Saudi Arabia’s G20 summit

Photo by Ishan @seefromthesky on Unsplash

By Louisa Campbell

Baroness Helena Kennedy of the House of Lords has called on global nations to shun the G20 summit hosted by Saudi Arabia unless jailed women’s rights activists are released. Kennedy declared that these women’s advocacy for human rights “is seen as an afront to the power structures in Saudi Arabia”.

The spotlight of the G20 summit this year seems to have fallen on the presenting nation themselves. Saudi Arabia playing host, albeit virtually, has been the cause of “deep disquiet” for human rights activists across the world.

Human rights groups are concerned first and foremost with the detention of women activists, the most infamous being Loujain al-Hathloul. She vehemently opposes the male guardianship system and first became notorious for her campaigning on the right of women to drive. Today, she is in the midst of a hunger strike whilst being detained in dismal conditions. According to her family, Loujain has been beaten, given electric shocks, and threatened with rape whilst residing in state facilities.

Moreover, the Human Rights Watch have also called for the release of these women and for Saudi Arabia to “provide accountability for past abuses”. A catalysing factor for attention on Saudi Arabia’s violations was the 2018 murder of a journalist at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Jamal Khashoggi was brutally killed and whilst eight men were sentenced, the global consensus is that the “masterminds” of the operation have never been held accountable.

Additionally, the five year long conflict with Yemen is still ongoing and has caused a diabolic humanitarian crisis. The UN stress the extent of civilian casualties and advocate for access to Yemen and an end to arms sales in Saudi Arabia. Yet unsurprisingly, Saudi officials ardently claim that during this conflict they have never targeted civilians .

The Saudi government stressed that “our judiciary is independent”, condemning the international community for passing judgment on their courts. However, Human Rights Watch continue to call out Saudi Arabia for “image laundering” which involves investing money into entertainment and sporting events in attempt to hide their human rights abuses.

Clearly Saudi Arabia has deeply rooted policies and customs which violate the international code on human rights. Whilst amending these is a monumental proposition, what can be achieved in the present day is releasing the detained women to their families.  In the words of Helena Kennedy, “this is an unacceptable abuse of human beings” and needs to be rectified as soon as possible.

What will a Biden presidency mean for America’s Middle East policy?

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

By MacKenZie Rumage

After four years of President Donald Trump’s unpredictability, cosying up to autocrats, and breaking from global agreements — like the Paris Climate Agreement — many world leaders welcomed Biden’s win, sensing he would be a more trustworthy partner. Leaders from German chancellor Angela Merkel to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan quickly congratulated Biden and Vice-President elect Kamala Harris on their win, which stood in stark contrast to Trump’s refusal to accept the election results.

One area where Biden will be especially tested is his Middle Eastern foreign policy. Trump tended to establish foreign policy via Twitter and took positions that isolated the United States from their closest allies, such as considering leaving the NATO, which the United States has been part of for seventy years with other nations like Canada and the United Kingdom. Biden will likely return to standard official procedures that prioritises diplomacy and working with other nations to make decisions.

A changing relationship with Saudi Arabia

A major place where Biden will depart from Trump-era policy is the United States’ relationship with Saudi Arabia, whose Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman was one of Trump’s favourite foreign leaders. Bin Salman has been criticised worldwide for his disastrous human rights record, which includes fuelling the civil war in Yemen and likely ordering the assassination of American-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was a prominent critic of the Saudi government. Biden said that his administration would end their indirect support for the war in Yemen, while promising to punish Saudi leaders for Khashoggi’s death. This promise is also a firm rebuke to Trump’s antipathy to the media, who he has previously called ‘the enemy of the people.’

