Sunday, November 09, 2008

Queuing up for 'terrorists' money

Remember the DP World fiasco and all the fuss they made about “the terrorists” taking over their ports? Suddenly, “the terrorists’ money” is sacred now when it suits them.
This is why the Arabs must take advantage of the extraordinary opportunity presented by this extraordinary crisis. For far too long, injustice has ruled the world. It’s time to end their dispossession and that of the rest of the world. History will not forgive Arabs if they fail to do so.


At the height of the Asian financial crisis and meltdown of Russia in 1990s, a pundit said that Boris Yeltsin went to bed drunk and Brazil woke up with a hangover.
The Asian crisis was little more than a patch of rough weather, compared to the current financial catastrophe. This may be the biggest financial crisis the world has seen, even bigger than the Great Depression of 1929. The Great Crash was largely confined to the US and the world was not as globalised and networked as it is today.
For once one finds oneself agreeing with eminent American columnist and author Thomas L Friedman. The world is indeed flat. Which is why from Asian tigers to India and China, and from the old Europe to the Latin America, no one seems to have emerged unscathed from the recent carnage on the Wall Street.
Although Middle East countries have taken some real hard drubbing, the region has largely managed to protect itself from the total collapse as the US, European and other economies have experienced. This is not necessarily thanks to some clever thinking and plans on the part of Arab states. It’s because of the fact that the region fortunately or unfortunately is still not entirely integrated into the global financial system.
Which is how you have the Arabs patting themselves for managing to hold on to their assets and investments. The value of Arab and Gulf investments in the US and Europe may have substantially shrunken overnight after the crisis. But they will survive.
The Arabs have been saved by their long-term investment in their own countries and elsewhere and of course the recent windfall of oil revenues, riding on high energy prices.
So it’s rather gratifying to see British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and other global movers and shakers queuing up for the Arab money.
Many a pundit including yours truly has been prophesying for some time about the imminent shift of wealth, power and clout from the West to the East. But one did not anticipate the change to come so early and so swiftly.
Brown’s visit to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other Gulf emirates is particularly sobering considering the fact the empire on which the sun never set till recently ruled the world and practically controlled the region.
What an exponential turn of fortunes and what a remarkable shift this has been! There are lessons in this for powers that be everywhere. Power comes and goes, just like that. What ultimately survives is how you make use of it.

I don’t have anything against Prime Minister Brown. In fact, I rather like the man for ridding us all of the misery of watching his predecessor’s antics. He may not have the gift of the gab of a Tony Blair. But Brown is the first Western leader to respond swiftly and decisively to the Wall Street crisis. Compare this with the bumbling disaster across the Atlantic and you’ll know what real leadership is all about in times of great crises.
And now Brown wants Arab states to help and rescue the European countries and the world economy with their money, investments and direct contribution to the IMF.
So what should the Arabs do? They should of course do all they can to help Brown’s Britain and other European and Western economies. But all financial aid and transactions come with conditions. Ask the Bretton Woods twins -– the IMF and World Bank. And this desperately needed Arab help must come with strings attached too.
The Arab leaders need to tell the West that they would part with their money only if it puts an end to the continuing injustice and exploitation in the region.
If you want the Arab money, then act to end the suffering of the Palestinians and persuade Israel to return what belongs to them.
For far too long, the West has protected and ‘palled around’ with Israel -- as Sarah Palin would put it -- while it has made a proud and independent people prisoners in their own land.
Visit the UN history and see how many resolutions by the so-called international community urging mercy for the Palestinians have been trampled by Israel over the past six decades.
Also, note how many times America has vetoed the UN resolutions demanding action against Israel for its crimes against a helpless, defenceless people.
Israel’s friends in high places haven’t even allowed a polite and perfunctory UN appeal begging the Zionists to please behave.
It was cold fury and helplessness in the face of Israeli aggression and the contemptuous indifference of Western powers that forced the late King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, Shaikh Zayed of the UAE and other Arab states to resort to the Oil embargo during the 1973 Arab-Israel war.
While the Americans pretended to be friends of Arabs and enjoyed their oil at dirt-cheap prices, they provided military and monetary support to Israel against the Arabs in the ’73 war.
The Oil embargo brought the US and the Western powers to their knees effectively illuminating the awesome 
power Nature has put at Arabs’ disposal.
If necessary and if the Arabs want, they could use that power all over again with unimaginable consequences for the global economy.
But they do not have to do that. There are other ways of making their voice heard today – and not just on the Palestine question. The current financial crisis offers the Arabs an extraordinary opportunity to take charge of their destiny. This is a historic opportunity that comes once in centuries.
Economics has never been my thing. But even a layman like me can see that what we are witnessing right now is an exponential economic power shift.
And the Arabs are uniquely placed to lead and be part of this amazing revolution.
They must now make use of their wealth of resources and oil revenue investing it judiciously and strategically in areas that helps them get a reasonable say and role on the world stage. Their time has come.
Speaking in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, Brown held out the carrot of seats at the high table for Arab states in IMF for their contribution.
But why only IMF? What about the World Bank? What about the United Nations and other august bodies that have been sitting in judgment on the fate of Arabs, Muslims and other dispossessed around the world? As any good banker would tell you, there are no free lunches in this world.
So why should the Arabs offer their money without being assured of substantial returns? Especially when until recently our American friends were not prepared to touch it with a barge pole. Remember the DP World fiasco and all the fuss they made about “the terrorists” taking over their ports? Suddenly, “the terrorists’ money” is sacred now when it suits them.
This is why the Arabs must take advantage of the extraordinary opportunity presented by this extraordinary crisis. For far too long, injustice has ruled the world. It’s time to end their dispossession and that of the rest of the world. History will not forgive Arabs if they fail to do so.

Aijaz Zaka Syed is a senior editor and columnist of Khaleej Times. Write to him at aijaz@khaleejtimes.com

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