Two Thousand Dinars: A Lamentable Legacy By Nejoud Al-Yagout is a story that is fairly common to all countries of the GCC.
The picture above is for illustration and is of the Parliament of Kuwait.
First, we heard that residents above the age of 60 would not be allowed to renew their residencies if they did not hold a college degree. Then, after outrage on social media (by locals, to be sure, since any outrage by a resident would lead to arrest or deportation), there was talk that the rule may not be implemented; instead, we heard that those who came up with the decree would, at least, reconsider the age bracket, perhaps hiking it up to residents over 70 years of age (which in and of itself is lamentable).
Then, it was back again to 60 a few months ago, but with a proposal to fine residents annually (that is when talk of KD 2,000 arose). This latter proposal brewed for a while until it was announced only recently – in the midst of a pandemic, in the throes of increased unemployment and suicides and drug-taking and crimes, and in the whirlwind of murders and corruption – that the Public Authority of Manpower would “allow” residents above the age of 60 who do not hold university degrees to renew their residency provided they pay an annual fee of KD 2,000; as though by making it look like a favor, a permission granted, so to speak, the harsh brutality of the cost of remaining in Kuwait would seem less pronounced, brushed under the rug.
Though already considered official by all of us who read about it in the news, it appears that the “decision” needs a couple more weeks, perhaps, to be considered bureaucratically official, unless a person with strings will use his position of power to take a stand against it. The likelihood of such a selfless act transpiring is well, let’s just say, unlikely. Highly unlikely.
Although many residents above 60 who have graduated from college may have breathed a collective, perhaps even audible, sigh of relief, many others will be in tears, for they have parents and siblings aged 60 and above who live with or near them and who do not hold college degrees, and they themselves, holders of college degrees, will not be able to afford such a fee to keep the family together. And what about us locals? We cannot ignore the two-thousand-dinar elephant in the room.
Many of us who work in the public or private sector, with or without university degrees, or even with Master’s degrees and PhDs, would not ourselves be able (or willing) to pay such a lofty fee. Two. Thousand. Dinars. Imagine. And if we think this will not affect us, we are wrong. “They” are us! They, who we consider expatriates and foreigners and residents are us. We are them. We are one in this society. All of us. Each one of us, a thread of the same fabric, interwoven. What hurts us hurts them and vice versa. Let this register for all of us. Again and again and again.
There are residents in their sixties who were born here and have lived here their entire lives; residents who do not want to go “home” because their “home” is here, in Kuwait, where they belong, with us. Kuwait is the land in which they want to be buried, in which their parents were buried. After all their years of service to our country, we are now showing them the door under the pretext of making rules we know people cannot implement, all so that residents can leave of their own accord.
But they will not leave of their own accord. Ever. They will leave because neither they nor their university-degree-holding families were able to pay such an outrageous sum; they will leave because they are tired of living in a country that does not want them here. So many have left already; others are waiting for the right moment to leave. Others are waiting anxiously to see whether things will get better (or get worse).
We cannot stay silent. We cannot. And the last thing residents need is sympathy; if we are to feel sorry for anyone, we should feel sorry for ourselves for who we have become. Instead of patronizing them with our sympathy, residents should be applauded for their resilience, their bravery, and their contribution. They should be rewarded; they should be given more benefits as time elapses, not less.
We have a lot to learn from them. Even while many are treated as second-class members of the community, they stay, they work, and they support their families. This rhetoric of residents profiting from us is immature and arrogant; we must remember they are doing us a favor, a huge one, by being here as well. We are in this together; and in a healthy community, that is how things work; we give and we take; we take and we give.
Some residents may still find a way to stay here, in their home. But with this new “fine,” there is no way they can save money or help their families. And how can we sleep at night knowing we are creating obstacles for residents to send money back home? How can we sleep at night knowing that there is no money to pay for a parent’s kidney transplant or a relative’s tumor removal or a child’s education because the money is being paid to an oil-rich country instead? What principles are we building our foundation on?
