Leave aside for a moment questions of due process. Analysis of Saudi Arabia’s three largest corporate failures explains why Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s recent moves look more like a power and asset grab than a credible effort to eradicate corruption.
Dependency on government contracts was at the core of the bankruptcy of Saudi Oger, owned by the family of embattled Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and the near-demise of the Saudi Bin Laden Group.
Granted, the $22 billion downfall of 70-year old Ahmad Hamad Algosaibi & Brothers Company (AHAB) that took down two Bahraini banks as well as the Saad Group in one the largest financial collapses of the 2009 global credit crunch, occurred because of mismanagement, lacking corporate and financial governance, and allegations of fraud, theft and forgery.
Yet, like the Bin Ladens and the Hariris, a major chunk of the group’s business was with the government, selling steel piping to Saudi Aramco, the kingdom’s national oil and natural gas behemoth. The settlement of the collapse with more than 100 banks was long viewed as a litmus test for foreign investors.
For Saudi Oger and Bin Laden, the government’s predicament meant cancellation of projects and failure to pay. The government’s default had a ripple effect, including the companies’ inability to pay their workers, who in a country in which protests are banned, took their plight to the streets.
What emerges from the failures is the vulnerability of major private corporations at a time that government, the dominant economic player, was forced to diversify, rationalize, and cut costs. The failures also highlighted the lack of oversight of corporate governance.
Ironically, a raid on the Saudi mansion of the head of the Saad Group, Kuwaiti billionaire Maan al-Sanea, two weeks before Prince Mohammed’s arrest of some 200 princes, officials and businessmen on charges of corruption, set the stage for the purge.
The history of the troubled companies as well as Mr. Al-Sanea’s detention speak to a system in which beyond private enterprise dependency, members of the ruling family were rentiers of the state since its founding and allowed to drink at the trough, and concepts of conflict of interest were non-existent.
Transparency and accountability did not enter the equation in a country that did not tax companies or individuals except for zakat, a religious obligation for all Muslims who meet the necessary criteria of wealth. Instead, the social contract that is now being unilaterally rewritten by Prince Mohammed involved popular surrender of political rights, adherence to a strict social code, and acceptance of an absence of transparency and accountability in exchange for cradle-to-grave welfare.
Despite citizens being asked to increasingly contribute by moves towards market rates for services and the planned introduction of indirect taxes like a highway toll, there is no accountability with billions of dollars that the inhabitants of Riyadh’s Ritz Carlton Hotel-turned-gilded prison are being asked to surrender and transfer to a finance ministry account in exchange for their freedom. What happens to those funds once they have been transferred remains unclear.
In other words, transparency and accountability do not figure in Prince Mohammed’s top-down moves. Aides to Prince Mohammed have asserted that the arrests were the result of almost three years of investigations. No details of those investigations have been made public nor have their results been interrogated by a credible and independent judiciary.
The assertion would explain why the government announced the establishment of a new anti-corruption commission headed by Prince Mohammed only hours before the purge and why its functions were seemingly primarily defined as an arm of law enforcement rather than a vehicle to create an anti-corruption legal structure that would also govern the commercial relationship between the government and members of the ruling family. The commission’s powers include the ability to detain suspects, seize their assets and ban them from travel.
The impression that power and assets rather than anti-corruption drove Prince Mohammed in his purge is enhanced by the fact that it appears designed to intimidate and put the kingdom’s elite on notice. There has been neither a decree nor a process in the country’s Shura or Advisory Council to draft legislation as well as rules and regulation that would create a legal anti-corruption infrastructure, govern the way government agencies do business, and set a template for defining and preventing conflict of interest.
While one could argue that Prince Mohammed needed to set an example, that effort appears undermined by the fact that the alleged investigations and arrests have a selective or arbitrary taste to them. Fact of the matter is that in the permissive environment that was written into the kingdom’s DNA at founding, few, if any, members of the ruling family are likely to emerge with flying colours.
All of this, explains with the kingdom’s elite was caught off guard even though Mr. Al-Sanea’s arrest should have set off alarm bells. Instead, the ruling family and the business community saw the arrest as a one-off event in a long-standing financial sage. It also clarifies why the elite grossly underestimated Prince Mohammed’s brashness and ruthlessness and ignored hiswarning in June that “no one who got involved in a corruption case will escape, regardless if he was a minister or a prince.”
For anti-corruption to be perceived as the main driver of the purge, Prince Mohammed will have to introduce due process, transparency and accountability to the process. In theory, that would mean targeting all who potentially could be under suspicion, an approach that would be tough, if not impossible, in an environment in which the suspicion of guilt is likely to include many who were not detained, rather than only some. Instead, Prince Mohammed would be better advised to focus on structural and institutional change.
