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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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Walls are obstructing Hope in the Arab world

Walls are obstructing Hope in the Arab world

Walls are obstructing Hope in the Arab world

Oussama Romdhani, chief-editor of the Arab Weekly, wrote on Saturday 09/11/2019 that 30 years after Berlin, walls are obstructing hope in the Arab world.


In any part of the region, interconnected populations realise the commonality of their dreams and they want a stake in their respective countries.

Lebanese demonstrators gather outside the the Telecom company during ongoing anti-government demonstrations in Lebanon's southern city of Sidon (Saida) on November 8. (AFP)

Lebanese demonstrators gather outside the Telecom company during ongoing anti-government demonstrations in Lebanon’s southern city of Sidon (Saida) on November 8. (AFP)

The fall of the Berlin Wall, 30 years ago, on November 9, 1989, was a testament to the irrepressible human yearning for freedom.

Restrained for too long by communist rulers, Eastern Europeans just wanted out. They saw greener and freer pastures beyond their borders.

Well before East German border guards opened the Berlin passageway in October 1989, the authoritarian governments of the time saw the writing on the wall.

In June 1989, Hungarian and Austrian foreign ministers were cutting through the barbed wire separating their countries. Others soon followed suit. They were removing long-standing separations that much of Eastern Europe erected after Hungary built a 260km fence on its Austrian border in 1949.

More than simply physical barriers, these were ideological and political walls consecrating the regimes’ distrust of their citizens and their inability to move away from dogmatic constraints.

History shows crossing borders is always the last resort when resources are scarce or when living conditions become unbearable.

Similarly, for decades, breaking through geographic barriers has been the goal of too many among young Arabs. Disillusioned and surrounded by nothing but dead ends at home, they look to emigrate — even illegally.

Today, many desperate people in the MENA region are more than willing to risk their lives to escape on the makeshift boats of human traffickers, voting with their feet in much the same way Eastern Europeans did for many decades until the 1980s.

Nearly 700 people died while trying to break through the Iron Curtain from East Germany and many more in MENA are no less committed to their cause. Thousands have died trying to cross the Mediterranean during the past few years, driven by poverty, war and a lack of opportunity.

However, unlike Eastern Europeans who fled authoritarian environments, MENA’s desperate youth have few places to find safe harbour.

Since independence, governments south of the Mediterranean have been striking deals with Europeans to fight illegal emigration and, while cooperation in that area was in order, the governments lacked the political vision and ability to draw the right lessons from the steady exodus from their shores.

Many Arab youths, unwilling or unable to leave home, have grown angry staring at walls that need to be torn down. They see prohibitive and oppressive obstacles of sectarianism, failed post-independence policies, bureaucratic and corrupt practices and a lack of freedom. More than anything else, there is a huge wall of distrust between them and their politicians, whom they see as responsible for making their lives miserable and robbing them of their chances for a better future.

Arab protesters may not be acting out against authoritarian communism but they are rebelling against equally rigid norms and obsolete rules. It is not the conflicting interests of a regional power such as Iran that will change the equation. Much like the unhappy populations that suffered under Soviet rule, they see their leaders clinging to the past, or worse, living on another planet.

If the governments of Iraq, Lebanon, Algeria and a few other Arab countries are having a tough time dealing with protests, it is because for too long they have been reluctant to initiate genuine reform. They felt they had too many vested interests at stake to volunteer change.

After years of procrastination, such change is much more difficult to introduce in a way that satisfies demanding and disgruntled populations. Much more than in the 1980s, the value systems of good governance, equal opportunity and, above all, freedom have gone global and the Arab region is no exception.

Such forces overpower the image of strength, awe and fear that assailed political regimes used to project and rely upon to preserve their rule. Whatever tools of repression they possess are not enough anymore.

In any part of the region, interconnected populations realise the commonality of their dreams and they want a stake in their respective countries.

With a lack of real and timely reform, radical and abrupt regime change often becomes the alternative.

As Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev told East German President Erich Honecker in October 1989: “Life punishes those who are too late.”

Iraq protests expose the fallacy of the country’s democracy

Iraq protests expose the fallacy of the country’s democracy

Streets demonstrations in the vast and populous countries of the MENA region’s Algiers, Khartoum, Cairo and finally, Bagdad chasing some long-time running democratic awakening appear to be stalling. However, these capital cities of the so-called republics’ populations seem to be going through a quasi-general disenchantment with their respective establishments because of all the prospects for future development in political and security terms have become uncertain given this sudden but not surprising worsening regional situation. Like throughout all these countries, Iraq protests expose the fallacy of the country’s democracy. Technological advances in the world and their penetration in the MENA region could definitely be behind all these upheavals.

