Tourist arrivals show decline of 7.6 percent in January 2013

Tourist arrivals for January 2013 were down by 7.6 percent compared to the same month in 2012, figures from the Ministry of Tourism have revealed.

Earlier this month, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb told local media he was confident the Maldives would reach one million tourist arrivals in 2013, after narrowly falling short of the same target for 2012.

However, figures released by the ministry show that tourist arrivals from Europe and Asia – the two largest markets – had fallen by 4.4 percent and 16.8 percent respectively in January 2013 when compared to the same month in 2012.

According to figures from the tourism ministry, last month was the first time in three years there had been a decline in tourists coming to the Maldives in January when compared to figures from previous years for the same month.

The monthly number of Chinese tourists arriving in the Maldives fell for the first time in over six months compared to figures from previous years.

China, which holds the largest share of the arrivals to the Maldives at 21.6 percent, fell by 31.4 percent from 28,008 in January 2012 to 19,208 in January 2013.

The European market continues its steady decline, with Italy – which held the largest share of tourist arrivals in Europe in January 2012 – falling by 32.5 percent from 10,451 to 7,050 in January 2013.

Russia now holds the largest share of tourists for all countries classified under ‘Europe’ by the ministry, accounting for 10.2 percent of all arrivals in January 2013 at 9,061.

Arrivals from United Kingdom fell from 7,001 in January 2012 to 6,367 in January 2013, while German arrivals – which account for the third largest share of the European arrival market – fell by eight percent when compared to the same month in 2012.

In contrast, India’s tourist arrivals grew by 51.2 percent from 2,303 to 3,483 and arrivals from countries in the Middle East increased from 1,303 to 2,312.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb was not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

Tourism budget increased by MVR 60 million

Earlier this month, the tourism budget for 2013 was increased from MVR 20 million (US$1.2 million) to MVR 80 million (US$5.1 million).

The increase came after criticism from the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI), who last month called for the government to reconsider the MVR 20 million budget allocated for tourism marketing in 2013.

The initial sum of money allocated was the lowest in eight years, according to a statement from MATI, which highlighted concerns that the Maldives’ economy was mostly reliant on tourism.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb told local media that the ministry had initially requested a budget of MVR 200 million (US$12.9 million) to carry out tourism promotion for the year, however parliament had “erased a zero” from the figure when finalising the budget.

Adheeb noted that while tourism promotion is expensive, the revenue generated from the industry “drives the entire engine”.

“When we put down MVR 200 million, the government authorities don’t actually realise the priority that this requires. Parliament erased a zero from the MVR 200 million we proposed, and gave us MVR 20 million,” he told Sun Online.

“Then we had to work in all other different ways, and now the Finance Minister has committed to give us MVR 60 million more.”


Maldives to intensify Asian and Middle East tourism promotion: TTG Asia

The Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) is set to step up marketing efforts across Asia and the Middle East to try and capitalise on recent arrival numbers from similar emerging markets.

Travel news publication TTG Asia has reported that tourism authorities are pushing ahead with road-show events in Singapore and South Korea next month, after a similar strategy was held last month in a number of Chinese cities.

The report added that familiarisation tours for journalists based in a number of middle eastern markets like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait and Lebanon were also being conducted.

TTG Asia claimed that the strategy was designed to capitalise on improving visitor numbers to the Maldives during April from markets like China amidst declining custom from countries like Italy.


Middle East arrivals up 77.8 percent in first quarter 2012

The Maldives has registered a 77.8 percent increase in tourist arrivals from the Middle East region in the first quarter of 2012 compared to the same period last year, while some traditional markets have shown signs of recovery.

The quarterly report from the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) speculated that the Middle Eastern increase came following the opening of several hotel chains from the region.

“In particular it is important to note the exceptional growth from the Saudi Arabian market,” the report noted.

Arrivals from Germany increased 20.4 percent on the back of improved economic conditions and increased flight frequency, while Switzerland increased 24.5 percent – largely due to the availability of direct flights from Zurich.