China-US and the Iran nuclear deal
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian met with Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi on Friday, January 14, 2022 in the city of Wuxi, in China’s Jiangsu province. Both of them discussed a gamut of issues pertaining to the Iran-China relationship, as well as the security situation in the Middle East.
A summary of the meeting published by the Chinese Foreign Ministry underscored the point, that Foreign Ministers of Iran and China agreed on the need for strengthening bilateral cooperation in a number of areas under the umbrella of the 25 year Agreement known as ‘Comprehensive Cooperation between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the People’s Republic of China’. This agreement had been signed between both countries in March 2021 during the Presidency of Hassan Rouhani, but the Iranian Foreign Minister announced the launch of the agreement on January 14, 2022.
During the meeting between Wang Yi and Hossein Amir Abdollahian there was a realization of the fact, that cooperation between both countries needed to be enhanced not only in areas like energy and infrastructure (the focus of the 25 year comprehensive cooperation was on infrastructure and energy), but also in other spheres like education, people to people contacts, medicine and agriculture. Iran also praised the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and said that it firmly supported the One China policy.
The timing of this visit is interesting, Iran is in talks with other signatories (including China) to the JCPOA/Iran nuclear deal 2015 for the revival of the 2015 agreement. While Iran has asked for removal of economic sanctions which were imposed by the US after it withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018, the US has said that time is running out, and it is important for Iran to return to full compliance to the 2015 agreement. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in an interview said:
‘Iran is getting closer and closer to the point where they could produce on very, very short order enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon’
The US Secretary of State also indicated, that if the negotiations were not successful, then US would explore other options along with other allies.
During the course of the meeting on January 14, 2022 Wang Yi is supposed to have told his Chinese counterpart, that while China supported negotiations for the revival of the Iran nuclear deal 2015, the onus for revival was on the US since it had withdrawn in 2018.
The visit of the Iranian Foreign Minister to China was also significant, because Foreign Ministers of four Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain — and Secretary General of GCC, Nayef Falah Mubarak Al-Hajraf were in China from January 10-14, 2022 with the aim of expanding bilateral ties – especially with regard to energy cooperation and trade. According to many analysts, the visit of GCC officials to China was driven not just by economic factors, but also the growing proximity between Iran and Beijing.
In conclusion, China is important for Iran from an economic perspective. Iran has repeatedly stated, that if US does not remove the economic sanctions it had imposed in 2018, it will focus on strengthening economic links with China (significantly, China has been purchasing oil from Iran over the past three years in spite of the sanctions imposed by the US. The Ebrahim Raisi administration has repeatedly referred to an ‘Asia centric’ policy which prioritises ties with China.
Beijing is seeking to enhance its clout in the Middle East as US ties with certain members of the GCC, especially UAE and Saudi Arabia have witnessed a clear downward spiral in recent months (US has been uncomfortable with the use of China’s 5G technology by UAE and the growing security linkages between Beijing and Saudi Arabia). One of the major economic reasons for the GCC gravitating towards China is Washington’s thrust on reducing its dependence upon GCC for fulfilling its oil needs. Beijing can utilize its good ties with Iran and GCC and play a role in improving links between both.
The geopolitical landscape of the Middle East is likely to become more complex, and while there is not an iota of doubt, that the US influence in the Middle East is likely to remain intact, China is fast catching up.
Egypt vis-à-vis the UAE: Who is Driving Whom?
“Being a big fish in a small pond is better than being a little fish in a large pond” is a maxim that aptly summarizes Egyptian regional foreign policy over the past few decades. However, the blow dealt to the Egyptian State in the course of the 2011 uprising continues to distort its domestic and regional politics and it has also prompted the United Arab Emirates to become heavily engaged in Middle East politics, resulting in the waning of Egypt’s dominant role in the region!
The United Arab Emirates is truly an aspirational, entrepreneurial nation! In fact, the word “entrepreneurship” could have been invented to define the flourishing city of Dubai. The UAE has often declared that as a small nation, it needs to establish alliances to pursue its regional political agenda while Egypt is universally recognized for its regional leadership, has one of the best regional military forces, and has always charmed the Arab world with its soft power. Nonetheless, collaboration between the two nations would not necessarily give rise to an entrepreneurial supremacy force!
Egypt and the UAE share a common enemy: political Islamists. Yet each nation has its own distinct dynamic and the size of the political Islamist element in each of the two countries is different. The UAE is a politically stable nation and an economic pioneer with a small population – a combination of factors that naturally immunize the nation against the spread of political Islamists across the region. In contrast, Egypt’s economic difficulties, overpopulation, intensifying political repression, along with its high illiteracy rate, constitute an accumulation of elements that serves to intensify the magnitude of the secreted, deep-rooted, Egyptian political Islamists.
