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A Strategy for North Africa in the current Century

A Strategy for North Africa in the current Century

In Sandhour of July 10, 2020, A Strategy for North Africa in the current Century has developed taking into account all things that contributed to how North Africa sub-region of the MENA came into being and rendered into what is witnessed in the present times.


One of the rather peculiar features of capitalism is having its nemesis–socialism– as its twin flip. Surely, corporations and equity are forms of socializing the capitalist gain and it has been the case since the inception of capitalism in its modern form in the early 18th century, setting it apart of the previous mode of venturing sole merchants and their financiers. There were cheating and abuse, and still are, yet the learning curve smoothed up the functioning of capitalism.

Another, even more bewildering, aspect of capitalism is its susceptibility to speculation. Stock markets, commodity prices, oil, currency valuation rise and fall– incrementally at times and suddenly at others– based on speculations trickling down from pundits to people. The fluctuations are functions of information-based assessments. Alas, information is asymmetrical between social groupings; nations; and regions leading to local and global stratification. Nevertheless, advances in cultural and intellectual infrastructure improve checks and balances and drive capitalism towards more democratization.

However, despite the mass democratization of the 20th century and designed social ends embedded in market economies, increasing socialization of capital, we presently face problems in terms of increasing numbers that are losing out in the present Socio-economic mode. The cyclical nature of those problems point to congestion in the global economic system, as has been pointed out over and again by generations of economic thinkers. However, the increasing socialization and rising overall capabilities of ordinary citizens vouch for a progressive history. Anyway, the ongoing technological disruption, which is unprecedented in kind and potential, will definitely restore balance to the global economic system. A transition to a new energy regime is a main pillar of the technological disruption.

The oil and gas commodity is the pillar of the contemporary industrial civilization. And the Middle East happens to be the fulcrum point of oil economy. From the early 70s on, there has been much hype about peak oil, partly driving improvements in energy efficiency, and search for alternative energy sources and carriers.

Countering peak oil is the obviously politically motivated infinite fossil resource hypothesis. It goes without saying that it is a hoax which goes against simplest arithmetic.

As far as I’m concerned, the trapezium model for oil reserves is the most plausible one. It states that reserves rise along the the side of a trapezium, flatten then slide along the opposite side. Depleting wells are countered by technological progress which enables economic development of previously useless layers, as well as deep sea, arctic and other unreachable reserves. Still the fact that reserves are finite in addition to cost factors raise the stakes of alternative energy and the sliding of proven reserves starting from 2030s.

The expected predominance of batteries in transport by mid century and the recent breakthrough in fusion energy where super conducting electromagnets made up of barium and copper that are stable enough to capture the heated plasma which ignite the fusion fuel made up of hydrogen sister atoms, creating more output energy than input; point to way lesser role for fossils in the short mid-term future. Yet, fossils will still be high on the global energy portfolio for at least two decades. However, speculations are not based on laws of physics, rather they are psychological processes in the first place and hence the current contours point towards sustained low prices for oil and gas.

Further, chaotic leadership in the Gulf, population pressure and prospects of war are not likely to mark up fossils because of new ports in Oman, Qatari Iranian understanding, neutralization of Iraq, Iranian economic crunch, and geographic isolation of wells in Saudi.

The most precious energy commodity poised to replace fossils are rare earth minerals for batteries like lithium and cobalt though they are in no way likely to have the same strategic controversy because of the availability of sister alternatives for Lithium ion batteries like sodium and fluoride. Also, we don’t refill a battery with lithium for every kilometer run. Barium and copper pop up high as the material for super conductors necessary for fusion. Sahel and sub-saharan Africa lack a detailed map for the prospects of rare earths, yet the proven diversity and richness of the continent in metals such as copper; as well as fossils, renders it likely that the continent will be a futuristic mine.

So.. what has got the middle East to offer the world on the strategic table, now with the declining weight of fossils? All what I can think of is Islam, proximity to sub-saharan Africa, and big legitimate armies in North Africa along with a historical experience that values stability.

With the right strategic reassembly and new alignments, North Africa can act as a bridge for stabilizing sub-saharan Africa, reforming Islam and re-inventing the Near East through new understandings with the global system based on rational comprehension of reality. It is highly unlikely for Ethiopia to play that role due to ethnic and religious rifts and the prevalence of too much of a lethargic culture, as proven by the failure of relocation from Asia of textiles to Ethiopia .

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New U.S.- Middle East Partnership Initiative in Lebanon

New U.S.- Middle East Partnership Initiative in Lebanon

Arab women outnumber men in pursuing university degrees, but since it seems there is still a lot to do, this initiative is more than welcome. It is the New U.S.- Middle East Partnership Initiative in Lebanon that could help to redress the worldwide exclusion of women from participation in peace negotiations and related political processes in particular in the Levant region of the MENA.
To this end, a sizable grant from The U.S.- Middle East Partnership Initiative will cover a full semester for up to 900 students per an article of Zawya of July 8, 2020, elaborates on how Students to profit from new U.S.-Middle East partnership initiative tomorrow’s leaders’ program.

Press Release

The U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) has awarded LAU MEPI-Tomorrow’s Leaders (LAU MEPI-TL) a grant of $10 million for a new Tomorrow’s Leaders Gender Scholars (TLS) Program to strengthen undergraduate student awareness, preparedness, and skills in gender education and activism. For the last 12 years, MEPI has been providing scholarships to promising students from across the MENA region to study at either the Lebanese American University or the American University of Beirut.

The grant aims to redress the worldwide exclusion of women from participation in peace negotiations and related political processes because of discriminatory laws, social stereotypes, institutional obstacles, and in particular, to promote inclusiveness at a time when women’s active involvement is pivotal during the current crises across the MENA region.

By supporting pedagogic interventions in higher education and endorsing the delivery of gender studies courses to increase the awareness of university students on gender disparities, MEPI’s objective is to build a culture of inclusiveness and foster an environment for women’s success in the workforce, leadership positions, and policymaking arenas.

This substantial grant covers up to two academic years starting in the Fall 2020 and it targets students who have demonstrated strong academic performance and a need for support towards their tuition fees.

Up to 900 students will benefit from full tuition for at least one semester provided they enroll in and complete a gender course, as well as engage in a relevant conference where they present their subject-related papers, and publish on their scholarly achievements in academic journals such as LAU’s own Arab Institute for Women’s flagship journal Al-Raida. To this end, the School of Arts and Sciences at LAU has designed a bespoke program, a Gender Series of courses, that consists of multidisciplinary sets of problems relating to national, regional and global issues around Gender and its manifestations in the social, economic, political and cultural lives. 

The grant is extended to students from the School of Arts & Sciences, Adnan Kassar School of Business, the School of Engineering and the Alice Ramez Chagoury School of Nursing.

“We are proud of our affiliation with world-renowned academic institutions like LAU,” said US Ambassador Dorothy C. Shea. “You are recognized around the globe for the top-tier education you provide.  That is a source of pride to the Lebanese people, and to us at the US Embassy. We are your partner, and we welcome this opportunity to strengthen our partnership and, fundamentally, to help Lebanese students.”

Thanking Ambassador Shea and the American people LAU President Joseph G. Jabbra said: “Your continued generosity and support of students in the Arab world gives them hope to attain their aspirations to improve their lives, and the lives of their loved ones and their community. The belief that education is the only answer to the ills that afflict society in Lebanon and the Arab world remains at the heart of our mission.”

The news comes at a crucial time as the university and the country wrestle with the growing needs of families in dire financial distress, as a result of the deepening economic crisis.

“At a time when Lebanon is undergoing such acute social and political change, coupled with economic distress and a pandemic to boot, it is heartening to receive such substantial support from MEPI to promote gender equity in the region,” said Vice President for Student Development and Enrollment Management Elise Salem. “The grant will make a big difference in raising awareness and instituting policy change to achieve gender equality, while encouraging female leadership amongst students.”

In its twelfth year, the LAU MEPI-TL Program in AY 2019-2020 welcomed 36 new scholars from seven different countries. Earlier this year, the program celebrated 13 TL students who presented capstone projects focused on pressing social, economic, and cultural issues in their home countries.

