Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Monday, 29 August 2011

Libya and Egypt: regime versus leadership change

Almost without exception, Arab summers are hot: temperatures above forty degrees normal. However, summer 2011 may go down as one of the region's hottest seasons irrespective of mercury readings. Several Arab countries still feel the heat of popular revolt.
Libya's Tripoli is all but conquered. Gaddafi and his sons remain at large but his leadership's achievements are material for history books. Syria's Baath party might soon go the way of Saddam's Iraqi Baathist regime. Much depends on how Western powers view the benefits of a stable Syria under Assad versus the dangers of an unstable 'democracy' such as 'new' Iraq or 'new' Egypt.
Oil rich Gulf Arab states, especially Bahrain, may have seen off the worst of the unrest a few months ago. Nevertheless, despite the Gulf Cooperation Council nation's massive oil wealth, a perpetual nervousness haunts the conservative monarchies. Amongst other things, the spectre of Shia unrest stirred by nearby Iran gives Sunni rulers sleepless nights.
Morocco and Jordan may seem like peripheral nations within the Arab world so the media pays scant attention to them. In both countries, trouble is never more than one royal political misstep away. Remember, Tunisia too was a small and unimportant Arab nation until a street vendor decided enough was enough and committed suicide through self-immolation.
Clearly, the Arab world is in a transitory period.
It might be social media, a globalized world, a population bulge or simply a passing of the leadership baton to a younger generation. Most likely, the travails are a combination of all four and then some more.
So far, change within the Arab world has been of two types: cosmetic changes of 'personalities' and more revolutionary 'regime change.'
To varying degrees, Egypt and Tunisia continue to operate within the power structures created by the Mubarak and Ben Ali regimes. The configuration of power has not altered substantially. Only the personalities dispensing the power have changed. The operating freedoms of the new rulers are circumscribed by the frameworks of the 'old' systems – frameworks enforced by the military establishments in both nations.
Tunisia's Office of Merchant Marine and Ports with a portrait of ex-President Ben Ali
Iraq and Libya fall into the former category. Both nations have undergone revolutionary changes to their political systems. Institutions (and much physical infrastructure) created by previous rulers, Saddam Hussain and Muammar Gaddafi, was demolished and replaced by new political infrastructures.
Progress cannot occur without change. Hence, changes in the Arab world must be welcomed. Nonetheless, revolutions are disruptive and outcomes uncertain so are better avoided, if possible. Yet, history teaches that few regimes voluntarily relinquish power. At least for now, the bubbling uncertainty in most parts of the Arab world will continue.
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors, Imran improves the profitability of small and medium sized businesses. He can be reached at

Monday, 22 August 2011

Charity, MUIS and being a Pakistani-Malay-Indian Singaporean

It is not often I am contacted by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS). When MUIS does contact me it is almost certainly about donations.
Admittedly, I am not MUIS' best patron. I already contest MUIS' stake on my assets through Singapore's Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA) as an unfair claim. I do not like the idea of MUIS forcibly determining the disposition of my assets following my death.
It is the holy month of fasting, or Ramzan, for Muslims. Zakat is often paid by Muslims during the holy month. Hence, it is no surprise that MUIS chose this month to inform me of my obligations towards the less privileged.
A wooden Tatar mosque in Kruszyniany, Northeast Poland
I was urged to pay zakat to MUIS so the funds may be used for the welfare of Singapore's Malay-Muslim community.
Zakat is one of Islam's five pillars or one of Islam's five 'non-negotiable absolutes.' Zakat requires all Muslims to annually donate 2.5 percent of net worth to charity. Surely, that is a simplification of the concept of zakat but the purpose is clear: a community's less well off must be supported by the larger community.
Charity is good and must be encouraged. Giving has its own rewards. Altruism's 'feel good' factor cannot easily be replicated by other activities. Nevertheless, there are a few principles about charity which guide my modest giving. These principles might be better referred to as 'priorities.'
Our first obligation is to help those near to us. Think of the Confucian ideal of 'filial piety.' Giving to support parents and family must precede donations for earthquake relief, cancer research, advancement of particular religious beliefs, etc. Of course, this ideal refers not simply to blood relatives but all persons who are a significant part of our life. 
Bronze statue of man carrying his aged mother up some steps at a shrine (Tokyo, Japan)
Next is an obligation to the immediate community. 'Buying' tissues or food from an elderly or disabled person who maintains a 'stall' near my building is more meaningful than writing a check to an established institutional charity.
It is only after community and family responsibilities are met that one may start apportioning money to other causes, e.g. animal welfare, disaster relief, etc.
But let's head back to MUIS and its solicitation of zakat funds. There are some MUIS specific ideas which are pertinent to me.
I am not Malay by ethnicity. Nor do I speak Malay. In fact, under Singapore law persons of Pakistani origin are legally classified 'Indian,' requiring monthly mandatory payments to the Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA). I may voluntarily give zakat to MUIS but SINDA benefits from my legal classification.
My Housing and Development Board ethnic quota is 'Others' (not Malay) but I am subject to Singapore's Islamic law (AMLA) – legislation designed to fit into Malay religious and cultural traditions.
Being a cynic, I am convinced that were I ever to approach MUIS for assistance, I would politely be sent packing towards SINDA.
I am not a Tamil Indian. Nor do I speak Tamil. Consequently, I will most likely face similar problems convincing SINDA to assist me, especially once SINDA realizes I am Muslim (not difficult given my name).
I imagine there will be a few bouts of 'shuttle diplomacy' between SINDA and MUIS until a senior bureaucrat in some government ministry decides that being categorized Indian or Malay is not as important as being Singaporean, regardless of ethnicity.
Giving is one the easiest and most noble of acts. It is important to give. However, giving without thinking considerably reduces the impact of our efforts.
Nevertheless, giving trumps not giving on any day of the year.
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors, Imran improves the profitability of small and medium sized businesses. He can be reached at

