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Middle East Press On Freedom Of Expression, Minorities in Europe And Bangladesh: New Age Islam's Selection, 7 November 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

7 November 2020

• A French Play: Freedom Of Expression Or Freedom Of Suppression?

By Cafer Talha Şeker

• Minorities Main Target Of Terrorist Attacks In Europe

By Melih Altinok

• Drug Smuggling, Abuse On The Rise In Iraq

By Adnan Abu Zeed

•  Why Is Bangladesh Protesting Against France?

By Faisal Mahmud

•  Is Netanyahu Ready For Biden?

By Ben Caspit

• Time For Saudi Families To Review Their Succession Plans

By Faizal Bhana


A French Play: Freedom Of Expression Or Freedom Of Suppression?

By Cafer Talha Şeker

NOV 05, 2020


French President Emmanuel Macron greets Austrian Ambassador Michael Linhart after signing a condolence book for victims of the Vienna attack, at the Austrian Embassy to France, Paris, Nov. 3, 2020. (AP Photo)


Agreat statesperson, Germany’s first Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who pursued a policy of balance between Britain and France in European politics, once wrote that Britain was better at addressing the Muslim world than France. Bismarck said it at a time when Britain and France were in a heated rivalry to influence the Ottoman-Turkish caliphate and the Islamic world in general geopolitically.

Today, both countries have again faced new global dimensions and Middle Eastern geopolitical challenges due to the U.S. withdrawal of protection of Western interests in the military sphere.

Britain, France and the U.S. export arms to Muslim countries. However, recent French politics have begun to create a “new theater” seemingly based on anti-Islamic and xenophobic sentiments, while Britain appears safer for Muslims to live. The question of whether freedom of expression or freedom of suppression will prevail in France arises here as well as two reasons why the latter seems to dominate France's latest political strategy.

Firstly, in a very real sense, there is no freedom of expression in France, with the proof being that criticisms of the Armenian genocide are not even allowed.

Blasphemy, on the other hand, is permitted even when directed toward Islamic values. In past centuries, French Republicans following the French Revolution battled royalists who were more devoted to Christian beliefs. Republicans attacked churches and criticized every aspect of Christian life, while the royalists fought laicism, which they described as an extremist wave of rising French secularism.

Pro-laicism Republicans are critical of the Catholic Church, with the controversial satirical French magazine Charles Hebdo, for example, being among one of their papers that mocked the religion. It can be surmised that France's current social and political unrest stems from the ongoing battle between the “religious” and “pro-laicism” divides in the country.

Today, all fragments of French society, including both religious and anti-religion groups, are united against a common enemy: Muslim migrants, who constitute around 10% of the country's population. The same people who attacked churches in the past now target the Muslim minority in France.

In the 19th century, France’s common enemy was the Jewish community with Islam later taking Judaism's place in French sociopolitical life. Incumbent French President Emmanuel Macron's administration works to unify the divided French people by victimizing minorities due to the full freedom of suppression.

Second, there is the aspect of global geopolitics as the global economy has already been devastated by the coronavirus outbreak. Before the pandemic, France was selling arms to Egypt and other Gulf countries but was facing difficulties in the Middle East, particularly in Libya and Syria due to U.S policies. Both Britain and France, recognizing the fact that the U.S. is more reluctant to protect European interests in the Middle East, adopted a strategy to develop new alliances in the region to ensure their economic security.

In recent years, especially in Eastern Mediterranean geopolitics, Turkey’s relations with the U.K. have strengthened but have deteriorated with France, and I am not sure if German Chancellor Angela Merkel aims to pursue a policy of balance between France and the British just as Bismarck did decades ago.

It is clear that extremist far-right ideologies are on the rise in Germany too but what is not clear is whether the German government will launch an anti-Islam campaign or anti-Turkish strategy to unite the German people.

The Macron administration seems intent on playing the role of hero, saving Europe from its historical enemy Islam. The U.S. is likely to rise tariffs against various French products next year and the Muslim world’s boycotting of French products seems to have had short-term side effects in Paris.

In November 2018, when the yellow vest movement occupied French streets, I wrote in Daily Sabah that: “In France, should the current conflict in the country be managed properly, it won't be surprising that Macron comes out of that process stronger. He might even be a new and young version of Charles de Gaulle (the late French president), if not a new Napoleon (Bonaparte), in future French politics as part of the new global system.”

