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UAE - Islamophobia.

So much for one which, as the local Gulf News put it on Feb. 20, "prides itself as the first newspaper that speaks of US liberalism". Gulf News said: "Even since Islamophobia became the active currency in the hands of US rightists, who invent a new bogus enemy every new day, the symptoms of such a syndrome have begun appearing in various segments in the West, whether open-minded or narrow-minded, liberal or fanatic".

"Islamophobia", Gulf News added, "is rising and has become like an infectious disease that spreads amidst political and media circles in the West", pointing to The NYT editorial. Gulf News said: "The issue of acquiring the British company that operates US ports is a mere business matter and it has nothing to do with politics, and thus, it must be looked at within its true framework. Worse, such a tricky means by The New York Times brings out the smell of incompetence for dubious commercial purposes. If not, what is the logical explanation for printing a shocking and unfair editorial? Such an editorial comes within the context of incitement against a peaceful company operating under the umbrella of the law in the UAE and the US".

The author of the Gulf News piece, Rashed Saleh Al-Oraimi, a UAE-based columnist for al-Ittihad newspaper, concluded with this: "No one can forget the newspaper's recent scandal in which its journalist Judith Miller was arrested and prosecuted because she refused to give the names of her sources. Where does The New York Times stand today? And where is the objective and fair media now?"

US Defends Reaction To Deal: In a discussion with reporters in Dubai on Feb. 20, visiting US Under-Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes said she did not believe the gathering US objections to the P&O deal represented a general Islamophobia among American lawmakers, as the Gulf News article charged. She said US lawmakers' objections to the deal amounted to a backlash from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the US (9/11), and not an expression of wider anti-Arab sentiment among American politicians.

"I would hope that is not the case", Hughes said, adding: "I hope the people of the United Arab Emirates and the government will understand that in a democracy, there is a process of debate".

Hughes defended the Bush administration's security review of the DPW-P&O deal. P&O operates commercial shipping terminals in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia.

Newspaper opinion articles in Dubai have blamed the US backlash on political grandstanding ahead of next November's mid-term congressional elections and a general American sense of Islamophobia.

US legislators from both parties on Feb. 19 sharply questioned the Bush administration's approval of the deal, saying that it raised fundamental security issues. Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, who has long raised questions about port security, has asked the Homeland Security Department to take a closer look at the impact of the takeover.

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the US, a panel including representatives from Homeland Security, Treasury and other departments, had already given its approval to the transfer of control over P&P to DPW. Michael Chertoff, the homeland security secretary, defended the sale, saying that such transactions were closely examined by a panel which included 11 federal departments or agencies, such as his own, and the FBI. Dubai, he noted, was considered an ally in the fight against terrorism.

However, Senator Schumer on Feb. 19 again called on President Bush to override the committee's approval. He said: "Outsourcing operations of our largest ports to a country with a dubious record on terrorism, is a homeland security accident waiting to happen". Several Republicans also expressed doubts about a transaction which pit security exigencies against the administration's strong support for free, globalised trade.

Most striking is the freedom politicians in President Bush's own party have felt to complain about his administration's approval of the deal. The Financial Times on Feb. 23 quoted Paul Light, professor at New York University's Wagner School of Public Service, as saying: "The president is less and less influential, and his approval numbers are still low. A lot of these members of Congress are saying, 'I need to stand up on my own'".

Rick Santorum, a Republican senator from Pennsylvania who faces a tough re-election fight, on Feb. 21 sent an email to supporters detailing the steps he had taken to try to stop the deal, saying: "I cannot sit by while the safety and security we have fought so hard for is sacrificed".

Among the first to voice concern about the deal were lawmakers who represent some of the cities where the ports are located, including New York, New Jersey and Miami. But the criticism quickly intensified.

For Democrats, it was a fresh chance - following the Bush administration's poor handling of Hurricane Katrina, which hit the US Gulf Coast in late August 2005 - to look tough on homeland security. Republicans, worried about the November elections, did not want to cede that turf to their Democrats; and last week, party leaders from the Senate and the House of Representatives rushed to join the fray.

There are other elements as well, including intra-state rivalries, positioning for the 2008 presidential election, the traditional weakness of a second-term US president, and broad distrust of the Arab world.

The episode is striking because it appears to have come as such a surprise to a White House which has generally shown a deft touch in reading the public mood. But in many ways the backlash may have its roots in that same White House where, since 9/11, it has made the war on terror both a priority and a political tool.

Light said: "Much of the fear has been stoked by the Bush administration and the Department of Homeland Security. In a sense, the department is getting a taste of its own medicine, after telling people to worry about terrorism for five years".

