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UN official blames politicians for Lebanon "chaos"

UN official blames politicians for Lebanon "chaos"

The economy, corruption and unemployment are by far the top concerns amongst citizens across 18 Arab countries. ZAWYA’s ECONOMY of January 15, 2020, reported that a UN official blames politicians for Lebanon “chaos”, protesters target banks as per Tom Perry, Reuters News:

Banks targeted in night of violent protests

UN official blames politicians for Lebanon "chaos"
A man stands near a broken facade of a bank in Beirut, Lebanon, January 15, 2020.Reuters/Aziz Taher

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) ((thomas.perry@thomsonreuters.com; Reuters Messaging: thomas.perry.reuters.com@reuters.net))

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A Century Ago, the Modern Middle East Was Born

A Century Ago, the Modern Middle East Was Born

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.

A Century Ago, the Modern Middle East Was Born
A caricature of Woodrow Wilson in Punch magazine, May 1919.Credit…Getty Images

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 BerlinVienna 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.



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.



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.



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.

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How the Palestinian West Bank welcomes tourists at Christmas

How the Palestinian West Bank welcomes tourists at Christmas

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.


How the Palestinian West Bank welcomes tourists at Christmas
Manger Square with Bethlehem Peace Centre and Christmas tree, December 2019. Dorina Buda, Author provided

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.

How the Palestinian West Bank welcomes tourists at Christmas
Tourists help pick olives in the Palestinian West Bank. Dorina Buda, Author provided

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.


Read more: Uncovering the language of the first Christmas


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

Communities gather to light Christmas trees at the beginning of December. Dorina Buda, Author provided

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.

How the Palestinian West Bank welcomes tourists at Christmas
Local Palestinian Family at the Lighting of the Tree in Beit Sahour Market, December 2017. Dorina Buda, Author provided

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.


Read more: Spare a thought for Bethlehem this Christmas as politics and tourism collide


Tour guides also seem optimistic about demand from visitors. Yamen Elabed from Beit Sahour has worked as a tour guide for the past ten years and said:

I have not seen such a busy November in a long time. Compared to the same months in 2018, the number of tourists has increased significantly.

I spoke with one tourist from the US who praised the “amazing” hospitality of the local people. Even amid the turmoil and conflict, the friendly welcome of Palestine is an example to the world.

Dorina-Maria Buda, Professor of Tourism Management, Leeds Beckett University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Kuwait got year of rain in one night

Kuwait got year of rain in one night

Here is a snapshot of life as it happens in every corner of the MENA region’s countries. This particular one is about Kuwait’s that are going through the traumatic phase of government change. And if that is enough, Kuwait got year of rain in one night, as well as some snow, as shown below. Anyway, Muna Al-Fuzai elaborated this story that could easily have happened anywhere between the Atlantic and the Gulf.

Kuwait got year of rain in one night

Anger and promises

by Muna Al-Fuzai


This week, Kuwait was occupied with the new government formation and rain that caused the closure of some roads and flooded streets and houses, which angered the people. It was truly a week of anger, as rumors and bad news abounded. We are on the threshold of a new week and the rain has ended, but the repercussions of the new government formation and the peopleصs reactions are indicators that must be taken into consideration.

Well, a government has gone and has been replaced by a new government with some new and controversial names, while others have been given more powers, But I believe that the general public wants to see a change in approach and not only faces.

I think many governments are failing to win the peopleصs approval because they believe that they are more understanding of peopleصs needs than the people themselves, and this is the biggest mistake many governments make worldwide these days. Changing the governmental approach in dealing with the needs of citizens and expats is the solution.
Words and good wishes should turn into practical implementation of applicable work plans in a fair manner for everyone. Promises, unfortunately, are no longer sufficient to address the Kuwaiti situation now.

What do people want? I believe a person in Kuwait wants to live comfortably, whether citizen or expat, and I do not mean financially only, but morally and humanely. We also have to be aware that there is an oppressed segment, which is the category of retirees and expats who have not received their salaries for months. Then there are those who receive زfictionalس salaries, and “bedoons” who are suffering a lot in silence. So there are mistakes and imbalances that need immediate treatment.

