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The state of Gulf newspapers 4, April 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Kuwait.
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The more I read Gulf newspapers the more I despair. Not only do many articles resemble sycophantic drivel peddled under the thinnest guise of theoretical impartiality but the English is just so poor, the construction of sentences so painfully amateurish and the tone so flagrantly unprofessional that it boggles the mind.

The article below that I look at is taken from the Kuwait Times, one of the oldest and most respected newspapers of the region. I worked at the paper for an internship and know that there are some good journalists and editors working there. So how can a torrid little article like this one be published under their supposed good name?

Nice start

Nice start? That is the title? It conveys no information whatsoever.

It has been less than 24 hours since the Amiri Diwan happily announced to the nation the start of the implementation of “Kuwait Vision 2035” project.

‘Happily’ is not a good choice of adverb. It is weak and incongruous when used in this context.

A beautiful vision which aims to transform Kuwait into a financial hub which could make Kuwait one of the leaders in the world.

Impartiality…anyone…heard of the concept? No. Seemingly not.

‘One of the leaders of the world.’ Unequivocally the worst line of the whole article. It is a truly meaningless phrase. Leaders at what? Commerce? Finance? Ping pong? Yahtzee?

This vision intends to transform the infrastructure and the minds of the people completely and to create a new generation of young women and men in the workforce who will lead Kuwait into becoming one of the most advanced countries in the globe.

So the vision had two aims, to transform the country’s infrastructure and ‘the minds of the people completely’. First, I don’t believe that. Second, any details…at all? Change Kuwaitis’ minds? How? From what to what? Kuwaitis are happy with having their ‘minds completely changed’ by a report written by Tony Blair? Information and analysis please, not breathless, empty, hyperbole.

We all laughed when Mr Blair was announcing his vision.

An unprofessional sentence, I would suggest, even in an editorial.

We all imagined our parliament and how hopeful it would be in implementing this vision.

This sentence does not make sense. Imagined what of the parliament? Why is the parliament hopeful?

No surprise. Yesterday, one of the MPs suggested to the government to ban women from travelling unless they have a mahram (first of kin male companion – a rule which adheres to the sharia laws) or unless she has a written permission from her legal guardian. Today, the only country that applies this rule is Saudi Arabia. But Saudi Arabia is exempted because it is the heart of Makkah and Madinah and the heart of Islam. There, women never broke the rules and it has been working under this rule for thousands of years.

What? How have we arrived at Saudi and questions of women’s rights? How are these two sentences linked?

Saudi is exempted? From what? I thought that Saudi ‘had’ this law? This is confusing.

Kuwait is a different story. It never applied the rule before.

Why are we talking about this rule? What does it have to do with the 2035 vision? Did Blair suggest implementing these rules?

Women are travelling for business, for leisure and with family for many years.

Wrong tense, poor English. An editor ought to have corrected this.

Imagine, every time I want to travel, I have to run to my son. Is my son my guardian now? Do I have to drag him wherever I go? Even if I accept the idea, would he be free to leave his family and work to accompany me? What about other women who have different circumstances and whose fathers have died or who are divorced or everyone else in their families is busy with
their own life?

Again, I don’t understand why this is being discussed. I thought that this was an article about the Blair-Kuwait 2035 vision?

I think the honorable gentlemen in parliament was enthusiastic to ask for this law because of the incident which allegedly took place at the airport between male and female officers who travelled to Sharm El-Sheikh without stamping their passports – a story that was later denied by the Ministry of Interior.

Ok. The article appears to have changed entirely and it’s focussing on a different topic. What happened to the vision?

This is a poor recap of a story. It is unclear what happened.

Suppose, it was true. Does this have to apply on the rest of the nation and become a law?
Anyway, the proposal was passed in the parliament’s legislative and legal committee in to study it which I hope they will reject. Nice start for the Vision 2035!

Ignoring the poor English, it seems that the author was going for an ironic juxtaposition of the vision versus this act in Parliament. Fine. A nice idea, poorly executed.

It was as if two articles were accidentally merged into one. In order for this juxtaposition to work, the Kuwait 2035 vision needed to be elucidated and its ethos explained. Then words like ‘however’ or ‘despite’ or a phrase like ‘in contrast’ ought to have been used to provide a link and highlight the incongruous contrast between the two.

All of this is, of course, just my personal opinion. If you disagree then please feel free to voice your thoughts in the comments.

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Kuwait splurges its surplus & political reforms afoot? 20, October 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Kuwait.
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Business Intelligence Middle East reports that Kuwait will be spending some $63bn in the next four years on various projects which include fulfilling its oft-mooted Silk Road project, building a modern harbor and a railway and metro system.