Monday, 15 August 2011

London’s burning: England’s riots ‘a conspiracy hatched in Pakistan’s tribal areas’

Most thought the recent riots in England were simple riots involving hooligans. However, in a bizarre twist to a constantly unfolding plot an 'Al-Qaeeda' connection has been uncovered. British intelligence, in a dossier delivered to the cabinet's COBRA security committee, devoted much time to the theory that the rioting was not spontaneous but rather a part of a sophisticated Islamist conspiracy hatched overseas.
One British intelligence official had this to say of the situation: "This is a game changer. Islamic militants have upped their game several notches and are deliberately employing non-Muslims to indulge in anti-social behaviour."  The official went on to add, "Although the new strategy reflects our success in battling traditional forms of Islamic terrorism, Al-Qaeeda and its affiliates have reinvented themselves by utilizing such unconventional means." 
The report suggests that Mark Duggan's death was part of a complicated Al-Qaeeda plot intended to destabilize Britain. Mark Duggan's death, allegedly at the hands of London police, sparked the rioting which engulfed several British cities last week.
Intelligence sources indicate the report was compiled with assistance from CIA agents responsible for tracking Al-Qaeeda's deep undercover 'sleeper' cells in Europe. Investigators are also working to uncover links between 'English gang leaders' and Egyptian Islamist leaders actively involved in overthrowing Mubarak's regime.
An MI5 representative, the British government agency responsible for counterintelligence, informed prime minister Cameron that the diversity of rioters was a deliberate plan by militants to 'throw the scent' away from Islamists themselves. Non-Muslims were the main instigators of violence for the same purpose of gaining 'plausible deniability' for Islamic radicals.
Apparently, the mass of English rioters were 'incubated' over years, sometimes decades, by Islamist radicals operating through a chain of safe houses. European security analysts believe Islamist safe houses, including fully fledged madrassas, exist throughout the British Isles and mainland Europe. Such Islamist safe houses are concentrated mainly in urban areas with large Muslim populations, including in France and Germany.  
Training methods employed by the Islamist cells are often so advanced it is difficult for agents to ascertain whether they are extreme right wing nationalist cells or Islamist cells bent on imposing sharia in Britain. Though the cells are staffed mostly by non-Muslim males, sources suggest cell handlers receive orders from leaders based in Pakistan's tribal areas. 
Unnamed sources informed the Grand Moofti that the immediate use of military force against Islamist safe houses, especially in parts of East London, Bradford and Birmingham was discussed by the cabinet's COBRA committee. However, upon advice from the military's top brass, it was decided to postpone any military action until Special Forces troops with relevant experience in Afghanistan return to Britain later in the year.
Instead, an alternate proposal to redeploy units of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) from Northern Ireland to England is being actively considered. The RUC's extensive experience in dealing with urban violence sponsored by religiously inspired terrorist cells makes them ideal for the current situation in England.
Muslim activists are alarmed at the allegations linking Islam to the violence. In a public statement, the Muslim Council of Britain stated that "all lawbreakers and miscreants, irrespective of religious affiliation, must feel the full force of the law. This is not a time to further divide the nation. We are all Britons first."
Social activists dismiss the government's claims of an Al-Qaeeda hand in the recent unrest. These activists place the blame squarely upon the creation of an 'underclass' following decades of unbridled 'Thatcherism' within the country. Social activists demand the establishment of a judicial commission to study the 'real' causes of violence. Additionally, they believe the commission should have adequate power to reverse 'harmful and unjust' social policies implemented by successive governments'.
Undeniably, Britain is at a crossroads. The nation's future as an adjunct leader of the Free World is at stake. Britain's leadership sounded a defiant note.
"The future of western civilization is at stake. This is not a battle we can walk away from. Our successes in Iraq and Afghanistan tell us we will succeed right here at home. My government must and will bring to light any and all Al-Qaeeda efforts to disrupt British society. Clearly, Al-Qaeeda has adapted to the new security environment and so must British society," said the Prime Minister in a prepared statement to parliament.
N.B. The above article is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Singapore's GIC portfolio - measuring returns

The following letter was sent to the Straits Times Forum on July 31. As of August 8, the letter has not been published.  
To the Editor:
Singaporeans welcome GIC's recent announcement to reveal additional information by providing five and ten year annual rates of return on its portfolio.
Based on published reports, it seems that GIC's portfolio information is reported to the media in US Dollars. Certainly, information on GIC portfolio returns for the period ended March 31, 2011 recently published by the media utilize US Dollars as the measurement currency.
GIC is a Singaporean entity. Singaporean businesses typically account for revenues and expenses in Singapore Dollars. Naturally, Singaporeans also measure investment returns in Singapore Dollars. Hence, it is unusual that GIC publicizes investment performance only in US Dollar terms.
In a world where exchange rate movements can add or subtract significantly from investment performance, GIC and the media should report portfolio analytics measured in Singapore Dollars. For Singaporeans, investment returns are more meaningful if reported in Singapore's national currency.
Imran Ahmed


Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors, Imran improves the profitability of small and medium sized businesses. He can be reached at

Monday, 1 August 2011