Whether these media as social or just digital distribution of news, they did help to connect citizens and build linkage to an unprecedented level. Government organisations always in desperate need of credibility fell short to keep up with how fast the region’s peoples demands of more democracy, etc. This article elaborates on the specifics of Iraq’s.

Iraq protests expose the fallacy of the country's democracy
Anger on the streets: protesters in al-Tayaran square in central Baghdad on October 4. Murtaja Lateef/EPA

Violent crackdown against Iraq protests expose fallacy of the country’s democracy

By Balsam Mustafa, University of Birmingham

When Muhanad Habib, a 22-year-old Iraqi from the Sadr City district of Baghdad, posted on Facebook in late September, he probably didn’t imagine that his demands for a better life and basic rights would be met with bullets.

It will be a huge and angry public revolution in Baghdad … We will take to the streets protesting … Enough silence about what’s going on in Iraq. We cannot just watch Iraq being destroyed when we have armies of jobless and poor.

This was how it all started. Angry youth from Baghdad took to the streets. Unaffiliated with any political party or with well-known activists, the protesters – the majority of whom were born in the late 1990s or early 2000s – despaired about any prospect for change in Iraq.

The crackdown by security forces that followed left more than 100 people dead and thousands more injured. Iraqi President Barham Salih condemned the crackdown in a televised speech on October 7, claiming that orders to shoot at the protesters weren’t made by the state or its apparatus. The interior ministry ordered an investigation into the deaths.

Yet, Salih’s statement raised questions about who is actually running the Iraqi state. And despite his and international condemnation, the crackdown continues on the ground.

Calls for a homeland

Endemic corruption, unemployment, flawed institutions and poor public services linger in Iraq and have prompted protests since 2011, including notably in Basra in 2018. The recapture of Iraqi lands from the grip of Islamic State (IS) gave many Iraqis hope that lessons would be learnt about the repeated failures which gave rise to IS, and that those in power would take sincere steps to reform. But that hope has been diminishing every day.

The most recent protests came in the wake of multiple smaller demonstrations by different groups, including PhD graduates, doctors and engineers in September 2019.

They followed government actions that caused widespread anger. Impoverished people were outraged at a recent state campaign to destroy unlicensed properties and market stalls across Iraq, leaving many homeless and jobless.

It also followed the removal of a key general, Abdul Wahab Al Saadi, from his position as commander of the Counter-Terrorism Service, followed by his demotion to a lower post at the Ministry of Defence. The marginalisation of a figure admired for his role in the military campaign against IS enraged many Iraqis.

The new generation want a homeland. “We want a respected homeland,” and “I am taking to the streets to get my right,” were among the slogans on display during the protests. “The issue is not about water or electricity, but about a homeland,” shouted another protester.

Violent crackdown

The immediate crackdown of the protests has surprised, shocked, and shaken Iraqis. The suppression turned a protest about anti-corruption and unemployment into an uprising against the status quo and what participants see as foreign interference, particularly from Iran.

Tear gas, live ammunition, and snipers were used to quell the protesters. As one protestor put it: “They did things to us they never did to IS. They beat and insulted us. They used live fire and grenades. What have we done? All what we are asking for are our rights and all people’s rights.” The protestor’s words were used as the opening of a new rap song titled “Iran’s tails” released in the wake of the crackdown by an Iraqi expat in solidarity with the demonstrators.

Iraq protests expose the fallacy of the country's democracy
The funeral in Baghdad of a protester allegedly killed by Iraq soldiers. Murtaja Lateef/EPA

The violent oppression and state’s authoritarian measures to cover up the carnage are reminiscent of the days of Baathist rule and former president Saddam Hussein’s oppression of a 1991 uprising. In 2019, such measures included an internet blackout across Iraq except in the Kurdistan region, curfews in Baghdad and other provinces in the south, and blocked roads leading to Tahrir square in Baghdad where demonstrators gathered. Comparisons were also made with IS, who also cut off the internet in Mosul when Iraqi troops were advancing to retake the city in 2016.

Offices of media agencies covering the protests were attacked and reports emerged of protesters, activists and journalists being threatened and arrested.

By disconnecting Iraqis from the outside world, the authorities in Iraq tried to control the circulation of videos that showed civilians killed in broad daylight. But they also pushed the narrative of Iran-backed political parties and officials: that “intruders” – an implicit reference to Baathists or actors backed by an external agenda – were responsible for riots. A similar narrative was echoed by Iranian media outlets to undermine the legitimacy of the protests, accusing foreign powers of being behind them, an indirect reference to the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Despite the internet blackout, which remains partially in place, footage of the live shooting at the protestors and ambulances carrying the wounded were shared on social media as some Iraqi protesters resorted to innovative methods with the help of Iraqi expats to reveal the scale of the violence.

