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If Qatar can silence critics with a strong tournament

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Hosting the World Cup is what many countries dream of, but hosting does not come without its drawbacks. It is a very costly event with no guarantees on economic return.

Any country that hosts the World Cup must meet strict infrastructure requirements, amongst many other standards required by all. These minimum requirements include criteria for all infrastructures, stadiums, hotels, transit, and communications and electrical grids. Despite all that is allowed by the accumulated petrodollars, fans could face accommodation shortages.  

For that, Qatar will make a newly built and yet to be completed City in the Desert available for the event. Meanwhile, here is another aspect of the fothcoming tournament.

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World Cup 2022: if Qatar can silence critics with a strong tournament, an Olympic bid could be next

By Leon Davis, Teesside University and Dan Plumley, Sheffield Hallam University

The above image is for illustration and is of beIN SPORTS.

A prize for the taking. Shutterstock/fifg

When FIFA picked Qatar as the first Middle Eastern country to host the men’s football World Cup in 2022, some considered it a bold gamble. Others thought it was a mistake – including former FIFA President Sepp Blatter.

Since then, controversy has never been far from a mega-event which is now less than a year away. Aside from allegations of bribery during the bidding process, there have been serious concerns raised about human rights, with particular focus on the migrant workers building the new stadia.

Whether these issues will ultimately dissuade supporters from travelling to Qatar in late 2022 remains to be seen. The organisers will certainly not want a repeat of what happened when Qatar hosted the IAAF World Athletics Championships of 2019, which took place in half empty stadia.

Football has more global appeal than athletics, of course, and so far both Qatar and FIFA remain bullish that millions of fans will travel to the Gulf from all over the world. The event is certainly “unique” in sport event terms and that may drive fan interest. No expense has been spared by Qatar to deliver this unique experience, that is for sure. They have certainly spent big in the lead up to the tournament.

Even as early as 2010, estimates of the total cost for Qatar were in the region of US$65 billion (£48 billion) – a different level to the then record-breaking US$14 billion which Russia spent hosting the tournament in 2018. More recent reports, however, cite costs closer to US$300 billion.

The reason for such staggering sums is not just grandeur. The actual stadium costs, at around US$10 billion, are low in relation to the overall estimated total. The bulk of the money has been spent on infrastructure and transport projects in the country. Some of these were planned anyway, with the forthcoming tournament merely accelerating developments.

Different goals

There is also a bigger picture at play here. In many ways, it has never been about the money for Qatar, one of the richest countries in the world.

The primary gains Qatar is seeking are non-commercial, with international relations at their heart, and and an opportunity to introduce itself to billions of people across the world. This has led to accusations of “sportswashing”. This can be defined as using sporting events as a way of seeking legitimacy or improving reputations and has been used in the context of Qatar 2022 given the controversies cited above.

Despite the negative press, Qatar will be encouraged by its latest foray into major international sporting events, including the inaugural Qatar Grand Prix in Formula One. The race was the first of a three-part Middle-East finale to the F1 season which also includes races in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi. This could help place Qatar on a comparable level to its Arab neighbours in another very marketable sport.

Education City Stadium in Doha, Qatar. EPA-EFE/ NOUSHAD THEKKAYIL

Events like these, alongside the 2022 men’s World Cup, are designed to provide a legacy both socially and culturally – a legacy which creates national identity and places Qatar as a legitimate actor on the world stage.

Yet although money may be no object to the hosts, one organisation hoping to make some is FIFA. Their entire business model is geared around a successful World Cup. Russia 2018 helped FIFA to generate record revenues of US$6.4 billion, much of which is spent on “education and development”, and it will be hoping for similar takings from Qatar 2022. In the same way, FIFA’s (widely condemned) proposals to hold the tournament every two years are largely driven by the desire for more income.

So while the goals for Qatar and FIFA are different, both parties need the rest of the world to play ball. It’s worth bearing in mind that to make this happen, the majority of men’s domestic professional football leagues have altered their schedules to allow the 2022 competition to be staged, for the first time ever, in the months of November and December.

