The 4th International Rain Enhancement Forum (IREF) that brought together leading experts, scientists and researchers from all over the world was held in Abu Dhabi this past week. It was about the latest research and innovation in rain enhancement science together with possible collaborations to address the challenge of global water stress. The Future direction of rain enhancement research reviewed was reported on by all local media.
Emirates News Agency (WAM) — 25 January 2020
The UAE Research Program for Rain Enhancement Science, UAEREP, hosted a workshop to update its solicitation document, which will define the future calls for research proposal submissions. The workshop built on the productive discussions that took place during the 4th International Rain Enhancement Forum and its various plenary sessions.
UAEREP organised the 4th International Rain Enhancement Forum from 19 to 21 January 2020 under the supervision of the National Center of Meteorology. The event convened prominent national and international experts, researchers, scientists, and stakeholders to highlight the latest scientific and technological advancements in rain enhancement.
The full-day event brought together leading scientists and experts in atmospheric research and technologies, and centered around two main themes: ‘Cloud to Ground Science: Identifying Knowledge Gaps’ and ‘New Approaches and Technologies for Rain Enhancement’.
The session opened with a welcome speech by Alya Al Mazroui, Director of UAEREP, who outlined the programme’s purpose and ambitions.
Alya Al Mazroui said: “This workshop follows the successful fourth edition of the International Rain Enhancement Forum and the productive discussions we had over the course of the three days of intensive sessions and the Town Hall Meeting. The workshop is crucially important for our call for new research proposals and the shaping of the future direction of UAEREP’s research objectives.”
She added: “As we move forward with our efforts to enhance collaboration and seek viable solutions for global water stress, it is essential to build stakeholder consensus around our research goals and priorities to ensure the relevance and quality of proposals for the future of the our research program.”
Al Mazroui also revealed that the content of the new solicitation document will be shared publicly in mid-2020 as part of the call for research proposal submissions for the Program’s 4th cycle starting in 2021.
Participants at the workshop were provided with a detailed overview of UAEREP’s previous solicitation and management plan and the workshop structure by Dr. Richard Behnke, chair of UAEREP’s international reviewers committee.
In his presentation, Dr. Deon Terblanche, Weather and Climate Consultant at World Bank and former Director of Research at the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), highlighted the achievements and challenges of past UAEREP awardees, and the latest advances in precipitation enhancement research.
Dr. Deon Terblanche also chaired a session titled ‘Cloud to Ground Science: Identifying Knowledge Gaps’, covering key topics such as quantifying the evaporative loss between cloud-base and the surface, improving areal precipitation estimation through a combination of remote sense and ground-based measurements, and translating seeding effects on single storms into areal effects. Panelists also discussed inter-cloud interactions in a convective environment, rainfall-runoff-groundwater relationship and the impact of cloud seeding and environmental and ecological changes due to long-term cloud seeding.
The workshop also facilitated productive discussions around ‘New Approaches and Technologies for Rain Enhancement’. Chaired by Dr. Steve Griffiths, Senior Vice President for Research and Development at Khalifa University, the session provided an insight into the technologies for observing physical phenomena, data modeling, analysis, and evaluation and experimental design, technologies, and instrumentation.
Summarising workshop outputs, Dr. Robert Robinson, co-chair of the committee, outlined the key takeaways and observations from the workshop participants.
The outcomes of the IREF town hall meeting, which took place on 21 January under the theme of “Determining Future Directions for Rain Enhancement Research”, provided important input for the discussions during the workshop, and for the shaping of the new UAEREP solicitation and the research proposal calls.
It shows a score of 39, the same as last year. There seems to be little progress in improving control of corruption in the Middle East and North Africa region generally but the massive protests currently thronging the streets in mostly the republics types of states of the MENA could be taken as seeking for improvement. Excerpts of the Khaleej Times follow.
With a score of 71, the United Arab Emirates is the best regional performer, followed by Qatar (62). At the bottom of the region, Syria scores 13, followed by Yemen with a score of 15. Both countries are significant decliners on the CPI, with Yemen dropping eight points since 2012 and Syria dropping 13 points during the same period.
Lack of political integrity
The region faces significant corruption challenges that highlight a lack of political integrity. According to our recent report, Global Corruption Barometer — Middle East and North Africa, nearly one in two people in Lebanon is offered bribes in exchange for their votes, while more than one in four receives threats if they don’t vote a certain way.
In a region where fair and democratic elections are the exception, state capture is commonplace. Powerful individuals routinely divert public funds to their own pockets at the expense of ordinary citizens. Separation of powers is another challenge: independent judiciaries with the potential to act as a check on the executive branch are rare or non-existent.
To improve citizens’ trust in government, countries must build transparent and accountable institutions and prosecute wrongdoing. They should also hold free and fair elections and allow for citizen engagement and participation in decision-making.
The UAE has been rated least corrupt country, yet again, in the Middle East and North Africa by the Berlin-based Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2019.
Globally also, the country retained its 21st ranking, scoring 71 points.
At the bottom of the region, Syria scores 13, followed by Yemen with a score of 15. Both countries are significant decliners on the CPI, with Yemen dropping eight points since 2012 and Syria dropping 13 points during the same period.
