The Malaysian authorities’ sedition investigation into opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is blatantly politically motivated and the latest move in a widespread crackdown on dissent using the colonial-era Sedition Act, Amnesty International said today.
Police in Malaysia this morning announced that they are re-opening a sedition investigation relating to a speech given by Anwar Ibrahim, criticizing the government, made during a political rally in March 2011. He will be questioned by police on Friday 26 September 2014 and is, according to one of his lawyers, likely to be charged under the Sedition Act.
“This case is clearly political and smacks of persecution – the investigation should be dropped immediately. Anwar Ibrahim has been a favourite target of the authorities for more than a decade, and this appears to be the latest attempt to silence and harass a critical voice,” said Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director.
Over the past months, Malaysian authorities have intensified their use of the Sedition Act, a colonial-era law that criminalizes criticism of the government, to target peaceful dissidents.
Two student activists have been sentenced under the Sedition Act in recent weeks. On 19 September, Adam Adli was sentenced to one year in prison, while Safwan Anang was sentenced to 10 months’ imprisonment on 5 September. In February, prominent human rights lawyer Karpal Singh was also found guilty of sedition. He passed away in a road traffic accident pending an appeal against his conviction.
At least 15 individuals – including activists, opposition politicians, journalists, students and academics – are currently facing charges under the Sedition Act and could face fines or imprisonment. Anwar Ibrahim’s lawyer, Padang Serai MP N Surendran, is among those facing charges.
“The Sedition Act is an outdated and repressive piece of legislation that the authorities are using to target anyone who speaks out against those in power. It must be repealed immediately,” said Rupert Abbott.
“There has been a disturbing increase in the use of the Sedition Act over the past few months against individuals who have done nothing but peacefully express their opinions. This crackdown is creating a climate of fear in Malaysia and must end.”
In 2012, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak publically committed to repealing the draconian law stating that it represented “a bygone era”, but two years later his promise remains unfulfilled.
Amnesty International has long expressed concerns about the 1948 Sedition Act. The law criminalizes a wide array of acts, including those “with a tendency to excite disaffection against any Ruler or government” or to “question any matter” protected by Malaysia’s Constitution. Those found guilty can face three years in jail, be fined up to MYR 5,000 (approximately USD 1,570) or both. It does not comply with international human rights law, and violates the right to freedom of expression, which is enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and also guaranteed in Article 10 of the Constitution.
Given what has happened in Selangor, it is perhaps instructive for us to go through the law and practice that regulate the appointment of, as well as the change in, a government.
Both the federal and state levels of government in Malaysia practice the Westminster mode of governance. As some of the states in the federation do not have hereditary monarchs, we actually have some little republics – namely Malacca, Penang, Sabah and Sarawak – within the same system.
Such is indeed an interesting subject for study. That, notwithstanding the powers given to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, the rulers and the Yang di-Pertua Negeri, when it comes to appointing government, are actually the same.
For one thing such power is a creation of the Federal Constitution. Unlike the power pertaining to religion, for example. It is of course found in the constitution, but its origin is not from the Westminster convention.
As far as the power to appoint the government is concerned, it is the Westminster convention and practice that stand as the benchmark.
Indeed, this was the formula left behind by the Reid Commission. Such is also the case with the so-called discretion to dissolve the House. What is crucial here is that these powers should not be understood literally, unlike the notion of discretion in ordinary legislation. It goes without saying that the concept of discretion in the constitutional sense is quite different.
To argue otherwise would virtually render elections unnecessary. Such would also run counter to the principle of responsible government that is central in the parliamentary system like ours.
It also goes, within saying, that it is also within this framework that we have to discern the idea of constitutional monarchy.
As far as the rulers are concerned their power to appoint a menteri besar is different from the one they had in the constitutions framed under the Federation of Malaya Agreement 1948, under which they could just appoint anyone they pleased.
Under such a legal regime, the mentri besar appointed essentially holds office at the pleasure of the ruler concerned.
Then came constitutional monarchy
The position ceased to exist immediately after the constitutional monarchy came into being in 1959, the year the post-independence general election was held.
The notion of discretion on the part of the palace, as well as the power to dissolve the House, has to be understood within the framework of the parliamentary system, for which the prototype is the United Kingdom. Reference, the commission recommended, may also be made to other Commonwealth jurisdictions.
Having said that the law on the matter, whatever the provisions of the constitution say, is essentially this: that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, the rulers and the Yang di-Pertua Negeri, have no say when there is a majority in the House and that majority group has indicated in whom their support for the head of government lies.
Their job in these situations is just to hand over the letter of appointment to the member of the House concerned. Sultan Azlan Shah of Perak (1984-2014, right) summed up the role of the palace here as merely “giving constitutional endorsement to the decision of the party in power”.
To say otherwise would run counter to the one provision that exists in all the federal or state constitutions: that the head of government – namely the prime minister, the menteri besar or the chief minister – does not hold office at the pleasure of the head of state.
This is the provision that stands as the pillar for the concept of responsible government in the cabinet system; something that differentiates the British system from the American one.
It was the adherence to the essence of the Westminster system that explained the reason why Queen Elizabeth II stayed in the background when Conservative leader David Cameron (left) and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg negotiated the terms for a coalition government after the 2010 British general election, where no party held an absolute majority to form the new government.
And as soon as the two parties agreed to their terms, the Queen just sent for the Conservative leader to form the government, upon which the caretaker government led by the outgoing Prime Minister Gordon Brown ceased to exist.
This incident was particularly significant for, at least from the perspective of the Malaysian constitution, as it could have revived her prerogative powers. But such was the discernment and tact the British Sovereign had; something that explained why she has often been said as “never put her foot wrong”.
It must be pointed out that, from the point of the palace as a constitutional monarch, it is unconstitutional for him to ignore the majority and to start screening the “candidates”.
Job of palace in a clear majority
A constitutional monarch has a crucial role to protect the constitution, but in order to do that he must not allow himself to be dragged into the mud. A monarch that is no longer seen as reigning above party politics would not be able to play the role of the father figure assumed by monarchs such as King Bhumipol Adulyadej of Thailand.
In situations where there is a clear cut majority and one of them has already been named as the head of the government, the job of the palace is just to appoint that person.
In the words of Sultan Nazrin Shah of Perak, “(The Yang di-Pertuan Agong) appoints (and does not select) the Prime Minister. Correspondingly the Rulers at the state level appoint (the Menteri Besar).”
It was said that there was a certain amount of apprehension, given the personality of Labour leader who won the post-War general election in Britain. But somehow, the then British Sovereign – King George VI – set aside his personal feelings and chose to follow democratic dictates.
Similar patterns of ceremonies have prevailed in Malaysia at the federal level and these are indeed an overwhelming evidence of how the law is understood and practised in the country.
Thus it was not a mere coincidence that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong chose to stay aloof over the transfer of power between Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra and Abdul Razak Hussein in 1970.
