Friday 24 April 2009

June elections—runners and riders

The AFP reports:

Some 587 candidates have thrown their hats into the ring for the June parliamentary election.

Three Armenians have already been selected unopposed in seats in Beirut and the Christian stronghold of Metn east of the capital after rival candidates withdrew, Interior Minister Ziad Baroud said at a press conference.

This gives two seats to the opposition, led by the Shiite militant group Hezbollah and one seat for the current Sunni-led ruling majority, ahead of the June elections.

Candidates can still withdraw before June 7 but their registration fee will not be reimbursed.

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Meanwhile the New York Times is pushing the idea that the elections are nor legitimate as most votes will be bought. I get the feeling that despite being accurate, this story is overblown as the pro-Israeli newspaper is worried about the outcome, and so wants to begin muddying the waters.

Here's the report:

Votes are being bought with cash or in-kind services. Candidates pay their competitors huge sums to withdraw. The price of favorable TV news coverage is rising, and thousands of expatriate Lebanese are being flown home, free, to vote in contested districts.

The payments, according to voters, election monitors and various past and current candidates interviewed for this article, nurture a deep popular cynicism about politics in Lebanon, which is nominally perhaps the most democratic Arab state but in practice is largely governed through patronage and sectarian and clan loyalty.

Despite the vast amounts being spent, many Lebanese see the race — which pits Hezbollah and its allies against a fractious coalition of more West-friendly political groups — as almost irrelevant.

Lebanon’s sectarian political structure virtually guarantees a continuation of the current “national unity” government, in which the winning coalition in the 128-seat Parliament grants the loser veto powers to preserve civil peace.

Still, even a narrow win by Hezbollah and its allies, now in the parliamentary opposition, would be seen as a victory for Iran — which has financed Hezbollah for decades — and a blow to American allies in the region, especially Saudi Arabia and Egypt. So the money flows.

“We are putting a lot into this,” said one adviser to the Saudi government, who added that the Saudi contribution was likely to reach hundreds of millions of dollars in a country of only four million people. “We’re supporting candidates running against Hezbollah, and we’re going to make Iran feel the pressure.”

Wednesday 22 April 2009

Mobile free-for-all

This from Wireless News:

Alfa, the mobile operator, announced that it is keeping on strengthening its network in all Lebanon by installing 16 new transmissions Stations. Including two transmission stations in Tripoli, and a transmitter each for Batroun, Achrafieh, Tal Zaatar, New Rawda, Soujoud (Jezzine Caza), Tamich and Shyah (Karout Mall).

Alfa is the brand name of one of the two state mobile networks. Alfa is managed by Orascom Telecom Holding (OTH) starting February 1, 2009. Orascom is an international telecommunications company operating GSM networks in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, having a total population under license of approximately 453 million with an average mobile telephony penetration of approximately 46 percent.

Orascom Telecom operates GSM networks in Algeria (”OTA”), Pakistan (”Mobilink”), Egypt (”Mobinil”), Tunisia (”Tunisiana”), Bangladesh (”banglalink”), Zimbabwe (”Telecel Zimbabwe”), and North Korea (”Koryolink”).

Through its subsidiary Telecel Globe, OTH also operates in Burundi, the Central African Republic and Namibia. Orascom Telecom had over 79 million subscribers as of September 30th, 2008.

Orascom Telecom is traded on the Cairo & Alexandria Stock Exchange under the symbol (ORTE.CA, ORAT EY), and on the London Stock Exchange its GDR is traded under the symbol (ORTEq.L, OTLD LI).

* * *

But according to India's Economic Times:

Telecom companies Bharti Airtel, Reliance Communications, BSNL and MTNL are looking to bid for licences and buy telecom companies in Syria and Lebanon.

Last week, the Syrian government announced that it would soon put up the country’s third mobile licence for auction. Besides, it also wants to privatise state-owned Syria Tel Mobile Telecom.

Similarly, Lebanon has two state-owned mobile companies and its government has announced that it wants to privatise both the companies.

* * *

While Reuters reports that:

Emirates Telecommunications Corp ETEL.AD (Etisalat) posted on Monday a 4 percent rise in first-quarter net profit and said it was interested in bidding for telephone licences in Syria and Lebanon.

Etisalat said in a statement it was on the lookout for investment opportunities and seeking to grow in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

"Etisalat is working through a conservative policy to search for investment opportunities that might emerge as a result of the global crisis," said Chairman Mohammed Omran.

"We will continue to observe and study various markets in the Middle East, Asia and Africa since they are high density."

"Etisalat has a great interest in competing for the licences available in Syria and Lebanon once they are officially put to bid."

Code Pink on Iran

This from Haaretz... be warned:

Israel is stepping up its public relations effort to discredit Iran within the international community, and part of its new campaign focuses on Tehran's abuse of human rights and sponsorship of terrorism.

"We have to lay the foundation in the world, and particularly in Europe, in order to be able to take harsher steps against Iran, especially in the economic sector," said one senior political source in Jerusalem.

The new campaign, to be overseen by the Foreign Ministry, aims to appeal to people who are less concerned with Iran's nuclear aspirations and more fearful of its human rights abuses and mistreatment of minorities, including the gay and lesbian community.

The campaign plans to recruit the international gay community, which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed in 2007 when he said there were no homosexuals living in his country.

The campaign will also reach out to Jewish groups who want to bring more attention to Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial and some members of the Iranian regime's anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist views.

About NIS 8 million have already been budgeted for the new campaign, which also includes increased briefings for foreign journalists on the Iranian nuclear program and greater use of the Internet and sites such as YouTube.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman want to broaden the PR campaign on the subject of Iran in the wake of increasing international willingness to negotiate with Tehran over its nuclear program.

One political source said there appear to be greater expectations in the U.S. and in Europe that diplomacy will solve the nuclear dispute.

However, the assumption in Israel is that dialogue will not lead to fundamental change in Tehran's stance and that the regime will not relinquish its nuclear aspirations, even in exchange for an incentives package from the international community.

The senior political source in Jerusalem said it is necessary to lay the groundwork now for the possible diplomatic failure.

Despite talk of a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, the current campaign focuses more on harsh economic sanctions against Tehran.