First it was Citibank. Now it's Barclay's and New York City's Chrysler Building skyscraper. Muslim Arabs are buying out collapsing Western banks and businesses and gaining growing international power, but some Arab investors are worried their investments may go down the drain with the American economy.
The current financial crisis in the United States has spread to other countries because of a massive debt that was not backed by enough real and liquid collateral. Banks and businesses gasping for financial breath are up for sale at basement prices, but no one is certain if the basement is the bottom.
"The possibility remains that more Arab white knights will be sought to rescue ailing financial institutions," wrote Dr. Mohammed Ramady, a former banker and Visiting Associate Professor at the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in the Financial Adviser magazine. He said he fears that Arab investors will end up chasing their investments with more money to keep them from going under.
The Abu Dhabi Investment Council of the oil-rich United Arab Emirates kingdom of Abu Dhabi last November announced it was bailing out the mammoth Citibank financial institution, formerly headed by Bank of Israel Governor Prof. Stanley Fischer, with $7.5 billion.
Next in line was Britain's Barclay's Bank, which raised $9 billion from investors in the oil-rich kingdom of Qatar and in Asian countries. The Abu Dhabi Investment Council last month forked out approximately $800 million for a 75 percent stake in New York City's 1,046-foot-tall Chrysler Building, which was the world's tallest building for a year until the Empire State Building surpassed it in the 1930's.
The purchase of American banks by foreigners has been blocked in the past by security and political considerations, but the barriers have come down, wrote Dr. Ramady. "How long this lasts is only a matter of guesswork, as once again, the specter of foreign takeovers of 'national' symbols will be hard to accept," he added.
The latest American symbol to go down the drain is the Anheuser-Busch beer brewer. The Times of London wrote, "The weak dollar and weak economy mean the United States is up for sale. Japs are conquering the car industry. Arabs just bought part of the Chrysler Building. Jeez, they even tried to buy the ports a while back. Whatever next? A hijab on the Statue of Liberty?"
In a more serious vein, The Australian editor-at-large Paul Kelly wrote earlier this month that the foreign investments, headed by Arabs, signal a major change in international power.
"The energy, financial and political woes that grip the U.S. signal a decisive shift in world power, mocking the liberal delusion that Barack Obama or John McCain can return American prestige and power to its pre-Bush year 2000 nirvana," he wrote. "There is no such nirvana. There is instead a new reality: the greatest transfer of income in human history [and] the rise of a new breed of wealthy autocracies that cripple U.S. hopes of dominating the global system and demands on the U.S. to make fresh compromises in a world where power is rapidly being diversified."
Flynt Leverett, former director of Middle East Affairs on the National Security Council, thinks that "the international economic position of the United States has deteriorated substantially since the new millennium."
In the current issue of The American Interest, Gal Luft, from the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, warned that OPEC's Arab countries could potentially "buy the Bank of America with two months' worth of production and General Motors with six days' worth."
The growing Arab takeover of American businesses continues unhindered. The giant Dow Chemical company and a Kuwaiti company have agreed to set up world headquarters for their joint petrochemical venture in Dearborn, Michigan, which has a high concentration of American Arabs.
The Abu Dubai Investment Council years ago entered the international media business, buying a nine percent stake in Reuters News Agency, which usually reports with an open anti-Israeli bias.
However, Abu Dhabi's' director of international affairs, Yousef al Otaiba, has reassured American officials that its purchase of Citibank will not be used to exert political pressure on the U.S. He wrote the Treasury Department, "It is important to be absolutely clear that the Abu Dhabi government has never and will never use its investment organizations or individual investments as a foreign policy tool."