As the former head of judiciary Raja Azlan Shah said, His Majesty was just giving a constitutional approval for the decision made by Umno leaders. Another round of ritual was put on display when Razak died and his deputy Hussein Onn filled the shoes left by him.
Whatever happened between Hussein Onn and Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 1981 the National Palace did not interfere and it just, as a matter of ritual, handed over the appointment letter to the Mahathir as the new prime minister.
And when Mahathir’s turn came in 2003, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong did not stand the in the way: his successor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi came and collected the letter of appointment without any fuss. The same thing took place when Umno decided that Najib Razak should take over from Abdullah in 2009.
Similar patterns of events took place at the state levels, where the heads of state merely put into effect what has been decided by the majority party in the state assemblies. This year, two such incidents took place: in Sarawak in April and then in Terengganu in May.
Palace merely stamped majority decisions
It was apparent that in all those instances, the palace merely presided a formal ceremony that gave the decision made by the majority party a stamp of constitutional approval.
And this should have also been the case in Selangor in 2014, when PKR decided to sack Menteri Besar Abdul Khalid Ibrahim. Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who has put up 30 signed declarations of support in her favour, should have been allowed to go through the rituals that took place at federal level, as elaborated above.
It is perhaps worth mentioning one incident involving former prime minister Razak Hussein and Sultan Idris Shah of Perak after the 1974 general election. Razak insisted on the appointment of one Ghazali Jawi as the state menteri besar, something that he knew was unacceptable to the ruler.
As it happened, Razak persisted and, amazingly enough, the latter relented. In Selangor too the appointments of governments have been plain sailing in the foregoing years.
In fact, when Abu Hassan Omar was submitted as the menteri besar designate to replace Muhammad Muhammad Taib, who had to resign in 1997, the Abu Hassan was not even a member of Selangor State ssembly: he was still a minister in the Mahathir administration.
Later, when the more experienced Abu Hassan but was said to be uncooperative in the acquisition of Putrajaya, Umno replaced him with a rookie, the unknown Dr Mohd Khir Toyo. On both occasions the Selangor palace could have put up some constitutional questions – but it somehow it chose to go by the Umno decisions.
As such, what has happened since early August, including the snub on Anwar’s request to have an audience on Aug 10, was rather puzzling. And more so when the palace secretary made it clear last week that it was a practice for the p[rime minister to be given an audience to present the candidate for the menteri besar’s office.
Appointment given based on party position
It must be pointed out that the audience granted to the prime minister was on the basis of his position as party leader, not as the head of the federal government. Therefore, constitutionally speaking, similar treatment should have been accorded to Anwar as leader of the Pakatan Rakyat, the majority party in the Selangor State Legislature.
Admittedly, there could be situations where the monarch, even as constitutional monarch, might assume a proactive role. Not to pursue personal interests, but to protect democracy and constitutionally.
This was the background for my answer to those who cited the refusal of the Sultan Terengganu to abide by the majority rule in 2008 to justify what happened in Selangor in 2014.
I have admitted, however, that the ruler was in no doubt wrong on the appointment rule, but he might be entitled to be given the benefit of the doubt given the character of the incumbent, the candidate submitted by Umno for the post of menteri besar.
The same could be said with regard to the Perlis case. In fact, here, the ruler might even be saved by the appointment rules themselves. The ruler of Perlis, to my mind, has a stronger ground to ignore the name submitted by Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the then Umno president.
However, having said that, it must be admitted that those deviations must not stand as the standard rule; it has to be treated as a mere exception and this only applies when the system has yet to become fully democratic and transparent.
One has to admit that given the lack of institutional support in Malaysia, there are times when we have to rely on the palace to do the unthinkable: to prevent the corrupt and autocratic candidates from assuming the post. However, it has to be said that Wan Azizah does not fall into this category.
In any case the palace should have granted Anwar a hearing, should it have reservations about her. This was what the ruler of Perak did in 1974, though Razak went on to insist on his choice.
Speaking with the benefit of hindsight, it may be said now that given that Tunku Abdul Rahman did not take the move to unseat him lying down, the National Palace could have delayed the replacement process.
The Yang di-Pertuan Agong, the outgoing premier argued then, queried the need to impose emergency. In fact, more questions can be asked now: such as, why the deputy and not the prime minister himself, who presented the advice to declare emergency?
Whatever the answers to these questions, it has to be stated that there were two different Yang di-Pertuan Agong at that point of time. The one who declared the emergency was the Sultan of Terengganu, while the one presiding the change of prime minister was the Sultan of Kedah, who, incidentally, is now serving as the head of the federation for the second time.
Back to Selangor, it is really disturbing to see certain quarters putting up banners and organising rallies supporting the palace for reasons that may not be constitutional.
The more so when this is led by characters such as the Selangor Umno strongman Noh Omar. Does he not realise that it was Umno, after losing Kelantan in the 1990 general election, that once demanded that the rulers’ power to appoint the menteri besar be abolished?
Thomas Piketty is a French economist whose Capital in the Twenty-First Century has swept American discourse. Four experts – Brad DeLong, Tyler Cowen, Stephanie Kelton and Emanuel Derman – take on why that is
There’s been a bizarre phenomenon this year: a young, little-known French economist has written a 700-page tome about economic inequality – dense with data, historical examples from France, and a few literary references to Jane Austen.
That’s not the strange part. This is: it’s a bestseller.
Somehow, Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty has become a conversation piece among well-read people. Its graphic red-and-ivory cover is inescapable. Early in its launch, it hit No 1 on Amazon’s bestseller list and the paper version – a doorstop in punishing, heavy hardcover – sold out in major bookstores.
Piketty’s main argument is this: that invested capital – in the stock market, in real estate – will grow faster than income.
The implications of that are deep: to have invested capital, you must have money already. If you rely on income, as most people do, you will likely never catch up to the wealth of people who are already rich. The 1% and the 99% enshrined by Occupy are not an anomaly of our time, Piketty’s research suggests. It’s a structural feature of capitalism. Piketty’s work – which has been in progress for over a decade – is a natural pairing with the Occupy movement, which also questions the premises of capitalism.
You can see the appeal of such an argument, which has driven the book to become a cultural touchpoint. Seattle quoted Piketty in its minimum-wage law. The book has had so many reviews and articles that it’s possible for someone to feel as if they have read it even without cracking the cover.
Which raises the question: why this book? The themes that Piketty brings up have been enshrined in discussion about progressive economists for decades. No fewer than three Nobel Prize winners – Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman and Robert Solow – have all devoted much of their careers to studying inequality. On Friday, 19 September, I moderated a panel at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth that included Solow as well as economists Brad DeLong, Tyler Cowen and Russ Roberts. For 90 minutes, they hammered out the implications of Piketty’s work — and the discussion ended with much more to say.
I decided to ask star economists and finance experts who have devoted their careers to issues of inequality and the American economy: why is Thomas Piketty a bestseller? Is he required reading? Their thoughtful responses are below, and they include some surprises – including one who has decided not to read Piketty at all.