Biden’s support of Israel and Palestine

Biden supports Israel, but not as intensely as Trump did, who supported Israel’s claim to Jerusalem and moved the American embassy there from Tel Aviv. This decision prompted controversy because of Israel and Palestine’s competing claims to the city, and infuriated Palestinians. Trump has not been a friend to the Palestinians, cutting millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to them while maintaining a friendship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was indicted on bribery charges. Biden’s relationship with Netanyahu will likely resemble Obama’s, who repeatedly clashed with him over Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and allowed the UN Security Council to pass a resolution declaring those settlements illegal. Although Biden will probably not move the embassy from Jerusalem, he supports the two-state solution between Israel and Palestine and promised to restore humanitarian aid to the Palestinians.

Biden does not take office until January 20th, which gives President Trump two months to make Biden’s implementation of his foreign policies as difficult as possible by slowing the transition of power and quickly proceeding with several policy decisions, like the massive sale of arms to the United Arab Emirates. Trump’s deliberate interference with the transition of power not only makes Biden’s job harder but puts national security at risk as well. This is a dangerous move, especially as the United States’ main priority right now is to combat the pandemic — a battle they are not winning, as more than 250,000 people have died from COVID-19 in America.

The Covid-19 Pandemic Has Killed Individual Privacy For Good

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

By Peder Heiberg Sverdrup

The pressure of the COVID-19 pandemic caused states to embrace digital tools of surveillance at an alarming speed this year. Although monitoring apps such as the NHS Covid-19 App provide a quick fix to a temporary problem, the rushed outsourcing of sensitive personal information to private companies normalises the contingent relationship between public health and individual privacy.

The over-technological solution is the result of an uncritical and at times utopian view of private enterprise as the solution to larger socio-economic issues. As argued in Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, the intensification of monitoring results in the entrenchment of surveillance for both governments and private enterprises. The German government’s move from a centralised to a decentralised tracking system delivered by Apple and Google show how the increased influence of technology companies shapes public policy measures.

What has become crystal clear in 2020 is that acceptance for exceptional measures and enhanced digital surveillance is drastically higher than anticipated. The state of exception as rationale for the suspension and undermining of democratic principles and rights is not a new phenomenon. However, the complete absence of a debate on the legitimacy, trustworthiness, or ethicality of these new surveillance measures demonstrates a chilling fact about contemporary life. When things are going 100 km/hr, the media and the political establishment are powerlessly asleep at the wheel.

One reference point is the passing of the PATRIOT Act in the aftermath of September 11th, 2001. However, the last 20 years have provided tools of surveillance way beyond the imagination of the policymakers at the beginning of the millennium. Consequently, we have no framework of how to deal with the present reality. This digital terra incognita is not uniform, as some countries are much more drastic in their monitoring of its population. For example, South Korean authorities posted detailed location histories of each citizen who tested positive, revealing the grocery stores, churches, and massage parlours they frequented.

Although not uniform, the trend toward increased surveillance is undeniable. The tools of surveillance have not only been popularised in both liberal democracies and authoritarian regimes, they have gotten the unattainable “proof of concept” needed to usher in a new age of digital power. In fighting to save one form of life, the new normal of surveillance has killed another.

Far-Right Nationalism and the Persecution of Minorities

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By Teia Swan

Over the past several years, the world has witnessed what can best be described as a global shift towards far-right nationalism, characterized by the otherization of minority groups such as immigrants, women, and LGBTQ+ people. These ideologies have become prominent in nations such as the United States and Brazil, as well as several European states having severe consequences for minority groups. In the United States, for instance, far-right principles have been legitimized by the Trump Administration, contributing to both a political and social culture that actively harms minorities. Rhetoric vilifying immigrants as threats to American culture has become commonplace, and has translated into policies such as the ‘zero-tolerance’ family separation rule. It has also resulted in increased rates of anti-immigrant violence: mass shootings, such as the 2019 El Paso shooting, have been directly inspired by far-right rhetoric, while rates of anti-immigrant hate crimes have skyrocketed.