“Indeed, MEPI continues to give hope to the youth of Lebanon and the MENA region,” commented Director of International Services and MEPI-TL Program Director Dina Abdul Rahman. “I dare to say that the Tomorrow’s Leaders Program is ‘lifesaving!’ It transformed the lives of hundreds of underprivileged talented young women and men for over a decade and continues to open up new horizons for our youth into a world of opportunity, prosperity, and success.”

The grant falls within LAU’s drive to alleviate the financial burden placed on students and their parents by Lebanon’s economic crisis. To that end, the university last year implemented a set of measures which included a yearly financial aid budget in excess of $50 million, and the launch of the Emergency Financial Fund last October.

Further cuts to MENA construction sector expected for 2020

Further cuts to MENA construction sector expected for 2020

Posted in Construction, on July 5, 2020, Further cuts to MENA construction sector expected for 2020 as the region appearing to be hit with a triple whammy, per GlobalData, would sound in our opinion as a realistic assessment at this conjecture of the construction industry in the MENA.


The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) construction sector is expected to be bit by the triple whammy of lower oil production, low oil prices and contracting non-oil sectors. Leading data and analytics company GlobalData has further cut its construction output growth forecast for the region for 2020 to -2.4%, down from the previous forecast of 1.4%, in light of continued spread of COVID-19.

Yasmine Ghozzi, Economist at GlobalData, comments: “Construction activity for the remainder of 2020 is set to see poor performance. While there is usually weak construction activity in the holy month of Ramadan and during the hot summer months of June, July and August, this is usually compensated by strong performance at the beginning and end of the year. However, this will not be the case this year due to the strict lockdown policies that extended until the end of May.

“The sector is expected to face headwinds in 2021 with a slow recovery, but the pace of this will be uneven across countries in the region. Fiscal deficits and public debt levels will be substantially higher in 2021. Fiscal consolidation will hinder non-oil growth across the region, where governments still play a considerable role in spurring domestic demand.

“In addition, public investment is likely to be moderate, which will translate into fewer prospects for private sector businesses to grow – especially within sectors such as infrastructure. Expected increase in taxes, selected subsidy cuts and the introduction of several public sector service charges will influence households’ purchasing power, having a knock-on effect on future commercial investments.”

Amid the worsening situation with regards to the COVID-19 outbreak and the decline in oil prices, GlobalData has further cut its forecast for construction output growth in Saudi Arabia to -1.8% from its previous forecast of 2.9% in 2020 and expects a recovery in the sector of 3.3% in 2021. The government’s decision to host limited annual ten-day Hajj entails a possible loss of estimated revenue at more than US$10bn, adding more pressure on the Kingdom’s economy. 

Ghozzi adds: “GlobalData has estimated a contraction of 2.1% in construction output growth in the UAE but expects a rebound in 2021 of 3.1%. In one of the largest global energy infrastructure transactions, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) raised US$10bn by leasing a 49% stake in its gas pipelines for 20 years. This landmark deal is important especially during the prevailing industry downturn in order to keep profitability.

“GlobalData has also cut further the growth rates for Qatar, Kuwait and Oman in 2020 to -3.4%, -7.8% and -8.1%, respectively. Qatar’s economy this year will be affected by decline in tourist arrivals, low consumer spending and low oil prices. Nevertheless, strong fiscal stimulus and spending on infrastructure projects should provide support.

“The negative outlook for Kuwait is weighed down by lower oil prices and the prospect of a higher fiscal deficit, possibly compromising the government’s capital spending on construction and infrastructure. Business unfriendliness constitutes a barrier to reforms in the Kuwaiti economy; the extensions in tenders’ deadlines compounded by an inflexible bureaucratic procurement setup that slows decision-making will delay progress for several Kuwaiti megaprojects.”

Egypt’s construction sector is set to continue performing well despite poor performance of the non-oil sector in April. GlobalData expects construction to grow at 7.7% in 2020, slowing from 9.5% in 2019, given a short-term slow down due to the pandemic and 8.9% in 2021, and to continue maintaining a positive trend throughout the forecast period. In the Arab Maghreb, GlobalData has further cut forecasts for construction growth in Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria to -3%, -2.1%, and -2.5%, respectively, in 2020 and 0.7%, 1.2% and 1.9%, respectively, in 2021.

GlobalData has a bleak view of Iran’s construction sector throughout the forecast period. A slowdown in economic activity caused by the virus outbreak and a possible wave of further US sanctions (in the event Trump wins a second term) will continue to wreak havoc on its economy, and drastically affecting construction activities.

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Can Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan find a way forward?

Can Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan find a way forward?

The Nile and the dam: Can Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan find a way forward? Wondered Daniel C. Stoll in Middle East Eye of 2 July 2020 before adding: Since it began construction in 2011, Ethiopia has been at odds with its downstream neighbours, especially Egypt, over the Renaissance Dam’s very existence.

The image above is of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam as pictured on 26 December (AFP).

As Ethiopia moves closer to filling the reservoir behind the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), parties are frantically searching for a way to decrease tensions and ensure that negotiations – not sabre-rattling – help Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan find a way forward. 

The window for finding a resolution, however, appears to be closing quickly.

Ethiopia has long said that it would use the onset of its rainy season in July to begin filling the dam’s reservoir. Since it began construction in 2011, Ethiopia has been at odds with its downstream neighbours, especially Egypt, over the dam’s very existence. 

Existential threat

While Ethiopia touts the $4.6bn GERD as a key to the country’s development and a source of cheap electricity for Ethiopia and its neighbours, Egypt claims the dam represents an existential threat that will choke off the Nile’s flow into Egypt and imperil its citizens.

Despite the bellicose rhetoric from the two countries and the constant exchange of threats and counter-threats, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan have managed over the years to talk through their differences and agree on many key issues. In 2015, they inked a Declaration of Principles, committing all three countries to cooperation on the dam’s construction and to the peaceful resolution of any disagreements that might arise.

Each has too much to lose to let conditions within the Nile River Valley reach a point of outright conflict

While relations among the three riparian states in subsequent years have been marked more by acrimony than agreement, they did come together for talks coordinated by the US Department of Treasury and the World Bank in late 2019 and early 2020. These talks produced a draft agreement containing a number of key points related to the dam and its reservoir (estimated to hold more than 74 billion cubic metres of water).  

Sudan’s foreign minister, Asmaa Mohamed Abdalla, said in a letter to the UN Security Council on 2 June that the talks had produced 90 percent of an agreement. Just before the three countries were scheduled to initial the draft agreement in late February, however, Ethiopia refused to accept it, and the threats and recriminations resumed.

Unresolved issues

Left unresolved are two key issues: the current lack of any drought mitigation protocols and the absence of any dispute resolution process.

Since Egypt receives almost 98 percent of its freshwater for agricultural, industrial and municipal uses from the Nile, the country insists that Ethiopia must commit to releasing a specific amount of water during periods of prolonged drought to ensure a consistent and predictable flow into Egypt. Both Sudan and Egypt also insist on a clear process for resolving disputes over the operation of the dam.

Workers move iron girders from a crane at the GERD on 26 December (AFP)
Workers move iron girders from a crane at the GERD on 26 December (AFP)

For its part, Ethiopia insists that committing a specified volume of water during periods of drought will ultimately drain the reservoir, thereby impeding Ethiopia’s ability to generate the electricity it badly needs. It also believes that Egypt is trying to perpetuate what it regards as Egypt’s unfair claim to substantial amounts of the Nile’s waters.

Since February, several outside players – including the EU, US and South Africa (as head of the African Union) – have tried to bring the riparian states back to the negotiating table, but with little success.  

In early April, Ethiopia proposed a two-year interim agreement, arguing it would help reduce tensions and rebuild trust. Egypt rejected the proposal, however, asserting that an incremental approach would allow Ethiopia to avoid agreeing to a more comprehensive approach. Sudan also insists on a comprehensive agreement.

Diplomatic solution

In a further attempt to pursue a diplomatic solution, both Sudan and Egypt have asked the UN Security Council to take up the issue under Article 35 of the UN Charter. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said that the UN stands ready to help the parties come to an agreement

While a Security Council debate may eventually identify a way forward, the council’s deliberate modus operandi is unlikely to produce any dramatic breakthrough in the short term. Both Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi are facing considerable pressure within their respective countries to “hang tough” and not be seen as compromising on issues of such vital national interest. Why the US wants to avert conflict over the NileRead More »

It is unclear how the council would create conditions for compromise, and yet compromise the three states must do. Each has too much to lose to let conditions within the Nile River Valley reach a point of outright conflict.