Oh, and it’s pronounced like this: Tome-AH PEEK-a-tee. Now, over to the experts.
Stephanie Kelton is chair of the Department of Economics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She is also editor-in-chief of the top-ranked blog New Economic Perspectives.
What explains the Piketty phenomenon? The book, which has sold more hardcopies than its e-book alternative, commands so much real estate that it will crowd out a few old favorites when it takes a stand on your shelf. The title, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, doesn’t exactly carry the titillating allure of a bestseller like, say, Fifty Shades of Grey. It looks and sounds like what it is – a scholarly tome that sets out to investigate changing patterns of ownership in the economy’s most dominant resource, capital. Who owns the world’s stock of tangible and financial assets, where did they get them, and how did the distribution of ownership change through time?
While it is easy to see why a book like this would receive such intense interest from economists, who are engineered to concern themselves with questions like these, it is, perhaps, more difficult to understand how Capital became a book that would top the summer reading lists of thousands of beach-bound, working class adults. My own guess is that Capital was the right book at the right time.
The Occupy movement laid the groundwork for a great debate. What was happening to America? Were we witnessing the rise of a plutocracy or the emergence of a meritocracy? Chris Hayes and Joe Stiglitz made the case on the left, while Tyler Cowen and David Brooks provided a counter-narrative for the right. Both sides had a loyal following, but it was Piketty whose meticulous examination of the evidence, seemed to provide the impartial proof audiences were craving. The left was right. The wealthy owed their fortunes to their forefathers and the Congressman who wrote the loopholes for their tax accountants to exploit. It’s a conclusion that confirmed many priors, which probably explains much of its success.
Tyler Cowen is professor of economics at George Mason University and author of the recent book Average is Over.
Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century has been a hit for several reasons, most notably the quality of the work. But I’d like to focus on a neglected reason why the book has found so much support, namely it appears to strengthen the case for redistribution.
Most previous commentators focused on income inequality. Bill Gates or JK Rowling have earned more than CEOs or authors in the past, while incomes in the middle class or lower middle classes are often stagnating below what previous generations could expect. That’s a labor market issue – namely that some individuals are not very much demanded by employers.
The obvious questions are then a) how can we make low-earners more productive, and also b) how can we improve education?
Perhaps most importantly, as these issues get processed by the public there is a common attitude – whether justified or not – that many of the lower earners are partially or fully responsible for their own plight. The egalitarians don’t tend to win these policy debates.
In the simplest version of the Piketty model, wealth grows more quickly than does the economy as a whole and thus the picture changes. The relative losers are no longer low earners but rather anyone who is not a capitalist. Any disparity is due not to their shortcomings in labor markets but rather to their lack of a high initial endowment.
Furthermore redistribution will work like a charm, at least provided the redistribution is enough to give the poorer individuals some capital to invest.
If you are an activist who favors lots of redistribution, the Piketty story is a lot easier to tell yourself and to tell your audiences – and that is yet another reason for its popularity.
Emanuel Derman is a professor at Columbia University, where he directs the program in financial engineering. His latest book is Models.Behaving.Badly: Why Confusing Illusion with Reality Can Lead to Disasters, On Wall Street and in Life – one of Business Week’s top ten books of 2011.
Economists are the new nuclear physicists, turned to by governments for advice as though they are heirs to the power of the scientists who created Hiroshima. Macroeconomists now advise central banks on monetary policy, and behavioral economists tell political parties and governments how to nudge citizens to do what politicians and economists deem to be right.
I make my living teaching finance, the branch of economics concerned with putting a value on assets such as stocks, bonds, mortgages and options.
Though I should, I can’t bring myself to read Thomas Piketty.
I wish I could. I have nothing against him or his work, which seems well-intentioned and directed at improving human welfare. I am just spiritually weary of the ubiquitous cockiness of economists, though Piketty sounds as though he’s less guilty of this than most of the pundits in the daily papers.
The best model in my field, finance, is the Black-Scholes model of options pricing, which, according to Steve Ross, an MIT economist himself, “ … is the most successful theory not only in finance, but in all of economics.” I’ve spent most of my professional life working on options theory, and I understand it well. More importantly, I understand its limitations in describing the behavior of complex human beings and markets via simple assumptions and mathematics. But limited though it is, finance is much more reliable than economics.
Economics is the study of how to utilize limited resources to achieve good ends. And good, of course, is in the eye of the beholder, defined by humans. But economists don’t agree with each other about ends or means. They can’t agree on the efficacy of money printing or austerity. They keep changing their minds every few years about conventional wisdom while at every instant appearing to be certain that they are right. My gripe with economists is not that their models don’t work well – they don’t, look at the role of central banks in the financial crisis – but that they seem so reluctant to acknowledge the riskiness of their advice. And yet, beware their fearsome unelected power. Anyone visiting from Mars last year and asking to be taken to our leader would undoubtedly expect to meet Bernanke.
As a result their public arguments have an incestuous yet masturbatory quality that is exhausting to follow. The only field more self-confidently but just as regularly wrong as economics is nutrition, whose recommendations to shun butter/margarine or red meat/carbohydrates regularly reverse themselves.
Natural scientists (physicists, chemists, biologists) have had frightful power, and not always used it well. But at least they can more or less agree about truth and efficacy. Economists cannot, except by using statistical regressions which are often flawed and prove little.
So I cannot currently bring myself to read over 600 pages by an economist. One day I do hope to read Piketty’s book.
J Bradford DeLong
Brad DeLong was a deputy assistant secretary of the treasury from 1993-1995, and is now a professor of economics at UC Berkeley, a research associate of the NBER and a blogger for the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.
I like Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century a lot. It follows Larry Summers’s advice – which I have always thought wise – that the further ahead in time we want to forecast, the further back in time we should look. It deals with very big and important questions. It takes a broad moral-philosophical view, rather than a narrow technical-economist view. It combines history, quantitative estimation, social science theory, and a deep concern with societal welfare in a way that is too rare these days.
But I thought it would be a book for a narrow audience: me and a few others. I expected people who did not have the souls of accountants to start to snore at Piketty’s numbers, numbers, numbers and more numbers.
What we can think about is why the soil was fertile: why was there the potential for a mass-audience viral explosion of interest in Capital in the Twenty-First Century rather than our standard set of viral propagation memes – cat videos and Buzzfeed’s Twenty-Seven Things You Won’t Regret When You Are Older?
I confess that I do not know. I do have a guess. My guess is that the book-buying upper-middle class of America today is greatly distressed when it looks at the world around it, specifically at two things.
The first is that our society today is largely failing its non-migrant non-college-completing majority, in that for all of our cheap electronic toys, life is no easier than it was a generation ago in spite of an enormous explosion of technology and productivity.
The second is that they now know of a plutocracy that did not use to exist and makes us very uneasy. Last generation’s Michigan governor and American Motors president George Romney lived in a large-but-not-abnormal house and bossed a company that created lots of good jobs at good wages. This generation’s Massachusetts governor and Bain Capital CEO Mitt Romney has seven houses worth perhaps $25m in total, and bossed a company whose core business model appears to have been exploiting legal anomalies like the fact that pension funds have little control over their money after it’s invested.