If the timing works, and Qatar’s non-commercial plans are achieved, it will then surely aim to become a regular major player in the sports event hosting market – so expect to see a bid to host a future Olympic Games. Money again here will be no object. Qatar will no doubt put on a show for the World Cup. A show that it hopes the rest of the world will be watching.

Leon Davis, Senior Lecturer in Events Management, Teesside University and Dan Plumley, Senior Lecturer in Sport Finance, Sheffield Hallam University

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

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Aligning climate and health goals

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Observer Research Foundation proposes for the nations present at the COP26 to prioritise Aligning climate and health goals. It is by Oommen C. Kurian and Bhavya Pandey.

The sustainable development, climate action and COVID-19 recovery strands of the common agenda need to be better aligned to target the most vulnerable

This piece is part of the essay series, Towards a Low-Carbon and Climate-Resilient World: Expectations from COP26


The COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted ongoing collective efforts on climate action. These efforts underscore the need for equal access to resources, judicious use and planning, strengthening critical infrastructure, and enabling vulnerable communities in the face of adversity. The multidimensional crises facing the international community, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, make it more urgent for countries to adopt forward-looking policies to act faster on sustainable transitions, adaptation and resilience, and provide impetus to recalibrating health systems for greater efficiency and quality. To this end, the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP 26) in Glasgow, provides an opportunity for nations to address post-pandemic recovery through the lens of sustainable development.

The Grave Impacts of Climate Change

Research has shown that Asia is the continent most affected by weather-related disasters—some 2,843 of such events were recorded between 1990 and 2016, affecting 4.8 billion people and taking 505,013 lives. Deaths from natural hazard-related disasters are largely concentrated in poor countries.[1] Higher temperatures brought about by climate change, pose profound threats to occupational health and labour productivity, particularly for people engaged in manual, outdoor labour in hot areas. Also, labour capacity decrease due to climate change is among the highest in the Southeast Asia region. Climate information services for health—i.e., targeted or tailored climate information, products, and services that will aid the health sector—were found to be the lowest in Southeast Asia.[2]

By 2030, irreversible negative impacts on health because of climate change could undo much of global poverty reduction strategies and push over 100 million people into extreme poverty. Climate change will worsen emerging health challenges like cardiovascular diseases and respiratory illnesses, which are linked to air pollution. A higher frequency of extreme weather events, rising sea levels, rising temperatures, and changing patterns of precipitation will also result in negative health outcomes.

Higher temperatures brought about by climate change, pose profound threats to occupational health and labour productivity, particularly for people engaged in manual, outdoor labour in hot areas.

It is expected that climate change will increase health risks associated with extreme weather events, which are becoming more frequent, intense, of longer duration, and have greater spatial extent. Increased UV radiation; increased air pollution; increased food-borne and water-borne contamination; the introduction, expansion or re-emergence of rodent and vector-borne infectious diseases; and the exacerbation of health challenges faced by vulnerable populations are some of the additional risks from climate changeAdditionally, extreme weather associated with climate change can damage hospital buildings, cause power and water outages, and disrupt the delivery of healthcare at the frontlines as roadblocks may limit access to supplies and essential services (such as energy and water supply), and obstruct patients’ access to health facilities.

According to WHO, between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea, and heat stress. The direct damage cost to health is estimated to be between US$2 billion and US$4 billion per year by 2030. Communities across the globe are confronting health risks from excessive heat, altering disease patterns, disaster events, and the potentially catastrophic impact of global warming on food and water security. The impact of climate change on human health, however, will not be uniformly spread due to the various degrees of exposure, sensitivity, and adaptation ability of different regions.

Extreme weather associated with climate change can damage hospital buildings, cause power and water outages, and disrupt the delivery of healthcare at the frontlines as roadblocks may limit access to supplies and essential services (such as energy and water supply), and obstruct patients’ access to health facilities.

Determinants of health are impacted by multiple social and environmental effects of climate change that are manifested as degradation in air quality, extreme fluctuations in temperatures, lack of adequate and safe drinking water, food insecurity and insufficiency, and the impedance of diseases. Natural disasters and variable rainfall patterns also affect essential services and medical facilities, and destroy property and food sources.