Sudan could benefit greatly from access to the cheap and abundant electricity that the GERD is expected to provide. It also needs assurances that nothing will affect the Nile’s flow into Sudan and impede the operation of its Roseires Dam.

While Ethiopia appears to have the upper hand in this situation – given its growing economy and the strategically important position it occupies along the river – it, too, needs some kind of negotiated solution. A diplomatic solution would deepen its already growing influence in the basin and enhance its credentials as the dominant power in the region – a consideration that appears at the forefront of Abiy Ahmed’s strategic calculus. It would help reassure potential buyers of GERD’s electricity that Ethiopia is a trusted and reliable partner.

Difficult compromise

For Egypt, the stakes are obvious: other than a modest amount of groundwater, Egypt has no other ready source of water for its rapidly expanding population (currently 102 million and estimated to be growing at a rate of 1.94 percent a year).  

A negotiated agreement would also most likely give Egypt, and Sudan as well, access to important technical and environmental data related to the Nile’s flow and conditions in the basin upstream, information crucial for making informed decisions on water policy.

All countries would benefit from a less bellicose geopolitical environment within the basin, but compromise will be difficult

Finally, achieving some kind of resolution to this particularly thorny issue would allow the Sisi government to focus on an expanding number of domestic and foreign policy challenges, including increasingly tense relations with Libya, as well as growing domestic political and social unrest.

All countries would benefit from a less bellicose geopolitical environment within the basin, but compromise will be difficult. Egypt will need to recognise that Ethiopia has a right to pursue its ambitious development schemes, while acknowledging Ethiopia’s growing influence in the basin specifically and the Red Sea region more generally – influence that will come at the expense of Egypt’s long-held dominance in the region.

For its part, Ethiopia will need to recognise the precarious position of its downstream neighbours, particularly Egypt, and provide credible reassurances that it will release sufficient amounts of water during periods of drought.

Senior leadership

While Ethiopia has long resisted bringing in third parties to help facilitate negotiations, it is possible that the African Union could play a constructive role in this regard. Egypt would have to overcome its reluctance to giving the AU a more dominant role, but having the AU involved in negotiations would be in keeping with Egypt’s long-held demand for outside intervention.

Ultimately, the time might have come for negotiations to go beyond the ministerial level and involve instead the heads of government. To date, negotiations have generally involved the respective ministers of irrigation or water. Achieving a resolution to these final, contentious issues may well require the direct participation of the senior political leadership of each country.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Daniel C. StollDaniel C Stoll is Associate Dean for Global Affairs at St Norbert College in the US. He is the co-author most recently of International Conflict Over Water Resources in Himalayan Asia (Palgrave Macmillan) and has written extensively on issues of water resources management in Africa and the Middle East.

MENA countries of today are still divided

MENA countries of today are still divided

With the “Oil for Protection” pact with the United States in 1945 and the contribution of petrodollars, Wahabism took off. It was exposed outside the kingdom, notably to Egypt, Syria, and Iraq. This export was a defence system against the ideological incursions of neighbouring republics states, all friends at the time of the Soviets, and sworn enemies of the Saudi monarchy. The MENA countries of today are still divided along the same lines of governance; those of republics versus monarchies. One thing though ties all the countries is the autocratic reality that underpins all systems. These stem fundamentally from the following.

Wahabism is the school of religious thought initiated by Md Ibn Abdel Wahab in the 18th century, itself derived from the Hanabalite current of thought. This school advocate a return to the religious precepts of the time of the prophet and does not tolerate any other interpretation of the sacred texts other than those disclosed by the first caliphate.

During the Cold War and to counter the Soviets in Afghanistan, the U.S. trained Islamists extremist militants in resistance and guerrilla methods. Saudi bin Laden came to be known as the head of an organization of freedom fighters against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The cold war ended with the Berlin wall collapsing bringing the end of the USSR and thus the withdrawal of the Soviet troops from Afghanistan. From then on, the U.S. was a dominant power in this part of the world with later, a visible presence in the Middle East’s Gulf region. The experts in U.S. geopolitics then discovered a new enemy to manage, that is Iraq and eventually Iran. But many terrorism victim states pointed the index at Saudi Arabia’s Wahabism, denouncing it as the spiritual support and backer of these terrorist organizations.
It is an undeniable fact that the Wahabi Islam has done great harm to the Islamic world as much as to Islam itself.
On the other hand, the cultural vacuum operated by authoritarian socialist regimes in most of the republic states in the MENA region was an ideal breeding ground for the implantation of ideologies imported from the Arabian Peninsula.

It would, on the other hand, be more accurate to talk about shared responsibility between the Arab states and the U.S. rather than to focus it on Arabia alone.
Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS) wants to reform Arabia but with the excellent advice of the U.S. and its ally, Israel. With the terrorist strikes of the nine-eleven 2001, the Americans had apparently decided to tackle the source of the evil, i.e. the Saudi Wahhabism that they had supported themselves before.

Trump and his allies have turned a blind eye to MBS’s notorious behaviour which by opening the country to “emancipatory” Western ideas and certain financial benefits in the medium term, looked like promoting the “right path” of Saudi society first, then of the entire Umma, i.e. the Muslim world community, after that. A programme that is best to start by emancipating women. The woman as guardian of traditions needed to be able to contribute and to do this, the first and most obvious idea: unveil it.
The Saudi woman should live according to the Western model, the American style of preference, libertine, and more spendthrift. From this perspective, the concept of the two-parent family (father, mother, children) that is protective, and guardian of moral values should be banned. It is true that women in these Middle East countries still live under the dictates of an oppressive, repressive, and reductive secular mentality due mainly to pre-Islamic ancestral practices rather than to the religious fact as divine precepts.

Black Lives Matter in the MENA region

Black Lives Matter in the MENA region

Dnyanesh Kamat, Political analyst in Columns on Black Lives Matter across the MENA region states that From Basra to Beirut and from Tunis to Tel Aviv, anti-Black racism exists in various forms across the region. Here it is :

Black Lives Matter: Racism in the Middle East and North Africa — and how to combat it

29 June 2020

While much of the Western world remains convulsed with Black Lives Matter protests, the Mena (Middle East and North Africa) region should use this moment to address its own anti-Black racism problem. From Basra to Beirut and from Tunis to Tel Aviv, anti-Black racism exists in various forms across the region.

In the Mena region, it is mostly the consequence of centuries of slavery, with Black Africans enslaved and sold in slave markets across the Indian Ocean and Arabian Gulf. Indeed, in some parts of the Gulf, slavery was abolished only as recently as the 1970s. This is also why racial insults hurled at Black people in these countries often refer to them as “slaves” or “servants.”

This racist mindset also leads to widespread systemic discrimination against Black people throughout the region. Basra in southern Iraq is home to the majority of the country’s estimated 1.2 million Black population. Black Iraqis have long complained of systemic racism, with limited access to housing, education, healthcare and all but the most menial jobs.

While Black communities in some Mena countries grapple with the legacy of slavery, others still face modern-day slavery or conditions akin to it. Mauritania is one of the last countries on the planet where slavery continues to this day. The Global Slavery Index of 2018 estimates there are approximately 90,000 Black Mauritanians, or roughly 2.4 per cent of the population, bound to a caste system that is a form of modern-day slavery, with their enslavement inherited from ancestors and passed down to their children. Slavery was abolished in 1981 but it was not until 2007 that it was made a crime, and that too in response to international pressure, with successive governments failing to eradicate the scourge.

A similar caste-like Black community exists at the margins of society in Yemen. They call themselves the Muhamasheen (“the marginalized”), but other Yemenis refer to them pejoratively as the Akhdam (“the servants”). Many survive by begging. Needless to say, this community has borne the brunt of Yemen’s ongoing civil war.

While countries like Mauritania and Yemen grapple with centuries-old practices, others have seen slavery rear its ugly head in modern times. Black Africans have long used Libya’s long Mediterranean coast as a staging post from which to attempt to reach Europe. Several migrants have been enslaved and tortured by Libyan militias, and subsequently sold in open-air slave markets.