Similar trends are visible in European nations, where anti-immigration parties have become increasingly more popular; Alternative for Germany and Spain’s Vox parties, for example, are each one of the largest parties in their respective countries. Meanwhile, far-right ideology has also spelled out trouble for sexual and gender minorities. The Vox party in Spain, rapidly gaining popularity, poses an immense threat to LGBTQ+ rights, as leaders of the party have advocated to place restrictions on LGBTQ+ pride events and supported narratives comparing homosexuality to beastiality. Concurrently, the far-right governments of Hungary and Poland have received backlash over policies restricting the rights of LGBTQ+ people, as well as women. The Hungarian government has proposed a constitutional amendment that would prohibit LGBTQ+ people from adopting children and forbid transgender people from legally changing their name or gender. Meanwhile, LGBTQ+ activists in Poland have been targeted by the government while protesting ‘LGBT-Free Zones’ and the government frames “LGBT ideology” as a threat “more dangerous than communism.” Likewise, the Polish government has moved to implement a near-total ban on abortions, reducing women’s reproductive rights to almost nothing.

Ultimately, the rise of far-right ideologies prioritizing ‘Christian’ values and national homogeny have devastating consequences for minorities. Not only does the popularization of far-right principles result in increased violence, but it also results in policies that are deeply dehumanizing. Far-right leaders and advocates, then, pose a clear threat to human rights and ought to be opposed at all costs.

Celebrating Christmas Somewhere New!

Photo by Sapan Patel on Unsplash

By Olivia Bastin

Who doesn’t like Christmas? The festive period filled with yummy food, merry carols, finding your inner artist by drawing a semi realistic Rudolf, receiving cute Christmas cards, and best of all the presents! Christmas is celebrated differently all over the world. I’ve had a lot of British Christmas’s at home. However, I celebrated Christmas with a good friend of mine in Venice, Italy so I thought I’d reflect on a typical British and Italian Christmas.

I’ve always wondered what the Mediterranean looks like at Christmas and 2 years ago I found out. It looks just as beautiful as it does during the summer except it’s a bit colder and when I splashed about in the water I got some odd looks from the few Italians sitting on the sand in puffy winter coats, wooly scarfs, and warm hats.  It was the first-time celebrating Christmas abroad!

The main impression I got was that Christmas in the UK is more commercialised whilst Christmas in Italy had a more religious element to it. Even when we were driving through the countryside, there were several nativity scenes beside bus stops and at the side of the road. On New Year’s Eve my friend, her family, and I all went to their local church and attended midnight mass. The service generally felt very reflective and calm until the moment when the priest brought out the wine and bread; everyone stampeded up to the altar and nearly knocked the poor guy over. That is just an ordinary Italian Christmas experience!

As is eating seafood instead of turkey which we do in Britain. I suppose turkey is out and seafood is in. In France, most people have a big meal the night before Christmas day called a reveillions. You would find foie gras, a goose, and marrion glase on the Christmas table. Another interesting difference I noticed was that in the UK we open our presents on Christmas day whereas in Italy they open presents the night before. I remember rushing down the stairs to enthusiastically see a bundle of brightly coloured presents pouring out of my Christmas stocking. In Italy, they put the Christmas presents underneath the tree like we do in the UK too. 

Overall, I loved experiencing Christmas in Italy, and I would totally recommend trying Christmas somewhere new. Why not create new traditions? Make new memories? Aren’t you curious to see how this Christian holiday is celebrated all over the world? Clearly, Christmas is a special time of year wherever you are in the world! 

The Future of Assisted Suicide in the UK

Image taken from Flikr

By Ella Watharow

You may have heard of the tragic case of Tony Nicklinson, who was left with Locked-In Syndrome following a stroke in 2005, when his life became a “living nightmare”. In 2012, the High Court rejected Tony’s appeal to legally end his life, at which point he began to starve himself until he died from pneumonia six days later. 

