In the wake of President Trump’s successful Abraham Accords, which normalized ties between Israel, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates, investors are hoping for more business opportunities in the Middle East.
But the real long-term threat to such prospects is a lack of respect for the rule of law — the principle under which people and institutions are accountable under laws that apply equally to all.
Across the developing world, the corruption of courts and other government institutions threatens the free flow of goods and capital that promotes economic growth. Left unaddressed, such threats can lead to heightened tensions among nations and trade wars. Diplomats operate under constraints that limit how much they can call out international bad actors who violate the rule of law.
That’s why the role of outside watchdogs is so important in promoting the rule of law and holding nations to the standards of fairness and impartiality they claim to meet.
This was brought home last month, when a court in the United Arab Emirates struck a real blow for the rule of law. After ten years of litigation, the court ordered Saudi businessman Ahmed al-Rajhi to pay nearly $600 million in compensation and damages in the largest real-estate fraud in the Middle East. Al-Rajhi is currently the powerful Minister of Labor in the Saudi government.
The scandal involved a company called Tameer Holding. Its founder, a Canadian businessman named Omar Ayesh, had sold a large part of Tameer to the al-Rajhi family. They then took over the company and illegally drained its assets. Ayesh and dozens of investors in Tameer’s landmark building in Dubai were cheated of billions.
Ayesh decided to fight back and filed a suit in the Dubai courts. But the case dragged on for ten years even as evidence mounted that the powerful al-Rajhi family of Saudi Arabia had tried to subvert justice with bribes, forgery, and threats to court-appointed experts in Dubai.
Finally, Ayesh founded the Global Justice Foundation, a non-profit based in Washington that is dedicated to exposing corruption and aiding its victims. (I briefly advised the foundation in 2019 on future cases to spotlight.).
Tameer was the foundation’s first case, and its role in shining light on the Tameer scandal appears to have played a role in pushing the Dubai courts to a resolution.
“Justice has prevailed,” Ayesh said in a statement. “The decision will strengthen investor confidence in Dubai.”
The foundation is now hearing from additional victims of the Tameer scandal and other Middle Eastern corruption. It’s looking at ways to assist them in filing their own lawsuits and to amplify its message that the region must fight corruption more diligently.
The only way that Middle Eastern nations will be able to fully take advantage of any thaw from reduced tensions in the region is to strengthen the rule of law and ensure that investors are not fleeced.