Popular culture in the Mena region is also rife with anti-Black racism, from caricatures of Black people used for comedy to erasing them completely from depictions of national culture. The national media in countries like Tunisia portray the country’s citizens as light-skinned. It might come as a shock that 15 per cent of Tunisians are black.

Iran has a sizeable Black population living along the country’s southern coast. Their contribution to the culture of that region – whether in terms of cuisine, spirituality or to the unique bandari music – is immense. But Iranian popular culture would have us believe the country is populated only by fair-skinned Persians. This comes largely from the “Aryan myth” of Iranian nationalism. Depictions of Black people are limited to stereotypes or pale-skinned people in “blackface” – theatrical make-up used to portray racist caricatures of Black people. Indeed, early Iranian theatre often featured a type of comedy performance known as Siah Baazi, a term meaning “playing black.”

In the Arab world, more recently, several Arabic-language networks have come in for criticism for their racist depiction of Black people in hidden camera-practical joke reality television shows.

Almost a year ago, protesters marched through cities in Israel calling for an end to anti-Black police brutality and discrimination in housing, healthcare and education. One of the most horrifying examples of anti-Black racism in Israel occurred in 2016 when the government admitted to having given Ethiopian-Israeli women long-term contraceptives without their consent. The community’s birth rate has halved over the past decade.

Perhaps the most egregious form of institutionalized racism in the Mena region is the kafala system of hiring migrant workers in Lebanon and parts of the Gulf, which has been described as a modern-day form of slavery. The kafala system, which is not covered by regular labour laws in Lebanon, gives employers total control over the legal residency of “their” workers. Every so often, horrific kafala-related stories emerge of migrant workers, most of them African, being made to work long hours without pay, tortured, sexually abused and even murdered, with little or no recourse to the law for help. Racism also pervades the tourism and hospitality sector in Lebanon and parts of the Gulf, with African and South Asian tourists complaining of being denied entry to trendy bars and clubs.

If there is to be any impetus for change in the Mena region, it is likely to come from civil society. For example, recent protests against Lebanon’s corrupt political class were led by the youth of the country and included calls to abolish kafala. In 2018, Tunisia became the first Mena country to pass a wide-ranging anti-racism law.

But much more needs to be done. Mena countries need to rethink their concept of nationalism, redefine the meaning of citizenship and re-negotiate the social contract between citizen and state. If there is to be any hope of dismantling racism and every vestige of slavery in the region, those are fundamental imperatives. Let the Black Lives Matter movement be the catalyst.

In arrangement with Syndication Bureau

Qatar Now Ranked 2nd in MENA Region for . . .

Qatar Now Ranked 2nd in MENA Region for . . .

CROWDFUNDINSIDER By Omar Faridi reported that Qatar Now Ranked 2nd in MENA Region for . . . Early-Stage Entrepreneurial Activity as Fintech Sector Expected to Grow Rapidly as the MENA Region Is Poised To Be The Next Fintech Hub.

June 26, 2020

Qatar Now Ranked 2nd in MENA Region for . . .

Randy Rivera, Executive Director of FinTEx, a member-led community focused on promoting innovation and collaboration within Fintech in Qatar and the MENA region, has said that his organization continues to work with international financial services industry participants.

During a June 23, 2020 virtual panel discussion (hosted by the US-Qatar Business Council) on “Qatar’s Growing Fintech Sector & Business Opportunities,” Rivera stated:

“We [aim to] … match talent with opportunity and what is going on in Qatar fits as an attractive platform not just for the Fintechs involved but for the Qatari market and the Middle East overall.”

He added:

“The design of these programs reflects thoughtfulness, broad participation and commitment of the right mix of leaders who can affect change and attract the talent to make that change uniquely impactful, not just to the market, but to the regional fintech community as well.”

Qatar is now a major financial hub in the Middle East. The country’s human development index (HDI) value is around 0.85, which puts it in the “very high” human development (and quality of life) category.

Qatar is ranked at 41 out of 189 countries and territories. Its HDI value has increased from around 0.75 to 0.85 in the past two decades – which indicates that the living standards of its residents may have improved significantly due to its booming economy.

As mentioned in a release shared with CI, Qatar aims to further support and develop a strong business community and a competitive environment that will help local SMEs while also attracting foreign SMEs.

The release revealed:

“Qatar has advanced 18 spots in the national level of entrepreneurial activity, securing the 15th rank globally and the 2nd in the MENA region for the Total Early-Stage Entrepreneurial Activity (TEA) index, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) Report 2019/2020.”

Amy Nauiokas, founder and CEO at Anthemis, a VC investment platform with over 100 portfolio firms, believes Qatar provides “a promising environment and set of opportunities for Fintech growth.”

Nauiokas, whose company supports an ecosystem of over 10,000 investors, incumbents, and high-potential Fintech firms, globally, stated:

“We look forward to solidifying some key relationships in Qatar as Anthemis further builds our MENA strategy.”

Mohammed Barakat, MD of US Qatar Business Council, who also attended the webinar, said:

“Considering Qatar’s large payment processing and remittance market and its strategy to become a regional gateway for a huge market, I foresee rapid growth in Qatar’s FinTech sector.”

The US-Qatar Business Council aims to support trade and investment between the two nations and to also build strategic business relationships.

As noted in the release, there are over 120 wholly-owned US firms operating in Qatar, and over 700 U.S.-Qatar joint projects currently active in the Middle Eastern nation.

As reported recently, the Qatar Financial Center will launch “Fintech Circle,” a co-workspace for qualifying financial technology firms free of charge for a year.

17 ways technology could change the world by 2025

17 ways technology could change the world by 2025

In its series Future shocks: 17 technology predictions for 2025, the World Economic Forum came up with 17 ways technology could change the world by 2025 as follows. But Human Brilliance, Ingenuity and Skills will always be needed.

  • We asked our 2020 intake of Technology Pioneers for their views on how technology will change the world in the next five years.
  • From quantum computers and 5G in action to managing cancer chronically, here are their predictions for our near-term future.
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1. AI-optimized manufacturing

Paper and pencil tracking, luck, significant global travel and opaque supply chains are part of today’s status quo, resulting in large amounts of wasted energy, materials and time. Accelerated in part by the long-term shutdown of international and regional travel by COVID-19, companies that design and build products will rapidly adopt cloud-based technologies to aggregate, intelligently transform, and contextually present product and process data from manufacturing lines throughout their supply chains. By 2025, this ubiquitous stream of data and the intelligent algorithms crunching it will enable manufacturing lines to continuously optimize towards higher levels of output and product quality – reducing overall waste in manufacturing by up to 50%. As a result, we will enjoy higher quality products, produced faster, at lower cost to our pocketbooks and the environment.

Anna-Katrina Shedletsky, CEO and Founder of Instrumental

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2. A far-reaching energy transformation

In 2025, carbon footprints will be viewed as socially unacceptable, much like drink driving is today. The COVID-19 pandemic will have focused the public’s attention on the need to take action to deal with threats to our way of life, our health and our future. Public attention will drive government policy and behavioural changes, with carbon footprints becoming a subject of worldwide scrutiny. Individuals, companies and countries will seek the quickest and most affordable ways to achieve net-zero – the elimination of their carbon footprint. The creation of a sustainable, net-zero future will be built through a far-reaching energy transformation that significantly reduces the world’s carbon emissions, and through the emergence of a massive carbon management industry that captures, utilizes and eliminates carbon dioxide. We’ll see a diversity of new technologies aimed at both reducing and removing the world’s emissions – unleashing a wave of innovation to compare with the industrial and digital Revolutions of the past.

Steve Oldham, CEO of Carbon Engineering

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3. A new era of computing

By 2025, quantum computing will have outgrown its infancy, and a first generation of commercial devices will be able tackle meaningful, real-world problems. One major application of this new kind of computer will be the simulation of complex chemical reactions, a powerful tool that opens up new avenues in drug development. Quantum chemistry calculations will also aid the design of novel materials with desired properties, for instance better catalysts for the automotive industry that curb emissions and help fight climate change. Right now, the development of pharmaceuticals and performance materials relies massively on trial and error, which means it is an iterative, time-consuming and terribly expensive process. Quantum computers may soon be able to change this. They will significantly shorten product development cycles and reduce the costs for R&D.

