Bloomberg backs dialogue — in US politics and in the Middle East

Bloomberg, a former presidential candidate, urged Americans to support US President Donald Trump despite their own political views. (Reuters)
Updated 26 September 2019

Bloomberg backs dialogue — in US politics and in the Middle East

  • In interview to Arab News, ex-NYC mayor says political divisiveness will harm the American people
  • Michael Bloomberg lauds Saudi Arabia's reform process and 'progress in the right direction'

NEW YORK: In a wide-ranging interview with Arab News on Wednesday, billionaire former New York Mayor and host of the Global Business Forum Michael Bloomberg warned political divisiveness in Washington, D.C. will harm the American people.

Democratic leaders announced this week they would pursue impeachment charges against US President Donald Trump. But without referencing impeachment, Bloomberg said partisan animosity will hurt the interests of Americans, arguing Trump “should be helped.”

Bloomberg also praised Saudi Arabia for making advances in freedom through the Saudi Vision 2030 reform plans, especially for women, and stressed that although there remains uncertainty in the results of Israel’s recent elections, he supports the two-state solution for Israel and Palestine and hopes the sides will come together.

“Trump, whether you like him or not … and I have certainly disagreed with him … I even said back in the Democratic Convention in 2016 he was the wrong guy for the job. But the American public elected him and we all have a vested interest in him doing a good job,” Bloomberg said.

“If we dumb ourselves down that we want to hurt him even if it hurts us, what kind of world are we leaving for our kids? You don’t have to like him to want to help him. We need him — he still is the most powerful person in the most powerful country in the world, we need him to do a good job. I hope he does. It doesn’t mean I am going to vote for him, it doesn’t mean I like him or not. Unfortunately, we’ve turned everything into partisanship and you can’t run a railroad that way.”

Bloomberg said both sides are responsible: “There is no good guy here. The Republicans and the Democrats equally hate the other side so much they don’t want to work with him. And that hurts the country and that hurts our children and that is unconscionable.” He said many people just do not understand Trump or how he is different from others who have come from business and political backgrounds.

“Unfortunately, I think the President is not a business guy. I’ve said that in the beginning. He is a real estate guy. In real estate you have one transaction. I saw your building or house and you walk away. It is a win-lose situation. Or, there is no penalty for having a win lose situation,” Bloomberg said.

“Whereas in normal business, we (Bloomberg L.P.) deal with Citibank. They are a competitor. They are a customer. They lend money to us. We deposit money in here. We do things in joint ventures. Businesses learn how to deal on different levels based on different subjects simultaneously. Unfortunately, in the political world, where good guys where white hats and bad guys where black hats, they don’t do that and we all suffer because of it.”

Bloomberg said the 3rd Annual Global Business Forum brings divergent views and ideas together. More than 50 world leaders, many participating in the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly also being held this week are focused on addressing climate change.

But Bloomberg, a former candidate for president with a long and successful political career, could not avoid the challenges of politics in the Middle East which he acknowledged has a direct impact on America, the world’s economy and on climate change. Bloomberg said that world leaders should take a leaf from the Global Business Forum noting that bringing divergent and individuals with different views can help overcome challenges.

“One of the things that will make a difference in the world is if we talk to each other and trade with one other. Swap ideas, swap cultures, religions, clothing,” Bloomberg said.

One of the things that will make a difference in the world is if we talk and trade together.

“We need to have products from around the world because it gives us more things that are useful that we can buy. We need the rest of the world because we want to sell to them. It creates jobs here. Because of global trade, the last 3 decades, we have reduced worldwide poverty by 50 percent … 50 percent if we measure it by a roof over your head, a meal in your stomach and being literate. If we pull away from global trade, a lot of those gains will be lost and an awful lot of poor people are going to be badly hurt.”

He added: “That kind of practice, of speaking with each other, talking to each other and engaging with others is the formula that can result in positive change everywhere including in the Middle East.”