However several of the country’s other high-volume markets registered substantial decreases. Arrivals from the UK – the Maldives’ second largest market – fell 12 percent, while Italy and France also recorded a decrease. Small increases in arrivals from Denmark and Norway were offset by declines in arrivals from Finland and Sweden..

Growth slowed in Chinese arrivals, which last year eclipsed the UK as the country’s largest market by volume, with a 16.4 percent increase on the back of cancelled charter flights due to the country’s ongoing political turmoil. Tour operators suggested growth would return in June-July, the MMPRC noted.

Russian arrivals, 19,919 of whom accounted for 7.8 percent of the country’s market share, increased 19.7 percent: “Eastern European region remains the most important emerging market for Maldives,” the report noted.

The MMPRC identified South Africa, India and the USA as potential new opportunities for Maldives tourism, but noted the need for improved flight connections. Growth in the Indian market was hampered by the lack of air connections and the financial difficulties of Indian airline operators.

“Much interest has been generated amongst the Americans with the emerging trend in live aboard cruises in the Maldives,” the MMPRC observed.

Arrivals from selected markets and growth in first quarter 2012 on 2011:

Germany 26,355, +20.4% (10.3 percent market share)
Switzerland 11,803, +24.5%
China 46,662, +16.4%
Russia 9,919, +19.7% (7.8 percent market share)
South Korea 4329, +21.7%
France 25,195, -1.3% (9.8 percent market share)
UK 24,395, -12%
Italy 26,939, (10.5 percent market share)
Japan 8114, -5 percent
India 6179, -10.4 (2 percent market share)
Austria 7152, +11.4%
South Korea 4329, +21.7%
South East Asia (inc Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand) 4515, +12.1%
USA 3566, +6.6%)
Middle East 4344, +77.8% (1.7 percent market share)
Spain and Portugal 1828, -1.33%
South Africa 576, -21.2%
Northern Europe 4499, – 9.2% (Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden)
Israel 713, +61.7%
Turkey 1088, +20%


Palestine President visits Maldives: “Strong Palestine would enable Israel security,” Dr.Waheed

Palestine President Dr Mahmoud Abbas arrived in the Maldives Tuesday, marking the highest-level visit to the Maldives by an official from the Middle Eastern state for 28 years.

Former Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat had previously visited the Maldives in 1984.

The Maldives Foreign Ministry described the visit today as a “historic moment for Maldives-Palestine relations” and a “time for us to reaffirm the close brotherly bonds which bind our peoples together and to reassert our support for Palestinian statehood.”

As part of the visit, Abbas met with President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik this afternoon at the President’s Office.  Following official talks between the two leaders, a joint statement was given to the media in which Abbas expressed hope that the visit would “enhance the historic relations that already exist between our two countries and peoples”.

Whilst speaking on the current political situation in Palestine and in the Middle-East, Abbas noted that the “peace process in the Middle-East is facing many obstacles because of the Israeli rejection of its obligations according to the international law and quartet statements”.

“In spite of that we are confirming our dedication for negotiations as the best way to implement the two state solution – Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and prosperity according to Arab peace initiatives and quartet statements,” Abbas observed.

Meanwhile, briefing the media on discussions with the Palestinian delegation, President Waheed stated that he had “reassured President Abbas of our strong support for the peace process” and that the “Maldives endorses Palestine’s stand that direct peace talks with Israel can only be fruitful when Israel suspends the building of settlements in the West Bank.”

The president also added that Maldives would support Palestine’s application for membership of the United Nations and any other international organisations, while noting that Maldives has been a strong supporter of Palestine at the UN Human Rights Council and had utilised every opportunity at the Council to advocate the rights of the Palestinian people.

Even though there is broad support for these calls in Human Rights Council, Waheed stated that the “world has to realise that without a Palestinian State, there can never be Palestinian rights”.

“International recognition of the State of Palestine is no barrier to the continuation of the peace talks. Rather, it helps to bring a sense of equality to both sides in the negotiations,” Waheed continued.