That is why governments do not usually succeed in facing public anger because people do not know what is going on behind closed doors, but they see a reflection of what is happening on the ground. So, dissatisfaction with the new government formation is not surprising but expected. After the new ministers took the oath of office, the level of popular approval was very low, and this can be measured from discussions, tweets and statements by various people and their attitudes. Some parliamentary statements were even objectionable.ت

I guess the challenge soon will be between the new government and the Kuwaiti street, simply becauseتthe governmentصs performance will be under the microscope 24/7, and people will use social media platforms to express their dissatisfaction with any bad performance or statement or even a tweet by a minister.

I do not want to be drowned early in pessimism, but the indicators are difficult. The government wants to succeed, but it does not have many options or a guarantee of success. Therefore, the government must prepare to act immediately to correct the mistakes of the past and explicitly fight corruption.

An alliance of people of goodwill in the Gulf

An alliance of people of goodwill in the Gulf

Peter Welby in his December 15, 2019, write up describes An alliance of people of goodwill in the Gulf, as More than 500 religious and political leaders, academics and civil society activists from over 80 countries gathered in Abu Dhabi last week to launch a set of principles that champion the shared values of different religions and promote joint action for the global common good and against extremism.


The image above is: A group of the world’s most respected Islamic scholars and faith leaders, joined by experts from governments and representatives of civil society organizations signed a new charter to build global peace, based on tolerance and religious freedom. (WAM)


It is notable that this took place in the Gulf, and not in Europe or the US. The UAE has long prided itself on its promotion of tolerance — naming this past year the Year of Tolerance — but the event was attended by religious leaders from across the region, including Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, Secretary General of the Muslim World League in Saudi Arabia.
The Charter of the New Alliance of Virtues is devoid of most of the usual platitudes that can form interfaith charters, and is based on an idea that could be embraced by all without being seen as owned by any one religion. This is because while the original Alliance of Virtues upon which this project was based is known of through the Islamic tradition, it predates Islam.
The story goes that following the period of conflict around Makkah known in Islam as the Sacrilegious War, a Yemeni trader brought some goods to the city, and sold them to a Makkah nobleman, who refused to pay what was owed. The trader climbed Mount Safar, the place for public appeals at the time, and denounced his fraudulent purchaser and all those from Makkah who allowed one of their own to act unjustly.
Other noblemen were appalled by the treatment meted out to this guest, in violation of the rules of hospitality let alone the rules of trade, and so convened an Alliance of Virtues that committed to defend the values deemed common among them, including the defense of the weak against the powerful.
We know about this because Muhammad, before his prophethood, was there, and spoke about it later. And although it took place in pre-Islamic Makkah, he said that such was the value of this alliance that if he had been asked to join after the coming of Islam he would have done so.
And despite this endorsement from the Prophet of Islam, the alliance can be viewed with equal approbation by other faiths too. The Alliance of Virtues was not formed by Christians or Jews, but by people whose goal was simply to do good work. This means that although this new Alliance of Virtues is designed with the Abrahamic faiths specifically in mind, it is open to any who share the values it espouses.

The Charter of the New Alliance of Virtues is devoid of most of the usual platitudes that can form interfaith charters, and is based on an idea that could be embraced by all without being seen as owned by any one religion.

