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Category Archive: Opinions & Editorials

It is Time to Diversify Our Sources of Income

18 November 2014 | comments (0) | Opinions & Editorials | by

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

Commenting on the volatility of oil prices, some energy experts say that it is the only consumable commodity that behaves like water in a swimming pool. It is the same if you take water from the center of the pool or from near the diving board.

According to some experts like Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, the reason for the fluctuation in oil prices is basically a political price war initiated by some oil producers to hurt economies of other countries. However, more objective analysts link the situation to the basic economic principle of supply and demand.

The question is: Who is benefiting from the low oil prices and who is getting affected? And what does low oil prices mean to the world? Ironically when questions like this arise, people look at Saudi Arabia (for obvious reasons) and the United States for answers or solutions.

This is a positive thing for Saudi Arabia. The negative aspect is that the Kingdom heavily relies on oil as its main and only source of income. Persistent low oil prices for a long period can eventually hurt the Saudi economy.

People look at the United States for answers and solutions because America is the biggest consumer of oil in the world and has more oil reserves than it admits. At the same time, the US economy is so diverse to the point that oil plays a small factor in the overall US national economy. In other words, the US is the only country in the world that can benefit from either low or high oil prices.

From what we have seen and heard from world top politicians during the G-20 summit in Brisbane, Australia, is that the low oil price is an indication of slowing world economy. Ironically, most OPEC members rely heavily on oil and most non-OPEC members such as Norway or the United Kingdom have other sources of income. So, why is Saudi Arabia, the largest OPEC oil producers is not in a hurry to reduce production as a means to raise the price of oil?

Many Saudi officials said that the current oil price has no impact on Saudi Arabia. The price of an oil barrel was $147 in 2008 and now it is half as much. So, how low is low according to Saudi standards of producing cost and sales level.

At this stage, there is no sign of when will the fall of price would come to an end. Saudi Arabia has earmarked many mega projects for the next five years and it is very important to reevaluate the expenditure pattern in the Kingdom. There are projects that can wait and there are many projects that can be delayed and most important at this stage is to implement harsher rules regarding the use of public funds. It is true that we can sustain the ability to cope with the lower price but Saudi Arabia is still not keeping pace with diversifying its sources of income.

Saudi Arabia has to use oil and energy products more wisely and to adapt to oil price fluctuations. Energy consumption in Saudi Arabia is very high and at this time it is important to increase the price at the oil pump, put more strict rules on energy saving building standard and should take other measures to reduce the extravagant use of our resources. Saudi economy in the long run is susceptible to the changes in oil prices. It is true a short period of cheaper oil is in Saudi Arabia’s long-term interest because it will discourage any high cost operations to look for oil in remote areas. It will also discourage investments in any new oil discovery method such as the Shale oil. But at the end of the day, there will be more modern and cheaper technologies in the future and the price of oil will rise again. We should find ways to diversify our sources of income.

Written by Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim. It is Time to Diversify Our Sources of Income reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim.

S. Koreans are Coming to Town

16 November 2014 | comments (0) | Opinions & Editorials | by

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

During the past 10 years, the Saudi government initiated many mega projects to modernize the civic infrastructure. Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah personally launched many development projects in various spheres of life like new hospitals, highways, universities, railroad tracks, sports stadiums, oil and gas projects etc.

At a time when many of the neighboring countries are rocked by economic uncertainties and facing unrest and instability, Saudi Arabia continues to prosper and the authorities are continuously introducing various social and economic reforms for the benefit of the country and the people.

However, the delays in the completion of several projects and the quality of the end product irks many a Saudi. Various uplift projects are behind schedule and those completed after inordinate delays lack the quality we used to witness during the country’s early phases of development boom. Many people wonder why the projects in the past were finished on time and were of better quality. With advent of new technologies, this is a very valid question and presents a disturbing scenario.

Unlike many countries, there is no dearth of funds for those projects. Had there been any fund-related issue, these delays or lack of quality would have been understood. This situation reminds many Saudis of the first wave of South Koreans entering the Kingdom to work on various development projects. We have pleasant memories of the highly disciplined and hardworking South Korean work force. People in Riyadh still remember the so-called temporary overpasses to ease Riyadh congestions, which were built in a rush because of the dire need to regulate traffic.

Interestingly, those bridges are still in a much better shape than those constructed later and at higher budgets. Saudis still remember the South Koreans who came during the 1970s at a time when their country was amid economic and political uncertainties and many of the workers were very poor and simply needed work to support their families back home.

Many of them left the Kingdom not only with more money in their pockets but also with great experience they had gained while working on various uplift projects using then latest technology. The industrial city in Jubail and many other similar projects in parts of the Kingdom are testimony to their hard work.