“The region faces significant corruption challenges that highlight a lack of political integrity. According to our recent report, Global Corruption Barometer – Middle East and North Africa, nearly one in two people in Lebanon is offered bribes in exchange for their votes, while more than one in four receives threats if they don’t vote a certain way,” said Transparency International said in the report released on Thursday.
“To improve citizens’ trust in government, countries must build transparent and accountable institutions and prosecute wrongdoing. They should also hold free and fair elections and allow for citizen engagement and participation in decision-making,” it said.
With a score of 53, Saudi Arabia improved by four points since last year. In 2017, the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman carried out an “anti-corruption” purge as part of his reform of the country.
Regionally, the UAE is followed by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Jordan, Bahrain and Kuwait.
Globally, the top countries are New Zealand and Denmark, with scores of 87 each, followed by Finland (86), Singapore (85), Sweden (85) and Switzerland (85).
More than two-thirds of countries score below 50 on this year’s CPI, with an average score of just 43. Similar to previous years, the data shows that despite some progress, a majority of countries are still failing to tackle public sector corruption effectively.
“Governments must urgently address the corrupting role of big money in political party financing and the undue influence it exerts on our political systems,” said Delia Ferreira Rubio Chair Transparency International.
A good point in case would be the Algerian people that are out in the streets protesting. Peacefully though, and since February 22, 2019. It has been calling week on end for a transition to a democratic order, the guarantee of all human rights, freedom of expression, equality and most importantly an end to corruption.
In response, the Algerian authorities organised repression with the help of a justice that was subservient to them. Hundreds of men and women, including many human rights defenders and self-governing trade unionists, are being prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned.
A vibrant protest movement is visible in Iran and across the Middle East — but it isn’t calling for Islamic revolution, much less the tired misrule of the mullahs, The Washington Post’s David Ignatius writes. It’s a bottom-up rebellion against the corrupt elites who rule Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and other countries. The Iraqi version of this movement is sometimes called “madaniyya,” which Iraq expert Nibras Kazimi translates as a call for civic rebirth. The autocrats have tried everywhere to crush or manipulate this movement, but it persists, he adds.
As the tenth anniversary of the first uprising of the Arab Spring approaches, massive and sustained popular uprisings in Sudan, Algeria, Iraq, and Lebanon have shown that the Arab world is far from finished with the question of democracy, according to a leading analyst. In each of these countries, protesters have connected grievances about economic hardships and corruption to issues of governance. They have demanded changes to undemocratic aspects of current power structures: sectarian bargains in Iraq and Lebanon, and military dominance in Sudan and Algeria, notes Carnegie’s Michele Dunne.
Protesters in Sudan and Algeria also seem to have learned, perhaps primarily from their own countries’ experiences, that only by overcoming fears of violence can they begin addressing the problems of authoritarian rule, she writes for The Journal of Democracy:
The specific grievances of protesters—economic hardships and injustice, high-level corruption, poor government services—cannot be addressed without deep alterations in the power structure and political economy of Arab states. Given this, it is not reasonable to expect that change will come quickly, easily, or evenly across the region. Nor can one takefor granted that all change will be in the direction of democracy.
The conundrum for those calling for and seeking “freedom” in the Middle East is that, as layers of “nonfreedom” are peeled back, new layers of nonfreedom appear, argues analyst Sam Sweeney. A legitimate political system that can guarantee freedom remains elusive in the Middle East. Identifying such a system, and figuring out how to implement it, should be the primary task of serious thinkers in the region, he writes for The National Review.
One of the remarkable developments of 2019 was a fresh wave of anti-government and anti-graft protests in Sudan, Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, and Lebanon, one that revived the hopes of the 2010-2011 Arab Spring that had been dormant because of counterrevolutions, notes the Arab Center Washington DC (ACW) in a discussion of “Prospects for Democratic Change in the Arab World in 2020.”
To be sure, the slogans shouted by demonstrators in the five countries highlight a clear demand for political and socioeconomic changes that are no different from those heard in the first wave, the analysts suggest. However, there appear to be some important differences in the way demonstrators are voicing these slogans and how they are going about making them actionable, effective, sustainable, and eventually, successful.
The region’s Islamists and secularists need a pact that allows them to compete and survive when the other side is in power, according to Jamal Khashoggi fellow Ezzedine C. Fishere. It is a difficult but not impossible task: World history is rife with examples of societies that have traveled down this road. The warring factions in Germany’s Thirty Years’ War, for instance, killed a fifth of its population and destroyed its economy without achieving a meaningful victory, and ultimately had to settle for coexistence, he writes for The Washington Post.
Governance in Arab states a decade from now will probably involve a patchwork of systems, adds Dunne, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy. Nascent forms of democracy have the best chance of taking root in those countries where levels of human development are relatively high, states are less able to rely on hydrocarbon rents, and intervention by regional or outside frenemies is less prevalent. RTWT
BEIRUT- Lebanese politicians are watching on as the economy collapses and protests turn angry, a senior U.N. official said on Wednesday, rebuking a ruling elite that has failed to agree a government or rescue plan for a country in deep crisis.