Assisted dying is illegal in the UK, and the Nicklinson ruling reinforced this. And yet, in 2019 alone, 42 Brits travelled to Dignitas in Switzerland to end their life. This, combined with Matt Hancock’s recent announcement that travelling abroad for assisted suicide does not constitute a breach of lockdown rules, creates a disparity between law and reality that Trevor Moore, chair of My Death My Choice, refers to as “absurd”. One individual, who does not wish to be named, recalls how after travelling with their quadriplegic father who wished to end his life in Switzerland, they were faced with immediate police questioning. They say that under the current law, families “cannot properly focus on grieving for the person that they have lost until an investigation has been concluded, which can take many months”. Ultimately the majority of cases are not taken forward, with 139 out of 162 cases between 2009 and 2020 not being prosecuted. However, the obscurity of the law adds unnecessary difficulty to a situation that is already incredibly painful.

This begs the question: why has the law not been changed? Although public opinion is overwhelmingly in support of assisted suicide, the official policy of the British Medical Association (BMA) opposes “all forms of physician-assisted dying”. Additionally, major organisations such as Caring not Killing and Not Dead Yet provide active opposition to a change of law, citing concerns about safeguarding and the potentially increased pressure for ill and disabled people to end their lives. 
Nonetheless, many, like Trevor Moore, remain optimistic that there is an “increasing acceptance [of the need for legal change]” in the UK. With the BMA’s assisted suicide policy up for review in 2021, only 39% of its members currently oppose a reform of the current law, and change seems to be on the horizon. Whilst some view this prospect with fear and concern, others welcome it, asserting that a change in policy will return a sense of dignity and control to thousands of people around the country.

Food Poverty at Home This Christmas

Photo by 🇨🇭 Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

By Louise Palmer

Christmas is a time for giving, celebrating, and appreciating loved ones. It is also the time of year which highlights the inequality in our society more starkly than any other. Over this festive period thousands of Scots will face the struggle of food poverty, consequently leading to increased stress, hunger, and social exclusion. Food poverty can be understood as “the inability to acquire or consume an adequate or sufficient quantity of food in socially acceptable ways, or the uncertainty that one will be able to do so”. In 2019, the Scottish government found that 9% of the population (almost 500,000 people) worried that they would run out of food due to a lack of resources. However, this rose sharply to 31% for single parent households in Scotland. The statistic for single parents is only relevant for single mothers due to the data used but it reflects the real challenge of food poverty in Scotland. This problem has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic as more people face financial instability.

In turn, this has led to a substantial increase in demand for emergency food provision. Crucial resources such as food banks play a key part in the response to food poverty, however they should not be considered a central part of the long term solution. Improving understanding and involving more people experiencing food poverty in the conversation, have been recognised as key parts of a sustainable longer term approach. There is currently a proposed Right to Food Bill in the Scottish Parliament, which aims to enshrine the human right to food into Scots Law. Those supporting the Bill argue that if passed, it would allow for a more coherent strategy to tackle the wider issue of food poverty. However, we are currently a long way from achieving something of this sort.

The outlook need not be entirely doom and gloom, as both organisations and individuals who work hard to combat food poverty year round will continue to do so this Christmas. Within the UK, the Scottish Government has taken a leading role in attempting to combat poverty and inequality. In particular, choosing to create new child poverty targets (within Child Poverty Scotland Act 2017) when Westminster scrapped the Child Poverty Act in 2016. Moreover, organisations such as the entirely volunteer-run Fife Gift of Christmas Appeal are determined to make this Christmas a positive experience for youngsters. Fife Gift of Christmas aims to make sure every child in Fife has a present to open on the 25th. This inspiring spirit can be found across Scotland, but it does not detract from the struggles that currently face society. As we move into the new year and collectively look to the future, we need to make a concerted effort to move forward as one.

The Beirut explosion: a call for global investigation

Image from Rashid Khreiss/Unsplash; Graphic by Rachael Millar

By Louisa Campbell

On the 4th of August 2020 a deadly explosion occurred in Beirut, Lebanon. The UN have acknowledged the suffering of this event, especially given the context of Lebanon’s current economic crisis and the global conditions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this response, it remains contested as to how effective investigations surrounding the explosion have been.

