Best VPNs for Dubai and the UAE

VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) are popular, and big in places like Dubai. I lived there for some years and although a lot of my friends had one I never did. It was a mistake. I was tapped the whole time I was there, on my home landline anyway. A VPN would have prevented that. It would also have allowed me to use Skype, which the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) had banned.

So if you live in the UAE you probably already know how popular VPNs are as a means to access blocked websites and apps including Skype and WhatsApp or to connect to US Netflix and other streaming services.

This article (see below) takes a look at the best VPNs for Dubai or elsewhere in the UAE. It runs through some common concerns about using a VPN in the UAE and tries to clear up some misconceptions around legal issues with VPN use

As Comperitech ( points out- which is a UK registered company and hopes to be opening its first US office soon- VPNs are popular with tourists and expats because it helps them to access apps like WhatsApp and Skype as well as streamingservices such as BBC iplayer, Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video., all of which are restricted by the TRA. (Arguably, that’s how the telephone companies, particularly Etisalat, make lots of money).

The brand and website is owned and operated by Comparitech Limited.

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How social media affects decision making

Nowadays, social media affects all of us, in so many ways. It affects everything we do including our decision making and buying behaviour. This article from the Institute of Public Relations in the USA tells how.

One of its findings is that social media posts from close friends and family were the most influential source, but the degree of influence depended on the industry. Close friends and family were a critical source in the travel industry for all generations: Millennials (62%), Generation X (61%), Baby Boomers (48%), and the Silent Generation (48%). Close/friends and family were also an influential source for Millennials (51%) in the financial services industry and the retail industry (49%). Close friends and family were also an important source for the Silent Generation (42%) in the healthcare industry.

The link for the full report is here.

The key findings are below with the executive summary first.

In a survey of 1,783 internet users, this study explored the level of influence social media has in four industries: healthcare, financial, travel (personal not business), and retail. The results were segmented by four generations: Millennials, Generation X, Baby Boomers, and the Silent Generation. Consistent with previous studies, the influence of social media continues to play a role in the actions and recommendations of consumers, and that influence continues to rise. This report dives into the results of the survey and gives recommendations for companies.

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NZ Superfund excludes recreational cannabis companies

Companies involved in the recreational cannabis industry have been excluded from the $37 billion NZ Super Fund. The exclusion does not include companies involved with licensed and authorised medicinal cannabis.

The move follows a growing global trend to decriminalise and legalise the recreational use of cannabis, which has led to share market listings of companies involved in the industry overseas.

I’m curious about sovereign wealth funds- having worked in private equity in the Middle East for years- and how they decide what to invest in and what not to. It can’t be easy. I’m sure most sovereign wealth funds invest in anything, including the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA). What they invest in is uncertain, especially given that many of the investment managers are ex-pats.

This report from the New Zealand Super Fund is informative in that it explains what the fund excludes and why it is leading the way.

Under the Guardians' Responsible Investment Framework, decisions about ethical exclusions take account of New Zealand law and international conventions to which New Zealand is a signatory. Recreational use of cannabis is currently illegal in New Zealand under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975, and contrary to New Zealand's commitments to international drug conventions.*

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Hospitals and the NZ Super Fund

This week I’ve been visiting the Critical Care Unit at the hospital again. Today, one person was dying. He had pulmonary fibrosis and was at the top of the waiting list for a lung transplant. He picked up a lung infection before he got the transplant. About 10 people were standing around his bed, waiting for him to die, including the doctor, and a dog came in to see him. I wanted to cry, and I didn't even know him- but I've talked with his daughter and his wife.

 So it’s with relief that I am moving on to a more frivolous subject- even though I would not normally deem it to be frivolous- and that is the New Zealand Super Fund and the fact that the government is now resuming contributions. In fact, NZD 500 million will be paid tomorrow.

 Here is the press release.

