The World Today for January 25, 2024


All That Glitters …


Prince Abdul Mateen of the small Southeast Asian nation of Brunei was described in Time magazine as “swoon-worthy,” “hot,” and “sexy.”

Long considered one of the most eligible bachelors in the world, the 32-year-old helicopter pilot in his country’s air force is the 10th child of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, the oil-rich country’s absolute monarch whose estimated net worth is around $28 billion, making the sultan one of the richest royals on the planet.

Imagine the conversations in the palace – among the largest in the world, incidentally – and across the kingdom when the prince, who has an impressive Instagram following of more than 2.5 million, announced that he would marry a commoner, 29-year-old Anisha Rosnah Isa-Kalebic, the daughter of one of the sultan’s advisers.

Pictures of the 10-day wedding that culminated on Jan. 16 showed an opulent Islamic affair. The prince looked trim and handsome in his military uniform. The bride wore a diamond tiara that the National noted was a royal family heirloom with 838 diamonds totaling 132 carats. Five thousand people attended, including Saudi and Jordanian royalty, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, and Filipino President Ferdinand Marcos, added the BBC.

The wedding has captivated Asia and those at home, the local Borneo Bulletin reported.

Still, Mateen is not immediately slated to assume the title of sultan when his father passes. But the news coverage of the lavish event demonstrated Brunei’s place – or at least its dynastic family’s place – in the region where the tiny kingdom punches above its weight.

For example, the sultan recently has been balancing relations with the US and China, explained the United States Institute of Peace, to hedge the power and influence of both countries on his realm. Since the Cold War, Brunei has maintained relations with the US to gain security guarantees. But China’s rising stature has been impossible to ignore in the Pacific region.

China’s interest in Brunei has increased, too, in recent years, added the East Asia Forum. The country is, after all, the third-largest oil producer in the region and fourth-largest natural gas producer in the world. Engagement with China has helped Brunei, which offers its people a generous social welfare safety net, to diversify its economy, too. It also softens the desire for more freedoms, which the repressive kingdom is unwilling to offer, even as it tightened up Sharia law provisions that its royal family members routinely violate.

Still, this diversification has become a priority among Brunei’s leaders since problems with aging oil wells helped trigger a recession in 2021 and 2022, reported Agence France-Presse. The country has faced similar turbulence during price slumps and other instability.

Time is likely to run out, say analysts. “In the short to medium term, rising oil prices are likely to support the Brunei economy,” Nawazish Mirza, a finance professor at Excelia Business School in France, told China Daily. Relying on oil and gas “may not be sustainable in the long term due to climate concerns and the global demand is likely to shift to alternative renewable energy sources.”

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