These are certainly not our principles. And as long as we hold on to these pseudo-principles, we will continue to create laws which protect us and ostracize others, laws which are far, far away from the values of our heritage, founded on hospitality and inclusivity. Aren’t we tired of this us vs them attitude? Do we really want a Kuwait for Kuwaitis? Is this our legacy? Can’t we remember who we are?
It’s done. All we can do now is lament and ensure we resurrect a new Kuwait based on the ideals of our welcoming forefathers who never flinched at demographics. All we can do now is remember that what goes around comes around. This is a law. It is not a doomsday prophecy, but a warning, an invitation to recalibrate, a chance, an opportunity, to restore the karmic balance.
This is our chance to wake up and ask ourselves: Is this our legacy? And we should ask ourselves this question every night. That way, we can rectify the situation before karma knocks on our door. Loudly and fiercely. Two thousand dinars. Let’s remember that number. For it may come back to haunt those of us who stayed silent, those of us who spoke out for justice only when it came to our rights and, often, at the expense of others.
The Big Heart Foundation (TBHF), a UAE-based global humanitarian charity dedicated to helping refugees and people in need worldwide, has made an impassioned call to citizens around the world to generously support its 2021 Zakat and general donations drive during Ramadan.
These fundraising activities under the“Let’s Lessen the Gap” campaign are part of a comprehensive long-term programme that TBHF has launched. In partnership with four leading UN agencies, namely, UNHCR, UNDP, WHO and UNICEF, the foundation is addressing humanitarian development challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic amongst vulnerable populations in the MENA region.
Furthering TBHF’s ongoing response efforts to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 worldwide, the programme will set the blueprint for TBHF’s COVID-response strategies in the long term. Evidence and research-based findings from the programme will enable TBHF and partnering UN agencies to identify the most pressing needs of the region, and subsequently aid the designing of sustainable and long-term interventions. The programme will also encompass advocacy campaigns aimed at bridging the gaps in vital sectors of Protection, Livelihoods, Healthcare and Education, which have been heavily impacted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Announcing the launch of “Let’s Lessen the Gap”, TBHF revealed the programme would address both the critical health and non-healthcare needs of marginalized populations to allow for a return to normalcy in the MENA region. As COVID-19 continues to shape the lives of individuals and societies around the world, TBHF is appealing to people worldwide to act on their humanitarian instincts and support in lessening, and eventually closing the gap between vulnerable communities and their access to the tools and resources they need to become enablers for building a prosperous MENA region of tomorrow.
To know more about how you can get involved and make your contribution, visit www.lessenthegap.org. Contributions can also be made via SMS by sending the word ‘sadaqa’ to the Etisalat numbers: 7857 to donate AED 10; 7859 to donate AED 50, 7788 to donate AED 100, or 7708 to donate AED 500. For Du: 9965 to donate AED 10; 9967 to donate AED 50, 9968 to donate AED 100.
Zakat contributions can also be deposited directly into Zakat Fund account no: 0011-430430-020 at the Sharjah Islamic Bank (International Bank Account Number ‘IBAN’: AE040410000011430430020).
COVID-19 hastens diverse humanitarian challenges in MENA
The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified many decades-long developments and humanitarian challenges in the MENA region such as high youth unemployment, inequitable development pathways, resource scarcity, gender discrimination, restricted access to services, and the devastating effects of ongoing conflict in some countries.
According to reports by UNESCWA, unemployment surged in the region with rates reaching up to 26.6% for youth compared to 13.6% globally. An estimated 25 million Arab youth are not in formal education, employment or training.
Further, the COVID-19 pandemic has deepened the learning crisis, disrupting education at an unparalleled rate across the region. A 2020 UNICEF report states that approximately 40% of students, accounting for 37 million children and young people across the region, were not reached by digital and broadcast remote learning.
The pandemic has also posed severe challenges in fragile and conflict-affected nations in MENA, overwhelming weak and overcrowded existing healthcare systems. A UNICEF study titled ‘The Potential Impact of Health Care Disruption on Child Mortality in MENA Due to COVID-19’ draws up a scenario highlighting a particularly bleak reality for children aged 0 – 5. It predicts that a protracted reduction in the supply and demand of primary health care services for children could potentially increase their mortality by nearly 40 percent, compared with a baseline scenario without the COVID-19 virus.