Also in Kuwait, Michael Collins Dunn draws attention to an article in the Kuwait Times suggesting that they might revamp (again) their electoral district system by merging all areas into one large super constituency. Such a system would, theoretically, curtail the gerrymandering and buying of votes that has gone on when the districts were small and ‘buyable’. Whether or not this will aid in Kuwait’s political paralysis is, however, a different question.

Kuwait regresses 28, September 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Kuwait.
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There are two very interesting articles in the Kuwait Times that confirms what I wrote some time ago that – as far as I see it – Kuwait does not really want any foreign say/money/advice/expertise/investment in their economy or society. Kuwait has fallen five places in Transparency International’s corruption index to 65th (tied with Cuba!!) and in the ‘doing business in…’ ratings it also fell to 61, falling 9 places. At the moment they don’t need too much foreign expertise as a whole, as they have enough money to live on. However, that time – when they can blithely carry on heedless of the future – is coming to an end in the near future and then they will be in a much weaker position. It is not good strategic thinking.

Hat tip: Victoria’s blog.

Kuwait Times poll on sponsorship reform 12, August 2009

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Kuwait Times Poll

Should the government scrap the sponsorship system?

Yes
Poll bar88%
No
Poll bar6%
Not right now
Poll bar4%

Link

Hat Tip: Victoria

“Qatar’s increasing international profile” 20, July 2009

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This article appeared in the Kuwait Times on 17/07/09

Qatar’s increasing international profile

David B Roberts

Qatar’s $10bn bid for a stake in German luxury car manufacturer Porsche is but the latest in a series of high-profile purchases and policies undertaken by the small Gulf state. These range from the acquisition of blue-chip Western companies, multinational mediation, promotion of sporting events to the creation of Al Jazeera.

Firstly, Qatar are spending money to make money. Taking advantage of their cash-rich economy at a time of global downturn means that there are bargains to be had. For sure, Porsche is in a highly competitive industry but it has one of the strongest luxury brands in the business and it already owns around 70% of Volkswagen so, in some ways, Qatar would be getting two icons of European motoring for the price of one.

Yet, Qatar is also attracted to such deals because it further increases their profile on the international map.

Since the mid-1990s, Qatar has engaged in wide-ranging mediation efforts throughout the Middle East and beyond in, for example, Yemen, Western Sahara and Darfur. Additionally, Qatar has been deeply involved in negotiations with Hamas, Fatah, Hezbollah, and the Lebanese and Palestinian Authorities. Indeed, it received much acclaim for its role in settling the simmering conflict between the Lebanese factions in 2008.

Such actions are important in two particular ways. First, they act as advertising for Qatar as a whole, increasing its exposure throughout the region. The more interaction that Qatar can foster between its officials and officials of other states, according to theories of commerce, the better the chances of future interaction, be this in terms of investment, tendering contracts or seeking other services. Secondly, it is beneficial for Qatar if it can present itself as a state which consistently seeks to promote and find peace. Not only may such a state appeal more to, say, an investment banker considering moving to the Middle East, but it may well aid Qatar’s security, for it is surely more difficult to attack a state that is primarily known for fostering peace.

In terms of investments, Qatar’s $60bn sovereign wealth fund has bought stakes in Barclays Bank, Credit Suisse, the London Stock Exchange as well as high-end property developments in London such as the $970 million Chelsea Barracks and buying 80% of what will be London’s tallest and newest skyscraper, the $3.2bn Shard of Glass. Such dealings diversify Qatar’s vulnerabilities in international gas markets, its main source of international currency, and can act as shrewd investments. Also, by seeking to invest in some of the bluest of blue-chip businesses, Qatar is seeking to promote its name as a highly professional business partner capable of dealing at the top table of international finance.

It is, however, in sporting events and the world of media that Qatar’s name is being publicized the most. The 2006 Asian Games was the first big sporting event held in Qatar. Today, Doha hosts various top level tennis, golf and motor-racing events, will host the 2011 Indoor Olympics and has made bids to host the 2016 Olympics and the 2022 Football World Cup. Such events increase Qatar’s international profile and, along with, for example, Qatar Airways, spread Qatar’s brand further afield.

The creation of Al Jazeera in the early 1990s is, in many ways, representative of Qatar as a whole. The first goal of any TV station is to increase people’s awareness of it and to build up a following. This is essentially what Qatar as a country is trying to do. Al Jazeera was also groundbreaking in Middle Eastern media. Its progressive platform, where people would debate previously unheard of topics on TV, became something of a sensation. So too is Qatar erring on the side of progression and modernization. Women have the vote and can stand for office, levels of education are high at unfettered Western institutions, there have been mixed attempts to establish free media watchdogs and Qatar has sought – again with mixed results – to unilaterally reinstate contacts with Israel, much to the anger of its regional neighbors.

