Archive for the ‘Nido Generation’ Category

The Economist and The Gulf

May 1, 2008

This week’s economist has several iarticles on the Arabian Gulf. It’s quite disappointing to be honest, especially when you compare it to its amazing coverage on other topics like fund management (really recommended, if long reading). The coverage is superficial and not very novel, and some of the statements just seem ridiculous. Two stuck to my mind: One is the central claim that the Gulf countries are managing their wealth better than the seventies. That may be true (in some countries mind you, I don’t know if I’d include Bahrain), but that’s like saying a driver with -15 vision is better than a blind driver. The other one is that simply because the wealth is being invested by the private sector this time around, this means it’s better utilized when compared to the mainly government-driven investments in the 70s, which were marred by ridiculous grandiose projects and corruption.

Two points:

1. Much of this “private sector” is an illusion, it’s not what is meant by the private sector in the west. Much of it is by the same guys who made up the “government” previously, except now they don’t even have to pretend that they have government duties to deal with. Even though corruption existed before in government, at least some of the money was kept in the name of government. Now it’s all in the “private sector hands”, which remarkably are still the same people! It ain’t in your or my hands (oh wait, I forgot most of us are nidoers, yes it is in our hands). It’s what Baumol and Co. would call oligarchich capitalism, the kind that results in the worst type of capitalism there is: Few families pretty much owning everything and not giving a damn about the rest. This is not a benevolent private sector, but the phrase “private sector” is all the rage nowadays, so they’ll sure use it to their advantage.

2. The fact that it is the private sector does not mean that somehow by nature it will be better than the government, as the article seems to assume. There is nothing absolute that makes the private sector better by right of birth. It is just as likely to engage in ridiculous grandiose projects as the government would have. Take the example of the ridiculous grandiose resorts being built in EVERY SINGLE GULF country right now, include our own illustrious Riffa Views and co? First, do you think all of these projects, in every single country, will work and be prosperous in the long run? Especially considering you’re all copying each other? Have you taken a look at the Gulf recently? It’s boiling hot, unbelievably sticky, and the scenery is not exactly breath taking (except in Oman). It is not exactly a tourist hot spot, and no, you cannot all be Dubais. Dubai is built on being exceptional and the most excessive, “the best”. You can’t all be the “best”, it goes against the concept. These projects are just as insane as the plans to produce and subsidize wheat on a mass scale in Saudi Arabia in the 70s (which basically amounted to exporting Saudi water abroad, not a good idea in a desert country).

There are some gems in the report however, particularly:

“Unfortunately, the region’s diversification plans lack much diversity. For example, no fewer than 11 aluminium smelters are in the works, on top of two already in operation in Dubai and Bahrain. Mr Sfakianakis suspects the Gulf’s governments have heard the same advice from the same cadres of consultants. The GCC is guilty of a “me-too” approach to industrial development, says a report by the National Bank of Kuwait, which raises the risk of over-capacity not just in aluminium, but also in petrochemicals and property.”

If you all hire Charles River and Co, then you’ll all get Charles River advice! It won’t produce very innovative or original thinking, and in fact you’ll probably end up competing with each other and doing the same thing. But hey, we’re all enchanted by the white man’s burden aren’t we? I mean, these are big shot multinational consultancy names, run by Ivy League graduates, surely they know so much more about our countries than us? Let’s just delegate the whole economic policies of a country, the most important thing there is, you know, the things that usually ministries, parliaments and study groups devote most of their energy to in developed countires; let’s rid ourselves of that headache and delegate it to multinational consultancy companies! Better yet, let’s give them a blank cheque and the green light to do whatever they want, no questions asked! They’ll design our education system, our labour market, our health policy, how to manage oil wealth, you name it. I mean why not? We import everything else: labour, goods, cars, foods, you name it. Why not just import economic policy setters as well? That’ll make us look sophisticated, civilized and developed. Everyone will look up to us, just like when we built the biggest fountain the world or the biggest flag in the world.

It’s worth a read anyway, especially if you don’t have much background in the subject and are interested in a summary of the issues.

And happy labour day!

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Abdulla Mohsen Coverage

April 3, 2008

The situation of Abdulla Mohsen and the other prisoners has been covered by Chanad, Ebtihal and Amira Al Hussaini on the site Global Voices Online which also translated into several other languages. France 24 also had a news segment on it which you can watch on youtube (thanks for the info Anon):

Obviously there are many people out there who care about Abdulla’s and the other prisoners’ situation. Keep it up guys, and if there is anyone else who can help I urge to put the word out about their situation.

Marriage

March 9, 2008

So a friend of mine decides to get married. So another friend, fascinated by the whole process and expecting to eventually go through it as well ventures to ask him: If you don’t already have someone, how does the process work in Bahrain? how do you go about finding the right person? How do you meet them to begin with? Sounds like a serious headache and a complete mystery!

So the first friend replies back, “Man you are making too much of a meal out of it! Actually in bahrain it’s not that hard at all! It’s much harder if you’re a girl. The odds in terms of finding someone for marriage are heavily skewed towards men in Bahrain. You won’t believe how many twenty and thirty year old women there are whose main goal is to get married as soon as possible. It’s a simple matter of supply and demand. The demand is high for eligible men and the supply is high of eligible women. There is a shortage of decent bachelors and an oversupply of wannabe fiances. You’re a decent looking nidoer with a decent job who’s not too boring. Trust me man you’ll have no problem. If worse comes to worst ask your mom. She’ll put something together in no time.”

Now this sounded extremely far fetched to me. The number of Bahraini guys and girls are pretty much equal, so it doesn’t make sense for this to happen. However immediately all the rest of the group rushed to reaffirm to me that although he was exaggerating he was right and I was wrong.

Me: Alright, well if this is true why is that?

Friend A: Nowadays everything happens at a later age. You have to go university, get a decent job, and then gather enough money to get married. Same for girls. They go to uni, get a couple of years of experience and before you know it they’re 25 or older. It’s pretty much impossible to get married before that.

Me: So? How does that make it much harder for women than guys?

Friend B: Well first you have nature. Women feel the biological clock ticking by the time they’re in their late twenties/ early thirties. And then there is social and family pressure. Everyone is expecting them to get married or they keep getting looks and questions. The time window is small and the pressure is huge. Not so for guys.

Friend C: No man, it’s because more and more guys are getting married to foreigners.

The Cynic: Who can blame them? Bahraini women demand too much and nag too much. Multi-thousand dinar weddings, brand spanking new car, honeymoon in the Bahamas. And then you have to deal with her long tongue and her mother’s and Dad as well. And she can’t even cook or clean or help in anyway. All they do is sit around nagging and putting on weight. I swear I don’t know a single nidoer at our age who can cook a machboos. Better get a foreigner. Less expenses, less maintenance, less headache.

Friend D: It’s because meeting possible partners is done in an outdated way. You can’t meet or get to know someone properly before marriage. There is no clear and practical way of doing this. And it’s such a big once in a life time decision with so much risk involved in the choice. Just look at the divorce rate.

The Cynic: You’re all off target. It’s because of this silly idea girls create in their head of meeting the perfect guy who’ll sweep them of their feet to live happily ever after in Neverland. They’re yet to realize that he doesn’t exist. This coupled with this crazy idea of being a virgin until marriage. This makes for a lethal cocktail. Sexual frustration combined with impossible dreams. Too much pressure in the end. I suggest they bring their dreams back to reality and get laid. Will solve a few mental cases and relieve us of this societal marriage hysteria.The ministry of health should organize an annual “get real and get laid” day. It will really benefit the country.

The rest: Man just shut up.

Now it goes without saying that all of the friends were guys, so please excuse the chauvinism as well as the fact that we really don’t know what we are talking about. I was wondering what do you think? Do you think this phenomenon exists? And if so why?

Choices of the day:

Random

March 7, 2008

A bit dry. You have been warned.

So the other day I wanted to change some Dinars into euros. I nearly got a heart attack.

