Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Dat darn cat again

Here is the cat I was telling you about a few posts ago, Yuki. Watch out, beneath the cute exterior is a being of deceptive EVIL (like all cats).

See, I told you, it's all fun and games and suddenly the contract comes out. Never sign anything a cat gives you!

My friend doesn't believe me ... he's probably already lost.

Vacation time

I'm leaving this weekend on my next trip. My friend David is finally tying the knot so I'm off to the wedding...

... in Paris!!

Yep, I will be spending nearly a week in Paris to help out for a couple of days, attend the wedding, then wander around Paris for a bit.
It should be a blast, everyone is staying at a hotel outside of Paris, the Chateau de Villiers, which looks really nice seeing as how it was an aristrocat's home from whatever century. The wedding is being held in an Orthodox cathedral near the Arc de Triomphe. I have never been to an Orthodox wedding ceremony so it should be interesting. I wonder if the priest has one of those big long beards.

I will post more on my return.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Health update

Sorry for not posting much recently. Had a flareup of my repetitive strain injury recently so I have been laying off the computer. Bloody annoying. Not sure exactly why it happened, guess I just have to be little more careful.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Borders - part 2

Okay so I spoke to my Qatari friends about the border dispute, but in the meantime an anonymous commenter also left a lengthy discussion of the issue. Rather than have everyone click on the comment I will just copy what he said here:

Per Wiki, the treaty has never been ratified by the UAE

Also: http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/templateC05.php?CID=2431

Historical Background

The origins of the tension go back two centuries to when the al-Nahyans of Abu Dhabi (now the rulers of the lead emirate of the UAE) and the al-Sauds, now the rulers of Saudi Arabia, were merely rival tribes. The al-Nahyan, then impoverished pearl-divers and herdsmen, accepted al-Saud dominance though they resisted the al-Saud's strict Wahhabi version of Islam. The focus of much of the rivalry was the Buraimi Oasis, a fertile jewel in an otherwise barren desert. Just over fifty years ago, Saudi forces seized the oasis, reportedly with the backing of U.S. oil companies that argued Riyadh had a territorial claim to it. When international arbitration failed, the Saudis were expelled forcibly by Abu Dhabi and Omani troops acting with British support.

In 1974, the newly formed UAE, led by Sheikh Zayed al-Nahyan of Abu Dhabi, agreed to a treaty in Riyadh with King Faisal of Saudi Arabia (the father of Prince Turki, now the Saudi ambassador to Washington; Faisal was assassinated the following year). Saudi Arabia was given a strip of coastline between the UAE and Qatar, and control over most of the discovered but then unexploited Shaybah Oil Field, along with 100 percent of its revenues. The Buraimi Oasis apparently was ceded to the UAE, where it is now known as Al Ain. "Apparently" is the operative word because a map published on the website of the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs shows Buraimi still to be in Saudi territory, along with several parts of neighboring Oman and Yemen (view the map). Indeed, this is the shape of Saudi Arabia represented in outline on the pages of Saudi passports.

Thanks for that Anonymous. I'm not sure about the wiki bit on ratifiction. I would find it odd that the treaty would not have been ratified yet still deposited with the United Nations. Why would the UN have an unratified treaty? Why has the UAE and Qatar abided by an unratified treaty for 35 years? (albeit possibly grudgingly)

One of my Qatari friends said that at the time Saudi was the big military power and other countries in the region ultimately did what they said. He thinks the Saudi army did move in and annexed the strip of land near Qatar, and that this occurred well before the treaty negotiations. He also thinks they controlled a segment of what is now the UAE (I think some land near the Strait of Hormuz?) and during the treaty negotiations gave the UAE the option to keep one or the other, with the UAE deciding to keep the land near the Strait. Saudi kept the segment in between Qatar and the UAE.

This story seems to agree somewhat with what is said about the Buraimi Oasis conflict.

Looks like I won't be seeing an easy drive between Qatar and the UAE any time soon. Saudi Arabia makes a reasonable amount of money charging fees to all vehicles crossing the border. Lose that strip of land and they would lose the revenue from any trucking traffic going between Qatar and the UAE, as well as the mineral/oil rights in that segment of the Gulf east of Qatar.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


One of the downsides of when I lived in Bermuda is that you were in this small island nation and there was nowhere else to go. There were no other nearby islands or pieces of land so if you wanted to get away you had to fly somewhere. There was nowhere to drive except for the ~50 sq km that made up Bermuda so it was not long before you saw pretty much all of it.

Now Qatar is much bigger than Bermuda, I think ~11,000 sq km, but it borders only one other country -- Saudi Arabia. The United Arab Emirates is close to Qatar but there is about 25 km of Saudi Arabia in between the UAE and Qatar. So for me to drive to the UAE I would have to cross the border into Saudi Arabia, then cross the border from Saudi Arabia to the UAE. Needless to say Saudi Arabia is not a huge tourist destination which loves having foreign visitors drive-through for a couple of hours. To be allowed to drive through to the UAE I would need to get a visa from the Saudi embassy allowing me to drive on that small stretch of road to the UAE border. I am not saying that is impossible, many people have obtained the Visa and drove to the UAE and vice versa. It is just not a simple procedure so for most of us non-Gulf Arabs it is much easier to just fly to the UAE, Bahrain or wherever. Maybe one day I will get the Visa just to say that I have been to Saudi Arabia but until then Qatar is essentially an island much like Bermuda.

