When you have lived all your political (and possibly normal) life as a species of the Ketuanan Melayu tribe, it is maddening that when you go overseas, people do not recognise your Ketuanan status and you are treated like just a rakyat biasa je.
This is what befell poor Ismail Sabri when he thought he would be given the red carpet treatment in the UAE on 29 March.
Naturally, everyone in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) (typically all Malaysian PMs & their staff, act in a similar fashion) blamed everyone else apart from themselves. They blamed two senior diplomats in the UAE, and had them recalled to desk duties in Putrajaya…meaning jadi peon and push paper as punishment.
I have a different view of the failed Ismail visit…
What if Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s latest diplomatic debacle in Dubai had been self-inflicted?Ismail Sabri was upset by the absence of pomp and circumstance when he visited Dubai. There was no security coverage, nor an official motorcade. He was forced to endure immigration formalities like a rakyat biasa (ordinary citizen) and have a lengthy wait whilst his passport was processed.
Two senior diplomats – the Malaysian Ambassador to UAE Mohd Tarid Sufian and the Consul-General of Malaysia in Dubai, Mohd Hasril Abdul Hamid, were singled out for opprobrium when Ismail was snubbed by UAE officials.
Surely the blame lies with the Ketuanan Malay brigade for creating a sense of entitlement in many Malay politicians?
Not everyone is willing to fulfil the Malay politician’s every wish. Foreign people may not realise that, in Malaysia, the rakyat is held to ransom by the Ketuanan brigade. If we do not “ikut cakap” (follow orders), we are punished for insubordination.
Ismail Sabri is also a global defender of Bahasa Melayu, a creator of shopping malls, and a batik promoter, but his recent visit to the UAE, which the New Straits Times touted as the trip to ‘build a better brand for Malaysia’, was a huge flop.
The humiliation faced at Dubai airport
He may command attention simply because he is PM, but the humiliation he faced on the tarmac of Dubai’s Al Maktoum International Airport was a revelation in itself.
In the shockwaves following the snub, we had a glimpse of how Ismail Sabri’s administration is run, how it conducts itself and how they mismanaged the diplomatic debacle.
For his supporters, Ismail Sabri is the symbolic Malay warrior, and the absence of a senior minister of the host country to welcome a visiting PM on official business must have been acutely embarrassing.
The public may not know whose decision it was to punish the two senior diplomats when they were recalled to basic desk duty in Putrajaya. They may not be privy to what happened behind the scenes that led to this snub, but if you recall, on March 24, Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah proudly boasted that he had written a letter in Bahasa Malaysia to the State Secretary of the United States, Antony Blinken.
What if Saifuddin had got carried away, and in his childish enthusiasm had written, in Malay, to his counterpart in the UAE with details about Ismail Sabri’s impending visit?
The clueless Saifuddin was probably unaware that the UAE government was busy running the Dubai World Expo, where every day, their officials had to deal with hundreds of VIPs, whose itineraries had been planned years in advance.
The event ended on March 31 and had been delayed for one year, because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
It is highly probable that a junior official had seen Saifuddin’s letter in his boss’s in-tray and couldn’t make head or tail of the gobbledegook, so he put it aside for translation.
Saifuddin and Ismail Sabri should take note. Lesson number one in international diplomacy is this: Do not do things to impress. If you want to be understood and have a speedy response, your correspondence should be in English.
The above translation issue probably did not arise, but more to the point, many Malaysians are wondering why Ismail Sabri makes several overseas trips when he needs to stay at home and deal with the many local issues that need serious attention. His priorities are all wrong.
The cost of living is going up. Basic goods and services are increasingly beyond the reach of the average wage earner. The economy needs sorting out. Foreign investment is drying up. Racism, including institutionalised racism, is on the rise. The extremist form of Islam is rearing its ugly head again.
The coronavirus pandemic has made corrupt politicians and civil servants more devious. They devise ways with which they and their proxy companies can make a quick buck, from masks to migrant workers, and apps for monitoring the control of the coronavirus.
Here is another conundrum. What if the UAE had received notification of Ismail Sabri’s visit, but then deliberately ignored his request for an official welcoming committee?
The UAE authorities are probably fed-up with Malaysian politicians for tarnishing their princes with allegations of corrupt and dodgy dealings linked to 1MDB. The testimony by former Goldman Sach’s banker Tim Leissner, about Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the deputy prime minister of the UAE, is particularly damning.
A few years ago, the convicted felon, Najib Abdul Razak, was welcomed like a conquering hero in the UAE. Today, unlike Najib, the UAE has a reputation to protect.
So, when allegations appear about UAE princes being involved in dodgy deals involving the mother of all corruption scandals, 1MDB, it is completely understandable if the UAE were to ignore requests about Ismail Sabri’s visit.
According to a report in Free Malaysia Today (FMT), Ambassador Tarid had warned Wisma Putra that Ismail Sabri’s visit was ill-timed, but his advice was brushed aside.
Does the foreign minister think he knows best? He does not appear to trust his officials on the ground in Dubai.
The reckless and incompetent Saifuddin is to blame for the diplomatic bungle, but isn’t it convenient he found two scapegoats?
Many former and current senior officials in Wisma Putra are livid about the treatment of the two diplomats. But do either Ismail Sabri or Saifuddin care?
The problem and solution to Ismail Sabri’s upset are obvious.
The PM suffered a bruised ego. He should develop an insult-proof persona, but more importantly, he needs to get rid of his massive ego.