Thomas Monz, Co-Founder and CEO of Alpine Quantum Technologies

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4. Healthcare paradigm shift to prevention through diet

By 2025, healthcare systems will adopt more preventative health approaches based on the developing science behind the health benefits of plant-rich, nutrient-dense diets. This trend will be enabled by AI-powered and systems biology-based technology that exponentially grows our knowledge of the role of specific dietary phytonutrients in specific human health and functional outcomes. After the pandemic of 2020, consumers will be more aware of the importance of their underlying health and will increasingly demand healthier food to help support their natural defences. Armed with a much deeper understanding of nutrition, the global food industry can respond by offering a broader range of product options to support optimal health outcomes. The healthcare industry can respond by promoting earth’s plant intelligence for more resilient lives and to incentivize people to take care of themselves in an effort to reduce unsustainable costs.

Jim Flatt, Co-Founder and CEO of Brightseed

17 ways technology could change the world by 2025
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5. 5G will enhance the global economy and save lives

Overnight, we’ve experienced a sharp increase in delivery services with a need for “day-of” goods from providers like Amazon and Instacart – but it has been limited. With 5G networks in place, tied directly into autonomous bots, goods would be delivered safely within hours.

Wifi can’t scale to meet higher capacity demands. Sheltering-in-place has moved businesses and classrooms to video conferencing, highlighting poor-quality networks. Low latency 5G networks would resolve this lack of network reliability and even allow for more high-capacity services like telehealth, telesurgery and ER services. Businesses can offset the high cost of mobility with economy-boosting activities including smart factories, real-time monitoring, and content-intensive, real-time edge-compute services. 5G private networks make this possible and changes the mobile services economy.

The roll-out of 5G creates markets that we only imagine – like self-driving bots, along with a mobility-as-a-service economy – and others we can’t imagine, enabling next generations to invent thriving markets and prosperous causes.

Maha Achour, Founder and CEO of Metawave

17 ways technology could change the world by 2025
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6. A new normal in managing cancer

Technology drives data, data catalyzes knowledge, and knowledge enables empowerment. In tomorrow’s world, cancer will be managed like any chronic health condition —we will be able to precisely identify what we may be facing and be empowered to overcome it.

In other words, a new normal will emerge in how we can manage cancer. We will see more early and proactive screening with improved diagnostics innovation, such as in better genome sequencing technology or in liquid biopsy, that promises higher ease of testing, higher accuracy and ideally at an affordable cost. Early detection and intervention in common cancer types will not only save lives but reduce the financial and emotional burden of late discovery.

We will also see a revolution in treatment propelled by technology. Gene editing and immunotherapy that bring fewer side effects will have made greater headway. With advances in early screening and treatment going hand in hand, cancer will no longer be the cursed ‘C’ word that inspires such fear among people.

Sizhen Wang, CEO of Genetron Health

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7. Robotic retail

Historically, robotics has turned around many industries, while a few select sectors – such as grocery retail – have remained largely untouched . With the use of a new robotics application called ‘microfulfillment’, Grocery retailing will no longer look the same. The use of robotics downstream at a ‘hyper local’ level (as opposed to the traditional upstream application in the supply chain) will disrupt this 100-year-old, $5 trillion industry and all its stakeholders will experience significant change. Retailers will operate at a higher order of magnitude on productivity, which will in turn result in positive and enticing returns in the online grocery business (unheard of at the moment). This technology also unlocks broader access to food and a better customer proposition to consumers at large: speed, product availability and cost. Microfulfillment centers are located in existing (and typically less productive) real estate at the store level and can operate 5-10% more cheaply than a brick and mortar store. We predict that value will be equally captured by retailers and consumers as online.

Jose Aguerrevere, Co-Founder, Chairman and CEO of Takeoff Technologies

17 ways technology could change the world by 2025
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8. A blurring of physical and virtual spaces

One thing the current pandemic has shown us is how important technology is for maintaining and facilitating communication – not simply for work purposes, but for building real emotional connections. In the next few years we can expect to see this progress accelerate, with AI technology built to connect people at a human level and drive them closer to each other, even when physically they’re apart. The line between physical space and virtual will forever be blurred. We’ll start to see capabilities for global events – from SXSW to the Glastonbury Festival – to provide fully digitalized alternatives, beyond simple live streaming into full experiences. However, it’s not as simple as just providing these services – data privacy will have to be prioritised in order to create confidence among consumers. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic we saw a lot in the news about concerns over the security of video conferencing companies. These concerns aren’t going anywhere and as digital connectivity increases, brands simply can’t afford to give users anything less than full transparency and control over their data.

Tugce Bulut, CEO of Streetbees

17 ways technology could change the world by 2025
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9. Putting individuals – not institutions – at the heart of healthcare

By 2025, the lines separating culture, information technology and health will be blurred. Engineering biology, machine learning and the sharing economy will establish a framework for decentralising the healthcare continuum, moving it from institutions to the individual. Propelling this forward are advances in artificial intelligence and new supply chain delivery mechanisms, which require the real-time biological data that engineering biology will deliver as simple, low-cost diagnostic tests to individuals in every corner of the globe. As a result, morbidity, mortality and costs will decrease in acute conditions, such as infectious diseases, because only the most severe cases will need additional care. Fewer infected people will leave their homes, dramatically altering disease epidemiology while decreasing the burden on healthcare systems. A corresponding decrease in costs and increase in the quality of care follows, as inexpensive diagnostics move expenses and power to the individual, simultaneously increasing the cost-efficiency of care. Inextricable links between health, socio-economic status and quality of life will begin to loosen, and tensions that exist by equating health with access to healthcare institutions will dissipate. From daily care to pandemics, these converging technologies will alter economic and social factors to relieve many pressures on the global human condition.

Rahul Dhanda, Co-Founder and CEO of Sherlock Biosciences

17 ways technology could change the world by 2025
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10. The future of construction has already begun

Construction will become a synchronized sequence of manufacturing processes, delivering control, change and production at scale. It will be a safer, faster and more cost-effective way to build the homes, offices, factories and other structures we need to thrive in cities and beyond. As rich datasets are created across the construction industry through the internet of things, AI and image capture, to name a few, this vision is already coming to life. Using data to deeply understand industry processes is profoundly enhancing the ability of field professionals to trust their instincts in real-time decision making, enabling learning and progress while gaining trust and adoption.

Actionable data sheds light where we could not see before, empowering leaders to manage projects proactively rather than reactively. Precision in planning and execution enables construction professionals to control the environment, instead of it controlling them, and creates repeatable processes that are easier to control, automate, and teach.

That’s the future of construction. And it’s already begun.

Meirav Oren, CEO and Co-Founder of Versatile

17 ways technology could change the world by 2025
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11. Gigaton-scale CO2 removal will help to reverse climate change

A scale up of negative emission technologies, such as carbon dioxide removal, will remove climate-relevant amounts of CO2 from the air. This will be necessary in order to limit global warming to 1.5°C. While humanity will do everything possible to stop emitting more carbon into the atmosphere, it will also do everything it can in order to remove historic CO2 from the air permanently. By becoming widely accessible, the demand for CO2 removal will increase and costs will fall. CO2 removal will be scaled up to the gigaton-level, and will become the responsible option for removing unavoidable emissions from the air. It will empower individuals to have a direct and climate-positive impact on the level of CO2 in the atmosphere. It will ultimately help to prevent global warming from reaching dangerous levels and give humanity the potential to reverse climate change.

Jan Wurzbacher, Co-Founder and co-CEO of Climeworks

17 ways technology could change the world by 2025
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12. A new era in medicine

Medicine has always been on a quest to gather more knowledge and understanding of human biology for better clinical decision-making. AI is that new tool that will enable us to extract more insights at an unprecedented level from all the medical ‘big data’ that has never really been fully taken advantage of in the past. It will shift the world of medicine and how it is practiced.

Brandon Suh, CEO of Lunit

17 ways technology could change the world by 2025
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13. Closing the wealth gap

Improvements in AI will finally put access to wealth creation within reach of the masses. Financial advisors, who are knowledge workers, have been the mainstay of wealth management: using customized strategies to grow a small nest egg into a larger one. Since knowledge workers are expensive, access to wealth management has often meant you already need to be wealthy to preserve and grow your wealth. As a result, historically, wealth management has been out of reach of those who needed it most. Artificial intelligence is improving at such a speed that the strategies employed by these financial advisors will be accessible via technology, and therefore affordable for the masses. Just like you don’t need to know how near-field communication works to use ApplePay, tens of millions of people won’t have to know modern portfolio theory to be able to have their money work for them.

