Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘CAABU’

Iftar at Bayt Qatar

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 30th July, 2012

Many of the competing nations at the London Olympics have hired prestigious venues as their ‘House’ for the length of the competition, as a base for nationals, supporters and guests, with all sorts of events taking place, as well as screenings of the sporting events themselves. This evening I was at Bayt Qatar, the House of the Gulf State of Qatar, which in normal life is the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) in Savoy Place, overlooking the River Thames. Part of the ground floor has been converted into a mock-up of Doha’s Souq Waqif and there’s a Sports Bar, offering what you would expect there. As a member of the executive Board of the Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU) I was  not only invited to the iftar (fast-breaking) dinner — Lebanese food courtesy of Harrod’s, now in Qatari ownership — but was also given membership of Bayt Qatar for the duration, which is something I am likely to make use of when I’m in that part of town. After dinner in the 3rd-floor restaurant and a refeshing breather on the terrace, with its fantastic sweeping view of the Thames, I attended a concert in the on-site theatre, starring Qatari singer Fahd Al Kubaisi, Italian tenor Tino Favazza and the zany Spanish gypsy guitarist and singer José Galvez, who wowed the children in the audience by throwing himself around the room like no adult they have ever seen. The finale for me (though not the concert) was a fusion medley of Arabic, Greek, Russian and Cuban influences by the Chehade Brothers. There was a great backing band all the way through, really getting into the spirit of things. Other events at Bayt Qatar over the next fortnight include fashion shows and film screenings.

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CAABU’s Parliamentary Delegations to Palestine

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 8th February, 2011

At the AGM of the Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU) this evening, Director Chris Doyle and Parliamentary Officer Graham Bambrough reported back on the delegations of parliamentarians they had led to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip recently. These parliamentary visits to Palestine — and less often to other Arab states — are one of the most valuable aspects of the work of CAABU, on whose Executive Board I sit. It is difficult for many MPs and Peers to visualise the realities of Israeli occupation or blockade without seeing it for themselves. MPs such as Ed Davey and Sarah Teather have testified about the impact their visits to Palestine had. As the May 2010 election saw the biggest influx of ‘new boys and girls’ to the House of Commons, a lot of conscious-raising now needs to be done. I was pleased to see that two new LibDem MPs, David Ward (Bradford East) and Julian Huppert (Cambridge) were amongst those who took up the opportunity to visit the region since they were elected. Chris Doyle spoke movingly of 12- and 13-year-old Palestinian boys being brought in chains before an Israeli military court, accused of stone-throwing. And once again one heard awful stories of the vicious harrassment inflicted on some Palestinian farmers and their families by militant Jewish settlers in the West Bank. With the Middle East peace process now stuck in the quagmire, it is important for British legislators — many of whom also visit Israel, on fact-finding missions — to see the situation on the ground for themselves.

[photo: LibDem MP Ed Davey on a CAABU visit to the West Bank]


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1001 Inventions

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 25th June, 2010

Yesterday afternoon I was delighted to attend a Private View of the superb 1001 Inventions exhibition at the Science Museum in South Kensington, courtesy of the Kuwaiti Ambassador, H.E. Khaled Al-Duwaisan and CAABU. Many people in the West are blissfully unaware of how much modern civilization owes to Arab scientists, inventors and thinkers. It’s not just that the Arabs saved much of classical Greek and Roman writings and knowledge during the European Dark Ages. From Constantinople to Baghdad, there was a ferment of activity and creativity, which is documented and conveyed in a highly entertaining way in this magnificent exhibition, supported by the Jameel Foundation. It has already attracted a very high number of visitors, but is only on until the and of this month. In August, the whole thing will be installed in giant marquees in Istanbul, in front of the Blue Mosque, then later it will go to New York. Not to be missed!

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CAABU Reception for new MPs

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 16th June, 2010

The Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding (CAABU) — on whose Board I sit — held a reception in the Jubilee Room of the House of Commons this lunchtime to introduce itelf to newly elected MPs. Amongst the speeches was a short address from the ubiquitous and urbane Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, the Kuwaiti Ambassador, Khaled Al-Duwaisan, as well as some remarks from  (Lord) David Steel (with whom I travelled to Gaza many moons ago). The Israeli lobby, while not as strong in London as it is in Washington, is nonetheless a powerful force in both of the British Houses of Parliament, which makes it all the more important that there is a visible Arab presence. Of course, the Arab narrative is a far more complicated one, as it covers issues way beyond the immediate concerns of Israel-Palestine, though for someone such as myself, who has been working as a journalist and academic in the region for longer than I care to recall, this very complexity adds to its fascination. My current focus is mainly on Jordan, but the entire Arab world intrigues.