Extreme temperatures have been directly linked to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, particularly among the elderly, which are further exacerbated by the rising levels of ozone and other pollutants in the atmosphere. For instance, over 70,000 excess deaths were recorded in Europe during the 2003 summer heatwave; and the long-term exposure to fine particulate matter has been linked with an increased rate of chronic bronchitis, reduced lung function, and increased mortality from lung cancer and heart disease. Furthermore, the number of reported climate-linked natural disasters has more than tripled since the 1960s. With over half of the global population residing within 60 kilometers of the sea, natural disasters and warmer temperatures threaten the loss of lives and livelihoods and could lead to more frequent occurrences of communicable diseases (such as water-borne diseases like cholera and diarrhoeal diseases like giardiasis, salmonellosis, and cryptosporidiosis) and mental health disorders (such as post-traumatic stress disorder).

Enduring Inequities 

According to WHO, 87 percent of all COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in the world’s wealthiest countries, while low-income countries have received only 0.2 percent of vaccine supplies. Specifically, less than 1 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s population have been vaccinatedAccording to the People’s Vaccine Alliance, the wealthy nations are vaccinating one person every second, while the majority of the poorest nations are yet to administer a single dose.

Equity in COP26 deliberations is even more crucial now given that many components of the landmark Paris Agreement had a 2020 deadline. COP26 is an opportunity to discuss progress on curbing climate change, focus on ‘building back better’ amidst the pandemic, and ensure that the interconnected inequities that mar the two-pronged agenda of resilience and recovery, are also taken into account. However, marginalised communities and civil society organisations will likely have a greater burden of adhering to visa and travel requirements imposed during the pandemic since many countries from the Global South are on the UK’s travel red-list, and many may not be vaccinated in time to attend the in-person climate deliberations. Furthermore, the pandemic’s worldwide economic crisis has threatened access to climate financing that developing, vulnerable nations require.

Extreme weather events and health crises will be compounded by the cascading health, economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Beyond commitments to curb GHG emissions, advanced economies should also mobilise financial resources to assist vulnerable countries in meeting their climate objectives, especially during the pandemic. COP26 provides an opportunity to rebuild trust and coordination amongst nations and usher in the political attention and economic commitment required to pursue greater climate action.

Towards a Sustainable Future

The COP26 summit will take stock of nations’ promises to decrease emissions under the Paris Agreement. The pandemic has illustrated the importance of quick, targeted and concerted efforts in battling life-threatening crises. The lessons from this experience can be leveraged to fuel climate action, more so since both climate change and the aftermath of the global pandemic bear a common strand of interconnectedness owing to widening global inequalities and greater disparities. The imperative is for the adoption and implementation of a worldwide Green New Deal, along with other systemic alternatives in tandem with a new economic paradigm to rectify unsustainable development policies that threaten ecology, erode environmental protection laws, and undermine labour rights and social security systems. Solving the climate issue requires an overhaul of production, consumption and commerce systems, and human-nature ties.

Beyond commitments to curb GHG emissions, advanced economies should also mobilise financial resources to assist vulnerable countries in meeting their climate objectives, especially during the pandemic.

In parallel, the pandemic has also impacted the renewable energy market for vehicles using solar, battery or electric sources to fuel them. Large-scale investment to boost the development, deployment and integration of clean energy technologies, such as solar, wind, hydrogen, batteries and carbon capture, should be a central part of policy plans to address the pandemic since it will bring the twin benefits of stimulating economies and accelerating clean energy transitions. The deliberations at COP26 offer a great deal of scope to plan and commit to encouraging sustainable development transitions for participating nations.

The COVID-19 experience has perhaps permanently impacted the ‘global solidarity’ narrative. A cursory look at the global vaccine distribution will illustrate the inherent inequities in the system and how little is being done about it. The fallout of the COVID-19 crisis has also laid blows on the building blocks of human development, including income, health, and access to resources. The magnitude of the crisis response should inspire all to address existing and new inequities to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. The sustainable development, climate action and COVID-19 recovery strands of the common agenda need to be better aligned to target the most vulnerable and enable the transition towards a healthier, safer, and sustainable world.

Download the PDF of the report here.


Bhavya Pandey is a Research Intern at ORF’s Centre for New Economic Diplomacy and Oommen C Kurian is a Senior Fellow with the Health Initiative at ORF.


