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Category Archive: Opinions & Editorials

If You Can’t Beat Them…

25 February 2015 | comments (0) | Opinions & Editorials | by

Abdulateef Al‐MulhimAbdulateef Al‐Mulhim
Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)

At the end of almost each fight or argument, young kids usually start blaming one another for the issue. They end up saying, “You started it.”

Interestingly, sometimes adults also behave in this childish manner. Recently, a key official of a major airline acted in the same childish way. Before delving into the details of that row, let us do one quick comparison between three major US airlines and their Gulf counterparts.

In 1976, United Airlines transported one million passengers in a single week. That was eight years before the Dubai-based Emirates started its operations.

Delta Airlines was the first in the world to board one million passengers in one city in one month in Atlanta during the month of August in 1979 —14 years before the Doha-based Qatar Airways was founded.

American Airlines carried its one-billionth passenger in 1991. That was 12 years before any one even heard of the Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways.

United, Delta and American Airlines are the largest in the world. They were all founded in the 1920s by aviation pioneers and in due course the three shaped the global aviation industry. They had and still have skilled manpower — mechanics, engineers, and pilots — in abundance and drawn from their local market. There is no shortage of takeoff and landing strips either.

Above all, these airlines are based in countries known for their technological prowess, which in return helps these airlines stay well ahead of the entire world in terms of technology. We, in the Gulf region, don’t have this luxury. So, why are these western aviation giants appear to be so upset their Gulf counterparts mentioned above?

The Delta Airline CEO, Richard Anderson, recently surprised the entire world by issuing a statement about the three Gulf airlines. Delta Airline is an American public listed company and the statement is a big question mark on the credibility of an American high profile CEO. His remarks were not acceptable by any means and were not appropriate. So, what and who started it?

United, Delta and American airlines claim that Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways receive billions of dollars in subsidies from their governments. But, many are asking what made the three US major carriers worry so much about the three Gulf airlines. The US carriers were light years ahead. The world had saw and flew the three American carriers more than 60 years before they even heard of these three Gulf-based airlines or airports. And none of these three Gulf carriers operate any domestic routes. On the other hand, the three American carriers have hundreds of domestic and international routes carrying tens of millions of passengers and operating from hundreds of airport terminals. So, right now many ask why the three US carriers are worried about their routes or if the Gulf states are giving their national carriers any subsidies. As far as we know, many US carriers are/were operating under chapter 11. Many US carriers were saved by the US government’s bailout packages. And most if not all national carriers around the world always rely on their governments to help them sustain their ability to fly and few are making profits. As for the three Gulf airlines, their biggest asset is that they cover hundreds of international routes. That helps a lot.

Now, it is true that any major airline has the right to protect itself from any competition but in that process common sense should prevail and one should be careful in his/her utterances against the competition. But, at the end of the day, it is the customer satisfaction that makes all the difference — with or without subsidies. If you take any domestic flight by any US carrier then you have to pay for your meal even if the flight is longer than five hours. While even during a 30 minutes flight, an economy-class passenger of these Gulf airlines is served nice meals. Let us also not forget the business lounges at Doha, Abu Dhabi or Dubai. These days, Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways fly around 20 direct flights to American airports every single day. It is true that some of them are code shared with US carriers. But, they control the bigger piece of the pie. So, Richard Anderson, if you can’t beat them then you have to join them. Bad words will not help your airline.

Written by Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim. If You Can’t Beat Them… reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim.

Time-Tested Saudi-US Ties

23 February 2015 | comments (1) | Opinions & Editorials | by

Abdulateef Al‐MulhimAbdulateef Al‐Mulhim, Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)

In Saudi Arabia, we always jokingly say that American diplomats stationed in the Kingdom are so patriotic that they celebrate their country’s Independence Day four times each year — thrice in Saudi Arabia early during the year and once with everybody else in the United States on 4th of July.

On Feb. 16, I was one of the many people invited to a reception held at the US Consulate in Dhahran to celebrate US’ 239th Independence Day. The US Embassy in Riyadh and US Consulate in Jeddah had also organized similar events. For the information of readers, the celebration is held few months before July 4 for various reasons such as Saudi social and family engagements during the summer and due to the hot and sultry weather during the month of July in the Kingdom.

