Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Ibrahim and the dark future.

Last Friday my oldest uncle, along with his 16-year-old son, visited us, as he used to do this once every month. My uncle is a high school manager and a history teacher at the same time in the same school. I saw that he was wearing a nice suit that I had not seen him wearing before. I said "Nice suit uncle. Is it new?" He said "Yes, I bought it about a month ago". "It must be expensive" I asked and he replied, "Yes it is, but your uncle now can afford it".

Some of the readers may remember me saying something about my uncle. Before the war he was in the same job and he was paid about 15 thousands Iraqi Dinars that was equal to about 7 US$ a month. His wife, who is also a teacher, was paid a little less than that. He has 5 children; one in primary school three in high school and a girl in college. Of course that salary couldn’t help him support his family, yet he didn’t quit it. He always hoped that things would change for the better. In order to meet life's requirements and offer his kids a proper education, he had to work after school. He worked in every kind of business; a taxi driver, a grocer and opened a small shop for a while, but things didn’t go quite well.

He had to sell his car first, then his ‘extra’ refrigerator, then the only refrigerator, then the TV and then and then…. The last time we visited him, I had to hold my tears when I entered his house. There was virtually no furniture there, no chairs, no TV no tables, as they had sold them all, but what shocked me more is that there were no inside doors. He had to sell those too. I mean his house was literally bare. His kids were ashamed of showing because they had nothing proper to wear. It was amazing how he kept honest and didn’t accept bribery from his rich students’ families.

Back to where I started, I asked my uncle: "How much do they pay you now? I’ve heard you got a raise" He answered "Yes I did, I get paid 550 thousands Dinars now" (that’s about 400$ a month). "And what about aunt?" I asked, meaning his wife "She gets 450 thousands, as she has less years of service". I said "Good for you! What does it look like now, your life?" He said, "Uncle, (the word serves both sides) it’s unbelievable. I’ve refurnished my house fully and I’m looking for a car, but I’m not in a hurry as I can’t drive now and I want it for Ibrahim (his son) as soon as he can get a driving license". His sons and daughters were always very polite and never asked for anything, they were very understanding of their father’s financial difficulties (the right word here should be EXTREME poverty) they were smart and well educated and never asked for anything their father couldn’t afford.

I said "You must’ve saved quite a good sum of money by now" He answered "Not that much, I’m trying to give my sons all that they were deprived of for all those years. Still they don’t ask much and I still end up every month with extra money even though I don’t touch my wife’s salary". I must say here that life in Iraq is very cheap compared to most of the world, but that has become a common knowledge I suppose.

My young cousin is a religious Sunni who goes to the mosque and listens to the cleric there every Friday and believes whatever he says, as he’s still young. My uncle always teased his son about this but never prohibited him from doing that. We were talking about different stuff; the kids’ needs, clerics, Americans and the increase in the average income of most Iraqis. My uncle has a somewhat unusual sense of humor that doesn't fit quite well in his somewhat religious family. He winked at me and turned to his son and asked him "What do you think of the Americans?" His son answered, "They are occupiers". "So you think we should fight them?" his father asked. Ibrahim said "No, but I don’t like them". My uncle said, pretending to change the subject "Do you like your new computer that no one shares with you?" "Yes of course dad". "Ok, are you satisfied with the satellite dish receiver we have or do you need a better one?" "This one is fine but I heard there’s a better one that gets more channels" "ok I’ll get you that next week". Then he said, "Is there anything else you’d like to have son?" "No dad I have all that I need". "Ok but how about a car?" Ibrahim was astounded and said "Really? a..a CAR.. for me!?". "Of course for you! I’m too old to drive now and my eyes are not that well and you are the older son. So whom else would it be for!?" "Oh, dad that will be great! When will that happen?" "Just finish your exams and you’ll have it". "I will dad". "Are you happy now son?" "Yes dad, sure I am!" "Then why do you hate the Americans you son of a b***h!? I couldn’t get you a bicycle a year ago, I could hardly feed you and your brothers and sisters. You didn’t know what an apple or a banana tasted like, I couldn’t buy you a damned Pepsi bottle except in occasions, and now you can have all that you wish, and a car of your own! Who do you think made that possible!?" My cousin’s face turned red and didn’t answer as we laughed and I said "What do you think Ibrahim?" He said, "Well it’s true but it’s our money. They are not giving us a charity" and I said "Of course it’s our money, so let’s forget the Billions of dollars they are giving to rebuild Iraq and the efforts they are making to cut down our debts and lets talk about our money. Why didn’t your father, I, my brothers and all the Iraqis have anything worth mentioning before the Americans came?" He said, "Because Saddam used it to buy weapons and build palaces". "There you have it Ibrahim, but Americans are not touching our money. Can you tell me who’s better; the ‘occupiers’ who are helping us or the ‘patriot’ who did all that you know to us?" He said in a faint voice "They are better than Saddam but still they are not Muslims". "So do you want them to be Muslims?" "I wish they were." "Will you fight them to that?" he said, "No, of course not. I don’t like fighting." We didn’t want to pressure and embarrass him further and didn’t go further, as he’s still young but he’s smart and good-natured and will get it soon.