With banks tightly limiting access to cash, lenders were targeted in a night of violent protests in Beirut’s Hamra district. Bank facades and ATMs were smashed and dozens of people wounded in confrontations with police.
Heavily indebted Lebanon has been in trouble since the government was toppled by the resignation of Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri in October as a result of protests against corruption and bad governance that are root causes of the economic woes.
Political rivalries have obstructed a deal on a new cabinet even as the crisis hits ordinary people: the Lebanese pound has lost around a half of its value while anger at banking controls have led to rows and violence in branches.
“Another day of confusion around the formation of a government, amidst the increasingly angry protests and free-falling economy,” Jan Kubis, U.N. special coordinator for Lebanon, wrote on Twitter. “Politicians, don’t blame the people, blame yourselves for this dangerous chaos.”
Kubis appeared to credit central bank governor Riad Salameh, saying he had sought “extraordinary powers to at least somehow manage the economy while those responsible watch it collapsing”.
“Incredible,” he wrote.
Salameh asked for extra powers last week, saying he wanted to standardize the banking controls.
“BEGGING” IN THE BANK
The long-brewing economic crisis snowballed last year as hard currency inflows slowed down, leading to a shortage of dollars needed to finance the state’s deficit and import needs.
The violence in Beirut’s Hamra area was some of the worst since anti-government protests began in October. Security forces fired tear gas outside the central bank to disperse protesters who pelted them with stones and fireworks.
One man hurled a car battery at the glass facade of a bank as another hit it with a metal pole, Reuters TV footage showed. On Wednesday morning, glass was being swept up at one vandalised bank as workers tried to fix a broken ATM at another.
A woman on Hamra street who gave her name as Hind said she supported protests against banks. “I have been coming here for the last three days and only could take $300 … we are begging, working 55 years to come and beg at the end,” she told Reuters.
“I was expecting what happened yesterday. Unfortunately the chaos is because of the politicians,” said Hamra shopkeeper Mohammad al-Rayyes.
The banking association condemned the attacks as the work of a “mercenary mob” and not the “real revolutionaries of Lebanon” seeking reform. It condemned the “severe and irresponsible tardiness in forming a new government”, saying this made it look like banks were responsible for deteriorating conditions.
The powerful Iranian-backed group Hezbollah and its political allies last month nominated Hassan Diab, a little-known former minister, to form a new government after the failure of efforts to forge a deal with Hariri, a traditional ally of the West and Gulf Arab states.
(Additional reporting by Issam Abdallah and Ellen Francis; Writing by Tom Perry Editing by Giles Elgood and Mike Collett-White) ((firstname.lastname@example.org; Reuters Messaging: email@example.com))
Despite regional turmoil, there are two critical areas of focus to work on simultaneously.
Despite 2020 looking to be a year of volatility, the President and CEO of the Atlantic Council expressed his optimism at the “remarkable” human potential of the MENA region.
In statements ahead of the fourth annual Global Energy Forum in Abu Dhabi, Frederick Kempe noted that despite regional turmoil, there are two critical areas of focus to work on simultaneously.
“One of them is to reduce conflict, to wind down the tensions of the region. But at the same time, you have to unlock the remarkable human potential of the Middle East and the GCC,” he said.
He told the Emirates News Agency (WAM), his predictions for 2020, noting that it would be a volatile year, particularly in the energy industry.
“Geopolitical uncertainty will play a larger role on energy prices this year,” Kempe added.
Reflecting on 2019 events, he noted, “It’s remarkable that energy prices have remained so low through everything we’ve gone through – Iranian sanctions, Libyan turmoil, Iraqi uncertainty.”
However, he added, “despite all that and partly because of the glut of oil we’ve had on the market, and the US oil and gas production, we’ve kept prices remarkably stable for a long period of time.”
“I think the big question is can that hold out in 2020,” he continued.
“You see prices rise by four percent when you get into a crisis, suddenly it seems as we’re in a de-escalatory phase if prices drop by five percent, and I think that’s what we’re going to see.”
Commenting on recent US-Iran tensions, and their impact on clean energy transitions, Kempe said, “A lot of people are focusing on the wrong lessons from the last few days. No doubt, there’s been a lot of tension.
“No doubt there was, for a period of time, increased risk of violent conflict. On the other hand, both parties stood back from that,” he added.
“No one in the region wants an escalation of the current tensions,” he stressed, adding, “Everyone that participated in de-escalating came to that. I think that’s promising.”
“I think all parties see no gain in war. The US doesn’t see any gain, Iran doesn’t see any gain; certainly, the Arab and GCC countries don’t see any gain,” the Atlantic Council President emphasised.
When asked to comment on how GCC countries, like the UAE, can play a role in the 2020 energy agenda, Kempe said, “If you look at the GDP of this region, and if you took the size of the Middle East population and put it anywhere in the world, you would have three times the GDP.”
World Bank figures indicate the GDP figures for the Middle East and North Africa reached $3.611 trillion in 2018.
“So imagine how much low-hanging fruit there is here and how much opportunity there is,” he said.
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, IRENA, figures, the adoption of renewable energy technologies created 11 million new jobs at the end of 2018.