Additionally, refugees and displaced populations in the MENA region and across the world have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Exclusion, discrimination, and inadequate access to health services have heightened protection risks and tested international standards of refugee protection.
UN partners in four sector-specific areas
The “Let’s Lessen the Gap” campaign and post-COVID programme will see TBHF collaborating with multiple UN agencies working on the ground in MENA to implement long-term strategies and initiatives in the fields of Protection, Livelihoods, Healthcare, and Education to assist those who are least likely to have access to these essential services.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is a global organization dedicated to saving lives, protecting rights and building a better future for refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people. UNHCR will partner with TBHF to empower, protect, and improve the lives of refugees and internally displaced people affected by COVID-19 in the MENA region.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which works in 170 countries and territories to bridge gaps in inequalities and exclusion, will join hands with TBHF to support youth livelihoods, develop capacity and skills, and accelerate structural transformations to advance the sustainable development agenda in the targeted nations.
To build a better, healthier future in a post-COVID world, TBHF will partner with the World Health Organization (WHO) along with other global organizations coordinating vaccine efforts to roll out vaccination programmes that give highest priority to vulnerable populations.
The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), which works in some of the world’s toughest places to build a better world for the most disadvantaged children, is TBHF’s partner in improving access to learning and education opportunities for children of marginalized communities across the region.
Fundraising for “Let’s Lessen the Gap” commences in April 2021
Appealing to the public, high net worth donors, and the private sector to honour the spirit of giving embodied in the obligation of Zakat, Mariam Al Hammadi, Director of The Big Heart Foundation, said: “At TBHF, we believe in our collective ability to support the most vulnerable communities in the region through these difficult times and beyond by steering efforts towards inclusive programmes that address the economic and social consequences of the crisis.”
Al Hammadi added that although 2020 was an extremely challenging year, it also demonstrated collective resilience as schools, offices, and essential services continued to operate without fail. “Unfortunately, this only represents the reality of the world some of us live in. In many communities and countries that The Big Heart Foundation supports, solutions are still being sought to aid the response and recovery process. It is this gap that we aim to address and bridge through your support this Ramadan, and in the coming months.”
Fundraising activities of the programme have commenced with TBHF’s Zakat 2021 campaign. To know more and make your contributions, visit lessenthegap.org.
The Media Line elaborated an article on Women’s Rights on International’s Women’s Day, specifically on the particular situation in the MENA countries. According to this, Women face an uphill climb to equality in the MENA region despite the well-proven fact that Women are at the rescue of the MENA Economies.
Remembering Women’s Rights on International’s Women’s Day … and the Rest of the Year
Activists and human rights groups paint a daunting portrait of the equality landscape between the genders in the MENA region, as they prepare to mark International Women’s Day, March 8. The coronavirus epidemic, certainly, did not help the plight of women this past year. Still, going forward, the largest issues facing women in the Middle East were entrenched long before the pandemic hit.
In the Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC) countries, women’s rights defenders have it tough.
While prominent Saudi women’s activist Loujain al-Hathloul was freed last month after almost three years in prison, Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sadah, Nouf Abdelaziz and Maya’a al-Zahrani remain in jail after their 2018 arrests on charges of advocating for women’s rights.
They are part of a 13-member cohort that advocated for women’s rights issues, including the right to drive, which is now permissible by law. Nine other activists were captured at the same time and released, while they wait for their day in court.
“Those who are behind bars are the champions for the change that took place,” Khalid Ibrahim, executive director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, told The Media Line, referring to women driving.
“While this is one example of how we are getting success, we are achieving success with lots of sacrifices,” he said. “It’s not easy to have change in these countries.”
While I’m happy for International Women’s Day, we shouldn’t forget women on the other 364 days
While Ibrahim says that is it is difficult to confer the title of the “worst” human rights offender against women on any one Gulf country, Saudi Arabia is up there when it comes to gender norms and the male guardianship system.
