Can Brunei survive without the Bolkiah monarchy

Sultan of Brunei: After the jet set life comes the law of stoning

Bandar Seri Begawan - Brunei is probably the richest of those states that nobody knows: As the fifth most prosperous nation in the world, the financial magazine "Forbes" lists the 430,000-inhabitant state on the northeastern tip of the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia; Development Index ranks 39th. Only Singapore is richer in the region than the small oil sultanate. Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, who has ruled absolutistically since 1967, tried to stop reports about its own luxurious vehicle fleet, the 1,788-room palace and, above all, about financial escapades in the family. Mostly with success.

Most recently, the country made more headlines in 2014 because a number of celebrities spoke out in favor of a boycott of the Dorchester Collection hotel chain, which is owned by the Sultan. Now it's back in the headlines - for the same reason. As announced in the official gazette, the monarch really wants to enforce what he was criticized for in 2014: an Islamic-fundamentalist catalog of punishments that includes stoning for homosexuals and adulterers and forced amputations for thieves. The international outcry is again great, the Hollywood celebrities are mobilizing against the project. And many in the jet set ask the question: How did this happen? After all, not so long ago the Sultan was one of them.

Welcome in the casino

More than a thousand luxury cars, numerous airplanes, multiple marriages and having fun gambling in London casinos: Sultan Hassanal, allegedly the richest man in the world at the time, was still known for this in the 1980s. And above all his family was until recently. It was not until 2010 that Hassanal's trial against his brother Jefri ended because he, as finance minister in the 1990s, had managed to put the sum of 20 billion US dollars from the state treasury into his own and other people's pockets. At the same time, details about his way of life became known: Among other things, he owned pictures by well-known painters, erotic sculptures that depicted himself with lovers, and a luxury yacht called Tits.

So how do you get from there to the new draconian laws? On the one hand with a strong pinch of double standards. Although British civil law has been the legal basis of the state that has only been independent since 1984, the country has already upheld what it perceives to be its Muslim traditions: strict public morals, a ban on alcohol and, for some years now, a ban on public celebrations of Christian Christmas and the chinese new year. The Sultan first announced in 2014 that elements of criminal law should also be adapted to what the Sultanate sees as an Islamic obligation: "We don't do this for fun," he said when he presented the three-stage introductory phase, "but for Allah's sake To obey orders from the Koran. " Then he delayed the introduction after the protests.

Whip punishment instead of carrots

But only until now. From Wednesday the third expansion stage - that is the one in which the stonings are also planned - will come into force. That this is the case, say those in the know, also has to do with the economic situation. Because Brunei, which has so far rewarded its citizens with free health care, cheap education, tax exemption and other mild gifts for their loyalty to the absolutist sultan, is running out of oil. It should be so far in 20 years at the latest. Then the state, in which donations of the poor are illegal until now, because they would call into question the supply by the Sultan, will consider a new model for controlling its citizens.

According to the media from diplomatic circles, fundamentalist preachers at the Sultan ensured that this was supposed to be a strictly interpreted form of Islam. On the one hand, Hassanal is said to have become more devout since he took part in the Hajj in the late 1980s. On the other hand, he sees Islam as the reason for his healing from gambling addiction. But above all, he says himself, he sees religion, if interpreted strictly, as a "bulwark against globalization". In this way and not otherwise, those traditions should be preserved in the sultanate that have stabilized the rule of his family since the 16th century.

Poison for future plans

Of course, it remains to be seen how the text of the law and its interpretation will interact in reality: A long prison sentence has already applied to homosexual acts in Brunei - it has rarely been pronounced. The death penalty, which is actually included in the law books for other forms of crime, has not been implemented for decades. And about the Christmas party ban, reports from the US embassy to the State Department in the late 2000s said that "quiet diplomacy" was more fruitful than loud protests on such issues. But even if the punishment should not be carried out: The mere fact that it exists, and not only human rights activists say, is devastating.

"Devastating" - by the way, this does not only apply to human rights. The country's lofty plans to move the economy from oil to other sources of income are now in question again. International companies are said to be questioning projects because of increasing fundamentalism, and the call for a boycott for companies in which Brunei is involved does the rest. And finally, the public uproar is also poison for the country's unsuccessful plans to become a popular tourist destination. (Manuel Escher, April 1st, 2019)