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1000 years for Egyptian fraudster 18, May 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Egypt, Middle East.
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The BBC has just reported that an Egyptian man has just been sentenced to 1000 years in jail for conning people out of money over a two decade period. The farcically long sentence is, however, but half the story, with the other half discussing and highlighting the apparent trend and propensity for Egyptians to willingly give away their money on a promise of amazing financial returns.

The BBC comments section is full of similar stories. Indeed, taking just this one man, how many people must he have conned to amass his $52 million fortune? It seems that the notion of caveat emptor has not made it to Egypt. Whilst it is tragic that people lose their life savings in such scams – and indeed tough measures need to be in place to dissuade such fraudsters (though perhaps not this though) – doesn’t a tiny, small, mean-spirited but honest potion of your brain say that they got what they deserved? Perhaps his con was elaborate and utterly official-looking. Perhaps; but I doubt it. And by the sounds of many stories of this nature, most are absurdly low-key and simple.

Such scams are, obviously, not only apparent in Egypt. I must get 3 emails a day asking me for money or my passport details in return for a share in something or other…lost bank accounts, oil deals or whatever. Apparently, these scams really do entice people into sending away money or details and when they get nothing in return, they are surprised. I simply can’t muster up an ounce of sympathy for pathologically stupid actions such as these. At this point a cliché rushes to mind. However trite it is (and it certainly is) to use clichés, it must be remembered that clichés are clichés for a reason: a thread of truth runs through them; which is to say that in this case, a fool and their money are easily parted.

The great American give away 17, May 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Foreign Policies, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Western-Muslim Relations.
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Saudi Arabia are proud of the fact that they are the world’s largest swing producer of oil. They are the only country in the world with enough spare capacity to, at the drop of the proverbial and highly theoretical hat, pump out more of the black stuff. However, they are being – as you may have noticed – rather coy about putting their extra capacity where their mouth is. This fact is not lost on Gal Luft, the executive director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security (IAGS), a Washington based think tank specifically focusing on energy security. He was commenting on Bush’s seemingly fruitless visit to the Kingdom on MESH and concluded by suggesting that perhaps the best way for America to proceed would be to name an aircraft carrier the USS Ibn Saud. While this is unlikely to happen (!) it is only faintly less ridiculous and far less dangerous than the policy that the Bush administration is currently pursuing; namely helping Saudi obtain ‘peaceful’ nuclear technology.There are several issues with this. Firstly, has no-body else noticed that Saudi has some 262 Billion barrels of known oil reserves left, as this map neatly shows? They ought to be (literally) the last country on earth that would need alternative sources of fuel. Secondly, adding more nuclear issues to the Middle East does not seem to be the prudent course of action. The frosty Saudi-Iranian relations based on competition for leadership of the Islamic world and Sunni-Shia relations hardly need another complicating factor. Not to mention the potential knock-on effects of this with other Gulf countries, Egypt, Syria, Turkey and who knows who else looking over their shoulders’ at Saudi developments. Lastly, Saudi have dabbled in the nuclear playground before. There has been a mass of circumstantial evidence of Saudi’s desire to acquire nuclear weapons. Meetings between Saudi and Pakistani scientists and government officials, Saudi bankrolling of various Pakistani nuclear developments and Saudi’s acquisition of nuclear capable missiles from China are but a part of the puzzle.

There will, of course, be a number of safeguards including no doubt, IAEA inspections and who know what else. Yet these are, as has been proven time and again, not foolproof. And overall, is this is kind of message that the Bush wants to be sending? It is hardly a resolute stand against economic blackmail as some commentators are declaring it. Whilst this latter view is overstating the matter, giving the Saudi’s nuclear technology seems to be a high price to pay for…nothing. Nothing tangible at least. The Saudi’s need the Americans just as much as America need Saudi, primarily for the American security guarantee. The Saudi Army, Navy and Air Force, while modern and well equipped is generally regarded as being not capable of safeguarding the Kingdom as the Gulf War conclusively proved.  Indeed, the only thing that could change this status quo would be some wildly implausible course of action such as Saudi obtaining the bomb…