The main question is whether the West is capable of halting its internal decay and to revive itself, or whether it will be accelerated, leading to surrender to the Islamic civilization. At this point, we seek to make an important analogy. An analysis of the economic, religious and geopolitical parameters indicate that the era in which we live is astonishingly and frighteningly similar to the reality extant at the beginning of the seventh century: The Byzantine and Sassanid Empires were in the process of decay, while aggressive Islam, driven by religious ideology, rode by the expansionist wave, with wide-ranging processes of Arabization and Islamization of the conquered areas.
Indeed, the Apocalyptic Islamic Global Jihad Groups pose an existential threat to the free world in four conspicuous trends: a) Utilization of indiscriminate terrorism, the Jihad of homicide bombers, lynching and slaughter; b) Operating an onslaught religious preaching to bring the believers back to the true Islam, and to convert infidels (Da’wah); c) Gaining control of the West by means of a combination of pleasantries and sweet-talking, while accusing it of colonialism and racism, and at the same time: using a thorough diplomacy of deceit; d) The uncontrolled immigration to the West and the demographic victory, by the Muslims’ women womb.
In contrast to these severe trends, the free world stands consumed by doubts and ignorance regarding the vital need to fight for its life and its freedoms. Why? a) Post-colonialist and post-modernist perceptions which are unfortunately so pervasive within the so-called the liberal intelligentsia, the media, and public opinion in the West. b) Strengthening the devastating influences of the “political correct” and the “mirror image” approaches in Western public opinion and policy-makers. c) A deep appeasement accompanied with hedonism, which is so characteristic to Western democracies. d) Conspicuous policy of attaining quiet and order at all costs, which sometimes becomes a sort of “protection money” to the violent and the aggressor. e) Weariness of violence, a deep wish of war-avoidance at all costs, a phenomenon concerning especially Europe.
Oriana Falacci, in her The Pride and the rage, addresses these trends:
Wake up people, wake up. Paralyzed by the fear of appearing racist, you do not understand or do not wish to understand that the reverse crusade has commenced. Drugged by the stupidity or shortsightedness of the adherents of political correctness, you do not internalize or do not want to internalize that a religious war is transpiring here. A war, whose objective is to conquer our souls and rob us of our freedoms. A war conducted with the goal of destroying our civilization and our way of life. Stunned by the preponderance of false propaganda, you do not or do not want to get it into your heads that if we do not defend ourselves, if we do not battle, jihad will win. It will win and destroy the world which we were able to build. It will make our culture and identity disappear.
Debating them is pointless; conducting a dialogue with them is useless; and demonstrating tolerance towards them is suicide. How is it that leftists never open their mouths against the Muslim world’s primitive, theocratic regimes, which have no democracy, no freedoms and no individual rights? Why were we killed and did we die in wars declared against the enemies of freedom and civilization? Are these principles invalid to the despotic Islamic regimes?
Enough of your double standards of morality; enough of your opacity; enough of your hypocrisy. Crickets of all countries and languages stop the confusion and start along the path to sobriety. The mountain of Islam has not moved for 1400 years; a mountain that consciously opts for primitiveness and ignorance and is ruled by fanatics. Europe is becoming a province of Islam.
Indeed, the religious foundation is the most decisive and significant in understanding the phenomenon. Huntington determined that civilizations are analyzed by means of history, language, traditions, and above all – culture and religion. The Free World, due to primal fears of returning to the religious wars of the Middle Ages, refuses to characterize the threatening reality as a religious conflict. In contrast, the leaders of the Islamic organizations intentionally employ religious terminology when coming to define their terrorist struggle and clearly declare that this is a religious war. For them it is a holy war, Jihad against the infidels, in which religion is the essence of the struggle integrated with colonialist dimension, and the model is Saladdin al-Ayubi, who fought the Crusaders.