And because the book-buying upper-middle class does not trust the entrenched positions of America’s ideologues, they are looking for fresh thinking – which a foreigner like Piketty, whose positions are not those of any large American political faction, provides.
Now Piketty’s grand argument may be wrong. It could be that in the future, capital will turn out to complement rather than substitute for labor, and the wealth accumulation of plutocrats will generate their self-euthanasia as a social class by pushing down the rate of profit.
It could turn out that growing fortunes will be a lot harder in the future than Piketty thinks it will. It could turn out that our plutocrats as a social class will decide to play the status game of spend-their-money-and-change-the-world rather than enrich great-grandchildren that they will never see.
My guess is that the grimmer elements of Piketty’s forecast have only a 50-50 chance of coming true even if plutocrats achieve and maintain a lock on politics for the next three generations. But that is much more than enough to worry about the scenario he paints, and figure out how to guard against it.
From all accounts it appears that the Selangor palace has shortlisted three potential candidates for the post of the next Selangor menteri besar (MB), to bring to a close the crisis that has been raging for these several weeks past.
The question on everyone’s lips is, will the crisis be finally resolved?
More importantly, are we about to witness the reordering of the fundamental construct on which our Constitution is based?
These questions are raised in the context of the fact that none of the three candidates, on the face of it, have thus far been shown to command the confidence of the majority of the members of the legislative assembly.
And this “majority command” – on high established legal authority – appears to be the only criteria for the appointment of an MB.
This is what a “constitutional monarchy” in the context of our Federal Constitution is all about.
Many on high have elaborated on the exercise of the discretion by the Sultan in appointing an MB – from the chief justice (“must appoint someone who has the command and confidence of the majority of the members of the state assembly”) to former lord president, Raja Azlan Shah (the king‘s role “no more than giving constitutional endorsement to the decision of the party in power”).
Undoubtedly, His Royal Highness has his own mechanism for ascertaining who in His judgment commands majority confidence. This should be made readily transparent to avoid the risk of an unsettling disquiet by the people. Unexplained, it may spawn constitutional complexities and possible challenges which may unduly extend, rather than resolve, the crisis.
This is especially crucial since, so far, majority support has been demonstrated through acceptable legal means for only a single named candidate from the ruling party.
“Arab civilization has collapsed. It won’t recover in my lifetime.”
With his decision to use force against the violent extremists of the Islamic State, President Obama is doing more than to knowingly enter a quagmire. He is doing more than play with the fates of two half-broken countries—Iraq and Syria—whose societies were gutted long before the Americans appeared on the horizon. Obama is stepping once again—and with understandably great reluctance—into the chaos of an entire civilization that has broken down.
Arab civilization, such as we knew it, is all but gone. The Arab world today is more violent, unstable, fragmented and driven by extremism—the extremism of the rulers and those in opposition—than at any time since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire a century ago. Every hope of modern Arab history has been betrayed. The promise of political empowerment, the return of politics, the restoration of human dignity heralded by the season of Arab uprisings in their early heydays—all has given way to civil wars, ethnic, sectarian and regional divisions and the reassertion of absolutism, both in its military and atavistic forms. With the dubious exception of the antiquated monarchies and emirates of the Gulf—which for the moment are holding out against the tide of chaos—and possibly Tunisia, there is no recognizable legitimacy left in the Arab world.
Is it any surprise that, like the vermin that take over a ruined city, the heirs to this self-destroyed civilization should be the nihilistic thugs of the Islamic State? And that there is no one else who can clean up the vast mess we Arabs have made of our world but the Americans and Western countries?
No one paradigm or one theory can explain what went wrong in the Arab world in the last century. There is no obvious set of reasons for the colossal failures of all the ideologies and political movements that swept the Arab region: Arab nationalism, in its Baathist and Nasserite forms; various Islamist movements; Arab socialism; the rentier state and rapacious monopolies, leaving in their wake a string of broken societies. No one theory can explain the marginalization of Egypt, once the center of political and cultural gravity in the Arab East, and its brief and tumultuous experimentation with peaceful political change before it reverted back to military rule.
Nor is the notion of “ancient sectarian hatreds” adequate to explain the frightening reality that along a front stretching from Basra at the mouth of the Persian Gulf to Beirut on the Mediterranean there exists an almost continuous bloodletting between Sunni and Shia—the public manifestation of an epic geopolitical battle for power and control pitting Iran, the Shia powerhouse, against Saudi Arabia, the Sunni powerhouse, and their proxies.
There is no one single overarching explanation for that tapestry of horrors in Syria and Iraq, where in the last five years more than a quarter of a million people perished, where famed cities like Aleppo, Homs and Mosul were visited by the modern terror of Assad’s chemical weapons and the brutal violence of the Islamic State. How could Syria tear itself apart and become—like Spain in the 1930s—the arena for Arabs and Muslims to re-fight their old civil wars? The war waged by the Syrian regime against civilians in opposition areas combined the use of Scud missiles, anti-personnel barrel bombs as well as medieval tactics against towns and neighborhoods such as siege and starvation. For the first time since the First World War, Syrians were dying of malnutrition and hunger.
Iraq’s story in the last few decades is a chronicle of a death foretold. The slow death began with Saddam Hussein’s fateful decision to invade Iran in September 1980. Iraqis have been living in purgatory ever since with each war giving birth to another. In the midst of this suspended chaos, the U.S. invasion in 2003 was merely a catalyst that allowed the violent chaos to resume in full force.
The polarizations in Syria and Iraq—political, sectarian and ethnic—are so deep that it is difficult to see how these once-important countries could be restored as unitary states. In Libya, Muammar al-Qaddafi’s 42-year reign of terror rendered the country politically desolate and fractured its already tenuous unity. The armed factions that inherited the exhausted country have set it on the course of breaking up—again, unsurprisingly—along tribal and regional fissures. Yemen has all the ingredients of a failed state: political, sectarian, tribal, north-south divisions, against the background of economic deterioration and a depleted water table that could turn it into the first country in the world to run out of drinking water.
Bahrain is maintaining a brittle status quo by the force of arms of its larger neighbors, mainly Saudi Arabia. Lebanon, dominated by Hezbollah, arguably the most powerful non-state actor in the world—before the rise of the Islamic State—could be dragged fully to the maelstrom of Syria’s multiple civil wars by the Assad regime, Iran and its proxy Hezbollah as well as the Islamic State.
