As usual, the United States (US) has enacted an arm-twisting law to blackmail other countries, including its allies. The US congress recently passed a measure of legislation entitled: Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA). It entails that those who support acts of terrorism against the US can be held responsible no matter where the money or support was given. JASTA would grant victims of terrorist actions the right to take legal action against those who provide financial or material support for acts of terrorism against the US.
For the first time in modern history, JASTA removes the cover of sovereign immunity. A foreign country will not have immunity for actions taken in support of terrorist acts occurring in the US. The legislation requires only that the injury occur in the US. In addition, US courts will have jurisdiction over actions carried out outside the US that result in injury or damage of property or people inside the US.
The threat of such legislation is very clear. The law threatens Saudi Arabia and allows the families of 9/11 victims to sue the kingdom based on allegations that it provided support to the terrorists attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York and Pentagon building in Washington DC in 2001. As a result, JASTA would lead to undermining the principle of sovereign immunity. This principle has long governed the boundary lines of international relations.
Naturally, many countries oppose JASTA due to the dangers the law represents. In fact, many have denounced the legislation due to its treatment of issues like international sovereignty. France considers that laws such as JASTA would lead to a “legal chaos” at the international level. Russia has slammed the legislation as undermining international law. Turkey views JASTA as a law against the principle of individual criminal responsibility for crimes and expects it would be reversed shortly. Egypt’s Foreign Ministry warned that JASTA could have a dire affect on US international relations. Even CIA director John Brennan warned that JASTA would have grave implications for US national security.
Although JASTA has not specifically referred to Saudi Arabia as sponsoring terrorism, it is very clear that the kingdom is an immediate target for legal actions from the survivors of the 9/11. Not only that, other countries might be in the crossfire. Tomorrow, other Gulf countries could be targeted.
Saudi Arabia has an arsenal of options to combat against JASTA .The kingdom could reduce the diplomatic relations with the US. The biggest impact would be withdrawing billions of US dollars from the American economy, and persuading other Gulf countries to reduce counterterrorism cooperation, access to important regional air bases, and investments in the US.
There are many threats that stem from JASTA; however, there is a silver-lining that can come from all of this in the form of economic opportunities for other nations.
If Saudi Arabia pulls its billions of US dollars from America, the Kingdom would seek alternative locations for investments. Egypt, among other countries, would likely be a suitable investment harbour. In order for Egypt to avail itself to this opportunity, it should promote the sectors and projects that could attract large-scale Saudi investments. Egypt must also streamline the relevant foreign investment laws and regulations and more investment incentives should be in place.
There is no doubt that JASTA is a bad law. Nevertheless, there is a famous proverb that says: “The misfortunes of some people are advantages to others.”
Hany Aboul Fotouh is a banking expert.