The new global system seems to be multipolar. This year the yellow vest movement does not seem to be around, and we are yet to see whether the freedom of expression or freedom of suppression will prevail in the French strategy against its Muslim minority. Will the French policy manage to unite France or will the country’s future be haunted by Macron’s new Napoleonic approach against Islam? Unfortunately, the answers remain ambiguous.


Minorities Main Target Of Terrorist Attacks In Europe

By Melih Altinok

NOV 05, 2020


Armed policemen stand guard in a shopping street in the center of Vienna, following a shooting, Austria, Nov. 2, 2020. (AFP PHoto)


Europe plunged into a new wave of chaos as French President Emmanuel Macron reignited protests by defending the cartoons of Prophet Muhammed, which were published in French weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo years ago.

Ever since the cartoons in question were projected on public buildings and "officially" accepted by the French state, the country has witnessed consecutive terrorist attacks.

The first chaos erupted in France, home to more than 5.7 million Muslims. Three civilians were killed near the Notre-Dame Basilica in Nice. The chief suspect of the attack Ibrahim Issaoui reportedly shouted "Allahu Akbar" (God is the greatest) several times after the shooting. Issaoui is a migrant who illegally entered France from Tunisia in September.

The media reported that Issaoui called his family the night before the attack, telling them that he was going to doss down on a piece of cardboard outside the Notre-Dame Basilica and after resting, find a job to keep himself afloat.

Issaoui's brother Yassine said in an interview that Issaoui had dropped out of school and was out of work like many other young people in Tunisia. He first worked as a mechanic, then started to work in an olive squeezing business and then engaged in fuel oil sales irregularly, he added.

After France, the bad news came from Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz – who is also known for his Islamophobic policies – last night. Attackers in front of a synagogue in Vienna, which has a large Muslim population, opened fire in various locations in the city. Five people were killed, including one of the terrorists and 17 were injured. According to local media, the terrorist killed was a 20-year-old Macedonian boy. Police claim the suspect is a Daesh sympathizer.

Obviously, Charlie Hebdo cartoons are not the only reason behind the terrorist attacks. It is clear that Daesh or other organizations, which serve as proxies for intelligence agencies, have found the environment, tensed up by Macron, useful for provocation.

In my previous column, I had written that radical proxy organizations are in seventh heaven after the artificial "secular Republic – Islam" polarization that Macron has raised. Life now will only be harder for Europe's minorities.

My first prediction, unfortunately, has proved true earlier than expected.

I hope EU citizens of Asian and African descent will not suffer the aftermath of these provocative terrorist attacks. Many far-right parties, which are the main opposition in European countries, as well as racist media outlets, are endeavoring to legitimize this fascist demand in politics and society. They even overtly salt the books to this end.

Some conversations in Turkish heard in the footage of the attack in Austria are being spread on social media as evidence of the lie that the "terrorists were Turks." Such acts prove an organized disinformation campaign against Turkey.

It soon became clear that these conversations belonged to citizens of Turkish origin who stood up against the terrorists and helped the Austrian police. A man named Mikail Özen alerted and rescued an injured policeman and an elderly woman at the scene.

Recep Tayyip Gültekin, a namesake of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was injured while assisting the Austrian police.

Following the incident, these two Austrian citizens, whom Erdoğan called and congratulated, were declared heroes in the country.

Could there be a clearer message for politicians using misinformation to exploit religious differences for personal gains?


Drug Smuggling, Abuse On The Rise In Iraq

By Adnan Abu Zeed

Nov 5, 2020

Iraq’s Security Media Cell announced Oct. 30 the discovery of 6 kilograms (13 pounds) of hashish and 50 drug bars in al-Sakhrah area in the southern Maysan governorate, noting the increase in the drug trade and abuse in central and southern Iraq in particular. On Oct. 12, the investigative court for drug cases in Maysan reported, “The southern areas of the governorate are the most active in promoting narcotic drugs, and crystal meth [methamphetamine] makes up 90% of the substances trafficked there.”

On Oct. 29, Zuhair al-Shaalan, governor of the southern city of Diwaniyah, admitted in a televised interview that “the rate of drug abuse has reached 40%.”

