Wednesday, April 10, 2013

10-Apr-13: "I cannot help but cry out long live the descendants of apes and pigs"

[Image Source]
From Arabian Business this week:
Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud, the Arab world’s wealthiest individual with an estimated fortune of $25.9bn, is the rumoured buyer of the planet’s largest superyacht. The recently launched Azzam cost $609m... Few details have been released about Azzam’s interior, other than it will require a crew of about 50 and will be delivered to its owner later in 2013... The UK’s Daily Mail tabloid reported that Azzam had been paid for by Prince Alwaleed, a prominent investor and member of the Saudi Arabian royal family. Alwaleed’s Riyadh-based firm, Kingdom Holding, owns stakes businesses including Citigroup and Twitter. If Alwaleed were to be revealed as the yacht’s buyer, Azzam would be the latest in an impressive list of high profile assets that includes a Boeing 747-400, for which he paid about $220m for. The Kingdom Holding chairman also confirmed earlier this year he had sold an A380 double-decker (airliner), valued at about $319m. A spokesperson for Alwaleed did not respond to Arabian Business’s query regarding his possible purchase of Azzam.
It's beyond the scope of a simple and relatively-focused blog like ours to give people advice on what to do with their money. But seeing a man spend $600+ Million on a recreational vehicle (the name Azzam means very determined, resolute) gets you thinking about what kinds of things money like that could do.

Think for instance of the hospitals, vaccination programs, educational facilities for girls and women, and water purification projects that could turn people's difficult lives completely around.

Alwaleed of Saudi Arabia is a clever fellow. He surely knows what we just said. You would have to assume that such a public figure, in deciding to drop more than half a billion on a bauble, assumes the purchase is not going to hold him back in life but on the contrary - advance him, and raise his standing in the community that matters to him. This quote, also from Arabian Business, would seem to support that thought:
“The Middle East continues to lead demand in the global superyacht market,” said Mohammed Hussain Al Shaali, chairman of Gulf Craft. “We are very optimistic about this region as more people are finding their way to the water." 
(We know that finding their way to the water is a powerful and urgent motif in Arab public discourse.)

In other words, it's an action that lends itself to interpretation - one that throws light on the values of the society in which he moves.

A recent column in the Egyptian daily Al-Watan ("Motherland") takes an unexpectedly robust look at the way people use their wealth.

It's a theme that surely resonates throughout the oil-soaked parts of the Arab world, given the stark contrast between Arab haves and Arab have-nots. But for us non-Arabic-savvy news readers, it's one that rarely gets much attention. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), an active not-for-profit that has been shining a light since 1998 on what the Arabic-speaking world is saying to its own people, published a translation of the column this week. It originally appeared a month ago.

In it, Khalid Muntasir - said to be a secular commentator ("known for his polemical writings against Islamism" according to this 2008 book) - takes a scornful look at Islamist super-piety and racism, contrasting it with... ah, let's quote him rather than paraphrasing:
  • "The founders of Facebook and Google and the Russian billionaire [Yuri Milner] are the ones who truly love life, change it for the better, and have passion for freedom and creativity. They respect [true] scholars, as opposed to those whom we call scholars merely because they memorized 100 old books and can recite them without interpreting or even understanding them – scholars that could be replaced by a single DVD containing these books, which  can be read at the stroke of a key on a keyboard costing less than $1. These emperors of the internet founded an organization that awards the world's biggest prize without any preconditions of age, faith or gender, and with no limit on the number of times you can win.
  • "When the Jewish internet and social network magnates get together, put aside their competition and unite to declare a $33-million grant for medical research on incurable diseases that prolongs human life, I cannot help but cry out 'long live the descendants of apes and pigs,' as they were described by [Egyptian President] Dr. [Muhammad] Mursi and his [Muslim Brotherhood] movement.
  • "On the other hand, those who detonate bombs in the midst of the innocent, murder tourists and eviscerate them, assassinate politicians, thinkers and intellectuals, and accuse others of being infidels can go to hell, where they can continue indulging their sick taste for violence and blood.
  • "As I read the article on this organization, I also happened to watch a video sent to me by one of my friends, in which an important [Muslim] speaker lectured on the benefits of having a beard in treating impotence, and [explained] how the beard gives the man virility and strength. I closed the article, shut off the computer, sighed and said: It's no use. Free us [of your discussions] on whether it is permissible to eat the flesh of demons, whether a woman can disrobe in front of a male dog, and on treatments using camel urine, fennel flower, bee stings, etc. 
  • "The voice of the sheikh in the neighboring mosque rose and echoed as he cursed the Jews, the descendants of apes and pigs, [wishing] that they would scatter in every direction and that their wives become widows and their children orphans, while the worshipers rejoiced in the mighty victory..."
  • "By God! Who is more conscionable, moral, and loves life and his fellow man? Is it these three Jews who contribute to science, health, happiness and the improvement of life, or [Al-Qaeda leaders] bin Laden, Al-Zawahiri and Al-Zarqawi, [Taliban leader] Mullah 'Omar, and those who display their pictures, kiss them, memorize their ideas and adopt them? Who does more good to humanity and the world, and even to Muslims..?
The grant-giving organization to which he refers is
The Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences... founded by Art Levinson, Sergey Brin, Anne Wojcicki, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, and Yuri Milner to recognize excellence in research aimed at curing intractable diseases and extending human life... who collectively have agreed to establish 5 annual prizes, US$3 million each, going forward. These prizes will be awarded for past achievements in the field of life sciences, with the aim of providing the recipients with more freedom and opportunity to pursue even greater future accomplishments [more]
People who read the kind of posts we write here are unlikely to have difficulty accepting the cogency of Dr Khalid Muntasir's case. But life, as we have learned, works quite differently from the logic he represents. We're unfortunately not in a good position to know what impact his recent Al-Watan column had on its readers. We suspect his is not exactly a household name in Egypt. By contrast, the 'resolute' and 'determined' man who evidently spent hundreds of millions of dollars on an ultra-luxury boat is at the top of the "annual countdown of the world’s most influential Arabs" (see "The world's most powerful Arab").

It's trite to say that determination, influence and economic power can do a lot to benefit mankind across ethnic, religious and every other kind of boundary. Maybe it's harder to see that when you're sailing the seas on the deck of a vessel of "innovative and timeless design... providing luxurious and sophisticated accommodation". But it's true all the same - a question of values.

1 comment:

S H Cohen said...

This has importance...many of the Saudi princes have palaces worth a billion dollars apiece...how many Saudi princes are there...these people could have helped settle the Palestinian refugee problem a very long time ago...instead of allowing it to fester and become intractable...makes me grumpy...
S H Cohen