Who Wants Arab Money?

By Aijaz Zaka Syed – Dubai

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 ever seen, even bigger than the 1929 Crash. The Depression was confined to the US and the world was not as globalized as it is today.

For once one finds oneself agreeing with Tom Friedman. The world is indeed flat.  Which is why from Asian tigers to India and China, and from the old Europe to Latin America, no one has emerged unscathed from the Wall Street carnage.

Although the Gulf states have taken some drubbing, the region has largely managed to insulate itself against the total collapse as the US, Europe and other economies have experienced.

Of course, this is not thanks to some clever thinking on the part of Arabs. It’s because of the simple fact that the region isn’t still fully integrated into the global financial system.

Which is how you have the Arabs in that region patting themselves for managing to hold on to their assets and investments. The value of Arab investments in the US and Europe may have shrunken after the crisis but they will survive. The Arabs have been saved by investments in their own countries and elsewhere and of course the recent windfall of oil revenues.

So it’s rather gratifying to see British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and other movers and shakers queuing up for Arab money. Many a pundit including yours truly has been prophesying for some time about the shift of wealth and economic clout from West to the East. One did not anticipate the change to come so early and so swiftly though.

Brown’s visit to Saudi Arabia 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 amazing turn of fortunes!

Well, I don’t have anything against Brown. In fact, one should thank him 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 look how efficiently he has responded to the Wall Street crisis. Compare this with the bumbling disaster across the Atlantic and you realize what real leadership is all about. 

And now Brown wants Arab states to rescue Europe and the world economy with their money and direct contribution to the IMF.

So what should the Arabs do? They should do all they can to help of course. But all financial aid comes with conditions. Ask the Bretton Woods twins. The Arab aid should be extended with strings attached too.

The Arabs need to tell the West they will part with their money only if it puts an end to the continuing injustice and exploitation in the region. If you want 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.

Revisit the UN history and see how many resolutions urging mercy for the Palestinians have been trashed by Israel over the past six decades.

Also, note how many times the US has vetoed the UN resolutions censuring Israel for its crimes against a helpless, defenseless people. Israel’s friends in high places haven’t even allowed a perfunctory UN warning asking the Zionists to 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 with Arabs and enjoyed their oil at dirt-cheap prices, they provided military and logistical support to Israel against the Arabs in the ’73 war. The Oil embargo brought the US and the Western powers to their knees illuminating the awesome power Nature has put at Arabs’ disposal.

If necessary, the Arabs could use that option again with unimaginable consequences for the world 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.

This financial crisis offers the Arabs a rare opportunity to take charge of their destiny — an 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 is an exponential change. And the Arabs are uniquely placed to be part of this amazing revolution, if not lead it. They must make use of their resources investing them judiciously and strategically getting them real power and role on the world stage. Their time has come.

Speaking in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, Brown held out the carrot of seats for Arab states at the high table in IMF for their contribution.

But why only IMF? What about the World Bank? What about the United Nations and other hallowed bodies that have been sitting in judgment on the fate of Arabs and Muslims? 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 perfectly acceptable when it suits them.

The Arabs have to take advantage of this great opportunity. For far too long, they have been at the receiving end, playing pawns in the hands of big powers. It’s time to end this dispossession and that of the rest of the world. History will not forgive the Arabs if they fail to do so.

-Aijaz Zaka Syed is Opinion Editor of Khaleej Times. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: aijaz@khaleejtimes.com.

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