The Basra Police Command announced Oct. 14 that it had arrested eight drug dealers in possession of narcotic drugs, pistols, ammunition and rifles. Such situations often turn into armed clashes; for instance, on Oct. 19, an exchange of fire between a drug dealing gang and the police in the southern Basra governorate resulted in the killing of an officer and the wounding of three security personnel. On Oct. 24, the biggest drug dealer in Basra was taken down.

A police officer in Diwaniyah told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “Citizens are well aware of the source of these drugs, which is mainly Iran. [These drugs] get here either through the southern Iraqi borders or through the Kurdistan Regional Government.”

He noted, “The borders are still open to smugglers of crystal meth and Captagon [Fenethylline] amid the lack of modern monitoring techniques and since armed groups control the areas adjacent to the border, which enables= them to safely transport the prohibited substances after they are delivered to the border.”

The officer added, “Smugglers control the situation with weapons and pay bribes and large financial royalties to the influential forces and armed groups, and they have distribution networks in all cities.”

Former Deputy and Judge Wael Abdel Latif, who hails from Basra, told Al-Monitor, “Drugs are flowing into the southern governorates from Afghanistan and Iran. Today, Iraq is no longer a mere transit country as it was in the past. Rather, it has become a major market that consumes these substances. The number of drug abusers has increased so much even in schools in Basra, Amara, Nasiriyah and Samawah. The phenomenon is spreading to the western areas as well.”

He said, “One of the main reasons why this phenomenon has easily spread is the weak government measures on the long borders between Iraq and Iran. There is no control over some crossing points at the borders between [Iraq’s] Basra, Amara or Kut and [Iran’s] Khuzestan. Corrupt officers deal with drug traffickers or turn a blind eye to their activities.”

Falah al-Khafaji, a deputy from the central Babil governorate, told Al-Monitor, “Drugs are making their way from the south to the central Euphrates areas, as well as to Baghdad and the northern areas.” He stressed that his previous security work in the governorate revealed an increase of violence among young people due to drugs, attributing this phenomenon to “the absence of job opportunities for the youth, which leads them to despair.”

Since 2018, Iraq has cooperated with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. In this context, the undersecretary of the Ministry of Interior, Lt. Gen. Imad Mohammed, told Al-Monitor about “new projects to combat the spread of drugs,” stressing that “the ministry is working to raise awareness among young people about the dangers of drug use, and to involve citizens and civil society organizations.”

Mohammed added, “The first practical step in this regard is establishing a narcotics division in Sadr City in Baghdad, and the ministry is in the process of increasing the number of drug control departments at police stations.”

Ahmed Abbas al-Dhahabi, an academic in the psychology department at Baghdad University, told Al-Monitor about “the legal leniency with the drug issue as well as corruption in the security services, which allow many drug traffickers to escape legal penalties.”

He noted, “Iraq suffers from a lack of field research and specialized expertise in drug control,” calling for “training professional cadres to combat drugs in countries with experience, and to benefit from these countries’ advanced programs.”

Dhahabi added, “We need high-level coordination with the Iranian security services to monitor drug traffickers and gangs moving between the two sides of the border.”

The New York Times published a report on Sept. 15, 2019, about the spread of crystal meth among the Iraqi youth, especially in Baghdad and Basra.

Legal expert Tarek Harb told Al-Monitor, “Law No. 50 of 2017 on Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances punishes with imprisonment between one to three years, with financial fines, for anyone who imports, produces or possesses narcotic drugs. Article 288 of the same law stipulates a life imprisonment sentence for every person who sets up a place for drug abuse.”

Handling the drug issue in Iraq conflicts with tribal pitfalls, because of the tribal nature of the Iraqi society. On Sept. 18, 2019, the family of a security officer in Basra, who had been killed in an armed clash with a gang dealing drugs, complained about receiving death threats from a tribe whose members are affiliated with the gang. Meanwhile, a security officer was forced to pay a tribal fine of 50 million Iraqi dinars ($42,000) for killing a drug dealer during a pursuit in one of the border areas.

The drug phenomenon in Iraq goes beyond being a pure trade for drug dealers, to being about activities linked to armed groups and influential political and tribal forces, from which they make huge sums to perpetuate their influence and power.