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Tim Llewellyn and Lebanon’s Spirit of the Phoenix

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 19th May, 2010

SOAS played host to the Arab British Centre and the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding (CAABU, on whose Board I sit) this evening, for a talk on Lebanon by the former BBC Middle East correspondent Tim Llewellyn. We must have overlapped briefly in Beirut, while I was doing some work for the Middle East Council of Churches in 1980, though our paths didn’t cross in the city. Tonight’s event also served as a book promotion for Tim’s latest volume: Spirit of the Phoenix: Beirut and the Story of Lebanon (I B Tauris, 2010; sale price £12.99), a series of vignettes in a style that Tim described as akin to Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories. Several of these tales are amusing, though the tone of Tim’s talk was grave, as he fears that it is only a matter of time before there is renewed conflict with Israel. Asked in the question time afterwards what he thought of Tony Blair’s effectiveness as the Quartet’s special envoy to Israel/Palestine, Tim commented damningly, ‘Useless!’

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Ed Davey and Sarah Teather Go to Gaza

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 15th February, 2009

A six-strong British parliamentary delegation led by Richard Burden MP was waiting at the Erez checkpoint in Israel this morning for permission to cross into the Gaza Strip, on a fact-finding mission to assess the humanitarian situation there. The Liberal Democrats’ Shadow Foreign Secretary, Ed Davey, is in the group, as is his London colleague Sarah Teather and the Chairman of the parliamentary Labour Party, Tony Lloyd, plus fellow MPs Andy Slaughter and Martin Linton. The group’s visit has been facilitated by the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding (CAABU) and has been welcomed by numerous charities, including Save the Children, whose Chief Executive, Jasmine Whitbread, commented, ‘the danger is that people will forget as [Gaza] goes off our TV screens. But the families are still living in very difficult circumstances.’

Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine hopes to organise a ‘report back’ meeting in London after the MPs’ return.

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The Agony and the Ecstasy

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 17th July, 2008

Walking down Fetter Lane in the City of London earlier today, I thought I was dreaming as I heard a — clearly live — performance of Chopin, brilliantly played. But no, my senses were not deceiving me. Round a corner, in New Street Square, the gifted young Polish-Canadian pianist Berenika Zakrzewski was playing in the open air a grand piano, as part of the City of London Festival. Dozens of City workers, caught as unawares as I had been, stood around and bathed in the ecstasy of it all.

I had to tear myself away, to go to the Summer Party of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding (CAABU), on whose governing board I sit. Their headquarters in the Arab-British Centre overlooks Dr Johnson’s house in Gough Square, one of those curious nooks and crannies of 18th century London that have survived unscathed. As a backdrop to the event, slides of CAABU’s work were being projected, and I was jolted by a shot of Palestinian journalist Mohammed Omer, whom I had last seen in that very room but a few weeks ago, and who is still in pain from the obscene and vicious beating he received at the hands of the Israel Defence Force when he crossed back into the West Bank from Jordan on his return from collecting the Martha Gelhorn Prize.

Politicians from all three main political parties are represented on CAABU’s Board, and the organisation’s work has never been as much in need as it is now, when there so much misinformation and fear in Britain about the Arab world and the agony some people on both sides of the Israel/Palestine side are suffering. I have recently been called ‘naive’ and even ‘anti-Semitic’ by some critics for my highlighting the injustices borne by many Palestinians as a result of some Israeli government policies, but that will not silence me. Just as accusations from some Islamic militants that I am a ‘closet Zionist’ because I champion the work of liberal and artistic Israeli Jews will cut no ice with me. I am pro-people and pro-peace (which is why in my student days, shortly after my first visit to the Middle East, I became a Quaker). And I judge people accordingly.

This is also why I am such an enthusiastic supporter of the work done by the Argentinian-born Israeli conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim, who has taken Palestinian citizenship to further his concern for peace and reconciliation in the region. I have only met him once, but was deeply impressed. Similarly, with the legacy of the late Soviet Azerbaijan-born cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, who is the one 20th century figure I never met who I would invite to one of those fantasy dinner parties one is sometimes asked to construct.


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