Atish Davda, Co-Founder and CEO of Equityzen

17 ways technology could change the world by 2025
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14. A clean energy revolution supported by digital twins

Over the next five years, the energy transition will reach a tipping point. The cost of new-build renewable energy will be lower than the marginal cost of fossil fuels. A global innovation ecosystem will have provided an environment in which problems can be addressed collectively, and allowed for the deployment of innovation to be scaled rapidly. As a result, we will have seen an astounding increase in offshore wind capacity. We will have achieved this through an unwavering commitment to digitalization, which will have gathered a pace that aligns with Moore’s law to mirror solar’s innovation curve. The rapid development of digital twins – virtual replicas of physical devices – will support a systems-level transformation of the energy sector. The scientific machine learning that combines physics-based models with big data will lead to leaner designs, lower operating costs and ultimately clean, affordable energy for all. The ability to monitor structural health in real-time and fix things before they break will result in safer, more resilient infrastructure and everything from wind farms to bridges and unmanned aerial vehicles being protected by a real-time digital twin.

Thomas Laurent, CEO of Akselos

17 ways technology could change the world by 2025
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15. Understanding the microscopic secrets hidden on surfaces

Every surface on Earth carries hidden information that will prove essential for avoiding pandemic-related crises, both now and in the future. The built environment, where humans spend 90% of their lives, is laden with naturally occurring microbiomes comprised of bacterial, fungal and viral ecosystems. Technology that accelerates our ability to rapidly sample, digitalize and interpret microbiome data will transform our understanding of how pathogens spread. Exposing this invisible microbiome data layer will identify genetic signatures that can predict when and where people and groups are shedding pathogens, which surfaces and environments present the highest transmission risk, and how these risks are impacted by our actions and change over time. We are just scratching the surface of what microbiome data insights offer and will see this accelerate over the next five years. These insights will not only help us avoid and respond to pandemics, but will influence how we design, operate and clean environments like buildings, cars, subways and planes, in addition to how we support economic activity without sacrificing public health.

Jessica Green, Co-Founder and CEO of Phylagen

17 ways technology could change the world by 2025
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16. Machine learning and AI expedite decarbonization in carbon-heavy industries

Over the next five years, carbon-heavy industries will use machine learning and AI technology to dramatically reduce their carbon footprint. Traditionally, industries like manufacturing and oil and gas have been slow to implement decarbonization efforts as they struggle to maintain productivity and profitability while doing so. However, climate change, as well as regulatory pressure and market volatility, are pushing these industries to adjust. For example, oil and gas and industrial manufacturing organizations are feeling the pinch of regulators, who want them to significantly reduce CO2 emissions within the next few years. Technology-enabled initiatives were vital to boosting decarbonizing efforts in sectors like transportation and buildings – and heavy industries will follow a similar approach. Indeed, as a result of increasing digital transformation, carbon-heavy sectors will be able to utilize advanced technologies, like AI and machine learning, using real-time, high-fidelity data from billions of connected devices to efficiently and proactively reduce harmful emissions and decrease carbon footprints.

David King, CEO of FogHorn Systems

17 ways technology could change the world by 2025
Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto
17. Privacy is pervasive – and prioritized

Despite the accelerating regulatory environments we’ve seen surface in recent years, we are now just seeing the tip of the privacy iceberg, both from a regulatory and consumer standpoint. Five years from now, privacy and data-centric security will have reached commodity status – and the ability for consumers to protect and control sensitive data assets will be viewed as the rule rather than the exception. As awareness and understanding continue to build, so will the prevalence of privacy preserving and enhancing capabilities, namely privacy-enhancing technologies (PET). By 2025, PET as a technology category will become mainstream. They will be a foundational element of enterprise privacy and security strategies rather than an added-on component integrated only meet a minimum compliance threshold. While the world will still lack a global privacy standard, organizations will embrace a data-centric approach to security that provides the flexibility necessary to adapt to regional regulations and consumer expectations. These efforts will be led by cross-functional teams representing the data, privacy and security interests within an organization.

Ellison Anne Williams, Founder and CEO of Enveil

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How will technology change the world in the next five years?

It is very exciting to see the pace and transformative potential of today’s innovative technologies being applied to solve the world’s most pressing problems, such as feeding a global and growing population; improving access to and quality of healthcare; and significantly reducing carbon emissions to arrest the negative effects of climate change. The next five years will see profound improvements in addressing these challenges as entrepreneurs, the investment community and the world’s largest enterprise R&D organizations focus on developing and deploying solutions that will deliver tangible results.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has provided a difficult lesson in just how susceptible our world is today to human and economic turmoil, it has also – perhaps for the first time in history – necessitated global collaboration, data transparency and speed at the highest levels of government in order to minimize an immediate threat to human life. History will be our judge, but despite the heroic resolve and resiliency on a country by country basis, as a world we have underperformed. As a global community and through platforms like the World Economic Forum, we must continue to bring visibility to these issues while recognizing and supporting the opportunities for technology and innovation that can best and most rapidly address them.

Robert Piconi, CEO of Energy Vault

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Replastering of the Great Mosque of Djenné

Replastering of the Great Mosque of Djenné

The evening before the crépissage, the annual replastering of the Great Mosque of Djenné, Balphady Yaro is throwing a party for his friends and neighbors in the town’s Konofia neighborhood.


06/2020 Escape


As militant attacks get closer, Katarina Höije tells the story of a Malian town defiantly continuing its annual tradition of replastering a mosque. Here is :

An Ancient Mud Mosque Annually Restored

Rickety plastic chairs and tables line the winding streets around Djenné’s main square, where the mosque looms over the town’s low mud-brick houses. There are plates of riz au grastasty rice with meat and vegetables—and chilled soft drinks. Ivorian Coupé-Décalé music reverberates on soft mud walls. Djenné, a town of about 35,000 in the central region of Mali, is famous for its traditional mud-brick architecture and its UNESCO-protected mosque. Fifty-two feet (16 meters) high and built on a 300-foot-long (90-meter) platform to protect it from flooding, the mosque is the world’s largest mud-brick building.

The Annual Restoration of An Ancient Mud Mosque, photo by Annie Risemberg
Young men and boys run down the front steps of the mosque after dropping off baskets of mud. (Photo: Annie Risemberg, The New Traditional)

Touching up its walls each year—crépissage, the French word for ‘plastering’—is a proud and exuberant ritual that involves the whole town. “The crépissage is the most important event of the year, even bigger than Eid al-Fitr, Tabaski (the Malian equivalent of Christmas), and marking the end of Ramadan,” says Yaro, a 30-year-old lawyer and host of the celebration known as ‘la nuit de veille.’ Sitting under a tarpaulin strung between two neem trees, Yaro watches as the crowds sway through the street.

The partygoers won’t sleep until after the event. The revelry will strengthen them ahead of tomorrow’s big task, Yaro claims, sipping a soft drink. “Tonight we party, and tomorrow we will celebrate our mosque and Djenné’s cultural heritage.” The residents of Djenné come together to put a new layer of clay on their mosque every April, just before the rainy season. The crépissage is both a necessary maintenance task to prevent the mosque’s walls from crumbling and an elaborate festival that celebrates Djenné’s heritage, faith, and community. It’s also an act of defiance.

The increasing instability in Mali’s central region—fueled by inter-tribal conflicts and growing numbers of militant and jihadist groups exploiting the absence of state security forces—now threatens Djenné and its sacred annual ritual. Local militants—some linked to the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), formed by the 2017 merger of several extremist groups operating in Mali—have invaded towns, destroyed markets, and spread their influence in central Mali.

The Annual Restoration of An Ancient Mud Mosque, photo by Annie Risemberg
A group of women carrying water needed for the mud mixture. Men and boys are responsible for bringing the mud to the mosque, while and women and girls are tasked with bringing water from the river. (Photo: Annie Risemberg, The New Traditional)

So far, Djenné and its mosque have been spared, but the security situation in the region continues to deteriorate, and more frequent attacks are being carried out in Djenné’s orbit. “We knew that the militants were getting closer to Djenné,” says town chief Sidi Yéya Maiga at his home the day before the crépissage. This year the town council even took the extraordinary step of debating whether or not to cancel their cherished tradition.