“Social gender rules are clearly distinct. Men are supposed to be tough and have all the opportunities. Women still don’t have a lot of access to lots of services like hospitals, travel, marriage [of their own accord]. There is a lot of repression going on,” he said.
“It is really problematic when you talk about which country is better than the other, but we have a chronic problem across the region where women don’t have access to basic rights,” Ibrahim added.
This includes male guardianship, which is particularly pernicious in the Kingdom of Saud.
“In some cases, the guardian could be the younger brother and a woman, at 32 years of age, has to get permission from her 12-year-old brother,” Ibrahim said.
“We are facing problems all the time. It’s all about this mentality about treating women as second-class citizens or as a kind of individual who can’t decide for themselves, of course it’s not acceptable,” he said.
“This mentality is very much rooted in oppressive governments. When you confiscate public rights, surely you are also going to confiscate the rights of women,” Ibrahim said.
The United Arab Emirates, which tries to bolster its reputation as a more modern Gulf country, still has notions of women that are dated.
“The UAE says that they are a very civilized state, but behind all these palaces people are still in prison,” Ibrahim said.
The harsh treatment extends even to royalty.
Women are still portrayed as property of the man and the man can do whatever he wants
The whereabouts of Sheikha Latifa, 35, daughter of the Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, remain unknown after the BBC published undated videos of the princess saying that she was being held against her will and believed her life was in danger.
The video marked the first time the public had heard from her since December 2018, when she was brought back to the UAE after a failed attempt to escape, due to what she said was an oppressive relationship perpetrated by her father.
Ibrahim says there is no such thing as independent media anymore in the Gulf, only traditional outlets owned by the state. As a result, people go online to publish “real” stories, leading the governments to crack down on this by instituting new cybercrime laws against journalist and activists.
In the UAE, this includes two female activists, Amina Al-Abdouli and Maryam Al-Balushi, who are still in jail despite completing their five-year sentences both set at the same time in 2015, which were supposed to end on Nov. 19, 2020.
Ibrahim says that in many cases, criminals fare better than human rights defenders.
“Criminals are treated better than defenders. On the day of their release they can go anywhere, they often get released after serving two-thirds of their sentences,” he said. “Defenders face a travel ban as soon as they get out, and they don’t get amnesty and serve the full amount,” he said. In addition: “The families of defenders pay a heavy price, they have no access to their money in banks or to jobs.”
However, the most exploited women in the Gulf may not be Arab at all.
“Coronavirus is affecting all sectors of society across the Gulf, but there’s a lot of pressure on migrant women … I’m worried about the situation of housekeeping workers and other female workers who are really not being given their full rights in the Gulf,” Ibrahim said.
While many Gulf states made changes to their kefala, or employer sponsorship system, the program remains problematic. While Qatar ended the employment consent for migrants to switch jobs and raised the minimum wage, many workers, particularly women, fell through the cracks. Domestic workers, who are often female and mostly from Asia, require permission to leave the house in order to search for a job.
According to statistics from January 2016 to August 2020 from the United Kingdom-based Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, 61,000 migrant workers experienced some type of labor abuse, the most common of which was “wage theft.”
Without much legal recourse available to them, migrant workers often cannot do anything if they are underpaid or not paid at all. Labor unions are completely off-limits to them.
Suad Abu-Dayyeh, an Amman-based women’s right activist and consultant on gender rights in the region, says that in the Arab world in general, the biggest problem women face is family law.
“The family law that tackles women’s everyday life – divorce, marriage, custody, inheritance – all these laws are mostly governed by Sharia and are very much discriminatory to women, also Christian courts are discriminatory,” she told The Media Line. “I think it will take years and years to challenge this family law because it is very much related to religion and people are objecting to any amendments to this law.”
“We need to have a unified law, this is our dream in the region as activists. We need to have civil laws that govern our lives as women. It shouldn’t be dividing women by religion. Still, we have a very long way to go,” Abu-Dayyeh said.
This also includes nationality laws that prohibit women from passing citizenship to their spouses and children. However, there have been some recent changes in Egypt which now allow women to transfer citizenship to their offspring.