South Korea has emerged as one of the most advanced industrial countries with the most skilled work force in the world. Just a few days ago a high-profile Saudi delegation visited South Korea and some Saudi papers reported that the Saudis wanted the South Koreans to come back to the Kingdom and help push building the unfinished projects. It is true that there are South Koreans in the Kingdom but apparently we are going to see more of them. Now, however, the South Korean work force is not as cheap as it used to be because of their skills and work ethics. Despite this factor, it is very important to bring skilled South Korean work force and expose the young Saudis to the work habits of the South Koreans because sooner or later, they will leave again and we should benefit from their ways of doing things. This is why it is all the more important for Saudi and foreign companies working on mega projects in the Kingdom to hire young Saudis and have them work side-by-side with the South Koreans. The current economic boom is guaranteed to last and we have to take advantage of every asset we have. There is a lot to learn from South Korea, which lacked many natural resources and assets but succeeded in beating all the odds and emerged as an economic miracle.

Written by Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim. S. Koreans are Coming to Town reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim.

Palestinian Refugees and the Bishop

12 November 2014 | comments (1) | Opinions & Editorials | by

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

Whenever I think about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, I always ask myself one simple question: Why is it so agonizing and depressing to talk about the Palestinian refugees? I don’t know how people answer this question but I think it is because their number was less than a million when Israel was founded in 1948 and now it has reached around five million.

They are scattered around Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Gaza Strip and the West Bank and are forced to live under harsh conditions. There is one more puzzling question: Why do Palestinians live in refugee camps in Gaza Strip and the West Bank?

Let us face the reality. The Palestinian refugees’ issue is the biggest obstacle facing a lasting peace and any future one-state or two- state solution. Accommodating five million people is not easy. That’s more than the total population of Norway. And what is more is who is a Palestinian refugee. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) defines Palestinian refugees as “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period between June 1, 1946 and May 15, 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.” Things have changed since 1946. Out of the 5 million current Palestinian refugees there are only about 30,000 original refugees and the countries hosting those refugees have more refugees and displaced Syrians than the Palestinian refugees themselves. The Palestinian refugees are different. They have been refugees for decades. It is true that many of them were forced to leave their homes but many of them left under the assumption that they would return to their homes few months after the 1948 Arab- Israeli war. Now there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Their agony and suffering should have been resolved when their number was less than a million. Their suffering would have ended if they were taken and absorbed by many Arab countries who instead build refugee camps in the hope that one day they would return home. The bitter truth is they have been not only forgotten by the outside world but their own leaders never discuss ways to end their plight.

The world never or seldom sees active presence of Palestinian officials in the refugee camps. These refugees have no bright future, period.

Let us touch one more point about the desperate and ever-swelling number of Palestinian refugees. For the past decades, the world in general and Palestinians in particular never saw one single Palestinian activist who took on his shoulder the burden of shedding light on the suffering of the Palestinians living in refugee camps. We see many Palestinian activists speaking in major world capitals but we never see them in refugee camps doing volunteer work to help the refugees or at least speak in their behalf.

Many so-called Palestinian activists put their own interests ahead of the refugees and it is ironic to hear or see some Palestinian activists live in the most beautiful and expensive western cities and just give hollow support. What is more ironic is that since the time Palestinians started leaving their homes, it was a non-Arab or non-Muslim charity organization that ended up highlighting the issue of the deprived Palestinian refugees. During the 1960s members of an association called Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) saw at firsthand what the needs of the Palestinian refugees are. At a time when the UNRWA was not able to provide the minimum need to feed, house and educate the refugees, it was members of the CNEWA who traveled to the Middle East to provide the much-needed assistance and moral support. Bishop John Nolan who was the head of CNEWA and others who are not Palestinians went as far as establishing Bethlehem University and furnished all needed assistance to give many Palestinians opportunities to be enrolled in higher education. Bishop Nolan’s activities helped the world pay more attention to the needs of the Palestinian refugees. Now what’s next for the Palestinian refugees?

At this stage, the United Nations is struggling with a lack of funds for these refugees and many countries around the world are struggling to feed their own people let alone pay attention to these decades-old Palestinian refugee camps. The Middle East now has more than 5 million Palestinian refugees who are completely forgotten and lost among the other millions of refugees and displaced Syrians, Yemenis, Libyans and Iraqis. So during any future peace negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis, the issue of the Palestinian refugees must be given the utmost importance. Without ending the agony of those Palestinians, there will be no solid ground for lasting peace. The refugees or their ancestors did not want to become refugees in the first place. Time and money is running out. It is a shame that one single Catholic bishop showed more care for the Palestinian refugees than any Palestinian jet-setter.

Written by Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim. Palestinian Refugees and the Bishop reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim.

Al-Ahsa Attackers Will Not go Unpunished

9 November 2014 | comments (1) | Opinions & Editorials | by

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

AL-Ahsa makes up the major part of the Eastern Province and it is the largest oasis in the world. It is true that most of its water has been consumed by the modern-day usage of water resources but this is a global phenomenon.

For thousands of years, Al-Ahsa remained a melting pot of different cultures and faiths. Some historians claim that it is the second-oldest inhabited city in the world. A thousand years ago, it used to be one of the most populated cities of the world. Al-Ahsa was known to have millions of palm trees, which made it a center of commercial activities.