In an act of collective resistance, they decided the show must go on. On the day before the crépissage, Nouhoum Touré, the master among Djenné’s 250 masons, heads down to the riverbank to check on the mud that has been left to soak for 20 days.

The Annual Restoration of An Ancient Mud Mosque, photo by Annie Risemberg
The crépissage is the most important event in Mali. (Photo: Annie Risemberg, The New Traditional

It’s the height of the dry season, and the river has shrunk to shallow puddles and inlets. The round pools that store clay until it’s time for the crépissage look like pockmarks on the riverbed. The mud comes from further down the river and is transported here by trucks and donkey carts. Younger masons then break the blocks into smaller chunks and mix them with water. In the final stages, rice husks are added to the mud, turning it into a soft and sticky paste. The rice works like a glue, holding the mud together and keeping it from cracking as it dries. The young masons then carry the mixture, in wicker baskets, to pits in front of the mosque in preparation for the event.

Early in the morning on the long-awaited day of the crépissage, Djenné’s residents gather by the mosque and wait for Touré to smear the first blob of mud on the wall. This is the starting gun.

There is a roar from the crowd as dozens of young men—some masons, some apprentices—run to the mosque. Smaller groups of boys raise wooden ladders against the mosque wall. Carrying wicker baskets full of dripping-wet clay from the pits next to the mosque, the young men begin scrambling up the façade, using ladders to reach the wooden poles protruding from the walls. Perching perilously on the wooden scaffolding, they pick up large blobs of clay and smear them on the walls.

The Annual Restoration of An Ancient Mud Mosque, photo by Annie Risemberg
The Djenné mosque the day before the crépissage. (Photo: Annie Risemberg, The New Traditional

Nientao, the mosque’s guardian, weaves through the crowd, his pockets filled with sweets for the workers. Thousands of muddy feet trample the paths around the mosque. As the sun begins to rise over Djenné, turning shapeless shadows into dark silhouettes, a group of boys and masons tackle the minarets from the roof of the mosque.

Four hours later, the morning sun shines on the newly plastered mosque. Dark, wet clay patches on the dried mud give it a sickly look. Touré is covered in mud all the way from his plastic sandals, which have miraculously stayed on his feet, to the top of his turban. “I think we did very well,” he says, sitting in the shade of the mosque. “Normally, we re-mud the mosque over two days. This time we managed to get it done in only one day.”

The Annual Restoration of An Ancient Mud Mosque, photo by Annie Risemberg
Residents carrying mud, from pits to the mosque ahead of the crépissage. (Photo: Annie Risemberg, The New Traditional)  

A little later, there is a crack as the loudspeakers come on, then the sound of Djenné’s mayor, Balfine Yaro, clearing his throat. Everyone looks on in silence as he makes his way to the front of the crowd. He declares Djenneka Raws the winning team. Djelika Kantao and Yoboucaïna have prevailed. For the winners, there is pride, honor, and a cash prize of 50,000 West African francs, or about $90 (€80). “With the money,” says Kantao, beaming with pride, “I will buy new solar panels for the neighborhood, so we no longer have to live in darkness.”


Delve into a world of traditions being kept alive unique individuals through The New Traditional. This story and images are featured in the book.

Why the Mediterranean is a climate change hotspot

Why the Mediterranean is a climate change hotspot

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology asking Why the Mediterranean is a climate change hotspot came up with A new analysis uncovers the basis of the severe rainfall declines predicted by many models.

17 June 2020

Although global climate models vary in many ways, they agree on this: The Mediterranean region will be significantly drier in coming decades, potentially seeing 40 percent less precipitation during the winter rainy season.

An analysis by researchers at MIT has now found the underlying mechanisms that explain the anomalous effects in this region, especially in the Middle East and in northwest Africa. The analysis could help refine the models and add certainty to their projections, which have significant implications for the management of water resources and agriculture in the region.

The study, published last week in the Journal of Climate, was carried out by MIT graduate student Alexandre Tuel and professor of civil and environmental engineering Elfatih Eltahir.

The different global circulation models of the Earth’s changing climate agree that temperatures virtually everywhere will increase, and in most places so will rainfall, in part because warmer air can carry more water vapor. However, “There is one major exception, and that is the Mediterranean area,” Eltahir says, which shows the greatest decline of projected rainfall of any landmass on Earth.

“With all their differences, the models all seem to agree that this is going to happen,” he says, although they differ on the amount of the decline, ranging from 10 percent to 60 percent. But nobody had previously been able to explain why.

Tuel and Eltahir found that this projected drying of the Mediterranean region is a result of the confluence of two different effects of a warming climate: a change in the dynamics of upper atmosphere circulation and a reduction in the temperature difference between land and sea. Neither factor by itself would be sufficient to account for the anomalous reduction in rainfall, but in combination the two phenomena can fully account for the unique drying trend seen in the models.

The first effect is a large-scale phenomenon, related to powerful high-altitude winds called the midlatitude jet stream, which drive a strong, steady west-to-east weather pattern across Europe, Asia, and North America. Tuel says the models show that “one of the robust things that happens with climate change is that as you increase the global temperature, you’re going to increase the strength of these midlatitude jets.”

But in the Northern Hemisphere, those winds run into obstacles, with mountain ranges including the Rockies, Alps, and Himalayas, and these collectively impart a kind of wave pattern onto this steady circulation, resulting in alternating zones of higher and lower air pressure. High pressure is associated with clear, dry air, and low pressure with wetter air and storm systems. But as the air gets warmer, this wave pattern gets altered.

“It just happened that the geography of where the Mediterranean is, and where the mountains are, impacts the pattern of air flow high in the atmosphere in a way that creates a high pressure area over the Mediterranean,” Tuel explains. That high-pressure area creates a dry zone with little precipitation.

However, that effect alone can’t account for the projected Mediterranean drying. That requires the addition of a second mechanism, the reduction of the temperature difference between land and sea. That difference, which helps to drive winds, will also be greatly reduced by climate change, because the land is warming up much faster than the seas.

“What’s really different about the Mediterranean compared to other regions is the geography,” Tuel says. “Basically, you have a big sea enclosed by continents, which doesn’t really occur anywhere else in the world.” While models show the surrounding landmasses warming by 3 to 4 degrees Celsius over the coming century, the sea itself will only warm by about 2 degrees or so. “Basically, the difference between the water and the land becomes a smaller with time,” he says.

That, in turn, amplifies the pressure differential, adding to the high-pressure area that drives a clockwise circulation pattern of winds surrounding the Mediterranean basin. And because of the specifics of local topography, projections show the two areas hardest hit by the drying trend will be the northwest Africa, including Morocco, and the eastern Mediterranean region, including Turkey and the Levant.

That trend is not just a projection, but has already become apparent in recent climate trends across the Middle East and western North Africa, the researchers say. “These are areas where we already detect declines in precipitation,” Eltahir says. It’s possible that these rainfall declines in an already parched region may even have contributed to the political unrest in the region, he says.

“We document from the observed record of precipitation that this eastern part has already experienced a significant decline of precipitation,” Eltahir says. The fact that the underlying physical processes are now understood will help to ensure that these projections should be taken seriously by planners in the region, he says. It will provide much greater confidence, he says, by enabling them “to understand the exact mechanisms by which that change is going to happen.”

Eltahir has been working with government agencies in Morocco to help them translate this information into concrete planning. “We are trying to take these projections and see what would be the impacts on availability of water,” he says. “That potentially will have a lot of impact on how Morocco plans its water resources, and also how they could develop technologies that could help them alleviate those impacts through better management of water at the field scale, or maybe through precision agriculture using higher technology.”

The work was supported by the collaborative research program between Université Mohamed VI Polytechnique in Morocco and MIT.


Story Source: Materials provided by Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Original written by David L. Chandler. 

“Diamond in the Desert” finished in good time

“Diamond in the Desert” finished in good time

GLOBAL CONSTRUCTION REVIEW News published this article on Doha’s “Diamond in the Desert” finished in good time for Qatar’s 2022 World Cup.