Abu-Dayyeh says that penal codes are problematic for women in the Arab world.
“Marital rape is not a crime in most of the countries in the region,” she said, noting that Tunisia is one of the rare countries that criminalized the practice in a recent violence against women bill. “Women are still portrayed as property of the man and the man can do whatever he wants,” she said.
Another problematic portion of penal codes in the region criminalizes abortions. “Anyone who might support a girl in getting one, even from incest or rape or an extramarital relationship, will also be punished,” she said.
This could lead to the woman being a victim of a so-called “honor crime,” where the offending female is killed by make relatives to preserve the family’s reputation.
Abu-Sayyed says the Arab world is becoming more conservative, indicating a step back for women’s rights.
“You can see society becoming more conservative. You can see more women in veils and hijabs, and fundamentalists are becoming stronger,” she said.
An example of this is seen in the Palestinian territories, where women’s rights activists and groups face threats because they are demanding a family protection bill that would help victims of violence based on gender.
Abu-Dayyeh attributes the shift to the geo-political situation in the region.
“I think it’s the implications of all the wars in the region, there is no rest for people to think about treating women in a different way,” she said.
In Israel, Michal Gera Margaliot, former executive director of the Israel Women’s Network, says that the employment sector and representation are the biggest problem facing women in Israel.
“This year was really tough. Women lost their jobs much more than men did. The reason this happened is because their wages are lower and because in most houses they are the main caregivers and when they closed the education system, then women were the ones to stay with the kids” during the coronavirus shutdowns, Margaliot told The Media Line.
“We need to fix the employment here in Israel and in more places in the world. You need to not only work on the participation of women in the labor market, which was very high in Israel before the pandemic – the highest in the OECD, you need to change the fact that men are main providers and secondary caregivers and women are main caregivers and secondary providers. You need to work on the quality of work to reduce wage gaps to have women and men everywhere,” she added.
As a result, Margaliot says that adequate parental leave needs to be established, the state should sponsor day care from a much earlier age, school days should be extended, and the number of working hours reduced.
The second challenge women face is representation, both in government and in senior levels of the employment market.
“It’s not only about the numbers, but the quality. You need to have senior women in decision-making junctures,” she said.
In government, this includes committee heads. While a record number of women – eight – held ministerial posts in the last government, almost all the committees they led were minor.
Ahead of the March 23 national elections, only one woman leads a party, Merav Michaeli of Labor. However, there is cause for some optimism.
“This is the first time ever that there are seven parties that will be in the next parliament, or are close to the threshold, that have women in the No. 2 position,” she said. These include the Blue and White, Meretz and Yamina parties.
Margaliot believes that about 30 women will secure Knesset seats in the upcoming election, which is approximately one quarter of all parliamentary seats.
“It’s not like it is getting worse when you look at the three first rounds of elections where we were furious,” she said, referring to the three elections that took place between 2019 and 2020, It’s “It’s not getting worse, but it could get better,” she said.
The third challenge facing Israeli women is domestic violence and sexual harassment and assault at home and in the workplace. Margaliot says the government has detailed plans to combat both, but they have not been funded.
“They need to take these detailed plans forward and create spheres where women feel safe. Only when you’re safe can you flourish,” she said.
While domestic violence rose during the pandemic, the issue has plagued Israeli women for a long time.
“At the end of 2018, there was the largest protest ever in Israel over women getting murdered and domestic violence. The governmental decision to have a national plan to fight this issue passed in July 2017,” Margaliot said. “It’s not going anywhere in the near future, but if you won’t put the resources, and the thought and the time to decide that it’s part of your priorities, it will just get worse. It can’t get better.”
While activist Abu-Dayyeh says International Women’s Day is important, she says that problems facing women need to be focused on and alleviated all year.
“While I’m happy for International Women’s Day, we shouldn’t forget women on the other 364 days,” she said.
In 2018, France and Saudi Arabia signed a cultural partnership agreement and created the French Agency for the Development of AlUla (Afalula) writes Cécilia Pelloux, Contributor Travel in this Forbes article.