Peter Welby

But in the idea of shared values between the faiths lies the question. The interfaith world has long been dominated by a philosophy that seeks to downplay differences and focus on commonalities. There are plenty of commonalities to choose from, particularly in the Abrahamic faiths; for example, the belief in one God who created the universe and all that’s in it, and is directly concerned with the actions of humanity. But there are also profound differences, which will not be overcome by ignoring them.
Moreover, the classical interfaith model is dominated, particularly among the Christian and Jewish participants, by religious liberals, occasionally operating well outside the orthodox parameters of their faiths. This domination leads to fears among many conservative believers of syncretism that the purpose of interfaith work is to deny that differences between religions are significant, and to push the belief that all paths to God are equally valid.
The problem is that the social hostility and mutual suspicions between religions, at both a local and the global level, are often dominated by the conservatives. Gatherings dominated by liberals will fail to make significant movement toward overcoming these hostilities — they are preaching to the converted.
Herein lies the delight of the new Charter. Not only are its values truly shared, at least in orthodox theologies of the Abrahamic faiths (values including human dignity, freedom of conscience, justice, mercy and peace), but it is backed by a number of US evangelicals, who among the Christian groups are most vocally hostile to Islam. They are also within the Christian tradition focused on the truth of the bible and the imperative to proselytize. They are not even close to syncretism between religions.
The purpose is to draw on those shared values not to edge toward some specious “ever closer union,” but for shared action. Between them, the Abrahamic faiths account for more than half of the global population; if these principles are acted upon, it can have a powerful and wide-ranging effect.
But here lies the challenge. Writing the Charter is only the beginning. Unlike many documents, it has been written, targeted at and signed by individuals rather than institutions or governments. Modeled upon the previous Alliance, it is an alliance of people of goodwill. But as with any Charter, its only value will come if it is acted upon. It must turn into practical reality. This will be the challenge for its signatories over the coming years.

Author
  • Peter Welby is a consultant on religion and global affairs, specializing in the Arab world. Previously he was the managing editor of a think tank on religious extremism, the Center on Religion and Geopolitics, and worked in public affairs in the Arabian Gulf. He is based in London, and has lived in Egypt and Yemen. Twitter: @pdcwelby
Tolerance is reshaping mindsets in the MENA region

Tolerance is reshaping mindsets in the MENA region

Euronews INSPIRE MIDDLE EAST gives us Here’s how tolerance is reshaping mindsets in the MENA region. A region that has born tolerance in multiculturalism with the advent of the long-awaited petrodollar.

Tolerance holds different meanings for different people.

Tolerance is reshaping mindsets in the MENA region
Lebanese filmmaker Abir Kazbour reenacts a memorable moment with her flatmate of Indian origin

For some, it means not being prejudiced. For others, it’s the ability to endure the existence or behaviour of those they disagree with.

According to the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), it’s a conscious decision to recognise people’s fundamental rights and the inclusion of their diversity.

In some parts of the MENA region, tolerant societies remain a work in progress, according to London’s 2018 Legatum Prosperity Index, which measures the wealth and well-being of 149 countries.

The UAE ranks 39th globally, the highest among Arab states on the list.

UAE TOLERANCE INITIATIVES

Tolerance is reshaping mindsets in the MENA region
The National Festival for Tolerance in Abu Dhabi

The emirates appointed a Minister of State for Tolerance in 2016, dedicated to promoting the qualities of acceptance and inclusion among residents. 

The country also held its second National Festival for Tolerance this year.

The nine-day-event hosted multicultural activities and musical performances for UAE residents from more than 200 countries.

The festival highlighted inclusion and the accomplishments of people with disabilities. It also featured a cricket match in which foreign workers, primarily from the subcontinent, took part.

Tolerance is reshaping mindsets in the MENA region
Cricket team takes part in the National Festival for Tolerance

Abir Kazbour, an author and filmmaker originally from Lebanon, is a member of the UAE Champions of Tolerance program, which teaches residents methods to communicate the message of acceptance and understanding.

Kazbour is currently working on a short film to recreate a personal experience she had of a cultural misunderstanding when should would regularly extinguish her Indian flatmate’s candles.

Unknowingly, she was disrupting her fellow roommate’s prayer rituals and once the cultural clash was cleared up, the pair were brought closer together.

Kazbour reenacts different experiences with her Indian flatmate on film

“When we talked and there was dialogue between us, we could understand and sympathize with each other,” says Kazbour, recalling the anecdote from her book called The Key of Tolerance.

For Kazbour, the issue of tolerance hit home at an early age in 1997, when she was visiting family in Tripoli, Lebanon.

“Most of them were from one sect,” she says. “So, when we said we were going to our neighbour’s, for example, they would say, “No! How can you go to them? They’re from a different sect, they hate us.”

