — which purport to offer real degrees. Many of them operate from western countries but make a point of seeking out students in the Middle East. …

Image for post
Image for post
Biographical notes show Kuwaiti minister’s doctorate came from an unrecognised university

A cabinet reshuffle in Kuwait last week saw the appointment of Dr Abdullah Abdul-Samad Marafie as minister in charge of housing. Biographical notes circulated by the government show he has a PhD in management and finance from the American University in London.

Marafie has several other academic qualifications but the PhD from London is what allows him to use the honorific title “Doctor”. Or does it?

Unfortunately, degrees from the American University in London are basically worthless. It may sound like a normal university but despite the name its certificates are not officially recognised either in America or in Britain.

Shortly before Marafie obtained his doctorate this so-called university had been prosecuted and fined for deceiving prospective students about its academic status. …

Image for post
Image for post
New Covid-19 cases in the Middle East and North Africa since March 1. Seven-day rolling average, day by day.

A million new cases of Covid-19 were recorded in the Middle East and North Africa during November, bringing the region’s total since the pandemic began to more than four million. To put it another way, a quarter of all known Covid-19 infections in the region have occurred during the past month.

Among the 20 countries monitored, Iran recorded the largest number of new infections during November, followed by Jordan and Morocco.

At the other end of the scale, Syria, Sudan and Yemen reported very low numbers but the official figures from those countries are widely regarded as unreliable.

The list below shows the daily average of new Covid-19 infections reported by each country during…

Image for post
Image for post

Towards the end of each month the director-general of the OPCW issues a report headed “Progress in the elimination of the Syrian chemical weapons programme”. There have been 86 of these reports over the last seven years but what they reveal is not so much progress as a lack of it.

More than 20 meetings with Syria officials have failed to resolve all the unanswered questions and this week the chemical weapons watchdog’s governing body, the Conference of the States Parties, will be discussing what to do about it.

Syria officially renounced chemical weapons in 2013 following a nerve agent attack in Ghouta which was widely blamed on the Assad regime. In the face of an international outcry it signed up to the Chemical Weapons Convention and was thus required to declare all its stocks and related production facilities — which were then to be destroyed or dismantled under the OPCW’s supervision. …

When the 193 countries that are parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention hold their annual meeting next week they will face a tricky question regarding one of the members.

The general assumption of the Convention is that if countries are willing to sign up to it they are also likely to comply with its provisions — so there is no real enforcement mechanism.

Syria, though, has never been a particularly willing participant. It held off joining the Convention until 2013 and did so then under international pressure after carrying out a nerve agent attack that killed hundreds.

On joining the convention Syria formally committed itself to chemical disarmament. It was required to declare all its stocks and related production facilities, which would then be destroyed or dismantled under the supervision of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). …

The coronavirus pandemic is about to enter a new phase as vaccines become available. Countries in the Middle East are making preparations and here is a round-up of what they are doing.

Some — mostly the wealthier ones — have struck deals with major pharmaceutical companies, often for more than one type of vaccine. Others are relying on the international Covax initiative and some are making use of both methods.

Covax aims to provide “equitable access to safe and effective vaccines” worldwide and is part of the ACT-Accelerator programme. Covax is of particular interest to low-and-middle-income countries which are eligible to receive vaccines at a reduced cost. …


Brian Whitaker

Former Middle East editor of the Guardian. Website: Author of 'Arabs Without God'.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store