18 June 2020 | By GCR Staff


Education City Stadium, the 40,000-capacity venue nicknamed the Diamond in the Desert, has been completed in good time for Qatar’s 2022 World Cup Finals.

Located in Education City, a 12km development in Al Rayyan, in the centre of the country, the stadium is the third to be finished, following the Khalifa Stadium in May 2017, and the Al Janoub Stadium in June 2019.

The modular upper tier, which contains half of Education City Stadium’s seats, will be donated to developing countries after the World Cup is over.

The stadium’s facade forms a diamond lattice that appears to change colour as the sun moves across the sky and sunlight strikes it from different angles. Another feature is a possible five-star Global Sustainability Assessment rating – helped by the use of recycled materials for 29% of the structure.

Hassan Al Thawadi, the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy’s secretary general, said: “Launching the stadium now – while the world is overcoming the coronavirus pandemic – shows everyone that there is light at the end of the tunnel and brighter days ahead.

“We are proud to pay tribute to the frontline workers who remain at the forefront in the battle against Covid-19 and look forward to bringing the world together – at this stadium and others – using the unifying power of football in 2022.”

The Al Rayyan Stadium and Al Bayt Stadium are both due to be completed by the end of 2020.

Qatar had originally planned to build 12 stadiums for the World Cup but the number has since been cut to eight. It plans up to install 16 floating hotels to accommodate football fans during the tournament.

Images courtesy of Qatar2022.com

The Middle East’s coronavirus crisis threatens the environment too

The Middle East’s coronavirus crisis threatens the environment too

Arab News tells us How Middle East’s coronavirus crisis threatens the environment too. Let us see what all is this about. How different is it to North Africa, say to Libya?

  • The importance of hygiene has led to an exponential increase in use of disposable plastic products
  • COVID-19 may have set the world back on a slippery slope with regard to overuse of plastic products

DUBAI: The COVID-19 pandemic has set the world back on the slippery slope of plastic overuse, just when it seemed as if plastic reduction was becoming an achievable goal, experts fear.

The priority of hygiene to combat the spread of the virus has led to a sharp increase in the consumption of disposable plastic products — gloves, single-use water bottles, cutlery, packaging and medical supplies — across the world.

In some Gulf cities, many dine-in customers are being served up to three plastic plates, cups and sets of cutlery for a single three-course meal.

The Middle East’s coronavirus crisis threatens the environment too
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“It’s a disaster,” said Tatiana Antonelli Abella, founder and managing director of the UAE-based green social enterprise Goumbook. “The pandemic has undoubtedly impacted every aspect of our lives, from work to school and our daily tasks.

“It is unfortunate that sustainable practices that have taken a lot of work to implement have now been replaced, due to sanitization (requirements), by the use of single-use plastic bottles, cutlery and crockery in restaurants and delivery services.”

Last year, some communities across the UAE banned plastic use in restaurants, while supermarkets planned to charge customers for their plastic bags. Almost overnight, the initiative has taken a back seat.

In this photo taken on May 13, 2020, Gary Stokes, founder of the environmental group Oceans Asia, poses with discarded face masks he found on a beach in the residential area of Discovery Bay on the outlying Lantau island in Hong Kong. (AFP/File Photo)

“It is a contentious matter, as many would argue against any evidence that using reusables, if sanitized correctly, could in any way be dangerous,” Abella told Arab News.

“Dish-washing machines, high temperatures and dish soap have always been 100 percent efficient (as sanitizers) and always will be. And most of the plastic used is also not fully recyclable.

“Unfortunately, if plastic is not properly washed and cleaned, it is considered contaminated and will end up as general waste in landfills.”

Other sustainability experts concur. “If restaurants clean their tableware and cutlery with hot water and detergent after every use, there is no need for single-use items,” said Amruta Kshemkalyani, a UAE-based sustainability adviser and founder of Sustainability Tribe.

The Middle East’s coronavirus crisis threatens the environment too

Women wearing masks for protection against the coronavirus, sit at a restaurant in the Mall of Dubai on April 28, 2020, after the shopping centre was reopened. (AFP/File Photo)

“Restaurants just need to pay extra attention to their tableware cleaning process. COVID-19 shouldn’t be used as an excuse to create unnecessary waste and harm the environment.”

Peter Avram, director of the Dubai-based Avani Middle East, which produces disposable packaging solutions and compostable plastic alternatives, said there had been a surge in the use of disposables during the current pandemic.

“Regrettably, due to the current economic situation, plastic is being preferred to the eco-friendly options simply because of costs,” he said. “Eco-friendly disposables are 20 to 30 percent more expensive.”

The UAE consumes an average of 450 plastic bottles of water per person per year – or more than four billion bottles annually.

“It hurts to see so many years of hard work from environmental organizations going ‘to waste’,” Abella said. “The relaxation on the [consumption of] single-use plastics, even if temporary, could quite likely have long-term consequences on consumer behavior.”

When Kshemkalyani started a zero-waste lifestyle in 2015, almost no restaurants and cafes in Dubai were aware of the concept of serving food and drinks in reusable containers.

The environmental cause is expected to return to the foreground when the crisis passes.

 Peter Avram, Director of Avani Middle East

Since then, the #zerowasteUAE social initiative and Sustainability Tribe have made tireless efforts to bring awareness to the community on waste issues.

“Now, in the name of hygiene and convenience, if the disposable culture gets popular again, it will be a big hurdle in society’s progress towards sustainable habits,” she said, especially when there is no evidence that a switch to single-use items is imperative during COVID-19.

The Middle East’s coronavirus crisis threatens the environment too

Emiratis wearing masks for protection against the coronavirus, buy coffee at a shop in the Mall of Dubai on April 28, 2020, after the shopping centre was reopened. (AFP/File Photo)

Kshemkalyani questioned whether restaurants are recycling their plastic waste or just dumping it. “We do not want more waste in landfills that will further contaminate and pollute our land, water and air,” she said.

“Restaurants can start using their reusable serving sets and intensify the right cleaning and hygiene procedures. Instead of spending on single-use items, they have an opportunity to keep their manpower and use it wisely for intensified cleaning – this would also help employment.”

Kshemkalyani also recommended that restaurants allow customers to bring their own plates, cutlery and glasses. “Restaurants can also use environmentally friendly disposables, like palm leaf and wood [cutlery], as a temporary measure,” she said.

According to Abella, “It is important to keep the conversation going to use your consumer power to campaign for these changes.”

The Middle East’s coronavirus crisis threatens the environment too

Garbage litters the shore of Zouk Mikael, north of the Lebanese capital Beirut, on January 22, 2018. (AFP/File Photo)

Although some outlets are seeking to offer alternatives, consumers should also vote with their wallets and ask restaurants to use sustainable alternatives, she said.

She said: “We should try to cook more at home and, if need be, choose restaurants that make an effort to serve their food in eco-friendly packaging.”

She pointed to the trend of people ordering more items than usual during the lockdown, with many of the items delivered in plastic containers, “wrapped in plastic and bagged in more plastic.”

Avram said that sustainability and recycling efforts must continue, pointing to the uptick in home composting procedures that many residents have begun to undertake to dispose of eco-friendly takeaway items.

The Middle East’s coronavirus crisis threatens the environment too

A man wearing a protective mask, as a precaution against COVID-19 coronavirus disease, walks outside an empty cafe along Tahlia street in the centre of the capital Riyadh on March 15, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

“That has been very encouraging,” he said. “It is expected that the environmental cause will return to the foreground when the crisis has passed.”

Shams Hasan, air quality and corporate environmental responsibility expert at Envipro Consulting in the US, told Arab News: “The COVID-19 pandemic has created strange problems. Plastic items that were being phased out are at least temporarily back in use. The … fear is that during any crisis, society will start looking at an easy way out and apply ‘band-aid’ solutions instead of working on long-term strategies and solutions.”

Kristin Hughes, director of Global Plastic Action Partnership and a member of the executive committee, World Economic Forum, pointed to the challenge facing the world.

“We stand at the junction of two diverging paths,” she said. “One is a stop-gap solution that puts us solidly on track toward a not-so-distant future in which there is more plastic in the ocean than fish. The other is a sustainable model of living and working that will benefit us long into the future – one that will create a healthier, more equitable and more livable future for all.”

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