 The Board of the Guardians of New Zealand Superannuation, the manager of the NZ Super Fund, has welcomed the resumption of Government contributions to the $37 billion Fund.

The Government plans to put $7.7 billion into the NZ Super Fund between now and June 2022, with the first payment to be made on Friday, 15 December.

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How clever is Trump's Jerusalem move ?

I’ve just been listening to a debate on Al Jazeera TV (English) between an Israeli, an Arab representative and a lawmaker at the EU on a number of topics namely about President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement (although the latter was scarcely covered because the other two took up most of the time).

 The first issue- that is President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel- is amazingly complicated, albeit interesting. I have my own take on if and how peace can ever be achieved between Israel and Palestine having been in Bethlehem for a conference, and traveling into East Jerusalem from there. What an experience. I learned a great deal.

 So I was interested to read this article that that originally appeared in the Financial Times and thereafter as a Brookings Brief.

 Martin Indyk explains that President Trump's speech recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel did too little to fulfill the annexationist appetite of Israel's right wing, while it also left Palestinians and their Arab and Muslim supporters deeply dissatisfied. This piece originally appeared in the Financial Times.

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New New Zealand CEO Governor of Reserve Bank

Today’s announcement that the New Zealand Reserve Bank has appointed a new governor came as a surprise not because it was unexpected but because of whom it is. It is the CEO of New Zealand Superannuation Fund, Adrian Orr, who, by all accounts, has done a great job. I suppose I never imagined him moving.

 It seems that I’ve had associations with the last two governors of the Reserve Bank, and of that I’m surprised. I’ve interviewed Adrian Orr, as CEO of the Super Fund, when I’ve been working with the Private Equity International, then the outgoing Governor, Graeme Wheeler, was my former boss at Treasury.

Here’s an article about Adrian Orr’s appointment.

NZ Super Fund CEO Adrian Orr has resigned to take up the position of Governor of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand.

Catherine Savage, Chair of the Guardians of New Zealand Superannuation, the Crown entity that manages the NZ Super Fund, thanked Mr Orr for his service.

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Sexual harrassment in the workplace

Sexual harassment is becoming increasingly real. Just look at #metoo to see how many woman have been affected.

A few years ago I was working in the City of London and I went to see a lawyer. Why? Because i was being paid less than a man for exctly the same work.

I was told by the lawyer that although i has a definite case if I proceeded, I would never get a job in the City again.

This article is the first in a two-part series that explores some of the issues surrounding sexual harassment.

The year was 1980.  It was my first job in private industry and I was working in a division of a company that would later become part of what is now Verizon.  To make a long story short, I was asked to develop a communications program in response to an issue of sexual harassment of a female employee in our southern Georgia division location.  The president of the division said he never wanted what happened to her to happen again.

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Hospitals and the Middle East

Hospitals. They’re exhausting, probably because there are so many sick and dying people. On top of that, there’s all that equipment designed to monitor people and make them well again.


It’s because I’ve been visiting the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the local hospital, where it is known as the Critical Care Unit (CCU) that I haven’t written anything for a few days.

 Travelling up and down to the hospital, and sitting there for a few hours each time, three times a day is, to say the least, exhausting. It’s hard to believe that’s the case when you’re doing nothing- but all those sick and dying people sap the energy. I now believe in energy chakras.

 The surgeons, doctors and nurses are great. They seem to come from all over the world- from Scotland, India, England, the US and Saudi Arabia.

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Gaw and Consortium Partners win bid to acquire 17 Shopping Centres in Hong Kong

News of the private equity firm, Gaw Capital Partners, keeps coming. But I guess that's what happens in the fast growing Chinese market.  And real estate is often the asset of choice.

November 28, 2017, Hong Kong – Real estate private equity firm Gaw Capital Partners today announced that the firm, through a fund under its management, and consortium partners, including Goldman Sachs, have won a bid to acquire a retail portfolio comprising 17 shopping centers in Hong Kong from Link Asset Management Limited at HK$ 23 billion and an average price of around HK$7,922 per sq. ft. excluding parking.