[1] Nick Watts et al., “The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: from 25 years of inaction to a global transformation for public health”, The Lancet (2017)

[2] Watts, “The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: from 25 years of inaction to a global transformation for public health”

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To give architecture political clout we must engage with ordinary people

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The Architects Journal with Leanne Tritton, author, elaborated this article on how to give architecture political clout, we must engage with ordinary people.

To give architecture political clout we must engage with ordinary people

The architecture and built environment sector has a poor track record in communicating with the general public, something those in power are all too aware of, writes new chair of The London Society Leanne Tritton

My business is communication. I love working alongside built environment professionals, and in my day job I am fortunate to see at first hand how architects and developers are working hard to positively design and build better places.

But, sadly, few members of the general public see our sector in the same light. It is not surprising, given that the media generally focuses on the negative and the sensational. That’s just a fact of life. But we haven’t gone out of our way to help ourselves and present the other side of the story or co-ordinate campaigns that inform opinion.

For obvious reasons, central and local government is preoccupied by the feelings of the nation. It seems the built environment’s only meaningful connection with the population of this country is via a series of consultations that accompany proposed development. As these make their way through the planning process, such efforts often descend into almost hand-to-hand combat.

Put simply, we’ve not had strong enough links with either the general public or government to promote effectively what we do.

It also does our industry no credit that we have such a poor track record when it comes to engaging with the country’s political leadership and working to influence policies that will not only benefit our sector, but the greater good.

Politicians know that we have limited ‘clout’ and so have been able to dictate the pace and degree of change that takes place, and do so on their terms.

This needs to be put right, although it’s not to say there aren’t those who seek to engage with ordinary people about the buildings all around them. I have long admired the work undertaken by Open City, which, as well as running a series of events highlighting the architectural wonders of the capital, also organises the annual Open House festival. This event, which lasts for just a few days every year, gives people unparalleled access to some of London’s finest buildings.

It is also hugely encouraging to see Simon Allford, co-founding partner of AHMM, elected as president of the RIBA. Allford will not only be able to offer the institute effective leadership, he is the type of person who can walk into a room full of government ministers and have an immediate and positive impact.

Then there is The London Society (TLS). Established in 1912 by a group of Londoners concerned about the lack of planning in the capital, its theme 110 years on will focus on the connections among communities and those organisations that sit beyond those of built environment professionals and which have the potential to make the city stronger.

Having recently joined TLS as chair, I believe the organisation has a unique opportunity to present the built environment’s case outside the industry bubble.

Members of TLS come from all walks of life, not just the professions. All share a passion for the city and want to engage with the debates about its future, while also recognising – and indeed cherishing – its past. It is an organisation for all those who love London, forging links with underrepresented communities across the capital and, usefully, having the ear of MPs, sponsoring as it does the All-Party Parliamentary Group on London Planning and Built Environment.

The time for engagement is upon us and we need to fund those organisations that give us critical mass and help the public understand that we are on their side.

Leanne Tritton is managing director of ING Media and chair of The London Society. As part of the AJ100 Festival, she will be speaking at the panel debate COP26 – How can we get better at influencing government? at 9.35am on Monday 20 September.

Calls on World Citizens to Help Shape a Prosperous Post-Covid Era

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‘Let’s Lessen The Gap’ Calls On World Citizens To Help Shape A Prosperous Post-Covid Era For Vulnerable Communities

The Big Heart Foundation (TBHF), a UAE-based global humanitarian charity dedicated to helping refugees and people in need worldwide, has made an impassioned call to citizens around the world to generously support its 2021 Zakat and general donations drive during Ramadan.

These fundraising activities under the“Let’s Lessen the Gap” campaign are part of a comprehensive long-term programme that TBHF has launched. In partnership with four leading UN agencies, namely, UNHCR, UNDP, WHO and UNICEF, the foundation is addressing humanitarian development challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic amongst vulnerable populations in the MENA region.  

