Monday, October 2, 2017

Recent Editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records):

Nightmare in Las Vegas

It’s not just Las Vegas but the entire world is in shock and grief following the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.

Why and how a 64-year-old cold-blooded beast could develop such hatred as to shower bullets on hundreds on innocent people merrily taking part in an outdoor music festival is beyond one’s comprehension.

So many innocent and precious lives have been lost and several others have landed in hospitals with life-threatening injuries for no mistake of theirs.

All that the victims wanted was to spend a peaceful night at the concert, but the killer turned it into a nightmare.

America has witnessed such incidents before, but this is the worst.

Previously, the deadliest mass shooting had been an attack at an Orlando, Florida, nightclub that killed 49.

Before that, the deadliest shooting in the country was the 2007 attack at Virginia Tech, in which a student killed 32 people before killing himself.

In February last year, Cedric Ford, 38, killed three people and wounded 14 others at a lawnmower factory where he worked in the central Kansas community of Hesston. The local police chief killed him during a shootout with 200 to 300 workers still in the building.

The ghastly killings have raised one crucial question: Should gun control be tightened?

The issue of gun control is highly sensitive in the United States and President Donald Trump's views on the issue have, fortunately, changed noticeably over his years in public life.

After the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, where a disturbed 20-year-old mowed down 20 children and six adults, Trump appeared to favour stricter rules.

Back then, president Barack Obama, who often called Sandy Hook the worst moment of his presidency and recalls even his Secret Service detail in tears, called for the deadlock to be broken and for Congress to act.

Trump had tweeted at that time: "President Obama spoke for me and every American in his remarks in #Newtown Connecticut."

When it comes to guns, Nevada has one of the weakest controls in the US.

According to the National Rifle Association's website, Nevada state law does not require residents to obtain a purchasing permit, register or licence for a rifle, shotgun or handgun.

The Las Vegas mass murder has triggered the need for a no-holds barred debate on the vexed question of gun control. Washington needs to take a more sensible stand on the subject.

A victory with a

bruise for Merkel

The fourth election win by Angela Merkel, Europe's most powerful woman and torchbearer of liberal values, may be a cause for celebration, but her victory has come along with bruises, reshaping the political landscape in Germany.

Tricky coalition talks ahead and entry into parliament of the hardline Alternative for Germany party (AfD) may well prove to be a double-whammy for the outspoken chancellor.

With the Social Democrats insisting they will go into opposition and all parties shunning the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD), parliamentary arithmetic favours a "Jamaica" coalition of her conservatives (black), the pro-business Free Democrats (yellow), and the Greens — so named because their party colours reflect the Jamaican flag.

Merkel's party remains the biggest parliamentary bloc, but patching together a coalition deal with three wildly differing parties of the right, left and centre, is unlikely to be an easy task.

Merkel scored around 33 per cent of the vote with her conservative Christian Union bloc. It was their worst score since 1949. Its nearest rivals, the Social Democrats, came in a distant second, with a post-war record low of 21 per cent.

But in a bombshell for the German establishment, the extreme right AfD captured around 13 per cent, catapulting it to become the country's third biggest political force.

The entry of around 90 hard-right MPs to the glass-domed Bundestag chamber breaks a taboo in post-World War II Germany.

How the AfD managed to poach one million votes is a question that will remain to haunt Merkel's conservatives for quite some time.

Merkel has acknowledged that the AfD's strongholds in depressed corners of the ex-communist east may have felt "left behind.” But displaying a spirit of astute leadership, she says that not all were diehard supporters of the AfD and that at least some could be won back "with good policies that solve problems."

True to Merkel’s inference, tensions between radicals and moderates within AfD surfaced soon after the poll verdict.

Frauke Petry, the most recognisable face in the AfD, declared she could not stand with an "anarchistic party" that lacked a credible plan to govern and would prefer to sit in parliament as an independent.

The prospect of a "Jamaica coalition" is unprecedented at the national level and it could take months of coalition wrangling before a government emerges.

A potentially unstable coalition can be justifiable reason for jitters among investors.

In such a scenario, if there is one certainty, it is that Germany is heading into months of uncertainty.

Saudi decision on women

drivers a historic move

Saudi Arabia deserves all praise for the historic decision to allow women to drive cars, thereby ending the kingdom’s status as the only country where that is prohibited.

The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s issuing of a royal order to grant driving licences to men and women alike under the provisions of the Traffic Law and its Executive Regulations is the latest in a string of social and economic reforms underway in the country.

The King has aptly referred to the negative consequences of not allowing women to drive vehicles and the positive aspects of allowing it, taking into consideration the application of the necessary legal controls and adherence to them.

He has also rightly pointed to the view of the majority of members of senior scholars on women's driving, who see no impediment to allowing it, provided the necessary "guarantees of legitimacy and order" are in place.

The decision is sure to bring in major benefits for the country. It will save families huge amounts of money as many Saudi families presently employ at least one driver to transport female members.

Retailers, insurers and car hire companies will be among the potential winners, as the decision will boost industries from car sales to insurance.

