Japan and GCC: A mutually beneficial partnership

Japanese Pavilion at Dubai's Global Village at night. (Shutterstock)
Updated 28 October 2019

Japan and GCC: A mutually beneficial partnership

  • Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund PIF is one of the largest investors in SoftBank's Vision Fund
  • A YouGov poll reveals Arab underestimation of Japan's dependence on Gulf energy supplies

LONDON: Japan and Gulf countries are building on their economic ties with new projects of mutual benefit, from headline-grabbing deals to a commitment to long-term partnerships.

An indication of the buzz that surrounds the two countries’ relationship is the speculation that Saudi Arabia is considering Tokyo as the international site for Aramco’s IPO, which is expected to be the largest in history.

A more concrete and equally attention-grabbing example of the growing relationship between the countries has been Saudi Arabia’s investment in SoftBank’s Vision Fund, owned by Japanese businessman Masayoshi Son.

Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, is one of the largest investors in the Vision Fund, and Son is expected to invest heavily in the Kingdom in the coming years.

Such ventures form part of the two nation’s plans for close economic partnership, which have been formalized under Saudi-Japan Vision 2030 – part of the crown prince’s Vision 2030 that aims to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy.

Saudi Arabia and Japan have historically been close because of the latter country’s dependence on oil. Japan, which is lacking in natural resources, imports 85 percent of its oil from the Gulf, of which 40 percent comes from Saudi Arabia.

Interestingly, the Saudi public underestimate Japan’s dependence on their country’s oil. A poll by YouGov and Arab News found that only 32 percent of Saudis are aware that in 2018 the GCC produced 85 percent of Japan’s oil, with 49 percent of respondents placing the figure much lower at 40 percent.

All indications are that the partnership between Japan and the GCC will continue to grow. Looking at recent trends, there is reason to be optimistic about prospects for expanding economic cooperation in the future.

For instance, Japan was Dubai’s seventh largest trading partner in 2018, with bilateral non-oil trade increasing by 44 percent to reach $11 billion last year, compared to 2011.

The number of Japanese companies registered with Dubai Chamber has risen steadily to 131. These figures reflect a growing confidence in Dubai as a preferred business hub attracting Japanese firms and investors looking for growth opportunities.

Commenting on UAE-Japan business relations, Hamad Buamim, president and CEO of Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: “Dubai-Japan ties have gone from strength to strength in recent years, supported by high-level visits from both sides, the easing of visa restrictions, the expansion of direct flights between the two countries and the signing of strategic cooperation agreements.”

As for Saudi Arabia, its growing relationship with Japan is largely a result of its efforts to transform its economy away from oil, as embodied in its Vision 2030 plans.

When the Saudi-Japan Vision 2030 project was formally announced in March 2017, a publication on the proposals from the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs highlighted Japan as the “ideal partner” for Saudi Arabia as it “seeks opportunities to diversify and strengthen its economy by capitalizing on advanced and cutting-edge technologies,” due to its “knowledge capital, and technological competitiveness.”

For Japan’s part, “the Saudi-Japanese cooperation would help the Japanese economy identify and develop opportunities to further upscale Japanese investments in Saudi Arabia.”

A good example of this type of economic exchange is Saudi Arabia’s investment in SoftBank’s Vision Fund, which in turn will see SoftBank investing in Saudi’s new high-tech city NEOM.

Some commentators see Saudi Arabia looking to Japan as a model as it moves beyond oil toward technology and “knowledge-intensive” industries. Writing in the Japan Times last month, Kent E. Calder, director of the Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, spoke of “how seriously the Saudis are thinking of a world beyond oil, and how significantly Japan looms as their mentor in that regard due its efficient use of resources, even though the two countries contrast sharply in their hydrocarbon reserves.”

In seeking to diversify its economy toward “knowledge-intensive” industries, Saudi Arabia is following Japan’s own move in this direction in the 1970s, Calder said.

Many of the initiatives that form part of Saudi-Japan Vision 2030 are designed to facilitate this transition. In an interview with Arab News earlier this year, Tsukasa Uemura, Japan’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, drew attention to institutions that are helping to transfer Japanese technology and expertise to the Kingdom. These include the Saudi-Japanese Automobile High Institute in Jeddah, which teaches young Saudis to become engineers, and an industrial robotics training facility.

“Through these projects, I believe that a lot of our experience and knowledge in the field has been transferred to Saudi researchers and students,” Uemura told Arab News in June.


Egypt’s once-reviled street dogs get chance at a better life

Updated 20 February 2020

Egypt’s once-reviled street dogs get chance at a better life

  • Shehata says his teams have treated some 10,000 stray dogs over the last few years
  • After centuries of stigma, the street dogs of Egypt are finding popular acceptance

CAIRO: Karim Hegazi spends his days in a Cairo clinic taking care of animals long considered a menace in Egypt.

Stray dogs roam in almost every Cairo neighborhood — lurking in construction sites, scavenging through trash and howling nightly atop parked cars. The government says there’s around 15 million of them. They bite some 200,000 people a year, according to the World Health Organization, and spread rabies, one of the world’s most lethal diseases.

And if that wasn’t reason enough to feel revulsion toward dogs, a famous Islamic saying attributed to the Prophet Muhammad warns that angels won’t enter your home if there’s a dog inside.

