Hugh Miles

Hugh Miles has lived in Libya, Egypt and Yemen. He works in London.

On 21 December 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 was 38 minutes into its journey when it was blown up at 31,000 feet. The explosion was so powerful that the nose of the aircraft was torn clean off. Within three seconds of the bomb detonating, the cockpit, fuselage and No. 3 engine were falling separately out of the sky. It happened so quickly that no distress call was sent out and no oxygen masks deployed. With the cockpit gone, the fuselage depressurised instantly and the passengers in the rear section of the aircraft found themselves staring out into the Scottish night air.

I have spent 12 hours every day since the start of the war watching al-Jazeera. (It’s my job: I work for a 24-hour news channel.) In my claustrophobic, prefabricated newsroom, it has sometimes seemed as if I was watching two different wars – one on al-Jazeera, the other on the Western channels. When CNN was reporting that the deep-water port of Umm Qasr was secure, al-Jazeera was...

From The Blog
20 October 2011

The story so far, in case you missed it, is that US authorities have announced that an Iranian-American car salesman, Manssor Arbabsiar, tried to enlist a DEA informant to commit mass murder in the mistaken belief that he was a hitman working for a Mexican drug cartel. One of the crimes Arbabsiar is alleged to have had in mind was the murder of the Saudi envoy in Washington, Adel al-Jubeir.

From The Blog
8 March 2011

Pressure is building on the Saudi regime as opposition forces inside and outside the country are planning a Day of Rage on Friday. Precise details haven't been released, for obvious reasons, but demonstrations are likely to start around 4 p.m. in cities across the Kingdom. Opposition activity on the internet is at fever pitch and widespread civil disturbances are expected. In recent days at least three different public statements calling for reform have been issued, each with hundreds of influential signatories. Several new political movements have been launched including the Islamic Umma party, led by ten well-known clerics; the National Declaration of Reform, headed by the well-known reformer Mohammed Sayed Tayib, with Islamist, liberal, Shia and Sunni members; Dawlaty, an amorphous online movement with several thousand signatories and thousands more accumulating every day; and the Al Dustorieen movement of lawyers, linked to Prince Talal bin Abdulaziz, who are calling for a response from the king on a petition they submitted in 2005.

From The Blog
21 February 2011

Information is patchy as communication networks are down, but reports from Libya all indicate that after 42 years in power, Colonel Gaddafi’s time is up. The tribes are heading to the capital en masse, soldiers still answering to the regime are trying to stop them, and the violence is escalating. According to the latest reports the regime has deployed helicopters and jets to crush the uprising, allegedly flown by mercenaries from Eastern Europe, Cuba and elsewhere. Meanwhile, former regime stalwarts have been defecting in growing numbers. The head of Afriqiya Airways, the head of the Libyan Chamber of Commerce and several ambassadors are among those who have resigned or relocated. Many of them are reportedly now in Dubai. Islamic scholars in Libya spoke up today for the first time to rule that fighting Gaddafi was legitimate jihad. The demonstrators are calling for a million people to march tomorrow on Bab al-Aziziya, the fortified military compound where Gaddafi lives in Tripoli. But no one knows where he is now.

From The Blog
16 February 2011

Demonstrations by hundreds of people in Libya’s second city of Benghazi yesterday were met with rubber bullets and water cannon: at least one person died and around 14 were injured, including 10 police officers, according to media reports. Yesterday also saw the first mass demonstrations by Libyan women against the regime. 'No one is clear what is going to happen or what is being planned,' a Libyan opposition figure told me. 'There are no opposition movements inside Libya but many young people have had enough of the regime.'

From The Blog
13 January 2011

The US ambassador to Libya, Gene Cretz, may be the first senior diplomat to fall victim to the release of confidential embassy cables on WikiLeaks. ‘Ambassador (Gene A.) Cretz is in Washington for consultations... The question of when Ambassador Cretz returns to Libya will be one of the many subjects of his consultations,’ a spokesman said last week. Appointed in 2007, Cretz was the first US ambassador to Libya since 1972. Last month Colonel Qadhafi praised WikiLeaks for exposing US hypocrisy. ‘The true face of US diplomacy has been revealed through the confidential documents,’ he said. This ‘proved that America is not what it has led allies and friends to believe it to be’. Most of the stories from Tripoli that were picked up in the western media were old news in Libya, where few are unaware, for example, that Qadhafi suffers from phobias about flying, travelling over water and staying on upper floors. Many elderly desert bedouin feel the same way and no one thinks that Qadhafi travelled 7000 miles around Africa by land because of his love for African unity.