This type of closed mindedness went some way to helping the author decide to live outside of Lebanon.

TOLERANCE & UNITY IN LEBANON

Demonstrators in Lebanon

This October, Lebanese nationals came together and took to the streets in protest about the actions of the government.

Lebanon is governed by 18 different religious groups, which decide how citizens marry, inherit money and even how they’re buried.

Some believe this has contributed to the country’s social and economic malaise.

Beirut organisations like Adyan have been working to unify Lebanese people through education since 2008.

“What we need to do is to get people to live that diversity as an enrichment, and not as a fear from each other,” says Dr. Nayla Tabbara, the director of the Institute of Citizenship and Diversity at Adyan.

POTENTIAL REMEDIES FOR EXTREMISM

Dr. Tabbara says that in addition to unifying people and encouraging positive societal change, practicing tolerance can also help prevent isolation and radicalism.

“We see a direct connection actually between extremism and tolerance,” she explains. “Extremism is, by definition, when you don’t accept difference – a different point of view.”

Forces which also make people vulnerable to extremist groups include a lack of economic incentives and sense of belonging, according to Hedayah, a global counter-terrorism centre in Abu Dhabi.

In partnership with the European Union and other groups, Hedayah works to create educational programs for youth in Kyrgyzstan.

Together they’ve developed ways to inform young people about the importance of having a strong sense of identity and belonging within their communities.

They cite that cultural and recreational activities can help young ones, especially in rural areas, follow the right path.

SEEN ON SOCIAL MEDIA: CELEBRATING TOLERANCE

Prince from India captured this moment at the National Festival of Tolerance in Abu Dhabi, saying it reflected the joyful mood of the event.

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Palestinians turning to pets caring for emotional comfort

Palestinians turning to pets caring for emotional comfort

Gaza’s growing pet population stretches scant vet resources these days because of a greater number of Palestinians turning to pets caring for emotional comfort is more and more noticeable in the minuscule strip. In effect, populations of the tightly enclosed Gaza strip appear to have discovered that dogs and pets generally can help one get through tough times.

GAZA (Reuters) – Palestinians in Gaza are increasingly turning to domestic pets for emotional comfort from the harsh realities of the economically-depressed enclave but the growing animal population is stretching ill-equipped veterinarian facilities.

Gaza's growing pet population stretches scant vet resources
Palestinians turning to pets caring for emotional comfort
Palestinian woman Talya Thabet teaches a dog obedience commands in the central Gaza Strip October 16, 2019. Picture taken October 16, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Some 130 veterinarians work in Gaza but the lack of animal hospitals means most have to turn to regular medical facilities and even to Israel to help care for ailing pets.

At Imad Morad’s veterinary clinic, shelves are filled with pet food and medicine and his equipment includes an ultrasound machine. But for further care, he depends on human medical facilities.

“We send blood and urine samples to human labs for examination. It wasn’t until two years ago when they started taking our requests. We also use them for X-rays,” Morad said.

In some rare cases, cats have been sent for treatment in Israel, which maintains tight restrictions along its border with the Islamist Hamas-run territory.

Unlike cats, dogs are considered unclean in Islam and are usually kept outside, but there is no ban on them.

Dog ownership, however, is becoming more popular and pet food is increasingly available in shops. Owners walking their dogs on Gaza’s streets are now a common sight.

“When someone raises a pet he feels like getting a new friend in his or her life, a friend who cares for him or her more than usual human friends do,” said Saeed el-Aer, a retired civil servant who trawls the streets carrying a bag full of food and medicine, looking for abandoned cats and dogs.

At a Gaza pet shop, its owner, Baha Ghaben, said opening the business had been a risk.

But, he said: “We were surprised at the large number of people who raised pets at home. I sell between ten to twenty animals a month.”

Writing by Nidal al Mughrabi and Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Emelia Sithole-MatariseOur Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

UAE spy arrest shows universities must do more

UAE spy arrest shows universities must do more

Matthew Hedges says: my UAE spy arrest shows universities must do more to protect academics working in the field.

