Do you know that the UAE (United Arab Emirates) is the third-richest country in the world, behind Qatar and Luxembourg? Contrary to popular belief that Saudi Arabia was the richest Gulf state in the Middle East, it’s actually Qatar and the UAE that is wealthier. While Saudi has tonnes of oil, Qatar is the world’s biggest liquefied natural gas exporter. The UAE, meanwhile, has a different story.
In fact, oil production contributed less than 1% of Dubai’s economy. Hence, while Abu Dhabi is quieter and boring, serving as the governmental centre and the capital of the UAE, all the excitements can be found in Dubai – the major international hub for business and tourism. So, what actually makes Dubai so rich, famous and often regarded as the Middle East’s premier entrepot?
One of the reasons Dubai becomes a city of skyscrapers, ports and beaches where serious business takes place alongside sun-seeking tourism is because it adopts liberalism. The UAE is in fact one of the most liberal countries in the Gulf, with other cultures and beliefs tolerated. Without economic liberalism, there would not be night clubs, discos, and other late-night entertainments.
Like it or not, without a very tolerant emirate that respects the needs of non-Muslims, expatriates and foreign investors would not choose to live and work in Dubai, which in turn would not have transformed the emirate to what it is today. That is exactly what Saudi Arabia’s “liberal” Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman wanted to duplicate – an economically and socially liberal NEOM City.
Do you also know that many Dubai hotels, restaurants and bars serve pork and alcohol? Unlike Malaysian Muslims, somehow the 10 million Muslims in the UAE know how to read “pork” being served in hotels and restaurants, and they would happily ignore the forbidden meat. It would have been Armageddon and racial riots if pork is served in Malaysian hotels.
And unlike Malaysia, which is getting more radical, extremist and racist, the UAE has been getting more tolerant at creating a model of religious coexistence. Dubai actually declared 2019 as the year of tolerance. It’s mind-boggling that a conservative UAE recognizes the importance of tolerance, while a multiracial Malaysia promotes racist hatred, xenophobia, religious intolerance and all forms of bigotry.
After the award-winning “Timah Whisky” fiasco, the government of Ismail Sabri has banned the sales of alcohol in sundry shops, grocery stalls and even Chinese medicine outlets in Kuala Lumpur. Now, Malaysia’s northern Kedah state, governed by extremist Islamist party PAS, has taken another drastic step to deny – and destroy completely – non-Muslims’ rights by banning licensed gambling.
The Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) announced that it would not renew licences for gambling operators, in addition to outlaw the sale of alcohol in the state. Kedah’s notorious Chief Minister, Muhammed Sanusi, who had previously mocked and insulted the Indians (calling them “drunk on toddy”) and demolished Hindu temples, said gamblers eager to buy lottery tickets can go to neighbouring state Penang.
Sanusi was the same despicable Muslim who had threatened to cut the water supply from Kedah to Penang, unless he is paid RM50 million annually. The ban on alcohol and 4D lottery numbers are clear interference and encroachment of non-Muslim rights in the country. The Chinese business owners were merely selling the products to the Chinese community, not to the Muslims.
Like Timah Whisky, which had nothing to do with Prophet Muhammad’s daughter as claimed, the sales of alcohol and lottery tickets too had nothing to do with Malay Muslims in the country. In fact, Muslims are not allowed to buy alcohol or lottery. But instead of sending authorities to enforce the rules, PAS chose to Talibanize the country with a blanket ban on everyone.
The ban on alcohol and gambling, even though both activities were meant only for non-Muslims, provides the best proof why even the non-Muslims were rejecting the Hudud Law. Previously, PAS supporters had questioned why the non-Muslims interfered in the introduction of the ancient hudud law, which they argued was meant for Muslims only.
By the same token, exactly why the Muslims are interfering in the introduction of Timah Whisky, beer, wine and lottery, all of which are meant for non-Muslims only? The reason why non-Muslims rejected Hudud Law was because they knew it would somehow affect the non-Muslims, as can be seen today when Kedah forcefully subject non-Muslim activities to moral policing.
If PAS extremists can argue now that the move to ban alcohol or gambling among the Chinese and Indians was intended to tackle social ills such as the collapse of family institutions, what is there to stop them from using the same twisted logic to argue that the Hudud Law must also be applied on non-Muslims to tackle crimes – amputations and stoning must be fairly used on everyone.
Before some gullible Malay Muslims cheered for the PAS extremists, they should know that the hudud law, if implemented, would be tainted with double standards. If the Malay elites did not care – even deliberately breaks – the Covid-19 health SOP as simple as mask wearing or quarantine, do you really think they would allow their hands to be chopped when found stealing?
The most disturbing part was the silence from PAS’ partners-in-crime, namely UMNO (the dominant leader of Barisan Nasional coalition) and Bersatu (the de-facto leader of Perikatan Nasional coalition). The Islamist party is an ally of both United Malays National Organization (UMNO) and the Malaysian United Indigenous Party (PPBM / Bersatu).
