Potential risk of UK social unrest on Saudi investment


Further to my article that appeared in Saudi Gazette on Friday, December 29, 2017, I am reiterating my concern over Saudi investors’ safety in the UK, physically and fiscally.

In that article, focusing on Islamophobia, I alluded to the misleading inaccuracy of the statement given by H.E. The Lord Mayor of London, Mr. Charles Bowman, on the attitude of British society towards cultural and ethnic diversity in the UK. The documented figures I presented leave no doubt that the atmosphere is charged with hostility and hatred towards the Islamic faith and its followers in particular – something that sharply contradicts with the depiction he put in absolute terms of the British society, as being “extremely forbearing, indulgent, tolerant, etc.

Having elaborately set out the physical harm that could be inflicted on Muslims in the UK, I need to emphasize that such acts should not be taken in absolute terms as an inborn attribute of all members of the British society. As is the case in other societies, the said acts are usually committed at the hands of gangsters and eccentric lunatics. The difference that needs to be pointed out is that some officials also are abusing their power to inflict physical and psychological harm unduly in the UK. The system’s policies set in operation in that regard are not an exception either, allowing for such abuse. But that merits a forthcoming separate, elaborate analysis in its own right.

Since Mr. Bowman’s visit to our country involved business undertakings, encouraging Saudi investments in the UK, while totally ignoring potential intricacies generated by risks, it is imperative to shed light on the magnitude of the potential risk that could be triggered by social unrest.

Social/political/legislative risks

Risk associated with the possibility of ..... social changes resulting in a loss of value is called social or political risk.

Types of Investment Risks

Pertinent to our current discussion, the following aspect deserves to be brought into focus:

Political and social unrest increasing risk to businesses

• Public services can be particularly affected by social instability or prolonged industrial action

• While disturbances and rioting are not new risks, it is a changing threat that must be evaluated individually by organizations because of specific vulnerabilities

Dealing with the growing threat of civil unrest

"The tight interplay between economic, political, and societal challenges has stimulated a wide range of threats to business activity ....... Potential flash-points are hard to predict, even when the characteristics of the risk environment are well known .......... Government responses to the scale of societal discontent and civil disturbance are generating new uncertainties ..... Political acceptability has become more important in assessing the feasibility of a major investment or strategy change.

“Companies may more easily find themselves on the wrong side of volatile social, political, and environmental issues.”

Political and social instability

A vivid example is the riot that broke out in London in August 2011. The BBC had this to report:

Saturday 6 August: A crowd protest outside Tottenham police station demanding ‘justice’ for Mark Duggan’s family. Later, two police cars are attacked and set on fire. A bus and shops are also set alight and violence continues into the night. Saturday’s protest march sparked unrest and by the end of the night Tottenham was ablaze, with cars and shops set on fire and looters running free.

“More disturbances took place on Sunday night, but it was on Monday afternoon that they began to escalate. The violence spread first to Hackney, then to Lewisham, Peckham, Woolwich, Ealing, Clapham and then to major cities outside London.

“On Tuesday, an extra 10,000 police meant the streets of London were quieter but rioting and disorder took hold in Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham, Wolverhampton and Liverpool.”

BBC Arabic

It should be a cause of concern to Saudi investors, if the UK government cannot/will not prevent hate crimes causing damage to properties and businesses owned by Muslims.

The seeds of such acts seem to have been sensed as early as 2010, when deliberations took place at the House of Commons by their “Communities and Local Government Committee” addressing the same. Here are some excerpts thereof, which appeared in their report:

House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee Preventing Violent Extremism Sixth Report of Session 2009–10 Report, together with formal minutes, oral and written evidence:

Preventing Violent Extremism

“Since the election of BNP leader Nick Griffin to the European Parliament and his comments to Channel 4 News describing Islam as a ‘cancer’ that needed to be removed from Europe by ‘chemotherapy’, the threats and actions of Far Right extremists against Muslims has rapidly escalated both in frequency and severity. Numerous mosques, Islamic centers and even the Glasgow office of the Islamic Relief office have been subjected to arson attacks. In Loughton, Essex, where the BNP has been advocating a ‘No Mosques in Loughton’ campaign, community leader Noor Ramjanally’s home was torched, his family threatened before he was abducted at knife-point. In South London, there has been a spate of attacks against Muslims outside mosques during Ramadan, one of which resulted in the murder of a 65-year-old man.

“The last six months has seen a growing number of virulently anti-Islam marches and demonstrations organized by Far Right such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Casuals United. The demonstrations, in which fascists have chanted ‘We hate Muslims’ and ‘No more mosques’, have been allowed to proceed in areas with high Muslim populations such as Luton and Birmingham. During a march in Luton, fascists attacked and vandalized the homes, businesses and property of the Muslim population in scenes reminiscent of Mosleys Brownshirts in the 1930s. Rather than crackdown on such blatant fascism, the attitude of the government has been one of silent acquiescence.

The attacks are still taking place, seven years thereafter. The latest recorded example was reported as recently as June 2017:

A Muslim looked on in horror as her car was deliberately set on fire in a hate crime attack. Sidra Naeem, an Islamic adviser for Essex Police and the fire service, said the woman was now afraid to leave her home. ‘Petrol was put under the car and it exploded in front of her eyes,’ she said.”

Evening Standard

The Global Economic Forum’s publication “Global Risks 2015” states very clearly that:

“... the risk of social instability scores high in both the short and long term. This trend towards social fragility is one of five threads that stand out from the 2015 survey ...

“The fragility of societies is of increasing concern, fuelled by underlying economic, societal and environmental developments ... A major driver of social fragility is rising socio-economic inequality within countries.”

World Economic Forum

Another possible source of social unrest is governmental crisis mismanagement. The UK 1980 recession is a vivid example. Here is a report featured in The Telegraph in 2009 diagnosing the defect:

UK recession in 1980

“Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, and the country was buckling under the strain of mass unemployment and an intense class war.

“Mrs. Thatcher and her Chancellor Geoffrey Howe confronted the recession in a very brutal way. Rather that (sic) cut taxes, they raised them, and rather than increase Government spending, they slashed it. In the 1980 Budget, the Chancellor also announced that benefits paid out to the families of people who went on strike would be cut ...

“As the recession’s grip held firm at the beginning of 1981, unemployment neared 3m, manufacturing capacity fell by fifth, and the lifeblood of the British mining community ebbed away. Discontent was rife, and culminated in urban riots in the summer of that year.

The Telegraph

Finally, this article and the ones to follow are meant to convey a sincere message to investors from Saudi Arabia, my countrymen, who might not be aware of the facts set out therein.

Therefore, its essence could unequivocally be summarized as follows: unless the British platform gets tidied up and becomes ready and safe for huge investment, Saudis could be navigating the choppy waters of social unrest and temperamental sentiment of some sectors of the British society. Governmental lack of robust plans to rectify the defects by uprooting their original aetiology could mean that the Saudis, among other investors, would definitely be sailing blindly.

Dr. Amin Kashmeery

The author is Emeritus Professor of Physiology, and Former Head of Bioethics Section at King Saud Bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences, Jeddah/Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He can be contacted at: oxforefo@yahoo.com