The picture above is of UAE Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed, who was contacted by British diplomat Jeremy Hunt about the Matthew Hedges spying case as reported by UPI. Photo by Andre Pain/EPA-EFE.

Matthew Hedges with his wife Daniela Tejada. Author provided

Matthew Hedges, Durham University

This article is part of a series on academic freedom where leading academics from around the world write on the state of free speech and inquiry in their region.


Last year I was imprisoned for nearly seven months in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). I was held predominantly in solitary confinement, endured heavy interrogations, with my human rights violated on a daily basis.

During my imprisonment, I was force fed drugs, battled depression and thoughts of self-harm. Later, having endured nearly half a year of isolation and mistreatment, I wrestled with thoughts of suicide.

Eventually, in a trial lacking all due process and disregard for international legal standards, I was handed a life sentence. My crime? Undertaking academic research for my doctoral thesis.

My research examines the evolving national security strategy of the UAE, and my knowledge has evolved from years of professional work and research in the UAE and the wider Middle East and North Africa.

I had no reservations about conducting research in the UAE. And I underwent a rigorous ethical and fieldwork assessment and was sure to follow established protocols before and during my trip.

I complied with the university’s requirement to remove all Emirati research subjects as it was assessed that these nationals would not be safe nor trusted when engaging in security-related academic research. And I was happy to go along with the university and the third-party risk firm employed to assess any other risks for researchers travelling overseas. But unfortunately, as my experience proved, this was simply not enough to protect me or my integrity as an academic.

A vulnerable position

It became clear there was a lack of understanding by the Emirati authorities about what a legitimate academic is, and about how research is carried out. Standard actions needed to complete field research – such as interviewing sources, researching books, articles and maps along with taking notes – were very quickly taken out of context and distorted by the UAE security authorities. I routinely battled to explain how information cited in my thesis was referenced from publicly available academic books and not from “secret intelligence sources” as the interrogators would often claim.

Following my release, I have had the opportunity to reflect upon my experience. I have also been lucky to travel to academic institutions in the UK and US to discuss the ramifications of my experience upon academic research.

When discussing how academic fieldwork actually works, my main observation has been that beyond the academic community, there is a very limited understanding of what academic research actually consists of. As such, there is little understanding of the risks it entails.

Ilham Tohti, a Uyghur economist, is serving a life sentence in China. He is held on separatism-related charges after his criticism of the Chinese government’s policies toward Uyghurs in Xinjiang. PEN International

This leaves academics engaging in fieldwork research in a particularly vulnerable position. It can even lead to a situation, like in my case, where their integrity and legitimacy as an academic is under question.

Indeed, I believe that this lack of information on academic practice exacerbated my situation. Trying to speak reason to the authorities holding me captive, and to those with the power to intervene diplomatically and politically on my behalf, went nowhere. And baseless accusations cast a shadow of doubt upon the legitimacy of my work.

Safety and security

For researchers and academics at all levels, the problem of misinformation has consequences extending to the very institutions to which they are affiliated. My experience demonstrates how bureaucracy-led universities are not equipping their students and staff with the appropriate skills and competencies needed to undertake their job in today’s world. Ultimately, effective instructions for fieldwork safety and security are lacking. Furthermore, as the technical capabilities of many states improve, there is an increased risk of deployed researchers falling victim to surveillance and unjust prosecution.

Another issue widely under-reported is that while researchers may be somewhat supported by their university, their human subjects are not. This leaves many academics, including myself, questioning whether it’s even possible or ethical to engage in fieldwork in the current age.

Niloufar Bayani, a researcher, conservationist, and scholar, was arrested in January 2018 on charges of espionage in Iran. She recently reported being subjected to torture. Twitter/@Omid_M

Having heard testimony from academics with diverse research backgrounds, it is abundantly clear that my experience was not isolated. Hundreds of scholars around the world are targeted and prosecuted for their research. Yet, while their cases are of great concern within the academic community, they continue to rest dormant in the public eye, the political arena and higher education boards.