Then, hypocrisy combined with much naiveté and ignorance and designed with an approach of political correctness, runs rampant: True, there are radicals among the Arabs and Muslims just as there are in all societies, but they are a minority, “weeds”. On the other hand, the majority is different and peace-loving, and one must not generalize. This is the problem with all of its severity. The relevant questions are:
a) If that is the true situation – how do we know this? Are there corroborating studies and data to substantiate this view? Or we only assume this is the reality, and perhaps the opposite is true, and the fanatics are the majority?
b) Even if a different majority exists, is its voice heard and does it influence the shaping of policy and the decision-making processes? Or we only supply excuses to the horrific phenomenon we don’t understand? Or is it only in our mirror image personality?
c) How many pressure groups and interest groups are there which actively function against Islamic fanaticism and Jihad terrorism? To what extent do they influence? Or we just ignore reality out of confusion? Or we think that our presumptions are true?
d) Where is public opinion voice, the political parties, the media, which prove, through their clear and loud activity, that there are other tendencies and other voices? Or we assume that this is the situation?
e) How many NGO’s are there acting against the terrorist organizations and preventing aid from their reach? Do they just even try to convince that the terrorists are mistaken? Or we just want to, we terribly wish to believe that there are?
f) If there are moderate peace-loving political leaders, where are they? What influence do they have? Is their voice heard? What do they declare and what do they do after the horrible acts of terrorism, except of blaming the US and the CIA, Israel and the Mossad?
g) Indeed, there are intellectuals, educated liberals, condemning wholeheartedly the hideous terrorist acts of the fanatics. However, what influence do they have? Who controls the Islamic communities and in the streets? Which voice is heard and is written in the communication Media? Who is more influential and admired by the youth, in the Madaris (religious schools) and in the mosques?
h) How many peace movements, pro-peace demonstrations and masses marching and rolling for peace and against the terrorist perpetrators can be identified in the streets? Or is it our imagination alone that we see?
Indeed, Nonie Darwish (FrontPageMagazine, January 7, 2005) is correct by blaming on the “silent Muslim majority”.
He is silent seeing the outrageous brutal inhumane terrorist attacks; and he do not act against the medieval-style behavior and practice in the Arab-Muslim world. Generations after generations, Muslims lived under dictatorships were trained to look the other side when Muslims torture and terrorize others. Their silence is in fact means aiding and abetting the cruel culture of hatred, terror, torture and beheadings. Most Islamic studies professors and Islamist groups in the West exercise their freedom of speech given to them, only to speak and argue against the West, Judaism and Christianity. However, they never criticize their culture of origin, and usually support it and serve as Da’wah agents. No matter what the West does, they voice criticism and aligning themselves with the liberal ‘hate America’ crowd in Western academia and media.
Islamism and the old defeated and failed ideology of pan-Arabism is what many of them advocating. They are silent in the face of Muslim poverty, corruption, neglect of human rights, oppression of women, honor killings, beheadings and stoning. They are not using Western freedoms as an opportunity to change their countries of origin, but as an opportunity to influence and change the West to be like the countries they came from. Their goal is also to keep Muslim communities in the West under their control and the control of Muslim world Mullahs, Sheikhs and religious fanatic dictators. Indeed, the silent majority is the problem. Their silence empowers terrorism and brutal dictatorships.
The trends so characteristic of Western democracies, the daily political give-and-take, the heated political debate, the variety of positions and opinions, the pluralism of attitudes – where are they in the Arab-Islamic world? The reality is that there are few who take a stand against, and they almost non-existent from influence and shaping policy point of view. This phenomenon does not stem out of fear of repressive government, but rather it is due to a tradition of authoritarianism at the foundation of the Arab tribal frameworks and the Islamic religion and due to lack of awareness and consciousness of sovereign citizenship. Although there is a reawakening of Arab intellectuals who harshly criticize Arab and Islamic regimes and societies and fanatical terrorism, the problem is that they remain an inconsequential minority lacking any influence.