“The security of Israel is equally important. It is also in the best interest of Israel to see the emergence of a viable and strong Palestine. Only a viable and strong Palestine would enable Israel to achieve its own security,” he contended.

“It is therefore profoundly important, and indeed, necessary that a strong and thriving Palestinian State is established on the lands occupied by Israel since 1967. An independent Palestinian state is necessary for achieving durable peace in the region. Most of all, it is necessary for healing the wounds of the past, and achieving reconciliation based on the principles of justice and equality. These are challenging yet attainable objectives. Given the President’s own extra-ordinary life story, I am confident that these objectives can be achieved under the President’s leadership,” Waheed noted.

The floor was closed for questions from reporters and President Abbas was immediately escorted to the jetty to leave for Kurumba Resort.  Upon arriving at the resort, the Palestinian leader met with Former President and Leader of the pro-government Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and Abduallah Shahid, Speaker of the Parliament.


Following the talks with Abbas, Maumoon told local media that Abbas had aired grievances over the Maldives absence in a vote taken in October 2011 to grant Palestine full membership to the the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

He claimed that Palestinian delegation had noted that Maldives did not vote in the UNESCO meeting and it was a “big shock” to Palestine and it had “deeply upset” them.  The former president noted: “I was very embarrassed to hear that. Maldives should not have done something like that. I told the [delegation] the Maldives did it [not vote] because of the government at the time was under overwhelming foreign influence. But in future, it will not be repeated.”

Minivan News asked whether Abbas had shared any concerns over the former Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) government’s ties with the Isreali government.

Whilst in power, the MDP were repeatedly criticised by the then-opposition claiming the government was conspiring with “Christian missionaries” and “Jews” to “wipe out Islam” from Maldives.  The former government has continued to deny the charges, adding that it held the same diplomatic and business relations with Israel that it has with countless other nations around the world.

The Maldives was amongst the nations that were openly critical of the Israeli military response in 2010 to a so-called “Freedom Flotilla” bound for Palestine that reportedly led to nine people being killed aboard the MV Mavi Marmara vessel during an assault in international waters. An estimated 60 activists and 10 Israeli soldiers were also injured in the scuffles that the Maldives’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned “in the strongest possible terms”.

However, Gayoom also said that he had been informed by the visiting Palestinian delegation that they do not want Maldives to establish ties with Isreal.

“They do not want Maldives to do something like that. Because Palestine is still a country which has not acheived its people’s rights and Isreal is the one blocking it. Therefore, the Palestinian government does not want at all for Maldivian government to foster relations with them [Isreal]. Neither do the Maldivians want that,” Gayoom further claimed.

The former president contended that Maldives had always shared good relations with Palestine apart from the last three years of Mohamed Nasheed’s rule, which he described as having “supported Isreal”.

However, Nasheed’s administration contended such claims were “slanderous allegations” and in a visit to Palestine last year, then Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem announced that the Maldives would work towards the establishment of a sovereign state of Palestine by garnering international support.

According to foreign ministry officials, discussions were held over the opening of a Palestinian Embassy in the Maldives, as well as the creation of a joint Ministerial Action Group to further develop multi-sectoral relationships betwen the two countries.

Abbas is scheduled to depart tomorrow afternoon following a State Luncheon hosted by Dr Waheed.


Comment: National University could become the engine of national growth and prosperity

One of the most promising aspects for the proponents of democratic change in the Middle East is that the ongoing Arab revolutions are largely being led by youth activists.

Unlike the stereotyped bearded conservatives and liberal communists, the current reform movements in the Arab nations have been fuelled and sustained by the region’s sizeable youth population; a study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reveals that 60 percent of the Middle East’s population is under the age of 30.

With a median age of just under 25 years, the Maldives also has a very young population that peaked right around the time the country achieved democracy.

Political scientists often tout these statistics as positive indications of a brighter future in these countries.

For a society to be stable, however, they contend that it is necessary to keep this young energy directed and focused on the onerous task of nation building.

