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DETROIT — In a Wednesday teleconference, leaders from the U.S. Census Bureau briefed media outlets that serve the Middle Eastern/North African (MENA) communities on the status of the 2020 Census, describing the efforts underway for all people to be accurately counted and the opportunity for individuals to apply for temporary jobs supporting the operation.
The U.S. Constitution mandates that a census of the population be conducted every 10 years. Census Bureau population statistics inform how billions of dollars in federal funds are allocated for critical public services like hospitals and healthcare clinics, emergency response, schools and education, and roads and bridges.
The 2020 Census will also determine how many seats each state gets in Congress and guide the drawing of local political boundaries. In mid-March 2021, households will receive an invitation to participate in the census with an option to respond online, by mail or by phone.
“We are working closely with state and local governments, the business community, civic organizations, nonprofits and the faith community to accomplish our goal of counting everyone, including young children and babies,” said Marilyn A. Sanders, Chicago regional director for the U.S. Census Bureau.
Sanders underscored that census responses are confidential and protected by law.
“We do not share your information with law enforcement agencies or immigration officials,” she said.
Sanders also provided an update on the recruiting for the 2020 Census operation, emphasizing the importance of hiring census workers to work in the communities in which they live.
“We are offering competitive pay, flexible schedules and the opportunity for individuals to make a difference in their own communities for the next 10 years,” she said.
With a team of multicultural audience experts advising on campaign messaging and strategy, VMLY&R is the marketing communications partner for the 2020 Census. VMLY&R Strategy Director Basem Hassan explained his marketing campaign’s research process and insights.
“We are relying heavily on trusted voices in the MENA community to help ensure everyone understands what is at stake in the 2020 Census,” he said.
The Census Bureau officials were joined at the briefing by Nada Al-Hanooti, executive director of the Michigan office of Emgage, and Rima Meroueh, director of advocacy and community engagement at ACCESS, who addressed why the MENA communities should fully participate in the 2020 Census.
Al-Hanooti also encouraged Arab Americans to apply as census takers to help build confidence in the operation among the community.
No inclusion of MENA category on the census form
After the conference, The Arab American News reached out to Hassan to discuss a MENA-related census issue that has come under recent criticisms. The new census form will not include a separate MENA category, despite decades-long calls to change the bureau’s policy.
As of now, respondents will have to pick between two racial categories, White or Black, and then include their country of origin or the country of origin they choose to identify with.
Hassan said that in his nationwide research of MENA communities, he found this racial categorization to be a criticism and not necessarily a barrier to MENA populations engaging with the census.
The bureau conducted research in 2015 into the inclusion of a separate “Middle Eastern or North African” category and found including such a tick box would in fact “helps MENA respondents to more accurately report their MENA identities” and that it was optimal to use a dedicated MENA response category.
Despite these findings, the bureau did not take on MENA as a category. Hassan cautioned that this omission should not be construed as an under-representation of MENA in census data.
Race question on the 2020 Census form. Middle Eastern and North African respondents will be asked to pick a race and then include country of origin or ethnicity.
“The instruction for MENA, because we are so diverse, is to select the ethnicity that we most identify with,” he said. “When one writes their country of origin, the bureau has a way of tracking that back to a MENA category.”
“If we as a community come out en masse and be counted, it can only help,” he added. “If we’re not present and counted, it will be harder to demand that we be a tick box on future census forms.”
More information on a complete and accurate count of MENA on the 2020 Census will be released in an FAQ supplement in the coming weeks. For now, the country of origin subcategory under the race tick box is critical towards the MENA count.
The census in Dearborn
The Dearborn community came together at a Census 2020 kick-off event at the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center on Wednesday.
Dearborn’s Economic and Community Development Department Deputy Director Hassan Sheik spoke along with Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly, Zaineb Hussain from Wayne United and Linda Clark, a representative from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Speakers stressed the importance of a complete count in Dearborn, helping the mayor and Wayne County achieve this count, and the importance of informing the community of the confidentiality of census data.
Wayne County residents can apply to be census takers or field representatives, both of which are hourly jobs, or salaried regional technicians.