Why Is Bangladesh Protesting Against France?

By Faisal Mahmud

5 Nov 2020

Addressing a sea of crowd from a pick-up van, Junaid Babunagari on Monday noon delivered a stern message: “We want the Bangladesh government to shut down the French embassy in Dhaka within 24 hours.”

Babunagari, secretary-general of Hifazat-e-Islam – one of the biggest Muslim political groups in the country – further said: “[French President] Emmanuel Macron should beg for forgiveness.”

The crowd of some 50,000 people, almost wholly comprised of young people decked in white kurta [tunic] and topi [cap] voiced their appreciation in unison. “Allahu Akbar [God is great],” they shouted, “We will not tolerate disrespect of the Prophet Muhammad.”

Protests are being held in several Muslim-majority countries, including Pakistan, Turkey and Indonesia, over Macron’s comment that Islam is “in crisis” and his defence of the offensive caricature of the Prophet.

Tensions further escalated in the aftermath of the killing of Samuel Paty, a middle school teacher in France who showed his pupils drawings of the Prophet during a discussion on the freedom of speech.

But Bangladesh arguably has witnessed the largest and most prolonged protest over the cartoon row that has angered the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims.

Monday’s protest, which originated from Bangladesh’s biggest mosque in the capital Dhaka, was yet the largest demonstration staged in the country against the French president’s stance on the right to publish cartoons of the Prophet.

In the past one week, the Muslim majority nation of 160 million has witnessed at least three large-scale anti-France demonstrations in Dhaka and in the port city of Chattagram.

‘We Love Our Prophet’

Last Friday, several protest rallies were organised from different mosques after Jumma prayers across the country calling for “boycotting goods from France” and for severing “diplomatic ties”.

“We are on the street as we love our Prophet,” Abu Abdullah, a 19-year-old student from Markazul Aziz Madrasa (traditional Islamic religious school) of Dhaka who took part in Monday’s protest told Al Jazeera.

“Islam is a religion of peace and our Prophet Muhammad is the best human being to ever exist. I can’t remain silent if someone said bad things about our beloved Prophet,” he said.

Belal Hossain, a 26-year-old khadem (caretaker) of a mosque in Narshingdi who came to Dhaka to protest, told Al Jazeera that images and caricature of Prophet Muhammad are not permitted in Islam.

“By sketching a belittling portrait of Muhammad, France hurt us. We want no ties with France any more,” Hossain said.

Mufti Fakhrul Islam, publication secretary of Hifazat-e-Islam who was at the forefront in organising Monday’s protest, said people love the Prophet more than their lives.

“We will not tolerate the slightest disrespect of our beloved Muhammad,” Islam told Al Jazeera.

Hifazat, based in Chattagram, runs more than 90,000 madrassas (Islamic religious schools) across the country.

Maulana Zafarullah Khan, leader of Bangladesh Islamic party Khelafat Andolon, which joined forces with Hifazat, said: “By disrespecting Muhammad, France has disrespected the whole of Muslim Ummah [community].”

“Such disrespect of our Prophet bleeds the hearts of millions of religious and pious people of Bangladesh,” Khan said.

Silence Of Bangladesh Government

So far, the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has not commented on the cartoon controversy and maintained studied silence amid calls to sever diplomatic ties with France – the country’s fourth-largest trading partner.

The Bangladesh government, however, has allowed the protests.

“We believe in freedom of expression of every individual, hence we allow all sort of protests to take place in our country,” AK Abdul Momen, minister of foreign affairs, told Al Jazeera.

Momen said he understands the people’s anger on the issue. “It’s not just about France; if anyone from any country disrespects Prophet Muhammad, religious people in Bangladesh will stage protest against that, and we know about it.”

He said there is no scope of cutting diplomatic ties with France. “Bangladesh and France enjoy a good and warm bilateral relationship,” he said.

France is one of the largest destinations of Bangladesh’s readymade garments (RMG) products, which account for the lion’s share of the country’s export basket.

Last year, Bangladesh exported goods worth $1.7bn to France, making the European nation its fourth-biggest export market after the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom. Several French companies have medium to large scale investments in Bangladesh, from energy to construction materials, pharmaceuticals and telecommunications.

Some French politicians have already called for action against Bangladesh in the wake of the mass protests.

