A year of Instagram

Here's a selection of some of my photos on Instagram over the past 12 months or so. If you'd like to see more, just go to the app and search for @dominicdudley and click follow.

A walk around Manama and Muharraq

Of all the main Gulf cities, the Bahraini capital seems to do the best job of holding on to a sense of its own history and identity, despite the years of repression of the local Shia majority by the ruling Al Khalifa family and its supporters. There are a few glass and steel towers dotted about, but nothing on the scale of what you see in other parts of the region. That's partly due to the relative lack of oil money, which means the government has never been able to afford the sort of building sprees that have remodelled Riyadh, Doha, Abu Dhabi and Dubai. It's also because most international businesses prefer to be in those other cities so there isn't the same demand for skyscrapers.

Some photos from a trip to Bahrain in December 2015:

Photos: 10 years ago in Syria

In October 2004, ten years ago this month, I was wandering around Syria on holiday, which was wonderful. It's both sad and depressing to think of what might have happened to some of these people and places in the years since then. Certainly Aleppo has been pummelled, Apamea has been ravaged by looters, Palmyra has been shelled and Krak des Chevaliers has seen its share of troubles too.

Laying Hoxha’s ghost to rest

Enver Hoxha's family home in Gijrokaster, Albania
Enver Hoxha's family home in Gijrokaster, Albania

On a street in the southern Albanian town of Gjirokaster two strands of the country’s history meet, but only one seems welcome. The town – a UNESCO World Heritage site whose white-walled houses scramble up and down the hills on the edge of the Drinos valley close to the Greek border – is the birthplace of two of the country’s most famous sons.

The former dictator Enver Hoxha was born here in 1908 and during his decades in power his family home became a hagiographic monument to the man. Today it is a rather underwhelming ethnographic museum and the story of its most famous resident has been airbrushed away. The house is at one end of a twisty, cobbled street named after the novelist and poet Ismail Kadare who is far more in favour.

Albania still bears some of the scars from when Hoxha’s brutal, esoteric regime isolated it from the world. Concrete turrets still poke out of the ground in the hills near Gjirokaster as they do all over the country, hinting at the paranoia of the past. In the medieval castle that overlooks the town a US plane shot down during the Cold War is forlornly on display.

Abandoned gun turret in the Albanian countryside
Abandoned gun turret in the Albanian countryside

There’s another concrete turret in central Tirana, alongside a donated section of the Berlin Wall. They mark the entrance to an area called The Block, a patch of the city centre that used to be home to the communist regime’s elite and was out-of-bounds to mere mortals.

But finding traces of the past is not always so easy. Hoxha’s former residence in the Block is unmarked and part of it is has been turned into a bar. Along the railings of the old house a bookseller has set up his stall and nestled alongside books by Ismail Kadare, Danielle Steele and L Ron Hubbard are some by the dictator himself.

Books by Enver Hoxha on sale outside his former residence in Tirana
Books by Enver Hoxha on sale outside his former residence in Tirana

Another nearby part of Tirana has yet to be redeveloped. On the banks of the Lana River – which looks more like a canal – is the Pyramid. It was designed to be Hoxha’s mausoleum, an ever-lasting tribute to his rule, but events overtook those plans and his body now lies in a grave to the west of the city. The structure that is left behind is an ugly, brutalist piece of concrete and glass. It is liberally covered with graffiti and kids are free to climb up its raking walls.

Hoxha's former residence in Tirana
Hoxha's former residence in Tirana
Hoxha's abandoned mausoleum is now covered in graffiti
Hoxha's abandoned mausoleum is now covered in graffiti
The Pyramid, Tirana
The Pyramid, Tirana

Not many people on Emirates Air Line these days

... the Emirates Air Line cable car in London that is, not the actual Emirates airline. The cable car runs from Royal Docks on the north side of the Thames across to Greenwich Peninsula, close to the O2 (formally the Millennium Dome), taking about five minutes each way and is, in theory, a regular part of the city's transport system. But as the BorisWatch blog says, the passenger numbers have been in free-fall since the end of the Olympics.