Bloomberg, who has visited Saudi Arabia several times and hosted Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in New York City last year, praised the advances taking place in Saudi Arabia through the Saudi Vision 2030 reform plans outlined by King Salman and the crown prince.

He praised the Saudi vision and drive “to take that country into the new world … they have made progress going in the right direction.”

Although he said people in the West who separate religion and politics often do not understand the emphasis on religion in the Arab world, he said he is encouraged by the changes taking place in Saudi Arabia.

“I have had a number of women come up to me and say you don’t understand this is the best thing that has ever happened to Saudi Arabia because half the population was cut out and now they are going in the right direction,” Bloomberg said, acknowledging that the US only gave women the right to vote 100 years ago.

“We make a mistake in America of saying we are perfect, and the rest of the world is screwed up. That is not true. Everybody makes progress at different paces. Some are doing better than America, some are doing worse than America. There are parts of the Middle East that are back in the middle ages and there are parts that are very modern. I think if you look at the populations in those, the average person’s life is safer, they are healthier. They enjoy what we have on Earth.”

Bloomberg said he is unsure how Israel’s recent elections will affect Israeli-Palestinian peace, but he stressed continued support for the two-state solution.

Half the Saudi population was cut out and now they are going in the right direction.

“If they do have a new government in Israel, I think what they should do — and it is not my business to run their government — but I think what they should do is sit down and try to go with little steps in that direction,” Bloomberg said.

“Because if you constantly have tension, everybody is going to lose. Some day both sides will be on the wrong side of a transactions, or a war in this case. The world cannot and will not tolerate people suffering and being left out. We all have a reason to help.”

Praising Israel and citing its advances in technology, Bloomberg said he wants to see the same thing for the Palestinians, but he encouraged a return to negotiations to resolve the challenges.

“The same thing is true for the other side. History is what it is when you have two groups who both believe God gave them the same piece of land, it is never going to work out. Winston Churchill once said that ‘jaw-jaw is better than war-war’ meaning that it is better to talk than not,” Bloomberg said.

“My personal opinion is that you have to have a two-state solution because of the fact that both sides think God gave them the same piece of land. You have got to split the piece of land and each will have half of it. You have half a cake. It’s better than no cake. And it can bring peace. So, your people and my people and his people and her people can have a better life.”

Bloomberg said he has no inside information about Trump’s plans for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and he described the ongoing crisis with Iran as “a recurring problem” that may not easily go away. But he said talking, meetings and compromise are always better options.

“It is recurring. I don’t think we should take it lying down and say that is just the way the world is. Iran and its population has the very same interest in peace and prosperity and commerce that everybody else does,” he said.

“Sometimes their leaders, our leaders, and your leaders and his leaders don’t understand that and they worry for partisan reasons about different things and make different decisions. But I think we would all be better off if we would ratchet down the verbiage and try to understand the other guy a little bit.”


Blessing in disguise: How pandemic was a catalyst for Saudi SMEs to change

Saudi Arabia’s consumer behavior was transformed during the lockdown as soon as malls and stores were ordered to shut their doors, creating a frenzy among consumers. (SPA)
Updated 20 September 2020

Blessing in disguise: How pandemic was a catalyst for Saudi SMEs to change

  • E-platforms played a crucial role in SMEs’ survival
  • COVID-19 transformed people’s shopping habits

JEDDAH: Saudis continue to shop online despite the government easing the COVID-19 lockdown, with the surge in e-commerce prompting small and medium-sized enterprises to adapt.