When asked to comment on how countries and international bodies can partner further to see effective climate action, Kempe revealed that through the Council’s Adrienne Arsht Centre for Resilience, the MidEast Centre, and the Rockefeller Foundation, a new initiative will see one billion individuals become resilient to climate change, tensions and crises.
More details on the announcement will be made as part of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week 2020 next week.
The Atlantic Council Global Energy Forum is an international gathering of government, industry, and thought leaders to set the energy agenda for the year.
Taking place in the UAE capital from January 10-12, the 2020 iteration of the forum will focus on three key themes: the role of the oil and gas industry in the energy transition, financing the future of energy and interconnections in a new era of geopolitics.
Today, 8 January 2020, it appears that the US is more relaxed about oil spike than Europe – which helps explain differences over Iran, according to Mueid Al Raee, of United Nations University.
Oil prices shot up following the US assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, rising more than US$5 per barrel to more than US$71 (£54) on January 6, its highest level since the Saudi oil refinery attack last September. Brent crude has since eased to around US$69 at the time of writing, though there is much discussion that it could climb a lot higher if the current crisis leads to an all-out war.
In keeping with many recent developments in US-Iranian relations, the Europeans have taken a dim view of America’s decision to take out the military commander. When trying to make sense of the very different approaches Iran on either side of the Atlantic, one factor that is often overlooked is that the US and Europe are affected in different ways by a rising oil price.
People tend to see more expensive oil as bad news for the global economy, but the reality is that it’s not necessarily bad for America. It may be that, in continuing to provoke Iran, driving up the oil price is almost seen by the Americans as an added incentive.
The complex oil effect
Oil pricing and its associated effects are often more complex than portrayed. As citizens, we are most often concerned with the price of fuel for our cars and the cost of heating our homes. This is the first way that oil prices affect the broader economy: if consumers have to spend more on fuel and associated taxes, they have less to spend elsewhere – and this can lead to a global slowdown.
Like all countries, the US is affected by this. Yet on previous occasions where US actions on the geopolitical stage drove up oil prices, there were also benefits to the country’s economy. Take the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which ushered in a period that would see the price of Brent nearly triple by the end of the decade. This led to a wave of investment into the US shale oil sector, which would eventually account for approaching two-thirds of the country’s total oil production.
Brent crude price, 1940s to present day
The trouble with shale oil is that it is expensive to produce, with average break-even of fields not far below US$50 per barrel. Shale oil wells also produce most of their oil in the first year of production, which means that producers have to continually drill new wells.
Due to the lower prices of the last few years, a large number of oil-related companies in the US have filed for bankruptcy, including both producers and services businesses. And while US production of shale oil managed to continue rising impressively throughout this period, mainly thanks to the bigger producers, it has been slowing down markedly in recent months.
If the oil price now trends higher, it could well mean that shale oil production in the US can resume its upward march. It also raises the prospect of US oil services companies earning more both locally but, most importantly, from foreign oil-production ventures, since there is a well-established correlation between their stock price and higher oil prices.
At the same time, six of the last eight recessions in the US were followed by high oil prices. One reason why this was not a hindrance for the economy is that, in the longer term, stable higher prices promoted the development of more energy-efficient technologies within the country.
The Americans can also argue that there are some longer-term economic benefits to higher oil prices that can help everyone. Oil-producing countries with surplus cash from oil profits invest in foreign technology and foreign assets. At the same time, oil-importing countries innovate to mitigate the profit-reducing effects of higher oil prices. These are both ultimately good for economic vibrancy and growth.
On the other hand, there are advantages to cheaper oil that are particularly important to countries in Europe – including the UK – because, unlike America, they are not oil self-reliant. Lower oil prices are shown to be beneficial for Europe’s highly energy-intensive economies and are expected to help with job creation. During the oil price drops of 1986 and the early 1990s, for instance, energy-intensive industries in Europe increased their earnings. Consumer product businesses and European airlines benefit from lower oil prices, too.
What happens next
Whether or not the Americans actually want higher oil prices, there are certainly good economic reasons why they probably won’t mind them. Deepening the chaos that started with the US withdrawing from the West’s nuclear deal with Iran is an “easy” way to achieve higher oil prices while meeting other strategic objectives.
Yet how the Europeans, China and Russia respond will also determine the global flow of oil from Iran and Iraq. Whatever the ultimate pros and cons of a higher oil price from an economic point of view, the Europeans clearly have more reasons to be unenthusiastic than the US. If the new exchange and payment instruments that have been developed by Europe to circumvent US sanctions are effective, and the US does not escalate the conflict, it may yet mean that oil prices remain stable at current levels.
The first two decades of the 21st century saw the return of mass movements to streets around the world. Partly a product of sinking confidence in mainstream politics, mass mobilisation has had a huge impact on both official politics and wider society, and protest has become the form of political expression to which millions of people turn.
Following moments of open class warfare in the late 1960s and early 1970s, battles against the political and economic order became fragmented, trade unions were attacked, the legacy of the anti-colonial struggles was eroded and the history of the period was recast by the establishment to undermine its potency. In the post-Cold War era, a new phase of protest finally began to overcome these defeats.