One of the long awaited measures towards this end was achieved on the morning of February 15, 2011, when the Maldivian President inaugurated the country’s first National University.

In a country where the educational levels are abysmally low – only one out of five senior secondary students go on to pursue higher education – this comes as welcome news that could aim to reverse that dismal trend.

Traditionally, however, universities have been more than just institutions of learning.

In countries like Turkey, Egypt and Iran, universities have also been centres of intellectual and political activism and indeed, factories of social change.

Student unions in Eastern Europe were the focal points around which the various colour revolutions would coalesce and result in the fall of deep rooted communist regimes.

Universities have also been a hotbed of political activism in Iran, where student bodies participated in the ‘Islamic Revolution’ that dethroned the Shah and installed the Ayatollah in power. Decades later, it was once again university students that would form the core of the ‘Green Movement’, which has in recent years taken to the streets demanding democratic reform.

In the United States, a country with one of the most deeply entrenched university cultures, there has been an interesting historical trend of political ideology and beliefs on university campuses exhibiting marked departures from mainstream public views. Thus, universities have been the flashpoints of major anti-war rallies and liberal activism.

At various points of history, governments have tried to exercise control over universities and dictate the course of their youthful idealism.

One famous example is that of Nazi Germany, where the state apparatus removed books by Jewish authors, communists and other critics from the universities libraries, and burnt them in public squares.

Intellectuals, including the celebrated scientist Albert Einstein, were expelled from universities under German Law, and the Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels famously proclaimed in 1933, “Jewish intellectualism is dead”.

However, history records that Einstein would move to the United States, publish over 300 scientific papers, and spur the top secret Manhattan Project that would soon make America the world’s first nuclear nation.

A little over a decade after Goebbels’ proclamation, the book burning Nazi Germany would face an ignominious defeat, and Einstein’s adopted home would reign for decades as the world’s leading scientific, economic and political superpower.

The temptation to assert ideological control over universities has also seen unpleasant consequences in other countries like Egypt and China.

It is heartening, therefore, to see even conservative politicians like former State Minister of Islamic Affairs, Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, propose that the Maldives National University should offer courses in comparative religious studies and theology – ie, study of religions other than Islam.

The traditionally isolated Maldivian has at many points struggled to deal with foreign ideas, often resulting in potentially xenophobic tendencies.

In November 2008, owners of a local water bottling plant were forced to issue a statement following controversy over the discovery of a ‘cross shape’ on the caps of the water bottles. The culprit turned out to be a faulty machine part that could not be repaired locally. Nevertheless, the company had to sand-paper the offending shape into something less controversial.

In September 2010, an Indian teacher in Foakaidhoo, Shaviyani Atoll, was reportedly tied up and forced off an island after “devout Muslim” parents mistook a compass design drawn on a blackboard for a crucifix.

Courses like Comparative Religious studies could indeed introduce diversity of thought and foster greater mainstream public enlightenment about other belief systems and cultures, which in turn would undoubtedly have a lasting effect on broader concepts of social tolerance.

One must also note the role of universities in revolutionising technology and lifestyles.

From ground breaking medical research to increasing our understanding of life and the cosmos, the thousands of academic papers published annually in leading universities have made invaluable contributions.

Innovative multi-billion dollar corporations like Google, Yahoo and Sun Microsystems have emerged from the laboratories of Stanford University, while Columbia University alone has produced nearly a hundred Nobel Laureates.

Dozens of world leaders from Margaret Thatcher to Indira Gandhi, have emerged from Oxford University, whereas Cambridge University has given the world Isaac Newton, Neils Bohr and Stephen Hawking. The first computer was invented within its walls, as was the revolutionary double helical model of DNA.

Student athletes trained in University gymnasiums have racked up scores of Olympic sports medals, whereas some of the biggest bands in the music industry have at some point shared dorm rooms while living on campus.

In every field of progress, universities and academics have traditionally been a few steps ahead of mainstream society and making giant strides into the future.

