Belfast (Dir Kenneth Branagh, 2021)
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
Belfast (Dir Kenneth Branagh, 2021)
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.
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.
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.
The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey (Apple TV+)
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.
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.
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 top featured image of Reuters is not only for illustration but meant to draw some attention to one of the most important cause of this traumatic situation of Egypt as well as that of many countries in the MENA region. Russia-Ukraine crisis poses a serious threat to Egypt, that with an over-population still on the rise, has a limited but diminishing arable lands area. Building on farmland coupled a certain lack of control of all real estate developments bear on the lower social classes; those supposed to be at the forefront of food production.
By Kibrom Abay, The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) ; Clemens Breisinger, The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) ; David Laborde Debucquet, The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) ; Joseph Glauber, The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) , and Lina Alaaeldin Abdelfattah, The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could create a global food security crisis. It is disrupting agricultural production and trade from one of the world’s major exporting regions. This threatens to drive rising food prices still higher and create scarcity, especially for regions most dependent on exports from Russia and Ukraine.
Particularly affected is the Middle East and North Africa – or MENA – region. These Arab countries consume the highest wheat per capita, about 128 kg of wheat per capita, which is twice the world average. More than half of this comes from Russia and Ukraine.
As agricultural and food security experts, we have explored the impacts of the war on the wheat market, focusing on Egypt.
Wheat is a key food item for Egypt, representing between 35% and 39% of caloric intake per person in the last few years. And wheat imports usually account for about 62% of total wheat use in the country.
Despite the government’s efforts following the global food crisis in 2007 to 2008 to diversify sources of cereal imports, the vast majority of cereal imports, between 57% and 60%, come from Russia and Ukraine.
A number of key policy actions are needed that will reduce dependence on Russia and Ukraine in the short term. This will help Egypt’s agriculture and food system to become fairer and more resilient – an absolute necessity in the context of looming threats from climate change, water scarcity and conflict.
Egypt is the world’s largest importer of wheat. It imports a total of 12 to 13 million tons every year. With a population of 105 million, growing at a rate of 1.9% a year, Egypt has become increasingly dependent on imports to meet food needs.
Imports of cereal crops have been steadily increasing over the last three decades at a rate higher than that of domestic production.
Egypt’s wheat market and trade regime is largely controlled by government agencies. The General Authority for Supply Commodities, operating under the Ministry of Supply and Internal Trade, usually handles about half of the total wheat imported, while private trading companies handle the other half.
Government agencies are already feeling the impact of the war, which has led to recent cancellation of tenders due to lack of offers, in particular from Ukraine and Russia.
Still, there is no fear of shortage in the coming weeks. In early February, Egyptian MoSit Minister Aly Moselhy said that the country held sufficient inventory to cover five months of consumption. But the outlook beyond that is less clear.
With the abrupt closure of Ukraine ports and current maritime trade in the Black Sea – wheat is transported across the Black Sea – Egypt will have to find new suppliers if Ukraine is unable to export wheat this year and if sanctions against Russia impede food trade indirectly.
Such opportunities are, unfortunately for Egypt, limited.
Currently, wheat producers in South America – Argentina in particular – have larger than usual surpluses from the last harvest available to export. Overall, however, it will be difficult to expand the global wheat supply in the short run. About 95% of the wheat produced in the European Union and about 85% of that in the United States is planted in the fall, leaving those regions little room for expanding production in the near term.
In addition, wheat competes with crops such as maize, soybeans, rapeseed, and cotton, all of which are also seeing record high prices. In combination with record-high fertiliser prices (also exacerbated by the Russia-Ukraine conflict), farmers in some regions may favour less fertiliser-intensive crops, such as soybeans.
About 20% of world wheat exports come from the Southern Hemisphere (primarily Argentina and Australia) which typically ship from December through March.
In addition, Canada and Kazakhstan are large producers that harvest in the fall. Over the coming year and beyond, their exports may be able to make up much of the deficit created by the loss from Ukraine production, but at a higher cost due to longer shipping routes and increased transportation costs triggered by higher oil prices.
Rising global wheat prices hit a 10-year high at US$523 per ton on March 7. This is a serious problem for the Egyptian government’s budget and a potential threat to consumer purchasing power.
Even just before the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war, prices of commodities in Egypt were increasing. The war has started adding further pressure and consumers are feeling these impacts.
Some countries have already imposed export restrictions in response to rising prices. These trends, coupled with disruptions in Russia’s and Ukraine’s exports, will likely add further upward pressures on prices going forward. Even under the most optimistic assumptions, global wheat prices will remain high throughout 2022 and the trend is likely to persist through 2023, given limits on expanding production.
The Egyptian government has been spending about US$3 billion annually for wheat imports. The recent price increase could nearly double that to US$5.7 billion. This, in turn, threatens Egypt’s Baladi bread subsidy program. This program provides millions of people with 150 loaves of subsidised bread per month. About 90% of the production cost is borne by the government at an annual cost of US$3.24 billion. The program requires about 9 million tons of wheat annually about half of the total wheat consumption in Egypt and three-quarters of Egypt’s wheat imports.