A byproduct of the depredation of the national security state and resurgent Islamism has been the slow death of the cosmopolitanism that distinguished great Middle Eastern cities like Alexandria, Beirut, Cairo and Damascus. Alexandria was once a center of learning and multicultural delights (by night, Mark Twain wrote in Innocents Abroad, “it was a sort of reminiscence of Paris”). Today Alexandria is a hotbed of political Islam, now that the once large Greek-Egyptian community has fled along with the other non-Arab and non-Muslim communities. Beirut, once the most liberal city in the Levant, is struggling to maintain a modicum of openness and tolerance while being pushed by Hezbollah to become a Tehran on the Med. Over the last few decades, Islamists across the region have encouraged—and pressured—women to wear veils, men to show signs of religiosity, and subtly and not-so-subtly intimidated non-conformist intellectuals and artists. Egypt today is bereft of good universities and research centers, while publishing unreadable newspapers peddling xenophobia and hyper-nationalism. Cairo no longer produces the kind of daring and creative cinema that pioneers like the critically acclaimed director Youssef Chahine made for more than 60 years. Egyptian society today cannot tolerate a literary and intellectual figure like Taha Hussein, who towered over Arab intellectual life from the 1920s until his death in 1973, because of his skepticism about Islam. Egyptian society cannot reconcile itself today to the great diva Asmahan (1917-1944) singing to her lover that “my soul, my heart, and my body are in your hand.” In the Egypt of today, a chanteuse like Asmahan would be hounded and banished from the country.
The jihadists of the Islamic State, in other words, did not emerge from nowhere. They climbed out of a rotting, empty hulk—what was left of a broken-down civilization. They are a gruesome manifestation of a deeper malady afflicting Arab political culture, which was stagnant, repressive and patriarchal after the decades of authoritarian rule that led to the disastrous defeat in the 1967 war with Israel. That defeat sounded the death knell of Arab nationalism and the resurgence of political Islam, which projected itself as the alternative to the more secular ideologies that had dominated the Arab republics since the Second World War. If Arab decline was the problem, then “Islam is the solution,” the Islamists said—and they believed it.
At their core, both political currents—Arab nationalism and Islamism—are driven by atavistic impulses and a regressive outlook on life that is grounded in a mostly mythologized past. Many Islamists, including Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (the wellspring of such groups)—whether they say it explicitly or hint at it—are still on a ceaseless quest to resurrect the old Ottoman Caliphate. Still more radical types—the Salafists—yearn for a return to the puritanical days of Prophet Muhammad and his companions. For most Islamists, democracy means only majoritarian rule, and the rule of sharia law, which codifies gender inequality and discrimination against non-Muslims.
And let’s face the grim truth: There is no evidence whatever that Islam in its various political forms is compatible with modern democracy. From Afghanistan under the Taliban to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and from Iran to Sudan, there is no Islamist entity that can be said to be democratic, just or a practitioner of good governance. The short rule of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt under the presidency of Mohamed Morsi was no exception. The Brotherhood tried to monopolize power, hound and intimidate the opposition and was driving the country toward a dangerous impasse before a violent military coup ended the brief experimentation with Islamist rule.
Like the Islamists, the Arab nationalists—particularly the Baathists—were also fixated on a “renaissance” of past Arab greatness, which had once flourished in the famed cities of Damascus, Baghdad, Cairo and Córdoba in Al-Andalus, now Spain. These nationalists believed that Arab language and culture (and to a lesser extent Islam) were enough to unite disparate entities with different levels of social, political and cultural development. They were in denial that they lived in a far more diverse world. Those minorities that resisted the primacy of Arab identity were discriminated against, denied citizenship and basic rights, and in the case of the Kurds in Iraq were subjected to massive repression and killings of genocidal proportion. Under the guise of Arab nationalism the modern Arab despot (Saddam, Qaddafi, the Assads) emerged. But these men lived in splendid solitude, detached from their own people. The repression and intimidation of the societies they ruled over were painfully summarized by the gifted Syrian poet Muhammad al-Maghout: “I enter the bathroom with my identity papers in my hand.”
The dictators, always unpopular, opened the door to the Islamists’ rise when they proved just as incompetent as the monarchs they had replaced. That, again, came in 1967 after the crushing defeat of Nasserite Egypt and Baathist Syria at the hands of Israel. From that moment on Arab politics began to be animated by various Islamist parties and movements. The dictators, in their desperation to hold onto their waning power, only became more brutal in the 1980s and ‘90s. But the Islamists kept coming back in new and various shapes and stripes, only to be crushed again ever more ferociously.
The year 1979 was a watershed moment for political Islam. An Islamic revolution exploded in Iran, provoked in part by decades of Western support for the corrupt shah. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and a group of bloody zealots occupied the Grand Mosque in Mecca for two weeks. After these cataclysmic events political Islam became more atavistic in its Sunni manifestations and more belligerent in its Shia manifestations. Saudi Arabia, in order to reassert its fundamentalist “wahhabi” ethos, became stricter in its application of Islamic law, and increased its financial aid to ultraconservative Islamists and their schools throughout the world. The Islamization of the war in Afghanistan against Soviet occupation—a project organized and financed by the United States, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan—triggered a tectonic change in the political map of South Asia and the Middle East. The Afghan war was the baptism of fire for terrorist outfits like the Egyptian Islamic Group and al Qaeda, the progenitors of the Islamic State.
This decades-long struggle for legitimacy between the dictators and the Islamists meant that when the Arab Spring uprisings began in early 2011, there were no other political alternatives. You had only the Scylla of the national security state and the Charybdis of political Islam. The secularists and liberals, while playing the leading role in the early phase of the Egyptian uprisings, were marginalized later by the Islamists who, because of their political experience as an old movement, won parliamentary and presidential elections. In a region shorn of real political life it was difficult for the admittedly divided and not very experienced liberals and secularists to form viable political parties.
So no one should be surprised that the Islamists and the remnants of the national security state have dominated Egypt since the fall of Hosni Mubarak. In the end, the uprising removed the tip of the political pyramid—Mubarak and some of his cronies—but the rest of the repressive structure, what the Egyptians refer to as the “deep state” (the army, security apparatus, the judiciary, state media and vested economic interests), remained intact. After the failed experiment of Muslim Brotherhood rule, a bloody coup in 2013 completed the circle and brought Egypt back under the control of a retired general.
In today’s Iraq, too, the failure of a would-be authoritarian—recently departed Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki—has contributed to the rise of the Islamists. The Islamic State is exploiting the alienated Arab Sunni minority, which feels marginalized and disenfranchised in an Iraq dominated by the Shia for the first time in its history and significantly influenced by Iran.
Almost every Muslim era, including the enlightened ones, has been challenged by groups that espouse a virulent brand of austere, puritanical and absolutist Islam. They have different names, but are driven by the same fanatical, atavistic impulses. The great city of Córdoba, one of the most advanced cities in Medieval Europe, was sacked and plundered by such a group (Al Mourabitoun) in 1013, destroying its magnificent palaces and its famed library. In the 1920s the Ikhwan Movement in Arabia (no relation to the Egyptian movement) was so fanatical that the founder of Saudi Arabia, King Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, who collaborated with them initially, had to crush them later on. In contemporary times, these groups include the Taliban, al Qaeda and the Islamic State.