On a hot Saturday in August, the parking lot of the Middle Eastern Immigrant and Refugee Alliance in West Ridge is filled with the sound of festivities. Kids jump in a bouncy house, Arabic pop music blares on the speakers, and a group of aunties chat as they watch over their charges. The organization, formerly known as the Iraqi Mutual Aid Society, hosts this yearly event as a way to connect the families they serve with the rest of the immigrant community.
Children gather round a foldable plastic table with a tawula set, playing a Turkish version of backgammon popular throughout the Middle East. Among them is Asal Alshammari, 11, who lives in West Ridge with her grandparents and sister. She immigrated to America with the rest of her Iraqi family after living in Dubai for nine years. Since moving to Chicago, Alshammari has been puzzled by the way Americans categorize race. “I identify myself as Middle Eastern, but [on school forms] it says I’m white, and that’s kind of confusing,” she says.
Sometimes she’ll even whip out her smartphone to show other kids at school exactly where Iraq is located: western Asia. “If someone says, ‘Oh, you’re white,’ I tell them ‘No, I’m Asian.’ But they’re always like, ‘What? You don’t seem Asian,’ because I have blue eyes from my grandpa,” she says. Alshammari wishes there were a box that was a better fit for people from countries like Iraq, Syria, and Libya, and she’s not alone.
As the 2020 U.S. Census approaches, local groups are working to ensure there’s an accurate count of their communities. But the census has never included any racial or ethnic category for Middle Eastern or North African communities. That, along with the current climate of fear surrounding immigration status, is a big challenge for folks hoping a full census count can help the community build political representation and gain access to crucial social services.
More than 20 years ago, when the federal government made major changes to the way race and ethnicity are reported on official forms, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget recommended additional testing on a category that would be called Middle Eastern North African, or MENA. Without a MENA option on the form, people from this region usually chose the white category, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 Race and Ethnicity Analysis.
In a 2015 community forum held by census officials to discuss the MENA category, participants indicated that “MENA responses should not be classified as White. They thought classifying this group as White makes them invisible in the data, even though they face discrimination in many aspects of society.”
With the support of advocacy groups like the Arab American Institute, the census bureau began testing a potential MENA category addition in 2015, and in 2017 released preliminary results that stated, “The use of a distinct Middle Eastern or North African category appears to elicit higher quality data for people who would identify with MENA.”
Despite all this, the bureau announced in 2018 that a MENA category would not be included in the 2020 census, claiming that “more research and testing is needed” since some in the MENA community felt that the designation should be treated as an ethnicity rather than a race.
“Some of us identify as white, some as Brown, some as Black,” says Maya Berry, executive director of the Arab American Institute. “We don’t necessarily need a category that reduces us to one race, but we do need visibility, inclusion, and to be seen as a group of Americans with needs and not just the focus of counterterrorism programs or political bigotry.”
With the decision made, local groups serving MENA residents in the Chicago region are now focused on ensuring that their community participates, period.
An accurate count is essential, they say, since census numbers determine the allocation of funding for services like cultural diversity training for institutions that interact with the community. Though federal funding formulas are complex, a George Washington University study in 2018 estimated that for every Illinois resident not counted, the state would lose $840 in Medicaid funding.
In Cook County, where an estimated 100,000 residents are of Middle Eastern, North African, or Southwest Asian descent according to a Los Angeles Times analysis, outreach efforts are beginning. It won’t be easy, says Imelda Salazar, an organizer for the Southwest Organizing Project, noting that many MENA residents are descended from immigrants or are immigrants themselves. Salazar says outreach to immigrants in general is difficult given the Trump administration’s policies, including increased restrictions on who can seek asylum and the executive order restricting entry of foreign nationals from some Muslim-majority countries.
“We give a lot of know-your-rights trainings and we tell people, Do not open the door [for Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents],” she says, which makes it hard to allay their anxiety about opening the door for census workers. To try to dissipate these fears, SWOP precedes many of its workshops with a conversation about current deportation and detention issues and then talks about the legally mandated confidentiality of U.S. Census data. Salazar emphasizes that “fear won’t take us anywhere” and that if “we really want to build power, we need to be counted.”