The blast was the biggest in Beirut’s history, killing 172 people, injuring 6000 and leaving 250,000 homeless. The explosion was caused by 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate being stored at Beirut’s port without the needed safety precautions. Immediately after, the UN released a statement outlining that under international human rights law, states are obligated to confront risks posed by hazardous substances. They additionally stressed that such an investigation should be independent and “probe any systemic failures of the Lebanese authorities”. The UN’s benchmarks for inquiry highlighted the investigation should be protected from undue influence, focus on systemic failures of the Lebanese authorities and integrate a gender lens.

However, Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun rejected this notion of an international investigation, claiming that it would be a “waste of time”.  Aoun’s initial promise of a transparent investigation has since been heavily criticised for failing to meet shared international standards. Contempt is brewing even more so given that court records leaked to the media revealed that high level officials knew of the stockpile at the port, which had been present for six years, yet ceased to take action.

Whilst government granted internal investigations, these have since garnered criticism from both the international community and Lebanese citizens. Essentially, the long term failures of Lebanon’s judicial system have made any prospects of a credible investigation impossible. The case was referred to the Judicial Council on August the 10th but the judge appointed to head the enquiry, Fadi Sawan, has been accused of representing political corruption. The decision was labelled “an opaque process shrouded in allegations of political interference”, hence the government has further lost public faith and now a renewed call for international investigation is coming from victim’s families.

Aya Majzoub, the Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch stated that now, “only an independent international investigation will uncover the truth about the blast”. Majzoub calls for an enquiry that questions the corruption permeating the entire political system, which was arguably responsible for creating the environment in which such a catastrophe was possible.

Now three months since the blast, citizens are beginning to suffer the enduring effects of such a disaster. In particular, the pollutants released by the explosion have caused air contamination. The residents of Beirut have the right to detailed information about the potential health risks posed by this reality.

The Human Rights Watch advised that to rectify this failure, Lebanon should adjust their procedures to comply with principles of a fair trial and grant independence of the judiciary, allowing it to act in separation from government. Urgent assistance from the international community is required, as Lebanon are suffering a deterioration of human rights protection catalysed by this explosion.

The deficit of effective governance in Lebanon has always been present but this explosion has illuminated it and prompted a drive against corruption. Above all, if the calls for a credible investigation are successful, it is imperative that victims and witnesses are protected by privacy and confidentiality. Under international law, they are entitled to a healthy environment and currently they do not have one. Evidently, the proposed independent investigation needs to occur sooner rather than latter to both protect to the civilians of Beirut and hold the Lebanese government accountable for their weak response. 

Air Pollution and Rights to Clean Air: Disproportionate Rates of Premature Mortality in Women

Photo by Quinn Buffing on Unsplash

Written by Jessica Harris

During the first few months of spring this year, banana bread and elaborate recipes flooded social media platforms as homebound citizens were combatting boredom under national lockdowns. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, much of the developed world has spent more time in the kitchen, claiming the space as a safe respite from contracting the disease. Following government mandates and medical advice, the home has become the safest place to be to protect our respiratory health.

Yet for rural women in developing countries, their homes are killing them.

Approximately half of the world’s population relies on biomass (coal, wood, dung) to fuel cooking fires and provide warmth for their homes, including nearly 700 million people in sub-Saharan Africa. Yet these traditional cooking stoves emit particulate matter (PM), methane, carbon monoxide, polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and volatile organic compounds (VOC). As a result, sustained inhalation of these pollutants is known to cause pneumonia, lifelong respiratory diseases, cognitive impairments, and an increased risk of cancer, accounting for 3.8 million premature deaths a year.

Tasked with social expectations to fulfil domestic duties, many women and children spend more time in the home, cooking meals, resulting in exposure to higher levels of toxins than their male counterparts. Essentially, in many rural parts of the world the quality of air one breathes, and the resulting health outcomes are determined by gender.