Although they must be encouraged and provided with all forms of assistance, it is yet the hope that their entreaty will be larger in size and have more influence. Unfortunately, the opposite happens: Western policy suppresses them, because it does not fight fanaticism and aggressiveness, and pays lip service to the issues out of political considerations.
It is clear that the Muslim majority does not play an active role in terrorism and incitement, and the perpetrators of the Apocalyptic Islamic Global Jihad Groups are perhaps a small minority. But one has to bear in mind that all the great revolutions in history were taken and executed by small groups of revolutionary vanguards. Moreover, it is also equally true that the majority does not oppose terrorism, fanaticism and violence. On the contrary, all indications are that they support it, admired the heroes, and are willing to assist them. He who wishes to comprehend the severity of this issue, all he needs is to investigate the place and the role of the youth, those youngsters in all Arab-Islamic states, including where they reside abroad in the West.
A second perspective to bear in mind is that the Arab masses were never in history a significant political player, and the leaders never took their opinions into consideration. The masses never participated in politics and did not influence decision-making processes and policy making. They have never chose leaders or overthrew regimes. Arab-Islamic politics have always unfolded at the level of a small group of the political elites. Indeed, the majority does not make its voice heard and does not express opposition to the atrocities, and this inaction transforms them into collaborators with evil.
The relevant questions to be asked compare to the situation in 50-40-30-20-10 years: are there more mosques than in the past? Are there more people returning to their religious roots? Are there more children named Usama (Bin Laden) and now Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi)? Are there more Islamic communities operating in the framework of Da’wah politics? Are there more terrorist acts or less? Is there more political stability in the Arab-Muslim states or less? Is the Islamic education more modern or does it continue to be traditional-religious? Are there more women wearing traditional clothes and a veil (Hijab, Niqab, Chador) covering their faces? Are the youth more open to other opinions and positions or are they leading the extremist fanatic trends?
There are more questions and indications to observe and to realize that the Muslim world is climbing the radical-fanatic path and accelerating its aggression and not vise versa. Or perhaps we are dealing with the fallacies of Western thinking and distorted mirror images that don’t want to realistically accept the situation? As long as there is no indication of these and other dimensions, perhaps it is more correct to say that no such Arab-Islamic majority exists.
Sigmund Freud was correct when he emphasized: When it comes to self-deception, human beings are geniuses. Albert Einstein claimed that there are two things that are infinite: The universe and human stupidity, although he was not quite certain about the former. He also claimed that the difference between the stupid and the genius is that the genius knows his limitations. Karl Marx noted that the third most significant force moving the wheels of history, after capital and violence, is human stupidity.
Erik Hoffer determines that the obsessive dealing with the chimera of the future is the flight of one unable to confront the present. Barbara Tuchman spoke of the March of the Folly, in which leaders led their people into national catastrophes. And in the Bible we find (Ezekiel, 13:10): “Because, even because they have seduced my people, saying, Peace; and there was no peace; and one built up a wall, and, lo, others daubed it with untampered mortar”. “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter” (Isaiah, 5:20).
Amnon Dankner, an Israeli journalist, relates to the free world’s opacity:
Most of the Western world has yet to internalize the fact that it is in the midst of a bitter war, which will last many years. Inundated by fear, ignorance and stupidity, they blame the United States and Israel, and claim that if only all of the Western countries would leave the Muslim world alone and if only Israel would submit or be eliminated, there would be no more claims and allegations by the Muslims; al-Qaeda attacks would cease; Usama Bin-Laden would settle down to his Qur’an studies; and the Islamic Caliphate State would become a charity organization.
Since the days of Hitler, the world has not witnessed propaganda as vitriolic as that emerging from the Arab-Muslim world. This is an ordered doctrine of burning hatred, animosity and contempt for the Western world, Western progress and Western culture. Just as with Hitler: One who fails to listen and read, one who does not take interest and scrutinize, one who ignores and ridicules – will not understand where he lives and what the future has in store for him and what is the meaning of the rhetoric, which is so venomous and the hatred, which is so fiery.