The portfolio is comprised of a number of strategically-located properties across Kowloon and the New Territories that sit in the heart of densely-populated communities and in close proximity to MTR stations. The GFA of the portfolio totals 2.2 million sq. ft. of prime retail space and comes with over 8,000 parking spaces that are connected to highly-convenient transport links. Their excellent accessibility and holistic shopping environments have made them attractive destinations for retailers and hubs of community life for residents.

The shopping centers included in the portfolio are: Cheung Hang Shopping Centre, Kai Yip Commercial Centre, Kam Tai Shopping Centre, Lei Cheng Uk Shopping Centre, On Ting Commercial Complex, Shek Lei Shopping Centre I & II, Tai Wo Hau Commercial Centre, Tsz Ching Shopping Centre, Yau Oi Commercial Centre and Yung Shing Shopping Centre, Kwai Fong Plaza, Kwai Shing East Shopping Centre, Lai Kok Shopping Centre, Lee On Shopping Centre, Retail and Car Park within Shun Tin Estate, Tsing Yi Commercial Complex and Lions Rise Mall.

Goodwin Gaw, Chairman and Managing Principal of Gaw Capital Partners, said, “We and our partners strongly believe in Hong Kong’s future, and believe these malls, which Link REIT has done an excellent job in upgrading and maintaining, will continue to serve important functions in the community. We hope to utilize our experience to evolve these malls into refreshed and renewed centers of local life. To be successful, we will need the support of the community, and we look forward to working with them to understand the gaps that could be filled and how we can support them to make their neighborhoods better homes.

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Jared Kushner comes under the spotlight

There are two magazines, the November issue of Vanity Fair and the Fall issue of Columbia Journalism Review, which have articles about Jared Kushner, the US President's Trump favourite son-in-law. Actually, the title of the latter publication is entitled "The Trump Issue, Takeover, The Year that changed journalism" and contains a series of enlightening articles about how journalism has changed in the Trump era.

In one article, written by a former editor of the New York Observer, Kyle Pope, he talks about how his relationship with Kushner unravelled and how the Observer ended up a shadow of its former self, with an on-line edition only. He maintains that Kushner knew nothing about world affairs, and had never read the Observer before he bought it for $10 million in 2006. He writes: "..his interest in turning the business side of the Observer around seemed rooted more in bragging rights than in any commitment to the paper itself. He also made it clear that, compared to this day job of buying and selling real estate in New York City, this journalism stuff wasn't exactly heavy lifting; he treated it as sort of a hobby."

He also writes: "Other former editors of the paper have weighed in with their own stories about Kushner's attempts to use the paper to settle scores or reward cronies.."

Jared Kushner's life is explored further in the November issue of Vanity Fair ( in an article that talks about his powerful father going to prison and that, as a consequence, he was given the keys to the family real-estate kingdom, at the age of 24. The fact that Charlie Kushner had disgraced the family and lost status meant that Jared was trying to acquire it. The purchase of the Observer was one way of doing this; the other way was the purchase of a 41-story office tower on Fifth Avenue between 52nd and 53rd Streets in Manhattan. The building was purchased in January 2007 for the huge sum of $1.2 billion, the plan being that the rents would cover the mortgage payments. They didn't. The tower is still 30% vacant.

As the author, Rich Cohen, writes: "Jared Kushner's life can be seen as a lark, an inheritance, a goof. Or it can be seen more grandly as an attempt to get back what was lost..."

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China Outlet Mall Fund raises USD 550 million

Florentia Mall, China


November 21, 2017, Hong Kong - Real estate private equity firm Gaw Capital Partners acted as co-capital sponsor in the successful first close of US$550 million for the ERES APAC II – China Outlet Mall Fund.

