Breakfast Wrap: Gulf Arms Sales, James Bond’s Villain, Fire EFG CEOs?

The ugly military power of the Gulf, including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain was exposed during the “Arab Spring”.

It wasn’t a huge surprise that this oil-rich area was well-equipped with arms, but it did show that “it is presidents and colonels, not kings and princes, who have proven most vulnerable to social upheaval,” a note from Foreign Policy Research Institute sums up.

This subject, worth a post of its own, is one worth keeping an eye on if only for the United States’ (and the United Kingdom in some cases) involvement in supporting these autocracies for their own benefit.

Just two days ago Boeing Co secured a contract valued at $4 billion to modernize the Royal Saudi Arabian Air Force’s fighter jet fleet

The work, which will be done at the Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, offers a glimpse into the long-standing ties between the US and Saudi Arabia.

And with most deals, it’s win-win.  For the US, Saudi Arabia’s military power helps protect it against Iran, while for Saudi it is about maintaining rule.

Saudi Arabia used F-15s and Apache helicopters in late 2009 to fight Muslim Shiite rebels who crossed the border from Yemen and seized territory inside the kingdom.

Despite sporadic demonstrations, little opposition has mobilised against ruling families in the Gulf, aside from Bahrain, where the threat to monarchical rule was countered with local security forces helped by the Gulf Cooperation Council troops.

Order is maintained, for now.

 

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Finally some real work on energy subsidy reform from Egypt.  The North African nation Egypt has taken a first step to getting expensive energy subsidies under control, a key component of an economic reform programme the cash-strapped government is presenting to the IMF to obtain a loan, Reuters reported.

The cabinet received on Thursday the preliminary results of a pilot programme to use ration cards to distribute cooking gas to the needy instead of selling it on demand, Petroleum Minister Osama Kamal is quoted as saying.

The government spent 96 billion Egyptian pounds, or 20% of all expenditure, on subsidising petroleum products, including cooking gas, in the financial year that ended on June 30.

The ration system, where gas cylinders are only given out to those with the correct cards, has only been tested in four governorates (there are just under 30), but a start is better than nothing.

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Egyptian investment bank EFG Hermes aims to expand into Turkey, Iraq and Libya and plans to grow its asset management arm by 50% after the completion of its joint venture with Qatar’s QInvest, it said on Friday.

Ok, the ambitions sound reasonable enough, especially considering EFG Hermes is one of just a handful of investment banks that is plying to become more of a regional power.

However there is a big glitch to this plan.  EFG’s top two chief executives, Yasser El Mallawany and Hassan Heikal are currently under investigation for alleged insider trading.  The controversial case, which also implicates the once untouchable Mubarak sons, has been dragging on since the beginning of this year.

In a post-revolutionary climate, where transparency and accountability are King, will EFG’s reputation hold up, even with Qatar’s influence?

Perhaps it’s time to let go of the weakest link? Yes, EFG has so far protected Heikal and El Mallawany, but the damage has been done and the bank is effectively being taken over by the Qatari firm.  There’s nothing to it now but to fire the CEOs. 

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The latest James Bond blockbuster has the villain, not as a giant with metal teeth, or a Japanese man adept at throwing a steel-rimmed bowler hat, but as a super cyber hacker.

This is today’s national security risk and the US and some countries in the Middle East have become the main targets.

The National’s Tony Glover sets out the US defence secretary’s main fears and new strategy against cyber crime.  Leon Panetta, has warned that America is facing the prospect of a highly targeted and orchestrated attack by adversaries of the United States, which officials identified as China, Russia, Iran and militant groups.

Mr Panetta outlined a nightmare scenario in which the US suffers a string of disasters such as derailed passenger trains loaded with lethal chemicals, simultaneous contamination of the water supply in major cities and a shutdown of the power grid across large parts of the country.




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