Despite the high oil revenues reaped from hydrocarbon resources and their spillover effects on all oil and non-oil producing countries, most MENA region economies suffer from structural problems and fragile political systems, preventing them from adopting effective politico-economic transformations.
The capital was available, but investments were typically misdirected to form in all cases ‘rentier’ economies, with Arab countries economies remaining very undiversiﬁed. They primarily rely on oil and low value-added commodity products such as cement, alumina, fertilisers, and phosphates.
Demographic transitions present a significant challenge: the population increased from 100 million in 1960 to about 400 million in 2011. Sixty per cent are under 25 years old.
Urbanisation had increased from 38 per cent in 1970 to 65 per cent in 2010.
Rural development being not a priority; the increasing rural migration into the cities searching for jobs will put even more strain on all existing undeveloped infrastructures.
Current economic development patterns will increasingly strain the ability of Arab governments to provide decent-paying jobs. For instance, youth unemployment in the region is currently double the world average.
The demand for food, water, housing, education, transportation, electricity, and other municipal services will rise with higher learning institutions proliferating; the quality of education below average does not lead to employment.
Power demand in Saudi Arabia, for example, is rising at a fast rate of over 7 per cent per year.
Amman, Cairo, and other Arab cities gradually lose their agriculture space because of the suburbs’ expansion. Gated communities and high-rise ofﬁce buildings are sprawling while ignoring low-income housing.
In the meantime, the real world feels the planet is in danger of an environmental collapse; economists increasingly advise putting the planet on its balance sheets. For over a Century of Burning Fossil Fuels, to propel our cars, power our businesses, and keep the lights on in our homes, we never envisioned that we will paying this price.
In effect, a recent economic report on biodiversity indicates that economic practice will have to change because the world is finite.
For decades many have been aware of this reality. However, it is a giant leap forward for current economic thinking to acknowledge that Climate change is a symptom of a larger issue. The threat to life support systems from the plunder and demise of the natural environment is a reality.
Society, some governments, and industry are recognising that climate change can be controlled by replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy, electric cars and reducing emissions from every means of production.
Talking about replacing fossil fuels would mean a potential reduction of the abovementioned revenues.
However, would the spreading of solar farms all over the Sahara desert constitute compensation for the losses?
ISLAMABAD: Leaders and political workers must break through political, ethnic and regional divisions and unite to raise their voices against exploitation of natural resources in mountainous areas of the country along with social and livelihood challenges faced by people.
This was expressed by participants of a webinar who also urged the federal and provincial governments to use collective wisdom and develop a mechanism for social development.
The webinar, ‘Working Together to Empower Mountain Communities’ was organised by Development Communications Network (Devcom-Pakistan).
Being far away from the centres of decision-making, mountain communities, in totality, suffer from inadequate decision-making, they pointed out, adding that voices and concerns of people from the community along with other stakeholders must be taken into account while the government prepared plans for conservation and development.
Ill-planned infrastructure development and environmentally-unfriendly interventions in the name of tourism promotion and livelihood are proving to be natural hazards.
Climatic conditions are worsening and communities are on the verge of socio-economic collapse.
Conservation adviser from Ev-K2-CNR, an Italian research organisation, Ashiq Ahmad Khan highlighted that unfortunately there was no culture of working together, even though it was necessary for sustainable development.
“Sometimes people have lesser abilities but they do not invite better skilled persons to work on community-based initiatives. They feel reluctant in empowering communities as perhaps they believe that after empowering communities, they would become irrelevant,” he said, adding that the federal and provincial government should develop an inclusive platform with support from the private sector to continue development initiatives.
Well-known mountaineer Nazir Sabir said mountainous areas lack basic amenities and social infrastructure which is the prerequisite for empowerment of communities.
“We need to provide them facilities at their doorsteps. Women in the region are disadvantaged in many ways. They lack health, education and equal rights.
“In addition to the challenges of living in the mountains like harsh climate and inadequate infrastructure, they experience unequal treatment based on traditional gender relationships that deprives them from equal access to health, education, property and well-being. Focusing on women empowerment will ultimately improve social and living conditions in the mountainous parts of the country,” he said.
Devcom-Pakistan Executive Director Munir Ahmed said: “We need to look into the factors that explain why several non-governmental organisations and donor-driven government projects could not generate desired results of community empowerment.
