Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Don't Give Up on Democracy

This is not an attempt to steal Marzouq Al-Ghanim’s campaign slogan– don’t give up on your country! A lot of people felt despair, especially on the liberal side, about the election result. The result was much in favor of religious as well as tribal candidates. There is much to say about the result beyond the dismal appearance.

The most organized Islamist group, Hadas, did not do well. The gain came in the less organized and less politically savvy Salafi movement and independent Islamists. I did not think the liberals fared that bad. In 2nd district three out of four Tahaluf candidates won, which is a good outcome I thought. In the 3rd, Aseel’s performance gives pride to liberals and women. Saleh Al-Mullah made a breakthrough. So there are some positives on the liberal side. Tribal candidates scored the biggest win. In the end it was a true reflection of our society, whether we like it or not.

As Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Sounds Familiar?

Ever heard of Nauru? It is a tiny island nation in the Pacific Ocean. This island relied on a natural resource: phosphates that was formed by many years of seagull-dropping on coral. Foreign companies came to mine and money started rolling in to the islanders making the island briefly in the 70s one of the world’s richest in terms of income per head.

The story continues as described in an article in The Economist:

As the money rolled in many islanders chose to remain unemployed, cashing the royalty cheques while foreign workers dug out the deposits. Nauruans literally grew fat on their earnings; rates of obesity and diabetes soared. But strip mining has left the island a barren, jagged wasteland. The wealth it generated was squandered in a number of disastrous investments, as Nauru tried its hand as an early sovereign-wealth fund, and got its fingers burnt. It tried to reinvent itself as an offshore tax haven, and took to hosting all manner of shady banking nameplates.

The story does not end there. The island does not have a functioning government and becomes host to detention center for people seeking asylum in Australia. Australia is now closing the detention center and taking away an important source of income for the island.

As I read the story I could not help reflecting on our situation.. This sounds too familiar and I hope we manage to reach a better outcome.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Our Mess and Their Mess

A few weeks ago, my wife and I flew from New York’s Kennedy Airport to Singapore. In J.F.K.’s waiting lounge we could barely find a place to sit. Eighteen hours later, we landed at Singapore’s ultramodern airport, with free Internet portals and children’s play zones throughout. We felt, as we have before, like we had just flown from the Flintstones to the Jetsons. If all Americans could compare Berlin’s luxurious central train station today with the grimy, decrepit Penn Station in New York City, they would swear we were the ones who lost World War II.

Who Will Tell the People? - Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times.

Things go wrong even in the world’s supposedly most advanced place. Look at the current state of leadership in the US. Thanks to W the US is in a mess domestically and abroad. I guess we don’t have to feel that bad after all about our own mess. Even the source of this mess is not that different, as explained by Thomas L. Friedman:

We are not as powerful as we used to be because over the past three decades, the Asian values of our parents’ generation — work hard, study, save, invest, live within your means — have given way to subprime values: “You can have the American dream — a house — with no money down and no payments for two years.”

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Lesbos or Mytilini

Campaigners on the Greek island of Lesbos are to go to court in an attempt to stop a gay rights organisation from using the term "lesbian".

BBC NEWS | Europe | Lesbos islanders dispute gay name.

Funny story! Inhabitants of the Greek island of Lesbos are trying to prevent the use of the word “lesbian” that implies sexual preference. The government embarrassed by the name is trying to rename the island after its capital Mytilini (which sounds awfully close to the Arabic word for homosexuals)! I guess one way or another the islanders are screwed (no punt intended).

Buying Insurance

Today's dangers are different. Saddam is gone. But the Gulf states are threatened by the chaotic politics in Iraq and by the rivalry between America and Iran for influence in the region. In their volatile part of the planet, the sheikhs cannot buy perfect security. But they might consider investing a bit more of their windfall in stabilising Iraq and the broader Middle East, not just in their fabulous pleasure domes.

Gulf economies | The rise of the Gulf | Economist.com.

The Economist published a very interesting report in it’s latest issue on the Gulf economies and the effects of the oil boom. In it a reminder not to lose sight of the environment around us. No matter how unpopular, putting money and effort to insure stability in the region is essential. Without it our own stability would be threatened.