Sunday, September 28, 2003

America Is Held More Accountable

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi

A British diplomat asked me recently: “Why do the Arab media spare us in their campaign against the US even though we are partners?”
I told him that history, culture and a proper reading of politics lead us to differentiate between an aggressive leader and a reluctant follower; a long record of blind support for Israel and the typical European line. As an older, more experienced player in world politics, the British are generally wiser in their approach to complicated problems
Besides, the Muslims and Arabs who visited Britain since Sept. 11 have not sensed much change in attitude. In a country faced with similar terrorist threats to America, the British haven’t panicked. They didn’t use harsh and indiscriminate security measures against residing and visiting Arab and Muslims. Except for tighter visa procedures, most visitors reported normal treatment officially, commercially and socially. This explains the record number of Arab visitors to Britain this summer, in contrast to a decrease in visitors to America in the region of 90 percent.
Another important factor is knowing that only Blair’s government, with many notable dissenters, was part of the anti-Muslim Anglo-Saxon crusade. Many in Parliament, the media and Blair’s own party were vocal in their objections. Most public opinion polls show most Britons were against the Iraq war. The same can be said about other forced or reluctant partners in the “coalition of the willing”, such as Italy, Spain and Australia.
On the other hand, the US government took a gung-ho attitude. Guns were raised, while un-American, un-ethical and illegitimate regulations were introduced. Double standards became commonplace, from a biased position on Arab-Israeli issues to cruel treatment of Muslim and Arab Americans, not to mention residents, students and visitors. Disregard for international laws and human rights, as is the case of Guantanamo and the un-sanctioned war on Iraq, tarnished America’s reputation and consumed most of the goodwill it earned after Sept. 11, not just in the Muslim world but in the greater court of world public opinion. Ask any American traveler, businessman or diplomat and he will tell you how much harder it became to live, work or do business abroad.
In conclusion, I told my English friend, the Arab media, like the Arab people and the rest of the world, hold America more accountable for the crimes committed in Afghanistan and Iraq. They regard the British as a reluctant partner trying to do their best in the circumstances. We appreciate, for instance, the efforts to temper the insane US reactions and their reasonable record in the areas they control in Iraq. The sum of these factors explains the different attitudes toward the two partners in this unholy alliance.
— Arab News Opinion 28 September 2003

Sunday, September 21, 2003

What’s Wrong With the Picture?

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi

A few months ago — or was it years? — an American president announced in a loud strident voice to an incredulous world at every opportunity that Iraq was a dangerous breeding ground for terrorism and that it had weapons of mass destruction.
If we don’t take action now, he argued, we will soon pay a greater price than that paid on 9/ 11.
Iraq, he assured us, will be liberated and transformed into a showcase for democracy, prosperity and Western-style freedom. The backward and corrupt states of the region will thus learn from the Iraqi experience in order to benefit their oppressed peoples. America will no longer support dictators or betray their subjects who only long for a better life.
Those words were very convincing and many who had at first resisted decided to give America the benefit of the doubt. Besides, who could be sure, Saddam might be the ncarnation of evil who would sooner or later hold the entire world hostage to his nefarious and wicked schemes.
Some months later, America did it. It liberated the Iraqi people from a terrible tyrant. That, however, was all! The day after Saddam fell, anarchy marched in. It seems the US planned very well for war and combat but simply forgot about peace. The US planned for freedom but didn’t pay much attention to the kind security that allows freedom to take root and prosper. Though the Iraqis had once feared for their safety if they angered the regime, they are now afraid even if they anger nobody. Murder, rape and theft are normal daytime activities. Before the tyrant fell, they had taken for granted the basic amenities of modern life — electricity and running water. Now they they have been liberated, they have neither nor do they have other basics such as jobs, hospitals and schools. Jamal Khashoggi was one of those who believed the American promises. He didn’t learn from the events in Afghanistan and argued that the Americans “know-what-they’re doing.” I asked him recently if he still believed in the dream and he stood his ground, blaming everything on “them” — the jihadi, the Baathists, etc. He sounded, once again, like the president and his neoconservative, neo-Zionist team. I reminded him that Egyptian President Anwar Sadat had made similar promises after Camp David. Egypt was to become an Arab paradise. Like Nasser before him, the dream and dreamer ended up in history’s cemetery. The way things are going, I fear Bush and Jamal’s promised wonderland will be even a bigger cemetery. Iraq seems to be moving along the same road Afghanistan is taking to, chaos and anarchy. The difference is that we have more wild neighbors, a fragmented society, armed citizens and our gas and oil is a minefield.
- Arab News Opinion 21 September 2003

Sunday, September 07, 2003

Let’s Open Doors for Tourists

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi

Those in Saudi Arabia who demand price management for tourist services so that they can compete with neighboring countries forget that in an open, free market, you simply cannot do that.
The only solution is to open all doors for tourism as a sustainable industry, not as a seasonal or occasional one. As long as our tourism season only runs for two months during summer holidays, service providers will continue to depend on the revenue of 8 weeks to cover their overhead and maintain their facilities the rest of the year.
The cost will, naturally, be passed on to the customer. No way can we compete with countries that run their investments most of the time and distribute their costs over longer periods and higher rates of use.
One of many problems facing this challenged industry in Saudi Arabia is limiting tourism to certain seasons. In winter, when the weather is delightful in most regions, few people are able to travel around because schools close during summer holidays only.
The door is also closed to foreign tourists who would love to enjoy swimming, tanning and water sports in our warm seas in fall and winter, and all-year activities like mountaineering, hiking, car racing, and conferences.
If we were to encourage year-round tourism, we should foster tourism projects in regions that are in great need of investment and work opportunities. Just imagine the crowd if we established schools for mountain sports in Abha, recreation facilities in Al-Baha or Al-Ahsa, or if we turned small ports like Rabigh on the Red Sea and Al-Qateef on the Gulf into free trade zones.
I thought these ideas were brand-new when I addressed a conference last month in Abha that discussed the challenges facing the future of Saudi tourism, but, to my surprise, I found that the host, tourism pioneer Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, Governor of Asir, has already campaigned for similar ideas.
If so, what stands in the way of realizing these dreams? The answer I reached after listening to investors’ complaints can be summarized in two words: Red tape.
As long as rules and regulations do not encourage and support investment projects with grants and loans, and do not shield investors from maddening bureaucracy, and as long as we continue to complicate visa procedures instead of facilitating them, we will never be able to compete with investment-hospitable countries like the United Arab Emirates, Yemen and Egypt.
If we don’t move now, the prices we complain about will continue to burn us every season and we will always look for an escape to overseas havens to enjoy a more merciful summer.
- Arab News Opinion 7 September 2003