The heartbreaking scenes caused uproar among the Iraqi diaspora who protested in several countries around the world in solidarity. But for people inside Iraq, many still don’t know the scale of the atrocities as they haven’t been able to access social media sites.

The fallacy of democracy

Since the fall of Hussein’s regime in 2003, successive governments have failed to put an end to Iraqis’ grievances. Time and again, only empty promises were made, and superficial measures taken. The electoral system has helped to produce and perpetuate a hybrid form of kleptocracy, authoritarianism and kakistocracy – a government run by the worst, or most unscrupulous people. Armed groups, tribes, foreign powers and religious clergy have all maintained this system.

The latest protests may have been suppressed but they revealed that democracy in Iraq is nothing but a facade. What sort of democratic government kills its own people, taking away their hopes and dreams? And can it still be called legitimate? Reacting indifferently to the deadly crackdown of innocent people in Iraq, the world needs to at least recognise that the root causes of Iraq’s ills are in the post-2003 system itself.

Balsam Mustafa, Teaching Fellow, University of Birmingham

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

Gulf wealth: all that glitters is not gold

Gulf wealth: all that glitters is not gold

Gulf wealth: all that glitters is not gold

Gulf wealth: all that glitters is not gold. Little suggests that fabulously wealthy Gulf states and their Middle Eastern and North African beneficiaries have recognized what is perhaps the most important lesson of this year’s popular uprisings in Algeria and Sudan and the 2011 Arab revolts: All that glitters is not gold.

Gulf wealth: All that glitters is not gold

by James M. Dorsey, Sep 5

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and to a lesser extent Kuwait have in the last decade invested billions of dollars in either reversing or hollowing out the revolts’ achievements in a bid to ensure that political change elsewhere in the region does not come to haunt them.

Qatar, in a counterintuitive strategy that has earned it the ire of the rulers of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, has sought to achieve the same goal by attempting to be on the right side of the region’s forces of change.

The irony is that both approaches, despite also involving huge investments at home in economic diversification, education, and healthcare, could produce the very result Gulf states seek to avoid: a region that has many of the trappings of 21st century knowledge states but that is incapable of catering to the aspirations of a youth bulge expected to annually increase the work force by a million people over the next 12 years.

UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, concluded earlier this year, that the region’s youth bulge was a double-edged sword. It could either pose a threat to regional stability or be an asset for development.

Turning the youth bulge into an asset “requires urgent and significant investment to create opportunities for meaningful learning, social engagement and work, all of which are currently limited, particularly for young women and the most vulnerable,” the UN agency said in a report entitled MENA (Middle East and North Africa) Generation 2030.

UNICEF arrived at its conclusion even though Gulf states have adopted grandiose plans that envision them becoming within a matter of a decade or two diversified, knowledge-driven economies that enact the social reforms needed to create opportunity for all segments of society.

The group’s conclusion applies as much to the wealthy Gulf states as it does to the Arab beneficiaries of their politically motivated financial largesse.

The problems with the flexing of the Gulf states’ financial muscle as well as the implementation of reform plans are multi-fold.

They relate as much to quality of the upgrading of services such as education as they are about how political intent shapes development efforts and how high domestic debt in countries like Egypt, where 27 percent of government expenditure goes to interest payments, and Lebanon, which spends 38 percent of its budget on debt servicing, benefits Gulf banks and stymies social and economic development.

Credit rating agency Fitch recently downgraded Lebanon’s credit rating to CCC from B- because of “intensifying pressure on Lebanon’s financing model and increasing risks to the government’s debt servicing capacity.”

Gulf scholar Rohan Advani notes that Gulf institutions account for most of the financial sector investment in countries like Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, and Yemen.

“In Lebanon, just over 50 percent of the country’s bank assets are held by GCC-related banks, in Palestine this figure is 63 per cent, and in Jordan it is as high as 86 percent,” Mr. Advani wrote in a review of political economist Adam Hanieh’s study of Gulf finance, Money, Markets, and Monarchies.

Mr Hanieh argues that the bulk of the debt payments are to financial establishments whose major shareholders include Gulf institutions in a process in which “the Arab state…increasingly mediates the transfer of national wealth to large Gulf-related banks.”

Mr Advani warned that “indebted governments are compelled to intensify a politics of austerity, further trapping these societies in cycles of debt. Investments in social programs or infrastructural developments are often stalled. Popular movements are unable to realize their demands at the state level due to the requirements of foreign creditors and domestic capitalists. The ensuing scenario is one where alternative politics are asphyxiated and increasingly circumscribed by an atrophied status quo.”