This year’s celebration was held in February to mark not only US’ independence but it also marked the 70th anniversary of a meeting between two giants in the histories of their respective nations, King Abdul Aziz, the founder of modern day Saudi Arabia and US President Franklin Roosevelt aboard US Navy cruiser USS Quincy in the Great Bitter Lake along the Suez Canal.

At the reception, I really enjoyed the brief speeches by US Ambassador to the Kingdom Joseph W. Westphal and Consul General in Dhahran Mike Hankey. They shed light on the historical meeting between the two great leaders. But it is important to many people to note the importance of the meeting that took place 70 years ago. The world was witnessing the end of WWII and the Saudis were suffering from global economic recession. During the war many of the Saudi oil wells were capped for protection and the Haj season was very slow at a time when many relied on the income from the Haj season. At the time of the meeting, the world was concentrating on Europe after the war but it was clear to many that Saudi Arabia was to become the next regional power.

As time passed, Saudi and American relations went to new levels of strategic importance. The diplomatic representation between the two countries was taken to higher levels and more diplomats were assigned to both countries’ diplomatic missions. And as time passed Saudi Arabia and the US became very close trade partners. The Saudi-American relations became one of the longest standing relations between any two countries. As time passed Saudi Arabia became a very important economic and political player in the area that helped in implementing post-war stability.

After the 1945 meeting, the end of WWII and the establishment of the United Nations, Saudi Arabia became more open to the world and major mega projects transformed Saudi Arabia into a modern state. After the death of Roosevelt short time after the meeting and the death of King Abdul Aziz in 1953, the relations between the two countries expanded and more meetings took place between the Saudi and American leaders with transparent discussions. And most important, both Saudis and Americans have learned how to work and manage any issue with each other in spite of the many differences between the two countries. And it is true that many differences would be seen now and then, but, as we know it, there are different interests among countries around the world. But the Saudi-American relations are not only confined to government and official levels. Many Americans came and worked in the Kingdom and developed life-long relations with many Saudis and the land. And there are hundreds of thousands of Saudis who visited or studied in the US. The relations between the two countries were able to ride any political turbulence due to difference of opinion over different issues in the area but leaderships of both countries had been able to navigate through turbulent waters.

Written by Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim. Time-Tested Saudi-US Ties reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim.

Current Wars in ME Are Different

19 February 2015 | comments (0) | Opinions & Editorials | by

Abdulateef Al‐MulhimAbdulateef Al‐Mulhim, Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)

Few weeks ago, while I was visiting Washington, D.C., I received an email from a friend notifying me about a panel discussion hosted by the Middle East Policy Council. The topic of the discussion “Managing, Ending and Avoiding Wars in the Middle East” and the participants of the event made me smile all of a sudden. While going through those details, I decided not to miss the event at any cost. Attendance was free and above all the organizers would serve coffee and donuts.

The event held on Jan. 20 at the Rayburn House Office Building lasted for two hours. I enjoyed every bit of the discussion. My interest in the discussion was very natural; as it outlined the steps to manage and end conflicts in the very region I belong to. It is a region, which is currently in turmoil and perhaps the most volatile part of the world. It only saddens me to see everything up in flames in a region with so much potential in terms of natural and human resources. It’s a pity that despite being blessed with natural treasures, the region lags behind the world in many ways.

However, today’s wars in the Middle East are more complex. The reasons are: We don’t know who is who in the conflict, we don’t know the intended objectives of the ongoing fighting and we are not aware of the true identity of the players involved in the turmoil.

Truth be told, nobody was prepared to the widespread violence in the region. During the past few years, the region saw the destruction of two invaded countries, Afghanistan and Iraq, and witnessed Syria, Libya and Yemen slipping into chaos.

On top of it, the presence of a well-organized terrorist organization like the self-ascribed Islamic State (IS) is making things all the more difficult. It is mainly due to the presence of the IS and its likes (though not as active as the IS), people in the region are calling for wider world intervention to root out these groups.