This revival of protest exploded onto the political scene most visibly in Seattle outside the World Trade Organization summit in 1999. If 1968 was one of the high points of radical struggle in the 20th century, protest in the early 2000s once again began to reflect a general critique of the capitalist system, with solidarity forged across different sections of society.
The birth of the anti-globalisation movement in Seattle was followed by extraordinary mobilisations outside gatherings of the global economic elite. Alternative spaces were also created for the global justice movement to connect, most notably the World Social Forums (WSFs), starting with Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2001. It was here that questions over what position the anti-globalisation movement should take over the Iraq War, for example, were discussed and debated. Though the WSFs provided an important rallying point for a time, they ultimately evaded politics.
In the years leading up to and following the banking crisis of 2008, food riots and anti-austerity protests escalated around the world. In parts of the Middle East and North Africa, protests achieved insurrectionary proportions, with the overthrow of one dictator after another. After the Arab Spring was thwarted by counter-revolution, the Occupy movement and then Black Lives Matter gained global attention. While the public, urban square became a central focus for protest, social media became an important – but by no means exclusive – organising tool.
To varying degrees, these movements sharply raised the question of political transformation but didn’t find new ways of institutionalising popular power. The result was that in a number of situations, protest movements fell back on widely distrusted parliamentary processes to try and pursue their political aims. The results of this parliamentary turn have not been impressive.
Crisis of representation
On the one hand, the first two decades of the 21st century have seen soaring inequality, accompanied by debt and the neglect of working people. On the other, there have been poor results from purely parliamentary attempts to challenge it. There is, in other words, a deep crisis of representation.
The inability of modern capitalism to deliver more than survival for many has combined with a general critique of neoliberal capitalism to create a situation in which wider and wider sections of society are being drawn into protest. More than a million people have poured onto the streets of Lebanon since mid-October and protests continue despite a violent crackdown by security forces.
At the same time, people are less and less willing to accept unrepresentative politicians – and this is likely to continue in the future. From Lebanon and Iraq to Chile and Hong Kong, mass mobilisations continue despite resignations and concessions.
In Britain, the Labour Party’s defeat in the recent general election is attributed largely to its failure to accept the 2016 referendum result over EU membership. Decades of loyalty to the Labour Party for many and a socialist leader in Jeremy Corbyn calling for an end to austerity couldn’t cut through to enough of the millions who voted for Brexit.
In France, a general strike in December 2019 over President Emmanuel Macron’s proposed pension reforms has revealed the extent of opposition that people feel towards his government. This comes barely a year after the start of the Yellow Vest movement, in which people have protested against fuel price hikes and the precariousness of their lives.
The tendency towards street protest will be encouraged too by the climate crisis, whose effects mean that the most heavily exploited, including along race and gender lines, have the most to lose. When the protests in Lebanon broke out, they were taking place alongside rampant wildfires.
As protesters gain experience, they consciously bring to the fore questions of leadership and organisation. In Lebanon and Iraq, there has already been a conscious effort to overcome traditional sectarian divides. Debates are also raging in protest movements from Algeria to Chile about how to fuse economic and political demands in a more strategic manner. The goal is to make political and economic demands inseparable, such that it’s impossible for a government to make political concessions without making economic ones too.
There has also been a resurgence of the far-right in many countries, emboldened most visibly by parties and politicians in the US, Brazil, India and many parts of Europe. This resurgence, however, has not gone unchallenged.
The convergence of crisis on these multiple fronts will reach breaking point, creating conditions that will become intolerable for most people. This will galvanise more protest and more polarisation. As governments respond with reforms, such measures on their own will be unlikely to meet the combination of political and economic demands. The question of how to create new vehicles of representation to assert popular control over the economy will keep emerging. The fortunes of popular protest may well depend on whether the collective leadership of the movements can provide answers to it.
The New York Times Ted Widmer’s Opinion is that A Century Ago, the Modern Middle East Was Born. Lots could object to that statement but reading his Christmas Day article republished here with our thanks, could be as enlightening as perhaps the Messiah’s birth anniversary.
At the end of 1919, Woodrow Wilson still wanted the region to decide its future. Britain and France had other ideas.
As 1919 came to a close, people around the world were celebrating the holidays, grateful for the return of peace on earth after the convulsions of the Great War. “Peace on earth” was a relative concept; there was still fighting in Russia. But for the most part, the soldiers were home, and their families were looking forward to a new decade, free of conflict.
In Paris, there were long lines outside of restaurants, as the French celebrated the holiday with gastronomic exuberance. In Berlin, Vienna and Budapest there was less Christmas cheer, thanks to food shortages and inflation, but the people flocked to cafes and did their best to revive the old holiday traditions. In Washington, there was no snow, but Woodrow Wilson issued a flurry of proclamations, including one on Christmas Eve that relinquished federal control of the railroads, a wartime measure that was no longer necessary.
But for all the Christmas cheer, there was a general restlessness as the long year 1919 drew to a close, without the clarity that so many hoped would follow the war’s end. An elaborate treaty was signed at Versailles on June 28, ending hostilities between the principal powers, but creating a host of new problems. Germans were furious when they realized the scale of the reparations imposed on them. New and dangerous political actors were quick to seize upon the public’s hunger to find scapegoats as the political mood turned dark.