That may well be the purpose of the exercise with economic diversification efforts in the Gulf being driven more by the need of autocracies to upgrade their autocratic style and create opportunity for a restive youth in a bid to ensure regime survival rather than by the acknowledgement of a government’s responsibility to serve the people.

The result is a flawed approach to all aspects of reform.

In Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 economic and social reform plan that calls for greater private sector involvement has turned into a top down effort that emphasizes state control with the government’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) as the key player.

A combination of depressed oil prices and the recent replacement of energy minister Khalid al-Falih as chairman of the board of Aramco by PIF head Yasir al-Rumayyan, a close associate of Prince Mohammed, raises questions about the state oil company’s positioning in advance of a much-touted initial public offering.

Ellen Wald, an energy analyst and author of a history of Aramco, the kingdom’s main source of revenue, noted that at PIF Mr. Al-Rumayyan had overseen investments more geared towards speculative gains than the sustainable growth of Saudi wealth.

Ms Wald said that raised the question whether Mr Al-Rumayyan’s objective with Aramco would be to serve the company’s long-term interests or those of the PIF.

Aramco this year bought a 70 per cent stake in petrochemicals maker Saudi Basic Industries Corp for US$ 69 billion in an effort to raise funds for PIF and delay the Aramco IPO that had originally been scheduled for 2018 but has since been delayed until 2020 or 2021. The megadeal is expected to boost the oil company’s downstream growth plans.

Nonetheless, Ms Wald cautions that Mr Al-Rumayyan’s appointment “doesn’t necessarily bode well for Aramco, which is a different kind of company. It has to make stable decisions for the long term,” she said.

By the same token, UNICEF warned that poverty, violent conflict, restrictive social norms, patriarchy, rights violations and lack of safe spaces for expression and recreation were limiting opportunities as well as civic adolescent and youth engagement.

Gulf emphasis on geopolitical dominance, regime survival and return on financial investment produces short term solutions that often exacerbate conflict, produce little trickle-down effect and few prospects for long-term stability.

“As a result, adolescents and youth in MENA (the Middle East and North Africa) feel disillusioned, with girls and young women, refugees, those with disabilities and the poor being particularly marginalised and underrepresented,” the UNICEF report said.

“Youth unemployment in the region is currently the highest in the world. Education systems are failing to prepare adolescents and youth for the workplace, and markets are not generating urgently needed jobs,” the report warned.

Gulf wealth glitters but if the UNICEF report is anything to go by, it has yet to demonstrate that it can produce the gold of a development that is sustainable and benefits not only all segments of Gulf societies but also of those across the region that have become dependent on it.

Gulf wealth: all that glitters is not gold

James M. Dorsey

Written by James M. Dorsey, an award-winning journalist covering ethnic and religious conflict. He blogs using soccer as a lens on the Middle East and North Africa’s fault lines. The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer

Dr James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, an adjunct senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and co-director of the University of Wuerzburg’s Institute of Fan Culture.

A podcast version of this story is available on Soundcloud, ItunesSpotifyStitcherTuneInSpreakerPocket CastsTumblrPodbean and Castbox.

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Female Unemployment in the Middle East

Female Unemployment in the Middle East

In this OPINION piece, Carmen Haddad wrote on Friday, 23 August 2019, that Companies need to address female unemployment in the Middle East.

The skills gap poses a genuine threat to economic progress and could leave nations stalled, millions unemployed and prosperity dwindling.

Only one in five working-age women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has a job or is actively looking for one, according to the World Bank and the region has one of the lowest female labour force participation rates in the world.

If the MENA region continues along this trajectory, it could take at least another 150 years to match the current global average for female labour force participation. 

Despite good progress in some countries, challenges and inequities persist.

Increasingly, there is a realisation that the levels of female unemployment are not simply a mirror of the business cycle, but a persistent structural issue that has distinct causes and requires specific solutions that cut across socio-economic and education policies.

This not only represents a great loss of human capital, but it also seriously hinders the region’s potential for social and economic development.

Across MENA, restrictive barriers including limited mobility, restrictive laws and closed industries, coupled with long-standing political and social issues, continue to impede women’s access to the labour market.

However, one factor that stands out is that education does not always lead to employment. There is a persistent mismatch between employers and jobseekers – whether in terms of skills, attitudes or expectations.

For example, in Saudi Arabia, female enrolment in tertiary education has doubled in the last decade (68.5% in 2017 compared to 34.2% in 2007), but still only two in ten working-age women participate in the labour force.

In Egypt, unemployment among women with advanced education is almost six times that among those with basic education only, according to World Bank Development Indicators. While in Tunisia, only 41% of women are enrolled in tertiary education and they represent just 26.5% of the total labour force in the country.