Western culture terrifies the Arab-Islamic soul, and that terror is joined by the profound sense of inferiority of a backward society, which lives a parasitic existence at the expense and thanks to the abilities of Western civilization. The Iranian advancement towards nuclear capability, the existence of nuclear weapons in Pakistan and the availability of biological and chemical capabilities in the hands of Islamic terrorist organizations should terrify everyone.
Translation of the unprecedented hate rhetoric vis-à-vis the West with those capabilities – are awful portents for humanity. It is impossible to satisfy the monster by feeding it bits and pieces, like the weakening or elimination of Israel. The West must understand that it is confronting a voracious appetite of hatred. All of those advocating conciliatory steps, aid and rehabilitation are clueless as to what is really happening.
The issue of liberalization and democratization will be dealt separately. Yet, preliminary questions are to be asked: does Islam want to change and develop? Do the Arab-Islamic regimes aspire to achieve democracy? This is something that Western culture should bear in mind: Arab politics is comprised by authoritarian regimes and patrimonial leaders. There is no democracy, no political liberalism, no civil rights, no citizenship by a sovereign electing “people”, and no governmental responsibility accepting political transparency and responsibility. The political systems are not committed to socio-economic progress. In fact, they are against any action leading to this target, beyond a controlled framework.
Arab and Islamic leaders know that any real economic progress would bring overthrow of the regime and their own political liquidation. You cannot bring economic liberalization without political liberalization, and political liberalization means the total elimination of the authoritarian regimes, and theirs, as patrimonial leaders. They recall time and again the rapid economic and social changes that led to the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, Ceausescu in Romania, and Gorbachev, in the Soviet-Union.
According to the Islamic religious groups it is very clear that there is no need for change, since everything is controlled by Allah, and due to the profound belief that the Qur’an contains all human knowledge from the beginning of history through the end of days, and that any change is heresy punishable by death.
In the Middle East, the problem is not economic development that will bring democratization and leads to political moderation. Arab-Islamic political culture demands strong political institutions and governmental authoritarianism, under the code of political stability. This reality is strengthened by the Islamic religion, which emphasize total obedience to the government, whatever are the deeds of the leader. Everything is due to the will of Allah, so, there is no regime responsibility.
Haim Harari claims that the root of the problem is “the entire Muslim region is non-functional”. Twenty-two Arab countries, with a population of four hundred million, “with all of the oil and their natural resources have half of California’s GNP. This creates an unprecedented hothouse for the development of cruel tyrants, terrorism networks, zealotry, incitement, suicide murderers and economic deterioration”. They blame Western culture, the United States and Israel – everyone but themselves.
Four dimensions underscore this phenomenon: a) the Suicide Bomber. This is impressive and frightening, drawing hysterical media coverage. Money, power and murderous incitement are behind. b) Lies of hatred and murderous incitement. c) Money. One of the largest industries in the world in channeled to the cycles of murder and by means of charity and educational organizations, they program the minds of the young generation with hatred, lies and ignorance. d) Absolute violation of the rules. Fanatical terrorism violates of the rules of culture and morality. The Arab regimes externalize the frustration and misery of the masses to colonialism and to xenophobia.
To this reality the former Kuwaiti Communications Minister, Dr. Sa’d Bin-Tafla (June 8, 2004) has referred:
The violence of slaughter, anarchy and bloodshed is a cultural phenomenon. The religious faction sets the rules: To achieve victory or martyrdom in order to restore the Islamic Empire, which stretched from China to Andalusia; The Arab media assists them by painting the world in black and white; and the Arab culture stokes the fire. Are Zionism and Western imperialism connected to this? Absolutely not. A hundred thousand people were massacred in the name of Islam in Algeria over the course of ten years, by Algerians; in Iraq, before the American invasion, violence claimed the lives of more than a million Iraqis, Iranians and Kurds. In Saudi Arabia there is no occupation and no American army, and Moslems are murdered and massacred there. In Palestine there was violence before the advent of the Israelis and there is violence unrelated to them. Genocide is transpiring in Sudan, and the Arab world is indifferent. The Sudan is perpetrating genocide.