Seriously, can anyone familiar with economics give me one good reason why the Dinar is yet to be revaluated against the dollar? Why don’t they up that damned fixed exchange rate?

We are in an unprecedented boom. The economy is flush with oil money going crazy bouncing up and down not knowing where to put itself. The economy is overheating. Prices have reached ridiculous proportions.

Now basic first year undergraduate economics would tell you that when your economy is overheating you as a government want to put up your interest rates. Make money and loans dearer and scarcer. That way some of that money flying around like a madman gets put and saved away while people stop taking out loans at ridiculously low rates.

Now because of that damned fixed exchange rate we basically have no control over interest rates. We have to take whatever is set in the U.S. But guess what? The U.S. has its own problems to deal with that are completely different than ours. The economy there is coughing and teetering on recession because of the credit (subprime) crisis. Defaults on mortgages are soaring, banks no longer want to give loans, new houses being built have dried up and people are poorer since house prices are not as valuable as before. For them (or so the Fed thinks), the best thing is to keep cutting interest rates so that credit doesn’t dry up and hence the economy is reinvigorated. They couldn’t give a damn that Bahrain would rather have higher interest rates.

At the same time the bloody dollar keeps sliding against every currency worth noting (except the yen). The bloody American trade deficit keeps widening and the dollar keeps sliding. What does this mean? Basically Americans are consuming way more than what they are producing. All those cheap chinese imports (among others) being gobbled up are way more than what America is selling to the rest of the world. So what can America do? It basically has to borrow to finance this over-consuming. How? By issueing government bonds with low interest rates that basically get bought up by China, Japan, the Far East and us gulf countries. Basically, we are financing the out of proportion consumerism of America by lending to them at ridiculously low interest rates.

And the dollar keeps sliding. Because interest rates are so low putting your money in America is not as attractive as it used to be. Why put your money in America and get 3% while you could put it in the UK and get 5.5%? This with the large trade deficit, which means America is borrowing more and more, makes the dollar unattractive and it keeps sliding.

But why should America care about the low dollar? Short of a massive run on the dollar (i.e. a crash in its value, which is probably unlikely), lower exchange rate makes American goods cheaper and increases their exports to the world. It helps offset that massive trade deficit. I remember when I was in the States I could not believe how cheap things were compared to Europe. It was ridiculous. Food was less than half price. This makes American goods attractive and more of them get sold abroad. That trade deficit would be much worse if the dollar was not so low.

And we in Bahrain get shafted in the process. No one needs to be told that Bahrain is completely dependent on imports. From our cars to our ACs to our labour (more on that in a bit), we import everything. Now given the Dinar is tied to the dollar, we cannot benefit from cheaper American imports due to the lower dollar as other countries do. We are fixed against it! No lower dollar for us! We cannot benefit from our exports increasing either due to the cheaper dollar (and by default the cheaper dinar), since we do not really have exports to speak off except oil and aluminum. Both of those are commodities controlled by world market prices. We do not make any cars or fridges to speak off so that we can export them.

At the same time, we keep suffering from more expensive imports from other countries. As the dollar falls agains the euro and the pounds, everything coming from Europe becomes more expensive. Just compare the price of an BMW M3 back when the euro was first launched and its price now.

Then we come to the most important import to Bahrain: Labour. We are completely dependant on expat Labour, particularly from the Indian subcontinent. They make 2/3 of our labour force. Now the Indian rupee has appreciated against the dollar by more than 20% this year alone. Guess what? That makes labour from abroad more expensive. When an expat last year could send 100 rupees back home, the same amount of dinars nowadays only lets him send 80 rupees. What they send back home have basically been cut by 20% in one year. Who wouldn’t get pissed off if their salary was cut by 20%, especially if you’ve been paid peanuts already and live in a country with rising prices? This is the immediate cause of the expat labour revolts that have happened recently (more on that later).

So imports have become more expensive due to the damned dollar falling. So has labour. Prices have soared. But this is not the whole story about prices.

Before we go into this prices story, let’s get one thing clear. This whole talk about how inflation in Bahrain is 4% is rubbish. It is a mistake at best, or a lie at worst. Only someone as naive, or beink bankrolled as Oxford Business Group (I’m not sure which one of the previous it is) would dare boast about how low inflation is in Bahrain. Every single evidence points otherwise. Use your informal judgement to begin with. House prices have sky rocketed over the last few years. So has food prices. In a country where food and accommodation spending make up so much how can we have 4% inflation? Add to this the rise in wages of both the locals in government jobs and the expat sector, and then as Ibrahim Sharif has rightly pointed out the increase in Broad Money (M2 and above) and there is no way in hell that the inflation is 4%. The fact that the government is fretting and has allocated 80 million dinars for spending on goods whose prices have soared just shows how ridiculous this number is.

So what caused these massive price hikes witnessed right throughout the gulf? Well, as we mentioned there is the lower exchange rates which made imports and expat labour more expensive. This is not all. There are some global causes which we cannot do much about. Import prices, particularly of food, have jumped up significantly due to higher fuel prices, the switch to biofuels and countries like India and China consuming more meat. What does this mean? Let’s start with biofuels. They are made out of maize (corn), so maize that was before used for food is now spent on biofuels. Less food is around so the prices go up. Then there is the fact that China and India have become richer, and hence eat more meat. Meat needs more input to produce (think of grass, water etc to feed the chicken and cows) and hence because of the extra resources going into this the price of the rest of food go up. So we end up with more expensive food.

Then there is the fact that our economy is booming and heating up. Demand and wages are pushed up and hence prices go up as well.

So there you have it, lower exchange rate, more expensive imports, pricier labour, food price jumps and an economy going overboard because of an oil boom has pushed our prices up.

Now in a modern capitalist society, what can you as a policy maker do to help control this price spike? Well, the obvious candidate is monetary policy. i.e. as we said before, increase the bloody interest rate. Now in Bahrain we can’t do that since we are tied to the dollar and we basically have to take American monetary policy. This, as we said, is doing the exact opposite and cutting interest rates. Crap.

Alright, well another indirect way is to increase our exchange rate against the U.S. dollar. Put the dinar up! This makes imports from the U.S. and also from other countries much cheaper, and so should help keep inflation down. No one is asking here that you completely break the link with the dollar, that is crazy talk of course. Just put the bloody exchange rate up! Instead we have our Central Bank Governor complaining that foreign exchange dealers are doing what any sane person does, which is buy dinars since they know at one point or another they will have to revalue the dinar (buy dinar is their message, you may stand to make a nice profit if it’s revalued against the dollar).

One of the last thing you want to do is throw even more money at the economy. This is unfortunately what the government is doing. It’s solution is to increase expenditure, commiting itself to more and more spending. More money gets spent, there is more money circulating in the economy, and guess what, that causes prices to soar. Other than the price hike, it also commits the government to the same level of spending in the future. It’ll be very hard politically to then cut down the spending. What will they do if the oil prices drop and they don’t have the revenues anymore to sustain their current expenditure?

This is all the more stark given that these price hikes bite the poor and middle class much more than the upper class. Most of the benefits of growth in the economy has been confined to the rich. The poor and the middle class, with their wages no where increasing as much as prices, have seen their purchasing power steadily get eroded. The basked they could buy 5 years ago is no longer affordable at current prices (just think of how pricy it’s now to buy a house).

So the economy is expanding, but most of this is confined to a small elite. At the same time prices have shot up. People can no longer afford stuff they used to buy. The government would ideally raise interest rates but it can’t since it’s tied to America, where the government has actually been cutting interest rates. At the same time it stubbornly refuses to revalue the exchange rate. Can someone tell me, for the sake and health of my accounts, why is this so?

……..

Talking about subprime crises, here is some comedy from the brilliant bird and fortune:

and how brilliant is this (but that is not how the arab mind works!):

Why?