This fund is backed by Allianz, Gaw Capital Partners, and TIAA General Account, a Frankfurt-based German asset management company, among others.  Allianz is the largest investor with a 30% stake in the platform, TH Real Estate is the fund manager, RDM is the asset manager while Gaw Capital acted as co-capital sponsor and advisor, as well as a substantial investor (through its Gateway Real Estate Fund V), to the fund.

 ERES APAC II is seeded by two leading designer malls, Florentia Village Jingjin in the city of Wuqing (located near Beijing and Tianjin) and Florentia Village Shanghai.  The developer and seller of the two seed assets is a joint venture between Gaw Capital’s Gateway Real Estate Fund III, RDM, Waitex Group, and another institutional investor. RDM is part of Fingen Group of Italy and has built up a strong track record in operating premium outlet malls in Europe. In 2012, Gaw Capital invested in this venture which developed the six Florentia Village outlets in Jingjin, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Wuhan, Chengdu, and Hong Kong.

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Journalism and business go hand in hand

My eye was quickly drawn to this headline: “Why we need to teach more business skills in the J-school classroom.” Journalism and business

in the same sentence and this was being endorsed.

I had studied a different discipline from everyone else in my year at post-graduate journalism school at the University of Canterbury in New

Zealand. I had completed a post graduate degree in economics, worked at Treasury for three years and then studied at journalism school

for one year. Although I had an Arts degree everyone else had studied all the Arts subjects- languages, anthropology for example-and

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Exploiting labour in the GCC

Workers’ rights in the Arab Gulf countries often come in for criticism, especially from organisations like Amnesty International and the International Labour Organisation. It’s true. The rules are abhorrent but often the criticism that is lurched at say Qatar is almost as true of the other Gulf countries.

 But with the ongoing dispute between Qatar and four other states- Saudi Arabia, UAE, Brain and Egypt- Qatar has even more interest in ridding itself of the “kafala” system. Under this system a local citizen or local company (the kafil) must sponsor foreign workers in order for their work visas and residency to be valid. This means that an individual's right to work and residence in the host country is dependent on the employer, rendering millions of workers from South Asia and elsewhere vulnerable to exploitation.

 Even though Qatar is in the line of fire, mainly because it is hosting FIFA 2022, other Gulf countries also use this system. In the UAE for example you must have a sponsor to reside in the country and you can change employer (without permission) if you are in, or are going, to a free zone. That wasn’t always the case.

 And when I was living there, the employer still took an employee’s passport; if not (as was the case with me since I refused to hand over my passport) the employer takes the employee’s ID card instead. I was also know of one person who had to finish her contract (she was Swedish) before she could leave the country. This happened in September.

 In Qatar it can be impossible to change jobs, if the current employer doesn’t allow it. I know one person- a Canadian citizen- to whom that happened. She had to flee the country. This was in 2013.

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Why do we age? Dunedin studies this and more

Recently I went to a talk by Dr Sandhya Ramrakha on the internationally recognised Dunedin Study- the longest multi-disciplinary, longitudinal study in the world, which is carried out by Otago University. It is known formally as the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Research Unit (DMHDRU). The study tracks the lives of about 1000 babies born in Dunedin between 1972 and 1973. Now in its 45th year, the study is ramping up, particularly as people are beginning to age.

 Since most ageing research is done on the elderly, little is known about biological aging in young humans. The study aims to fill this gap.

 “We know that the aging process starts right from the beginning of life and our people are at a critical point in their life course. They’ve now reached the point where they are starting to go down the aging pathway. We want to figure out what lies ahead, because this is one race you don’t won’t to win,” the October 17 magazine of the University of Otago states.

 This year the study has also re-introduced studies of hearing and sight, not done since childhood; muscolosketal health, including pain and body composition; dietary biomarkets; investigative oxidative stress cellular health and chronic kidney injury; and brain imaging research.

