Saturday, February 19, 2011


First it was Tunisia, then Egypt and now Bahrain. The difference with Bahrain is that whilst Egypt was on the experts’ list of Arab nations who could topple the Gulf State was not. Not only that whilst other States in the region obtain their wealth from oil, Bahrain doesn’t, it is largely a business centre.

On Thursday Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, told the House of Commons, he is advising British nationals to avoid all but essential travel around Bahrain and to stay away from the protests.

Hague condemned the clashes between anti-government protesters and riot police in Pearl Square and called on the authorities there to “exercise restraint.” At least four people have died during the demonstrations.

The airport Manama is still open as normal but the Foreign Secretary is promising to keep the situation under review.

William Hague said he’d spoken to the Foreign Minister of Bahrain and conveyed his concern about the level of violence, stressing the need for peaceful action to address the concerns of protesters.

The demonstrators want to force the ruling Sunni monarchy to give up its control of central government, with the country’s majority Shia claiming they face discrimination because they are effectively blocked from key roles in public service and the military.

Meanwhile neighbouring Oman has raised the minimum wage for nationals working in the private sector from $364 to $520, in the response to protests sparked by the unemployment and poverty in Arab countries.

The state news agency ONA reported the cabinet had “decided to raise the minimum wages for national workers in the private sector to 200 riyals per month” on the orders of Sultan Qaboos.

This begs the question how can you run an international financial and business centre when foreign nationals are advised to avoid your country, when there are tanks and blood on the streets, and when everyone fears the contagion could spread to every nation in the region. The answer in short is you can’t.

So could this unrest benefit Gibraltar? Despite the political nonsense between Britain – Spain and Gibraltar, which after all has been going on for 300 years – the Rock as its name suggests is a pillar of stability in a troubled world. Not only that but it has a world respected financial, investment and legal centre.

I asked my man in the pinstripe suit who walks the Rock’s fiscal corridors of power how he saw the situation. He told me: “I think that the unrest in Bahrain could benefit Gibraltar quite substantially.” But, yes there was a ‘but’ to his views, for he continued: “only if Gibraltar makes a real effort to engage energetically in identifying and pursuing this business at both a high level and also on the ground.”

So yes Gibraltar can benefit from this uncertain world and boost its standing as a world financial centre in to the bargain – but – only if it is up to the challenge.

It is Gibraltar’s moment of truth.

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