Friday, February 06, 2009

The Global Economy on a Wheelchair

Jihad El-Khazen, 04/02/09

At the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, I discovered that we, poor Arabs, do not have to do anything to keep up with the Joneses. The Joneses of the world are coming down to us, courtesy of the financial crisis express.
In Davos, I attended a few sessions on the global economy. I saw people dealing with politics or with the global economy for 30 years put forward suggestions and solutions to the crisis. It is true that I am a humble and naïve Arab, but not to the extent of believing that those responsible for the present havoc are the ones who will rescue the global economy.
I attended a press gathering with Lionel Barber next to me. He is the editor of the Financial Times with which I had a printing contract in the late 1970s. However, I only started reading it last September when the financial crisis was sparked off. Since then, I have never thrown the economic pages in every London daily before I took the dailies home.
I wrote Barber a note so as not to bother Vladimir Putin while he was lecturing us on the roots and subdivisions of the economy. In my note, I said that after I gained interest in the world of money and business, I discovered that economic news is more depressing than political news. When an Arab reader utters such words, this means the economic news is very bad.
At any rate, I do not need to go to Davos to learn about the market's ups and downs, or that the dollar recovered, or its state has aggravated. All I do is to look at the front page of this daily. If I do not come across a news item written by a colleague in the economy department, this means the global economy is on a wheelchair. But if I come across a news item, this means the global economy is in a very critical condition, carried on a stretcher to the emergency ward. Private sittings held between official ones are sometimes as important as or more important than those in the official program. I seek the opinion of participating fellow Arabs, some of whom I only see in Davos, while others are old friends.
There is a refined Arab group I consider a pillar of the annual congress. The list of their names is endless, as they come from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf. This year's Moroccan night was nice, of the type one would willingly attend, contrary to the economic sessions.
I was particularly delighted at seeing Sheikha May Al-Khalifa, Bahrain's Minister of Culture and Information. She is an old friend renowned for her cultural, intellectual and heritage activities. I also participated in an evening political and economic discussion with fellows Amro Moussa, Mohamed El Baradei, Hamza Al-Khawli, Taha Mikati, Yasser Al-Milwani, Sa'eb Nahas, Nabil Kizbari, and Samir Lahoud. Some were accompanied by their housewives; also present were some single women, such as colleague Raghida Dergham and Nabila Freiji from Morocco.
Outside the sessions I saw fellow Amro Moussa discussing and refuting Israel's arguments and lies in short TV interviews and in replies to the participants' questions. As for Dr. El Baradei, when the BBC approached him for an interview, he refused to talk to the team following the channel's negative stance on Gaza and its population.
I attended an evening on the world's most powerful women; among the 100 names circulating, I found three Arab names: Queen Rania, Maha Al Ghoneim, and Zaha Hadid. Attendance does not mean approval, as every married man will say that his wife is the most powerful woman in the world.
Finally, in Davos the snow covering the ground is more than a meter high and the temperature is always below zero, dropping further at night. Yet, I saw men and women smoke in the street in front of restaurants and bars, since smoking is forbidden inside. Most of these people must have caught severe bronchitis. Personally, I am unwilling to smoke a cigarette when the temperature is -10 ºC, even if I am offered the entire Marlboro Company.

Not All Arab Problems Are Related to the Peace Process

Jihad El-Khazen, 03/02/09

While attending the annual gathering of the World Economic Forum in Davos, I felt as if I were in a party where the guests continued to dance after the music stopped. Perhaps the guests were there to prove they are not bankrupt… yet.
Undoubtedly, there is a world financial crisis. It will probably persist for years. In spite of this, guests sweetened the dreadful situation by proposing solutions to problems they probably had a hand in creating. Many of them are here since Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher worked on freeing the world economy from chains they claimed to be restricting it. It turned out that the "market did not know any better" as they said, was ruled by greed and ran by conscienceless speculators who proved what we already know: the largest robberies are carried out in broad daylight. The true robbery is establishing a bank and not stealing from it.
In Davos, I attended as many sessions as I could, some by choice, some by work necessity. I have chosen what is worth mentioning to the reader, with minimal personal input.
- Arabs need 100 million jobs in 25 years; 60 percent of Arabs are under 30 years of age; 70 percent of university majors do not help in developing the economy of any country (I hope my figures are correct).
- Even if no Arab working in the Gulf is fired, there will be a crisis in labor-exporting Arab countries if Gulf countries do not employ more job seekers from these countries. This is due to the increasing number of job seekers from countries with excess labor force.
- Arab human relations are good. For instance, there are one million Egyptians in the Gulf, 400 thousand Saudis in Egypt, mostly in Cairo, and hundreds of thousands of others in other Gulf countries. Figures from Arab countries are all encouraging.
- Not all Arab problems are related to the peace process; there are other political, economic and social problems. However, judging any Arab, whether liberal or conservatist, progressist or regressist, religious or secular, is based only on his/her position towards the peace process.
- The wealthy industrialized nations promised to give 0.5 percent of their national income to help poor countries. The percentage may be small but it will amount to $10 billion if rich countries fulfill their promise.
- Years ago, I started collecting evidence of the nearing end of the world: the best golf player in the world is black and the two best tennis players are Spanish and Swiss, not American. Switzerland has "America Cup," the trophy for the most prestigious yacht race in the world, without having any sea borders. In Davos, I collected even more important evidence that the end is near: Russian PM Vladimir Putin and Chinese PM Wen Jiababo lectured on free economy, in front of the business, politics and money elite in the West. The once-Red Russia and the "Red" China are teaching the leaders of America and Western Europe and bankers how to build a sound economy and what is good or bad for the market.
- A strange accusation was leveled at China: it is not spending the foreign currency reserves it is accumulating, particularly in US dollars, thus damaging the world economy. Wen refused the accusation, describing it as an indication of the success of the Chinese economic policy.
- Putin is cunning. He is of small stature, thin and with little hair, but he is very smart. I have seen him in a special session for press members: he got every answer right and did not raise his voice or got angry for the questions that criticized his country's politics. He insisted that the state could not run the economy alone, while the economy could not work separately from the state. He discussed in particular industries that require state intervention, like energy, aviation and aerospace. This ex-KGB seemed more knowledgeable about economy than his Western counterparts.
- I attended a whole session about "The Gulf New Economic Agenda." The participants were friends of mine. They included Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair from the UAE, Khaled Ali Rida from the KSA, Yasser El Halawany from Egypt and Ibrahim Dabdoub from Kuwait. Each one of them is an expert in his field. They sketched a detailed picture of the current situation, discussing their future expectations. Khaled El Jenahi from Bahrain asked about "fixed income" and I tried to understand the answer, because that is what my daughter does. Dr. Abul Rahman Al-Tweijiri, sitting next to me, explained what I was unable to. I think I got it, but I will not venture into an explanation.Finally, I reached Davos holding a bunch of Herald Tribune newspapers. I found out that the issue distributed in Davos was wrapped in four pages of glossy paper. It was an ad entitled: "Saudi Arabia: A Booming Economy in Times of Recession." I hope so.