Some might be sceptical that a university in the Maldives, without the luxury of a self-contained campus or an atmosphere of academic seclusion, or even a sizeable student or faculty body can quite leave a comparable footprint on the national intellect or society, as is visible in so many other countries.

During the inauguration, however, the Maldivian President recognised the role of universities in upholding democracy and freedom of expression, and the Chancellor of the newly instituted University, former Education Minister Dr Musthafa Luthfy has promised to follow in the illustrious traditions of Oxford.

As Chancellor, he has the monumental task of directing the youth’s energy into strong intellectual and academic pursuits and to nurture a conducive, stimulating environment in which such pursuits can be undertaken without undue political control and societal intimidation – with full intellectual freedom of thought and expression; an atmosphere of research, curiosity, questioning and free inquiry that are crucial to keep the flames of intellectualism burning bright.

As a country that has only recently tasted democratic freedoms, the Maldives counts on its first National University to produce the future leadership and become engine of national growth and prosperity, while simultaneously charting the country’s destiny.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Google exec galvanises Egyptian protesters in second wave of demonstrations

The protests in Egypt against the rule of President Hosni Mubarak have been reignited following the release from police custody of Wael Ghonim, an online activist and key organiser of the demonstrations.

Ghonim, who is also Google’s head of marketing for the Middle East and North Africa, wept openly on Dream TV and gave an emotional interview that has reinvigorated anti-government protests in Cairo.

The search giant had earlier appealed for public help in locating the missing executive, who disappeared on January 27 and was adopted by many protesters as a symbolic leader.

When he was told about the deaths of 300 people who died during the demonstrations, he cried – “We didn’t do anything wrong. We did what our consciences dictated to us”, he said.

Yesterday, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators filled the central square of Cairo while marches erupted in cities across the country.

“I like to call it the Facebook Revolution, but after seeing the people right now, I would say this is the Egyptian people’s revolution. It’s amazing,” Ghonim was reported as saying, after he was mobbed by galvanised supporters.

“Egyptians deserve a better life. Today one of those dreams has actually come true, which is actually putting all of us together and as one hand believing in something,” he said.

Prior to Ghonim’s release foreign media present in Egypt had reported a drop in momentum following 12 days of unprecedented demonstrations, with the UK’s Independent newspaper writing that Mubarak was using “all the guile that has kept him in power for so long to produce a series of sweeteners – including a 15 per cent pay rise for state employees – to widen his public support.”

The United States meanwhile backed Mubarak’s perferred successor, recently appointed Vice-President Omar Suleiman, as the country’s transitional leader in a bid to encourage President Hosni Mubarak to step aside.

Suleiman was appointed to the position by Mubarak following the sacking of his entire cabinet. Columnist Lisa Hajjar writes for Al-Jazeera that Egypt’s intelligence has CIA links and has “long been favoured by the US government for his ardent anti-Islamism [and] his willingness to talk and act tough on Iran.”

“There are forces in any society, particularly one facing these kind of challenges, that will try to derail or overtake the process to pursue their own agenda,” said US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, “which is why I think it’s important to follow the transition process announced by the Egyptian government, actually headed by vice-president Omar Suleiman.”

The US appears anxious that Egypt avoid the fate of Iran, which replaced a US-backed dictatorial regime with an unpredictable Islamic republic under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini during the Iranian revolution in 1979. Egypt is central to the region and an unstable Egypt would have a knock-on effect on world oil prices.

Media in Egypt have reported that one group likely to benefit from the fall of Mubarak is the Muslim Brotherhood, founded by Hassan al-Banna 1928 in opposition to the British presence in Egypt.

“Six Egyptian workers employed in the military camps of Ismailiyya in the Suez Canal Zone visited Banna, a young teacher who they had heard preaching in mosques and cafes on the need for ‘Islamic renewal’,” writes the Guardian’s Jack Shenker, in a rare interview with the group.