This is the “culture of backwardness”, which dominates the Arab world, in the words of Said al-Hammad of Bahrain (al-Ayyam, August 17, 2004), which led the Arabs and Muslims into quixotic wars against the West and globalization. The culture of backwardness also includes the “culture of terrorism”, which adopts the approach of beheading and crushing people; and the “culture of hatred”, which propagates in the minds and consciousness of the youth hatred for the world and for people whose opinions and thoughts are different than theirs.
In political-religious terms: There is an aspiration to bring the entire world under the rule of Islam, in the dynamic terms of perpetual expansion: the Chief Muslim Mufti of Australia and New Zealand, Taj al-Din Hamad Abdullah: “Australia was discovered by Afghani Muslims and the time has come to restore it to its rightful place within Islam.” That too was the resolution of the Islamic Conference, which was held in Riyadh and noted that Muslims remember Andalusia and seek to return to it (Saudi Gazette, March 1, 2005). Yusuf al-Karadawi: Islam will succeed in conquering Europe for the third time: after its two previous failures (in the 7th and the 17th centuries) – by means of the Da’wah.
Yet, it was the former first editor of the Israeli newspapwe, Maariv, Azriel Carlebach, who already in October 1955 wrote:
Has anyone ever gotten anywhere with the Muslims? And why is everyone constantly trying? This is the ignorance, which causes statesman to depict other nations as exact replicas of themselves. However the truth is simple and clear:
There never was, and never will be, any understanding between the world of Islam and the Western world. In all social and cultural areas, Islam is fascism. It is the paradigm of fascism. For generations Islam has educated to violate human nature: Not to utilize the mind and to reject individual rights. Islam has no aspiration towards a better world and the concept of advancement is non-existent.
There is no initiative and no attempts at improvement. They do not adapt the will of Allah and do not challenge the interpretation of the clerics. The motivation pushing Western man to have the land produce more bread has been stifled in the hearts of the Muslim man. Islam has stifled it. The cultured world defended itself against the monster for two or three hundred years. However, over the last two generations, the European nations have committed the fatal error of viewing Muslim man in their own image.
An inchoate mass of hundreds of millions Muslims throughout the world has arisen, a nightmare whose potential threat is enormous. The threat of the psychology of Islam, which lives in a world of delusion, afflicted with attacks of inferiority and delusions of grandeur, which repudiates all that is sacred to the civilized world.
The threat posed to the West by Islam is incalculably greater than that posed by communism. It is possible to speak to communism with the logic of give-and-take. But not with Islam. It is possible to forgive the ignorant “experts” in the State Department who do not understand Islam, however it is impossible to forgive the Israeli people. We should know. We help the world draw an image of Arabs that is the product of our wishful thinking. And we add insult to injury when we distort the picture and confine the debate to a border dispute. The Arabs proffer claims, acceptable to the West. However, that is not the source of its hostile position. And without the occupation and without the refugees, they would continue to oppose Israeli existence just as vigorously.
Above all, we have committed the sin of provincialism against the world and against ourselves. Most of the statesmen in the countries around the world can still sleep soundly. However, we, ourselves, minimize the nature of the true calamity, of which we are merely its incidental and marginal victims. As long as we don’t make an effort and succeed in bequeathing this insight to the world, the truth regarding Islam, we will always be the first victims of its ignorance.
Battling for the Future: Arab Protests 2.0
Momentous developments across Arab North and East Africa suggest the long-drawn-out process of political transition in the region as well as the greater Middle East is still in its infancy.