Importantly, the step will also encourage more women to enter the workforce and raise productivity in the economy.

Not surprisingly, there was jubilation on the social media. News of the decision, in fact, became the top trending topic on Twitter, with many posts tagged #SaudiWomenCanDrive.

“Today was a historic day for women in Saudi Arabia as a decree was announced to lift the ban on women drivers. #SaudiArabia,” daughter of US President Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump, who has 4.62 million followers, posted on Twitter.

UN-Secretary General Antonio Guterres too took to Twitter to describe the decision an “important step in the right direction.”

On Saturday, women were allowed for the first time into a sports stadium to mark national day, another momentous move that came as part of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s Saudi Vision 2030. The vision aims at a strong, thriving and stable Saudi Arabia that provides opportunity for all.

Women in Saudi Arabia now thus have a major reason to smile, while a high-level ministerial committee will study the necessary arrangements for enforcing King Salman’s order, which is to be implemented as of June 2018.

Way to go, Saudi Arabia.

Dialogue best way to

solve Catalonia issue

The clash between police and protesters over a banned independence referendum in Catalonia that left several people injured is a distressing development that could have been avoided if political heads in Madrid and Barcelona had used the mighty strengths of a true democracy — diplomacy and dialogue.

Pro-separatist lawmakers in Catalonia have been pushing for an independence referendum since September 2015 when they won a narrow majority of 72 seats in the region's parliament.

The referendum, declared illegal by Spain’s central government, has thrown the country into its worst constitutional crisis in decades and deepened a centuries-old rift.

The violence makes no sense especially because the ballot will have no legal status since Spain’s Constitutional Court and Madrid have blocked it for being at odds with the 1978 constitution.

Also, it is not that all Catalans are backing the secession call. As per polls, only a minority of around 40 per cent of Catalans support independence, although a majority want to hold a referendum on the issue.

Catalonia, incidentally, is one of the powerhouses of the Spanish economy, buoyed by industry, research and tourism but burdened with a heavy debt.

Contributing 19 per cent of Spain’s GDP in 2016, Catalonia rivals Madrid for the distinction of being the richest region in the country. It is fourth in terms of GDP per capita with 28,600 euros after Madrid.

Like in Madrid, unemployment is also lower than in the rest of the country: 13.2 per cent in the second quarter of 2017 compared to 17.2 per cent nationally.

Catalonia is a top exporting region and has invested in research, particularly in bioscience — genetics, neurosciences, cell biology — and the sector now represents seven per cent of its GDP.

However, what weighs it down is debt. Catalonia's debt represents 35.4 per cent of its GDP, which made it the third most indebted region in Spain in the second quarter of 2017, after Valencia and Castilla La Mancha.

At the end of June, its debt stood at 76.7 billion euros.

The Spanish government could have done better to highlight the benefits of remaining united instead of just tamely repeating that the referendum was unconstitutional.

The crisis has snowballed into a threat to Spain’s democracy. Violence can never be the way forward. What is called for is earnest and effective political dialogue. Madrid can go for strategic conciliation with Catalonia offering a deal with better powers.

Another smart

initiative by Dubai

For a city to be happy, it has to be smart. And Dubai knows this best.

Vice President, Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s approval of “A Day without Service Centres” initiative is yet another first-of-a-kind and brilliant initiative that would encourage customers to turn to smart channels to obtain government services and complete transactions.

The Dubai Department of Finance (DoF) deserves kudos for launching the initiative and co-ordinating with all government entities in Dubai to close service centres across the emirate for a day, on October 26, 2017.

Abdulrahman Saleh Al Saleh, Director-General of DoF, has well outlined that customer service centres will dedicate their efforts on Oct.26 to spread awareness among customers of the importance of transformation to smart channels to complete transactions, whether via smart apps or the web.

Basically, on Oct.26, service counters at government centres in Dubai will stop receiving customers for the transactions that can be completed via alternative smart channels. However, transactions that require presence in person at the service centres will continue as usual.

One should not forget that Dubai was the first city to launch a “happiness indicator” initiative to measure people’s happiness and satisfaction over the services provided by government departments on a daily basis.

A smart city, as experts highlight, offers a multi-layered eco-system, which provides residents with a smart living experience encompassing aspects such as economy, transport, power, and municipal services.

Dubai’s move will be a trend-setter as completing government transactions via smart channels helps save time, effort and money by eliminating the need to use private or public means of transport and visit crowded roads and service centres.

This, in turn, helps in preserving environmental resources, rationalising fuel consumption, and reducing carbon emissions.

With climate change posing a huge challenge, such initiatives are the need of the hour. Dubai is actually presenting a bold, new path for the rest of the world to embrace.

Dubai residents and visitors should actively take part and promote such programmes by using smart channels more often to complete government transactions, so it becomes part of the day-to-day cultural evolution.

The digital transformation of all aspects of life in Dubai sends an amazing and positive feeling.

Sheikh Mohammed once mentioned: “It’s our job to provide the required facilities and eliminate routine and bureaucracy.”

Dubai’s stupendous world-class facilities vividly prove that such words are followed by deeds.

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