Wilson’s thoughts must have been conflicted this Christmas season. As the son of a Southern Presbyterian minister, he had many reasons to rejoice at the arrival of Christmas, including the fact that he was sometimes compared to Jesus, with his “sermonettes” about the new era that was approaching. As a young man, he had written an essay on “Christ’s Army,” and it must have felt at times that he was in charge of this organization, with all of his schemes for human betterment. But as the year progressed, the comparisons to Jesus began to turn sardonic, as Wilson’s perfectionism grated on his allies.
Mistakes were plentiful as the world’s leaders contemplated missed opportunities in the great reshuffling of 1919.
A year earlier, Wilson strode the world like a colossus. On Christmas Eve 1918, he was in Paris, enjoying the last night of his first visit to France, where he received a tumultuous welcome as the embodiment of the people’s hopes. A year later, he was significantly diminished, by the flawed treaty, by the Senate’s refusal to approve the League of Nations, and by the stroke that had crippled him in October, as he brought his case to the American people.
He never lost his religiosity, and for that reason, the arrival of another Christmas may have felt reassuring. But the year had taken a severe toll. He said, “If I were not a Christian I think I should go mad, but my faith in God holds me to the belief that he is in some way working out his own plans through human perversities and mistakes.”
Mistakes were plentiful as the world’s leaders contemplated missed opportunities in the great reshuffling of 1919. Three enormous empires — the Russian, German and Austro-Hungarian — had folded within the last two years, sweeping away centuries of dynastic privilege, but leaving a gaping void.
Then there was the Ottoman Empire, reeling from a series of catastrophes, but not quite defunct. From their palaces in Constantinople, sultans had once exercised sway over huge stretches of the lands stretching in all directions from Asia Minor. Even further afield, they commanded the loyalties of hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world as the caliphs of Islam.
But in recent years, sultans were struggling to maintain control of their own administrators. The Ottomans had backed the losing side in the war, then horrified the world with a genocidal campaign against the Armenian people. They were also losing credibility in other ways. In the years before the war, European powers had gobbled up nearly half a million square miles of former Ottoman territory. Then, during the war, an Arab revolt stoked by the British had removed large portions of what we would now call the Middle East.
Wilson even contemplated an American mandate over Armenia, the Dardanelles and the Bosporus.
With Christmas approaching, the English and French were negotiating over the fate of what remained. Earlier in the year, they had dutifully nodded as Wilson articulated his idea of a new diplomacy that would show respect to small countries, and affirm the rights of all peoples to something called “self-determination.” There would be fewer colonies, although some “mandates” would be allowed to exist, in which Western powers would act as benevolent caretakers for peoples who were “not yet ready” for self-determination. So idealistic did the word sound that Wilson even contemplated an American mandate over Armenia, the Dardanelles and the Bosporus.
But there had been a number of shocks to his idealistic vision. One came on March 20, 1919, when Wilson learned that his French and English allies had secretly agreed to carve up the Ottoman Empire as soon as the war ended, and were continuing to scheme both with and against each other. That seemed very much like the old diplomacy. A 1916 understanding, the Sykes-Picot Agreement, promised to give each side what it wanted in the region, with little regard for anyone’s right to self-determination.
For the British, that meant Palestine and a region that they were calling “Mesopotamia,” including the Ottoman provinces of Baghdad, Mosul and Basra. For the French, it was a generous slice of the eastern Mediterranean, around the city of Beirut, and an internal corridor stretching to Damascus, Aleppo and beyond.
Neither of these zones were natural countries. The Ottomans had considered Mosul a different region from Baghdad, but the British coveted the oil that was beginning to spurt out of the earth. Eventually, this awkward assemblage of provinces would receive a new name, Iraq, when the British succeeded in placing an Arab ally on its throne. In Arabic, the word means “deeply rooted,” but the new country was anything but that. The French went along, in return for some of the oil, and an agreement from the British to let them pursue their own intrigues in Lebanon and Syria.
Wilson responded by piously expressing his belief in “the consent of the governed,” and his hope that the wishes of local peoples would be taken into consideration as the European powers prepared to carve up the Middle East. He also proposed that a commission be created for that purpose, to earnestly inquire what form of government the locals wanted.
The French and British immediately shelved his quaint idea, but Wilson stuck with it, and appointed two commissioners, Henry Churchill King, the former president of Oberlin College, and Charles R. Crane, the scion of a family that had made a fortune from plumbing parts. They worked quickly and made a tour of the region, spending 42 days in what would later be Lebanon, Israel, the West Bank, Jordan and Syria. On Aug. 28, they submitted a report that confirmed Wilson’s sense that no one in the region wanted European powers to come in and colonize them. It may have been the first time anyone asked local Arabs what they wanted.
But events were happening quickly on the ground, and the old diplomacy refused to give up the ghost. Throughout the spring and summer, the French and British continued to divide up the Middle East as if they were shopping at a spice bazaar.