E-commerce saved global retail markets from collapse and stopped consumers from having to go out during the first wave of the outbreak. However, SMEs were the most vulnerable to the pandemic’s consequences and e-platforms played a crucial role in their survival.
Saudi Arabia’s consumer behavior was transformed during the COVID-19 lockdown as soon as stores were ordered to shut their doors, creating a frenzy among consumers although they were quick to adapt. SMEs were also forced to adapt, not only to accommodate the growing demand for online shopping but to ensure they survived with minimal losses.
Marion Janson, the chief economist at the UN’s International Trade Centre, said in June that around 20 percent of SMEs globally may not survive the pandemic.
A recent report from Visa revealed increased anxiety among merchants in Saudi Arabia, with 67 percent of small businesses noticing a decrease in average consumer spending.
Many Saudi consumers started shopping online for the first time, primarily for essentials. The Visa report showed that two-thirds of the Saudi consumers surveyed said that COVID-19 led to their first online grocery purchase, while 59 percent made their first online purchase from pharmacies.
“With the confusion at the beginning, we didn’t know what was acceptable and what wasn’t,” said Dr. Suhad Zain, a government employee in Jeddah. “Can we risk going out to shop for our daily needs or not? We needed to be sure that everyone in the house was safe, including the driver, and not expose ourselves to the invisible menace that changed our lifestyles. Most of our groceries were obtained online, from produce to water bottles to even appliances and leisure items. It had to be done, even though we needed time to accept the new change.”
Fear of the virus is expected to change the way consumers behave forever. “It became more convenient even after the lockdown was lifted,” Zain added. “After a few months we got used to it and, as a family, it became our new preferred means of purchase.”
Such conditions were a catalyst for online commerce, according to the Visa report, with 38 percent of merchants in the country reporting the introduction of online offerings as a direct result of the pandemic while more than half had an e-commerce presence before the pandemic.

Two-thirds of the Saudi consumers said COVID-19 led to their first online grocery purchase, while 59% made their first online purchase from pharmacies. (GettyImages)

The report also said there was a surge in e-commerce, a preference for trusted brands, a decline in discretionary spending, and a polarization of sustainability. Consumers have a larger basket, but reduced shopping frequency, and will shift to stores closer to home. A change can easily be detected in Saudi consumer behavior.
But the shift to online commerce, with cash transactions being replaced by digital payments, has negatively influenced cash-only retailers and presents a tough challenge to these merchants, who have to understand the shift in consumer behavior and adapt accordingly and urgently.
“Saudi business owners currently face multiple challenges that they need to deal with when they want to shift to e-commerce, some of them even lack the knowledge of how technology could benefit them and what options it could offer,” Talal Abdullah, a business development and marketing consultant, told Arab News.
“Also some will need to find a technical partner to successfully transform to e-commerce and, most importantly, they need to revisit their business model canvas to determine how they want to employ this technology for the best of their businesses.”
In order to overcome these challenges, Abdullah suggested that business owners look for the right technical partner based on their new model.
“If they fail to find a suitable technical partner, then they need to set a clear budget for the application or website they need to set up. But before reaching out to any company that offers support with these technical services, you must get in touch with real clients of these companies and inquire about their business and how they deal with them.”
He added that seeking assistance from technical consultants or owners of similar projects could cut down on time and effort. Joining business accelerators and incubators, as well as entrepreneurship and technology communities, could help with expanding knowledge and relationships and contribute overall to a smoother transition.
But these changes have their costs too, imposing new financial burdens on an already weakened business due to the pandemic and the time required to build and adapt a new business model that targets a completely different group of customers. It is a serious challenge for many small retailers.
Abu Mohammed has been in the retail business for 20 years. He used to have frequent customers who came in for a specific type of clothing with a certain price range. But, with the lockdown, he could hardly sell anything.
“I began targeting a different kind of customer in the past couple of years where I was importing new clothes and selling them through Instagram and e-commerce websites,” he told Arab News. “However I still cannot completely substitute my current store with a completely virtual one. That needs time and money to build a reputation.”
He said the lockdown had been a harsh experience for him and that he recognized the need to expedite his old plans to transform his store into an actual brand, since people were gradually moving toward online shopping from well-known brands.
“This transformation is not going to be easy at all,” he added. “It will need a good marketing plan and well-spent money not only on tools but also staff. It is a completely new experience, however. I know e-commerce is here to stay and it is our only way forward. Otherwise my work for years will gradually vanish. This crisis could be a blessing in disguise, who knows.”