So does popular discontent in Syria despite eight years of devastating civil war and Egypt notwithstanding a 2013 military coup that rolled back the advances of protests in 2011 that toppled Hosni Mubarak and brought one of the country’s most repressive regimes to power.
What developments across northern Africa and the Middle East demonstrate is that the drivers of the 2011 popular revolts that swept the region and forced the leaders of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen to resign not only still exist but constitute black swans that can upset the apple cart at any moment.
The developments also suggest that the regional struggle between forces of change and ancien regimes and militaries backed by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia is far from decided.
If anything, protesters in Algeria and Sudan have learnt at least one lesson from the failed 2011 results: don’t trust militaries even if they seemingly align themselves with demonstrators and don’t surrender the street until protesters’ demands have been fully met.
Distrust of the military has prompted an increasing number of Sudanese protesters to question whether chanting “the people and the army are one” is still appropriate. Slogans such as “freedom, freedom” and “revolution, revolution” alongside calls on the military to protect the protesters have become more frequent.
The protests in Algeria and Sudan have entered a critical phase in which protesters and militaries worried that they could be held accountable for decades of economic mismanagement, corruption and repression are tapping in the dark.
With protesters emboldened by their initial successes in forcing leaders to resign, both the demonstrators and the militaries, including officers with close ties to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are internally divided about how to proceed.
Moreover, neither side has any real experience in managing the crossroads at which they find themselves while it is dawning on the militaries that their tired playbooks are not producing results.
In a telling sign, Sudan’s interim leader Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan praised his country’s “special relationship” with Saudi Arabia and the UAE as he met this week with a Saudi-Emirati delegation at the military compound in Khartoum, a focal point of the protests.
Saudi Arabia has expressed support for the protests in what many suspect is part of an effort to ensure that Sudan does not become a symbol of the power of popular sovereignty and its ability to defeat autocracy.
The ultimate outcome of the dramatic developments in Algeria and Sudan and how the parties manoeuvre is likely to have far-reaching consequences in a region pockmarked by powder kegs ready to explode.
Mounting anger as fuel shortages caused by Western sanctions against Syria and Iran bring life to a halt in major Syrian cities have sparked rare and widespread public criticism of president Bashar al-Assad’s government.
The anger is fuelled by reports that government officials cut in line at petrol stations to fill up their tanks and buy rationed cooking gas and take more than is allowed.
Syria is Here, an anonymous Facebook page that reports on economics in government-controlled areas took officials to task after state-run television showed oil minister Suleiman al-Abbas touring petrol stations that showed no signs of shortage.
“Is it so difficult to be transparent and forward? Would that undermine anyone’s prestige? We are a country facing sanctions and boycotted. The public knows and is aware,” the Facebook page charged.
The manager of Hashtag Syria, another Facebook page, was arrested when the site demanded that the oil ministry respond to reports of anticipated price hikes with comments rather than threats. The site charged that the ministry was punishing the manager “instead of dealing with the real problem.”
Said Syrian journalist Danny Makki: “It (Syria) is a pressure cooker.”
Similarly, authorities in Egypt, despite blocking its website, have been unable to stop an online petition against proposed constitutional amendments that could extend the rule of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi until 2034 from attracting more than 320,000 signatures as of this writing.
The petition, entitled Batel or Void, is, according to Netblocks, a group that maps web freedom, one of an estimated 34,000 websites blocked by Egyptian internet service providers in a bid to stymie opposition to the amendments.
Mr. El-Sisi is a reminder of how far Arab militaries and their Gulf backers are potentially willing to go in defense of their vested interests and willingness to oppose popular sovereignty.
Libyan renegade Field Marshall Khalifa Belqasim Haftar is another, Mr. Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) is attacking the capital Tripoli, the seat of the United Nations recognized Libyan government that he and his Emirati, Saudi, and Egyptian backers accuse of being dominated by Islamist terrorists.