Indeed, Qatar’s Israel policy and particularly Al Jazeera’s critical stance towards other Arab countries has fermented countless international issues for Qatar. Formal complaints have been lodged on numerous occasions and Ambassadors have been withdrawn by virtually all Arab countries at what they see as Al Jazeera’s harsh coverage of all issues except domestic Qatari ones. Yet, whilst Qatar has sought to mend broken fences in recent years, it is not primarily aiming at promoting itself towards Arab countries.

It must not be forgotten that Qatar is a small country with a tiny indigenous population sandwiched between vastly larger and more powerful historical enemies. Therefore, it encouraged the US military to base itself in Doha to act as a tacit deterrent. However, in Qatar’s not so distant past, various allies – superpowers at the time – came and went, leaving Qatar scrambling for a new alliance. Qatar, therefore, through its modernization and its relatively free media, is angling itself Westward as a hedge against future concerns. Furthermore, by selling large amounts of Liquefied Natural Gas to the UK and to Spain, not to mention Japan, South Korea and India, it is further increasing its powerful allies further afield.

Furthermore, in the ever more competitive and globalised world every country is searching for foreign investment and skilled professionals. Indeed, Dubai, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi are in just such a battle. Therefore, whatever Qatar can do to increase its chances at getting that extra dollar or extra engineer, it must. Be this by making itself attractive to a would-be employer by promoting contacts or having a moderate, modernizing outlook, or by making itself attractive for would-be investors by proving its business-savvy credentials.

Crucially, Qatar, like every country, is seeking to secure itself from any threats. Whether these threats stem from real security-related issues or from economic worries, Qatar is seeking to answer these concerns by – at the most basic level – seeking to make friends and influence them.

Differing modes of development: Kuwait, Qatar & UAE 17, July 2009

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This article appeared in the Kuwait Times on 22nd July.

Tracking Trajectories: Differences in development, FDI in the Gulf’

It is curious how Kuwait and, for example, the Emirates, stemming from the same kinds of religious, cultural, linguistic, geographical, social and political backgrounds, have gone about development in such contrasting ways. From Dubai’s glitz and glamour, or – depending on one’s view point – crass and vulgar modernization, to Kuwait’s slow and steady approach, each country has come up with a remarkably different idea of the best way to proceed.

The briefest of glances at Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) statistics highlight these divergences. When, in 2007, Kuwait was receiving $123 million of FDI, Qatar was getting $1.1 billion and the United Arab Emirates were getting over $13 billion, more than one hundred times more than Kuwait.

The explanation for this is not immediately apparent. Both the UAE and Kuwait are oil-rich countries with around 7% and 8% of the world’s proven oil resources, respectively. Qatar too was a relatively rich country, with one of the world’s highest Gross Domestic Product per capita for some time now.

For sure, Kuwait was far more developed than Doha, Abu Dhabi or Dubai until very recently. These cities would have needed far more money to be spent on things that Kuwait City already had such as ample hospitals, schools, a road infrastructure and a large international airport. However, Saddam’s brutal 1990 invasion, laying waste to swathes of Kuwait, meant that Kuwait City was, it could be suggested, in need of as much reconstruction as Doha and Dubai was construction. Yet, historical FDI statistics clearly show that this is just not what happened with Kuwait averaging just $58 million of FDI from 1990-2000. Instead, Kuwait relied overwhelmingly – if not almost entirely – on their own resources to rebuild their country.

Even admitting that Kuwait was a richer country and had more funds itself to invest, lessening or even negating its need to seek international FDI, this is not enough to explain the profound lack of FDI that Kuwait receives. There must be, aside from Kuwait’s cash-rich balance, other reasons as to why their FDI is so abysmally low.

A brief look at a few more statistics may enlighten the situation. Transparency International, the world-renowned Berlin-based anti-corruption civil society organization, measures the ‘corruption perceptions’ of doing business in a country, where the least corrupt country, Denmark, is No.1. In their 2008 survey the UAE is ranked 35th, Qatar 28th and Kuwait a lowly 65th, surrounded by Cuba and El Salvador.

A different survey, conducted by commercial company ‘Doing Business’ under the auspices of the US based World Bank Group, ranked countries according to the ease of doing business.  Overall, in their 2009 rankings, Qatar comes 37th, the UAE 46th and Kuwait 52nd bordered by Namibia and Colombia. This particular survey works by rating a country according to a series of factors such as, for example, how easy it is to set up a business, how obtainable credit is and how easy it is to register property.

