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Sun 16 Nov 2008 04:00 AM

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Your economies took one hell of a beating

When Norway beat England 2-1 at the Ulleval Stadium in Oslo in 1981, the result produced the best 30 seconds of sports radio history.

When Norway beat England 2-1 at the Ulleval Stadium in Oslo in 1981, the result produced the best 30 seconds of sports radio history.

Unable to control his emotions after the final whistle blew, the late Norwegian commentator, Bjorn Lillelien, began to taunt the English fans in a more historically-referenced way than they might have been used to on the terraces at home games.

"Lord Nelson, Lord Beaverbrook, Sir Winston Churchill, Sir Anthony Eden, Clement Attlee, Henry Cooper, Lady Diana, Maggie Thatcher - can you hear me?" asked Lillelien.

The US financial crisis has produced a sense of comic Schadenfreude among Gulf business leaders.

"Your boys took one hell of a beating!" Adding insult to injury for the British viewing public, he delivered his verbal attack in English and in an accent that they had until then associated with the nice chef from the Muppet Show.

The emergence of the worst financial crisis in eighty years on Wall Street and the ensuing bailout of the country's banking system has produced that same sense of comic Schadenfreude among many business leaders in the Gulf - perhaps fuelled by uncertainty over what a new administration may mean for the region.

‘Forget that our own markets are also flashing red. At least we're in better shape than them lot that have been lecturing us over what international stocks we're allowed to buy and whether we pump more crude or not', seems to be the mood of many.

It feels like that resentment has been aggravated further in the wake of the sell-off by foreign institutions in local benchmark stocks and the recent publication of research notes from international banks questioning the vitality of local real estate.

The elections are also a reminder of old political wounds in the relationship between the US and the region - especially in relation to the activity of sovereign wealth funds and oil production.

The hope will be that a new administration defines its dealings with regional business leaders without recourse to the sort of paternalistic language that tends not to play very well here.

A leading Saudi industrialist addressing a petrochemical conference in Dubai last week couldn't resist a few Lillelien-like comments of his own when he addressed the gathering, laughing at the number of international risk analysis consultants planning to open offices in the region.

"I told them they should open up in New York and London instead. They could make good business there these days," he said. "I told them, we know our circumstances better than you do. We never bought any of that ‘garbage' paper."

The message appears clear: ‘If you live in a glasshouse, don't throw stones.'

The Gulf may have had a rough economic ride in recent weeks, but don't forget that it's your boys, not ours, who took one hell of a beating.Sean Cronin is the editor of Arabian Business English.

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