The three Arab states’ military and financial support of Mr. Haftar is but the tip of the iceberg. Mr. Haftar has modelled his control of much of Libya on Mr. El-Sisi’s example of a military that not only dominates politics but also the economy.
As a result, the LNA is engaged in businesses ranging from waste management, metal scrap and waste export, and agricultural mega projects to the registration of migrant labour workers and control of ports, airports and other infrastructure. The LNA is also eyeing a role in the reconstruction of Benghazi and other war-devastated or underdeveloped regions.
What for now makes 2019 different from 2011 is that both sides of the divide realize that success depends on commitment to be in it for the long haul. Protesters, moreover, understand that trust in military assertions of support for the people can be self-defeating. They further grasp that they are up against a regional counterrevolution that has no scruples.
All of that gives today’s protesters a leg up on their 2011 counterparts. The jury is out on whether that will prove sufficient to succeed where protesters eight years ago failed.
As Marsha Lazareva languishes in jail, foreign businesses will “think twice” before investing in Kuwait
IF THERE IS one thing to glean from the case of Marsha Lazareva, it’s that foreign businesses must now think very carefully before investing in Kuwait.
For more than a year, Lazareva, who has a five-year-old son and is one of Russia’s most successful female investors in the Gulf, has been held in the Soulabaiya prison by Kuwaiti authorities. Those authorities claim she ‘stole’ half a billion dollars, a claim she strenuously denies.
Human rights groups and prominent officials, including the former FBI director, Louis Freeh, and Jim Nicholson, former Chairman of the Republican Party and former US Ambassador to the Vatican, have called for her release and expressed concerns about the apparent absence of due process in a country where Lazareva has worked for over 13 years. Both Freeh and Nicholson visited Kuwait in recent weeks with Neil Bush, son of the late President George H. W. Bush. Bush has said Lazareva’s incarceration ‘threatens to darken relations between the U.S. and Kuwait, two countries that have enjoyed a long and prosperous relationship.’
Russian officials have been equally concerned. Vladimir Platonov, the President of the Moscow Chamber of Commerce and Industry, confirmed that a single witness gave testimony in Kuwaiti court, and only for the prosecution. ‘I myself worked in prosecution for more than eight years, and I cannot imagine any judge signing off on an indictment like this,’ he said. ‘One fact of particular note is that Maria was given 1,800 pages of untranslated documents in Arabic.’
Serious questions surrounding the safety and future viability of investing in Kuwait are now being raised. Through The Port Fund, a private investment company managed by KGL Investment, Lazareva has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to local infrastructure and economic development projects during her time in the country. Until 2017, when a Dubai bank froze $496 million without cause, she had worked largely unobstructed.
But as things stand, more foreign investment is unlikely to be forthcoming. Jim Nicholson has said that the ‘imprisonment and harassment’ of Lazareva ‘threatens’ U.S. support. adding that the ‘willingness of the U.S. to do business with Kuwait’ is based on ‘its record as a nation that respects human rights and the rule of law’. Mark Williams, the investment director of The Port Fund and a colleague of Lazareva’s, has called on international investors to ‘think twice before doing business in this country’.
These comments will surely concern the Kuwaiti government, who said last year that FDI was ‘very crucial’ to the success of its Kuwait Vision 2035 road map. In September 2018, the FTreported that the government planned to reverse its traditional position as an investor in order to diversify its economy, carrying out a series of reforms designed to facilitate foreign investment and assist investors.
But despite these changes, which have propelled Kuwait to 96th—higher than the Middle East average—in the World Bank’s ‘Ease of Doing Business’ report, investors may be unwilling to take the risk so long as Lazareva remains in jail. Lazareva’s lawyers have accused Kuwait of violating international law by breaching a long-standing bilateral investment treaty with Russia. Lord Carlile of Berriew, QC has brought the case to the attention of the British public and the EU, writing in The Times that ‘there is no evidential basis to justify any claim of dishonesty, corruption or any other criminal wrong’. He added: ’Anyone thinking of doing business in Kuwait should read on with mounting concern.’