From The Blog
6 December 2010

US embassy cables released yesterday by Wikileaks describe al-Jazeera as ‘a useful tool for the station's political masters’ and claim that the channel altered its output to suit the interests of Qatar’s foreign policy. These allegations, which al-Jazeera has denied, are neither new nor surprising, even if they’ve never come from such an authoritative source before. A confidential cable sent from the US Embassy in Doha to Washington in February this year quotes a conversation between the Qatari prime minister, Hamad bin Jassim (HBJ) al-Thani, and US senator John Kerry, in which HBJ says that he told the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, that Qatar would stop al-Jazeera broadcasting if Cairo would change its position on Israel-Palestinian negotiations:

From The Blog
16 August 2010

The UK supplies Israel with a steady stream of arms on a 'case-by-case basis', although none of them are supposed to be used inside the Occupied Territories. In practice there is no way of knowing what Israel does with the kit it buys, so British companies are restricted from selling things, including fighter parts and missile systems, that have been used in the Occupied Territories in the past. But under the current rules the US can still tranship this kind of hardware to Israel through the UK.

From The Blog
4 August 2010

On 9 June a letter appeared on the internet purportedly written by Prince Turki bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia. It warned of a coup within the Saudi armed forces and said that if the royal family does not step down soon they risk ending up like Nicolae Ceauşescu or the Shah of Iran. The note had no letterhead, was unsigned and there was no accompanying press release. But it quickly spread across the internet, and is the subject of much discussion on Facebook and other sites.">http://www.wagze.com/talik3.html" target="_blank">a letter appeared on the internet purportedly written by Prince Turki bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia. It warned of a coup within the Saudi armed forces and said that if the royal family does not step down soon they risk ending up like Nicolae Ceauşescu or the Shah of Iran. The note had no letterhead, was unsigned and there was no accompanying press release. But it quickly spread across the internet, and is the subject of much discussion on Facebook and other sites.

From The Blog
20 July 2010

Relatively speaking Africa may not have been as badly hit by the credit crisis as other parts of the world but champagne imports are nevertheless down across the continent. Except in Congo Brazzaville, that is, where sales last year sharply increased – even though it is one of the poorest and most indebted countries in the world, where two-thirds of the population live on less than a dollar a day and life expectancy is 45.

From The Blog
24 June 2010

Since the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, a stream of evidence has emerged suggesting that BP's attitude to risk may have contributed to the disaster. At Tony Hayward's congressional inquisition on 17 June, the CEO of BP was accused of choosing risky procedures in order to reduce costs and save time, and Anadarko Petroleum Corp, BP's former partner which owns a quarter of the blown-out well, went even further, accusing BP of 'behaviour and actions [that] likely represent gross negligence or wilful misconduct'. BP denies all charges.

From The Blog
13 May 2010

The St George’s Cross was flying above Southwark Town Hall as we filed into the waiting room to take our seats. About sixty people from all over the world – Ghana, Nigeria, Egypt, France, Afghanistan, Uruguay, Colombia, China – were already there. I had come to watch my wife become a British citizen. She sat, like the other prospective candidates, holding her letter from the Home Office, wrapped up against the London weather. Although most of the assembled group already looked quite well integrated into British society – one was wearing the uniform of a Transport for London official – none of them seemed at home with the climate yet. ‘We are all here for a citizenship ceremony this afternoon, is that correct?’ the council registrar asked. A general mutter of assent. ‘This is a formal occasion so no jeans, no trainers. If you need to go home and change, you can do that now.’ No one had mentioned a dress code. Naturalisation is an arduous process that requires masses of documentation, costs hundreds or even thousands of pounds in legal and Home Office fees, and typically takes years: it seemed a bit tough suddenly to throw up this last hurdle. Fortunately the only inappropriately dressed person was me.