“The vulnerability of communities is increasing due to climate impact, indiscriminate deforestation, over exploitation of natural resources and shrinking livelihood options. Life is also under stress because of rapid social changes, local political conflicts and natural disasters.”
Michael Young in an interview, with David Linfield who argues that international donors are benefiting existing power structures in the Middle East. It is all about Colluding With the Corrupters.
Corruption spread deep and for some time in the MENA region with social, political, and economic implications, but with differing penetrations rates. All because the area can divide into two types of governance. The autocratic monarchies live with side by side with the so-called republics. Few of these latter countries know a higher degree of corruption than the first-mentioned countries. In any case, all have made the fight against corruption a priority by passing laws and adopting strategies to combat crime. But in vain. Colluding with the Corrupters could quickly summarise a situation where such deviant behavioural attitudes originators can be traced back out of the region.
January 29, 2021
David Linfield is a visiting scholar in Carnegie’s Middle East Program. He is on sabbatical from the U.S. Department of State, where he is a career foreign service officer. Linfield recently wrote a commentary for Carnegie, titled “International Donors Are Complicit in Middle Eastern Elites’ Game.” In mid-January, Diwan interviewed him to discuss his article, and more generally to examine the anti-elite feeling that has permeated protests throughout the Middle East in the past year, notably in Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon. The views expressed by Linfield are his own and not necessarily those of the U.S. government.
Michael Young (MY): You’ve just written a commentary for Carnegie, titled “International Donors Are Complicit in Middle Eastern Elites’ Game.” What is your argument in the piece?
David Linfield (DL): My argument is that the United States and other international donors have put significant clout and resources behind promoting economic liberalization in the Middle East, while they have been hesitant to put similar emphasis on political reforms. By political reforms I mean boosting transparency, combating corruption, and empowering elected officials. International actors have partly justified this approach by suggesting that economic reforms are a better way of promoting stability and less risky than political changes. But I contend that recent events in the region suggest that these policies are making violent, sudden change in the region more likely, not less so.
When adopted in the context of authoritarian political systems, economic reforms such as privatization have tended to benefit existing power structures, exacerbating economic inequality and citizen-state tensions. The World Inequality Database now ranks the Middle East as the most unequal region in the world. While economic inequality has decreased worldwide since the 1990s, it has remained constant in the Middle East.
By supporting policies that have inadvertently led to such entrenched inequality, while neglecting political reforms, international donors have contributed to citizens’ frustrations with their relative economic status while leaving them without peaceful institutional means of expressing their grievances. This is all a recipe for instability, which is the opposite of what donors want.
MY: You write that “[e]merging solidarity among previously competing groups, grounded in [economic inequality]” is a feature of the growing resentment of elites in the Middle East. Are you suggesting, to borrow from Marxist jargon, that we are seeing the emergence of a sort of class consciousness in certain countries that may have revolutionary potential?
DL: Most of the protests in the Middle East since 2018 have focused on economic inequality and corruption. Whereas previous demonstrations in the region tended to consist of a homogeneous ethnic group—whether from a particular religious sect, region, or group of tribes—these recent protests have been more diverse.
Common frustrations with inequality appear to have led people from lower-income communities to demonstrate in common cause—albeit sporadically and tentatively—against what they see as a corrupt and multisectarian elite that has failed them. We have seen this happen most explicitly in Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon.
Some of the slogans used in recent protests in these countries do indicate the emergence of class consciousness. When the Jordanian Teachers Union threatened to strike in summer 2020, they framed their plight as a class struggle against those who had “looted the country.” The 2019 Lebanese protests included slogans like “down with the rule of the thieves.” Iraqi protestors in 2019 and 2020 told media outlets that their struggle was about taking the country back from “thieves.”
MY: In light of your assessment, how have the traditional fault lines among Middle Eastern populations that regimes have manipulated to retain power—things such as sectarian, tribal, or regional divisions—fared in what you describe as a changing environment?
DL: The traditional fault lines in Middle Eastern societies are still very much present. Emerging class-based tensions have not fully supplanted preexisting divisions based on ethnicity, religion, and tribalism, but rather now coexist alongside them more than before. That said, the trendlines I described earlier suggest that class-based divisions will continue to grow in relative importance and have the potential to reshape existing political alliances and divisions.
