LONDON — Britain is set to become the first Western nation to issue bonds approved by Muslim clerics in line with sharia, which outlaws conventional loans involving interest payments.
But the move could see the ownership of public buildings and other assets switched into the hands of wealthy Muslim businesses and individuals, many based in the Middle East.
The radical proposal was originally put forward by Gordon Brown’s ally Ed Balls last year as a method of making more financial products available to British Muslims — and opening the burgeoning Islamic financial market to the UK.
Islamic law forbids making money from interest, making conventional loans unacceptable to the devout.
Dubai ruler initiates Syria talks
DAMASCUS — Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, vice-president of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is in Syria a day after a visit to Iran, in what is perceived as a significant regional tour.
Al-Maktoum, also the country’s prime minister and ruler of Dubai, arrived in Damascus late on Monday and met Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president.
On arrival at Damascus airport, he told journalists that his talks “fall within the framework of continued consultations between the leaderships of the two countries regarding bilateral relations and strengthening inter-Arab co-operation.”
Al-Maktoum arrived in Damascus from Tehran, where he met Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, earlier on Monday.
The UAE and Iran have had tense relations for years due to a dispute over three Gulf islands.
He is the most senior UAE official to make a bilateral visit to Tehran since the Islamic revolution in 1979.
“Iran and the UAE have historical and strong relations and with my trip … bilateral relations will rise to new horizons,” the state-run Mehr news agency quoted him as saying.
Despite US pressure on countries to weaken ties with Iran,the UAE, a US ally, remains Iran’s largest trading partner.
Bilateral trade is said to stand at $11.7bn in 2007, with imports from the UAE forming the bulk of the exchanges at $9.2bn.
U.S. floats NATO troop plan for West Bank
TEL AVIV — The United States is floating an idea to temporarily deploy NATO troops in the West Bank after Israeli troops eventually withdraw, a newspaper said on Wednesday, quoting Israeli defense officials.
General James Jones, the U.S. special Middle East envoy, is spearheading the idea, the Jerusalem Post reported.
It said Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak had been briefed but had not finalized his position. Israel has traditionally been hostile to any suggestions of using foreign troops to help achieve peace in the region.
Under such a deal, third-party troops would be stationed in the West Bank to secure the area between the time of an Israeli withdrawal and when the Palestinian Authority is able to take over full security control.
“The deployment of such a force has come up in talks, and Jones is known to be working on it,” a senior defense official was quoted as saying. “At the moment, it’s just an idea and yet to be accepted or adopted by Israel.”
In Morocco, anger rises with prices
CASABLANCA (IPS) — The move to embrace a free trade economy has brought a sharp increase in the price of basic goods across Morocco. This is causing hardship, and threatening social stability.
Anger has erupted already. In September last year, large numbers of residents fought police in bloody clashes in Sefrou town to the east of Casablanca in a protest against rising prices. Many government buildings were set on fire, and local facilities were damaged.
Since then prices have risen, and the situation worsened.
Free trade agreements with the E.U. and the U.S. have certainly contributed to an increase in prices. Morocco has a free trade agreement with the EU, and a free trade agreement was ratified with the U.S. in 2006. Further liberalization is due by 2010.
The agreements with both oblige the Moroccan state to deregulate prices, “which means increasing them to the same level as international prices, even though internal circumstances do not allow such measures,” Adib said.
According to official figures, more than six million Moroccans live under the poverty line. The country has a population of 32 million.
Prices of basic foods have risen continuously since 2005. Sugar has risen to 6.5 dirhams (0.59 euro) a kilo from 5 dirhams then. Beef is 65 dirhams a kilo (5.90 euro), up from 50 dirhams (about 4.50 euro) two years back.
The new government, formed after elections Sep.7 that drew little participation from a disillusioned people, has not offered any significant solutions. The government is seen as lacking legitimacy because the majority of people boycotted the last election. Only 27 percent of the electorate voted.
Syrian guards kill Lebanese boy
BEIRUT — Syrian security forces have shot dead a Lebanese teenager near the border with Lebanon amid continuing political tensions, Lebanese police said in a statement.
Abbas Abbas was returning home on Tuesday after working on his farmland on the frontier when a Syrian border patrol opened fire on him, killing him instantly, according to the statement.
There have been a number of shooting incidents along the border since Syria was forced to withdraw its troops from Lebanon in April 2005, two months after the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri, a former prime minister.
Tensions between the two governments, which once enjoyed close relations, have spilled over into Lebanon’s domestic politics, where the anti-Syrian ruling coalition remains locked in a 15-month power struggle against an opposition led by Hizbullah.
Lebanon has been without a president since Emile Lahoud, seen as pro-Syrian, ended his term in office on November 23, plunging the country into the worst political crisis since the end of the 1975-90 civil war.
Saudi-Syria crisis puts Arab summit at risk
RIYADH — Lebanon’s political crisis has damaged relations between Syria and Saudi Arabia, putting at risk next month’s Arab summit in Damascus, Arab officials in Riyadh warned on Thursday.
“There is a crisis in ties with the Syrian government, with Lebanon the main reason,” a Saudi official said, asking not to be named.
“Damascus has not joined in efforts, including the Arab initiative, to elect a consensus president” in Lebanon, which has been left without a head of state since November amid deadlock between pro- and anti-Syrian camps, he said.
The Arab League plan calls for the election of army chief General Michel Sleiman as consensus president, followed by the formation of a national unity government in which no single party has veto power, and a new electoral law.
Despite agreement on Sleiman, the League has failed to nail down an accord on power-sharing in a new government between the Western- and Saudi-backed parliamentary majority and the opposition, supported by Damascus and Tehran.
“I call on all those with influence to help with the success of the Arab initiative,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said on Wednesday from Buenos Aires, in an indirect reference to Damascus.
He warned that Lebanon was “on the verge of civil war.”
An Arab diplomat said Syria was “accusing Saudi Arabia of trying to internationalize the Lebanese crisis” by supporting the Hariri tribunal which Syria fears could pin the blame on Lebanon’s eastern neighbour.
Ahead of the March 29-30 summit in Damascus, Saudi Arabia has not even received an invitation from Syria even although the Gulf state currently holds its rotating presidency.
“It’s possible the summit will not take place at all or only before a handful of heads of state,” said Dakhil.