Crucially, the silence from UMNO and Bersatu have provided an impression that the current Sabri administration has given its seal of approval in the suppression and oppression of minorities’ rights. Dangerously, however, this will raise the red flags among foreign investors and even domestic investors. No investor in their right mind will pump money into a country that deteriorates to become another Taliban regime.
It seems that after the collapse of the previous backdoor government of Muhyiddin, the current lame duck PM Sabri is equally clueless and incompetent about the prospect of more investors fleeing the country. Hyundai had closed its Asia Pacific regional headquarters in Malaysia and relocated to Indonesia, after splashing US$1.55 billion (RM6.26 billion) in a new factory there.
IBM had closed down its Global Delivery Centre (GDC) in Cyberjaya and relocated to Singapore. Shell moved its IT operations from Cyberjaya to India. Citigroup exited retail banking in Malaysia, where Citi has been in for more than six decades, and shifted to Singapore. German IT company T-Systems sold its business in Malaysia and quit the country.
Instead of Malaysia, Toyota Motor Corp invested US$2 billion to develop EVs (electric vehicles) in Indonesia from 2019 until 2023 starting with hybrid vehicles. Likewise, Tesla and SpaceX boss Elon Musk has agreed to explore investment opportunities in the electric car battery – and even space launch station – in Indonesia following a talk with President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.
Facebook, Lazada, Tencent, ByteDance, Alibaba are some of the big names that have made Singapore as its regional hub, strategic location or data centre hub, leaving Malaysia behind. Indonesia, the Southeast Asia’s largest digital market, has attracted investments from four American tech giants – Google, Microsoft, Facebook and PayPal.
Zoom Video Communications has chosen Singapore over Malaysia for their first R&D center and new data centre in the region. To make matters worse, Google and Facebook had bypassed Malaysia for the Apricot 12,000-km internet subsea cable project due to the unresolved cabotage policy because the corrupt transport minister and his cronies wanted “a cut” from the project.
But foreign investors were not the only one who has fled the country. Years before Malaysian internet entrepreneur Anthony Tan and Tan Hooi Ling founded Grab (originally called MyTeksi) and moved its head office to Singapore, “Sugar King” Robert Kuok and gaming giant Genting Berhad had moved their business head office to Hong Kong and Singapore respectively.
It was already bad that MNCs (multinational corporations) were avoiding Malaysia with a 10-foot pole not only because of political instability, but also the increasing lack of talents as a result of 60 years of “Ketuanan Melayu”, an ideology of Malay supremacy espoused by UMNO which saw brain drain in the form of hundreds of thousands of technical skills went through a large scale migration to other countries.
It becomes worse when the NEP (New Economic Policy), a discrimination and racist policy derived from “Ketuanan Melayu”, is quietly being upgraded by greedy and parasite Malay elites to rob the businesses belonging to minorities Chinese and Indian – from 30% to 51% stake – under the pretext that the Malays or Bumiputeras were still poor and needed to be given equities without lifting a finger.
By forcing non-Malays to give up 51% of their business, it simply means the owners (mostly Chinese), who have been working very hard for decades building their businesses, can no longer control and run their companies. This is like surrendering 51% of your properties and treasures to the pirates, and at the same time making the pirates your new boss, who knows nuts about business.
The only way out for non-Bumiputera business owners is to relocate to Singapore, Indonesia or Australia, making their businesses as foreign companies which can be 100% owned. The Bumiputera just wanted a free ride without the hard work. Their appetite, however, has grown to demanding 51% controlling stake, without realizing they are slaughtering the goose that lays the golden eggs.
But just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, all the shortsighted corrupt and racist UMNO and Bersatu Malay leaders encourage PAS Islamist extremists to go one step further by interfering with the non-Malay rights. It’s not rocket science that with the ban on alcohol and licensed gambling, the demands will see the emergence of black market.
Black market or underground operators do not pay taxes for obvious reason, and so do employees employed by them. Just look at how the state of Kelantan is being managed under PAS administration and you can see how social ills – AIDS, child marriage, baby dumping, incest, rapes, sodomies, drugs and whatnot – will flourish instead.
The simple fact that the government has imposed “Prosperity Tax (Cukai Makmur)” of 33% (up from 24%) on companies’ earnings above RM100 million – leading to the crash of the local stock market – was the clearest sign that the country is running out of money. Worse, it sends a message that the desperate and incompetent government will do anything to raise money through taxes.
Yet, the UMNO, PAS and Bersatu morons wanted to make life more difficult – socially and economically – for the minorities, especially the ethnic Chinese who pay 90% of national income tax. Who is Malaysia to play God and imposed its racist and extremist rules on its own citizens, when the much wealthier UAE was humble enough to embrace economic liberalism?
More importantly, the radical path towards extremism and racist hatred will spook investors, both domestic and foreign – of threats to economic liberalism which ensures individual liberty, equality, pluralism and tolerance. There’s no guarantee how far the PAS extremists will go after Kedah’s stunt. One thing is sure – it has made the country more extreme, radical and hostile to the business community.