February 21, 2008

The other day we were sitting around shayeshing saying how at our age George Habash was leading revolutionary groups all around the world. We on the other hand spend most of our time sitting around smoking shisha. Now obviously Habash is an exceptional and unique example, فأين الثريا من الثرى
but even when I compare our parent’s generation to our situation the contrast could not be sharper. No one can seriously say that we are as politically involved as they were.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that Bahrain is less politically active nowadays when compared to the past. Bahrain is obviously one of the most politically vibrant countries in the region. I am comparing the affluent, supposedly highly educated youth back then and now. Back then getting involved in politics was the norm. Today we dare not, nor are we interested, to even speak of the subject.

Back in the sixties and seventies university students were at the forefront and indeed propelled political activism, especially those that studied abroad (which was the most back then). They filled demonstrations and political parties to the brim and even participated in revolutions (such as that in Dhofar). Brothers, sisters, friends, schoolmates, neighbours; the majority were involved or at least aware of the political situation. No one needs to be told this, just ask any of our parents. By contrast, the most educated and affluent nowadays (which us nidoers are a big chunk off) are one of the most politically lethargic groups you’d find across space and time.

Why are we so disengaged, so uninterested?……. Why is that?

Why is that in a region which is so obviously going through one of the most turbulent and important periods in its history, where lives, ideas, norms, economies, futures and even geographic boundaries are being reshaped and redefined? Where no one really has so much more at stake in what happens, and where nobody else stands to gain or lose more from the consequences? Indeed where no one else has any reason to be more concerned as to what happens?

Really? Why is that?

Is it because we live in a much more pessimistic and helpless age, where we’ve seen where the naivety and activism of our parents can lead you and where we now realize that the reality is we don’t have much of a chance to change anything? So why bother?

Or maybe it’s because our parents, having become dillusioned with their experience, decided to shield us and discourage us from politics and all its follies? But are we really going to pile the blame all on our parents?

Is it because there is so much nowadays in life to be distracted and occuppied with that we’ve lost sight of the bigger questions? What with all the videogames there are to finish, the premiership games to watch and the shoes to browse and buy, who can be bothered to even think of politics? I mean if you spend eight hours at mind-numbing work, then 2 hours watching tv getting tranced by nancy ajram and beyonce, then another 2 on the internet, add to this a couple of hours to take care of bodily needs, and then let’s not forget the gahwa session, when exactly, i hear you ask, do you intend to carry out a demonstration?

Or maybe it is all that you stand to lose if you get involved in politics. Shouldn’t we fear all that which we might have to give up? What about your career, your family, your community status? How about all those nice things in life like drinks at Trader Vic’s, comfy sofas with 52 inch screen TVs to watch desperate housewives, or indeed the internet? How are you going to afford all of that? And what if you get thrown in jail? There is too much at stake for so an uncertain a reward. Better focus on work, money, and football.

Maybe then it’s the government fault for making so much that is so important in our life dependant on absolute political loyalty or lethargy. But wouldn’t you expect the government to try and defend its perceived interests with all means available?

Or Maybe it’s because nothing is clear nowadays. The government is not perfect, but the alternative is Islamists. Things are getting a bit shady in Iraq with the internal killings and all, and who we should support is not all that clear. And maybe really the Americans are here to bring us development and freedom. Plus what should you believe in? Capitalism is awful but communism turned out to be worse. And Arab unity souds nice and rosy but it didn’t work out in practice. We don’t have as clear and defined a goal and ideology as our parents did. Everything is vague and confused.

Or, if we are being completely honest, maybe it’s because at the end of the day we are doing quite well, thank you very much. Yes Iraq might not be in tip top shape, and the situation Palestine is not exactly rosy either, but I can assure you everything is delightful here in the compounds of Budaiya. We feel sorry for them but what can I do for their tough luck? We are having a blast I will let you know, and all this voodoo talk about troubles and potential disasters is nothing but the ravings of a crazy doomsday fanatic.

But can anyone be so naive to miss all the dangers and troubles engulfing the region at the moment? And how much that stands to affect us,our lives, everything?

Why is it that so few of us bother, and if they do bother they seldom act? Why is it that for so many of us this is a pointless and boring topic that is best avoided? Why is it that we have only the courage to resort to anonymous blogs, while if the identity is public then you have to severely curtail what you dare say? Why is that Trader vics is packed on a weekend like a tokyo subway at rush hour while nidoers at a rally can barely fill a car? Why is that Tiesto can start a full blown riot while regional wars or local sea reclamation barely deserve a raised eyebrow?

I honestly have no idea. In my case it’s probably a bit of many reasons, but we seriously and urgently need to think of why this is so. Because no one stands to suffer or benefit from what happens more than us.

The Sale of Bahrain

February 8, 2008

In early 2006 an innocuous looking bunch of articles ran in our newspapers that were very similar to this one:

“The Minister of Finance, H.E. Shaikh Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Khalifa, said that the privatization of Al Hidd Power & Water Station came within the framework of the privatization strategy adopted by the Government of the Kingdom of Bahrain and its aim of enhancing the role of the private sector in the development process and of creating the appropriate environment for attracting more foreign and local investment.

….

The purchase price proposed by the winning bidder is US$ 738 million. The total project value amounts to US$ 1.25 billion. This includes the purchase price for the existing plant and the cost of establishing the third phase of the project. The winning bidder is a consortium comprising International Power / Suez Energy International / Sumitomo Corporation. The Minister said that the achievements witnessed in the financial, economic and investment sectors in Bahrain reflected the support extended to those sectors by His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, His Highness the Prime Minister, Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa and His Highness the Crown Prince and Commander-in-Chief of the Bahrain Defence Force, Shaikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa. He said that similar steps had been undertaken in key economic sectors like transport, telecommunications & ports.”

So, just like that, our water and electricity plants has been sold off to Belgian, Japanese, and British investors. As expected, there was no fuss about this in the local media. There was hardly even a mention or a comment on the sale. Everything went by smoothly and unnoticed.

Let me, for emphasis sake, repeat the essence of the above piece. We have sold off the plant that pretty much generates ALL of the water and electricity in Bahrain to far flung companies in Europe and Japan. We no longer own anything that is able to produce water and electricity for us. All of our water and electricity production is in the hands of management in Tokyo, London and Brussels.

Could someone tell me how is this a brilliant idea?

Now, in a way, this is all part and parcel of the so called “neo-liberal” craze that has been sweeping through the region, usually at the behest and encouragement of such great institutions like the World Bank, the IMF, and consultancy firms. So what is this “neoliberal” ideology i.e. what is neoliberalism? Now I’m not going to sit here and pontificate on neo-liberalism, but I’ll give a quick rough and ready overview that is suitable for my purposes. It is basically the belief that well defined markets and private property are best and should be left to their own devices in running the economy. If there are well defined private property laws and there is a suitable judicial and administrative body to support it, economic activity should be determined primarily and solely through markets. Government intervention, if at all, should only be limited to making sure that the markets are well defined, to dealing with market failures, and that there are proper rules and regulation to support these markets. The state sector should be in no business of getting involved in economic activity, whether buying, selling, or running anything. It should limit itself to issues of transparency, regulation, protection, and enforceability. Make laws protecting business; if they are broken punish those who do break them; etc….. If, to begin with, there is no proper structure for free markets to take hold and the private sector is in shambles, then the primary goal of the state is to make sure that whatever is needed is put into effect for such markets and private sectors to emerge.

In this piece I’m going to focus on this idea of selling off the state’s assets. Let’s get back to our example. JUST TO RE-EMPHASIZE, Bahrain no longer has national ownership, let alone control, of either Water or electricity in the country. Sure, it regulates the price and quality which it is sold at, but it does not own any of the plants!