This disproportional impact can be seen quite clearly in data from 2012, where 60% of all premature deaths attributed to indoor air pollution were women and children. And even among children, young girls have a strikingly higher exposure to PM than young boys, as concluded by Okello et al., in their 2018 study quantifying exposure rates in rural Ugandan and Ethiopian homes. The same study also captured the magnitude of difference in exposure between adult men and women, finding women are exposed up to five times more PM than their male counterparts.

Not only do these cooking methods contribute to adverse health, but also to the emissions which drive our changing climate. CO2 and volatile compounds, once they escape the home, react in the atmosphere to produce ozone (volatile compounds) or trap heat as a greenhouse gas (CO2). Furthermore, these environmental and health dangers are exacerbated by the financial inaccessibility of safe cooking replacements and renewable fuels.

The kitchen in developing nations represents the staggering gender and economic inequalities which impede sustainable development.

Encapsulated in a single cookstove is an immediate concern to address three of the seventeen United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: Good Health and Well-Being (SDG 3), Gender Equality (SDG 5), and Reduced Inequalities (SDG 10). While a cleaner replacement appears to be an obvious and easy choice, they are not always economically viable since many families require loans to purchase them. As a result, government and small organizational initiatives are working in rural areas across the globe to bring safe and reliable cookstoves to the homes of millions, either through supportive financing or funded initiatives.

Bangladesh seeks to improve the cookstoves of 30 million houses by 2030. On top of the financial difficulty in acquiring a safe cookstove, there exists the practical challenge of maintaining and repairing the appliance, as well as educating women about proper ventilation and the dangers traditional cooking methods pose in the first place.

Clean fuel and improved cookstoves (worth roughly $4.75-$6) can improve women’s and girl’s quality of life and empower them with good health. Women’s rights, their well-being, and the environment are not mutually exclusive. How can young girls and women have access to education and social opportunity when they are struggling with chronic asthma, cognitive impairments, and a myriad of other pollutant caused morbidities?

Clean indoor air provides for a cleaner environment and improved health, and ought to be accessible to all people, regardless of gender or socioeconomic status.  

Half of the globe’s population are inhaling deadly yet avoidable toxins which impact women disproportionately. In many developing places the fight for women’s rights to equality, education, and good health starts in the kitchen.

Open Letter to Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah

Photo by Jack McGrath, graphic by Rachael Millar

By Jack McGrath


For seven years, I lived in the Sultanate of Brunei. I had arrived following two years in Egypt which was, at the time, suffering the upheavals of the Arab Spring. 

Brunei itself could not stand more comically in contrast to Egypt. To go from one to the other is to trade unforgiving deserts for vast, undulating, breathing jungles. It is to exchange insane streetways for a tranquility that borders on the absurd. It is to see political and societal turmoil vanish between the pillars of uniformity and silence. 

You see, Brunei’s claim to being the ‘abode of peace’ was, for quite some time, not a ridiculous one. The discovery of oil at Seria eventually made Brunei one of the richest countries per capita on Earth. Most its citizens consequently enjoyed a comfortable tax-free lifestyle. Political unrest was unheard of. And religious intolerance was an idea that simply held no currency. To many eyes, it may have seemed the achievement of paradise undying. 

But Brunei was created by no God. It is no divine revelation. It is more accurately seen as a groping toward paradise. A groping that cannot be anything but distinctly and tragically human. Tragic because human endeavours are always bought. Human paradise (to use such a phrase) is no exception. It is a bought paradise. One that must be leveraged on slavery, or gold, or oil, or otherwise. It is, moreover, bound to be temporary. Destined to be fleeting.

When the sun begins to set on such places, as it always must, you might begin to hear whispers from outside the Garden of Paradise. And aged and withered rulers will pay heed to such whispers, in desperation. ‘Anything’ they will say, ‘anything’ to not lose what they still have.