“Bangladesh economy is largely based on the textile industry. Western distributors (Carrefour, H&M, etc) must stop purchasing clothing. Let’s stop trading with those who hate us and favor localism,” Virginie Joron, a French politician who is a member of the European Parliament, tweeted.

Marine Le Pen, a French politician who is known for her anti-immigration stance, urged the French government to impose a ban on immigrants from Bangladesh.

Adnan Habib, a Dhaka-based banker, told Al Jazeera that Bangladesh will lose more if the relationship with France is tainted. “I respect people’s emotion about Prophet Muhammad. But to be frank, the idea of severing ties with France on this is unrealistic under the present global context.”

Prolonged Protests

Asif Shibgat Bhuiyan, a popular blogger who writes on Islam, said the strong emotion of the Bangladeshi Muslims and religio-political opportunism sensed by the religious leaders and influencers are playing a strong role behind the protests.

“Bangladeshi Muslims are very emotional and sensitive about religious symbols. Among the symbols inviolable to them, the honour of the Prophet Muhammad is at the forefront,” he said.

Bhuiyan said Bangladesh has precedence of staging large-scale public demonstrations on the issue of violating the honour of the Prophet.

A cartoon by the largest vernacular daily – Prothom Alo – triggered protests in 2007 after it was perceived to defame the name of the Prophet.

“A large number of Muslims took to the street and the editor of the daily had to visit the top Muslim leader in the country to clear the misunderstanding,” said Bhuiyan.

He said the religious leaders of the country are aware that they cannot have a demonstration on every issue pertaining to Muslims. There has hardly been a public protest against the persecution of Uighurs in China.

“Hence they require an issue that is sustainable. It needs to be well participated and short in temporal scope – so that there is a perception of success while being convenient enough for the government to let it be,” Bhuiyan said.

Ali Riaz, who has researched on the Islamist parties in Bangladesh, said several factors have prompted these demonstrations, largely spearheaded by the Islamist groups in Bangladesh.

“The growing Islamisation of the Bangladeshi society is a major contributory factor in this regard. It has become easy to use these kinds of issue as a tool for mobilisation,” said Riaz, a distinguished professor of politics and government of Illinois State University, US.

He argued that the populist appeal of the issue and the anti-Western sentiments have brought most of the common people into the mix.

Besides, he said, some political forces are taking to the street to demonstrate their existence in the current political vacuum on a safe issue without annoying the government.

Riaz believes the demonstrations are helping the Bangladesh government, which he says, has turned into an authoritarian regime.

“First, by allowing these demonstrations to take place the government is boosting its claim that opposition’s right to assembly has not been curtailed, thus it contributes to its assertion that the country is a functioning democracy.”

Secondly, he said, these portray Bangladeshi politics to the international community “as a choice between radical Islamism and secularism, and present itself as a better alternative” despite its “[government] abysmal record of human rights violations and curtailment of fundamental freedom”.


 Is Netanyahu Ready For Biden?

By Ben Caspit

Nov 6, 2020

esident and would prefer a first Joe Biden presidential term to a second Trump one.

“There is nothing more dangerous than a second-term president,” a senior Israeli diplomatic source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. “Especially when that president is Trump who is unpredictable to begin with.” Netanyahu, according to this theory, has scraped the bottom of the barrel of goodies that Trump has kept filling for the past four years and now prefers a familiar, stable, veteran White House presence to one focused on shaping his legacy and eyeing the Nobel Peace Prize.

The truth is somewhere in between. If Netanyahu could have voted, he would have faced a tough dilemma. I would venture a guess that Netanyahu would have ultimately voted for Trump, but not without agonizing long and hard over his choice. Going along with a second-term president is a gamble. Nonetheless, it is hard to ignore the endless, unbelievable strategic gifts with which Trump showered Netanyahu throughout his term, and the fact that Israel’s ambassador in Washington, Ron Dermer, enjoys almost unfettered White House access and takes part in formulating highly sensitive policy papers prepared by the president’s top aides. Trump is the proverbial gift that keeps on giving, and Netanyahu loves presents. Netanyahu got addicted to the influence he wields on the White House and will have a hard time weaning himself off this heady drug.