Now why in god’s name would anyone decide to do this, to sell off assets in the two most vital sectors in the economy that are pretty much needed for LIFE itself? Well let’s dismiss one irrelevant argument out of hand. One popular reason people give for letting the private sector take over is that the private sector is more efficient in managing and running a place. It is driven by profit and cost issues, etc, while the government sector is not and has a whole host of other political, social etc issues to deal with. Furthermore, there is constant innovation and creative destruction, while the government inevitably falls into corruption and bureacratic drag. I’m not going to go into deeply into this argument, but even if it is correct, this is no justification whatsover for selling off your assets. This is a justification for the private sector MANAGING and RUNNING the establishements. It has nothing to do with selling the places off to them. Many countries, such as France, have these vital sectors owned by the state itself but they are run by the private sector. If there are gains to be had from the private sector taking over management (and even this is debatable in this case) then let them take over running it but you don’t need to sell it off to them!

So what reasons do governments usually have for letting the private sector own assets in areas which are usually the terrain of the government, let alone in such vital sectors as these (please keep in mind throughout that we are talking about ELECTRICITY AND WATER here)? Well, the usual reasons are: 1. the government is broke and really needs money 2. It is a way of attracting investment in building new plants and establishments 3. to foster competition. I think it’s pretty obvious none of these work here in the case of Bahrain. Let’s go through them.

1. This is the reason why a lot of the countries, especially in the “third world”, do this. You’re broke, you don’t have money, and you need it fast….. or simply the rulers want to make a few extra bucks through a shady deal. Now I’ll assume the shady deal one doesn’t apply in our case. Either way, the being broke should definitely NOT apply in our case. We are an oil country in the middle of an unprecedented oil boom. We should have cash to burn, and we do, given that we have spent a billion dollars over the last five years on Weapons frmo the U.S. alone. We are not a cash strapped country looking for ways to close up our budget holes. Given our humungous oil windfall economic logic tells we should be exporting capital (just witness the mind-boggling sizes of sovereign wealth funds operated by the neighbouring gulf countries), not selling off our own assets. The above SHOULD NOT BE A REASON to sell off the Hidd plant.

2. The country needs investment in it, especially in such important areas like water and electricity. Privatizing them is a way to attract investment into such long term projects by creating incentives for investors to come in. They’ll have ownership, so they’ll be willing to put their money in. So the argument goes. Well, that’s all fine and dandy, but:

a. This should not be a reason to sell off ALREADY EXISTING ASSETS. At most this should be a reason to allow them to keep ownership of newly built assets that they build. Even on only that measure the government has failed miserably. First, it has utterly failed in attracting people to invest and put their own money in NEW projects in the water and electricity sector, although they have been trying really really hard. No one it seems is willing to put their money and risk here. And who can blame them? Given how little the government seems to care about these two crucial sectors when compared to how they’ve taken care of more frivolous projects like Amwaj, Riffa Views, and Durrat Al Bahrain.

This takes me to the second point. Given our oil boom the country SHOULD HAVE ENOUGH FUNDS ON ITS OWN to cater to such crucial sectors. They are a priority. We DO NOT NEED external investment, not in these sectors. Given how much we have poured down the Formula 1, etc, we should be able to stomp up an extra 1 billion somewhere to build a decent water and electricity plant which would keep us viable for the next 30 years or so. This should not be hard. Given our government’s obsession with fast bucks however, this money gets instead put on less crucial projects such as: (pick from the list, I’m sure you know it by heart now).

3. Government monopolies are no good. It’s better to let the private sector compete and you will reap the rewards. Just look at how the competition between Vodafone and Batelco has been so good to the country. Prices are down, products are better, everyone is happy (except Batelco).

This argument is so wrong on so many fronts. First, just like in the first point, you can have competition in terms of management and delivery of services, no need to sell of your assets. Second, in this case there is no competition to speak off! There is ONE company that the government has sold the whole bloody thing off to! That’s it. And finally, the mechanism at work here is completely different than in something like the telecommunication industry. The way things usually work here is that the government and the company agrees a price at which the government buys the output from the company for a certain period of time (usually several years), then the government sells the output to consumers at a subsidized price (way below costs). Market prices play no role here, although I’,m pretty certain the government’s ultimate goal is to pass on the full price to consumers. Watch out for that coming your way eventually, and by that point if the market functions as it’s supposed to you might be paying monopoly prices since there is only one supplier!

In short, there is no real justification for these shenanigans that the government has engaged in. I mean, at the end of the day, it’s pretty darn obvious why it’s better for a small vulnerable country of our size to own its own water and electricity supplies. It’s the same reason why you’d rather own your own house. It’s something that is absolutely vital to you, and you would rather not be dependant on someone else for such a massively important thing, especially when that someone is the only supplier selling such a crucial product which gives him a lot of power and bargaining chips over you!

This is such a clear concept, and I suspect the government knows this. The best example to illustrate this is the fact that the only industry who has gone against this privatization trend is the oil industry. The government has bought a 100% of Bapco over the last decade, even though they have pretty much sold everything else. Why? Well they probably know that oil is black gold, and it brings in huge wads of cash, and it is absolutely vital to the state of the country. Electricity and water should be just as vital to a country, except the difference here is that running water and electricity brings nothing but hassle, trouble, and extra expenditure to the government. There is no money to be made here, unlike in the oil sector. In fact there is money to be lost in subsidizing m people. Then you have to deal with the hassle of running and managing the thing and of dealing with public outcries whenever something happens. I suspect this is the real reason, along with the crazy fever of neoliberalism sweeping the region, which has driven such government sales.

This is of course not to mention any of the “non-economic arguments”. So far we haven’t mentioned any other relevant important factors, paramount of them is national security. Somehow it didn’t cross any people’s mind that it is not the best idea to sell of the country’s most vital assets which life itself depends on to companies that have nothing to do or have no interest in the region except to make money. All of this in a region which is not exactly known for its stability and its lack of surprises. What happens if we go into a war? How will these vital resources be secured? etc.. etc…

The most ironic thing about these sales is that they are promoted as evidence of a move towards development and modernity, towards copying more “civilized” countries, while really they are the absolute opposite of this. The only countries that engage in such sale of their most vital assets to completely foreign owned companies are developing “third world countries”. Countries like Jordan, which has sold off its plants to French companies, or countries like those in South America which were forced to sell pretty much anything of value in the countries to Western companies. You’d have to search very hard to find western countries that sell of their electricity and water resources wholesale to some company from a far flung place. Can you imagine the headlines if Saudi Arabia acquired all of the UK’s power and water generating companies? How about if the United States supplies became dependant on Kuwaiti companies? Remember the outcry when a Dubai company dared to buy something as innocuous as the management of a port in the U.S.?

And of course water and electricity is nothing but the most extreme, most obvious examples of how horribly wrong this policy has gone. As the respected minister boasts in the article quoted in the beginning, this sale of assets has encompassed many many sectors, and expect more to come if it’s possible to sell them. For I suspect that “Bahrain holdings” company is possibly in many ways a display shop for a garage sale of what’s left in the government’s hands in Bahrain. Want an airline? No problem we have Gulf Air, how much you’re offering? Sold!! How about Aluminum? Who knows until what point this will reach.

I doubt this will stop until we will shake off this neo-liberal delirium, and that does not look like it will happen until the oil runs out. Then we will wake up, rub our eyes, and realize that we are in a massive hangover. Just like other third world countries, we will find that all of our important assets and resources are owned by some foreign companies that mean nothing to us (including massive chunks of the sea if this report is to be believed), and just like third world countries, we will find ourselves too oil-poor, too dependant and too vulnerable to do much about it. We will face classic dillemmas faced by developing countries which we shouldn’t because of the oil we have. And the problem is this hangover won’t last for a day but for a really long long time.

Enjoy the water you’re drinking and the laptop you’re powering using that electricity folks, just remember that you’re buying it from the Belgians, the British and the Japanese.

hanger #1: Parliament MPs

April 22, 2007

شماعة:

literally: a hanger.

used as a metaphor, referring to someone who is blamed for misfortunes, generally as a way of distracting attention from the real causes. false pretext, scapegoat, fall guy.