The picture above is of Design displaying the view from within the resort over the landscape of Sharaan “Every urban act is … [+] ROYAL COMMISSION FOR ALULA
A New Era In Architecture Jean Nouvel Unveiled Masterpiece Resort In AlUla
17 February 2021
AlUla is a spectacular natural and archaeological region. This unknown site inhabited for millennia is located 1100km from Riyadh in the North West of Saudi Arabia. The region has enjoyed prosperity since Antiquity thanks to the fertility of its oasis. AlUla was a crossroads on the caravan routes of myrrh, incenses and aromatic plants which crossed Arabia from the South. The birthplace of Arabic writing, this immense area of 23,000 km² is the witness of an extraordinary natural and human cultural heritage.
The geological formation of the valley with its lush oasis offers towering sandstone mountains and ancient civilization and architectural sites like the Nabataean from Petra.
For nearly thirty years, Franco-Saudi archeological teams have done intense research inside thousand years old history, from the first human settlements seven thousand years ago to contemporary times.
Last Fall, French renowned architect Jean Nouvel announced his new extraordinary project in the Sharaan Nature Reserve near the Nabataean wonders of Hegra, UNESCO World Heritage Site. The first Saudi archaeological site listed on the UNESCO World Heritage in 2008. Hegra – A 52-hectare ancient city- was the principal southern city of the Nabataean Kingdom. It includes more than 100 well preserved tombs with elaborate facades cut into sandstone outcrops. Current research suggests Hegra was the most southern outpost of the Romans after conquering the Nabataeans in 106 CE.
Jean Nouvel’s works offer a modern design vision on this 2,000-year-old architectural legacy since the Nabataeans carved into the region’s millions of years old sandstone rock. “The coming together of a landscape and history, the history of past civilisations in an extraordinary landscape – the only place to create such a masterpiece.” said Jean Nouvel. The architect wants to preserve this unique landscape. “AlUla is a museum. Every wadi and escarpment, every stretch of sand and rocky outline, every geological and archeological site deserves the greatest consideration. It’s vital we keep all its distinctiveness and its attractiveness which largely rests on its remote and occasionally archaic character. We have to safeguard a little mystery as well as the promise of discoveries to come.” He added.
He is adapting old ways of life to our modern world minimizing the impacts on natural and urban landscapes. To do this, genius Nouvel has introduced a new typology of architecture never seen before, using abstraction, sculpting within the landscape itself rather than competing with it. Inspired by the Nabateans, it plays on the old ways of living to build on the present and meet the challenges of the future. Jean Nouvel integrates the way Nabateans interacted with their environment, both with verticality and horizontality, to reconnect with the earth and build sustainable habitats, away from the heat of the summer and the cold of the winter.
The resort will bring emotional experiences from nature, architecture and art. Jean novel invites us to embark on a thousands of years journey where civilisations and geographical strata will be found in every detail of his designs, from the permanent feel of the rocks to the soft comfort of the armchairs, sofa, and seats.
The sound, musicality, harshness, tactility, power and complexity of nature are everywhere, from finely chopped stones on balconies to the singular granularity of each rock wall, everything becomes an artwork in itself.
Sharaan by Jean Nouvel is scheduled to open in 2023. The resort will feature 40 rooms, three villas and 14 pavilions carved into a sandstone outcrop, each suite having a balcony that looks out across the stunning surrounding AlUla scenery landscape. The hotel’s entrance will be from a circular courtyard that will be carved into the sandstone hillside. From here a series of rooms will be arranged around a central 80-metre high lift shaft.
Sharaan by Jean Nouvel Resort is a major part of the Royal Commission of AlUla’s strategy to develop in a long term commitment AlUla as a global destination for culture, heritage, and eco-tourism. “These concepts, which showcase Jean Nouvel’s masterly innovation in architecture, underscore our commitment to developing AlUla as a global tourism destination without compromising the history, heritage, and landscape of AlUla. We are a destination built by artists. Sharaan by Jean Nouvel will build on that legacy to become a timeless landscape-architecture that will last forever – a gift to the world.” told Amr AlMadani, CEO of RCU.