When Trump stunned the world — and Hillary and Bill Clinton — by being elected in 2016, Netanyahu broke out into a wild dance, but Israel’s professional diplomats broke out in a sweat trying to understand what made the new president tick, and second-guessing his appointments and policies. “It was a mystery,” a former high-ranking Israeli diplomat told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. “We had no idea who he would bring with him and he ignored most Washington professionals and the Republican establishment because these people had signed petitions against him.” Even after Israeli officials began to familiarize themselves with the top White House and National Security Council appointments, the acquaintance was often short-lived. The president’s inner circle often resembled a bucking bronco, throwing off everyone who climbed on — very few managed to hold on. Officials in Jerusalem watched with a mix of despair and disbelief.

Biden is the exact opposite. “We are going back to the Clinton-Obama establishment,” a senior political source in Jerusalem told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. “People we know, who came up through the system, who worked for years in the Senate, White House, State Department, National Security Council. People with whom we know how to work. Predictable, familiar. It’s a completely different feeling. No longer lawyers and Wall Street money people. Now we will experience the return of an American political establishment that does not always go along with our foibles, but which the Israeli system gets along with very well.”

If Biden is elected — as of this writing, he appeared close but was not quite there — Netanyahu can still thank the good luck that saved him from a “blue wave” and left the Senate in Republican hands. “As long as the Senate is Republican, Netanyahu is all set,” a source in the prime minister’s circle told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. “He maneuvered an impatient, young [President Barack] Obama for eight years, he will not have a hard time maneuvering Biden, especially as Biden and Netanyahu have enjoyed a truly friendly relationship for decades. They will get along. It will not be a passionate affair as things were with Trump, but it will be totally bearable. And anyway, Biden is unlikely to have much time and patience for the Middle East with the coronavirus pandemic, tensions with China and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s bullying.”

The elephant in the room is the Iranian issue. Trump delivered on Netanyahu’s rosiest dreams in this regard. He pulled the United States out of the nuclear deal with Iran and followed it with a policy of “maximum pressure” on Tehran. “Trump and Biden, both, seem to be planning to enter into negotiations with Iran if elected — the question is the goal and the style,” a former senior Israeli defense source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity.

In other words, Israel believes Trump will enter negotiations “Trump style.” He will not lift sanctions on Iran or does so only symbolically. “He believes in conducting negotiations from a position of power and applying pressure on the rival,” the security source said in analyzing Trump’s style. “Whereas Biden would consider goodwill gestures and perhaps an easing of sanctions as a means to generate a positive climate for renewed negotiations.”

What counts is the bottom line. “Trump could lose interest, as was the case with his negotiations with North Korea,” the senior Israeli diplomatic source noted. “He could even strive to win the Nobel Peace Prize at any cost and end up with an Iran agreement very similar to the original one. With Biden, it is hard to tell,” the source conceded. “What we know for sure is that Biden will not accept a nuclear Iran either. We hope Biden will bring an improved nuclear agreement — long term — which will plug some of the holes in the first one.”

Would Trump or Biden use force against Iran if negotiations fail? This is yet another question that the best minds in Israel’s defense and intelligence agencies are trying to answer, without much success. The Foreign Ministry and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are engaged in a long-running argument about Trump. Foreign Ministry experts say Trump only uses forces if it can be done in one shot, on a limited, local basis. He did give the order to take down Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Qasem Soleimani, but almost in the same breath ordered a drawdown of thousands of US troops from Syria and the Middle East. Whenever a longer-term use of force with entanglement potential is discussed, he is not on board. The IDF did not see it quite that way. Trump’s unpredictable nature, according to the security and intelligence analysts, does not rule out a possible decision on a military adventure against Iran.

As for Biden, the Democrat, the situation is no less complex. “Biden is not Obama,” the senior Israeli diplomatic source said. “Netanyahu’s nightmare is of a Biden in Obama’s clothing. But that is nowhere near the truth. Biden graduated from the school of hard knocks, he is somewhere in the middle between Obama’s peacenik liberalism and the Bush family’s aggressiveness. If pushed to the edge, he could well use force.”