 Other aims of the study include understanding the reasons for people’s behaviour over time. It is used to inform health, education and social policy in particular. For example, it also presents new findings on domestic violence that shows that women are just as likely to commit domestic violence offences as men.

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Digital story telling: AR, VR and

Technology in the media is moving so fast. It's all about ensuring that people have a good media experience and this article by Carolyn Morgan tells how.

This article is in a series exploring key themes in technology from the Web Summit in Lisbon and how they may impact on media brands.

Video already drives engagement on mobile and social: media brands need to adapt to this form of story telling and engaging audiences. But the gaming and entertainment industry, in search of more immersive experiences, are already developing augmented reality (AR), volumetric video and virtual reality (VR). As mobile devices evolve to be capable of handling these forms of content, consumers will become used to the visual experiences, and media owners will need to develop new ways to present content.

Video drives traffic on mobile and social

60% of time spent online by US consumers is watching video, and mobile makes up 23% of total online video viewing, growing at an annual rate of 30%. Currently video only accounts for 5% adspend, but this is growing at 58% pa. Social platforms dominate video viewing – 47% of referrals traffic to video content come from social, overwhelmingly from Facebook.

Volumetric video portrays people most realistically

Cartoon avatars can’t express genuine emotions, and CGI is prohibitively expensive, so there’s growing interest in volumetric video, filmed using an array of cameras, creating a file small enough to be shared to a phone, and an image that can be viewed from all sides. Applications could include museum hosts, virtual retail assistants or personal trainers.

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Lebanon: caught in the mangle again

The war in Yemen wages on, seemingly without end. And if the Saudi-led coalition doesn't let humanitarian aid into the country there will be a huge famine. Saudi Arabia is fighting the Houthis, which dominates the government and is Iran backed. Saudi Arabia, which is Sunni, wants to be the dominant force in the Middle East. At the moment, it is waging a proxy war against Iran and is failing. It has not achieved the gains it hoped it would by backing the rebels in Syria; Bashir Assad, who is backed by Iran is still in power. The next country on the cards is Lebanon and in a delicately balanced government between about 14 different religions, where the Prime Minister is always a Sunni, Saudi Arabia has caused chaos by insisting that the Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, resigned. Saudi Arabia wants to wage war against Iran-back Hezbollah which certainly dominates in the South of Lebanon. (The photos are from there). This article in Arab Digest explains well what is happening in Lebanon.

Summary: resignation of Prime Minister Hariri less a Lebanese affair than part of the Saudi obsession with Iran (backed by Israel but not the US). Poor Lebanon will pay the price.

On 4 November the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his resignation. He made the announcement in Riyadh, saying that there were covert plans against his life. In language more characteristic of Saudi than of Lebanese politics (he is a dual Lebanese/Saudi national) he accused Iran of creating in Hizbullah a state within a state; “I say to Iran and its allies – you have lost in your efforts to meddle in the affairs of the Arab world... [the region] will rise again and the hands that you have wickedly extended into it will be cut off.” An AP report comments that “Saudi fingerprints were seen all over Hariri's resignation.”

As we commented in a posting of 3 November 2016 the Lebanese political game is played by rules laid down over seventy years ago in the National Pact. Since Ottoman times the population has consisted of a wide palette of minorities, Maronite Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Sunni Muslim, Shia Muslim, Druze, not to mention Armenians, Kurds and others. The president is a Maronite, the prime minister a Sunni, the speaker of parliament a Shia, the army commander a Druze, and so on. Minority communities include differing political or tribal elements, so that both the governments and the oppositions have been mosaic coalitions. This unique system has given Lebanon prosperity and stability, interrupted from time to time by external forces and events, Palestinian (refugees in 1948, PLO from Jordan in 1970), Syrian (multiple intervention from 1976 to 2005, now 1.5 million refugees), Israeli (various wars, occupation of the mainly Shia south from 1982 to 2000).