The Dubai airline paid £36m for a 10-year sponsorship deal for the cable car. Separately, the London mayor Boris Johnson was given a free upgrade to business class on Emirates Airline when flying from London to Seoul in May 2009  for a climate change conference.

Here's a photo taken yesterday afternoon when there were more empty cars than full ones:

Here's an odd thing: profits at Syrian banks grew last year

This seems strange. Syria's economy is failing badly, yet the country's banks increased their profits in 2011, according to their results filed with the Damascus stock exchange. Here's a chart showing total pre-tax profits at the 12 banks listed on the stock market for the past three years (the figures are in Syrian pounds):

Graph showing Syrian bank profits

There are a few possible explanations for this. The gap between lending and deposit rates is rising which provides one opportunity for greater profits. Given that some deposits are held in dollars, there might also be an exchange rate effect, with banks exploiting the opportunities that come about through the depreciation of the Syrian pound.

Lastly, the Syrian government is probably borrowing heavily from its domestic banks to help cover a widening fiscal deficit and may be paying high interest rates.

It's not an across-the-board increase. Some did better, some did worse. It still seems counter-intuitive though. I'll be taking a look at the quarterly / half yearly results of the banks at some point, to see if they've been able to continue swimming against the tide this year too.

Qatar is just too cold for some

Under the headline “Drunkards Shouldn't Apply”, a fresh portrait of Qatar emerges in today’s issue of the Times of Swaziland, as a place that locals might find too cold and too dry for comfort. The two governments signed a deal earlier in May designed to make it easier for people from the small, poor African country to go and work in the small, rich Middle East state. But Lutfo Dlamini, the Swazi Minister of Labour & Social Security, has a few words of warming for his compatriots.

According to the paper, he says Qatar is very strict about alcohol consumption and alcoholic beverages are very scarce in that country. That’s fair enough. You can get a drink in Doha, but it’s certainly not as freely available as in Dubai for example.

His second warning seems more of a stretch. Anyone with extreme medical conditions are not encouraged to take the risk with the cold temperatures in Qatar, which at times can drop below seven degrees Celsius.

It was a cloudy day today in Mbabane, the capital of Swaziland, and temperatures didn’t rise above 16 degrees.  In Doha it was closer to 40 degrees.

Culture v politics

With the US pulling its $80m funding from UNESCO because the Palestinians have been given a seat at the table, it seems like a good opportunity to revisit the sort of places that might suffer, so here's some of my photos of World Heritage sites from around the Middle East. [slideshow]

Of course the US can do what it wants with its money, but the fears expressed by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who chairs the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee and has described it as "dangerous",  seem overstated to me.

Palestine recently gained partnership status at the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, allowing it to speak in debates but not vote. It’s now likely to turn its attention to other bodies such as the World Trade Organisation. Neither the world nor Israel will come to an end as a result.

All this also seems like a golden PR opportunity for another country to step in and offer up the funding the organisation has lost. Qatar wouldn't even notice an extra $80m leaving its public purse and it would help with its soft power diplomacy (after its military adventures in Libya). Or France, which already hosts UNESCO, might want to cement its position after playing such a strong role in Libya too... (I'm just talking in Middle East terms as it's a Middle East problem which sparked it all off)

Incidentally, Palestine is already a member of the Arab League and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and is recognised by 127 countries (21 of which don’t recognise Israel).

For more info on the World Heritage sites see the UNESCO World Heritage list and for some more photos of them have a look at my other website.

Staying power

So with Gaddafi dead and gone, there is now a new longest-standing dictator in the Middle East. Step forward  Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said who has been in charge of Oman since he seized power from his father, Said bin Taimur, in July 1970. There have been some protests in Oman this year and, like most Gulf leaders, Qaboos has promised some reforms to placate them, including offering some powers to the Majlis Al Shura, the nearest thing the country has to a parliament but which is currently a toothless advisory body. Elections for the Majlis in October saw a turnout of 76 per cent  – far higher than normal in the Gulf, where at least they don’t bother with the sham of 99.9 per cent turnouts.  But what powers the newly elected chamber might get have yet to be spelt out.