This skills gap poses a genuine threat to economic progress and has the potential to leave nations stalled, millions unemployed and prosperity dwindling.

I believe that women can be change-makers for the political, economic and social development of MENA.

However, participation from governments, employers and education providers is needed to bridge the gender gap, increase regional output, and put MENA on a more sustainable and inclusive growth path in the long run. 

Companies can do their part by engaging in thoughtful planning, cooperating with others and getting strategic about their staffing practices. This could range from supporting access to soft and technical skills programmes, endorsing philanthropic partnerships, designing policies and spearheading discussions among the education community to pushing inclusive job opportunities.

Over the next decade, it is estimated that 50 million women will come of working age in the region. Therefore, corporations are in a unique position to bring about significant change through empowering a previously untapped human resource.

Despite increased focus and spending over the past decade, MENA governments still have a long road ahead in improving women’s social and political barriers to employment. Without a drastic overhaul of personal development and soft skills programmes, companies will continue to struggle to fill jobs across the region.

The influence and investment of companies is crucial to start to re-shape the position of women across MENA and successfully bring them into the workforce – ultimately shaping a stronger, more inclusive economy.

Carmen Haddad is the Chief Country Officer of Citigroup Saudi Arabia and the Citi Saudi Arabia Business Governance Head. Citi Foundation has partnered with international NGO Education for Employment to tackle the MENA unemployment crisis. 

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Conflict Economies of Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen

Conflict Economies of Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen

Chatham House Reports of one of its Middle East and North Africa Programme elaborates on the still on-going conflict economies of Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen. The excerpts of the published Executive Summary reproduced here below do not include its Recommendations for Western policymakers, etc.

Conflict Economies in the Middle East and North Africa

By Tim EatonDr Renad Mansour, Peter SalisburyDr Lina Khatib, Dr Christine Cheng and Jihad Yazigi

Image source/description: Cover image: A petrol pump near Harf Sufyan, Amran governorate, Yemen, February 2014. Copyright © Peter Salisbury

The conflicts in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen have killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions. In seeking to explain the violence that has struck the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) over the past two decades, analysis to date has focused predominantly on ideological and identity-based factors. This report expands this discourse by incorporating approaches adopted from the literature on the political economy of war to examine the conflict economies of Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen.

Economic motivations, at the individual and group level, are key to understanding the wars in these countries, yet have tended to be overlooked in the MENA context. (As the wars have progressed and evolved, the national and local economies in which conflict is embedded have also changed.) Such motivations can offer an alternative or complementary explanation for armed group membership and armed group behaviour. While some groups will fight to promote or defend a particular identity, others fight for economic survival or enrichment. For many more actors, these motivations are tied together, and separating out ‘greed’ and ‘grievance’ is a difficult, if not impossible, task. Even if economic motivations did not spark the wars in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen initially, it is clear that such factors now play a critical role in the persistence of open fighting, localized violence and coercion.

The objectives of this report are twofold. First, it seeks to develop a framework for comparative analysis of conflict economies at the local level in the MENA region. Traditionally, the idea of a conflict economy has been tightly linked to the funding for arms, ammunition and fighters. Further, most analyses of conflict economies are conducted at the national level. Even where research is conducted on a regional basis, discussion of the impact of conflict is brought back to the national level. In contrast, we see a broader political economy of war at work in the region. Our analysis illustrates how a conflict economy is embedded within a complex local socio-political system, in which many variables and agendas interact. We deliberately avoid characterizing conflict economies in terms of ‘black’ and ‘grey’ markets that somehow need to be ‘cleaned up’, as this erroneously implies that they can eventually be converted into licit markets like their peacetime counterparts.2 A more nuanced and multifaceted reading is essential. For the purposes of this report, we define a conflict economy as a system of producing, mobilizing and allocating resources to sustain competitive and embedded violence, both directly and indirectly.3

Second, we show that a ‘political economy of war’ framing offers new approaches for reducing competitive and embedded violence. ‘Competitive violence’ can be defined as violence ‘deployed by warring elites to contest or defend the existing distribution of power’.4 Fighting between rival armed groups for control over resources and rents, among other things, usually falls into this category. ‘Embedded violence’, in contrast, underpins ‘how a political settlement5 works, as the deals agreed between elites may revolve around who has the “right” to use violence’.6 In practice, this could mean that one group is ‘permitted’ to use violence against another group – and no punishment will be enforced. In the context of this study, the use of armed force to assert the status quo to limit the number of ruling elite members is one example of embedded violence.