We in this part of the world face a lot of problems. This is not controversial, but it is extremely worrying. Even more worrying however, is how many refuse to deal with these fundamental problems. Not only that, they in fact refuse to recognize them. Instead, they set up scapegoats that have very little to do with the real issues and decide they are to blame. The deeper causes are ignored; they are barely even mentioned. Meanwhile we are distracted by demonizing, ridiculing and making fun of scapegoats that bare little to the crux of our mess, in the course distracting attention from what we should be focused on. This is an attempt to deconstruct this phenomenon.

For the first post I choose one of the more obvious cases of this scapegoating: MPs in Parliament.

No one needs to be told that parliament MPs have become the new fall guy in Bahrain, particularly in nido circles. They have been demonized and turned into the bogey man. Businessmen, journalists, newspapers and blogs have made a career of criticizing, ridiculing, mocking and blaming all our problems on them.

It is also true that our two most recent parliaments have been pretty much useless. This is an understatement. They have in fact been harmful to society. They have occupied themselves with tangential and ridiculous issues like gender segregation in universities, a witch-hunt of the spring of culture, and securing themselves fat pension plans. They are little more than a burden on the economy, costing millions of dinars. They barely amount to anything more than a vehicle for sectarian and political strife, holding punch-ups and swearing contests over tragic and serious issues like that of the massacre in Falluja.

But are they really one of the fundamental problems facing Bahrain? Are they the root cause of the mess we find ourselves in? Will our problems be that much solved if they are suddenly replaced? If they started behaving themselves and started discussing more important and serious issues?

To answer this question we need to look at the corollary of this viewpoint. This argument is premised on the idea that if somehow the current parliament is replaced by better MPs, then the problem, if not completely erased, will be greatly solved. For if the current MPs are the problem, then replacing them with better MPs will solve the problem! Let’s fill parliament with lawyers, economicsts, accountants and hey presto! Problem solved! Makes sense no? If the problem is current MPs, then simply take out the problem and replace it with something better. That should solve it. This is the logical deduction you reach from this line of argument.

It is also complete rubbish.

Stocking parliament chocful of nice, liberal professionals, economists, accountants and lawyers won’t cause the massive earthquake you are hoping for. Even if, for the sake of the argument, Wa’ad wins every single seat in parliament, not much will change in terms of what it can achieve. I won’t go into the arguments of why this parliament is uselessin detail, you can find a good summary of them here (look at section No. 2). The ridiculous voting constituencies, the shura parliament, the outrageous time-lag rules for passing any sort of laws, the absence of proper financial supervision, and the inability to question or criticize any of the top echelons of government make a mockery of even calling this deformity a parliament. Everyone knows this. Ibrahim Sharif, before he decided to participate in this shenanigan, described it best:

هو شكل فقط من غير مضمون، الإصلاحات التي قدمت يمكن تسميتها «قشرة هوليوود»..كما في أفلام الكاوبوي حينما ترى بيوتا، لكنها فعليا ليست سوى حائط كارتوني من الديكور لا شيء خلفها، والنظام أعطانا الحائط الكارتوني..انتخابات والمرأة تصوت ودوائر انتخابية وحملات وقوانين ودستور، لكن عندما تنظر خلف هذا الحائط تجد خواء وحسب..!

This Hollywood parliament is nothing but that: a big extravagant expensive Hollywood production. So how can you expect anything but Hollywood fireworks? How can you expect anything but posturing on Big Brother and Nancy Arjam, Spring of Sex, and sectarianism? They cannot criticize any influential person in the government, they cannot even have a good look at the government budget let alone set it, and they definitely cannot pass any useful laws. What much extra will we gain if we had “better, more enlightened” people in parliament? Sure, they’ll be able to raise more important issues, but then what? What more than hot air? Can they pass anything? Can they change anything? The only positive thing that can come out of such a utopian parliament is a massive clash with the government, deadlock, and finally being dissolved, a la 1975. The best thing that can come out of this parliament is its death.

This, remember, is IF all of those elected are “qualified” and suitable. This is assuming they can get through the voting irregularities and warped constituency setups. And this is assuming that the people vote them in.

What astonishes me the most is how can so many people vote for this thing. More than 50% in the first spectacle (although that figure is highly dubious), and an excess of 70% in the latest shenanigan. Isn’t it obvious? Isn’t it obvious that this is just one big hullabiloo? Isn’t it obvious that this is a mockery of the concept of democracy? Isn’t it obvious that this parliament is a joke, a prank, and not a funny one at that? Starting from voting-manipulation right down to its actual set up? You get what you vote for: one big over-hyped scam.

It’s high time we recognized what this thing is: a diversion. One big massive diversion. A scam, a scapegoat, a fall guy, a hanger. So much ink, time, money, and energy that could have been implemented in much more useful ventures has been wasted analyzing and sensationalizing this farce. Look how many articles, blog pieces, seminars and talks were wasted on this thing? How many times has parliament and its members’ antics taken up the first pages of newspapers? Compare this with how many times the problems of our health services , water, electricity and education infrastructure has taken centre stage? How about serious criticism of the higher echelons of government?

But MPs are after all an easy scapegoat. They are easy to criticize. They are one of the few things that you can criticize and mock in our country. Many of them even look scary. They are there. They are in the spotlight. Why don’t we just throw our problems and blame on them? Here are people who have actually performed badly, they are always occupying the news, and it is so easy and tempting to just place all our rage on them. Ater all, we often need something clear, someone definite that we can point to as the cause of all our problems. Someone to point to and put all the blame on. Someone that has to be the fall guy for the problems. Someone to demonize. And what easier target than MPs?

We waste our time sensationalizing and analyzing the antics of our esteemed MPs, and in the meantime we ignore more important issues. We get engrossed in squabbling over a red herring, an institution so feeble and so inconsequential that we lose sight of more pressing issues. And guess who’s laughing all the way to the bank? Guess what has escaped from the spotlight of criticism that deservedly should’ve been focused on it? Guess what has in fact been projected as a positive force, some sort of regularing authority that can keep a lid on the antics and extremes of parliament? While in fact it is the architecht and cause of this shenanigan and much more serious problems in the country?

Don’t get me wrong here. I am not defending the actions of the members of parliament. Neither am I saying that they should be immune from criticism. My point is that the members of this ineffectual parliament are the least of our worries. For example, the structure and setup of parliament itself is much more of a problem than the MPs themselves (and even this can pale into comparison with some of the other messes we face). Instead, this fetishization of MPs has been used as a distraction and a diversion from more important and pressing issues, and people have fallen for it. We have become preoccupied with their every single move while the real problems have remained and in fact have become even more entrenched. This energy would’ve been much better used if placed on the more important problems that face us. Water and electricity shortages, unemployment, sectarianism, corruption, lack of democracy and accountability, lack of sustainable industry, mediocre education and research facilities have existed way before this parliament and its MPs came into being. They are not the real cause of these problems and neither are they the solution. They in fact distract us from them.

It is high time we stopped fighting over what M.P. flan ben faltan said in parliament, ate for lunch, or listens to for enjoyment. They are a symptom of the problem, not the major cause.

To be continued……..

Clip choices of the day:

مسلسل درب الزلق – ابيها

مطعم باكه ( باجه

Praising the Benefits of Nido

April 15, 2007

So I’ve been getting quite a few comments lately that this blog is too negative. That it criticizes nidoers too much. I’ve also been asked by Gardens of Sand for a positive post about nido.

To begin with I have to admit that praise when discussing the political sphere does not come naturally to me. Over countless years of my life and ever since my birth, I have witnessed so much grovelling and toe-kissing done in such a bad manner and in such low quality to the point where I have vomitted frequently:

صاحب السمو معالي الابهام العظيم, ان برثن* فخامتك العزيز لتعجز عن مجده الامم. ما من مصاعب يخشى قهرها ظفرك الوسيم, لا قاع البحار ولا اعالي القمم. ان لئيم غلط على شعرات ابهيهيمك** الكريم,اخبطه بساقك خبطا حتى واساه الندم.