To put his staying power into perspective, Richard Nixon was US president when Qaboos took power and there have been seven others since then. The UK has had eight prime ministers,  France has had six presidents and Germany has had six chancellors.

I’ve added Egypt’s  Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of SCAF, to the list, given the junta’s extremely slow progress towards handing power on to a civilian government. The elections in Tunisia at least show that country is on the right track.

Below is the full rundown of leaders and their staying power. If you assume that five years is a typical term limit on a politician and that they are allowed one re-election, then  12 of these guys are now well past their sell-by date.

  1. Qaboos al Said – Oman – 41.3 years
  2. Sultan Al-Qasimi III – Sharjah – 39.9 years
  3. Hamad Al Sharqi – Fujeirah – 36.8 years
  4. Ali Abdullah Saleh – Yemen – 33.3 years
  5. Humaid Al Nuaimi – Ajman – 30.1 years
  6. Omar Bashir – Sudan – 22.4 years
  7. Hamad Al Thani – Qatar – 16.4 years
  8. King Abdullah II – Jordan – 12.8 years
  9. King Hamad Al Khalifa – Bahrain – 12.7 years
  10. Abdelaziz Bouteflika – Algeria – 12.6 years
  11. King Mohammed VI – Morocco – 12.3 years
  12. Bashar Assad – Syria – 11.3 years
  13. Sheikh Khalifa Al Nahyan – Abu Dhabi – 6.11 years
  14. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – Iran – 6.3 years
  15. King Abdullah al Saud – Saudi Arabia – 6.2 years
  16. Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum – Dubai – 5.9 years
  17. Sheikh Sabah Al-Sabah – Kuwait – 5.9 years
  18. Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz – Mauritania – 3.2 years
  19. Sheikh Saud Al Mualla – Umm al Quwain – 2.9 years
  20. Sheikh Saud al Qasimi – Ras al Khaimah - 1 years
  21. Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi – Egypt – 8 months

For a few barrels of oil...

So here’s the full rundown of nefarious deeds by various Middle East embassies and diplomats in London last year. The Foreign Office put out the numbers yesterday. As of 7 May this year, Iraq owed £19,533 for outstanding domestic rates bills, which covers things like street cleaning, lighting, fire services and the like. Tunisia owed £30,869.

Parking fines are more widely ignored. Saudi Arabia has 169 parking fines outstanding, worth £15,440 or about 240 barrels of oil at current prices. It’s third overall in the list, behind China, Afghanistan and Turkey.

Egypt owes £7,180 for 72 parking fines. Next is Tunisia (68 fines, £7,080) and then Jordan (76, £6,790). Also owing money are Sudan (48, £4,920); Qatar (41, £4,500); Iraq (41, £4,180); Libya (33, £3,530); Oman (31, £2,860); Kuwait (24, £2,700); Iran (27; £2,660); Yemen (25; £2,300); and finally Lebanon (16, £1,520).

The UAE, which had almost £25,000 in unpaid parking fines this time last year, seems to have cleared its account.

London’s Congestion Charge is ignored by 62 diplomatic missions and the worst offender is the US which owes more than £5 million in unpaid fines for this. But the Middle East is well represented too. Sudan owes £1.5 million; Algeria owes £769,000; Yemen owes £542,000; Egypt owes £173,000; and Saudi Arabia £143,000. Others may owe money too, but the Foreign Office doesn’t even bother listing those owing less than £100,000.

And finally, the Saudis once again top the drink-driving table. Two of its diplomats were arrested for drink-driving in 2010 and another for drink-driving without insurance. One Algerian also claimed diplomatic immunity after being caught driving under the influence, as did one Egyptian for driving without insurance. In addition, for the second year in a row, one Saudi was caught under the Human Trafficking Act but claimed immunity.