“‘Arabs and Muslims have no status and no dignity,’ they complained, according to the brotherhood’s official history. ‘They are no more than mere hirelings belonging to the foreigners… We are unable to perceive the road to action as you perceive it…’

Banna later wrote that the Europeans had expropriated the resources of Muslim lands and corrupted them with ‘murderous germs’: ‘They imported their half-naked women into these regions, together with their liquors, their theatres, their dance halls, their amusements, their stories, their newspapers, their novels, their whims, their silly games, and their vices… The day must come when the castles of this materialistic civilisation will be laid low upon the heads of their inhabitants.’

Banna argued that Islam provided a complete solution, with divine guidance on everything from worship and spiritual matters to the law, politics and social organisation. He established an evening school for the working classes which impressed the general inspector of education and by 1931 the brotherhood had constructed its first mosque – for which the Suez Canal Company is said to have provided some of the funds.”

The BBC reported that a senior Hamas commander from Gaza, Ayman Nofel, used the chaos to escape his three year detention in Egypt on unspecified charges.

“I shouted to other prisoners to break down the doors and gates,” Nofel told the BBC, who used smuggled mobile phones to mobilise local residents outside the jail to storm the prison gates and allow him to fight his way through guards to freedom.

Mubarak’s position continues to weaken, after the state-controlled Al-Ahram newspaper, Egypt’s second oldest, abandoned its support for his regime with a front page lead hailing the “nobility” of the “revolution”.

The state and all its denizens, the elder generation, the politicians and all other powers on the political stage must humble themselves and rein themselves in to understand the ambitions of the young and the dreams of this nation,” wrote editor Osama Saraya.

Even if Mubarak were to be ousted in similar fashion to his Tunisian counterpart Ben Ali, he is unlikely to go hungry – an analysis by Middle East experts published by the Guardian pegs the Egyptian President’s private wealth at US$70 billion, making him among the wealthiest people on the planet. Much of this money is reported to stashed in British and Swiss bank accounts or tied up in real estate in London, New York, Los Angeles and acres of Red Sea coast.

Meanwhile, the effect of Egyptian unrest has been felt across the region. Last week Yemeni leader of 30 years Ali Abdullah Saleh promised he would halt constitutional changes that would allow him to be president for life promised not to seek reelection, after civil society groups promised “a day of rage”.

“I will not extend my mandate and I am against hereditary rule,” Saleh said during an emergency session of parliament.

Libyan President of 42 years, Muammar al-Gaddafi, is said to be moving towards transitioning his country back to the monarchy he overthrew in a 1969 coup.

“He’s started to return property, which belonged to the late King Idris, back to the designated heirs of the king,” noted president of the International Strategic Studies Association, Greg Copley.

Tunisia, which started the domino trend after protests forced Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee, has been forced to call up army reservists to confront growing unrest and meet demand for democratic reforms.

Former conscripts and retired soldiers were ordered to report to military posts according to the local news agency TAP.

Gaza is meanwhile facing acute shortages of fuel and supplies as the traffic of goods through underground tunnels crossing the border to Egypt has dried up. Petrol and diesel brought in from Israel costs three times as much as that smuggled into the country, which relies on it for power during extend cuts.

The Maldives is unlikely to escape unscathed either – the country spends 25 percent of its GDP on fuel and its economy, one of the most sensitive in the world, is likely to be susceptible to even minor price fluctuations.


Tunisian revolution ripples throughout Middle East

President Mohamed Nasheed has spoken to the leader of the Tunisian opposition as ripples from the fall of its deposed President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali spread throughout the Arab world.

Speaking to Moncef Marzouki over the phone, Nasheed expressed the hope that democracy, human rights and the rule of law would prevail.

He also condemned the use of violence against civilians during the protests, and the human rights abuses that were occurring in the country.

The government in Tunisia, previously regarded as one of the Middle East’s most stable democracies and a popular tourist destination, was overthrown after widespread protests and growing street violence eventually forced Ben Ali to flee the country on January 14 after 23 years in power.