To learn more about Saudi Arabia. Assouline just released a beautiful book Crafts of the Kingdom: Culture and Creativity in Saudi Arabia curated by author HRH Princess Najla bint Ahmad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.
This book celebrates Saudi Arabia unique craft traditions and the master artisans who produce the Kingdom’s rich handicrafts. It highlights the abundant traditions which still exist in each of the Kingdom’s regions while revealing each craft’s historic roots and modern interpretations. A rich portrait of Saudi Arabia as a nation whose cultural heritage and diverse creativity have been proudly cherished, reverently preserved, and profoundly influential from ancient days to modern times.
Michael Young in an interview, with David Linfield who argues that international donors are benefiting existing power structures in the Middle East. It is all about Colluding With the Corrupters.
Corruption spread deep and for some time in the MENA region with social, political, and economic implications, but with differing penetrations rates. All because the area can divide into two types of governance. The autocratic monarchies live with side by side with the so-called republics. Few of these latter countries know a higher degree of corruption than the first-mentioned countries. In any case, all have made the fight against corruption a priority by passing laws and adopting strategies to combat crime. But in vain. Colluding with the Corrupters could quickly summarise a situation where such deviant behavioural attitudes originators can be traced back out of the region.
January 29, 2021
David Linfield is a visiting scholar in Carnegie’s Middle East Program. He is on sabbatical from the U.S. Department of State, where he is a career foreign service officer. Linfield recently wrote a commentary for Carnegie, titled “International Donors Are Complicit in Middle Eastern Elites’ Game.” In mid-January, Diwan interviewed him to discuss his article, and more generally to examine the anti-elite feeling that has permeated protests throughout the Middle East in the past year, notably in Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon. The views expressed by Linfield are his own and not necessarily those of the U.S. government.
Michael Young (MY): You’ve just written a commentary for Carnegie, titled “International Donors Are Complicit in Middle Eastern Elites’ Game.” What is your argument in the piece?
David Linfield (DL): My argument is that the United States and other international donors have put significant clout and resources behind promoting economic liberalization in the Middle East, while they have been hesitant to put similar emphasis on political reforms. By political reforms I mean boosting transparency, combating corruption, and empowering elected officials. International actors have partly justified this approach by suggesting that economic reforms are a better way of promoting stability and less risky than political changes. But I contend that recent events in the region suggest that these policies are making violent, sudden change in the region more likely, not less so.
When adopted in the context of authoritarian political systems, economic reforms such as privatization have tended to benefit existing power structures, exacerbating economic inequality and citizen-state tensions. The World Inequality Database now ranks the Middle East as the most unequal region in the world. While economic inequality has decreased worldwide since the 1990s, it has remained constant in the Middle East.
By supporting policies that have inadvertently led to such entrenched inequality, while neglecting political reforms, international donors have contributed to citizens’ frustrations with their relative economic status while leaving them without peaceful institutional means of expressing their grievances. This is all a recipe for instability, which is the opposite of what donors want.
MY: You write that “[e]merging solidarity among previously competing groups, grounded in [economic inequality]” is a feature of the growing resentment of elites in the Middle East. Are you suggesting, to borrow from Marxist jargon, that we are seeing the emergence of a sort of class consciousness in certain countries that may have revolutionary potential?
DL: Most of the protests in the Middle East since 2018 have focused on economic inequality and corruption. Whereas previous demonstrations in the region tended to consist of a homogeneous ethnic group—whether from a particular religious sect, region, or group of tribes—these recent protests have been more diverse.
Common frustrations with inequality appear to have led people from lower-income communities to demonstrate in common cause—albeit sporadically and tentatively—against what they see as a corrupt and multisectarian elite that has failed them. We have seen this happen most explicitly in Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon.
Some of the slogans used in recent protests in these countries do indicate the emergence of class consciousness. When the Jordanian Teachers Union threatened to strike in summer 2020, they framed their plight as a class struggle against those who had “looted the country.” The 2019 Lebanese protests included slogans like “down with the rule of the thieves.” Iraqi protestors in 2019 and 2020 told media outlets that their struggle was about taking the country back from “thieves.”