Conflict sub-economies

Analysis of conflict economies has mostly focused on state-level dynamics.7 However, less attention has been paid to the development of conflict sub-economies that are specific to certain types of location. This study demonstrates three distinct types of conflict sub-economy: (1) capital cities; (2) transit areas and borderlands; and (3) oil-rich areas. Our analysis highlights how each sub-economy creates distinct location-based patterns of resource production, mobilization and allocation to sustain competitive and embedded violence. The rents available in these areas vary. In capital cities, rents focus on control of the distribution of revenues and assets from the state and private sector. In transit areas and borderlands, rents centre around taxation and arbitrage. In oil-rich areas, rents are related to control of the area itself (and therefore the ability to levy taxes upon the oil sector), bearing in mind that the level of achievable taxation depends on the extent to which a given actor controls the supply chain.

As this report will elaborate, factors specific to each sub-economy type play a role in conditioning the nature of economic activities in each locality, and in determining whether and by which means violence is dispensed. For this reason, national-level generalizations and in-country comparisons of conflict economies are inadequate: for example, the conflict sub-economy of Baghdad has more in common with that of Tripoli than that of al-Qaim, an Iraqi town on the border with Syria. In turn, the conflict economy observed in al-Qaim has more in common with that of al-Mahra in Yemen than al-Mahra does with Sanaa, the Yemeni capital.

Read more on the original document or download its PDF 873 KB.

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15m Facebook subscribers in the MENA region

15m Facebook subscribers in the MENA region

A new study shows 15m Facebook subscribers in the MENA region; a big increase in Arabic language users. In fact, it was found that not only this platform does help socialise but does also contribute above all to informing on the goings-on in any particular country and/or intercountry affairs.

MENA Facebook users top copies of newspapers

There are more subscribers to Facebook in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) than there are copies of newspapers circulated in the region, a new report has said.

MENA Facebook users top copies of newspapers

The study by Spot On Public Relations said Facebook has more than 15 million users in the region, while the total regional Arabic, English and French newspaper circulation stands at just under 14 million copies.

“Facebook doesn’t write the news, but the new figures show that Facebook’s reach now rivals that of the news press,” said Carrington Malin, managing director of Spot On Public Relations.

“The growth in Arabic language users has been very strong indeed: some 3.5 million Arabic language users began using Facebook during the past year, since the introduction of Arabic support and we can expect millions more Arabic language users to join the platform,” he added.

Five country markets in MENA now account for some 70 percent of Facebook users – Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the report added.

The study said only 37 percent of Facebook users in the Middle East are female compared with 56 percent in the US and 52 percent in the UK.

Egypt’s 3.5 million Facebook subscribers helped to make North Africa the largest Facebook community in MENA accounting for 7.7 million out of a total of 15 million MENA users.

It added that 33 percent of the UAE’s population uses Facebook and it also now stands as the country’s second most visited website after google.ae, according to websites ranked by Alexa.com.

Some 68 percent of Facebook users in the UAE are over 25 years old, flying in the face of perceptions that social media is a ‘generation Y’ phenomenon.

However, much of Facebook’s growth across the rest of the region has been driven by the under 25s, the report said.

Over 48 percent of Facebook subscribers in Saudi Arabia are under 25 years old, with an equal split between English and Arabic users.

However, about three times the number of Arabic users have joined Facebook in Saudi over the past year, compared with the number of English language users.For all the latest UAE news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.

Oman Fourth Most Peaceful Country in MENA

Oman Fourth Most Peaceful Country in MENA

Muscat Daily on June 12, 2019, commented on Oman Fourth Most Peaceful Country in MENA as “Peace in the world’s least peaceful region (MENA) improved marginally last year, based on improvements in 11 countries.” Oman Fourth Most Peaceful Country in MENA is not alone for Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE preceded it in the ranking.

Oman Fourth Most Peaceful Country in MENA

Oman has been ranked fourth among the MENA countries and 69th in the world on the Global Peace Index (GPI) 2019. Oman earned 1.953 points this year.

The report has been published by the Australia-based Institute of Economics and Peace. Iceland remains the most peaceful country in the world, a position it has held since 2008. It is joined at the top by New Zealand, Austria, Portugal, and Denmark.

Oman Fourth Most Peaceful Country in MENA

Bhutan has recorded the best improvement and is now the 15th most peaceful nation in the world. According to the report, Qatar made the next best improvement. Economic strains can increase the risk of unrest by fomenting internal divisions and civil and political unrest, the report stated.

According to the report, Afghanistan is now the least peaceful country in the world, replacing Syria, which is now the second least peaceful. South Sudan, Yemen, and Iraq comprise the remaining five least peaceful countries.

Peace in the world’s least peaceful region (MENA) improved marginally last year, based on improvements in 11 countries. The regional average improved in all three GPI domains in 2019, with reductions in population displacement, political terror, terrorism, deaths from internal and external armed conflicts, military spending, and armed services personnel.