What’s worth remembering is that Kuwait is an important, long-standing ally of the UK, and a country generally seen as stable and fair. It is equally a major non-NATO ally of the United States, where there are more than 5,000 international students of Kuwaiti origin in higher education. But these relationships, and the investment to which they have historically led, have been cast into doubt. And it now seems certain that relations will continue to sour so long as Marsha Lazareva languishes in Soulabaiya.
Economic reform in the Gulf: Who benefits, really?
For Gulf leaders, long-overdue economic reforms were never going to be easy.
Leaders like the crown princes of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Mohammed bin Salman and Mohammed bin Zayed, quickly discovered that copying China’s model of economic growth while tightening political control was easier said than done. They realised that rewriting social contracts funded by oil wealth was more difficult because Gulf Arabs had far more to lose than the average Chinese. The Gulf states’ social contracts had worked in ways China’s welfare programmes had not. The Gulf’s rentier state’s bargain—surrender of political and social rights for cradle-to-grave welfare—had produced a win-win situation for the longest time.
Moreover, Gulf leaders, struggling with mounting criticism of the Saudi-UAE-led war in Yemen and the fall-out of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, also lacked the political and economic clout that allowed China to largely silence or marginalise critics of its crackdown on Turkic Muslims in the troubled northwestern province of Xinjiang.
The absence of a welfare-based social contract in China allowed the government to power economic growth, lift millions out of poverty, and provide public goods without forcing ordinary citizens to suffer pain. As a result, China was able to push through with economic reforms without having to worry that reduced welfare benefits would spark a public backlash and potentially threaten the regime.
Three years into Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 blueprint for diversification of the economy, Saudi businesses and consumers complain that they are feeling the pinch of utility price hikes and a recently introduced five per cent value-added tax with little confidence that the government will stay the course to ensure promised long-term benefit.
The government’s commitment to cutting costs has been further called into question by annual handouts worth billions of dollars since the announcement of the reforms and rewriting of the social contract to cushion the impact of rising costs and quash criticism.
In contrast to China, investment in the Gulf, whether it is domestic or foreign, comes from financial, technology and other services sector, the arms industry or governments. It is focused on services, infrastructure or enhancing the state’s capacities rather than on manufacturing, industrial development and the nurturing of private sector.
With the exception of national oil companies, some state-run airlines and petrochemical companies, the bulk of Gulf investment is portfolios managed by sovereign wealth funds, trophies or investment designed to enhance a country’s prestige and soft power.
By contrast, Asian economies such as China and India have used investment fight poverty, foster a substantial middle class, and create an industrial base. To be sure, with small populations, Gulf states are more likely to ensure sustainability in services and oil and gas derivatives rather than in manufacturing and industry.
China’s $1 trillion Belt and Road initiative may be the Asian exception that would come closest to some of the Gulf’s soft-power investments. Yet, the BRI, designed to alleviate domestic overcapacity by state-owned firms that are not beholden to shareholders’ short-term demands and/or geo-political gain, contributes to China’s domestic growth.
Asian nations have been able to manage investors’ expectations in an environment of relative political stability. By contrast, Saudi Arabia damaged confidence in its ability to diversify its oil-based economy when after repeated delays it suspended plans to list five per cent of its national oil company, Saudi Arabian Oil Company, or Aramco, in what would have been the world’s largest initial public offering.
To be sure, China is no less autocratic than the Gulf states, while Hindu nationalism in India fits a global trend towards civilisationalism, populism and illiberal democracy. What differentiates much of Asia from the Gulf and accounts for its economic success are policies that ensure a relatively stable environment. These policies are focused on social and economic enhancement rather than primarily on regime survival. That may be Asia’s lesson for Gulf rulers.
Author’s note: first published in Firstpost
Washington- Pyongyang: A third attempt?
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