Furthering TBHF’s ongoing response efforts to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 worldwide, the programme will set the blueprint for TBHF’s COVID-response strategies in the long term. Evidence and research-based findings from the programme will enable TBHF and partnering UN agencies to identify the most pressing needs of the region, and subsequently aid the designing of sustainable and long-term interventions. The programme will also encompass advocacy campaigns aimed at bridging the gaps in vital sectors of Protection, Livelihoods, Healthcare and Education, which have been heavily impacted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Announcing the launch of “Let’s Lessen the Gap”, TBHF revealed the programme would address both the critical health and non-healthcare needs of marginalized populations to allow for a return to normalcy in the MENA region. As COVID-19 continues to shape the lives of individuals and societies around the world, TBHF is appealing to people worldwide to act on their humanitarian instincts and support in lessening, and eventually closing the gap between vulnerable communities and their access to the tools and resources they need to become enablers for building a prosperous MENA region of tomorrow.

To know more about how you can get involved and make your contribution, visit www.lessenthegap.org. Contributions can also be made via SMS by sending the word ‘sadaqa’ to the Etisalat numbers: 7857 to donate AED 10; 7859 to donate AED 50, 7788 to donate AED 100, or 7708 to donate AED 500. For Du: 9965 to donate AED 10; 9967 to donate AED 50, 9968 to donate AED 100.

Zakat contributions can also be deposited directly into Zakat Fund account no: 0011-430430-020 at the Sharjah Islamic Bank (International Bank Account Number ‘IBAN’: AE040410000011430430020).

COVID-19 hastens diverse humanitarian challenges in MENA

The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified many decades-long developments and humanitarian challenges in the MENA region such as high youth unemployment, inequitable development pathways, resource scarcity, gender discrimination, restricted access to services, and the devastating effects of ongoing conflict in some countries.

According to reports by UNESCWA, unemployment surged in the region with rates reaching up to 26.6% for youth compared to 13.6% globally. An estimated 25 million Arab youth are not in formal education, employment or training.

Further, the COVID-19 pandemic has deepened the learning crisis, disrupting education at an unparalleled rate across the region. A 2020 UNICEF report states that approximately 40% of students, accounting for 37 million children and young people across the region, were not reached by digital and broadcast remote learning.

The pandemic has also posed severe challenges in fragile and conflict-affected nations in MENA, overwhelming weak and overcrowded existing healthcare systems. A UNICEF study titled ‘The Potential Impact of Health Care Disruption on Child Mortality in MENA Due to COVID-19’ draws up a scenario highlighting a particularly bleak reality for children aged 0 – 5. It predicts that a protracted reduction in the supply and demand of primary health care services for children could potentially increase their mortality by nearly 40 percent, compared with a baseline scenario without the COVID-19 virus.

Additionally, refugees and displaced populations in the MENA region and across the world have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Exclusion, discrimination, and inadequate access to health services have heightened protection risks and tested international standards of refugee protection.

UN partners in four sector-specific areas

The “Let’s Lessen the Gap” campaign and post-COVID programme will see TBHF collaborating with multiple UN agencies working on the ground in MENA to implement long-term strategies and initiatives in the fields of Protection, Livelihoods, Healthcare, and Education to assist those who are least likely to have access to these essential services.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is a global organization dedicated to saving lives, protecting rights and building a better future for refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people. UNHCR will partner with TBHF to empower, protect, and improve the lives of refugees and internally displaced people affected by COVID-19 in the MENA region.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which works in 170 countries and territories to bridge gaps in inequalities and exclusion, will join hands with TBHF to support youth livelihoods, develop capacity and skills, and accelerate structural transformations to advance the sustainable development agenda in the targeted nations. 

To build a better, healthier future in a post-COVID world, TBHF will partner with the World Health Organization (WHO) along with other global organizations coordinating vaccine efforts to roll out vaccination programmes that give highest priority to vulnerable populations.

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), which works in some of the world’s toughest places to build a better world for the most disadvantaged children, is TBHF’s partner in improving access to learning and education opportunities for children of marginalized communities across the region.

Fundraising for “Let’s Lessen the Gap” commences in April 2021

Appealing to the public, high net worth donors, and the private sector to honour the spirit of giving embodied in the obligation of Zakat, Mariam Al Hammadi, Director of The Big Heart Foundation, said: “At TBHF, we believe in our collective ability to support the most vulnerable communities in the region through these difficult times and beyond by steering efforts towards inclusive programmes that address the economic and social consequences of the crisis.”

