Belfast (Dir Kenneth Branagh, 2021)
All MENA countries, derived from the XIX and early XX centuries, acquired this capability when policing their citizens, identifying any person protesting their government without due process. The same applies to interstate relations where transboundary resources and interests of any kind envenom and more often inflame situations. So, at this conjecture, is it not the opportune time to at least try unlocking a Peace Ministry in the Middle East?
Everything is affected whenever peace is missing. Absolutely everything! Conflict has a way of harming all areas of the human experience. We all know too well the pain and confusion undermining peace throughout our nations, our communities, and our own souls in regrettable ways. It disorients and forces us to grapple with the seemingly overwhelming gravity of sin and the depth of its consequences. For this reason, God really, really cares about peace.
Seeking peace is essential to God’s story for humanity. Scripture demonstrates the extent to which conflict infects a fallen world while also declaring the length God goes for the sake of peace. This didn’t happen without sacrifice; Jesus Christ endured the extreme weight of conflict as he hung on the cross. And it was on this journey to the cross that he shared eternal words with his disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). This is a perplexing type of comfort. Jesus is perfectly aware that our hearts will face trouble and fear in an uncertain world, but he assures us that the only kind of peace that can suffice is an otherworldly peace. Because of this, we have hope amid the storms of strife.
It can feel like the Middle East invents ever creative ways to undermine peace as people across the region deal with struggling societies, mounting insecurities, dirty politics, violent factionalism, destructive ideologies, and wave after wave of crisis. The problems fill headlines and reports throughout ceaseless cycles of bad news. Residents struggle through chronic frustration and disillusion, and growing numbers are joining a migration outflow seeking better fortunes in new locations.
Christ followers across the Middle East face their own flavors of conflict. Egypt encounters layers of challenges as churches and Christian groups serve amid rapidly changing times. In Algeria churches struggle to forge faith communities against the grain of a suppressive government. Christians of Iraq continue to navigate decades-long strife while trying to nurture one another and serve their neighbors. In Palestine, occupation and oppression hinder the most basic areas of human life and fuel hardships of many kinds. Sudan’s believers are dealing with rapidly changing political situations after years of regime change and upheaval. And in Lebanon, new layers of crisis pile upon old, unresolved conflicts to destabilize a state and its people. Unfortunately, these are only brief samples of the range of conflict raging across the region. It can all seem so overwhelming, and in the darkest moments cries go out, “Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalms 10:1).
Though it doesn’t come easily, we must insist on recognizing the profound ways God’s people can and do faithfully minister peace amid challenging situations. Churches, organizations, and individuals of faith are ready vessels for extending Christ’s peace; they possess the potential by the Spirit to alter situations and write new stories for people and places. Is this not what it means to take hold of the peace that Christ leaves? This among the many questions the Middle East Consultation 2022 aims to ask on September 21-23 during Peace I Leave with You: Theories and Practices for Peace Ministry in the Middle East.
Practicing effective peace ministry requires us to imagine peace in ways that conform our thoughts and attitudes to the person of Christ in service of others. Biblically, peace ministry can be understood as the work of unlocking human potential by moving people, communities, and nations into healthier dynamics of shared life. Such outreach proceeds from deep convictions that the gospel is a holistic response to any situation where sin inflicts strife, oppression, hatred, and mistrust- everything antithetical to the restorative work of God.
Paradigms for peace ministry can help us recognize how peace involves multidimensional expressions (peacekeeping, peacemaking, and peacebuilding) working across levels of the human experience, including the personal, group, and national. The following grid, which MEC 2022 will adopt as a basic working framework, helps conceptualize this dynamic:
|National Peacekeeping||National Peacemaking||National Peacebuilding|
|Group Peacekeeping||Group Peacemaking||Group Peacebuilding|
|Personal Peacekeeping||Personal Peacemaking||Personal Peacebuilding|
Such a framework is helpful, but it certainly cannot convey the complexity of engaging conflict. There are no simple explanations or quick solutions to the problems plaguing the Middle East. Each unique context in the region carries assorted variables that require us to ask a proper set of questions. Worldly logic may say peace is an elusive dream or unattainable ideal, but authentic faith in Christ compels us to take hold of the gospel’s promises of peace as we seek to discover how God is active and alive in the world. Our eschatological hope for the future moves us to action as we relish the words of Isaiah 9:7: There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore.