In his Fourteen Points, Wilson had tried to assure the peoples of the region that they would be free to pursue “autonomous development.” But that was a confusing concept as the victors made overlapping promises to Greeks, Italians, Armenians, Lebanese Christians, Arabs, Kurds and an increasingly vocal group of Zionists, mostly from Eastern Europe. As they clamored for their pieces of the Ottoman Empire, these disparate populations remembered a great deal of history. The Crusades, Constantine and the Roman Empire, the Greek wars against Persia, the Babylonian Captivity — all of it could be summoned in an instant to justify a historic claim to an attractive parcel of land. That didn’t sound like new diplomacy at all.
In the Ottoman lands, a curious version of self-determination was beginning to take place, without permission from Wilson.
Wilson might have done more to push back against the land grab, but he was having problems of his own. After he returned to the United States, he received a hard lesson in self-determination when the Senate killed his vision in November. In a sense, his defeat was shared by the peoples of the Middle East, still looking for a champion.
But in the Ottoman lands, a curious version of self-determination was beginning to take place, without permission from Wilson, the allied leaders, or even the Ottomans. As the sultan, Mehmed VI, conceded point after point to the Allies, an angry Turkish soldier began to take matters into his own hands. Mustafa Kemal Pasha had already shown a great military aptitude during the war, particularly during the Turkish victory at Gallipoli. Throughout 1919, Kemal (later to be known as Ataturk) traveled across Anatolia, organizing Turkish resistance to the dismemberment of his country. Increasingly, it became clear that he was creating a new country — Turkey — that would no longer be headed by the sultans.
In other ways, as well, the victors discovered that the lines on the map were not as easy to redraw as they had first thought. In some places, like Palestine and Israel, a state of near-constant violence has persisted among peoples who wish to exercise self-determination at the same time, in the same place. In other places, too, we see how much we still live with the decisions made at the negotiating table in 1919. Russia continues to seethe against its limits and its neighbors, and is pressing up close against the old Ottoman borderlands. Certain boundaries in the Middle East appear to be in flux again — most recently, the southern border of Turkey. Self-appointed “Caliphs” continue to appear and disappear, suggesting that a void remains unfilled since the last sultan occupied that role. In retrospect, the new maps of 1919 were something of a palimpsest.
But at least it was quiet in one place as night descended on Christmas Eve a century ago. Bethlehem was a small town in what had been the Ottoman province of Palestine, but its future was uncertain as the armies of different powers ranged closer, and the cartographers kept redrawing the maps in Paris. Still, it had endured a very long time by showing the right level of respect to the old diplomacy, even as the new diplomacy was coming in. Chapter Two of the Book of Luke records that Jesus was born there because of a census, ordered by the Roman Empire, requiring heads of families to return to their native villages. Diligent administrators, the Romans believed that “all the world should be registered.” As Woodrow Wilson learned, that was harder than it looked.
Sources: Ray Stannard Baker, “Woodrow Wilson and World Settlement”; Harry N. Howard, “Turkey, the Straits and U.S. Policy”; Margaret Macmillan, “Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World.”
Ted Widmer is a distinguished lecturer at the Macaulay Honors College of the City University of New York and a fellow of the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.
Christmas has become important in the Palestinian territories as these hosting Bethlehem, the town in which Jesus was born, the once a year world festivities beginning in this part of the West Bank could be vitally important to their cause. Dorina-Maria Buda, Professor of Tourism Management, Leeds Beckett University explains in this story of Olive trees, markets and hikes: how the Palestinian West Bank welcomes tourists at Christmas.
There are often marches and demonstrations in support of Palestine in cities around the world, but for those who want to visit the region, a thriving tourism industry has emerged in recent years. “Solidarity tourists” arrive at all times of year to help improve the lives of ordinary Palestinians, with events like olive tree planting in February and olive harvesting in October organised by local Palestinian initiatives such as the Alternative Tourism Group and Joint Advocacy Initiative.
Given Palestine’s place in what is known as the Holy Land – the reputed birthplace of Jesus Christ – one of the busiest seasons for visiting is during the Christmas period. Despite the region’s troubled history, thousands make the trip each year.
Many will take the Masar Ibrahim – meaning the path of Abraham – a 330km-long trail running from the north to the south of the Palestinian West Bank. Tourists are encouraged to stay with local families, as the hiking trail passes through more than 50 communities, including villages that are entirely Muslim, entirely Christian or with mixed communities.
Christmas in Palestine is a season for neighbourly relations among the various communities, and a period to tell stories of the ancestors. During the first week of December, most Palestinian towns light a communal Christmas tree, while local bands and choirs perform, and international tourists are encouraged to take part.
Since September 2019, I’ve been researching tourism in the Palestinian West Bank and trying to understand how people celebrate their ancient heritage amid modern tensions and conflict. This is my second Christmas in the region, and on both occasions, I’ve had the opportunity to stay with a local family in Beit Sahour town, which is part of the Bethlehem area.
Peace and goodwill
Few visitors realise that three Christmases are actually celebrated in Palestine. The Latin churches, which includes Catholic worshippers, recognise December 25 as Christmas Day. But the Greek Orthodox church, which represents the majority of Christians in Palestine and Israel, observes Christmas according to the old Julian calendar created during the time of Julius Caesar in 45 BC. For them, Christmas Day falls on January 7, while the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem marks Christmas and Epiphany together on January 19.