Al Hammadi added that although 2020 was an extremely challenging year, it also demonstrated collective resilience as schools, offices, and essential services continued to operate without fail. “Unfortunately, this only represents the reality of the world some of us live in. In many communities and countries that The Big Heart Foundation supports, solutions are still being sought to aid the response and recovery process. It is this gap that we aim to address and bridge through your support this Ramadan, and in the coming months.”

Fundraising activities of the programme have commenced with TBHF’s Zakat 2021 campaign. To know more and make your contributions, visit lessenthegap.org.    

E-governance for sustainable development in MENA countries

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The Forum ERF elaborated on how E-governance for sustainable development in MENA countries by  Iyad Dhaoui are typically perceived as technical support activities and not as a core strategic component of public sector activities.

March 23, 2021

Efforts to create digital government in the Middle East and North Africa are typically perceived as technical support activities and not as a core strategic component of public sector activities. As this column explains, the alternative would be that e-governance is value-driven instead of technology-driven: it should become an enabler of sustainable development.

In a nutshell

While digital technologies have spread rapidly in MENA countries, the broader development benefits from using them – the ‘digital dividends’ – have lagged behind: the opportunities offered by e-government are much wider than current usage.

Digital technologies are no shortcut to sustainable development: the digital economy also requires strong analogue components consisting of regulations, skills and institutions. Not undertaking necessary reforms in terms of digital complements will raise the opportunity cost.

The full benefits of the digital revolution will not be realised unless MENA countries continue to improve their business climate, invest in education and health, and promote good governance through strong institutions.

Both electronic governance (e-gov) and good governance have been widely discussed in the national and international arena. Digital technologies are some of the most transformational factors of our time, including their impact on effective governance and the process of sustainable development.

Public digital transformation has considerable potential for modernising public administration, improving public service delivery and promoting good governance. It may contribute to achievement of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations. In that regard, e-government initiatives remain an important driving force for realising this transition (EGOV4SD). It is becoming a viable alternative to the traditional bureaucratic means of public service delivery as it promotes open governance.

Digitalisation underpins every aspect of our daily life. Digital technologies – the internet, mobile phones and all the other tools to collect, store, analyse and share information digitally – have spread quickly and we find ourselves in the middle of the greatest information and communications revolution in human history (WDR, 2016).

The Covid-19 pandemic, which requires social distancing and quarantine measures such as lockdowns, has accelerated the role of digital government both in conventional delivery of digital services as well as new innovative efforts in managing the crisis. Digital solutions have become vital to address isolation and keep people informed and engaged (UN, 2020). E-governance ensures the delivery of services remotely, thereby reducing the economic, social and environmental costs associated with service delivery to the public.

Developing countries, including in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), have made efforts to leverage information and communications technologies (ICTs) over the past decade. Concerted efforts have been made to digitalise (fully or potentially) government services to the public.

But digital government efforts in the MENA region are still perceived as technical support activities and not as a core strategic component of public sector activities (OECD, 2017). The alternative would be that e-governance is value-driven instead of technology-driven.

Some stylised facts

In the MENA region, the level of achievement of SDGs, governance system performance and investment in advanced technologies are different from one country to another, including sometimes within the same state.

In terms of achievement of the SDGS, the region is facing many challenges in creating decent jobs, building constructive social dialogue and improving social justice. The uprisings in half a dozen countries in the region brought to light key challenges that had existed for some time such as low job creation, pervasive corruption and lack of accountability and transparency. The uprisings and their truncated aftermath raise many important questions about political reforms, especially in terms of institutional structures. Individuals are seeking to become active citizens.

Recently, the pandemic has exposed serious vulnerabilities in MENA societies, institutions and economies. The consequences of the pandemic are likely to be deep and long lasting and the region’s economy is expected to contract by 5.7% (UN, 2020).

In terms, of governance system performance, adequate governance for innovation, and specifically ICTs, is severely lacking in most MENA countries (Göll and Zwiers (2018). There is a substantial cross-country variance in the related indicators, as well as variance in the responses to each of the indicators for individual countries.

