What is the link if any between the countries of the MENA region?

What is the link if any between the countries of the MENA region?

From Morocco to Oman, apart from the obvious official language and religion, there is history.  In effect, it is the movement of people from the outer edges of the MENA that was always throughout millennia a common carrier upon which carriages would transport migrants away from danger and bad life.  So, what is the link if any between the countries of the MENA region?

Recent examples of mass movements of Syrians into Jordan, Turkey, and the European Union would be the most edifying sample.  More recently, Yemen despite its status as a poorer country compared to other Gulf ones went nevertheless through conflict with its neighbours and its populations had to flee away to its immediate adjacent countries.  Before that, there was the Libyan case where a large desert country with a small population did produce as it were some migrants mostly to Europe for the well offs and the neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt for the masses.

After more than half a century of migratory movements between the two shores of the Mediterranean, the North African migration system was definitively “formatted” as it still stands today: organically linked to France first, and then to Western Europe.

The Levant conflict and civil wars, and finally the crises and successive wars here and there since the 80s, have consequently forced the exodus of millions.  North African countries have in turn been affected, directly or indirectly, by these Middle Eastern crises.

But geopolitical issues are also not the only differentiator of these countries and apart from armed conflicts and/or civil unrest, oil and conflict are felt like the main drivers of migration to and from or within the MENA.

Climate change and its subsequent life deregulations are affecting its inhabitants.  Would this, despite all the goodwill of all the COPs and SDGs, affect the numbers and the flows?

Would all countries be subject to this culturally well-established custom since the Exodus from Egypt, to run away to search for better climes?

The above-featured image is of Wilson Center.

Lebanese voters are signalling a desire for change

Lebanese voters are signalling a desire for change

Lebanese voters are signalling a desire for change as generally witnessed and felt by all after the country’s latest parliamentary elections. 

Lebanese election sees significant gains for independent non-sectarian politicians

By John Nagle, Queen’s University Belfast and Tamirace Fakhoury, Aalborg University

Lebanese voters are signalling a desire for change, with Hezbollah and its allies losing ground across the country in a parliamentary election.

Just as the recent election in Northern Ireland brought a boost for the non-sectarian Alliance Party, Lebanon’s election saw significant gains for political representatives untethered to sectarian politics. Like Northern Ireland, Lebanon’s political system is set up to share power. Its new parliament will have various sectarian blocs, revolving around Hezbollah and rival party Lebanese Forces, and a sizeable non-sectarian group campaigning on economic issues, social justice and accountability.

Hezbollah, a pro-Iranian Shia-based party, emerged in 1982 largely in response to Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. It gained prominence after the end of Lebanon’s civil war (1975-1990) and its share of parliament seats started rising in the 2000 elections. After the departure of Syrian troops from Lebanon in 2005, its alliance with key political players such as the other Shia-based political party, Amal, and the Christian-based Free Patriotic Movement allowed it to gradually block major policy processes deemed detrimental to its interests such as negotiations on its demilitarisation.

The Hezbollah bloc has lost ground to rivals across the spectrum. Results indicate that the pro-Thawra opposition candidates have made significant gains, capturing up to 13 seats. The Thawra name harks back to October 2019, as the state’s economy went into freefall, when an uprising of ordinary citizens, often called the Thawra, campaigned for all sectarian leaders to resign and for rights for foreign domestic workers, women and LGBTQ+ people.

In this election, the Lebanese Forces party has used widespread anger against Hezbollah and its allies to increase its number of parliamentarians. Lebanese Forces has positioned itself as the main faction willing to contest Hezbollah in the power-sharing government.

Opposition gains have been secured even in areas traditionally seen as Hezbollah strongholds. In 2018, Hezbollah and its allies won 71 seats, making it the biggest faction in the parliament. Hezbollah emerged from Sunday’s election weakened as many voters blame the party for hindering an independent investigation into the Beirut port explosion which killed more than 200 people.

This national election took place as Lebanon struggled with a series of crises beginning in 2019, including an economic meltdown that left more than 75% of the population below the poverty line, in what the World Bank ranks as among the three most severe economic collapses anywhere since the 19th century. The country is also dealing with the aftermath of the port disaster. More recently Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has pushed millions close to starvation because of Lebanon’s heavy dependence on Ukrainian wheat.

Relatives of victims of the August 2020 Beirut port blast carry their pictures during a protest near the port. Reuters/Alamy

Lebanon’s political power-sharing system is deliberately designed to protect the entrenched interests of the state’s powerful sectarian leaders. All seats in the 128-member parliament are reserved on a sectarian basis and the powerful factions have often functioned on behalf of other powers, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia.

For its supporters, the power-sharing system gives guarantees of political representation to the main groups and ensures that no faction can control the government.

Critics point to a number of drawbacks with the system. Some Lebanese people are reliant on their sect leaders to distribute basic services, such as healthcare. Lebanon is further crippled by paralysis and dysfunction, with the government rarely passing any new laws.

Yet, despite many barriers to change, we may be beginning to see cracks in the system to allow anti-sectarian and independent opposition candidates to emerge as a serious force in Lebanon.

