Arabian Business Weekly Update May 22, 2005

The historic events in Kuwait could have an impact across the Gulf region. LET no-one underestimate the importance of the events in the Kuwaiti Parliament last week. The decision to grant women the right to vote is a victory for democracy, a victory for Kuwait, and a giant step forward in the battle for freedom and popular participation. It is a historical milestone that could — and should — impact upon the Arab world for decades to come.

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By  Anil Bhoyrul Published  May 22, 2005

Arab women are on the march|~||~||~|The historic events in Kuwait could have an impact across the Gulf region. LET no-one underestimate the importance of the events in the Kuwaiti Parliament last week. The decision to grant women the right to vote is a victory for democracy, a victory for Kuwait, and a giant step forward in the battle for freedom and popular participation. It is a historical milestone that could — and should — impact upon the Arab world for decades to come. Firstly, all Kuwaitis and women across the world must pay tribute to Rola Dashti. The struggle for women's rights has been on-going in Kuwait since the late 1960s, but received new impetus in 1992 when Dashti herself joined the cause. After 13 long and often painful years, she has finally achieved what appeared impossible only months ago. The 40-year-old economist deserves recognition and applause at the highest level and the signs are that change is coming elsewhere. Kuwaiti women have joined their democratic female counterparts in Qatar, Bahrain, Oman — and absolutely nowhere else in the Arabian Gulf. But for how much longer remains to be seen. In the UAE, women are now openly calling for electoral rights through the media. The Egyptian pro-democratic movement is on the march, with women's rights at the top of the agenda. Saudi Arabia cannot expect the world to take its recent men-only municipal elections seriously when women are not even granted basic rights such as being allowed to drive. Undoubtedly, Dashti and her followers have more battles to come. The Arab world is not short of women with great talent: take Jordan's Queen Rania, the UAE's Sheikha Lubna Al Qasami and Saudi's Lubna Olayan. But they must now be given the respect and equality they deserve. ||**||Coleman humiliated|~||~||~|There could have been no greater public humiliation of a US senator in decades than that received by Norm Coleman at the hands of British MP George Galloway last week. Whatever you think of Galloway, nobody can deny that he gave Coleman — chairman of the Republican committee investigating the Iraq Oil for Food scandal — a battering. Galloway tore apart the allegations made by Coleman against him, and made the investigation seem akin to the Joe McCarthy anti-communist witchhunt 50 years ago. Coleman’s problem is that, according to the US Treasury itself, 52% of the kickbacks Saddam received came from US companies. The purge against Galloway has backfired on the US senate, and in spectacular style. ||**||Flying over the Hill|~||~||~|This week we feature an interview with Peter Hill, CEO of SriLankan Airlines. Hill deserves much praise: SriLankan last year saw a near doubling of profits to US$44 million. Passenger numbers are up 14.3% to 2.06 million, and the fleet is now 17 strong. All this without a penny of subsidies from the Sri Lankan government. As Hill tells us, this is unlike Etihad Airways. Started less than two years ago, it serves 16 routes, and is on a fast track expansion programme. This is thanks largely to a near US$500 million investment from its Abu Dhabi government owners. Sharjah's Air Arabia is also growing fast, thanks to a helping financial hand from the Sharjah government. Given the unfair advantage his competitors have over him, it is a miracle Hill is still in business, let alone in profit. ||**||

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