Yes, it is misleading to lump—as some do—all Islamist groups together, even though all are conservative in varying degrees. As terrorist organizations, al Qaeda and Islamic State are different from the Muslim Brotherhood, a conservative movement that renounced violence years ago, although it did dabble with violence in the past.
Nonetheless, most of these groups do belong to the same family tree—and all of them stem from the Arabs’ civilizational ills. The Islamic State, like al Qaeda, is the tumorous creation of an ailing Arab body politic. Its roots run deep in the badlands of a tormented Arab world that seems to be slouching aimlessly through the darkness. It took the Arabs decades and generations to reach this nadir. It will take us a long time to recover—it certainly won’t happen in my lifetime. My generation of Arabs was told by both the Arab nationalists and the Islamists that we should man the proverbial ramparts to defend the “Arab World” against the numerous barbarians (imperialists, Zionists, Soviets) massing at the gates. Little did we know that the barbarians were already inside the gates, that they spoke our language and were already very well entrenched in the city.
UNTUK EDARAN SEGERA
18 SEPTEMBER 2014
PENJELASAN MENGENAI AMALAN (CONVENTION)
Merujuk kenyataan Y. Bhg. Dato’ Hj. Mohamad Munir Bin Bani dan Istana Selangor mengenai soal amalan (convention), ingin saya jelaskan: saya hanya menyatakan apa yang berlaku dalam pengetahuan saya terutama sepanjang saya dalam kerajaan UMNO-BN, sejak 1982 hingga 1998. Sekiranya ada kekhilafan berlaku, saya mohon ampun dari DYMM Sultan Selangor.
UNTUK EDARAN SEGERA
15 SEPT 2014
KEADILAN KECAM RAMPASAN AKHBAR, NAJIB PERLU MANSUHKAN AKTA MESIN CETAK DAN PENERBITAN
Hari ini umum dikejutkan dengan berita rampasan 300 naskhah akhbar Suara Keadilan di Kedah, iaitu di Jitra, Kuala Kedah, Alor Setar, Pendang dan Kepala Batas pada 10hb September lalu oleh pegawai-pegawai Kementerian Dalam Negeri.
Saya difahamkan bahawa para peniaga yang menjual Suara Keadilan di kawasan-kawasan itu telah diberi amaran, jika mereka terus menjual akhbar tersebut maka kedai-kedai mereka akan ditutup. Jika benar, perkara ini amat mendukacitakan dan cukup zalim. Pihak KDN perlu mengesahkan sama ada perkara ini benar-benar berlaku, dan jika ya amalan ini wajib dihentikan.
KEADILAN mengecam tindakan KDN ini yang mengekang kebebasan bersuara, satu hak asasi yang termaktub di dalam Perlembagaan Persekutuan.
Pada masa yang sama, KEADILAN menggesa Menteri Dalam Negeri, DS Zahid Hamidi untuk menjelaskan status permohonan permit Suara Keadilan yang telah dihantar sejak tahun lalu.
KEADILAN turut menggesa Perdana Menteri, DS Najib Razak untuk memansuhkan Akta Mesin Cetak dan Penerbitan. Walaupun akta tersebut telah dipinda pada 2012, namun pindaan tersebut tidak mencukupi dan akta itu masih bersifat kukubesi dan tidak demokratik. Perdana Menteri harus menunjukkan kesungguhan politik sebagai seorang “demokrat moderat” dan memansuhkan akta ini dengan segera.
Pengarah Komunikasi KEADILAN
UNTUK EDARAN SEGERA
15 SEPT 2014
SAH HARGA MINYAK NAIK LAGI DENGAN GST
Laporan akhbar Sin Chew Daily yang turut dipetik oleh laman kereta paultan.org mengesahkan bahawa Umno/Barisan Nasional akan mengenakan Cukai Barang dan Perkhidmatan (GST) ke atas petrol dan diesel.
Mengikut laporan, pengesahan ini dibuat oleh Ishak Daud, Penolong Pengarah Kanan Jabatan Kastam dan Eksais dalam satu taklimat GST anjuran Universiti Tuanku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) minggu lalu.
Ini mengesahkan sangkaan saya selama ini bahawa Umno/Barisan Nasional akan mengenakan GST ke atas petrol dan diesel yang secara langsung bermakna harga minyak akan dinaikkan apabila GST dilaksanakan dalam April 2015 kelak.
Pada kadar GST 6%, harga seliter petrol selepas ini adalah RM2.27 sen. Jika seorang pengguna biasa dianggarkan menggunakan 80 liter seminggu bersamaan 320 liter petrol sebulan, kenaikan harga minyak akibat pelaksanaan GST ini bermakna bil petrol satu isi rumah biasa akan meningkat sebanyak RM50 sebulan.
Pada masa yang sama, kenaikan harga minyak ini juga akan menyebabkan kenaikan harga barangan dan perkhidmatan yang lain.
Akhirnya, bebanan bulanan setiap isi rumah akan bertambah dan saya anggarkan sekurang-kurangnya meningkat RM100 sebulan (kenaikan terus harga minyak dan kenaikan harga barang dan perkhidmatan yang lain) bagi setiap isi rumah di kawasan bandar dan separa bandar.
Saya juga telah menyatakan bahawa Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak akan melaksanakan penarikan balik subsidi minyak dengan menghadkannya kepada golongan tertentu dan sebahagian pengguna akan terpaksa membayar harga penuh tanpa subsidi.
Saya dimaklumkan keputusan itu telah dibuat tetapi belum dilaksanakan sementara memuktamadkan syarikat yang dianugerahkan kontrak untuk menaiktaraf semua pam minyak bagi tujuan ini.
Sudah tentu apabila ini juga dilaksanakan, bebanan akibat kenaikan harga minyak itu adalah lebih tinggi dan kenaikan harga barang dan perkhidmatan yang menyusul juga lebih tinggi.
Pada ketika pegawai-pegawai Jabatan Kastam dan Eksais telah mula mengesahkan mengenai kenaikan harga minyak akibat pelaksanaan GST ini, Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak masih diam seribu bahasa dan mahu berahsia.
Saya menggesa supaya Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak mengesahkan dengan segera bahawa harga minyak akan naik dengan pelaksanaan GST dan berterus terang dengan rakyat.
Pada masa yang sama, saya seru seluruh rakyat Malaysia menzahirkan bangkangan mereka kepada kenaikan harga minyak ini melalui laman-laman sosial terlebih dahulu sebelum disusuli dengan protes yang lebih besar.
Naib Presiden KEADILAN
Ahli Parlimen Pandan
UNTUK EDARAN SEGERA
15 SEPT 2014
KAMI PEMIMPIN MASYARAKAT & PEMIMPIN NGO NEGERI SELANGOR MENYOKONG PENUH DATUK SERI DR WAN AZIZAH BINTI WAN ISMAIL MENJADI MENTERI BESAR SELANGOR YANG BAHARU
Kami pemimpin masyarakat dan pemimpin NGO di Selangor merafak sembah Ke Bawah DYMM Tuanku Sultan Sharaffudin Idris Shah Sultan Selangor Darul Ehsan, mohon perkenan Tuanku agar Tuanku Sultan dapat menyelesaikan konflik yang berlaku dalam Negeri Selangor berkaitan isu Perlantikan Menteri Besar yang Baharu dengan bijaksana.