In the 2019 GPI, 86 countries improved while 76 countries deteriorated, with the global average GPI score improving by -0.09 per cent.
The 2019 GPI finds that the world became more peaceful for the first time in five years, with the average level of country peacefulness improving slightly by 0.09 per cent.

Of the 23 GPI indicators, eight recorded an improvement, 12 had a deterioration, with the remaining three indicators not registering any change over the past year.

This is the thirteenth edition of the GPI, which ranks 163 independent states and territories according to their level of peacefulness.

Cancellation of Algeria’s elections is an opportunity for democratization

Cancellation of Algeria’s elections is an opportunity for democratization

The BrookingsOrder from Chaos dated Tuesday, June 4, 2019, published this article written by Sharan Grewal where it is reported that cancellation of Algeria’s elections is an opportunity for democratization.

On June 2, Algeria’s constitutional council cancelled the July 4 presidential elections, which were constitutionally mandated to replace ousted President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. The cancellation of elections is a win for protesters, who had rejected the “constitutional” path imposed by the regime. With their cancellation, Algeria will enter a constitutional vacuum and with it, political uncertainty on the road ahead. However, unshackling the transition from the existing constitution will also provide an opportunity for a more genuine transition to democracy.”

The cancellation of Algeria’s elections is an opportunity for democratization

Since Bouteflika’s ousting on April 2, the remnants of the Bouteflika regime had invoked Article 102 of the constitution, which necessitated presidential elections within 90 days of Bouteflika’s resignation (July 9). As also mandated by the constitution, President of the Senate Abdelkader Bensalah became the interim president, while the government at the time—led by Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui—could not be changed.

The regime, led de facto by army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah, claimed that this roadmap was the legitimate and constitutional path forward. But as the protesters had observed, this path was also the one most likely to allow the reconsolidation of the Bouteflika regime. The figures shepherding the “transition”—Bensalah, Bedoui, and to a greater extent, Gaid Salah—were all holdovers from the Bouteflika regime. Moreover, the 90-day transitional period provided no guarantees of free and fair elections nor meaningful time for the protesters to organize politically. As the result, the protesters rejected the “constitutional” path en masse every Friday since Bouteflika’s ouster. They instead invoked Articles 7 and 8 of the constitution, which observe that political power derives from the people.

In the face of this popular rejection, only two relatively unknown candidates put forth their names to run in the July 4 presidential elections. The constitutional court on June 2 then rejected those two candidacies and declared that the elections would be impossible to hold. As a result, Algeria will not see elections within 90 days of Bouteflika’s ouster, and the constitutional path will be unmet.

These developments will likely tip the balance of power in favour of the protesters. The regime’s preferred strategy appears to be to ask interim President Bensalah to remain in office beyond his July 9 end date and task him, as the constitutional council did, with organizing elections at a later date. But the regime will no longer be able to use a shroud of constitutional legitimacy to impose this preferred roadmap. Such an extension of the 90-day period is unconstitutional.

Without the constitution, the sole source of legitimacy will be the street.

Without the constitution, the sole source of legitimacy will be the street, and the protesters are certain to reject an extension of the previous roadmap. The only solution out of the coming political crisis, as Gaid Salah himself recognized, would be through dialogue between the regime and the protesters.

The cancellation of the elections not only makes negotiations more likely, but also removes arbitrary constraints from those negotiations. With the constitutional path void, the constitution can no longer be used as a “straitjacket”—to use the words of Georgia State University’s Rochdi Alloui—to limit the possible options. Now, the regime can no longer use the constitution to prevent the removal of the 2Bs—President Bensalah and Prime Minister Bedoui—and a national unity government can instead be formed.

The United States and the international community should encourage the regime to negotiate with the protest movement, and to meet their demands. These demands likely include a revision, if not rewriting, of the constitution and the creation of independent institutions to guarantee the credibility of presidential, parliamentary, and municipal elections.

For these negotiations to be accepted and respected, the protesters will need to organize and choose leaders they find credible to negotiate on their behalf. But as important for the transition are the representatives the regime chooses. While the military cannot be ignored, it is important that it not chair or preside over the negotiations, which would legitimize the military as a political actor and as the referee of the upcoming transition.

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Sharan Grewal, Postdoctoral Fellow, Foreign Policy, Center for Middle East Policy, The Brookings Institution

Author:

Sharan Grewal, Postdoctoral Fellow – Foreign Policy, Center for Middle East Policy. sh_grewal

Islamic terrorism remains a global issue

Islamic terrorism remains a global issue

Muslims in the MENA region and around the world welcomed the end of Ramadan; a month long of fasting from dawn to dusk, to enjoy Eid al-Fitr; a three-day popular festival marking the end of the holiest month of the year, Islamic terrorism remains a global issue – with the horrific bombings in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, which claimed over 250 lives, just the latest example. In that case, Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility, but the extent of its direct involvement remains unclear.