The alliance formed between the two nations following the inauguration of Egypt’s President Al Sisi was based on UAE money and Egyptian power. It supported and helped expand the domestic political power of a number of unsubstantiated Arab politicians, such as Libya’s General Khalifa Haftar, Tunisia’s President Kais Saied and the Chairman of Sudan’s Transitional Sovereignty Council, Lieutenant-General Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan. The common denominator among these politicians is that they are all fundamentally opposed to political Islamists.
Although distancing political Islamists from ruling their nations may constitute a temporary success, it certainly is not enough to strengthen the power of the alliance’s affiliates. The absence of true democracy, intensified repression by Arab rulers and the natural evolution of Arab citizens towards freedom will, for better or for worse, lead to the re-emergence of political Islamists. Meanwhile, Emirati wealth will always attract Arab hustlers ready to offer illusory political promises to cash in the money.
The UAE has generously injected substantial amounts of money into the Egyptian economy and consequently the Egyptian State has exclusively privileged Emirati enterprises with numerous business opportunities, yet the UAE has not helped Egypt with the most critical regional threat it is confronting: the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Meanwhile, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El Sisi’s exaggerated fascination with UAE modernization has prompted him to duplicate many Emirati projects – building the tallest tower in Africa is one example.
The UAE’s regional foreign policy that hinges upon exploiting its wealth to confront the political Islamist threat is neither comprehensible nor viable. The Emirates, in essence, doesn’t have the capacity to be a regional political player, even given the overriding of Egypt’s waning power. Meanwhile, Al Sisi has been working to depoliticize Egypt completely, perceiving Egypt as an encumbrance rather than a resource-rich nation – a policy that has resulted in narrowing Egypt’s economic and political aspirations, limiting them to the constant seeking of financial aid from wealthy neighbors.
The regional mediating role that Egypt used to play prior to the Arab uprising has been taken over by European nations such France, Germany and Italy, in addition of course to the essential and ongoing role of the United States. Profound bureaucracy and rampant corruption will always keep Egypt from becoming a second UAE! Irrespective of which nation is in the driver’s seat, this partnership has proven to be unsuccessful. Egypt is definitely better off withdrawing from the alliance, even at the expense of forgoing Emirati financial support.
Kurdish Education in Turkey: A Joint Responsibility
Turkish elites often see Kurds as posing a mortal threat to their homeland’s territorial integrity. Kurdish elites often harbor pan-Kurdish dreams of their own.
Modern Turkish nationalism based its identity on statist secularism practiced by Muslims who are Turks. The secularist paradigm of a “Turkish Nation” struggled hard with accommodating Christians (Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians) and Kurdish-speaking Muslims. Kurdish coreligionists were expected to become Turks, i.e., to abandon their cultural heritage for the “greater good” of a homogenous Turkish nation.
This cultural-identity conundrum led to a century-long violent conflict, but also to genuine efforts by many Kurds and Turks to reach a common vision that would accommodate both Turkey’s territorial integrity and Kurdish cultural rights.
The rise to power of Erdogan’s Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2002 appeared to imply a watershed, bringing about a measure of cultural liberalization toward the Kurds. More Islam seemed at first to signal less nationalistic chauvinism.
IMPACT-se, a think tank focusing on peace and tolerance in school education, pointed out in “Two Languages One Country,” a 2019 report that showed liberal elements being introduced in the Turkish curriculum by the AKP government. These “included the introduction of a Kurdish language elective program, the teaching of evolution, expressions of cultural openness, and displays of tolerance toward minorities.”
And while no open debate was permitted, IMPACT-se noted “a slight improvement over past textbooks in recognizing the Kurds, although they are still generally ignored.” Yet, the name “Kurd” is no longer obliterated from the curriculum. Kurdish-language textbooks were authored as part of a wider Turkish-Kurdish rapprochement.
In June 2012, the Turkish government announced for the first time, that a Kurdish elective language course entitled: “Living Languages and Dialects” (Yaşayan Diller ve Lehçeler), would be offered as an elective language for Grades 5–7 for two hours per week.
IMPACT-se studied these textbooks (published in 2014 and 2015 in Kurmanji and Zazaki) in its report and found that the elective Kurdish-language program strengthens Kurdish culture and identity, while assuming a pan-Kurdish worldview devoid of hate against Turks. Included are Kurdish-historic places in Turkey, Iran and Iraq (but not Syria). The textbooks cover issues such as the Kurdish diaspora in Europe, the Kurdish national holiday of Newroz, with the underlying revolutionary message of uprising against tyranny. Children’s names are exclusively Kurdish. Turks and Turkey are not represented in the elective Kurdish books (but are obviously present across the rest of the curriculum).