Figure 1: Worldwide Governance Indicators (percentile rank*)

*Percentile rank (0-100) indicates rank of country among all countries in the world. 0 corresponds to lowest rank and 100 corresponds to highest rank.

Source: Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI).

Corruption remains a central challenge despite the work of many governments across the region to focus their national priorities on fighting corruption and increasing transparency. The corruption perceptions index, which ranks countries by their perceived levels of public sector corruption according to experts and business people, uses a scale of 0 to 100, where 0 is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean. With an average score of 39, the MENA region falls behind both the Americas and Asia Pacific regions (score: 44) and does only slightly better than Eastern Europe and Central Asia (score: 35) and sub-Saharan Africa (score: 32).

In terms of e-governance, the MENA countries are characterised by large public sectors and complex regulatory structures. The implementation of ICTs to modernise public institutions has emerged and is growing. But dividends seem to be limited. Digital and data skills are also still scarce and unevenly disrupted across territories. The budgetary constraint is another challenge for the implementation of digital government strategies (OECD, 2017).

The difference in levels of digital development in the MENA region is significant (Thunert 2009, UNDP 2012, ESCWA 2015, Chambers 2015). Indeed, the region encompasses a wide variety of trajectories within the economy (general preconditions, differences between oil-exporting countries and oil-importing countries, outsourcing, start-up cultures, etc.). Factors such as the distribution of basic infrastructure, enabling business culture, and supportive economic and education policies are very different between as well as within most countries (Göll and Zwiers, 2018).

According to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), internet use ranges from 30% to 80% across the region, and there is a gender gap in favour of men in many countries. The gap is also between rural and urban areas in almost all countries of the region.

High-speed internet penetration is low compared with emerging regions in Europe and Asia. With the exception of Gulf countries, where internet access is available to broad segments of the population, in many countries of the Arab world fewer than a quarter of households have access to this essential tool. Millions of people cannot afford internet services and are therefore excluded from the ICT revolution that is shaping the modern world (Gelvanovska et al, 2014). Table 1 highlights the state of e-governance development by geographical region.

Table 1: Breakdown of EDGI* per geographical region (2020)

Europe continues to lead e-governance development as indicated by the highest EGDI (0.817) it enjoys, followed by the Americas (0.634), MENA countries (0.616), Oceania (0.511) and sub-Saharan African countries (0.376) respectively.

The Human Capital Index (HCI) is the highest contributing sub-index in MENA countries while the Telecommunication Infrastructure Index (TII) and online service (OSI) are the lowest. This suggests that the main hindrances to the further growth of e-government in the region are still the lack of infrastructure and the digital divide.

The question now is which of the three sub-indices the rise in EDGI in MENA countries comes from?

Figure 2: Contributors to the EDGI improvements

Source: Compiled by author.

Figure 2 indicates that the largest component of the rise in EDGI in the region comes from the improvement in TII. This implies that investment in telecommunication infrastructure is the fastest means of improving a country’s EGDI rankings. It is worth noticing also the importance of online services and human capital in the long run. Indeed, although improvements in both infrastructure and human capital have been slower, they are equally important for a healthy and functioning e-government system.

E-governance as an enabler of sustainable development

The issue now is how e-government initiatives can help MENA countries to achieve better results in their governance and therefore their development policy goals (EGOV4SD)?

EGOV4SD has been defined as the ‘use of ICT to support public services, public administration, and the interaction between government and the public, while making possible public participation in government decision-making, promoting social equity and socio-economic development, and protecting natural resources for future generations’ (Estevez and Janowski, 2013).

Policy-makers have two options: apply this strategy with or without implementation of good governance.

Figure 3: E-government, good governance and sustainable development nexus

Source: developed by the researcher.

The huge public investment in ICTs, in the absence of a good governance framework that embodies accountable institutions, enlarges the voice of the elite, which in turn can result in policy capture and greater state control. This situation can hinder the business climate by raising natural monopolies and therefore creating more concentrated markets.

In the absence of institutional reform, technology will fail to deliver the expected benefits in the region. E-government reforms face the risk of failure to be adequately embedded in public sector reform. As a result, progress on tacking social and environmental divides may be limited. E-government will exert an adverse effect on various aspects of sustainable development instead of being a catalyst for progress.