In addition to the demonstrations I mentioned earlier, another indicator of the power of class solidarity is a 2019 experiment by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies. The study, which assigned hundreds of Lebanese people into different conversation groups having varying compositions based on sect and class, found that when Lebanese people gathered with other members of the same class, they exhibited markedly less support for sectarian politics.
It’s too early to craft a comprehensive assessment of how emerging class-based tensions will interact with longer-standing societal divisions in the Middle East. One reason that we’ll have to observe for a longer period is that Covid-19 shifted the focus dramatically from political and economic challenges to the health crisis. But given that the pandemic exacerbated economic inequality, with lower-income communities bearing the brunt of related economic disruptions, we probably won’t have to wait long before class discussions reemerge.
MY: If the problem is that economic liberalization has reinforced elites, what are you recommending as an alternative approach by Western donors? And what makes you think that such an approach would have any chance of working?
DL: The alternative approach I’m recommending is for international donors to incorporate measures to promote transparency and combat corruption into existing economic liberalization efforts. These political reforms are also good for business and economic growth—as noted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank reports I cite in my article. The IMF’s recent insistence that Lebanon address corruption before receiving additional loans is a positive step to putting teeth behind their analysis.
Other helpful steps would include pushing to empower the many weak legislatures across the region beyond their current rubber-stamp roles, which would provide an alternative to protests for frustrated publics. If international donors put the same clout behind good governance that they have behind economic liberalization, they’ll make peaceful and durable progress more likely in the Middle East.
MY: Are you not reading too much into anti-elite solidarity? Ultimately, states in the region have shown that they will resort to violence in order to survive and societies have often gone back to being silent. Why will this change?
DL: Ruling elites in the region have demonstrated that they are willing to go to extreme measures to maintain their benefits. I am not suggesting that elites will somehow decide that they should altruistically begin to share resources with the rest of society. Rather, as your question implies, I am arguing that the elite behavior of concentrating power and resources is an unsustainable strategy that will ultimately foment violence and harm everyone’s interests, including those of the elite.
Autocratic regimes tend to resort to violence when they feel they have run out of other options, but rely more often on nonviolent coercion and intimidation to maintain daily control. By the time regimes turn to violence, it tends to be a prelude to their loss of control—or a stage where they are nearing that.
The strategy of international donors focusing their influence and resources on economic liberalization instead of good governance has not succeeded in bolstering stability and strengthening citizen-state relations. Instead, the policy has exacerbated class-based tensions and increased the prospects of unrest.
These trends are not linear: demonstrations in the region against economic inequality and corruption have ebbed and flowed. Ruling elites remain intent on doing everything they can to outmaneuver these latest challenges to their vested interests. Longer-standing societal tensions based on sect, region, and tribe also continue to simmer and remain exploitable by elites. But the overall direction of the region is still toward economic liberalization in the midst of authoritarian entrenchment. As long as that remains the case anti-elite solidarity is likely to build. International donors are inadvertently contributing to these increasing citizen-state tensions. Instead, they could be fostering more durable change that would make the region more stable and prosperous for everyone.
An Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) article advises the world about Protecting migrant workers in the Gulf: don’t build back better over a poor foundation
By Vani Saraswathi, Editor-at-Large and Director of Projects, Migrant-Rights.Org
The Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) states need to completely revamp past policies, and not merely attempt to bridge gaps or provide a salve to deep wounds.
As of February 2020, millions of migrants –– primarily from South and Southeast Asia and increasingly from East African countries –– were holding up Gulf economies, working in sectors and for wages unappealing to the more affluent citizens. In countries with per capita GDP of US$62,000 or more, minimum wages ranged as low as US$200 per month.
Men were packed into portacabins and decrepit buildings, six to a room if lucky, hidden behind screens of dust and grime, away from the smart buildings they built and shiny glasses they cleaned. The women were trapped 24/7 in homes that are their workplaces, every movement monitored. It is accepted and normalised without question that these men and women will leave behind their families in the hopes of building a better future for themselves. That they may live all their productive life in a strange country, excluded from social security benefits and denied all rights of belonging, is seen as a small price to pay for the supposed fiscal benefits. The fact that the price is too steep is rarely discussed.