The latter is a surprising and counter-intuitive finding. Textbooks published by Turkey’s Ministry of Education focus solely on the Kurdish side, with pan-Kurdish messaging, and no Turkish context. There could be several explanations for this, but the fact remains that Turkish-Kurdish relations are still not present in Turkey’s Kurdish language program.
The overall conclusion of IMPACT-se has been that this program is pioneering and generally excellent. There are some problems, however. One problem is that the elective program is minimalistic and does not meet Kurdish cultural needs. However, the program ignores the Turkish-Kurdish dilemma, hence projecting an inverted mirror image of the Turkish curriculum at large, which ignores the Kurdish question. There is no peace education in either curriculum. Therefore, IMPACT-se recommended enhancing the Kurdish-language program, while adding a healthy dose of pertinent peace education to the curriculum’s Turkish and Kurdish textbooks.
Sadly, the last few years have also seen broader moves by the Turkish government to quash Kurdish cultural and educational freedoms. The armed conflict between separatist groups and the Turkish military resumed in 2015, followed by the 2016 detention of high-ranking officials of the peaceful pro-minority People’s Democratic Party (HDP). By 2020, 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors on the HDP ticket in previous years had been forced out or arrested by security forces.
Simultaneously, elective programs such as Kurdish have been neglected and largely replaced by religious “elective” courses, which are often mandatory. Specifically, elective Kurdish courses are being clamped down or de facto erased in certain schools (despite being originally offered in 28 cities and with an expected enrollment as high as 160,000).
And then there is the question of full education in Kurdish. Article 42 of the Turkish Constitution bans the “teaching of any language other than Turkish as a mother tongue to Turkish citizens at any institution of education.” And yet, Turkish authorities looked the other way between 2013 and 2016, as five fully Kurdish elementary private schools were opened in the southeastern provinces of Diyarbakır, Şırnak and Hakkari. The last of these schools, Ferzad Kemanger in Diyarbakır, was closed on October 9, 2016. Apparently these schools conveyed pan-Kurdish messaging (Ferzad Kemanger was an Iranian-Kurdish elementary school teacher. He was wrongly accused of being a terrorist and executed by Tehran in 2010).
There can be no Kurdish heritage without Kurdish languages, making the current situation untenable. Kurdish education should become a priority again.
But this is not enough. A common Turkish-Kurdish vision should be developed. Educationally, a serious effort should be directed toward educating both Turks and Kurds about the other’s identity, culture, shared history, commonalties, conflicts and interactions.
Two ethnicities sharing one homeland in a volatile region pose a great challenge for both. A careful educational plan can lay the groundwork for peace and prosperity. Kurdish education in Turkey should be considered a joint responsibility leading to a common vision.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect an official position of IMPACT-se.
Labour market recovery still ‘slow and uncertain’
As the COVID-19 pandemic grinds on and global labour markets continue to struggle, the latest International Labour Organization (ILO) report,...
India’s open invitation to a nuclear Armageddon
Army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane said that “India was not averse to the possible demilitarisation of the Siachen glacier...
The role of CPC in supporting leadership schools in democratic countries
The Department of International Communication is officially under the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China “CPC”, known by...
Guterres Calls on Private Sector to Help Developing Countries with Post-Pandemic Recovery
In a special address at the virtual World Economic Forum Davos Agenda 2022 on Monday, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres...
Modi Urges All Countries to Embrace Sustainable Lifestyles
Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India used his address to the Davos Agenda 2022 to call on all countries to...
China: $1.9 Trillion Boost and 88M Jobs by 2030 Possible with Nature-Positive Solutions
Nearly $9 trillion, two-thirds of China’s total Gross Domestic Product (GDP), is at risk of disruption from nature loss. Making...
UN-backed COVAX mechanism delivers its 1 billionth COVID-19 vaccine dose
With a 1.1 million jab delivery in Rwanda this weekend, the World Health Organization’s multilateral initiative to provide equal access...
Defense3 days ago
Why shouldn’t Israel Undermine Iran’s Conventional Deterrence
New Social Compact3 days ago
Age No Bar: A Paradigm Shift in the Girl Child’s Marriageable Age in India
Americas4 days ago
The Forgotten Analogy: World War II
Crypto Insights4 days ago
Unifying Cryptocurrency ESG Efforts Key to Boost Global Adoption
Crypto Insights3 days ago
The Bitcoin ETFs: An Instrument to be Reckoned With
Middle East3 days ago
Egypt vis-à-vis the UAE: Who is Driving Whom?
Science & Technology4 days ago
Ethical aspects relating to cyberspace: Self-regulation and codes of conduct
Economy3 days ago
Rebalancing Act: China’s 2022 Outlook