Arabian Business Weekly Update June 5, 2005

The arrest of a webmaster has done untold damage to Bahrain. BAHRAIN is doing its best to promote itself as a major international financial centre. A place where investors can work, live and do business. A place with progressive views on freedom of speech and expression. Until February, it was doing a pretty good job. However, the arrest of Ali Abdulemam on charges of using the internet to criticise the government has set Bahrain back several years. The charges against him are absurd, and worse still, they have made Bahrain's own attempts to join the international financial and technological community seem even more so.

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By  Anil Bhoyrul Published  June 5, 2005

Bahrain takes a step back in time|~||~||~| The arrest of a webmaster has done untold damage to Bahrain. BAHRAIN is doing its best to promote itself as a major international financial centre. A place where investors can work, live and do business. A place with progressive views on freedom of speech and expression. Until February, it was doing a pretty good job. However, the arrest of Ali Abdulemam on charges of using the internet to criticise the government has set Bahrain back several years. The charges against him are absurd, and worse still, they have made Bahrain's own attempts to join the international financial and technological community seem even more so. This week, on page 56, we feature an exclusive interview with Abdulemam, and this magazine will in the coming weeks be strongly campaigning on his behalf. The facts of the case are straightforward: Six years ago he launched Bahrainonline.org, an internet discussion forum. When articles were posted on the site which were critical of the Bahrain government, police stormed his house and threw him in jail. Now free on bail, he faces 10 years imprisonment. All this from a government that only last month invited the world's press to salute its efforts in e-government. All this from a country that has 20% internet penetration, one of the highest in the Arab world. All this from a government that is luring foreign companies to establish themselves in the Bahrain Financial Harbour. Cases like Abdulemam’s highlight the fact that the November 2002 law on press freedom is now seriously out of date and needs urgent redrafting. It also highlights the fact that for all its public posturing, Bahrain's rulers have proved incapable of adapting to change. Until the charges against him are dropped, investors may think twice before doing business in Bahrain. ||**||Japan shows the way|~||~||~|Last week we featured an interview with Iraq's foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari, in which he detailed how fellow Arab nations have not been forthcoming with financial aid. Indeed, of the 50 foreign ambassadors now stationed in Baghdad, not a single one is from the Arab world. Maybe they should take a leaf out of Japan's book. In 2003, Japan pledged US$1.5 billion to help rebuild Iraq. It has made good on the promise. Earlier this week, Japan signed off another US$118 million in aid, which will go directly towards building a much-needed new power station in Samawa, in the south of Iraq. The project will come as a huge relief to thousands of people in Samawa, who remain — as many other Iraqis do — in dire need of electricity and clean water. Even the US has still to send the bulk of the aid it promised, with most of the cash still stuck in Congress. Japan deserves every praise. ||**||Let the battle commence|~||~||~|The Middle East is set to become the staging ground for a major battle in the luxury car market. Last week Rolls Royce chairman Ian Robertson was in Dubai, outlining his ambitious plans for 15% of the company's sales to come from this region. With plans for a new “baby" Rolls Royce, he has a chance of succeeding. This week, his arch rival, Bentley boss Geoff Dowding, has been following in his footsteps, revealing plans for the region to account for over 6% of the company's global sales. With the launch of the brilliant Flying Spur, he too has a good chance of success. But the real winner is the Middle East car industry. The sight of two of the world's most famous luxury car makers fighting it out in the desert is mouth-watering. Let the battle commence. (PS: my money is on Bentley). ||**||

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