Their man in London

An update on a topic from last year – just how badly behaved are the Middle East’s diplomats in the UK? London’s Evening Standard has managed to get more data from the Met Police about what foreign diplomats get arrested for in London. The figures cover all diplomats arrested between April 2008 and March 2011. Until now, the most recent official figures had been for arrests from 2005 to 2009.

There are a few additions to the charge sheet, for incidents which must have happened in either 2010 or the early months of this year, including a bomb hoax by an Omani diplomat, one case of actual bodily harm by an Iranian; grievous bodily harm by a Libyan; a sexual assault by an Egyptian; and four incidents of fraud by Algerian diplomats.

But maintaining their lead in the drink driving stakes are Saudi Arabia’s diplomats. As I said last year: “If there’s one thing you can be sure of, it’s that some Saudi diplomat will get pulled over by the police in London for drink driving this year.” And sure enough, there have been at least two more incidents of drink driving involving Saudi emissaries. They must be really unlucky or really bad at drink driving, or both.

According to a written answer in the House of Commons on 28 June, the Foreign Office is due to issue its latest annual statement on diplomats’ offences and the debts they owe any day now – it was meant to be issued before the end of June but doesn’t seem to have been released yet.

Refugees in, dissidents out

The Middle East and North Africa is home to around 1 in every 3 refugees in the world – and that was before the revolutions, uprisings and brutal repressions of this year. It’s not such fertile ground for asylum seekers though. According to a UNHCR report published yesterday to mark World Refugee Day, there were 10.5 million refugees around the world at the end of 2010, 3.2 million of which were in the Middle East. The numbers are from the end of 2010 so miss out on all the events of this year, but still.

Middle East countries are, overall, net importers of refugees, hosting 3.2 million people while sending 2.4 million people fleeing across their borders.

The biggest source of refugees in the region remains Iraq (1.7 million), followed by Sudan (387,000) and Western Sahara (116,000). The largest hosts, as of December 2010, were Iran (1.1 million), followed by Syria (1 million) and then Jordan (451,000), presumably due to a combination of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and Palestinian refugees.

But the situation is reversed when it comes to asylum seekers. There are 47,000 people claiming asylum in the Middle East and North Africa, but more than twice that number – 91,000 – have fled. Iraq (30,000), Sudan (23,700) and Iran (16,100) are the biggest sources of asylum seekers; Egypt (14,300), Sudan (6,000) and Israel (5,600) the largest hosts.

This year the flows are likely to be different. Libyans have fled into Tunisia and Egypt in large numbers. Syrians have been pouring over the border into Turkey. Most people don’t go too far from their homes, not matter what the right-wing in the UK and the rest of Europe say about the continent being overrun by unwanted immigrants.

Hal Far refugee

Rulers running out of time? The Dictator Charts

This time a month ago a North African dictator who’d been in office for decades was clinging on to power despite the cries of his people to get lost. It’s much the same now; just the names and tactics are different. Then it was Hosni Mubarak in Egypt sending camels and tear gas into the crowds, today it’s Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, seemingly intent on fostering a civil war.

Mubarak’s departure leaves a mere 21 autocrats, dictators and tyrants in place.

Watch face with picture of Sultan Qaboos of Oman

If and when Gaddafi goes, the next leader of the Dictator Charts will be Sultan Qaboos (pictured on a watch face, left), assuming he doesn’t go first of course – he’s been fending off his own protests in Sohar.

Bahrain and Yemen have also been on shaky ground over the past month, Iran has been suppressing its people’s demands for democracy once more and a “Day of Rage” is planned for Saudi Arabia on 11 March.

So after three months where North Africa has seen the most of the upheavals, it's starting to look like the focus of the revolutions and revolts could shift to the Gulf this month.