God is working through conflict for redemptive purposes, and everyone has a role to play in this. This means embracing the invitation to partner with God in living out Christ-honoring works of peace and continually exploring new ways to think about the theories and practices of peace ministry.
On September 21-23, the Middle East Consultation 2022 will do just this in the three-day online event Peace I Leave with You: Theories and Practices for Peace Ministry in the Middle East. Join us for a series of enriching discussions examining the challenges facing the Middle East region and illuminating the hopefulness of peace for the world in and through Christ.
Read Arab Baptist Theological Seminary.
This is how Smart Cities World‘s Cultural space covered the city of Madinah, the second holy city in Saudi Arabia. Madinah, as a smart city, was found to cohabit for its future.
The above image is of Tomorrow City.
Abdulmajeed Albalawi: We’re mainly focused on solving city challenges and improving quality of life for our citizens. In that way, there’s no contradiction between Madinah as a holy city and Madinah as a smart city. We see our smart city strategy as an enabler to meet the needs of the city and its people, and to create positive experiences for those people.
Our aim is to become more holistic and to introduce more tools that will serve our citizens. That extends to the holy elements of the city and people’s lives and will make the city more suitable for those needs.
Our objectives are to improve city life for all citizens and create new jobs and economic opportunities – for example, around start-ups and technology. These are the driving forces behind the projects that Madinah has taken on so far, and as we see it, one influences and helps to solve the other – improving quality of life leads to better opportunities and a better urban economy.
As part of this work, we’ve designed an engine to capture the challenges the city faces so we can more easily connect together the issues and needs with solutions, with a view to meeting our main objectives.
AA: We have challenges split into two sections – business and operational. In terms of business challenges, we’re aiming to reduce the unemployment rate in the city through the projects we launch, and improve the digital skills of the workforce as part of that.
On the operational side, we’re looking at how we break down siloes between departments and promote a more open mindset. It’s a clear challenge for a lot of cities that needs to be solved, and for Madinah we want to overcome it to ensure that everyone can work towards our smart city objectives in the right way.
We see our smart city strategy as an enabler to meet the needs of the city and its people, and to create positive experiences for those people
There are other challenges out in the city that we’re facing, too. Madinah’s status as a holy city means a lot of the activity in the city is centred around the Holy Mosque, both for residents and visitors from around the world. As a result, there is a constant flow of people in and around the mosque which we need to manage to cope with crowding in the centre of the city. To deal with this challenge, we have launched an incubator in partnership with universities, experts and start-ups from around the world.
The incubator will be dedicated to solving further urban challenges in Madinah, too, identifying and defining the issues being faced and then engaging in a continuous problem-solving process with experts to overcome them. It’s a unique proposition for the city to work in this way and to have potential solutions being recommended on a continual basis from international experts.
AA: Our technology partners are crucial in achieving our goals as a smart city. We’re currently working with FIWARE and using their technology to create our own smart city platform. Madinah is the first middle eastern city to make use of FIWARE’s platform. We chose FIWARE’s open platform because our objectives call for us to view Madinah from a ‘city as a system’ perspective, and to solve problems based on what the system is telling us.
We’re now creating our city as a system via the FIWARE platform, meaning we’re connecting the dots between Madinah’s services, operations and departments, and beginning to break down siloes to identify the right solutions to issues at the right time. We’re collecting data from all over the city and connecting it together to enable data analytics, which will be really important in how we work out the kinds of solutions we require.
The main benefit of breaking down these operational siloes is being able to better define issues and challenges, as we have much more context on the city and its operations as a whole. It’s crucial for Madinah to be able to work in this way, and the challenge with crowds at the holy mosque illustrate why; we need to understand where the problem originates so we can solve it at the source.
Another benefit is that Madinah’s city departments have been able to collaborate more often and more easily. In turn, that has meant we have been able to push towards our primary objectives more collectively.