“Why did able-bodied, productive individuals struggle for food and shelter in some of the richest countries in the world?” #DevMattersTweet
Then came March, and a worldwide upheaval as the COVID-19 pandemic struck nations indiscriminately. The official response across the board ranged from well-meaning but knee-jerk, to discriminatory and short-sighted. Some of the strictest lockdowns were implemented in the most congested areas of Gulf cities, where migrants live. However, their labour was considered essential, as the process of nation-building could not be paused. Attempts to decongest were hopeful at best, but the majority continued to live in cramped quarters, were bussed into construction sites, and remained vulnerable to this new infection, as they had been to other infections and health perils.
The women, hundreds of thousands employed as domestic workers, have been invisible at the best of times because their ability to leave home and enjoy an off day or free time has always been at the discretion of their employers. The pandemic guidelines prevented even this thin leeway, with some countries explicitly prohibiting domestic workers from socialising, even when their employers were allowed to. Domestic workers, like a lot of other poorly-paid and badly-treated workers, were considered essential workers. With entire families working and studying from home, their workload increased exponentially. They were also exposed to strong chemical cleaning agents without proper protective gear. While their services were essential, even critical, the individual was considered dispensable and replaceable.
Force majeure rules allowed companies to reduce pay, terminate workers, or put them on leave without pay. Measures were introduced to ensure business continuity even if these measures infringed on workers’ rights. The lack of civil society and trade unions and inability to negotiate collectively –– all disempowering conditions that preceded the pandemic –– meant workers’ voices and representation were limited and muted. No mechanisms were established to challenge the unfair implementation of the measures. Access to justice was riddled with even more problems than before, as wage theft and other labour abuses from the pre-COVID era were yet to be resolved. This post is not even attempting to explore the vulnerabilities and exclusion of undocumented workers –– many of whom are forced into irregularity by the sponsorship or Kafala system.
“When a population has been dehumanised and othered for so long –– as being temporary, their labour merely transactional –– a pandemic will not magically correct decades of poor policies.” #DevMattersTweet
In the plethora of webinars that consumed the early months of the pandemic, human rights advocates and activists repeatedly spoke of the lessons being learnt, the new normal that awaited us at the end of the dark tunnel, with ‘building back better’ punctuating every discourse. What they failed to recognise is that when a population has been dehumanised and othered for so long –– as being temporary, their labour merely transactional –– a pandemic will not magically correct decades of poor policies.
In fact, we saw the opposite, with migrant workers being blamed for spreading infections, because of their living conditions over which they had no control over. Ten months into the pandemic, it is almost back to business as usual, with malls, offices, schools and even tourism, opening up in stages. Vaccination drives have begun, with a promise to include migrants in all of the Gulf Co-operation Council countries. But the most marginalised are still housed in deplorable conditions, their temporariness being reinforced. And the first sector that re-opened for recruitment was domestic work bringing in more women from impoverished countries reeling from the impact of the pandemic.
If there is one takeaway for human rights advocates it is that a socio-economic environment devastated by the pandemic is not fertile ground for righteous policies. If anything, origin and destination countries may go lax on due diligence over corporations in the name of business continuity and impose tighter controls over migrants under the pretext of protection.
“The last year has seen an increase in wage theft, and there is an urgent need for transnational mechanisms to deal with this.”#DevMattersTweet
There are key questions we need to ask ourselves and the governments:
Why did able-bodied, productive individuals struggle for food and shelter in some of the richest countries in the world? What combination of policies and prejudices leads to this situation?
With so little public investment made in social welfare, the dependence on live-in domestic workers is only likely to increase. How do we ensure recognition of domestic work as work, and domestic workers as workers, formalising their status in the labour market?
How do we then break the monopoly of live-in domestic work that is inherently exploitative?
The ghettoisation of migrant labour is both the root cause and the result of discrimination. In many Gulf Co-operation Council states, migrants constitute the majority of the population and their needs are deliberately neglected in urban planning.
In the coming years, climate change, population imbalances and economic distress will increase migrants’ vulnerabilities, and solutions cannot be rooted in the current environment of inequity and discrimination.
China Daily Global in an article titled ‘If data are new gold, governance can safeguard society’, perhaps domestically, but says it all about what to expect in the future relationship of China with say countries of the MENA region.
If data are new gold, governance can safeguard society
By Liu Xiaochun | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-01-18
It was clearly pointed out in the meeting statement that the collection, usage and management of data shall be improved.
With robust growth of the “new infrastructure” sector, particularly the application of 5G and the internet of things, digital technology will find applications in all walks of society and will bring significant change to people’s way of living.