Here’s the latest run-down of who’s been in power for how long around the region:

  1. Muammar Gaddafi – Libya - 41.6 years in power
  2. Qaboos al Said - Oman - 40.8 years
  3. Sultan Al-Qasimi III - Sharjah - 39.2 years
  4. Hamad Al Sharqi - Fujeirah - 36.1 years
  5. Ali Abdullah Saleh - Yemen - 32.8 years
  6. Humaid Al Nuaimi - Ajman - 29.6 years
  7. Omar Bashir - Sudan - 21.5 years
  8. Hamad Al Thani - Qatar - 15.9 years
  9. King Abdullah II - Jordan - 12.1 years
  10. King Hamad Al Khalifa - Bahrain - 12 years
  11. Abdelaziz Bouteflika - Algeria - 11.11 years
  12. King Mohammed VI - Morocco - 11.8 years
  13. Bashar Assad - Syria - 10.8 years
  14. Sheikh Khalifa Al Nahyan - Abu Dhabi - 6.4 years
  15. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - Iran - 5.8 years
  16. King Abdullah al Saud - Saudi Arabia - 5.7 years
  17. Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum - Dubai - 5.2 years
  18. Sheikh Sabah Al-Sabah - Kuwait - 5.2 years
  19. Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz - Mauritania - 2.6 years
  20. Sheikh Saud Al Mualla - Umm al Quwain - 2.2 years
  21. Sheikh Saud al Qasimi - Ras al Khaimah - 0.4 years

For a bit more on these people, check out my posts from last month. Incidentally, Hosni Mubarak managed 29 years and 3 months in power, and was in 7th place before being forced into early retirement. Zine El Abidine Ben Al had been in power in Tunisia for 23 years and 2 months and had been in 8th spot.

Protest rap in North Africa

There’s an interesting mini-trend of rappers releasing protest songs in some of the North Africa countries to coincide with the street protests. El General (real name Hamada Ben Amor) in Tunisia became the most prominent when he released President, Your People Are Dying in the final days of the Ben Ali regime.

There are others in Libya and Egypt too, but overall the Tunisians seem to be doing the best stuff, including Psyco M.

Here are some of the ones I've come across so far:

El Général (Tunisia) President, Your People Are Dying


Psyco M (Tunisia) Jeu Politique 2011


Ibn Thabit (Libya) Poverty & Corruption


And last but not least, this one from Egypt  - can't find a version I can embed into this site so you'll just have to click through on one of the links...

Arabian Knightz (Egypt)  featuring Lauryn Hill Rebel

The Dictator Charts pt 2

Here's the rest of the ignominious group (following on from yesterday's post) with some impressively long-lasting figures.

11th - 11 years, 10 months in power Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa King of Bahrain An emirate wasn’t enough for Hamad al Khalifa, who designated his country a kingdom in 1999. The country has struggled for many years to cope with a disaffected Shia majority which is largely excluded from positions of power or influence. Hamad clamped down heavily on opposition Shia politicians in the run-up to last year’s parliamentary elections.

10th - 11 years, 11 months in power Abdullah II King of Jordan Succeeded his father King Hussein to the throne in February 1999. Since then he has proved fond of changing his prime minister and dissolving parliament. The latest occasion was on 1 February when he sacked Prime Minister Samir Rifai, apparently in reaction to a growing protest movement. Alongside Yemen, Jordan is many people’s favourite to follow Tunisia and Egypt in seeing a regime-shaking opposition movement filling its streets.

9th - 15 years, 7 months in power Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani Emir of Qatar Like Sultan Qaboos in Oman 25 years earlier, Sheikh Hamad seized power by kicking out his father. Since then, he has presided over a rapidly modernising country, with massive government investment fuelled by some of the world’s largest gas reserves. Winning the right to host the World Cup in 2022 has put the country on the map for many people, and is bound to invite greater scrutiny.

8th - 21 years, 7 months in power Omar Bashir President of Sudan Seized power in a coup in 1993 and has since been roundly and rightly castigated for the brutal actions of his government in Darfur. The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for him for crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur – the first sitting head of state to be awarded that honour. On the plus side, he behaved far better than anyone expected in his handling of the Southern Sudan independence referendum in January and now wants international sanctions lifted as a reward.