*برثن = ظفر, مخلب

**تعبير دلع للابهام

I think I have been affected beyond repair. Anyway, I believe shock therapy can be good to overcome this problem, and so outward and full brown praise of nido might be good in this respect. So here it goes:

Nidoers, nido, nidoism, the nido generation, and the nido culture generally has some positives. Let’s start with superficialities. On the surface , nidoers can be quite attractive. All that tanning, whitening creams, waxing materials, vitamin tablets, body building supplements, expensive gym memberships, herbal teas, gucci handbags, bally shoes, armani suits, italian designed bikinis, fancy night dresses, bassam ghetras, revlon eyeliners, christian dior foundation, carreti sandals, nose jobs, teeth braces, Toni and Guy Hair cuts, De Beers Diamonds, Rolex watches, ck underwear, victoria secrets bras and thongs, hair straigtening products, hair dyeing products, hair plucking apparatus, liposuction, teeth whitening products… I could go on… The marvels of the modern world can have some amazing results. It makes for some serious eye candy. Come on, let’s be honest. We all sometimes go to nido functions and restaurants just to marvel at the “beautiful people.”

More substantively, one of the main strengths of nidoism is the education system. Schools such as Bayan School, Ibn Khuldoon, Saint Chrisophers, Sacred Heart, the Indian School and Bahrain school are quite good when compared with others in the region, and have a decent shout at claiming to be the best private education system in the gulf. Particularly worth noting are the “national” schools such as Bayan and Ibn Khuldoon, which unlike e.g.Saint Christopers and Bahrain school did not depend completely on expat and foreign expertise to set up. For example, their board of directors and trusties are made up predominantly of Bahrainis. The infrastructure and resources are quite impressive, with good sports fields, music facilities, art centres, and libraries. The subjects taught and quality of teaching is quite high compared to state schools and is of comparable international standards. You get to do subjects such as French and pottery that you would be hard pressed to find in other places. Sure, the arts and social sciences (discounting business and economics) are put on the backburner, and the standard of Arabic can be quite pitiful in some of these schools, but at least they’re quite good in other subjects.

This links to another positive in nidoers: They generally have a high level of skills and qualifications. Many of them are professionals. The country can now claim to have a considerable number of doctors, lawyer, accountants, engineers, It specialists, etc. Obviously not all of these are nidoers, but a good chunk of nidoers fall into these qualifications. This is a good thing. You can’t really complain about having too many professionals. In fact we probably need more of them.

The comparably high level of nido professionals and education, by GCC standards is praise-worthy. You can see this also in the amount of qualifications nioders have from “prestigious universities”. American, British, French, you name it. You could probably find a nidoer with a qualification from any of their posh universities. Bahrain can also claim to have the highest level of English in the Gulf and even has a shot at being top of the Arab world. Hell, many a nidoers only speak English, with a spattering of “Arabic” such as Shakbar interjected in the middle for good measure.

But this is where it turns sour. Yes nidoers have decent English, but at what expense? Look at the pitiful Arabic that many of them claim to have. These are people who were born and raised in Bahrain, with Arabic being the main or only language of many of their parents. Yet they cannot mutter one full sentence in Arabic without interjecting in it some sort of “I don’t know”, “cool”, or some other silly English phrase in the middle.In fact, you can’t really say these nidoers speak Arabic, not Fus7a anyway. At most you can say they have a weak grasp of Bahraini Arabic, not Modern Standard Arabic. Have you ever tried testing a nidoers qawa3ed or grammar? Have you ever tried asking him to speak intelligebly in fus7a, let alone making him read it or write it? Many a nidoers I know have the Arabic writing skills of a ten year old, with the construction of any sentence going beyond:

الولد يلعب في الساحة

causing serious difficulties.

Seriously, isn’t it disgraceful? That many a nidoers get a headache reading three sentences in an Arabic newspaper let alone any sort of Arabic book? This in a country that claims to have Arabic as its first language, and where they were able to get the best education and schools the country has to offer? If this is their standard of Arabic, what will that of their kids be like? Does having competent English mean abandoning your mother language, let alone a language as important, rich, beautiful, ancient, holy, and dynamic as the Arabic language? Does modernity and advancement mean foresaking Arabic and replacing it wholeheartedly with English?

Really? Then how come the most advanced non-English speaking countries in the world hold on ferociously to their language. How come even the most nidoey people in those countries always use their mother tongue as the first language of speech, communication, and thought? Look at Germany, France, Spain, Japan and Italy, to name a few. Have you ever heard of a French person born and raised in France that does not speak French? In fact it is a ridiculous concept to start with. Try asking a German person “Do you speak German?” He’ll look at you quizzically and think you’re a moron. It does not even make sense. “A German who doesn’t speak German? Speak intelligibly boy!” Compare this to Bahrain. How many nidoers, if being honest, would answer “Do you speak fus7a Arabic” with “No”, “Not really” or “Huh?”? On the flip side, have you ever checked out how amazing the Germans speak English? Their level of English competency would destroy that of most nidoers. Then look at how dynamic these countries are, producing movies, songs, books, research, journals, and high quality professionals that enhance and develop their languages. Compare this to many of our nidoers, who don’t even know how to type in Arabic. Doesn’t the decline of an ancient and rooted language in the most educated and richest circles of a society show a comparatively weak society, one that is unstable, static, unsure of itself, in an identity crisis and unable to cope with modernity and advancement? Isn’t this the antithesis of being modern and advanced?

Same thing goes for education. It’s all good and well that nidoers, the richest in society, can afford these decent schools. But is this really all that great? Nigeria has private schools. So does Egypt, Indonesia, South Africa, etc. In fact I am finding it hard to even come up with a list of countries that Bahraini Nido schools would compare favourably with. The former Soviet block traditionally has good schooling even in the state sector. China and India, although the situation is very disparate, also have very good schools and universities. This is the rub. Pretty much every country in the world now has good private schools that cater to the rich. The rich can pay, and if you pay enough, you can get pretty much get whatever you want. If you’ve got the millions, you can setup home in the deep Jungles of the Congo and still get to have a decent education, if you’re willing to pay that is. There is nothing stellar in this. The more important thing is to take the big picture. Does Bahrain have a great education system on a global level? What’s the point if only the rich get to have the best education and to go to the best universities (the ten-odd people they send every year on the Crown-Prince scholarship notwithstanding)? I doubt many people can argue Bahrain has a great education system. Let’s look at schools first. Our state schools, although not extremely bad, are nothing to write home about. They lack the adequate infrastructure, resources, and training. Our universities, well let us not start (maybe that’s for another post). How about those universities? Well, there are only two establishments that can be really called universities: Bahrain Uniersity and The Arabian Gulf University (and the latter one is highly specialized and it is more accurate to call it a college). And we all know about the problems inherent in these two universities. Just look at how most nido parents decide to send their kids abroad. Is this a good reflection on our university sector? And the sad indictment is that many Bahrainis send their children to study in Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon (in fact some of these universities are setting up shop in Bahrain!), countries with much more limited resources than ours, but you don’t see a flood of Lebanese, Jordanian and Egyptian residents coming to universities in Bahrain. Then we have the research facilities, an essential part of any advanced educational system. Oh, our world class research facilities. Their output of new technologies, inventions, and academic papers is a non-stop stream. In fact it’s an avalanche. Countries all over the world cannot stop raving about and envying the embarassment of riches we have produced in research. Academics are falling over each other trying to be the first to come to Bahrain. Ivy League schools have been complaining that Bahrain has stolen their best professors.

The same can be said about the health sector, the industrial sector, the electricity sector (How crazy is it that we have electricity blackouts in a country with gas and oil?), water sector, and the housing sector. In essence, all the vital sectors of a modern life.

Why is it that only nidoers, a small fraction of the population, are the only ones that have comparable standards in these things to advanced countries? Why is it that the rest of the country, the vast majority of the population, have to be content with third-rate resources? Why can’t the majority of this tiny country be provided with schools, hospitals, and facilities of a decent standards, comparable to those in the developed countries?