If academics and universities are to continue to contribute to the generation of knowledge, then research practice and its risks must be acknowledged and respected. The freedom to research is paramount for knowledge creation. And if it is not protected, we risk being accomplices to those who wish to silence us.


Read more from our series on Academic Freedom.


Matthew Hedges, Doctoral Research Candidate in the School of Government and International Affairs, Durham University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why the Middle East Is More Combustible Than Ever

Why the Middle East Is More Combustible Than Ever

Robert Malley in this article titled The Unwanted Wars published in September / October 2019 of Foreign Affairs gives some answers to this question that has been marauding everyone for millennia. Why the Middle East Is More Combustible Than Ever, would, sarcasm apart, be a good start to try to understand the multi-layered mess of all past and passing powers. Here are some excerpts of the article.

Why the Middle East Is More Combustible Than Ever
Rifles and rifts: Houthi rebels in Sanaa, Yemen, December 2018 Hani Al-Ansi / Picture Alliance / dpa / AP Images

The war that now looms largest is a war nobody apparently wants. During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump railed against the United States’ entanglement in Middle Eastern wars, and since assuming office, he has not changed his tune. Iran has no interest in a wide-ranging conflict that it knows it could not win. Israel is satisfied with calibrated operations in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza but fears a larger confrontation that could expose it to thousands of rockets. Saudi Arabia is determined to push back against Iran, but without confronting it militarily. Yet the conditions for an all-out war in the Middle East are riper than at any time in recent memory. 

A conflict could break out in any one of a number of places for any one of a number of reasons. Consider the September 14 attack on Saudi oil facilities: it could theoretically have been perpetrated by the Houthis, a Yemeni rebel group, as part of their war with the kingdom; by Iran, as a response to debilitating U.S. sanctions; or by an Iranian-backed Shiite militia in Iraq. If Washington decided to take military action against Tehran, this could in turn prompt Iranian retaliation against the United States’ Gulf allies, an attack by Hezbollah on Israel, or a Shiite militia operation against U.S. personnel in Iraq. Likewise, Israeli operations against Iranian allies anywhere in the Middle East could trigger a regionwide chain reaction. Because any development anywhere in the region can have ripple effects everywhere, narrowly containing a crisis is fast becoming an exercise in futility. 

When it comes to the Middle East, Tip O’Neill, the storied Democratic politician, had it backward: all politics—especially local politics—is international. In Yemen, a war pitting the Houthis, until not long ago a relatively unexceptional rebel group, against a debilitated central government in the region’s poorest nation, one whose prior internal conflicts barely caught the world’s notice, has become a focal point for the Iranian-Saudi rivalry. It has also become a possible trigger for deeper U.S. military involvement. The Syrian regime’s repression of a popular uprising, far more brutal than prior crackdowns but hardly the first in the region’s or even Syria’s modern history, morphed into an international confrontation drawing in a dozen countries. It has resulted in the largest number of Russians ever killed by the United States and has thrust both Russia and Turkey and Iran and Israel to the brink of war. Internal strife in Libya sucked in not just Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) but also Russia and the United States.

There is a principal explanation for such risks. The Middle East has become the world’s most polarized region and, paradoxically, its most integrated. That combination—along with weak state structures, powerful nonstate actors, and multiple transitions occurring almost simultaneously—also makes the Middle East the world’s most volatile region. It further means that as long as its regional posture remains as it is, the United States will be just one poorly timed or dangerously aimed Houthi drone strike, or one particularly effective Israeli operation against a Shiite militia, away from its next costly regional entanglement. Ultimately, the question is not chiefly whether the United States should disengage from the region. It is how it should choose to engage: diplomatically or militarily, by exacerbating divides or mitigating them, and by aligning itself fully with one side or seeking to achieve a sort of balance.

ACT LOCALLY, THINK REGIONALLY

The story of the contemporary Middle East is one of a succession of rifts, each new one sitting atop its precursors, some taking momentary precedence over others, none ever truly or fully resolved. Today, the three most important rifts—between Israel and its foes, between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and between competing Sunni blocs—intersect in dangerous and potentially explosive ways.