In 2005 the long serving Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, father of Saad, was assassinated. Hizbullah was accused (not only Hizbullah), but the investigation got nowhere. After long conflict and confusion the present government under President Michel Aoun was formed a year ago. As we commented on 17 March it resulted from a deal with Hizbullah. Originally formed to resist the Israeli occupation, Hizbullah represents the Lebanese Shia community as well as being the most powerful military force in Lebanon. Supported by Iran it has played a major military role in the Syrian civil war in support of the regime.

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Iwi/Maori direct investment fund receives commitments of $100mill

Maori Iwi have come together to form a NZD 100 million fund, so that they can each make more and better investments. Here is the press release.

Indicative commitments of up to $100 million have been made by iwi, pan-tribal organisations, Māori land trusts and Māori incorporations to a proposed Iwi/Māori Direct Investment Fund.

The Fund, which will help the Māori groups further diversify their portfolios and access larger scale direct investment opportunities than they can achieve on an individual basis, will see the groups pooling capital for collective investments. Iwi and Māori groups have an increasing economic base, with potential to grow land, capability and capital. 

Over 35 Māori groups have made indicative commitments to the Fund and are now working together to finalise legal documentation and internal governance approvals.  Organisations that have made indicative commitments to the Fund include various Tūwharetoa organisations aggregating together as a single investor, Te Tumu Paeroa, and various Taranaki iwi entities.

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The Paradise Papers: how NZ Super Fund has fared

"The Paradise Papers" and Appleby, the law firm at the centre of the scandal, have hit the headlines recently. This press release explains have the NZ Superannuation Fund has fared.

The Guardians of New Zealand Superannuation, the manager of the NZ Super Fund, confirmed today that it had previously used Appleby, the law firm at the centre of the 'Paradise Papers' document release.

The Guardians has used Appleby to assist it with local Bermudan law advice in respect of re-insurance contracts and establishment of separate accounts to hold re-insurance products as part of the Fund's natural catastrophe reinsurance mandates with external investment managers Elementum Advisers (2009/11) and Leadenhall (2013).

At this point Appleby is unable to confirm whether or not there has been a security breach of the Guardians' documents. However, given the nature of the work Appleby undertook, the Guardians is confident there will be no negative commercial implications for the Fund from the potential breach.

Based on information from the IRD, the Guardians also understands that a wholly owned Fund subsidiary, "NZSF Private Equity Investments (No. 1) Limited", is mentioned in the papers as a Limited Partner of Coller International Partners V (CIP V). Appleby was advising Coller in respect of this transaction, not the Guardians.

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More M&A expected

For anyone interested in mergers and acquisitions (M&A), here is a good round up of what's going on. I followed the ups and downs of the M&A market for years, when I was head of a newswire service, Mergermarket, looking at M&A in the middle East. Ernst & Young produce a good round up every year. 

The digital transformation race and rising economic confidence to drive more M&A

- Near-record number of companies (56%) plan to acquire in the next 12 months

- 51% of executives expecting increased M&A competition see PE as biggest competitive threat  

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What next for the Lebanon and Saudi Arabia?

I’ve been following the government changes in Saudi with much interest, having lived in the region and covered it journalistically for 8.5 years. It is no surprise that there are changes in the Saudi ruling family; those changes are rumoured to have been happening for years.

However, this time is different. The changes are swift and dramatic and several events have combined at the same time. While not directly linked, they could bring more instability to an already volatile region.

But whether it is a purge against corruption or a move by the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) to consolidate his power is another matter.  

First, there is the resignation of Lebanon’s Sunni Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, who is also the son of the Syrian-murdered former prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. Saad Hariri, who has joint Lebanese and Saudi citzenship, evidently feared for his life and had just had a meeting with Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayotollah Ali Khamenei.

Evidently, he was summoned from Beirut and sacked by his Saudi “allies”. I’ve also been told by my source in Saudi Arabia that Hariri’s bodyguard was told to leave Saudi Arabia Monday night. What will happen to him?

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