Fly me, I'm the Iraqi minister's son!

"Do you know who I am?" That's a question that officials everywhere in the Arab countries dread hearing. If they don't know the answer they had better find out pronto – otherwise they will be in trouble.

Privilege, nepotism, corruption ... whatever you call it, it's bad news. It's also one of the main causes of public discontent in the region – the idea that rules and procedures exist to keep the plebs under control and don't really apply to those with plenty of money or connections in high places.

Pulling rank happens on a daily basis but yesterday brought an especially notable example.

A Middle East Airlines flight from Beirut to Baghdad was ready to take off but two of its passengers were missing. Staff checked the business class lounge and final calls went out over the loudspeakers but there was no sign of Mahdi al-Amiri and his friend, so the flight took off without them – six minutes late.

Shortly afterwards, Amiri turned up. Furious to find he had missed his flight, he then made a phone call to someone in Baghdad, according to MEA.

Mahdi al-Amiri is the son of Hadi al-Amiri, who happens to be Iraq's transport minister, and a few minutes after his phone call Baghdad airport contacted MEA to say the flight would not be allowed to land in Iraq. It therefore returned to Beirut.

However, if Amiri had been hoping he would then be allowed to board the plane and fly to Iraq, he was mistaken. MEA cancelled the flight, forcing Amiri and all the other passengers to wait 24 hours for the next one.

Transport minister Amiri

In customary fashion, the Iraqi transport ministry denied that the plane's return to Beirut had anything to do with the minister's son or his phone call. It claims the plane was not allowed to land in Baghdad because of "cleaning operations" there.

A check by Reuters established that 30 other flights landed normally in Baghdad yesterday and the only plane affected by these alleged "cleaning operations" was the one supposed to have Mahdi al-Amiri on board.