By far Kuwait’s lowest score in the factors that make up their final placing – coming 134th alongside Malawi and Cambodia – is in the ‘ease to set up a business’ category. Such a finding is wholly corroborated by anecdotal evidence, highlighting the bureaucratic hurdles that foreign companies are forced to deal with when seeking to setup in Kuwait.

It seems, therefore, that Kuwait’s institutions not only do not encourage FDI but in fact make it as complex and difficult as possible. Such a system cannot have come about by accident. Moreover, Kuwait, whilst not necessarily consciously raising barriers to foreign companies, nevertheless refuses to lower them. In short, Kuwait just does not want foreign capital and the foreign influence that goes with it.

This is, of course, in total contrast to the UAE and Qatar. Their strategies of development are based on extensive contact and interaction with the rest of the world. By inviting prestigious Universities to the UAE and Qatar, encouraging the recruitment of Western media outlets to base themselves in Dubai Media City, advertising themselves heavily as a tourism hotspot, hosting large sporting events and countless other projects, the Emirates’ and Qatar’s outlook is totally and irreversibly outward.

When Dubai was at the height of its pomp in the early 2000s, some in Kuwait clamored for the modernity or glamour that they saw further down the Gulf. Now that the Dubai bubble has firmly burst and their economic model has come under serious scrutiny and even criticism, many in Kuwait will now be thankful somewhat for their country’s steadier approach. Yet there is surely a common ground between Kuwait’s insular approach and Dubai’s dependence on ever increasing amounts of foreign capital that can simply not be realized.

Iranian nukes and the Gulf’s balance of power 12, July 2009

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I’ve written an article for the Kuwait Times discussing the geopolitical ramifications for the Middle East were Iran to acquire Nuclear Weapons. Do go and have a look…

The point of being Kuwait is… 9, March 2008

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This is an article that appeared in the Kuwait Times in response to an editorial by Mshari Al-Zaydi in Al Sharq Al Awsat at the start of the month. It is written by Meshary Alruwaih, a staff columnist at the Kuwait Times. The original can be found here.

The Point of Kuwait is…

Last week, Meshari Al-Zayed, a Saudi columnist with Al-Sharq Alawsat wrote a very interesting article about Kuwait, titled ‘What is the point of being Kuwait?’ Mr. Al-Zayed, who in my opinion is one of the best columnists in the region, uses a popular Saudi Arabian story about Kuwait to describe the present Kuwaiti scenario. This is how the Saudi story goes- “A young man living in Qassim, central Saudi Arabia, was fed up of the social and religious mores, especially since he had to wake up every day during
early hours to say the Fajr prayer at the mosque. So he decided to immigrate to Kuwait, which has relaxed customs. After a tiring journey, he tries to get some sleep. But then there is sudden knock on the door, “Wake up; it’s time for the Fajr prayer.” The disappointed young man says, “What’s the point of being in Kuwait then?

Al-Zayed then narrates how this story, even though untrue, is helpful to understand Kuwait‘s current situation. From the debate on the segregation law to the Mughneya situation, he expresses his regret over the possibility of losing Kuwait as an open, tolerant society that has been a model for GCC states for decades.

Al-Zayed is obviously right and his concerns are in place. But first let me go back to the story of the young Saudi man and Kuwait. As entertaining and useful it may seem, even Al-Zayed knows that the story is not true; no one knocks on people’s doors in this country for Fajr prayers. In any given local mosque in Saudi Arabia, you will find about 50 people praying the Al-Fajr. In Kuwait, an average of around 10 to 15 people will be found at the mosques.

The important difference however lies in the fact that while the Imam is reciting the verse “Eyak na’bod waeyyak nasta’een” which means ” it’s you Allah, we worship and plead for assistance”; many of young Saudi men think “for Allah’s sake…finish, so I can go back to bed…”.We can take comfort in the fact that there are at least 10 to 15 Kuwaitis who willingly leave their beds to get the most out of the spiritual experience. This is precisely the point of being in Kuwait!

The point of being Kuwait is to have both girls and boys studying in the same classroom that instills respect and desire for knowledge. The point of being Kuwait is to integrate Sunnis and Shiites. The point of being Kuwait is to live by its Constitution and tradition of public participation while respecting and admiring its ruling family.

As I said, we share Al-Zayed’s concerns, we all fear that the point of being Kuwait was lost amid regional contests and global debates. Kuwait has been pulled and pushed by radicals and seculars from all over the region, from Al-Qaeda, Salafists, Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah, and other extreme NGOs who use human rights as an excuse to scrub out any trace of the religious and cultural foundations of Muslim societies. These groups are too loud that their calls cross national borders including Kuwait‘s. Kuwaitis are listening and many are following those calls, the point of being Kuwait is lost among them!

meshary@kuwaittimes.net