Back in 1979, in his song “Oliver’s Army”, Elvis Costello famously sang: “London is full of Arabs”. His prophetic lyric came true — London is full of Arabs. And Bengalis, and Pakistanis, and Somalis, and…
Nowadays we might want to say, “Bosnia is full of Arabs”, because that seems to be the current trend.
Many thanks to JLH for translating this article from the Austrian daily Die Presse:
How Arabs Are Buying Into Bosnia
Investors from the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia are having houses and vacation complexes built in central Bosnia. Residents fear the radical Wahhabi influence.
by Erich Rathfelder
February 16, 2016
Sarajevo: Expansive parks traverse the countryside. In the summer, carriages roll along tree-lined allees, to the source of the Bosna River, at the edge of the Igman Massif, where water bubbles out of the stone and a river is formed. Mehmed Alicehajic loves this place — Ilidža, at the gates of Sarajevo. Wandering through these almost untouched woods, “you can come upon surprises” says the 82-year-old former professor of German Studies.
The ladies and gentlemen from Vienna came to the hotels and spas here in the 19th century, whereas now it is predominantly Arab families. The spa hotels renovated after the last war, like the Hotel Hungaria or the Bosna, have for years been fully booked by tourists from the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia, especially since the traditional summer resorts in Syria and Lebanon have become insecure. With a growth rate of up to 30%, Bosnia and Herzegovina have become tourist country.
“Jannah” is the Arabic word for paradise. “Jannah” is what major investor, Ismail Ahmed, of the company Buroj Property Development from Dubai, shouted, as he enjoyed the view of the snow-covered massif of Treskavica. His company has bought the big plateau and intends to put €2.2 billion into the project. An almost unimaginable scope for Bosnia. 2,000 villas, 60 hotels, 186 multi-family houses, a hospital, shopping centers and restaurants, will appear here.
By the firm’s calculations, the investment will pay off, because construction prices in Bosnia are low. Cement and other building materials are produced in-country. The firm assumes that costs here will be one-third of the building costs at home. Construction is scheduled to begin as early as April. There are also other Arab firms active in central Bosnia. While the super-rich from the Gulf States are investing in London and spending the summer in chalets in Kitzbühel or Switzerland, here it is the middle class that is seeking economical alternatives.
Typical Mixed Villages
The snow- and ice-covered road weaves its way up the mountainside to the village Osjenik. The site, Pazarić, is still recognizable down in the valley. A unique view of the surrounding mountains is visible from the first village houses. The ski runs set up on the Bjelašnica-Massif for the 1984 Olympics still draw thousands of skiers.
Former Professor Alicehajic points out the Muslim cemetery, and next to it the Christian cemetery with pictures of the deceased engraved on the gravestones. The mosque and church show that this village is one of the typical central Bosnian mixed villages, where people of different religions have lived together for centuries.
The summit is reached after a few hundred meters. Two-story, multi-family houses surround an area which will contain an artificial lake. This is indicated by a sign at the entrance to the area, depicting the complex by the Kuwait firm, Gulf d.o.o. Some of the houses are only half-finished. Next to them backhoes are digging ditches. Work is going on everywhere. There will be a shopping center, mosque, restaurants and cafés. No one can enter the areas yet. The Bosnian watchman intimates that the first tourists are expected as early as the summer. More than 1,000 tourists from the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia will be able to spend their vacations here.
Many men from the region, says Alicehajic, now have work. To be sure, uneducated laborers only get about €15/day, but that is “better than hanging around without work”. He is not religious, says the Bosnian. But he fears for the survival of the traditional, tolerant, Bosnian Islam. “Wahhabism and Salafism don’t belong here,” he grumbles. “What meaning does this radical, Arabic Islam have for the Muslim village population? To say nothing of the Christians,” he complains.
Alicehajic relates that the investors acquired the land from the community, since — after the war and with independence — the state lands of socialist Yugoslavia became the property of the communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina. “It does not take much imagination to envision what corruption this engendered among mayors and political parties. And the Wahhabists will try to draw the Muslim politicians to their side.” After the excursion to the plateau, he stops in at a restaurant in Pazarić. On the table before him are bean soup, herb tea and the pear schnapps, Kruska.
The rotund pub owner has been listening to Alicehajic’s theories. He says, “Wait a minute, it’s not that simple. The Arabs spent a lot of money last summer.” He was now in the process of expanding his restaurant. In the summer, dozens of guests would be able to sit outside by the brook. Money was now coming into the region and it would be better for everyone.
But is he allowed to serve alcohol? “Don’t be silly! Arab guests last summer drank a lot of wine, beer and schnapps. It’s allowed here. They enjoy our Bosnian-Muslim life style.”
Posters in Arabic
A new world has risen in Ilidža’s center. The Arab real estate firms which have settled around the Hotel Hollywood, built after the Yugoslav war, advertise their wares in Arabic. Over tea and soft drinks in the hotel cafeteria, groups of men — Arab and Bosnian — sit close together and rummage through papers.
Emir, too, would like to deal with the Arabs. The young Bosnian from Mostar has grown a beard. He wants to deal with the big Arab investors about delivering meat. “The Arabs’ food must be halal. We cannot offer them Argentinean meat.”
Has Emir grown a beard for business reasons alone? Or is he moving in the direction of the “New Islam”? Alicehajic is undecided. Emir seems prepared to talk about questions of faith. He criticizes the West’s superficial consumer world: “Just partying is boring.”
Emir’s demeanor is pleasing to a female companion, but not to a Bosnian Muslim woman. Snubbed, she says: “He did not want to offer me his hand as his wife. Next, they will be demanding that we Bosnian women wear the veil.”