Israel’s current adversaries are chiefly represented by the so-called axis of resistance: Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and, although presently otherwise occupied, Syria. The struggle is playing out in the traditional arenas of the West Bank and Gaza but also in Syria, where Israel routinely strikes Iranian forces and Iranian-affiliated groups; in cyberspace; in Lebanon, where Israel faces the heavily armed, Iranian-backed Hezbollah; and even in Iraq, where Israel has reportedly begun to target Iranian allies. The absence of most Arab states from this frontline makes it less prominent but no less dangerous.

Why the Middle East Is More Combustible Than Ever
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu near the Syrian border in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, March 2019 Ronen Zvulun / Reuters

For those Arab states, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been nudged to the sidelines by the two other battles. Saudi Arabia prioritizes its rivalry with Iran. Both countries exploit the Shiite-Sunni rift to mobilize their respective constituencies but are in reality moved by power politics, a tug of war for regional influence unfolding in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, and the Gulf states.

Finally, there is the Sunni-Sunni rift, with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE vying with Qatar and Turkey. As Hussein Agha and I wrote in The New Yorker in March, this is the more momentous, if least covered, of the divides, with both supremacy over the Sunni world and the role of political Islam at stake. Whether in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, or as far afield as Sudan, this competition will largely define the region’s future. 

Together with the region’s polarization is a lack of effective communication, which makes things ever more perilous. There is no meaningful channel between Iran and Israel, no official one between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and little real diplomacy beyond rhetorical jousting between the rival Sunni blocs.

Read more on the original document.

5 steps to reshape economic geography and rejuvenate the MENA

5 steps to reshape economic geography and rejuvenate the MENA

The Brookings’ FUTURE DEVELOPMENT elaborated these 5 steps to reshape economic geography and rejuvenate the MENA this Friday, September 20, 2019, as a demonstration that it is possible to do so. The story is by Somik V. Lall and Ayah Mahgoub. Here it is.

5 steps to reshape economic geography and rejuvenate the Middle East and North Africa

The destinies of people in the Middle East and North Africa are shaped more by accidents of where they were born than in any other part of the world (Figure 1). This is considered a problem by governments in the region, and it should be. They have tried many ways to respond to the needs of people in lagging areas; much money has been spent on investment in these places. Thus, to add jobs in poorer areas, policymakers have tried to strong-arm new production facilities into these areas. To meet the need for decent homes and amenities in poor urban neighborhoods, money has been poured into massive housing projects.

People shop for food in Djemaa El Fna square in Marrakesh July 8, 2010. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (MOROCCO – Tags: SOCIETY TRAVEL) – GM1E67L0L0U01

Even so, spatial disparities continue to grow, or are closing more slowly than would be expected given the volume of investment directed to these locations. The main reason: the causes of spatial exclusion are not locational and physical but are economic and institutional.

Figure 1: With a few exceptions such as Jordan, spatial inequality is higher in MENA

With a few exceptions such as Jordan, spatial inequality is higher in MENA

WHY IS MENA SO FRAGMENTED?

Why is territorial convergence so difficult? In a report that we just completed at the World Bank, we identified four reasons.

  1. Most lagging areas in MENA have not been able to leverage the full returns to their endowments because the business environment and infrastructure in their cities and towns makes it hard for new firms to start and grow (Figure 2). One reason is that outside the capital city in MENA countries, smaller cities invariably lack the authority to raise their own revenues and to manage local service provision.
  2. Most residents in lagging areas are “stuck in place,” unable to take full advantage of jobs that more vibrant urban economies offer. Credentialist education systems may be most to blame for making people immobile.
  3. In leading areas, rigid and outdated regulations distort land markets and stymie development. For example, regulations in Tunisia prohibit residential buildings more than three stories high, and regulations in Jordan impose a minimum lot size of 100 square meters—restricting the supply of affordable formal housing.
  4. MENA’s governments have created formidable obstacles to trade and migration. The main barriers are limits on news and information and practical constraints on travel and trade (visa difficulties, weak infrastructure, logistics hurdles).