MY: In light of your assessment, how have the traditional fault lines among Middle Eastern populations that regimes have manipulated to retain power—things such as sectarian, tribal, or regional divisions—fared in what you describe as a changing environment?
DL: The traditional fault lines in Middle Eastern societies are still very much present. Emerging class-based tensions have not fully supplanted preexisting divisions based on ethnicity, religion, and tribalism, but rather now coexist alongside them more than before. That said, the trendlines I described earlier suggest that class-based divisions will continue to grow in relative importance and have the potential to reshape existing political alliances and divisions.
In addition to the demonstrations I mentioned earlier, another indicator of the power of class solidarity is a 2019 experiment by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies. The study, which assigned hundreds of Lebanese people into different conversation groups having varying compositions based on sect and class, found that when Lebanese people gathered with other members of the same class, they exhibited markedly less support for sectarian politics.
It’s too early to craft a comprehensive assessment of how emerging class-based tensions will interact with longer-standing societal divisions in the Middle East. One reason that we’ll have to observe for a longer period is that Covid-19 shifted the focus dramatically from political and economic challenges to the health crisis. But given that the pandemic exacerbated economic inequality, with lower-income communities bearing the brunt of related economic disruptions, we probably won’t have to wait long before class discussions reemerge.
MY: If the problem is that economic liberalization has reinforced elites, what are you recommending as an alternative approach by Western donors? And what makes you think that such an approach would have any chance of working?
DL: The alternative approach I’m recommending is for international donors to incorporate measures to promote transparency and combat corruption into existing economic liberalization efforts. These political reforms are also good for business and economic growth—as noted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank reports I cite in my article. The IMF’s recent insistence that Lebanon address corruption before receiving additional loans is a positive step to putting teeth behind their analysis.
Other helpful steps would include pushing to empower the many weak legislatures across the region beyond their current rubber-stamp roles, which would provide an alternative to protests for frustrated publics. If international donors put the same clout behind good governance that they have behind economic liberalization, they’ll make peaceful and durable progress more likely in the Middle East.
MY: Are you not reading too much into anti-elite solidarity? Ultimately, states in the region have shown that they will resort to violence in order to survive and societies have often gone back to being silent. Why will this change?
DL: Ruling elites in the region have demonstrated that they are willing to go to extreme measures to maintain their benefits. I am not suggesting that elites will somehow decide that they should altruistically begin to share resources with the rest of society. Rather, as your question implies, I am arguing that the elite behavior of concentrating power and resources is an unsustainable strategy that will ultimately foment violence and harm everyone’s interests, including those of the elite.
Autocratic regimes tend to resort to violence when they feel they have run out of other options, but rely more often on nonviolent coercion and intimidation to maintain daily control. By the time regimes turn to violence, it tends to be a prelude to their loss of control—or a stage where they are nearing that.
The strategy of international donors focusing their influence and resources on economic liberalization instead of good governance has not succeeded in bolstering stability and strengthening citizen-state relations. Instead, the policy has exacerbated class-based tensions and increased the prospects of unrest.
These trends are not linear: demonstrations in the region against economic inequality and corruption have ebbed and flowed. Ruling elites remain intent on doing everything they can to outmaneuver these latest challenges to their vested interests. Longer-standing societal tensions based on sect, region, and tribe also continue to simmer and remain exploitable by elites. But the overall direction of the region is still toward economic liberalization in the midst of authoritarian entrenchment. As long as that remains the case anti-elite solidarity is likely to build. International donors are inadvertently contributing to these increasing citizen-state tensions. Instead, they could be fostering more durable change that would make the region more stable and prosperous for everyone.
Originally posted on MENA Solidarity Network: By Anzar Atrar and David Karvala At 4 am on Saturday 21 August, Spanish authorities took Mohamed Abdellah —along with around 30 other Algerians— from the migrant custody centre in Barcelona and deported him. This was bad news for all of them, of course. But Abdellah, an Algerian anti-corruption…
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