In the short term, Egypt needs to diversify its food import sources.
The government is actively exploring this option, while also increasing planned procurement from domestic sources by 38% over last year’s figure. The government has just announced a new and relatively higher buying price for domestic wheat from farmers.
In addition, the government has decided to ban exports of staple foods, including wheat, for three months to limit pressure on existing reserves.
In the long term, Egypt needs to explore options for reducing the gap between domestic supply and demand. Here are some of its options.
Boosting domestic wheat production will be challenging, as Egyptian farmers are already achieving high yields, relying on high input and water use. While there are some opportunities to expand arable land, modernise farming systems and improve water management practices, the country’s principal focus should be to adapt the farming system to address imminent water shortages and climate change threats and increase resilience, rather than unsustainably expanding production.
Reducing the high consumption and waste of bread has significant potential. Egyptians on average consume about 145 kg of wheat per capita annually – double the global average.
Improve the efficiency and targeting of the Tamween food subsidy program. This provides beneficiaries with ration cards for various foods. The program absorbs a large share of imported wheat and vegetable oils. Reforming it could reduce inefficiencies in the wheat sector and the cost of running the program.
In conclusion, the Russia-Ukraine war poses a big challenge to global food security and particularly difficult obstacles for Egypt. The short-term and long-term impacts will of course depend on how the war unfolds and affects exports from Russia and Ukraine over the coming months and years. Impacts on Egypt will also depend on other countries’ responses to global price hikes and cereal shortages.
Egypt can mitigate some of these impacts with short-term actions as outlined above, but major global shocks like the Russia-Ukraine war are also reminders of the need of longer-term reforms and solutions.
Kibrom Abay, Research Fellow, The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) ; Clemens Breisinger, Senior Research Fellow, The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) ; David Laborde Debucquet, Senior Research Fellow, The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) ; Joseph Glauber, Senior Research Fellow, The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) , and Lina Alaaeldin Abdelfattah, Senior Research Assistant, The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
CallisonRTKL (CRTKL), a global cultural agency specialising in architecture, planning and design, has published a report forecasting the future of the built environment and the key factors that will shape the residential market and its BTR and senior living lifestyle developments in 2022.
According to the report, the brief for the home is changing. The need now is for productive living environments with the technological infrastructure to support residents. Consequently, a new era is driving hybrid lifestyles and hybrid working cities. Residents are working, exercising, shopping, learning and meeting in more unexpected ways, which are now being dictated by purpose and convenience rather than demand.
For example, coffee shops are popping up in offices, ghost kitchens in hotels and healthcare services in apartment buildings. As these lines continue to blur, a different set of residential amenities are emerging and bringing with them, buildings that will play a more active role in the health and wellness of those that inhabit them.
Obada Adra, Associate Principal at CRTKL, commented: “The residential market and the demands being placed on the home have changed. The need now is for places that are fluid, flexible and authentic. Across the region, people are demanding a more dynamic lifestyle offering that caters to new hybrid working styles and provides greater community and cultural connection.
“At CRTKL, we are developing a blueprint for new buildings that will be more hybridised with changeable systems, structures and modules that can be adapted to suit the evolving needs of the market,” Adra said.
According to the report, three new concepts are driving residential development:
* The Home of Things (HoT): This refers to the physical objects within the home that are embedded with sensors, processing ability, software and other technologies that connect and exchange data with other devices and systems over the Internet or other communications networks. Innovative technology in a fully integrated HoT allows endless opportunities for improved home performance and convenience. Connected and controlled through a resident’s mobile device, the HoT could support amenities by tracking, measuring and improving personal energy usage and well-being. Biometric data gathered here could then be shared with in-house practitioners or resident nutritionists, counsellors, and other health professionals that could rotate through a new type of hyper-local medical office or telemedicine pods that are built into the offer.
* The Branded Residence – Residential meets hospitality meets healthcare: New attitudes about health, wealth, and family are transforming an industry that formerly defined by medical care and home equity. Seniors are delaying entering interdependent living, choosing to age-in-place and increasingly demanding more urban settings and connections to communities and culture. As residents, they want an inner-city lifestyle, impressive amenities, luxury services, superior care, varied culinary options, and resort-like experiences where they can grow and thrive as aging individuals. Spaces that allow their lifestyles, hobbies, and pets to move with them – where they can feel at home, host others, and gain access to improved convenience and care.
To attract the booming elderly population, development is moving in a new direction towards brand residences and a lifestyle product that blends residential operations with a hospitality approach that is based on a professionally managed rental model. These models will focus on holistic health, community integration and mixed-use opportunities, incorporating senior wellness programs across education, exercise (both instructor and technology led), health, nutrition and intergenerational connection.
* The Hybridised model or a ‘Universal Building’: There is a need for the new building typology to feature shared uses that come together to form a hub for a community of creatives, who blend living with working and socialising. The Universal Building allowing for flexible development strategies to take shape over time. With the ability to easily shift the program mix, this supports a city’s strategic goals in that it offers innovative housing and workplace options for an evolving and diverse community. It refers to a framework building with changeable systems, structure, and modules. This uniquely flexible platform can adapt program uses based on changing market needs. From the column grid to carefully considered floor-to-floor heights, the building will easily shift between residential, office and social spaces.