While appreciating the positive effect that digital society may bring, it is important to fully acknowledge and evaluate the risks that interconnectivity of data may bring and pay attention to data governance.
As digital technology is highly penetrative and spreads widely, the risk of digital technology can be widely disruptive and can go beyond personal privacy. It thus requires precautionary regulatory measures to manage or pre-empt such risks.
There are key issues and risks in data connectivity, and it is important to strike a proper balance between breaking the information silo and data security.
On the one hand, it is important to clarify which part of the society will guide the connectivity of data, be it the government, technology firms or other institutions. For example, the building of smart cities will require data collection from a great number of sectors and departments. It is crucial to make clear who will be responsible for collecting and managing them.
On the other hand, how data can be categorized and managed is another emerging issue. In governing smart cities, new data of all kinds emerge every second. The idea of smart city construction, building industrial internet and digital China cannot be realized without data from all departments and organizations going online.
Yet, with all these key data openly accessible online, inadequate or improper management of these data may pose a possible threat to public security, the police, or even to social and national security.
Both governance and the internet of things across all industries should take the management of public data into account. At the same time, the arithmetic model, a key technology in artificial intelligence, may amplify potential risks in information spreading with no targeted audiences.
There is also the risk of giant internet and technology companies adopting a winner-takes-all approach in data collection. Conventional monopoly usually means taking monopoly of one particular type of products or at most, a certain industry. The new winner-takes-all approach would mean exclusive owning of all data on one particular platform by a certain enterprise.
Online platforms in fields such as e-commerce, digital payments, and delivery services may even gain access to huge amount of social data in the name of innovation or breaking up information silo. Such data may be related to personal, business or even government information.
Should such platforms or online behemoths land in major trouble, or face some unforeseen risks, massive systemic disruptions could unsettle or destabilize society. And with the growth of 5G, the number of such businesses is expected to grow.
A number of steps will likely be taken to strengthen data governance. Control of data risks should be raised as part of State governance efforts. Any arbitrary collection of personal information and data should be prohibited.
The issue of data categorization needs to be resolved through legislative efforts in this field. A number of suggestions have been made in legislation regarding personal information protection, which is very necessary.
Categorization should be made for data under digital economy.
First, special attention should be given to managing data regarding public security, finance and people’s livelihood, and how they can be made accessible on internet platforms and how such data can be used.
Second, the responsibility of data management should be specified, and ownership and usage rights to data clarified.
Third, legal liability in data use and transaction must be made clear.
Fourth, as data management is a new and emerging sector yet closely related to national security, social stability and a steady running of economic activities, a special regulatory department or mechanism should be set up with powers of oversight.
At the same time, a category-specific, more proper oversight on artificial intelligence is also needed, particularly a more targeted regulatory model for algorithms developed by various businesses.
An overhaul of personal data already collected once all the aforementioned systems are in place would be in order.
Mechanism for the oversight and management of super-giant data platforms should be set up. On the one hand, objective views are needed about the monopolies taken by super-giant digital platforms.
These platforms also bear public service functions, differentiating them from industrial or commercial monopolies. Concentration of platforms may also help add on commercial competitiveness and social efficiency.
Take third-party payments as an example. To ensure unimpeded payments, various market participants tend to gather on one payment platform. If communications across different telecom companies cannot be realized, only one telecom platform will eventually survive.
Such logic also applies to third-party transactions, which explains why even though the regulators concerned issued a number of licenses, only a few survived. And there are reasons behind why only those few did manage to survive.
First, the survivors are those that are supported by the banks’ unified payment services. Second, the companies specialized in integrated payment services has become a solution for third-party payment platforms banning one another.
Super-giant platforms will likely continue to increase as digital society grows. Concentration of multiple services in a single platform may make business sense for market share-minded companies. But it is debatable if this is the right path to digital transformation of society.
So, proper regulatory measures and oversights are needed in helping such platforms to grow with society in a responsible manner. This is why, oversight mechanisms are needed, as platform enterprises can’t achieve this on their own through self-regulation.
Meanwhile, all data collected by platform businesses are related to society’s various publics and therefore should not be treated as commercial assets.
The article is a translation of a comment from the Bund Summit by Liu Xiaochun, the deputy dean of the Shanghai Finance Institute.
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