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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.

China happy with “smooth” Russian election 4, March 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in China, Russia.
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China left themselves firmly in the minority when they unequivocally welcomed the election of Dmitry Medvedev as Russia’s new President. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said that China was pleased to see that the election went smoothly. To be honest, one wonders which election he was referring to. Smoothly is about the last adverb that ought to be used to describe Medvedev’s victory.

However, China’s reaction is not in the least surprising given their utterly rigid policy of non-interference and criticism of other country’s domestic affairs. Indeed, it is just this kind inflexibility and apparent choice to be immoral, as opposed to amoral, that lands them on the wrong side of international opinion so often.

China’s Russian future? 3, March 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in China, Russia.
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Simon Elegant over at Time’s China Blog wrote an interesting article suggesting that China might look towards Russia’s blueprint for its political future. Elegant suggests that the CCCP in Beijing would look favourably upon Russia’s current ability to ‘democratically’ guarantee power to the main party. Russia has, after all, all but turned into a one party state with but a fig leaf of democratic cover. This notion of democratically guaranteeing one party rule would surely be the panacea for China’s elite. All the benefits that they currently enjoy of their restrictive system and a modicum of democratic cover: perfect.

Indeed, it has never really mattered if the world believes than an election is fair, far from it. It is manifestly obvious that Medvedev’s election is questionable at best and a travesty of democracy at worst and it certainly didn’t matter to the various despots and dictators who got themselves returned to office with a miraculous 99.9% of the vote in the past. All that matters is that there is the figment, the notion, the light wafting of democracy in their general direction. The rest of the world carps for a while and then must put such notions aside as they need to have a working relationship with the country in question. 

Elegant suggests that there are two ways to achieve such a “managed democracy” result. Firstly, you simply need to emasculate, knee-cap, and generally destroy any opposition parties. Cue absurd arrests on pathetic pre-texts, complete marginalisation of said candidates or parties by your state controlled media, and, if all that fails – just kill them. Secondly, you need to co-opt the people. In Russia’s case, Putin feeds on the notion that Russians crave stability and prestige after the destruction wrought by the 1990’s. Putin fulfils these criteria superbly, particularly addressing the Russian need to feel like a superpower. In China’s case, Elegant suggests that the Chinese people could be co-opted by the desire to keep the economic boom booming. The CCCP could play on the notion that the ‘opposition’ (suitably emasculated, obviously) are a threat to the Chinese economic miracle and can not be trusted. 

Thus, just across the border, China have a ready made system on which they can base their next stage of political evolution if they so choose. The allure of democratic righteousness is surely a powerful one for Beijing, especially with Taiwan expertly (and infuriatingly) showing just how well Chinese characteristics, democracy and economic growth can go together.