In recent years, hundreds of thousands of Lebanese have voiced dissent by taking to the streets to demand an end to the state’s corrupt leaders, branded by protesters as “thieves”.

While the protests eventually ran out of steam, it built a platform for a political movement that has now gained independent parliamentary seats.

While it is tempting to suggest that Lebanon’s election has ushered in significant change, caveats are required. Voter turnout was 41%, lower than in 2018. This may point more to apathy and disillusionment than hope.

Obsolete electoral laws have not kept pace with people’s lives, and may have been a factor in the low turnout. In Lebanon, people must vote in the constituencies where they were born. With fuel prices rising and a crumbling transportation system, many could not travel to their birthplace hours away.

This result could lead to political stalemate and confrontational power-sharing. The parliament could turn into a polarised arena where parties with opposing agendas are supposed to share power. The main factions are likely to disagree on the new speaker of parliament and on the allocation of executive ministerial positions, making it difficult for the council of ministers to address the disastrous economic situation.

Factions are also likely to disagree on the new presidential candidate set to replace current president Michel Aoun five months from now at the end of his term.

Yet there is still room for optimism. The success of these independent candidates demonstrates that anti-sectarian politics can succeed in an environment designed to prohibit it flourishing. Unlikely breakthroughs in sectarian strongholds represent notable and exceptional gains.

Independent candidates have not had the array of tools at the disposal of the major sectarian parties. They do not have the economic clout to court votes or have links to powerful media networks to echo their message. They also can’t ask for support from powerful states, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. Their candidates are more likely to be harangued and attacked by sectarian factions.

Nevertheless, their victory in Lebanon’s elections has powerful implications. It is one of the key achievements of the 2019 Thawra movement, a landmark episode that many had dismissed for not having achieved very much.The Conversation

John Nagle, Professor in Sociology, Queen’s University Belfast and Tamirace Fakhoury, Associate Professor of Political Science, Aalborg University

Read the original article.
The Conversation

On my radar: Marwa al-Sabouni’s cultural highlights

On my radar: Marwa al-Sabouni’s cultural highlights

On Killian Fox‘s radar: Marwa al-Sabouni’s cultural highlights are brought to light this way in The Guardian of 14 May 2022.

 

On my radar: Marwa al-Sabouni’s cultural highlights

 

The above-featured image is that of Damascus by France 24.

The Syrian architect and writer on the idea of home in Branagh’s Belfast, smart Arab horses in Homs and the joy of lentils in Damascus

On my radar: Marwa al-Sabouni’s cultural highlights

Marwa al-Sabouni

Marwa al-Sabouni is a Syrian architect and writer. Born in Homs in 1981, she was living in the city when the civil war broke out in 2011 and remained there with her young family throughout the worst bombardments. In her memoir The Battle for Home, published in 2016, al-Sabouni wrote about the vital role that architecture plays in the functioning of society and how Syria’s future could be shaped by its built environment. In 2021, she published a second book, Building for Hope: Towards an Architecture of Belonging. Al-Sabouni is guest co-director of this year’s Brighton festival, which runs until 29 May.

1. Film

Belfast (Dir Kenneth Branagh, 2021)

On my radar: Marwa al-Sabouni’s cultural highlights

From left: Caitriona Balfe, Jude Hill, Lewis McAskie and Jamie Dornan in Belfast. Photograph: Rob Youngson/Focus Features

 

 

I watched this at home recently – there are no cinemas in Homs. It’s a film about war and love and friendship, about difficult decisions in a time of crisis. I liked the story and how real the actors made it, but also the way it handled the theme of home, which I very much related to – how the family was torn between staying and leaving. The whole dilemma of what to do, and how different people deal with similar questions and end up with different answers, was explored so well. It’s a great movie.

 

On my radar: Marwa al-Sabouni’s cultural highlights

2. Novel

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

This is a story set in a fictional version of England many centuries ago. It’s about grudges, and Ishiguro writes about this without naming the feeling, creating a fictional creature – the buried giant – for it as a reference. It’s also about a family’s journey to discover this feeling, and to find a way towards forgiveness. What I loved about this story is the indirect and imaginative way it has of dealing with hidden feelings that we bury deep down in our psyche, and how to access them.

3. Sport

Homs Equestrian Club

On my radar: Marwa al-Sabouni’s cultural highlights

Marwa al-Sabouni’s horse Salah al-Din, a Syrian Arab.

I don’t go out much to busy places, and because of the war we don’t have many places to go. But I do go and ride every day at the equestrian club in Homs. My horse is called Salah al-Din. He’s a very strong horse from a special breed – Syrian Arab horses are among the best in the world for strength, endurance and performance. They are really smart animals and very independent and spirited, which is a humbling experience on a daily basis. The social aspect of the club is disastrous; it’s all about the horses.

4. TV

The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey (Apple TV+)

On my radar: Marwa al-Sabouni’s cultural highlights

Dominique Fishback and Samuel L Jackson in The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey. Photograph: TCD/DB/Alamy

Samuel L Jackson gives a phenomenal performance in this TV series. He plays an old man suffering from dementia who takes an experimental medicine that gains him a few days of lucidity. He uses those precious moments to access his memories and explain to himself the nightmares he had, which are related to racism. The show deals with different questions with great sensitivity, and in the end it’s about true friendship and genuine feelings. For me, it’s the story of the human mind and how precious this gift is.