And the sad thing about it all is we are an oil region. A region where literally a massive hoard of cash lies below the ground. All you have to do is shovel it out. Whereas other poor countries have to fret about where to get the resources to fund these things, our problem is we choose to waste it on other “advancements”. Somehow the Formula 1, with all its difficulties and the risks involved, deserves $500 million dollars, while the Arabian Gulf University had to give up its main campus, shut up shop and stop teaching the majority of its subjects because of lack of resources. Somehow, in a country that does not stand a cat’s chance in hell if it enters a war, 1 billion dollars are spent on military equipment (from the U.S. only) in the last 5 years. This while the country does not even have enough electricity supply. The list can go and on and on. It is seriously depressing.

And I wonder why most of my posts are critical.

Why is it that we cannot learn and adopt from the advanced countries? Why is it that we are industrially, educationally, and technologically so far behind countries like Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan, countries that until very recently were not all that developed? Did you know that Korea and Egypt had similar levels of GDP 50 years ago? Look at the where Korea is now and how Egypt is languishing. Why can’t we have similar levels of schools, universities, hospitals, industries? And the unfathomable part is that it should be so much easier for us! For one, we have their experiences and strategies to learn from, so we don’t have to “re-invent the wheel” again. Secondly, the population of the gulf is miniscule by world standards (not more thant 20 million nationals in the whole GCC, and even that is probably exaggerated), and so we don’t have the problem of e.g. China’s of how to educate, industrially and materially advance more than a billion people. Thirdly, and most importantly, we have oil! These countries did not have any notable natural resources to depend on! They had to work their socks off, with so much misery created in the process, in order to reach the stage they are in! We have oil to pay for the roads, the building, the schools, the hospitals, and the universities. And yet we choose to spend the biggest chunk of it on fake islands, big Hummers, useless F-16s, and fountains. Why is it that the main things we have imported and learned from these countries is where to buy the best bikinis, the best hair styles, the hippest movies and sitcoms, the latest fashion accessories, and the best guns? Where are the producers of Harvards, Nissans, Panasonics, and Nobel Laureates in the gulf? As they say, a Hummer lasts ten years; An education lasts a lifetime.

Alright, I think that shock therapy has worked pretty well. Enough optimism and praise for one post, back to criticism and ranting.

Any other benefits of nido some of you out there can think of?

ِAnyway, in the interest of “looking on the bright side”, from now on I’ve decided to post a clip or song with each post. Today’s choice is “khalah shakou” (Auntie What’s Wrong).

خاله شكو – مكادي النحاس

ِA faster version:

خاله شكو – حميد منصور

ُAnd this is the Abdel 7sain Abdel Redha version from Saif el 3arab:

عبدالحسين عبدالرضا – سيف العرب – خاله شكو

Enjoy!

Nidorino and Nidoking – any good sketch artists/cartoonists out there?

April 10, 2007

NIDORAN (female):

nidoran_f.png

“Although small, their sharp barbs render them dangerous. The female has smaller horns than the male. They are mild-mannered, but secrete venom from their small horns when they feel threatened. Although not very combative, it will torment its foes with its spikes if threatened in any way.”

And:

NIDORAN (male):

032nidoran_m.png

Next up in the ladder chain we have:

NIDORINO:

nidorino.png

“It is a fearsome Pokémon with vicious attacks…Nidorino is an aggressive Pokémon that is always quick to attack when it notices an attacker: its large ears are always on the lookout. The horn on its head secretes a powerful venom and on impact with an enemy, poison leaks out. This horn is harder than diamond and can easily punch through it simply by swinging. If it senses a hostile presence, all the barbs on its back bristle up at once and it challenges the foe with all its might.”

and:

NIDORINA:

nidorina.png

But the macdaddy that you seriously don’t want to mess with is:

NIDOKING:

nidoking.png

“Nidoking is a large, powerful (like a large purple tank) creature armed for battle. Its horn, hard enough to pierce a diamond, contains secreted venom, making it a deadly stabbing tool upon prey and Pokémon battle opponents, and its thick tail packs enormously destructive power capable of toppling a metal transmission tower.”
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I wish I was a decent sketch artist or cartoonist. Then I’d be able to draw decent caricatures of different nido characters. e.g. gangsta nido (decked out in full fubu gear making the west side gesture), feudal lord nido (with an army of expat labourers toiling under him), stoner nido, investment banker nido, cool nido (see cartoon below), fashion guru nido, etc. Each with a corresponding description/explanation underneath him. Something along the likes of this:

nido.jpg
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(CLICK TO ENLARGE)
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Are there any good cartoonists/sketch artists out there??

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Facebook and Nido Part 3: “Nido Liberal”

April 7, 2007

So back to Facebook. So other than “moderate” and “apathetic” the most common viewpoint put down is “liberal.”

In fact, many nidoers opt for “very liberal”, just to make the point that much clearer. So apparently nido is a liberal, sometimes very liberal. As usual, let us take a closer look at this, since things aren’t always what they seem.

How did this liberalism come along? Did he learn it at school? Did he adopt it in his eight and a half years in the U.S. trying to finish his undergraduate degree? Did he sit around reading J. S. Mill, Isaiah Berlin or Rawls? Maybe it’s from watching all those liberal hollywood movies and shows? Maybe he inherited it from his parents? Did he sit at home one day and deduce that he is one? Maybe from Facebook itself? No matter. It is not our concern here how he became a liberal. We are more interested in what this liberalism means.

Now what is usually meant by liberal? Obviously there are as many definitions as there are nidoers, and I’m not going to sit around here now defining stuff. I’ll pick, however, two features that are usually attached with liberalism. One is that a liberal believes that people can do whatever they want, as long as what they do does not cause direct harm to others. In more pedantic terms, each person has the liberty to do as he pleases as long as he does not infringe on the rights of others. Be and let be. You want to walk around in a bikini. Fine. It doesn’t hurt anyone directly (unless you want to argue in a convuluted way that it hurts the morality of society, but that doesn’t count for a liberal). It doesn’t violate anyone’s rights. Wear a wzar. Go naked. Go nuts. I’m a liberal and it doesn’t bother me. Actually, it might bother me, but I’m a liberal, and a liberal knows enough to let people do what they want.

This is usually associated with being “socially” liberal. People can say whatever they want, they can sleep with who(what)ever they want, they can do whatever they want. Just don’t violate my rights. More substantially, it would mean defending and advocating for the rights of those marginalized or oppressed in society. Expat labourers, minorities, women etc. They should at least have the same rights as others in society.

Then we have the “economic” or “welfare” side associated with liberalism. Liberal here means being pro the free market, private property, free competition, etc. This is not all however. There is another side. Let’s call it side B. Liberalism nowadays has come to stand for being pro the government having an active role in the welfare of people in society. The government should actively fund the “basics” or the most important things. They should spend on education, on health, on housing, and should try to have some sort of help for the poor. It isn’t enough to let people just do whatever the hell they want economically. You need to help those that are worse off. It isn’t fair that the rich get the best education, the best health system, the best roads. How are the poor going to get anywhere (and how is it fair to compare them to the rich) if they never have an education, a health system, decent places to live in? Aren’t these their basic rights? Wouldn’t it be a violation of their rights (and thus be very illiberal) if they couldn’t even have these basic things?

Of course this doesn’t mean that everything should be equalized, or that the state should subsidize caviar and champagne for the poor. Like what was mentioned previously, free market and competition is at the core of liberalism. All it means is that the state has a duty to provide its citizens with the basics for a decent life.

Now it is obvious that nido is not a liberal in the “B part” of the economic sense. Nido has no interest whatsoever in funding the poor. As argued before (so I won’t repeat the arguments here), nido sees the poor as lazy, uneducated, dumb individuals who breed like rats and deserve all the misery they are in. They don’t deserve to be funded. And who exactly is going to fund them? That would mean taxes, and nido, being the richest in society, obviously has nothing but to lose with taxes. Thank god the country here has oil, or else nido would be asked to fund this stuff. Imagine the gall! Nido having to give up some of his hard earned income to fund these poor fellas! If you want to see nido get really excited about something, mention something like this to him: “How about we tax anyone with income above 1500 dinars at, lets, say, 20% (pretty low by world standards)?” I recommend that you duck, because you are in serious danger of being punched or spat at by nido.