Now I always wondered why Saudi Arabia had this small stretch of land between Qatar and the UAE. I know that it was not always the case. You can occasionally find maps showing Qatar and the UAE having a connecting border, and I believe the map you see on Qatar Airways flights also shows the connected border. My understanding, but I do not recall where I got the story from, was that sometime in the 70s (Qatar and the UAE gained independence from Britain in 1971) Saudi Arabia just moved in with some troops or tanks or whatever and just took the land for their own. This seemed plausible to me as there were many border disputes between the Arab nations in the early days. It even made me speculate that it was one of the reasons why the US military base was conveniently placed near the road between the Saudi border and Doha, to discourage any further land grabs.

But yesterday I decided to do a bit of research to get more of the story. It appears that I may have an incorrect in my assumptions. Saudi Arabia and the UAE negotiated a treaty in 1974 giving Saudi Arabia that stretch of land. You can find a translation of the treaty here on this United Nations website.

Geez, you learn something new everyday. I guess that means that I will not be seeing an easier drive to the UAE any time soon.

Now there must be more to the story or else there would not be maps that still show the old border. Maybe Saudi took the land by force before 1974 and with its superior firepower "negotiated" the treaty? Maybe it is because Qatar was not part of the treaty negotiations and felt it should have a say in the matter? Maybe with the strip of land came some recently found oil reserves everyone now wants? I think I'll ask around and see what the Qataris know about it.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Them darn cats

While some friends are on vacation I have agreed to pop by every now and then to check on their cat. I'm not taking care of the cat, someone else is coming by everyday to feed the cat. No, my job is to play with the cat, to make sure it gets some petting and playtime every couple of days. Yep, I have play-dates with a cat.

Given that cats are known for keeping their own schedule I figured I would pop by the house and watch as a cat ignored me for an hour. But it looks like my friends knew what they were talking about, within minutes of me entering the house the cat came running down the stairs and jumped on my lap for petting. After that it happily stalked a ribbon I dragged around before settling back in my lap for more petting. Bizarre. Guess the poor thing was starved for attention after all. Maybe it helps that I'm mildly allergic to cats -- cats always know when people are allergic to them so go straight for them. A high school/college buddy of mine was really allergic to cats and it was just amazing how if there was a cat around we would know because it was usually attached to him. He was a cat magnet.

It is unfortunate but in Qatar there are so many stray cats. They are everywhere. I know so many people who have taken stray cats into their homes, and others who also capture them for spaying/neutering then releasing them back outside, but there are still stray cats everywhere. I think in my compound there are now six strays. Sometimes people adopt them (in the three years I've been here at least 11 strays have been rescued from my compound and put in homes), but within a few months more strays will have wandered in to replace them. It looks like 4-6 is the standard number of stray cats my compound can support.

I have some other theories about cats but I will save those for later. In the meantime I guess I will head to my friend's place and pet a cat for a while (she was a stray too).

H1N1 update

H1N1 cases in Qatar are now up to 23, but none are serious.

Friday, July 03, 2009

4th of July

In honour of American Independence Day, which is close to Canada Day, I figure I would give an analogy which might help non-North Americans with the difference in history between the two countries:

Father Britain had sons called America and Canada (though from different mothers, Canada's mother was France). America was the oldest one and grew up to be confident and rebellious while his younger brother Canada was the quieter more studious one, who almost always did what his father asked and didn't cause too much trouble. America started wearing leather jackets and smoking while Canada wore sweaters and liked helping his parents out in the yard.

As time went on America got more and more rebellious and kept getting into trouble because he wouldn't obey his father. One day they had a big fight on the front lawn which America won, bloodying the nose of his father, then he left home.

Canada stayed with his father and was shocked at what America had done. They even got into a brief tussle later on. But despite their differences the brothers had always been close and they quickly forgave one another. America continued his wild ways but didn't get Canada involved. It took a bit longer but eventually America also reconciled with his father, though America never returned home.

Eventually Canada grew older and he and his father agreed that it was time he left home and be independent. Canada left his father and set up his own home (but continued to ask his father for help every now and then and had his father over often for dinner). Canada remained close to his brother America and even assisted running some of his businesses, but never had the popularity of his brother. While they may look similar because they are brothers it surprised people who knew them how different they are from one another. Countries found Canada perhaps a little cold and distant, even a tad boring, but he was always polite and generally liked, kind of like a young Mr Rogers. America was tougher, wealthier, popular, and more exciting, like James Dean. Canada rarely got into fights while America was always getting into scraps with someone or another. (Canada may not have realised it but other countries knew that even though Canada was kinda nerdy if you messed with him America would come to his rescue, which is what kept that bully Soviet and his gang from hassling Canada too much.)

Today the brothers' friendship continues to be strong despite their ideological differences. America sometimes tries to get Canada out into the action, while Canada occasionally scolds America for not being nicer to others, like his friend Cuba down the road, but those are little more then jabs that brothers do to one another. Countries are nice to Canada but don't pay him much attention, while everyone pays attention to America even though many don't like him that much.

They will always remain close but will never entirely see eye-to-eye.

Happy 4th of July America.