7th - 29 years, 3 months in power Hosni Mubarak President of Egypt A former air force officer who took over after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat, Mubarak has ruled under emergency law throughout his time in office. At the time of writing he appears determined to cling on to power no matter what and, as a result, is fast becoming the most destabilising force in Egypt and the rest of the Middle East. With any luck, by the time you read this he'll have been forced out of office.

6th - 29 years, 4 months in power Humaid bin Rashid al-Nuaimi Emir of Ajman (UAE) Ruler of some 200,000 people, Sheikh Humaid has been the Emir of Ajman since late 1981 when his father Sheikh Rashid died. Like his father he married someone from the Al Nahyan family of Abu Dhabi. The emirate suffered a collapse in property values in 2008 which continues to rankle with investors.

5th - 32 years, 6 months in power Ali Abdullah Saleh President of Yemen The closest the Arab world gets to having a failed state – it’s not quite as bad as Somalia but at times you feel it can’t be far off. Saleh gained power through a coup in what was then North Yemen and has since held on to it by deft use of patronage and playing tribes off against each other. In the past few years he has had to fight a civil war against rebels in the north, secessionists in the south and al-Qaida loyalists in the east. This year, protests have been growing in the wake of the Tunisian revolution – something will force him out eventually, it’s just difficult to predict what.

4th - 36 years in power Hamad bin Mohammed Al Sharqi Emir of Fujairah (UAE) A low-key figure, despite all his years in power, he is married to Sheikha Fatima bint Thani Al Maktoum, of the Dubai ruling family. He also has close links to Abu Dhabi and became emir after lobbying by Sheikh Zayed. Fujairah has a coastline on the Arabian Sea, rather than the Gulf, and so is strategically important to the rest of the UAE in case the Strait of Hormuz ever gets shut down again.

3rd - 38 years in power Sultan bin Mohammed Al-Qasimi III Emir of Sharjah (UAE) The longest-serving of the seven Emirati rulers. He had to battle against a six-day coup by his brother Abd al-Aziz in 1987 but has otherwise stayed firmly in power. He presides over the most conservative of the seven UAE emirates, but the local economy relies heavily on its links to neighbouring Dubai and all its excesses. He is also a published historian.

2nd - 40 years, 7 months in power Qaboos bin Said al Said Sultan of Oman Sultan Qaboos took power in a coup in July 1970, unseating his father in the process. Since then he has been sure to avoid naming any heir to the throne (he has no children of his own), lest they have a similar idea. He made great strides in modernising what was a hermit sultanate, particularly in his early years, but the economy is slowing down as its oil reserves run dry and life could get more difficult in the future.

1st - 41 years, 4 months in power Muammar Gaddafi Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution (Libya) As well as the longest-serving, Colonel Gaddafi is also the most bizarre leader of the lot. Among other things, he likes to lecture attractive Italian women on the benefits of Islam and pitch a tent in Western capitals whenever he visits. Once America’s “Enemy Number One” he has reinvented himself in recent years as a friend of the West, handing out oil contracts to European companies and abandoning a nuclear weapons programme. Rumoured to be lining up one of his sons to succeed him, with most bets being placed on Saif al-Islam.

The Dictator Charts

One down in Tunis, another teetering on the brink in Cairo, but there are plenty more unelected (or unfairly elected) dictators sitting in palaces around the Middle East. In fact there’s 22 of them. So here’s a countdown of them all, starting with the most recent arrival. I’ll post the second half (those who’ve been hanging around the longest) tomorrow.

Reading through the following list you might get the sense that the argument about “Arab exceptionalism” when it comes to the spread of democracy might have some legs left in it after all.

22nd - 3 months in power Sheikh Saud bin Saqr al QasimiEmir of Ras al Khaimah (UAE) The newest ruler on the block, Sheikh Saud took over in November after his father Sheikh Saqr died. There had been the potential for trouble, as his older half-brother Sheikh Khalid had been a vocal opponent ever since he was replaced as crown prince in 2003. Sheikh Saud had been de facto ruler for some time before November and was following a similar development model to that of nearby Dubai – which doesn’t look like such a great idea these days.