Apparently, the ongoing airstrikes are not yielding any result and need for deployment of troops on the ground is increasing with every passing day. It is, however, not as easy as it appears due to some factors like who is going to commit ground troops, the number of troops and the location of their command and control center.

The most important question is that who is going to command the ground forces. And when you ask these kinds of questions then all heads turn toward Washington. But, is Washington willing to do the job after its failure in Afghanistan and Iraq? Now, let us go back to the Middle East Policy Council discussion held in Washington.

The wars and conflicts are in the Middle East but the discussions about these wars and conflicts are held in places like Washington. And it always surprises me that conferences about the Middle East or the Arab world are held without the presences of an Arab or Middle Eastern analyst. And it always turns out that they get invited through official or non-official invitations. But they usually don’t show up. It is very important that Middle Eastern or Arab analysts should join in the discussions even if they don’t agree with the issue being discussed.

It always helps to listen to what the others are saying or intending to do. And with the current escalation of fighting in Yemen, Libya, Iraq and Syria, it is very important to have a closer look at the root of the conflicts. There will be no quick or decisive way to end the fighting. The region has been in turmoil since the beginning of the so-called Arab Spring and there appears to be no light at the end of the tunnel as yet.

The Middle East has natural resources in abundance but we have been wasting these resources and simply blame others. The region is witnessing hundreds of thousands of casualties almost on a daily basis, people are becoming refugees and many countries have been turned into ruins. It is all done by the enemy within. Wars should be avoided at all costs but we should not let gangs of terrorists to gain the upper hand.

Written by Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim. Current Wars in ME Are Different reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim.

Time to Overhaul Health Sector

16 February 2015 | comments (0) | Opinions & Editorials | by

Abdulateef Al‐MulhimAbdulateef Al‐Mulhim
Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)

The three-day C3 Saudi-US Healthcare Summit will begin on April 27 in Riyadh. An event of this nature assumes great importance in a country, which is trying to introduce reforms in the health sector.

In the case of Saudi Arabia, the holding of this summit is of huge importance because we don’t need minor reforms in this sector, it needs a major overhauling.

Participants of the event can throw light on effective ways to turn around the health care sector for the benefit of the country and its people. This program can help us learn ways to advance health care diplomacy, education and innovations.

Speaking of the health sector, which is most difficult job at a hospital? In my opinion, it surely is not performing complicated surgeries on patients in the operation theater. The toughest task is to effectively run a hospital by utilizing its resources properly. Perhaps, this is aspect is the most ignored one in the Kingdom’s health sector.

Effective management and proper planning are the keywords. We desperately need to implement the modern concepts of management and planning so as to effectively utilize the resources allocated for the health care sector by the government, which incidentally is in billions.

Saudi Arabia is one of those few countries of the world, which does not levy any tax on people’s incomes and still it offers free health care to all its citizens.

The Kingdom has the biggest world-class health care facilities in the region. In addition to the state-owned health facilities, the Kingdom has a huge number of private hospitals and clinics. Saudi Arabia has one of the highest health expenditure per capita in the world. There is, however, a little problem with this.

The bigger the budget and the medical centers, the more it is difficult to effectively monitor the performance of the health sector and its related departments.

Saudi Arabia is a huge country and the public health care is run and monitored by the Ministry of Health through 13 directorates in 13 provinces. So, we have hundreds of hospitals and clinics scattered all over the Kingdom that should be monitored by the 13 directorates, which are also monitored by the Ministry of Health. And this is simply very difficult if not impossible. In other words, it will be difficult to put for example an MRI machine with operators and maintenance crew in each city, town or village in the Kingdom. And I don’t know how countries with large areas and scattered towns like Australia or Canada do it. Or how do large countries like Saudi Arabia should do it?

As for Saudi Arabia, it is impossible to build large or specialized hospital in every city. People have seen very expensive medical equipment that are not utilized or not used because of a lack of maintenance or shortage of operators at the hospitals especially in smaller towns. There is severe shortage of Saudi doctors and nurses (male and female) and majority of the medical staff is expatriates being hired by the Ministry of Health. And for now, it is important now to educate and train as many Saudis as possible in the Kingdom or abroad because it is easy to build a hospital and equip it with modern gadgets but it is very difficult to find the manpower to run it, not only in Saudi Arabia, but, in any other country. And what is more serious is that Saudi Arabia does have many foreign-educated skilled doctors but we lack qualified hospital administrators who could run the hospitals.