Outside establishing the smart city platform through FIWARE’s technology, we’re now looking into smart lighting. We see connected streetlighting as the beginning of a nervous system for the city, able to gather data about the city and monitor pedestrian and traffic flow, as well as air quality. We’re also exploring how we can use the same infrastructure to promote messages and information to citizens through digital signage. The streetlights and all associated monitoring will feed back into the smart city platform to give us a more holistic view of the city and how it is operating.
We have recently signed an agreement to build a full-scale digital twin of Madinah using satellite imagery, becoming the first city in the Middle East to do so
Coming back to the crowd challenges around the holy mosque and the central area of the city, we’re also developing a simulator to model those crowds. We’re currently designing the model and later will deploy sensors in the city to gather data to be able to monitor crowds and simulate scenarios. This won’t necessarily be a full digital twin of the mosque, but will be a mirror for the movement within and around it, including parts of the city infrastructure and operations that have an impact on movement and crowding.
We have recently signed an agreement to build a full-scale digital twin of Madinah using satellite imagery, becoming the first city in the Middle East to do so. We’ll use the 3D model digital twin for urban planning, traffic management, crowd management and urban analytics across the entire city, not just the centre and the holy mosque. We anticipate that we’ll have a digital twin of the city in the next three months.
AA: Through all of this smart city work, it’s important that we also look to promote the city’s culture and history, so we’re assessing how we can use technology to bring that history back to life. Here, Madinah is looking to use a combination of augmented reality and digital twin technology to illustrate our history in a more dynamic and modern way, both for the benefit of citizens and visitors.
I think innovation is all about how to open doors to experiences and the city’s unknowns. Technology is a great enabler for Madinah’s heritage and culture and can help to show everyone in the city how its identity has developed to become what it is now. We’re not designing the city around technology, we’re designing it around experiences, and how those experiences can create stories to be shared among people. Madinah’s culture flows through that process and innovation just helps us to draw it out.
To attract more tourists from all over the world in the coming months, Discover Qatar, destination management company of Qatar Airways Group, will expand the Stopover programme.
“Featuring an outstanding and comprehensive portfolio of hotels, excursions, transfers and activities, Discover Qatar (DQ) has made noteworthy strides in highlighting and promoting Qatar as a global tourist destination,” said the Qatar Airways Group Annual Report 2021-2022 released last month.
It said that the company welcomed again its first visitors to Qatar from the MSC Virtuosa Cruise ship, and has since provided tour services for over 10,000 visitors to Qatar. “The focus for the upcoming financial year is on expanding the Stopover programme as well as facilitating transit tours.”
The report said that the new programme will allow passengers to experience tours through Discover Qatar “as soon as transit visas are opened again”.
“Discover Qatar aims to become the go-to brand synonymous with excellence in operational delivery for Meetings, Incentives, Conference and Events (MICE), for world-class sporting events and for educational tourism in one of the safest environments in the world,” it added.
COO of Qatar Tourism Berthold Trenkel said last month that according to their data, Qatar has been a transit airport, “people arrive, people go, no one gets off – so that’s one thing for us to change.”
The report says that with its customer-first approach, DQ is committed to fully respecting Qatar’s heritage and culture, its stakeholders and the broader community by providing products and services with an unwavering focus on quality. “Discover Qatar offers its services to the world through business-to-business (B2B) retail and corporate relationships, and in Qatar through the Discover Qatar website.”
It added: “Discover Qatar plays a key role in promoting Qatar, working closely with Qatar Airways and Qatar Tourism, and supports initiatives to host influential tour operators and travel professionals to experience the best of Qatar through memorable tours and exciting excursions.”
It further revealed that during the financial year 2021/2022, DQ revised and relaunched its Ground Services programme, now offering nearly 30 land and water-based tours and experiences, meet and assist services at HIA and transfers, enabling a superior end-to-end service for all customers from arrival to departure.
On Killian Fox‘s radar: Marwa al-Sabouni’s cultural highlights are brought to light this way in The Guardian of 14 May 2022.
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)
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.