The featured top image is for illustration and is of Callison RTKL.
Published by The Peninsula on how an emirate of the Gulf region does have a vision but how after it has since the early 1990s heavily invested in promoting its image through sports, it is getting ready to facing other challenges. Not only has it fought hard to win support for its 2022 World Cup hosting, it is now trying to further use its soft power to perhaps conquer the world. But would Qatar’s sports sector eying post-2022 horizon keep it alive and well? And if Qatar can silence critics with a strong tournament, an Olympic bid could be next; why not?
Doha: Interest around development of sports in Qatar has soared globally in the runup to FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and the sector has become the focus of global investors. With $6.5bn budgeted for the event, what opportunities does the wealthiest Gulf state offer after the much-awaited football celebration?
The Investment Promotion Agency Qatar (IPA Qatar) delves into the growth prospects of the sports industry and showcases the multi-sectoral opportunities on offer.
Qatar’s Booming Sports Industry.
Over the last decade, the Middle East has hosted several key tournaments — Asian Football Confederation Cup, World Men’s Handball Championship and IAAF World Athletics Championships among others. This has helped establish the region as a global sporting destination. A PwC survey shows that the sports industry in the Middle East is expected to grow 8.7 percent in three to five years, while the expected growth of global sports business is not expected to exceed 3 percent in the same period. With Qatar hosting more than 50 international events in 2021, the survey points out that the sports industry in the Middle East is expected to fully recover from the pandemic in 2022.
The region’s sports industry has untapped potential. The first FIFA World Cup to be held in the Arab region is a catalysing force for unlocking that potential and “propelling the beautiful game”. Qatar has pursued a bold development strategy and is at the vanguard of countries with advanced sports infrastructure. In the “Ranking of Sports Cities 2020” by Burson Cohn & Wolfe, which evaluates the performance of cities in hosting sporting events based on digital landscape analysis, sports media, and international federations surveys, Doha has made it to the top 50 global cities and the first in the Arab World. Similarly, the “Global Sports Impact (GSI) Nations Index” by the Sports Market Intelligence’s company Sportcal ranked Qatar first in GCC and among the top 20 worldwide.
With an average growth of 4.5 percent over 11 years, between 2010 to 2020, Qatar’s GDP has grown steadily since it was awarded the right to host the World Cup in 2010, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). With economic diversification, the sports industry is poised for further growth. The Ministry of Commerce and Industry has identified 83 commercial and investment opportunities for the private sector until 2023, spanning event management and promotion, sport development, venue construction, sporting goods and equipment, sports commercialisation, sports tourism, and venue operations.
Esports Adds Momentum
While the pandemic has challenged economies, it has spotlighted the indispensability of technology integration and digital transformation. Sports is no exception. The global Esports market is expected to grow with a CAGR (2019 to 2024) of +8.7% to reach $218.7 billion in 2024. In the Middle East, Esports represents a natural fit for the region, where the majority of the population is young and internet-savvy.
It also holds promising growth potential as governments continue to invest in sport and digital transformation as a way to diversify their economies. A recent PwC survey shows that Saudi Arabia ranks among the top 20 countries for games revenue at $716m, with the UAE generating $313m and Egypt $287m.
Qatar has a strong starting point with advanced ICT and adaptability, ranked 8th in the Global Competitiveness Index’s “ICT Adoption” pillar. With the world’s 1st commercially available 5G network and with 99 percent internet penetration, the country continues to support investors to unfold opportunities through its licensing platforms such as Qatar Financial Centre and Qatar Sports Tech.
Sports healthcare to drive more opportunities
The global sports medicine and physiotherapy market was estimated at $8.2bn in 2020 and is projected to grow at a CAGR of 8.83 percent to reach $14.9bn by 2027. Qatar boasts futuristic sports medicine facilities. It is home to Aspetar – Qatar Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Hospital – which is the first such facility in the region and is accredited by FIFA as a sports medicine centre of excellence.
Boasting some of the world’s finest sports infrastructure Qatar has cemented its position as a global sports destination.
New sports legacy
Hosting the FIFA World Cup has helped Qatar draw investment. The country has introduced measures that will not only deliver an unparalleled World Cup experience but create opportunities. The mega projects — from a railway and airport expansion to construction projects worth $200bn will boost business and draw investment in 2022 and beyond.
With over a million fans travelling to the country, tourism and hospitality will benefit immensely from preparation for sporting events. Describing Qatar’s economy post-World Cup 2022, Nasser Al Khater, CEO of FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, said, “The country’s focus will shift from infrastructure development to tourism and will likely go in the direction of Russia post-World Cup 2018”. The tournament added $14bn to the Russian economy, and the benefits are still being felt.
Qatar is poised to spur development. The country’s vision and futuristic infrastructure have not only accelerated the development of sports industry, but also bolstered growth potential of different sectors.
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.
The above image is for illustration and is of beIN SPORTS.
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.
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.
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.