Figure 2: It’s tough for firms outside MENA’s capital cities

Figure 2: It’s tough for firms outside MENA’s capital cities

Notice that while they result in spatial inequalities of opportunity, the reasons for fragmentation are not themselves spatial.

ENGINEERING A CONVERGENCE MACHINE

Increasing the pace of integration and convergence will require fixing these problems. Governments in the region can reduce territorial disparities quickly and effectively by doing five things:

  1. Strengthen coordination and complementarities across initiatives. Development strategies are more likely to succeed if they are multidimensional, including access to energy, transport, land, and markets—in the same place, whether sequentially or concurrently. A good place to start is by anchoring investments in and around cities. Complementary reforms that help get the prices right—for energy and for land—can go a long way in creating the conditions for job creation in lagging areas. The good news is that governments don’t have to pay more to see better results, because spatial coordination will generate cost savings in the medium to longer term.
  2. Redistribute roles and responsibilities across tiers of government. Citizens in different parts of the country have varying needs, and local conditions require flexible service delivery models. Redistributing responsibilities for local revenue generation and local service provision to local governments can make them better equipped and more accountable.
  3. Enable mobility of people between lagging and leading areas. On average, people in MENA are half as mobile domestically as people in other parts of the world (Figure 3). Our research shows that living standards of people moving internally to major cities can increase by an average of 37 percent in the region. Women are more likely to move and find jobs in urban areas, but they need support to do so. Education systems across the region need to be reoriented toward marketable skills.
  4. Build dense and connected cities. Well-functioning cities offer a wide variety of jobs—for women and men. Making land markets in cities more efficient is critical for agglomeration and specialization—two dynamics that enhance job creation and economic prosperity. Whether in larger or in smaller (secondary) cities, agglomeration and specialization require the benefits from high economic density, which concentrates economic activity geographically. For this, the fabric of cities needs to be spatially connected, dense with people, and transit-oriented—not sprawling that perpetuates the dispersion of people and jobs. Planners and regulators can attract firms to invest in cities by reducing frictions such as zoning regulations, impediments to property acquisition and new construction (costs, height limits, density limits), challenges to local business registration and licensing, limits on news and information, and obstacles to developing local business networks.
  5. Enhance market access nationally and regionally. Historically, MENA’s cities were part of economically important global trade networks. Many of these cities persisted into modern times as large urban areas. But governments in the region have managed to shrink the networks from global to local. These networks have, at a minimum, to be expanded to national and regional dimensions. A good place to start would be to improve the links across national borders—reducing tariffs, improving logistics, and facilitating trade, and instituting migration protocols. Such efforts will grow the economies, providing much-needed resources to redistribute in areas left behind.

Figure 3: Just 14 percent of MENA’s people have left their place of birth, compared with 28 percent in countries elsewhere

Just 14 percent of MENA’s people have left their place of birth, compared with 28 percent in countries elsewhere

In other words, MENA’s governments have to start putting together a modern convergence machine. The main parts of the machine are institutions that integrate and infrastructure that connects. MENA is no longer a poor place: Last year, the region’s GDP per capita was nearly $7,000 placing it comfortably in upper middle-income levels. Its people should have access to quality basic services such as education, clinics, sanitation, and public security. Well-chosen infrastructure initiatives—roads, railways, ports and communication facilities—can provide its entrepreneurs access to the region’s sizeable markets (the region’s GDP is $3 trillion) and even bigger nearby markets to MENA’s north and east. Spatially targeted interventions might also be needed, but they are not the main components of the machine.

Perhaps the biggest mistake that governments have been making is to regard these interventions—programs to push economic activity into lagging areas while simultaneously favoring capital cities—as the mainstay of the machine. It’s time to stop these self-defeating measures that exacerbate fragmentation in MENA, and speed up efforts to engineer integration.

Authors:

  • Somik V. Lall, Global Lead on Territorial Development Solutions and Lead Economist for Sustainable Development in Middle East and North Africa – World Bank. somikcities
  • Ayah Mahgoub, Senior Urban Development Specialist – World Bank