The digital governance framework in MENA countries still faces institutional difficulties despite the great achievements accomplished to date. Digital transformation also faces complex challenges from economic issues, social and political matters, to technology innovation and its diffusion patterns. These challenges remain heavily dependent on the development stage of each organisation and each country.

A conclusion that may emerge here is the inadequate impact of e-government on sustainable development in MENA countries (Dhaoui, 2020). Digital government efforts in the MENA countries are still perceived as technical support activities and not as a core strategic component for development corpus. As result, the impact of e-government initiatives on sustainable development will be limited in the region.

According to many studies and reports, and although ICTs have spread rapidly in much of MENA countries, digital dividends – that is, the broader development benefits from using digital technologies – have lagged behind. In many countries, the full potential of digital technologies is not being used. In many cases, e-government projects have enlarged opportunities and get better service delivery. But their aggregate impact has fallen short and is unevenly distributed. This proves the deficits in the adoption of new technologies in the MENA region vis-à-vis the major factors for success (Göll and Zwiers, 2018).

Adequate governance for e-government projects is severely lacking in most of the MENA countries. The region IS still unable to complement technology investments with appropriate economic reforms that reap digital dividends in the form of faster growth, better public services and adequate environmental management. These challenges are preventing the digital revolution from fulfilling its transformative potential in the region.

Access to ICTs and greater digital adoption is critical, but not sufficient. Thus, digital technologies are no shortcut to sustainable development; they can be an enabler by raising the necessary reforms. The digital economy also requires what the WDR (2016) calls ‘strong analog components’ which consisting of regulations that create vibrant businesses and let firms leverage digital technologies to compete and innovate, skills that allow workers to adapt to the demands of the new economy, and institutions that are accountable and that uses the internet to empower citizens.

Overcoming these challenges will require special awareness, commitment and a particular focus on ambitious and action-oriented strategies that contribute to bypassing e-government constraints and enhancing good governance, which in turn improves sustainable development and more inclusive societies.

Figure 4: Digital governance components

Source: developed by the researcher.

The role of governments is not only to act as facilitators and leaders; but also as enablers and regulators. Given the limited resources of governments, the involvement of stakeholders through transparent cooperation is crucial. Governments are consistently interacting with diverse interest groups across society such as citizens (G2C), employees (G2E), businesses (G2B) and various state agencies (G2G), cohesively.

Figure 5: The various interactions in E-government

Source: Alhassan, 2020. E-governance for sustainable development in Ghana: Issues and prospects.

Roadmap for successful e-government initiatives

In order to achieve economic, social and environmental sustainability for MENA countries, it is crucial to establish good governance by forming an institutional environment capable to enabling the government with more effective and efficient tools for more successful development plans. But the region suffers from a lack of adequate training and knowledge about the technology, access to it, and knowledge of how to best apply it.

Policies on the use of digital technologies need to be adequately embedded in public sector reform. MENA countries should promote competitive business environments, enhance accountability, and upgrade education and skills development systems to prepare people for the jobs of the future. The race is between skills and technology, while the outcome will settle on whether the dividends from ICTs are realised and the benefits widely shared.

Bringing digital technology and governance practices together at the forefront of sustainable development strategies and providing new and innovative technological options leading to improve governance strategies may contribute to achieving sustainable development in all dimensions.

A particular emphasis on building a digitally inclusive society is needed. The increase in access to digital technologies should bring more choice and greater convenience in the region. This can be done through inclusion, efficiency and innovation that are capable to provide opportunities that were previously out of reach to the poor and disadvantaged.

The full benefits of the ICT revolution will not be realised unless MENA countries continue to improve their business climate, invest in education and health, and promote good governance through strong institutions.

Figure 6: Pre-requisites for maximising digital dividends

Source: developed by the researcher.

The challenge is to start adequate reforms to maximise digital dividends and to prepare for any disruptions. The digital economy is changing rapidly. Not undertaking the necessary reforms in terms of digital complements such as regulation, skills and institutions will raise the opportunity cost. Any failure to reform will lead to a situation of falling farther behind those who do reform. Strengthening the interaction between technology and its complements is more urgent than ever before.