Yet after centuries of stigma, the street dogs of Egypt are finding popular acceptance, and along with it, surging grassroots support. That includes adoption and medical care, as well as spaying and neutering to keep them from producing more puppies on the streets. Volunteers armed with giant fishing nets and tranquilizer darts embark on regular missions to catch, vaccinate and sterilize dogs before letting them loose.

These efforts are making inroads against the prevailing government policy of extermination by poison.

“I’ve seen a major shift ... people are seeing a value in strays,” said Hegazi, 32, from his veterinary hospital in the upscale suburb of Maadi. He says he’s no longer treating just foreign pooches, but also a growing number of adopted “baladi” dogs, the once-reviled Egyptian street breed. Even pious Muslim clients are taking in street dogs. Hegazi says they often reconcile their religious beliefs and love of dogs by keeping them in grassy yards or on rooftops.

Egypt’s upper and middle classes have increasingly adopted Western-inspired ideas of dog ownership. Pet hotels, cafes and grooming emporiums are sprouting up in major Egyptian cities. Fueled by the rise of social media, enthusiasm for Cairo’s dogs is “moving beyond snob culture,” said local advocate Amina Abaza.

A Facebook forum for vet recommendations exploded into a community of 13,000 pet lovers trading stray rescue stories. Dozens of new shelters coordinate adoptions online, flooding Instagram feeds with images of abandoned puppies.

What has surfaced online is spilling into the streets. Some of Cairo’s more well-to-do districts are mobilizing spay and neuter teams to counter what advocates describe as gruesome government methods to control the dog population.

The General Organization for Veterinary Services, an arm of the agricultural ministry, routinely sends authorities to kill strays by scattering poison in streets overnight, according to a dozen activists and residents. They say they’ve woken up to find carcasses piled on curbs, or sick dogs wailing in distress.

“It’s a horrible way to die,” said Mohamed Shehata, founder of Egyptian Vets for Animal Care, or EVAC. It’s the country’s first spay and neuter program, also based in Maadi.

The government organization did not respond to questions about its policy. But in a recent report, it described street dogs as a “time bomb that threatens our children,” and defended the “merciful killing of dogs that are harmful to people,” citing Islamic law.

After the French invaded Egypt in 1797, Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops spent two nights shooting all of Cairo’s street dogs because of their raucous noise. According to American historian Juan Cole, they were likely employed as informal watchdogs in the city’s winding alleys. Major dog eradication campaigns in Egypt stemmed from the city’s explosive growth in the early 1800s, when dogs became scavengers dependent on Cairo’s ubiquitous mounds of garbage, said Alan Mikhail, professor of Ottoman history at Yale University. As part of a public hygiene push, authorities trapped, shot and poisoned dogs en masse.

These days, a consensus is emerging among experts that “poison is not a real solution to rabies or to overpopulation,” said Shehata. A toxic substance called citrinin is used to kill off dogs, but most of it ends up seeping into soil and cement, poisoning gardeners, garbage workers and children playing in the street. Culling street dogs doesn’t stop the spread of disease either, he added, as over 70% of the stray population must be vaccinated to attain herd immunity.

Shehata described his group’s spaying and neutering efforts as “a more humane, scientific, and effective way,” to regulate the country’s strays. His group kicked off
Egypt’s first mass rabies vaccination drive this month, inspired by the WHO’s goal to eliminate human deaths from dog-transmitted rabies by 2030.

On a misty morning last weekend, teams of volunteers scampered after the wild dogs in Maadi, bolting down wide boulevards and trash-littered train tracks. A cacophony of yelps and barks filled the air as terrified dogs were trapped in nets, then injected with vaccines. Neighbors woken by the noise watched from their balconies in bewilderment. The method may appear ruthless, but Shehata insists it’s for the best, and keeps the dogs rabies-immune for a year.

Volunteers also spay and neuter strays at the clinic. The dogs are dropped off where they were caught, with a notch cut in their ear to show they’ve been sterilized. The model is being replicated in at least five central Cairo districts, where local groups say they’ve seen dog populations stabilize or decline and the threat of rabies wane, although the government doesn’t make rabies infection figures public.

Vigilante hunters still scatter poison in dog food and request government exterminators, said Rasha Hussein, a Maadi resident who runs a vet training center outside Cairo. But she said efforts by groups like EVAC have encouraged compassion. Residents now coordinate meal deliveries and medical checks for ear-tagged dogs that have become a mainstay in their areas. Just five years ago, EVAC volunteers were chased out of the neighborhood.

Shehata says his teams have treated some 10,000 stray dogs over the last few years.

Egypt’s push follows successes in similar developing countries. Animal welfare proponents hope these gains can spark a worldwide movement.

Turkey’s cities, which once promoted systematic slaughter of street dogs, now provide strays with government-sponsored medical evaluations, sterilization and shelter. Indian provinces historically ravaged by rabies, where Shehata trained, have driven down death rates through coordinated campaigns.

But leading veterinarians say Egypt’s efforts still lack state funding or a legal framework to protect animals, meaning the future of the country’s street dogs remains uncertain.

“We will do our best to reach our targets,” said Hegazi while carrying his next patient, barking and snorting, into the exam room. “But it’ll take a much longer time.”