The C3 Saudi-US Healthcare Summit is an opportunity to take serious steps toward reforming the Saudi health care system. It is important to enhance more cooperation between Saudi health organizations and major US health care centers to develop ways to effectively run hospitals and clinics. The Saudi Cultural Mission in Washington could play an effective role in this regard.

There are hundreds of Saudi doctors on scholarships in the US and they can prove to be assets in advancing our health care system. Dr. Samar Alsaggaf, the director of the Department of Medical and Health Science Programs at SACM will be one of the speakers at the summit. According to Dr. Alsaggaf, a large number of Saudi doctors are working in the US. The bottom line is we need health care reforms in the Kingdom. Not tomorrow but now.

Written by Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim. Time to Overhaul Health Sector reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim.

Don’t Take Jordan Lightly

11 February 2015 | comments (2) | Opinions & Editorials | by

Abdulateef Al‐MulhimAbdulateef Al‐Mulhim
Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)

Sometimes during a war, one picture changes the flow of events and put an end to the war. Observers may recall the Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of Phan Thi Kim Phuc taken during the Vietnam War on June 8, 1972. The picture shows Kim Phuc as a child running without any clothes on, after being severely burned on her back by a South Vietnamese attack. As it is said that a picture speaks a thousand words, that picture effectively showed the horrors of the conflict.

Few weeks ago the world once again saw one of the most horrifying crimes committed against a human being. The so-called Islamic State (IS) burned a Jordanian pilot, Maaz Al-Kasaasbeh, to death. In pictures circulating on the Internet, Al-Kasaasbeh is seen sitting in a cage and subsequently burned alive. We are at a loss for words to properly condemn this brutality. There is no excuse, religious or otherwise, for such an inhuman act…period. The question, however, is what should be done now?

Let us talk about the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. It is a country covering an area of around 89,342 square kilometers with a population of around seven million.

It’s strategically surrounded by Israel, Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia. Since 1946 Jordan has been in the middle of the most violent and longest conflict in world’s modern history. For decades Jordan remained under pressure not only from Israel but also from neighboring Syria and Iraq. Both are so-called republics and Jordan is a monarchy. There were many attempts especially from Syria to topple the Jordanian throne. But, what did Jordan do?

Despite limited natural resources, Jordan has managed to develop on of the best education systems in the world. The country has a good health care system and has been able to build strong armed forces in the region. The country achieved these feats due to the wise policies of late King Hussein and the current ruler, King Abdallah.

Jordanian armed forces are trained, disciplined and most important they are very loyal to the king and the royal family. In other words, it is not easy messing with Jordan. But, this is exactly what the so-called Islamic State just did. They killed one of their pilots in a manner that will remain etched in the memories of people across the world for a very long time.

But Jordan will not allow a gang of terrorists to disturb life in Jordan and the Jordanians will not allow any internal or external enemy to have a spring on Jordan’s soil. Every Jordanian was ready to protect Jordan including the king. That is King Abdallah of Jordan.

The whole world saw the patriotic reaction from all Jordanians when they all offered condolences to the family of Al-Kasaasbeh. The king and his wife also visited the bereaved family.

After the royal visit, King Abdallah donned a flight suit and got in the pilot’s seat of an F-16 giving a message to the enemies of the country that Jordan was not an easy target.

Since the start of the Arab Spring, Jordan has been able to stave off the impact of the so-called revolutions. And Jordan will continue developing at a time when many of the Arab Spring-hit countries are suffering and in total chaos. Many analysts think that the so-called Islamic State had committed a grave mistake by challenging Jordan.

There is so much anger among the Jordanians because of the violent death of the Jordanian pilot. And it is not only the Jordanians who are angered but people all over the world are also fuming. The world should act to fight terrorism. Nowadays, Jordan is doing its part in fighting terrorists and terrorism.

Written by Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim. Don’t Take Jordan Lightly reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim.

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