The area has many historic places and beautiful lush green areas for outsiders to see and it is also known for its beautiful handicrafts. When Saudi Arabia came into being in 1932, it was divided into four regions: Hijaz, Najd, Asir and Al-Ahsa. Later, all regions were further divided into sub-provinces while Al-Ahsa was left unchanged but the whole region was given the name “the Eastern Province” and now Al-Ahsa comprises three major cities, Hofuf, Mubaraz and Alayoun. These cities are surrounded by tens of beautiful villages.

These villages are unique in their way of life. Many of them are situated near major fresh water springs. The summer nights are cooler because of the palm and other fruit trees. One can see the most delicious fruit being grown on the trees such as dates, pomegranates, figs, peaches, raspberry, green lemon and many other fruits. And of course let us not forget many kinds of grapes… Oh and speaking of grapes, there is a little quiet village called Al-Dalwa where the most delicious grapes are grown. The Al-Dalwa village is located at the eastern side of Jabal Algarah, which is known for its big cave. This cave is cool during the summer and warm during winter. But recently this little quiet village became the center of attraction. Few days ago, a coward terrorist act was committed against the people in Al-Dalwa village and six innocent young men were killed. The act was committed to stoke unrest in the area but the terrorists were caught. Unfortunately, two security officers were killed in action.

Dignitaries to offer their condolences to the families of the victims visited the little village. Last Friday, bodies of the dead young men from Al-Dalwa were buried and tens of thousands of people from around the Kingdom were present at cemetery area in a real and sincere attempt to express solidarity with their brothers and show the world that Saudis stand united. This little village will recover soon and people will forget the incident but at the end of the day, the terrorists will be punished, as there is no escape from justice.

Written by Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim. Al-Ahsa Attackers Will Not go Unpunished reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim.

Removing Irritants is a Must to end Conflict

4 November 2014 | comments (1) | Opinions & Editorials | by

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

A few hundred yards away from where I live, stands a huge blue and yellow building with four letters written on the simple façade, IKEA. My family likes to shop from the store but there is a string attached to it. I don’t mind visiting the place and buying from there but I have made it clear that I should not be bothered about assembling the goods purchased from that store. I pay for it but religiously avoid playing any role in the assembling phase.

I had always viewed assembling an IKEA product to be the most complicated thing in the world. Interestingly, last week Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told his Swedish counterpart that the Middle East was more complicated than self-assembly furniture at IKEA. The question that naturally comes to one’s mind is: What strategy to adopt in the face of a complicated situation? The obvious answer is: One attempts hard to simplify the problem by removing hurdles or complicated issues to reach a solution. It is unwise to delay, as it only aggravates a situation.

One has to agree with Lieberman that Middle East is very complicated. But, let us face the reality of how long do we have to wait before the concerned parties seriously sit down and try to solve the Middle East’s agonizing problem called the Palestinian- Israeli conflict?

During the last two weeks, the media outlets were flooded with analysis and commentaries on the issue calling for a just and viable solution to the problem once and for all. Actually Swedish recognition of the State of Palestine has added a new dimension to the issue. Such a move from a western country was bound to attract global attention. As expected, it has created ripples in major world capitals, particularly in Israel.

I think that Sweden did not only recognize the Palestinian state but it also put the Israelis and the Palestinians to the test. In other words, Sweden has posed a billion-dollar question to both sides: How serious are the two parties to achieve lasting peace?

Following Swedish recognition of Palestinian state, many in Israel termed the Swedish move premature. Ironically, few days after Sweden’s recognition, an Israeli newspaper reported the largest-ever joint protest by senior Israeli security personnel, a group of 106 retired generals, Mossad directors and national police commissioners in which they all signed a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urging him to “initiate a diplomatic process” based on a regional framework for peace with the Palestinians.

The campaign was initiated by a former Armored Corps commander, reserve Maj. Gen. Amnon Reshef. He told Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth that he was “tired of rounds of fighting every few years instead of a genuine effort to adopt the Saudi initiative.” The reserve major general was referring to 2002 Saudi-backed peace initiative.

Today, most people on both sides want lasting peace. Many, however, wonder whether it would be based on one or two states. And who should make the initiative to restart a serious peace negotiation. I think the first step to do it is to stop all forms of armed conflicts and all forms of violence because violence can’t go on forever. The two parties can either ask for a global conference to discuss the issue and then both sides should themselves come up with a solution. Resolution of this issue needs courage from both the Palestinians and the Israelis to draw a road map for the future generations.

The Israeli generals who wrote the letter to Netanyahu seem to be sincere in their appeal because they have seen that armed conflicts couldn’t solve such complicated issues. During the past several decades, all parties made many mistakes and lost many chances to end the conflict.

We all know that the Palestinian State has no definite borders or no one knows how can it be administered because of the geographical separation between Gaza Strip and the West Bank, but both the Palestinian and Israelis should look at Sweden’s recognition of a Palestinian State from different angles and use it to launch peace efforts afresh. Most important thing is to end the agony and misery of the forgotten Palestinians — the refugees.

Written by Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim. Removing Irritants is a Must to end Conflict reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim.

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