From The Blog
9 February 2010

Succession is a burning issue in most Arab countries and Libya is no exception. Although there is no sign that Colonel Gaddafi is about to relinquish power, he is 68 and hasn't yet publicly nominated a successor. The issue is complicated because, technically, Libya has no head of state. Gaddafi is the Leader of the Revolution, and it's hard to see how anyone could follow him in this role, so he would have to be made head of state before anyone could take his place. But this would run contrary to his revolutionary principles, and when the regime’s own Green March newspaper printed an article saying as much a few years ago the editor was sacked. Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the leader’s second son, is generally viewed as the most likely man for the job. In October, for the first time, the Colonel gave a possible clue to his wishes by making a surprise announcement proposing that Saif should be given a key official post in the Libyan government. 'Saif al-Islam is a faithful man and loves Libya,' he said. 'Saif needs a position that allows him to pursue his role in carrying out his programme to further Libya's interests.' The announcement was a surprise not only because the King of Kings presented his wish as a request rather than simply imposing his will unilaterally, as he often does, but also because it contradicted all Saif’s statements about not being interested in political power. Nevertheless, a few days later, the Libyan media dutifully reported that Saif had been appointed Co-ordinator of Social Leaderships, a recently vacated post that has been described as the second most important job in Libyan politics. This new position wouldn't automatically make Saif the official heir but it would give him a position of authority in the government, and it could lead to his inheriting the leadership. But after the announcement Saif himself remained oddly quiet, neither accepting nor rejecting what was being thrust upon him.

From The Blog
27 April 2010

I was at a conference in Sharm el Sheikh when Eyjafjallajökull erupted. The only flights out of Cairo were to Tunis, Beirut or Casablanca. Casablanca seemed the least worst option. We touched down shortly before midnight, and I made it to Casa-Voyageurs station just in time for the night train to Tangier, where I met a Moroccan builder heading for Montpellier. He had an appointment with social security; if he missed it, he risked having his benefits cut off.

From The Blog
19 January 2010

Saudi Arabia’s former ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, has disappeared. In the absence of any official news about his health or whereabouts, the rumour mill has been working overtime. As is often the case with Saudi affairs, the truth is elusive. Those who know won’t talk and those who don’t know talk a lot.

Last August the Iranian media reported that Bandar had been put under house arrest, allegedly for plotting a coup to try and ensure the Kingdom would continue under the rule of the Sudairi branch of the Al Saud family. But Iran isn’t the most reliable source: al-Arabiya, Saudi Arabia’s news network, gibes Iran hourly over its ongoing political turmoil; Iran’s al-Alam and Press TV hit back at Saudi Arabia whenever they can.

From The Blog
13 November 2009

The British mercenary Simon Mann isn't the only would-be assassin who has been making apologies for trying to overthrow an oil-rich country’s government. The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, established in Afghanistan in the 1990s, has killed dozens of Libyan soldiers and policemen over the years. But the LIFG recently apologised to Colonel Gaddafi for trying to kill him, and agreed to lay down its arms for good. Six members of the LIFG’s leadership, held inside Libya’s Abu Sleem prison, released a 420-page document disavowing their old ways and explaining why fighting Gaddafi no longer constituted legitimate jihad.

From The Blog
24 September 2009

On 18 September Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi's legal team published online a 300-page dossier of evidence protesting the convicted Lockerbie bomber's innocence. The dossier would have formed part of the basis of al-Megrahi's appeal had he not given it up so he could return to Libya to die in the bosom of his family. As Gareth Peirce argues in the latest LRB, there never was any convincing evidence against al-Megrahi in the first place. (In a response to Peirce, former FBI agent Richard Marquise doesn't substantively address either her main points or those in the dossier.) One reason for this is that, when Libya was first fingered for the bombing in 1990, those responsible never expected their case would ever have to stand up to scrutiny in a court of law.

From The Blog
17 August 2009

More than two years after the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission ruled that Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi may have suffered a miscarriage of justice, it was announced that the convicted Lockerbie bomber would be released on humanitarian grounds. A few days later he dropped his appeal. Then today the Timesreports that Hilary Clinton has warned of an international backlash if Megrahi is released early. It’s no secret the Libyans didn't want their man to die in prison.

From The Blog
29 July 2009

A Libyan opposition group – calling itself the National Council of the Libyan Opposition – has published confidential documents online in an attempt to embarrass the Gaddafi regime. The documents, which are in English, were produced by two US consultancy firms, the Livingston Group and Monitor Group, and lay out strategies for securing the Libyan leader’s ‘reintroduction on Capitol Hill’. They also include invoices for millions of dollars in fees. Among the more lucrative schemes the Monitor Group proposes is to produce a book about Libya based on a series of conversations between Muammar Gaddafi and ‘renowned expert visitors', including Richard Perle and ‘Lord Anthony Giddens’ [sic].

Letter
In his account of Egypt’s decline under Hosni Mubarak, Adam Shatz understandably concentrates on the country’s relationship with the US and Israel (LRB, 27 May). But there is another international player with growing influence in Egypt: China.Seventeen thousand Chinese are now officially resident in Egypt and the volume of trade between the two countries has gone from $635 million in 1999...

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