Alright, so nido is not liberal in the egalitarian economic sense (what we called the B side). How about the A side, that of free competition and private property? Surely nido is liberal in this sense. After all, nido loves the idea of private property. He owns a considerable chunk of the island. Surely nido is for liberalism in this sense? Nido owns most of the companies in Bahrain, so surely he loves everything that capitalism has to offer?

Again, things aren’t always what they seem. The fact that nido owns most of the companies shows how much nido likes to pick and choose what he likes in liberalism. For nido, or more precisely nido’s family, has a monopoly over pretty much anything worthwhile in Bahrain. Car dealerships, equipments, sale of alcohol, land, you name it. Nido’s fortune has been built on the ability to monopolize certain parts of the market and exploit it to the maximum. This has nothing to do with free competition. In fact it is the complete opposite! Just watch how nido and his family fight tooth and nail to keep and mantain the monopolies (or as they are more fondly called, “dealerships”) that rake in so much money for him. Once again, if you want to give nido a heart attack just casually mention that monopolies are to be abolished in bahrain and see his reaction. The threat anti-monopolistic legal action in Bahrain and of others from Bahrain being on the same footing as him entails a serious loss of money. Even more seriously, imagine what would happen if the Bahraini market is opened up to more serious hamours from the Gulf. Can you imagine nido competing with the Al Rajihis, F6aims, and Habtours in Bahrain? Nido would suddenly be a small Hamour!

Alright, so nido, shall we say, is “eclectic” (more accurately read as hypocritical) in choosing his liberal values in the economic sense. How about in the social sphere mentioned above? The ” people have a right to do what they want as long as it does not directly harm others?” Surely there is no argument here. Nido is a liberal. He has no problem with people drinking, sleeping with whoever they want, wearing whatever they want etc?

Again, superficially this is true. Let us also give nido credit in some of the issues dealing with minorities and the marginalized in society. For example, nido is much better than some of the other forces in society (e.g. some Islamists) when dealing with women’s rights. After all, many a nidoers are female (in fact roughly half). So it is settled then. Nido is at least liberal in the social sense.

But what about other questions that “socially liberal” entails being committed to? Let us take the issue of the exploitation of expat labour and their rights in Bahrain. Here it is very hard to argue that nido is liberal. In fact nido is the antithesis of liberal. He or daddy owns companies that employ thousands of expat workers that work in appaling conditions and for awful pay. They work more than 70 hours a week, live five or more in a room, toil away in the middle of the sun under awful conditions, and in the end they are lucky if they receive 80 BD as a wage. In fact, nido here is more like a feudal lord than a liberal. Bahrainis working for nido, although better off than their expat counterparts, also suffer. Because nido is used to cheap foreign labour breaking their backs working for him for minimal pay he expects Bahrainis in one way or another to compete with them. Or else why would he ever employ a Bahrain except because the government is perstering him with “Bahranization” quotas? Thus, nido grudgingly pays the Bahrainis more but not by much.

And you expect nido to be a defender of these expats rights? Can you imagine nido actively advocating for their rights? Of course not. He is the one that benefits the most from the conditions they are in. Can you imagine nido actively encouraging the idea of labour unions to help these workers? How about regulations that guarantee these workers a minimally decent working conditions, living environment, etc? Fat chance. He’ll give you something along the excuse, ” They should be grateful. They are much better off than in their home country.” Your generosity is marvellous, nido.

It is apparent that nido’s social liberalism is of the superficial kind. It is of the kind of “I have every right to wear my bikini, to drink, to sleep with who I want, to watch and dance to Nancy Ajram.” More seriously than that, it is a selective, contradictory liberalism. Nido chooses what he likes in liberalism and discards the rest. Instead of liberalism standing for “the right for everyone to do what they like as long as it does not directly hurt others”, it stands for “the right for nido to do whatever he likes even if it hurts others, and the right for the rest to do what they like as long as it does not hurt nido,” even if nido in the process is hurting others. He is for private property because it protects his land and businesses. He is for capitalism because it gives him the money that sponsors his lifestyle. He is for the right to do what you want when it allows him to copulate, drink, and go clubbing with other nidoers. He is against rights for expat workers becaues it could seriously harm him. Similarly, the idea of discarding monopolies does not appeal to him because daddy’s company stands to lose from this. This is “nido liberalilsm” for you.

This contradictory, selective nature of nido liberalism makes much more sense when we realize the underlying theme behind it: selfishness. Nido is a liberal as long as this liberalism benefits him, and he discards what other traits in liberalism he does not like. It is self-centered. It is all about me and what is to nido’s benefits.

Let us take one final example, one where you find many a nidoers nowadays ranting about: democracy (which is obviously a core element of most definitions of liberalism). You hear many a nidoers paying homage and glorifying democracy, and talking about how “backwards” our region is because of a lack of democracy. Lo and behold, however, you find many a nidoers actually glad that democracy doesn’t exist in Bahrain. “Those Islamists. Those shias, those muslim brotherhoods (notice, as mentioned before, it could be anything, Nasserists, socialists, whatever poses a danger to nido). Thank god they don’t have more say in the country. We’d be screwed! This country does not deserve democracy.” It is a democracy of flagrant self-interest. If the country was populated with nice “nido liberals” that do nido’s bidding, then all hail democracy. If it is anything else, even if the majority of the country wants it, then no thank you.

Indeed, the only time nido deviates from his self-interest to do something that benefits groups other than him is when he comes under serious social pressure and risks losing even more by not giving in to some of these demands. Thus, let them have their fake democracy if this will quiet social unrest and stave off more serious revolts. Let them have their watered down unions in government companies if that will deflect them from proper restructuring. Even here, whatever social reform nido gives into is because he thinks it is in his own benefit, since it will stave off further opposition and losses of interest.

Even more blatant, a nidoer would often use the term “liberal” in order to score brownie points and court the other “liberals” in the west. After, all, “liberalism” as a commodity sells pretty well nowadays in the western media and world. And if one looks superficially at nido, as mentioned before, he will appear to westerners as “liberal”. A nidoer is drinking johnny walker, wearing a low cut cleavage dress, and talking about the dangers of Islamists. Indeed, the nidoer would strike one from the west as being “quite like us.” They are like us in looks, in mentality, and even in talking about “liberalism” and “moderate”ness. Indeed if one does not dig further he would fall into the trap of thinking nido is actually liberal.

There is a running theme here. Whether nido describes himself as moderate, apathetic, or liberal. In “moderateness” we saw it means a commitment to the status quo, a commitment to keeping things as they are since they are to nido’s benefits. In liberal it means selectively choosing from “liberalism” whatever benefits nido and violating the rest. There is a common thread here: self-centered selfishness. Nido cares only about what benefits him and actively goes against everything that does not benefit him. It does not matter who gets hurt or the amount of harm created, as long as the harm does not involve nido. Even the term “liberal” and “moderate” are often cynically abused for self-interest in order to look good in the eyes of the west.

Still not convinced? Find yourself a nidoer (it might be you). Ask him what his stand is on any political issue of relevance to him. Expat workers, Islamists, sale of alcohol, the status of monopolies in Bahrain, labour unions. etc. Watch his answers. He will either be “apathetic” and won’t care, or they will be those which maximizes his self interest, regardless of others. Sure, he might give you other excuses for why he supports these issues, but the pattern of selfishness in his answers will be unmistakeable.

If we want to be honest with ourselves we should admit that this is the main trait, characteristic, or in facebook speak, “political views” of nido: nido-centered selfishness.

Nido, there is not much that is liberal about you, your johnnywalker, bikini accessories and clubbing hangouts not with-standing. There is not much here other than egoistic selfishness.