Malaysia has been betrayed by Prime Minister Najib Razak

Dr. Azeem Ibrahim
22 July 2016

I have argued time and again that the greatest threat to the Muslim world is not the West, but rather, corruption and incompetence in administration in the Muslim countries themselves.

To this argument there were a number of crucial pieces of evidence. First of all, there is a clear inverse correlation between corruption and economic development not just in the Middle East, but globally. Secondly, Muslim countries are among the most corrupt countries in the world, and this maps well to the problems we know well from the region.

In this sense, the abundance of natural resources has served to mask much of the problem, as per capita wealth in the region comes out as much higher than it would have been for a given level of corruption, and that distorts the perception of societal problems in these countries.

For another, that abundance of wealth can be used to buy off the acquiescence of the population to an otherwise questionable regime, as is the case with the benefits that these states lavish upon their population, or alternatively, can be used to fund extensive repressive police and intelligence apparatuses to keep the population in check, as was the case in Saddam-era Iraq.

But there was also plenty of converse evidence, specifically states on the periphery of the Islamic world which did not conform the region’s reputation for corruption. Most notably, we had the examples of Turkey and of Malaysia.

Malaysia is a secure and naturally wealthy country with a track record of success in development and is suffering entirely from self-inflicted wounds

In both the cases, the countries have inherited and sustained over the span of the 20th century an ethos of modernism and civic-mindedness which emulated that in the successful countries in the West. And they reaped the benefits of social and political stability, and economic development, both having been the most economically developed Islamic countries in international rankings.

But I fear we are about to be witnesses to a very cruel experiment, which I believe will prove my argument. It is yet too early to make a definitive judgement on the direction Turkey is heading in after the failed coup of the other week, even if the omens do not look good.

Breakdown of institutional functioning

In the case of Malaysia, we are already seeing the breakdown in institutional functioning and credibility which will likely see the country join the other Middle Eastern countries in the infamous club of corrupt and barely functioning states.

Malaysia has been betrayed not so much by its institutional traditions, as by its populist Prime Minister Najib Razak. He has ridden a wave of popular support into power on the back of promises for economic liberalization, and growth and opportunity, but has seemingly wasted no time in milking the state dry for his own personal gain and the gain of his family.

An ongoing Wall Street Journal investigation is looking into evidence that as much as $1 billion has been siphoned into the prime minister and his relatives’ bank accounts, most of it from the coffers of the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1MDB, allegedly started by Mr Razak soon after he took charge in the country in 2009. And a further $5 billion are unaccounted for.

Neither Turkey nor Malaysia can hide behind the usual excuses about Western intervention or historical colonial crimes. Both have come into the post WW2 world as confident, independent nations, and both carved a way in the world for themselves through hard work and diligence, efforts which have yielded a good life to the majority of their citizens.

Turkey currently finds itself in a complex political, economic and security crisis from which we cannot draw too many general conclusions. But Malaysia is suffering entirely from self-inflicted wounds. It is a secure and naturally wealthy country with a track record of success in development. But it has let its guard down, and has let corruption infest the highest levels of government.

Malaysian civil society must now take firm and immediate action to put the country back on track. If not, I fear that the country will tragically end up as the perfect case study into how the problems of the Islamic world stem primarily from domestic corruption.

Azeem Ibrahim is an RAI Fellow at Mansfield College, University of Oxford and Research Professor at the Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College. He completed his PhD from the University of Cambridge and served as an International Security Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and a World Fellow at Yale. Over the years he has met and advised numerous world leaders on policy development and was ranked as a Top 100 Global Thinker by the European Social Think Tank in 2010 and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.

  1. #1 by boh-liao on Sunday, 24 July 2016 - 5:28 am

    D author obviously OUT of touch of what is really happening here la
    What a waste being @ssociated with Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard, Yale
    Must learn fr Gelakan loyalist la 2 see d BIG picture

  2. #2 by Bigjoe on Sunday, 24 July 2016 - 8:54 am

    Given what we have seen UMNO’s reaction to DOJ facts, it’s not just Najib that has betrayed the nation – it’s UMNO Baru. Worst, Hadi’s PAS is still pretending they are not part of it. Both UMNO and PAS are clear, present danger to the country – most of the traditional establishment Malay leadership has failed. Both UMNO and PAS has to go. Amanah is PAS salvage and saviour but KJ and UMNO Youth silence condemns them and the longer they take, the less there is to salvage

  3. #3 by SuperString on Sunday, 24 July 2016 - 12:34 pm

    Strangely what Dr. Azeem Ibrahim voiced about Muslim countries incompetence was also voiced by Dr. Mahathir saying “Islamic world is “hopelessly backward…..not a single Muslim country to be found among the developed world.” ( on 19 July 2002; refer : After 14 years since that speech, Islamic World seem to get more “backward”. Many Islamic countries depend on oil to survive, and my take is that next few decades, oil like previous commodities rubber, spice, cotton will be no more important. You can imagine millions will be suffering and mass migration to Europe like we see now except magnify a thousand times!

  4. #4 by Bigjoe on Sunday, 24 July 2016 - 12:40 pm

    One other person has betrayed Malaysian and Sarawakian. Adenan Satem said he would leave BN if Najib is guilty. What now?

  5. #5 by boh-liao on Sunday, 24 July 2016 - 7:59 pm

    What betrayal?
    Didn’t d author know d outcomes of d recent S’wak state erections n 2 buy erections?
    Voters were GRATEFUL 2 our MOO n UmnoB/BN
    Overwhelming victories recorded
    As many ministers had reiterated, d SILENT MAJORITY love n support our MOO n UmnoB/BN
    D author is totally ignorant – most likely an agent of d nation’s enemies

  6. #6 by good coolie on Monday, 25 July 2016 - 1:56 pm

    Ah, if money goes from one company to another, round and round in a merry-go-round, until it disappears, you cannot trace where it goes!

    Remember the criminal who signed himself by coding his face into a convoluted circular shape? Some computer-smart fellows managed to unscramble his face, and he was caught. There you are!

  7. #7 by good coolie on Thursday, 28 July 2016 - 12:03 am

    So can the 3Ms sit back and relax, now that the US is going to do the work of fixing MO1? But I say man, this will take a very very long time, you know. I ask the 3Ms to do some attacking on their own too.
    (Heh, heh, heh! There is a quiz, here.)

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