Kelemut isu perlantikan Menteri Besar ini sudah terlalu lama. Ia boleh mengakibat pentadbiran kerajaan tidak dapat berjalan dengan baik. Banyak urusan kerajaan boleh terganggu dan boleh dicabar kesahihannnya. Penyelesaian perlantikan Menteri Besar ini akan dapat meredakan konflik politik di negeri Selangor. Rakyat Selangor harus bersatu bagi memastikan Selangor terus maju dan membangun.
Kami menjunjung setia konsep Raja Berpelembagaan dalam sistem demokrasi di Malaysia seperti yang termaktub dalam Perlembagaan Negara dan Undang-Undang Tubuh Negeri Selangor. Konsep konvensional dalam amalan demokrasi dalam membentuk sesebuah kerajaan harus dipatuhi, bahawa mana-mana Ahli Dewan Negeri yang mendapat sokongan majoriti dari ahli-ahli Dewan Negeri hendaklah dilantik sebagai Menteri Besar dan mendapat perkenan dari Tuanku Sultan. Proses seumpama inilah telah berjalan dengan sempurna sejak dari kita mula membentuk kerajaan dari PRU yang pertama sampailah sekarang dan yang paling akhir sekali ialah perlantikan menteri besar Terengganu.
Pada pandangan Kami Para Pemimpin Masyarakat dan Pemimpin Badan Bukan Kerajaan (NGO) ingin merujuk kepada Undang-undang Tubuh Negeri Selangor berkaitan syarat dan kelayakan seseorang untuk dilantik menjadi Menteri Besar.
1. Fasal 53 (2) Seorang Ahli Dewan Negeri
2. Fasal 51 (2) Bangsa Melayu
3. Fasal 51 (2) Menganut Agama Islam
4. Fasal 53 (2) (a) Ahli Dewan Negeri yang mendapat sokongan Majoriti Ahli Dewan Negeri
Berdasarkan kepada syarat serta kelayakan yang dinyatakan dalam Undang-undang Tubuh Negeri Selangor maka kami tanpa sebarang keraguan menyokong penuh YB Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah binti Dato’ Wan Ismail sebagai Menteri Besar Selangor yang baharu kerana kelayakan yang jitu lagi padu, di mana beliau mencukupi segala syarat serta kelayakan;
1.Ahli Dewan Negeri Selangor kawasan Kajang
2.Seorang yang Bangsa Melayu
3.Seorang Islam yang mengamalkan ajaran Islam dengan baik
4.Sah mendapat sokongan majoriti 30 ADN Selangor melalui Akaun Bersumpah.
Kami penuh yakin YB Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah binti Dato ’ Wan Ismail akan menjadi seorang Menteri Besar Selangor yang mementingkan rakyat dengan mengamalkan corak kepimpinan secara masyuwarah melalui pembentukan majlis Syura’ kerana latar belakang pendidikan, pengalaman dan rekod cemerlang beliau antaranya;
1. Berkhidmat sebagai Doktor Perubatan selama 14 tahun di Hospital Universiti.
2. Menjadi Pensyarah di Fakulti Perubatan Universiti Malaya.
3. Mendapat Anugerah ‘Gold Medal’ Pingat Emas MacNaughton Jones untuk jurusan Obsterik dan Ginekologi, Royal College of Surgeon, Ireland.
4. Menerima Anugerah Medal Memorial David Gault daripada Royal College of Surgeon, Ireland.
5. Menubuhkan Parti Keadilan Rakyat pada 1999 dan menjadi Presiden selama 16 tahun hingga kini 2014.
6. Menjadi Pengerusi Barisan Alternatif pada 1999.
7. Menjadi Ahli Majlis Gerak 1999.
8. Dipilih dalam Pilihanraya Umum menjadi Ahli Parlimen Permatang Pauh 1999, 2004 & 2008.
9. Dilantik menjadi Ketua Pembangkang Parlimen Malaysia 2008.
10. Dipilih menjadi Ahli Dewan Negeri Selangor Kawasan Kajang dalam Pilihanraya Raya Kecil 2014.
11. Dianugerahkan “Distinguished Pathfinders Award” oleh The Board of Trustees of Omar Ibn Al-Khattab Foundation – Los Angelas, California, USA.
12. Menerima Anugerah Darjah Panglima Pangkuan Negeri (DPSN) sempena hari jadi Yang Di Pertua Negeri Pulau Pinang yang membawa gelaran Datuk Seri.
13. Anugerah Sayidatina Khadijah, bersempena Himpunan Helwa Kebangsaan ABIM. Lambang perjuangan menegakkan kebenaran
14. Mempunyai hubungan yang akrab dengan syarikat-syarikat dan pedagang Arab, Sheikh Saleh Kamal al-Barakah (Arab Saudi)
15. Hubungan baik dengan mantan, Presiden B J Habibie, Indonesia yang juga pengasas pertubuhan “The Habibie Centre” yang mengangkat rakyat yang demokrasi.
16. Hubungan baik dengan mantan Presiden Joseph Estrada, Filipina
Dengan rekod cemerlang serta pengalaman beliau serta yang amat membanggakan kami, beliau kini merupakan Presiden Parti Politik di Malaysia yang paling kanan dikalangan Presiden Parti-Parti Politik yang ada di Malaysia (sebagai contoh TGHH memangku Jawatan Presiden PAS jun 2002 dan pada 2003 Presiden, Dato’ Seri Najib November 2008, semua Presiden Parti Politik yang lain memegang jawatan selepas tahun 2000), jadi sangat sangat wajar dan tidak boleh diragui YB Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah binti Dato’ Wan Ismail adalah Wanita pertama menjadi Menteri Besar Selangor.
Maka kami dengan penuh hormat dan takzimnya menyeru supaya semua pihak yang berkaitan agar tidak lari atau keluar dari kaedah ini dalam menyelesaikan kemelut proses perlantikan Menteri Besar yang baharu.. Sekiranya semua pihak berlapang dada, berfikiran terbuka, berpolitik secara matang dan mengutamakan kepentingan rakyat serta menunjukkan kesepakatan yang padu, maka isu ini akan dapat diselesaikan dengan cara yang paling hikmah, telus dan bijaksana dan Insha Allah akan diperkenankan oleh Tuanku Sultan. Muga Allah SWT akan memberkati dan merahmati kita semua.