21st - 2 years in power Sheikh Saud bin Rashid Al Mualla Emir of Umm al Quwain (UAE) Sheikh Saud took over after the death of his father Rashid III in January 2009. Umm al Quwain has a population of just 50,000 and is something of a backwater. It’s the sort of place which no-one pays any attention to unless something extraordinary happens, which never does.

20th - 2 years, 5 months in power Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz President of Mauritania Took power in a coup in August 2008 and was then elected in a July 2009 presidential election, winning 53% of the vote in an election described as a sham by his critics. It’s a bit early to say what attitude he might take to future elections, but given his historic preference for coups and attempted coups there's little reason for confidence.

19th - 5 years in power Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum Emir of Dubai and Vice-President of the UAE Many things have been imported into Dubai, but democracy is not one of them. As crown prince and then ruler, Sheikh Mohammed has presided over an astonishing, hubristic economic boom and an equally dramatic bust. Now the emirate is nursing its wounds and its pride, having had to turn to Abu Dhabi for a bail-out of its debt-laden companies. The cult of personality is, however, alive and well, with pictures of him adorning walls and roadside posters across the city-state.

18th - 5 years in power Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah is inordinately fond of dissolving parliaments and dismissing prime ministers. There is more open political debate in Kuwait than most Gulf states, but the Emir holds all the real power. The country’s massive oil wealth allows it to head off most opposition with handouts and other inducements.

17th - 5 years, 5 months in power Mahmoud Ahmadinejad President of Iran Elected in a fairly free election in August 2005, he undermined his legitimacy in the eyes of most people by being re-elected in 2009 in a fraudulent election and then clamping down brutally on the opposition Green movement. Before then, Iran had some claim to be one of the more democratic countries in the region. Ahmadinejad has followed populist economic policies which, if anything, are only weakening an economy already battered by international sanctions.

16th - 5 years, 5 months in power Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud King of Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia is the poster child for repressive Islamist states, although as a key ally of the US it doesn’t get as much criticism as it might. King Abdullah gets no criticism at all, at least not publicly in the kingdom. Even the mention of a succession plan is likely to get a magazine or newspaper temporarily banned, but the elderly Abdullah recently went through lengthy medical treatment in the US and is increasingly frail. The high levels of corruption, mixed with large numbers of young, unemployed people, should give anyone who thinks it a stable country some pause for thought.

15th - 6 years, 2 months in power Sheikh Khalifa Emir of Abu Dhabi and President of the UAE By far the most powerful of the seven emirates that make up the UAE, Abu Dhabi has been more conservative than Dubai but its huge oil reserves ensure that it has most of the money and virtually all of the influence. He succeeded his father Sheikh Zayed to the throne in 2004 and tolerates no opposition to his rule.

14th - 10 years, 6 months in power Bashar Assad President of Syria Bashar wasn’t ever meant to follow his father Hafaz Assad as president. The job had been earmarked for his brother Basil, but he died in a car crash in 1994, and so Bashar took over in July 2000. Having promised reform when he came into office, he has achieved very limited and piecemeal changes and the country continues to underperform while meddling in Lebanon and irritating Israel. In a rambling interview with the Wall Street Journal in January he claimed that Syria would not suffer the same fate as Tunisia or Egypt, but it has almost all the same problems.

13th - 11 years, 6 months in power Mohammed VI King of Morocco Succeeded to the throne following the death of his father King Hassan II. He rules over a country with some very heavily circumscribed elements of democracy. His most prominent critic is his cousin Prince Moulay Hicham, who recently told Spanish daily El Pais that “almost every authoritarian systems will be affected by this wave of protest, Morocco will probably be no exception.”

12th - 11 years, 9 months in power Abdelaziz Bouteflika President of Algeria Elected with 74% in April 1999, after all the other candidates had pulled out. Since then his popularity has only grown, gaining 85% of the vote in 2004 and 90% in 2009. Rumoured to be ill. There have been sporadic protests in the wake of the Tunisian revolution next door, but as yet no large-scale opposition movement has emerged on the streets.