It’s still warm enough to go outdoors, so most visitors at this time of year will explore the beautiful Palestinian landscape. Hiking in the hills of Battir between Bethlehem and Jerusalem takes tourists through a UNESCO heritage site, while in the north part of the country near Ramallah, the hills of Birzeit offer charming views of valleys and hillsides. Christmas markets are also popular and for children, there’s the traditional practice of decorating the al-burbara, a Palestinian dessert, at the Bethlehem Peace Center in celebration of Saint Barbara’s Day on December 4.
Violence flared after US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017. According to one hotel manager in Palestine’s West Bank, the cancellation rate for bookings that month was around 80%. Palestine’s tourism industry seemed to recover in 2018, but the conflict can have a lasting impression that serves to turn away potential tourists.
Local authorities are quick to denounce the risk and insist that Palestine is safe to visit. Anton Salman, the mayor of Bethlehem said:
Bethlehem as a tourist destination is a secure and safe place. We are showing to the world with the lighting of the Christmas Tree ceremony that Bethlehem is a safe place … Tourists can visit and they can have the experience together with Bethlehemites, ours is a welcoming, hospitable community.
The economy, corruption and unemployment. These are by far the top concerns amongst citizens across 18 Arab countries, according to a ground-breaking new poll released by YouGov this week.
The optimism and hope that inspired the Arab Spring nine years ago has vanished, upended by a new wave of anger sweeping the region. The result has been the toppling of Algeria’s president and protests across Iraq, Lebanon, and Egypt.
The poll also revealed most Arab citizens feel their leaders should prioritise the economy over all other issues, be they national security related, religious or sectarian.
Arab leaders must take note of this data. But it should also inform the decision-making of EU policymakers too. The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) after all are the EU’s backyard. MENA and the ripple effect of what begins there will inevitably reach Europe too; the refugee crisis proved that.
The poll results also suggest the EU has a timely opportunity to encourage positive reform in the MENA region. The EU has long hoped to encourage reform through initiatives like the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and the Union for the Mediterranean. The basis for these initiatives was “shared values.”
This new poll, draw from the responses of thousands of Arabs across 18 MENA countries, shows these shared values exist more today than ever before. Respondents supported economic liberalisation, women’s empowerment, religious minority rights, greater transparency and criticised the politicisation of religion. You could say Middle Eastern citizens increasingly embody the values of the EU itself.
One of the biggest historical criticisms of EU initiatives like the ENP and the Union for the Mediterranean has been that it seeks to impose European standards in an imperial “civilising” effort towards Europe’s neighbouring regions.
Dr. Saqib Qureshi Senior business strategist and expert on democratic policy development
This is particularly notable given one of the biggest historical criticisms of EU initiatives like the ENP and the Union for the Mediterranean has been that it seeks to impose European standards in an imperial “civilising” effort towards Europe’s neighbouring regions.
But with the emergence of a new generation of Middle Eastern citizens embodying home-grown, forward-looking values, it is unlikely such EU efforts will now be viewed by Arab people as an attempt to impose alien values upon the region.
But the window of opportunity is narrow. Should the economic situation in nations like Iraq or Lebanon continue to deteriorate (both nations cited corruption as the biggest problem for their country), the inclination for the masses to rally around more extreme political positions may once again return.
Indeed, economic fears were present across the MENA region. 61% of respondents across the Arab world believed the future would be better if economic matters were put above all other policy issues, be they political, religious or sectarian.
Such a decisive majority opinion on this issue is likely to be due to the sheer anger in the Arab world over corruption. Respondents from every MENA region overwhelmingly cited corruption as the single biggest problem for their country. 42% of respondents were concerned about unemployment, hardly surprising given that across the region, 30% of young people are currently unemployed.
This all makes it timelier than ever for the EU to leverage its trade relations with the MENA region to help bridge the divide between citizens and the State in the Middle East.
But here, too, the EU’s efforts are under threat. The EU’s trade leverage is competing with that of economic powers like China. China’s investment in the Arab world and the conditions attached to them – in relation to equal opportunities, economic participation and fair competition – differ to those of the EU.
Not only is China not concerned with using its economic ties to support forward-looking values and principles, it could potentially halt or even reverse some of the progress that has already been made.
Dr. Saqib Qureshi Senior business strategist and expert on democratic policy development
Not only is China not concerned with using its economic ties to support forward-looking values and principles, it could potentially halt or even reverse some of the progress that has already been made.
If the EU fails to scale up its engagement with the Middle East soon, countries like China will fill the vacuum.
This increases the imperative for the EU to ensure that it engages with the Arab world in a way that strengthens it economically.
Increasing the opportunities and economic standing of Arab populations will alleviate some of the frustration and anger they feel that has built-up as a result of a lack of opportunity. However, this engagement must also build on the increasing convergence of shared values which will lead to a more tolerant and liberal MENA.
Dr. Saqib Qureshi is a senior business strategist and expert on democratic policy development who has advised governments in Canada, London, Washington DC and Dubai. His forthcoming book is The Broken Contract: Making Our Democracies Efficient, Representative, and Accountable.
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