But this is not what I’m talking about today. I’m talking about a strange phenomenon that is related to this conversation I shared with you; it’s the Iraqi Dinar.

Before the war, the Iraqi Dinar was a pathetic piece of paper that could be easily counterfeited , and during Saddam’s times its exchange value dropped from 1 Dinar for 3.33 US$ before the Iraq-Iran war to about 2000 Iraqi Dinar for each single US$ at 2003 with variable changes in between. We never trusted that Dinar, and the tiniest political change or even rumor, used to cause a huge swing in the exchange price of the Iraqi Dinar that sometimes reached 20% of its value in a single day up or down. On one occasion it dropped from 3000 Dinar for each US$ to about 600 Dinar for each US$ in few weeks and then back into 2000 after 2 months, and part of that was sometimes planned. Saddam’s regime used to sell dollars at half the market price, for about one week or so, in small amounts and spread rumors that the sanctions were going to be lifted as part of a secret agreement, and when the price goes below even that of the bank, as many people change their dollars into dinars in the hope that it will rise more, the Mukhabarat, through their men in the market, would buy back more than what the banks had sold, striking two birds in one stone; giving Iraqis a false hope to keep them busy and stimulate the greed of rapid fortune that occurs at such circumstances, and getting extra profit to keep his regime alive (this was not just a guess, I knew this from many Mukhabarat’s men with big mouths). The results were as expected disastrous; few people get rich and thousands get bankrupt, which led in many times to furious disputes between people about unsettled businesses or debts in Iraqi Dinars that mounted to murder in some cases. Those were the peaceful and stable times.

Let’s take a look at the chaos we are living now. Iraq is certainly not what one can call a stable country compared to the rest of the world but is it really as messy and desperate as the media want us to believe?

There are violent attacks that happen on a daily basis and most of the major media are trying to show that these will last forever and that there are street fights going all over Iraq, there’s the Sadr revolt and the unstable so-called Sunni triangle that the media shows as a place that refuses American presence totally, there was the alleged unity between Sunni and She'at against Americans that never happened and there is the somewhat mysterious political future that most of the world try to show as a dark one, and finally the polls that show that most Iraqis want Americans out and added to that the Abu Gharib scandal which seems to be the only violation to human rights on this planet!! I’m not going to argue any of these because each one approaches these in a subjective way and it’s hard to remain objective while discussing them. I’m going to agree with this dark picture and will not, for this time, show my opinion on them. Instead I’m going to focus on this one tiny detail that do not fit in this picture; that is the Iraqi economy.

I think that most people agree that the exchange price of a country’s currency is one of the indicators of the state of that country’s economy and one that when combined with the average income would help in giving a prediction of the future of this economy and the political future of that country as well, as economy and politics are so connected to each other. Now the Iraqi Dinar was never trusted before the war, and my family was one of the hundreds of thousands of families that changed all the Iraqi currency they had into US Dollars just before the war which caused the exchange price for the Iraqi Dinar against the US Dollar and other foreign currencies to drop uncontrollably from 2000 for each dollar to about 4000 in a period of a month that proceeded the war. After the war the Iraqi Dinar returned to the previous figure and with the introduction of the new Iraqi Dinar, the exchange price improved to around 1500 by the beginning of 2004 with few wobbles during the early period. Since January 2004 and till now and despite all the given factors of instability, the exchange price remained almost constant with a marginal variation from 1430 to 1460 and never dropped below 1400 nor did it ever rise above 1500!! What should that tell us?

Is it possible that Iraqis are that dumb enough to believe in their currency and that their economy is stable and rising!? Are they really stupid enough to buy all this crap about a prosperous Iraq in the future? Or are there solid economic changes that make it so hard to shake despite all the efforts the friends and brothers of the Iraqi people are putting? Don’t they ever think of revolting against the Americans? Note that I’m talking about the majority here.