Dato’ Hj Mat Ghazali bin Abdul Rakim
Pengerusi Dewan Perdagangan Islam Malaysia Selangor
Di Sokong Penuh oleh Pemimpin Masyarakat serta Pemimpin Badan Bukan Kerajaan (NGO) Negeri Selangor;
1. Dewan Perdagangan Islam Malaysia Cawangan Selangor (DPIM Selangor)
2. Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (ABIM) Selangor
3. Persatuan Pelajar Islam Selangor
4. Wadah Selangor
5. Wirda Selangor
6. Ikatan Jawa Sejiwa Selangor (iJawa Selangor)
7. Pusat Khidmat Islah Selangor
8. Pusat Kerohanian Selangor
9. Pusat Komuniti Wanita Tg.Karang Selangor
10. Anak Muda Bersatu Tg.Karang Selangor
11. Ikatan Masyarakat Prihatin Parlimen Tg.Karang Selangor
12. Persatuan Pekebun Kecil Daerah Kuala Langat Selangor
13. Pesatuan Pemaju Perumahan Bumiputera Selangor
14. Rakan Muafakat Bisnes Selangor
15. Persatuan Pemandu Teksi dan Kereta Sewa Ulu Langat Selangor
16. Kelab Sahabat Alam Kuala Selangor Selangor
17. Persatuan Darul Wardah Selangor
18. Persatuan Penduduk Rinching Selangor
19. Persatuan Komuniti Pulau Indah Selangor
20. Kelab Rakan Penduduk Puchong Selangor
21. Persatuan Kebajikan Penduduk Paya Jaras Selangor
22. Kelab Kebajikan Sg Kendi Sabak Bernam Selangor
23. Wakil Ketua-Ketua Kampung – 22 Kawasan Parlimen
24. Wakil Ketua-Ketua Kampung Baru – 22 Kawasan Parlimen
25. Wakil Ketua-Ketua Komuniti – 22 Kawasan Parlimen
26. Wakil Pengerusi-Pengerusi Persatuan Penduduk – 22 Kawasan Parlimen
Lack of diplomatic relations and hostility to Israel don’t stop several Islamic nations from (quiet) trade
In the winter of 2013, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak stepped across the Egyptian border at Rafah and made a rare visit by a head of government to Hamas-ruled Gaza. Razak, whose country does not have diplomatic relations with Israel, told reporters: “We believe in the struggle of the Palestinian people. They have been suppressed and oppressed for so long.”
It was crystal clear which side he was on. Yet all that time, his country was importing more and more Israeli products — but not talking about it much, certainly not in Gaza.
Official data published by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) tells of a booming, but very discreet, trade relationship that is blossoming between the two countries, despite a hawkish prime minister in Jerusalem and Razak’s Islamist and proudly pro-Palestinian government in Kuala Lumpur.
Total trade between the two countries in 2013 reached $1.529 billion, almost double that of 2012, according to the CBS. That figure consists mostly of Israeli exports, at $1.457 billion. Trade continues to accelerate: Between January and July this year, Israeli exports to Malaysia soared to $884.7 million, a 27% jump over the same period last year.
By contrast, Malaysia’s foreign trade figures don’t carry any mention of Israel at all. In its annual data for 2012, for instance, trade with Israel is included in an entry for “Other Countries.”
A significant chunk of the trade boom can be traced to Kiryat Gat in Israel’s sandy southern plains, where global giant Intel has a plant churning out computer chips. It exports these to a second assembly plant in Malaysia. Every shipment is duly recorded in Israel’s foreign trade statistics but studiously ignored by Malaysia. Intel is a US-based company, but the Israeli government promised a 5% co-investment in its Kiryat Gat plant that could amount to one billion shekels ($290 million).
In addition to the officially recorded movement of goods, there is a heavy current of trade flowing beneath the surface, making it hard to calculate the value.
A raft of Israeli exporters and eager buyers in Malaysia and also neighboring Indonesia — the world’s most populous Muslim nation — are braving the political headwinds in order to do business – largely through third countries such as Singapore. Israel’s embassy there says that most trade is done this way, and in the case of Indonesia, with the embassy’s assistance. Including deals done through a third country, the estimated value of trade between Israel and Indonesia runs as high as $250 million last year, 10 times the $24.9 million of direct trade detailed in official figures.
Hush-hush trade between Israel and hostile states has been going on for decades, through conduits such as Cyprus, Turkey and Jordan, although some direct trade is registered to countries as surprising as Saudi Arabia and Yemen. As in the case of Southeast Asia, the allure of Israel’s high tech exports to businesspeople in these countries seems to outstrip the political hostility.
Israel sees commerce as a stepping stone that can lead to more co-operation with hostile states. Foreign Ministry spokesman Paul Hirschson labelled the volume of trade with Malaysia “pleasantly surprising” and that of Indonesia as “disappointingly low.”
“Israel does a lot of trade with many countries that we do not have formal diplomatic relations with and we are more than happy with this,” he said. When asked if plans were afoot for establishing more formal dialogue, he responded: “It is no secret that we have periodically engaged in dialogue with these countries. We would like nothing more than to establish diplomatic relations and representative offices.”
For the moment, initiating personal relationships amid such a political minefield is a triumph on its own.
“When I was there and I met the private businesspeople it was like normal,” says Ron Doron, an Israeli businessman with experience in Malaysia. “It’s only coming from the top that people are afraid.” The official anti-Israel sentiment is reinforced anytime Malaysians open their passport, which are all imprinted with the clear statement: “This passport is valid for all countries except Israel.”
That doesn’t stop the trade, though. Chemicals, medical equipment and pharmaceuticals are some of the most sought-after items. Those with knowledge of the trade say products are scrubbed of all insignia that could disclose their place of manufacture, to avoid hysterical scenes of the kind that erupted in Kuwait in January when rumors ran rife that Israeli potatoes had been spotted for sale at a local supermarket.
Discretion is essential, because the potential for reputation damage, and thus financial damage, to companies seen to be doing business with Israel exists as long as the Israeli-Arab conflict continues. According to Emanuel Shahaf, vice chairman of the Israel-Indonesia Chamber of Commerce, “There are two contradictory trends. The pro trend is that Indonesia demands more high-tech things… The negative trend is the political situation is not getting better (when it comes to Israel), in fact it’s getting worse.” Even so, this may not always suppress trade, according to Shahaf. “Sometimes in Indonesia … the forbidden is more exciting.”
Recent political developments are not promising, but it’s possible that even the collapse of the US-led Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in April and the renewed hostilities with Hamas, will not cause a slump in trade. Commerce continued to grow after the last flare-up in Gaza in 2012.
Political tensions mean that personal relationships are paramount when it comes to forging contacts and closing deals. “Israeli companies usually don’t have the patience for the long term,” says Doron. “That’s one of the problems for Israeli companies. In Asia, you need to look for long term. You cannot do business for the short term. It takes time to build the relationship and the confidence.”
Personal bonds have laid some ground work for Indonesians to be more receptive to Israel. Steve Stein has been coordinating humanitarian and development programs there since the early 90s and says that Indonesians see Israel in a “positive way” and “are eager to expend trade and investment.” Expanding the relationship could involve creating “a special long term Indonesia program by expending academic, agriculture for food security and medical cooperation,” says Stein. “This would expose the young generation of Indonesians to the land of Israel and its people, its academic and business community,” he wrote in an email.