Henceforth, I address this to you directly, Mr. Bolkiah. The sun is indeed setting on your paradise. And I know the whispers that you have been courting. They speak to you of religious fundamentalism, of closer ties with Saudi Arabia. Let me tell you, Mr. Bolkiah, why this is a doomed path. And let me implore of you, beg of you even, to consider another. 


As you must be aware, Mr. Bolkiah, Brunei’s stability is leveraged on oil (and related resources). It constitutes 90% of your exports and 60% of your GDP. This would be of no concern if oil were endless. But it is not. In fact, the BP World Energy Outlook has suggested that you will deplete your supplies within the next two decades. But surely, I hear you say, deep sea exploration will yield more oil. Perhaps. But that is not something you can rely on. In any case, low oil prices will undoubtedly discourage Shell and Petronas (your oil partners) from investing in such pursuits. So, even if there are discoveries to be made, it is unlikely that you will be in a position to capitalise upon them anyway.

If you carry blindly on into the future then, you will walk your country into economic oblivion. This much is surely obvious. But why, given that, have you done so little to diversify? In 2014 an energy white paper revealed your bewildering vision for the future. One, I would add, that is easily paraphrased: Oil, gas. Gas, oil. And then more still of both. It claims that by 2035 you will be producing 650,000 barrels of oil a day, up from 372,000 in 2015. But, of course, no plan is offered explaining how that will be achieved. 

What you should be doing is attracting foreign eco-investment and eco-tourism (making the most of your other great natural resource). But on both counts you are failing. According to the World Bank, Brunei currently trails Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia (all fellow ASEAN countries) with respect to the ease with which one can do business domestically. Tourism, on the other hand, seems to barely feature among your concerns. It was given a meagre $300,000 budget in 2015 and since 2004 has seen a 75% decline.

The picture becomes bleaker still. If you are to have any hope of diversifying your economy through eco-investment and eco-tourism, at some point you will have to target a western audience. An ASEAN audience alone will not suffice. And yet you have actively undermined this by embracing religious fundamentalism in the form of Sharia Law.

Somewhere along the way, it ought to be said, it seems that you saw this latter part of the picture. This is why, I think, you halted the introduction of phases 2 and 3 of Sharia Law in 2016/17. Yet it was too late. The damage was done. Eco-investment and eco-tourism had already been fundamentally undermined. In fact, it seems that in the eyes of the west, you, Mr. Bolkiah, committed an unforgivable crime. Something that you cannot come back from. And so, Mr. Bolkiah, it would seem that now you are the problem. 

Let me be very clear. Religious fundamentalism will get you nowhere. It is not compatible with the kind of diversification that your economy requires. But now, even if you backpedal on your fundamentalism, it seems a bitter taste will remain. It seems that so long as you are in power, fundamentalism or not, Brunei is destined for economic collapse.


So, Mr. Bolkiah, it appears you are in a predicament indeed. But I promised a route out. Let me make good on that promise now. 

For a future of stability Brunei needs dramatic change. This means; 

firstly, the complete denunciation of any form of religious fundamentalism,

secondly, a return, made in earnest, to religious tolerance,

thirdly, diversification away from an export-led oil-reliant economy toward eco-tourism and foreign investment, and

fourthly, your abdication and the democratisation of Brunei.

Do all that and, I can assure you, Brunei will have at a least a chance at a future of stability. 


If, however, you do not carry out these measures, Mr. Bolkiah, then I must instead call on your own people to do so. If you lack the integrity, the decency, and the moral courage, to do the right thing, then your people must find all that within their own selves and enact the change that you could not. To fight for their future, their lives, and their home. And, I do truly believe, they would succeed.

So, Mr. Bolkiah, I recommend that you walk along the banks of your rivers. I recommend that you walk along them and think. Paradise has been and, if we are being honest, has gone. What remains is a pale phantom of the past. A phantom perverted by shadows that speak from behind a veil of self-deceit. Your self-deceit. 

Do not entertain shadows, Mr. Bolkiah. 

– Jack Dylan McGrath.