Bush has friends on his side - but only a few. One is his brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush who acknowledged that, "on the surface, it does give one cause for concern"; but he added: "I have full confidence that the president of the United States will make the right decision as it relates to our national security interests".

Another is John McCain, the Republican senator and possible presidential candidate, who has been a frequent thorn in the administration's side, most recently pushing for a ban on the use of torture. The FT quoted McCain as saying: "The president's leadership has earned our trust in the war on terror, and surely his administration deserves the presumption that they would not sell our security short. Dubai has co-operated with us in the war and deserves to be treated respectfully".

Bush has also emphasised Dubai's role as an ally, arguing that his critics were treating the emirate unfairly and saying: "I really don't understand why it's okay for a British company to operate our ports, but not a company from the Middle East, when our experts are convinced that port security is not an issue".

James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, on Feb. 22 called the swarm of US criticism of the deal "nothing more than a self-serving use of anti-Arab sentiment callously playing off post-9/11 fear and insecurity".

The New York Times on Feb. 24 said: "It's easy to imagine how the Bush administration might have defused much of the uproar over a deal to allow a company owned by the Dubai royal family...to run six American ports. Members of Congress asked for consultation and reassurance that the deal would not compromise already iffy security at one of the most vulnerable parts of America's domestic defense system.

"What they got was a veto threat and a presidential suggestion that they were all anti-Arab. If the administration is in trouble with Congress, it's long overdue. For years now, the White House has stonewalled congressional committees attempting to carry out their oversight duties.

"Administration officials appearing before Senate and House committees have given testimony that was, to put it generously, knowingly misleading. Requests for information have been simply waved away with an invocation of national security.

"Just recently, the Senate Intelligence Committee attempted to get information on the administration's extralegal wiretapping, but was told that it would compromise national security to tell the senators how the program works, how it is reviewed, how much information is collected and how that information is used. The chickens are coming home to roost.

"A White House that routinely brands anyone who disagrees with its positions as soft on terrorism is now complaining that election-bound lawmakers are callously using the ports deal to frighten voters. A White House that invaded Iraq as a substitute for defeating Al Qaeda is frustrated because Congress is using the company, Dubai Ports World, as a stand-in for all the intractable perils of the Middle East.

"As satisfying as it may be to see the tables turning, though, there is a serious issue at hand. The United Arab Emirates deserves a serious, respectful explanation if Dubai Ports World is not going to be given the right to manage American ports - a right that has already been granted to companies from countries like Britain and China.

"The United Arab Emirates is an ally. But the money to finance the Sept. 11 [2001] attacks flowed through that country, according to the Sept. 11 commission. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the rogue Pakistani nuclear scientist, sent equipment to Libya and Iran through Dubai, helping to create nuclear weapons capacity for those two regimes.

"And while port managers have little if anything to do with inspecting cargo or checking manifests, they are responsible for hiring guards, securing the areas under their control and working with Customs and Homeland Security officials.

"The administration contends that the ports deal was thoroughly vetted, and that proper safeguards are in place to prevent any possible security breaches. That argument might hold if the White House had a good track record on these kinds of sweeping assurances.

"As it is, we know that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States approved the sale in what appears to have been handled as a fairly routine matter. We know that same committee has been sharply criticized by the Government Accountability Office for letting the desire for foreign investment override concerns for national security. And we also know that the Homeland Security Department, which has done nothing to earn the public's trust as of yet, did not request any extended review of the deal. That is what many members of Congress are asking for now.

"One reason for the current uproar is the halfhearted way the Bush administration has dealt with the issue of port security. Screening incoming containers for nuclear devices is one of the most important missions in any war on terrorism. But the White House has never made it a priority, and it has opposed those in Congress who have.

"Bush's main budget priority continues to be tax cuts, and he has not fought for the money needed to keep the ports secure. The administration has worked to eliminate a port-security grant program from the budget. The money that has been available has not been used effectively.

"The Homeland Security Department's own inspector general reported last year that 80 percent of the allocated funds had not yet been spent. The management of cargo inspections has also been criticized as woefully inadequate.

"A Government Accountability Office report last year found serious deficiencies in things like the reliability of radiation detection equipment and decisions about which containers to inspect.

"Bush and his defenders say the last thing America needs is more bad publicity in the Arab world. They're right. But this problem won't be resolved by the administration's standard demands that Congress and the public should let it do what it wants and trust Bush's good judgment".
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Publication:APS Diplomat Fate of the Arabian Peninsula
Geographic Code:7UNIT
Date:Feb 27, 2006
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