Back to the average income issue. Some readers may remember that I said my salary was about 17 US$ before the war. Shortly after the war it was raised to 120 US$. Three months after that, they made it 150 US$. Two months later it became 200$(although the truth should be said that they promised that it was going to be 250$) and when I went with one of my colloquies (who gets an exact payment) to receive his salary this month (I still haven’t been paid for 6 months due to some bureaucratic problems that have just been solved), the accountant said to my friend "congratulations! You are getting a new raise starting from the next month and your salary will be around 300 US$!"
Now I know this is still a very low figure compared to what doctors get in other countries, but look at the pace of the raises; 120, 150, 200, 300 all in one year! I mean it’s spooky. What will it be the next year, 500$? And what about 3 or 4 years from now? A thousand or can I dare say a few thousand dollars? Will we get more than what the Syrian, Egyptian Iranian and even Saudi doctors!? What a disaster will it be to the mullahs of Iran, Bashar Al-Assad and the king of Saudi Arabia?

Some people, including some Iraqis, are fooled by the media as they tells them that the prices are higher than before. This is not true, as the prices of ALL the imported goods have lowered especially with only 5% import tax and with no Uday or Qusay to take their share of the merchants’ profits. The only prices that have risen are those the of the local goods and the wages of laborers and services provided by private businesses, but that was only by 2 to 3 folds increase at maximum compared to the unbelievably high rise in the income of the government employees who represent most of the working Iraqis which should explain the former fact as a healthy sign of economical growth, not the opposite.

Others are fooled by what the media keeps screaming about the unemployment. And this is the most stupid lie I’ve ever heard to which I have only one question: Who are those unemployed people?? I dare anyone to answer this!

Everyone who knows enough about Iraq should know that millions of Iraqis were employed by the government, but most of them had second jobs (I used to run a small shop with my brothers beside my job as a doctor, and of course I gave it up soon after the war) except for those who took illegal advantages from their original jobs. The rest were involved in private businesses that paid more but were very risky with all the shakes in economy and all the restrictions from the old regime. After the war some of those who were employed by the government were expelled, but most of them are back now. For God’s sake even most of the Ba’athists and the security agents are back to their jobs now! The only people who are out of job now are Saddam’s special security agents and higher ranked Ba’athists who sucked the Iraqi people’s blood for decades. May I ask how many are those, and should we really sympathieze with them this much? Besides, most of them made fortunes and fled out of the country or are using it to start their own businesses and no one is preventing them from doin that. But wait a minute! Maybe they are talking about the hundreds of thousands of soldiers in the old army who were paid no more than 10 thousand Iraqi Dinars (5 US$)! Now that is something really bad, to deprive a soldier of a job that paid him 5 $ and cost him 10 times that in transport and bribing the officers besides his DIGNITY!

The bottom line, and to talk more seriously, is that the picture the media are giving us about Iraq is almost convincing, even to me, if it wasn’t for this insignificant detail, and something must be done to make it right before most Iraqis start to realize that! But to be fair our Arab and Muslim brothers, supported by the legitimate Arab leaders and cheered by most of the major media are aware of that, and of the dangers of the vicious cycle of (prosperity-stability-more prosperity-more stability) that the Americans and the Iraqi traitors (like myself) are trying to establish. They (our brothers) are doing all that they can; bombing oil pipelines and ports, beheading foreigners in the name of Iraqis and Allah, attacking electricity stations, creating chaos that allows thieves to loot everything they can, yet it’s still not working!! The Iraqi Dinar stands stable despite the fact that some Arab governments formally warned their citizens from dealing with it, the oil production is increasing, the markets are full of goods, most Iraqis are busy working, studying selling and buying and the average income is rising!
Please, all those who care about the poor Iraqis and want to save them from the brutality of the American invaders and who want to prevent the Americans from stealing our fortune; meaning Bin laden, Zagrawi and their followers, Arab and Muslim tyrants, our good friend monsieur Dominique de Villepin, all the pacifists of the world, the major media, and in short, all those who hate America and obviously love Iraq: Get your s**t together and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT or else one or two years from now Iraq will be…a prosperous country, and then we will never forgive you for letting us down when we needed you!
Besides, how would you face us if my cousin got a car and had an accident?!

-By Ali.


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