How Muslim leaders can respond in an age of extremism

bY Hamid Foroughi, University of Portsmouth and Harry Hutson, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Newspaper headlines the day after the 2017 terrorist attack in Westminster, London in which Khalid Masood killed at least three people. Shutterstock

What we know for certain is that murdering innocent people in their homes or places of worship, or as they go about their daily business, yields outrage, fear and grief. It turns people against one another, and invites retribution. Terror is a vicious cycle, always a catastrophe for its victims, inevitably a calamity for its perpetrators, and unavoidably a cost for humanity.

But can community leaders help mitigate this? In ongoing research, partly funded by the University of Portsmouth, we asked more specifically how Muslim leaders should respond in communities simultaneously blamed for and victimised by terrorism.


Read more: Who are Sri Lanka’s Muslims?


Many Muslims leaders condemn such attacks outright. And in May 2017, 70 Muslim clerics from three Muslim countries – Pakistan, Afghanistan and Indonesia – issued a Fatwa against violence and terrorism in all its forms. The Fatwa said:

We reaffirm that violence and terrorism cannot and should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilisation or ethnic group, as violent extremism and terrorism in all its forms and manifestations including violence against civilians and suicide attacks are against the holy principles of Islam.

Despite these and other public pronouncements, however, Muslim leaders are often held accountable. They are expected to rein in terrorists acting according to radical interpretations of Islam, or, even worse, stand accused of being terrorist sympathisers themselves.

An ‘other’

Earlier research suggests that a key problem is that Islam is commonly treated as an “other”, something in opposition to the “Western world”. The upshot is that Muslim leaders in the West face prejudice when they attempt to speak for themselves and their communities, particularly if their message doesn’t chime precisely with the majority view.

Over a century ago, W. E. B. Du Bois called out the “othering” of black Americans in the early 20th century. In his seminal text, The Souls of Black Folk, he argued that the problem is not only how the dominant group categorises minority groups in stereotypical ways, but also how these communities come to see themselves from the dominant group’s perspective.

Indeed, when Muslim leaders respond to terrorist attacks, they are faced with a double bind. In the eyes of wider society, either their community is to be pitied as collateral victims of violence enacted by a few radical ideologues in their midst, or they deserve to be shamed as complicit by virtue of several shared beliefs.

A condemnation of the attacks by Muslim leaders, alone, does not redeem Muslims, as it still portrays them as an “other”, collectively responsible for, and somewhat complicit in, the actions of a few. Similarly, appealing to victimhood merely reinforces prejudices of weakness, depicting Muslims as unable to resolve their own matters, and therefore in need of “rescue”.

But such marginalisation of a group could itself sow the seeds of further violence. The leader of the biggest Muslim party in Sri Lanka, Rauff Hakeem, warned that feelings of marginalisation among Muslims may be exacerbated if crackdowns are overzealous. If Muslims, a minority community in Sri Lanka, are more widely seen as “others”, it is less likely that distinctions will be made between terrorists, criminals – and ordinary followers of the religion. Tensions will likely rise. As Hakeem said:

That’s a worrying factor for all of us. The vulnerability can result in serious feelings of insecurity. We should not build up fertile ground for radicalisation further.

Alternative narratives

Our investigation into how Muslim leaders responded in the aftermath of the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, which killed three and injured hundreds, shows that leaders of minority communities can create alternative narratives that can help reshape the dominant perspective.

Instead of just condemning terrorism or highlighting their victimhood, they can emphasise the recovery, healing and development of both Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Following the Boston Marathon bombings, for example, Muslim leaders doubled their efforts in community development and outreach to other groups. And when responding in the media, they discussed what they had been doing to contribute to broader society.

Muslim leaders in Boston refused to merely condemn the attacks but went further by mourning the victims alongside other individuals and communities who had been affected by the attack. They also organised counselling and support sessions for the victims of the attacks. Going beyond the immediate aftermath of the atrocity, they now participate in campaigns to control illegal guns, broaden healthcare access and tackle the problem of homelessness in Boston.

This endeavour has been picked up by the local press which since then has provided a different kind of coverage of the Muslim community in Boston, recognising its efforts to combat different social problems.

By following this example, Muslim leaders can help to make Muslim identity, not “other”, but part of the mainstream. And this would allow whole societies to respond collectively to terror, and resist the temptation to find scapegoats in their midst.

Hamid Foroughi, Senior Lecturer in organization studies, University of Portsmouth and Harry Hutson, Professor, Kenan-Flagler Business School, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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