With one sentence, the New
York Times raised dozens of Middle East pundits' hopes that their words were reaching the most powerful man in the world. "At night in the family residence...Mr. Obama often surfs the blogs of experts on Arab affairs or regional
news sites to get a local flavor for events," read
Mark Landler's account of how the Obama administration will attempt to use the
killing of Osama bin Laden to recast the U.S. relationship with the Arab world.
Well, Mr. President, we have some late-night reading
suggestions for you. First, of course, there's Marc Lynch and the Middle East Channel - Foreign Policy's
own contribution to the fast-changing world of politics in the Arab world. But
there's also an entire community of Middle East bloggers who obsessively follow
and comment on developments in their countries, and throughout the region.
Caveat emptor: Many of these authors will take you outside
the comfort zone of the Washington policy debate. What's more, if you tried to
gather them all in one room, you'd be virtually guaranteed a fight. But these
blogs will also give you a more realistic sense of the political conversation in
the Arab world. Don't stay up too late - you have a full-time job, after all.
If you've got a spare billion or so dollars lying
around, and have ever dreamed of owning or operating a mid-size Mediterranean
lottery system -- let's just say you may want to circle May 16 on your
That's when the Greek parliament, troubled by loads
of sovereign debt and a stalled economy, is set to pass a radical new financial
program, complete with an itemized list of state assets to be sold off at
cut-rate prices. It's an audacious fire-sale, one that hopes to raise at least
15 billion euros over the next three years, and some 50 billion euros by 2015 -
enough to get a new line of credit to pay off some of its existing creditors.
The real goal is to prove to the country's European neighbors that it is making
a good-faith effort to get its books in order -- the better to entice better
terms on the next EU loan.
Of course, the Greek government is aware that even
mass privatization doesn't amount to a long-term solution for the troubled
country: The IMF estimates that even if the privatization plans proceed
according to the most optimistic scenario (which is a very optimistic scenario), that would only reduce the country's
debt to 134 percent of GDP -- hardly
enough to alter the country's junk-bond status.
But, that shouldn't deter anyone from attending
Greece's state auction after combing his couch cushions for stray billion
dollar bank notes. Indeed, there's plenty on offer.
If real estate's your thing, you might consider
purchasing newly-available government land near the Rio-Antirio bridge near the
port city of Patras; or a stretch on the island of Rhodes that the government
hopes can be turned into a golf course. The government is also looking for
buyers for the stadiums it built for the 2004 Olympics -- arenas that have
since gone unused.
But most of the assets come in the way of state-held
companies. The national electricity and sewage utilities are up for sale, as is
the Greek railway, its postal service, its sole racetrack and horse-racing
corporation, and the national lottery system. There are also a number of
airports, ports, and marinas up for grabs, as well as the state nickel mining
industry, and something called the "Hellenic Football Prognostics Organization".
A more comprehensive list can be found
In the abstract, the Greek public supports the
privatization plans, with 74% of the country saying that the measures are "probably"
necessary. But the question is how Greeks will respond when the measures begin
to affect them personally. There, the signs are less auspicious. Locals have
already vowed to block efforts by the Qatari government to build a new
financial district on the site of an abandoned airport on the outskirts of
Athens; the mayor says he wants to open a public park instead.