In a surreal side note, Ben Ali’s wife reportedly retrieved US$60 million worth of gold in person from the country’s central bank before fleeing to the airport with her husband. The bank has denied the reports, leaked by French security officials.

The protests were sparked after Mohamed Bouazizi, a local fruitseller, set himself on fire when police confiscated his cart. That incident sparked a national uprising that led to almost 100 deaths in clashes with security forces, and the hasty departure of the President. The government has since issued an arrest warrant for Ben Ali in absentia.

The violence triggered a wave of regional instability, particularly in Egypt, where tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets on Tuesday in opposition to 29 years of strict rule by President Hosni Mubarak.

Three people were reported killed, including a policeman, while three more self-immolated in imitation of Bouazizi. Protests also erupted in Yemen, Jordan and Algeria.

Regional analysts such as Robert Fisk have observed that Tunsia was widely feted by the West for the stability of its autocracy: “If it can happen in the holiday destination Tunisia, it can happen anywhere, can’t it? The French and the Germans and the Brits, dare we mention this, always praised the dictator for being a ‘friend’ of civilised Europe, keeping a firm hand on all those Islamists,” Fisk wrote in UK newspaper The Independent.

Meanwhile, further revelations from al-Jazeera’s publication of controversial documents detailing 10 years of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process include details of a secret crackdown on Hamas, orchestrated by British Intelligence and executed by the Palestinian Authority (PA).

The 2004 plans also reveal a high degree of security cooperation between Israel and Palestinian security forces, further heightening public anger in Palestine against the PA.


Palestinian Authority under fire as Al-Jazeera leaks details of peace negotiations with Israel

News agency Al-Jazeera has published thousands of confidential documents concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East, providing an unprecedented behind-the-scenes look at peace negotiations between US, Israel and Palestine.

The leak includes nearly 1700 files including thousands of pages of diplomatic correspence, as well as memos, emails, maps and minutes of closed meetings between 1999-2010.

According to Al-Jazeera, the revelations include the surprising willingness of the Palestinian Authority (PA) to concede settlements to Israel in East Jerusalem, compromises made by the PA regarding the return of refugees, and details of security co-operation with Israel.

The leaks have already led to widespread condemnation of the PA across Palestine, after it was revealed that its negotiators privately conceded Israel’s definition of itself as a Jewish state while refusing to recognise Israel’s existence in public, and offering Israel “the biggest Jerusalem in history” – an offer which was rejected.

The leaks further reveal that Palestinian negotiators had agreed to Israeli demands that only 10,000 refugees would be allowed to return to Israel, out of a total refugee population of 5 million.

Al-Jazeera and the UK’s Guardian newspaper, which was also granted access to the leaked documents, described the overall impression of the decade of leaks as revealing “the weakness and growing desperation of PA leaders as failure to reach agreement or even halt all settlement temporarily undermines their credibility in relation to their Hamas rivals.”

The Guardian contends that the leak also reveals “the unyielding confidence of Israeli negotiators and the often dismissive attitude of US politicians towards Palestinian representatives” – at one stage former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice suggests that Palestinians could live in Latin America, and in the minutes of a meeting with Palestinian negotiators in 2009, Rice’s successor Hillary Clinton is heard to ponder why Palestinians were “always in a chapter of a Greek tragedy”.

Palestinian authorities have responded to the leaks by attacking al-Jazeera for “distorting the truth” and playing “a propaganda game through the media in order to brainwash Palestinian citizens”.

Chief negotiator Saeb Muhammad Salih Erekat has dismissed the minutes were “a bunch of lies and half truths”, while angry protesters stormed al-Jazeera’s offices in Ramallah before being stopped by police.


Galana to supply 1.02 million barrels of jet fuel

Galana Petroleum has won a tender to supply 1.02 million barrels of aviation fuel to the Maldives, reports Reuters.

The deal with the Middle Eastern petroleum company will see the Maldives paying a “premium” price of $3.59 a barrel, Reuters reported.

Other potential suppliers included the Emirates National Oil Company (ENOC) and European firm Vitol.