5. Music

Georges Wassouf

Watch a video for Georges Wassouf’s Ya Al Zaman.

Georges Wassouf is from a rural area near Homs, but his career took off from Beirut. I just love his music – he has a poignant way of speaking about love and a fantastic way of bending the lyrics to express the music. It’s also lovely how his artistic character is so closely related to his real-life character. He’s a very accessible figure who lives among his people, and he didn’t change his lifestyle in a way that would separate him from his own small village. Ahla Ayam El Omr, which translates as Life’s Most Beautiful Days, is one of my favourite of his songs.

6. Restaurant

Naranj, Damascus

On my radar: Marwa al-Sabouni’s cultural highlights

Naranj restaurant in Damascus. Photograph: Peter Horree/Alamy

Homs restaurants are rubbish, but there are plenty of good ones in Damascus. The one that I really like is Naranj, in the old part of the city where the Muslim and the Christian quarters merge. The food is great and the menu is very much based on what’s in season. The breads come right out of the oven, hot and delicious, and I would recommend the lentil dish harrak isbao, which means “the one that burns your fingers” because it’s so delicious that you will dive straight in.

The Guardian

 

Why is turning to Saudi Arabia for oil so controversial?

Why is turning to Saudi Arabia for oil so controversial?

The reasons are many but the British Prime Minister who according to the latest BBC piece of international broadcast, decided to visit some of the Gulf leaders to mainly talk about ending reliance on Russian oil and gas, will discuss energy security and other issues in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates today. But because critics have expressed concerns about the human rights records of these two countries, he pledged to also raise certain human rights issues although fostering some understanding between the Saudis and the West has always been left to the next day.

Let us here have a look at the supply of oil and gas issue that seems at this stage in contradiction with the latest world trend of distancing all advanced economies from fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, the EU leaders appear to be subtly trying to gain and eventually incorporate the aggressed nation within their ranks; it will certainly increase their “Food Power” vis a vis the rest of the world.


Why is turning to Saudi Arabia for oil so controversial?


UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has defended a trip to Saudi Arabia, saying “the widest coalition” is needed to end reliance on Russian oil and gas.

But maintaining close ties with the Gulf kingdom is controversial among critics of its human rights record.

Why is Saudi Arabia so important for oil?

The US, UK and EU have announced that they will buy less Russian oil and gas, because of its invasion of Ukraine. However, prices have rocketed.

Saudi Arabia is the largest producer in the oil cartel Opec and has the spare capacity to help lower prices by increasing supplies.

Opec oil production

It means Western countries need its goodwill and to keep on friendly terms with its ruling family.

Read more on the BBC‘s article.

The above-featured image is for illustration and is of the BBC.

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Bahrain wins five excellence awards

Bahrain wins five excellence awards

In today’s world that sadly continues on through not exactly a thin patch of worldwide traumas, the Arab League’s Arab Administrative Development Organisation as reported by Gulf Daily News of March 14, 2022, has awarded its Arab Government Excellence to Bahrain. It was 5 government institutions that were rewarded for their unified work as per the vision of the country’s monarch.

Bahrain wins five excellence awards

Bahrain wins five excellence awards
General view of Bahrain World Trade Centre in Manama, Bahrain, June 20, 2019. Picture taken June 20, 2019. REUTERS/ Hamad I Mohammed
REUTERS

Five Bahraini ministries and government institutions have won awards at a ceremony to honour excellence in governance in the Arab world.

Bahrain wins five excellence awards

The announcement was made yesterday at a virtual celebration held under the patronage of UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Dubai Ruler Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum in Dubai.

The Arab Government Excellence Award is organised by the Arab League’s Arab Administrative Development Organisation (ARADO), in co-operation with the UAE government.

The Health Ministry won the award for Best Arab Government Project for Developing the Health Sector, the Labour and Social Development Ministry (Best Arab Government Project for Community Development for its “Khatwa” programme for home projects) and the Interior Ministry’s Customs Directorate (Best Arab Government Development Initiative award for its Governance of Economic and Customs Information to Facilitate Trade).

The Information and eGovernment Authority picked up the Best Arab Government Smart App award in recognition of its Tawasul App for the National Suggestion and Complaint system. The Youth and Sports Affairs Ministry was selected for its Elite Project which was chosen as the best Arab government project for empowering the youth.

This achievement comes within the framework of the efforts made by the Bahraini government, led by His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Crown Prince, Deputy Supreme Commander and Prime Minister, to benefit from the best practices in upgrading the government’s performance to achieve the kingdom’s Economic Vision 2030.

The award aims to promote the culture of institutional excellence among government work teams in Arab countries.

It also seeks to provide positive leadership thinking to adopt the approach of excellence and innovation in a way that enhances the ability of the governments to deal with the tasks assigned to them through continuous development of the work system and its methods.

The top featured image is for illustration and is of The Daily Tribune

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