A Moment of Anger that Dispensed with Speechmaking

Jihad el-Khazen, 02-02-2009

An Arab businessman friend of mine, the kind who I see in Davos year after year, said that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made him proud because he is a Muslim and ashamed because he is an Arab.

It was a moment of anger that dispensed with speechmaking; Erdogan withdrew from the session with Shimon Peres. He could not tolerate, as a Muslim, that Muslims be killed while the killer denied his crime. Moreover, he did not act like a politician who was trying to score a political point or cheap advantage.

Regular readers of this column should remember that I have always referred to the Israeli president as a charlatan and public relations person who tries to polish Israel’s image or tone down its barbarity, through brazen lying.

While, in all likelihood, readers have now learned all of the details of the confrontation at Davos, and have seen a video of the incident over and over again, I would like to turn their attention to something Peres said to justify his position – something that has been said before, by all extremist criminal supporters of Israel around the world. Peres asked how Erdogan would behave if rockets were launched at Istanbul. Writers who engage in political quackery, like Peres, had earlier asked how Canadians would act if rockets were launched at Toronto, and how Americans would behave if rockets fell on Los Angeles… or London, or Paris or Rome.

What Peres and all of those war criminals who defend Israel do not say is that rockets are being launched from territory that has been occupied for 41 years and that comparisons with Istanbul or Toronto are intellectually disgusting. Canadians, Americans and Turks do not occupy neighboring land by force and kill its people and destroy, to expect rockets to land on their cities.

Arab readers and I agree that Israel committed war crimes in Gaza. I will add that Israel was the first to acknowledge this, indirectly of course. Israeli military censors ordered Israeli newspapers from the first day to withhold the names of commanders of Israeli military units in the Gaza Strip, anticipating that such court cases could face them abroad, on charges of war crimes.

We know today that Spain has been a pioneer in accusing Israeli officers; however, the influential terrorists in Israel and in the world have pressured Spain and other countries. According to Israeli news items, the Spanish government has promised to review war crimes laws and might find a way out for those who have killed women and children in their homes, then insulted the memory of all by arguing that Hamas fighters were using them as human shields.

We know that the man in a state of danger tries to protect his small children with his body, and not the other way around. We have the Palestinian Mohammed al-Durra and his father as an example of this, caught by television cameras. However, Peres and other war criminals try to convince themselves and the world that the fighter in Gaza was not moving away from where his family lives to protect them from shelling, and that he was not trying to protect his son or daughter with his body, if with them, but was using his children to protect himself, and is seeking martyrdom anyway.

I am not surprised, after all of that, that Erdogan was enraged over the dignity of all Muslims, and left in anger.

A few minutes after the confrontation, Turkish television asked me for my opinion. I said that as an Arab, I supported Erdogan, saluted him and thanked him, and that I would like the return of the Ottoman state so that he could be elected the first caliph for us (I used the word “elected” because I do not know the best translation of ba‘ya).

I thank Erdogan once again today and add to what I told Turkish television, that there are many Arab elections taking place: in Iraq, and then in the Palestinian territories and Lebanon, North Africa and elsewhere. If the Turkish prime minister were to run in any of these countries, he would win.

A final word: David Ignatius, who moderated the discussion with Erdogan, is an American journalist of high caliber, a moderate who knows the Middle East and wants a peaceful solution that is fair to the Palestinians. What he writes in The Washington Post speaks to his objectivity and honesty. Some Arab commentators treated him unfairly after the session. Perhaps he made a mistake or lost track of time, but the session does not do away with his record. I spent two days after Erdogan’s withdrawal defending Ignatius at the conference, as I do in this column.