In Biden does, indeed, move into the Oval Office, no one in Jerusalem will have much homework to prepare. “We know all the president’s people like the back of our hand,” said a top diplomatic official on condition of anonymity. “Names such as Tony Blinken [Biden’s top foreign policy aide], Michele Flournoy [slated for the Pentagon], Jake Sullivan, Dennis Ross, Martin Indyk [all former diplomats and/or foreign policy advisers], and second-tier people like Nick and Bill Burns, Ilan Goldberg, all these people know us, know the Middle East and the issues on the agenda for at least two decades. Everything will run like clockwork from the get go, they are expected to hit the ground running.” The two administrations will differ strategically in at least one sense. “Sadly, we will have to take our leave of [Ambassador] David Friedman, who was more of a settler than the settlers, and return to a policy that views the Green Line as the basis for all negotiations and the settlements as a bone in the Palestinians’ throat. The gay days when the settlers danced in Washington will be no more."


Time For Saudi Families To Review Their Succession Plans

By Faizal Bhana

November 07, 2020

Succession planning for family businesses is challenging, given the various elements that need to be considered both on the business and family levels. As with all family businesses across the globe, Saudi families face some common issues, including considerations around which family members are experienced enough to steer the business successfully with the support of the other members. Discussions of this nature can ease the friction within the family, as well as between the family and the management of the business, particularly in aligning the vision of the wealth owners with the natural successor’s aspirations for the future.

As family businesses navigate the easing of lockdowns and consider efficiencies to move their businesses into the post-COVID-19 norm, a key element is to consider their plans for succession. With multiple generations typically involved in the family business, the challenges of implementing the family’s future strategy has come to the fore during these extraordinary times.

While it is never easy to have discussions around death and succession, it is essential to avoid conflict in the unfortunate event of a loss within a family.

There are an estimated 538,000 family businesses in the Kingdom representing a staggering 63 percent of the total operating enterprises. They contribute up to $216 billion to GDP and employ about 7.2 million people, 52 percent of the workforce.

Saudi family businesses are generally regarded as sophisticated investors both regionally and increasingly globally. Most large family businesses are conglomerates — albeit private businesses — that are worth billions of dollars and operate across borders.

Closer to home, Saudi family businesses have very close ties with other families in the region, considering the deep and shared cultural and religious ties.

Yet just one in four family businesses in the GCC has an effective and legally robust wealth transfer strategy and succession plan in place.

The Saudi Vision 2030 places great faith in the Saudi private sector as the engine of growth and job creation. Against this backdrop and the Kingdom’s classification as an emerging market in 2019, listings from family businesses on Tadawul will add vigor to the local stock market.

There is a drive for IPOs within family business groups to provide another way for businesses to raise capital through the stock exchange and attract international investors.

With that in mind, a number of Saudi family businesses are taking advantage of this forward-looking opportunity. The current pandemic means they need to review existing structures for their local, regional and global investments and assets.

The majority of intergenerational transfer of wealth in the Middle East will occur for the first time in the next five years, after being operated solely at the behest of the patriarch and the wealth creator for the past 30 years.Comprehensive succession planning involves detailed conversations between the founders and patriarchs and the next generation, the proprietors of the future. This involves the training and capacity building of the new generation to take over positions within the business governance structure.

One of the key roles of business advisers is to provide businesses with viable solutions and to put into place robust contingency plans. To adhere to an efficient wealth transfer, it is vital that trustees and other fiduciary service providers are prepared to meet the needs of the next generation. They must also ensure that Sharia considerations are factored into all aspects of the discussion.

As a first step, it is pivotal to prepare a trust structure summary for members of the next generation that breaks down the trustee’s role and responsibilities, the terms of the trust, what it means to be a beneficiary of the trust, current activities and investments held by the trust and any relevant regulatory requirements.

Having a discussion with members of the next generation is crucial as it helps clarify the existing structure and the current circumstances of the immediate family, as well as identifying their aims and aspirations. Incorporating the right style and channels of communication to engage with the family is paramount when building that relationship.

The next point is to identify whether the existing structure and investments are aligned with the aims of the next generation is a key step — whether the existing structure is still suited for the family business needs.

It is essential to assess whether the growth of the trust fund can keep pace with the growing size of the next generation and whether the trust’s overall purpose needs to be modified.

With great wealth comes great responsibility and this is becoming increasingly understood by families across the region, particularly during this time of crisis.


Faizal Bhana is a regional director at Jersey Finance.



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