Distrust of the federal government is particularly salient in the sizable Arab American community of Bridgeview, a southwest suburb. In the 2018 documentary The Feeling of Being Watched, Bridgeview native Assia Boundaoui uncovered evidence that Muslim residents were under FBI surveillance as far back as 1985 as part of a counterintelligence effort known as Operation Vulgar Betrayal.
With Trump administration policies like the public charge rule and the Muslim ban, some people have become wary even of receiving public benefits, according to Nareman Taha, cofounder of Arab American Family Services, a nonprofit social service agency in the southwest suburbs. They’re afraid the government is collecting their personal information through the institutions that dole out benefits.
“Clients would come and say, ‘Close my file. I don’t want anything from the government. I don’t want food stamps. I don’t want medical cards,'” she says. “And these are people who are working poor, they’re eligible. . . . Imagine that detriment and the impact that had on families.”
To counteract that fear, groups like AAFS are relying on the relationships and trust built over years working within communities.
AAFS founded the Arab American Complete Count Committee, which meets at their office, and they are local members of the national Yalla Count Me In campaign—both are aimed at increasing census participation. AAFS is asking people to mark the “other” box on the form and write in “Arab” or their country of origin, in the hopes that when the Census Bureau reevaluates the MENA category there will be evidence to support its inclusion. Other groups, like the Arab American Action Network, say they have not yet decided what to recommend; they’re planning more conversations with community and national partners before making a decision.
Though race and ethnicity data in the census are rarely tied directly to federal funding, local organizations say that if the data were available, it could help them raise money from other sources and draw publicity for their work.
When Hatem Abudayyeh of the Arab American Action Network raises funds for the group’s work to protect youth against discrimination in schools, he says government representatives and donors will ask questions like, “What are the academic levels? How do they do in school? What are their literacy rates?”
“We were in a coalition with Black and Latino organizations, and they all had these stats about how Black and Latino kids were being suspended and expelled from school at much higher rates than whites for the same alleged activities,” he explains. “And we didn’t have any numbers for the Arab kids, even though anecdotally we knew that those things were happening to Arabs as well.”
Taha, at AAFS, says most of their funds come from state government, corporations, foundations, and private donors. The group has been encouraging local universities and other nonprofits to collect data using the MENA category to help them make the case for the services they provide, like domestic violence prevention and immigration legal consultation. One funder, the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, did just that, adding a MENA category to collect better health data statewide.
Some organizations rely on their own surveys or draw noncensus data from sources like Chicago Public Schools. CPS conducts an annual survey asking what languages are spoken in students’ homes, and Arabic was the third-most common non-English language in 2019, preceded only by Spanish and Cantonese, according to data City Bureau received through a public records request.
Laura Youngberg, the executive director of the Middle Eastern Immigrant and Refugee Alliance, says her group was able to use CPS data to advocate for federal and state grants that support its youth and family services. “It’s a battle of like going back to the state and saying, your data is wrong,” she says. “This is the correct data [from the school district]. This is why we deserve to have funding.”
The census category gets at “the bigger issue of, how does a community define itself and how the families define themselves,” Youngberg says. Better data around MENA communities could improve language access for Arabic-speaking people, increase visibility and political representation, and contribute to a larger sense of belonging.
Beyond the census, Taha wants to push for the MENA category at the state level, asking newly elected governor J.B. Pritzker, “How would you recognize the Arab American community? I mean, you came to us when you needed our votes.” Now, more than ever, her community needs to be counted.
Sarah Conway contributed reporting.
This report was produced by City Bureau, a civic journalism lab based in Woodlawn. Learn more and get involved at citybureau.org.
What happened in Geneva this Wednesday, in terms of finally bringing peace to Syria, could not be more significant: the first session of the Syrian Constitutional Committee.
The Syrian Constitutional Committee sprang out of a resolution passed in January 2018 in Sochi, Russia, by a body called the Syrian National Dialogue Congress.
The 150-strong committee breaks down as 50 members of the Syrian opposition, 50 representing the government in Damascus and 50 representatives of civil society. Each group named 15 experts for the meetings in Geneva, held behind closed doors.
This development is a direct consequence of the laborious Astana process – articulated by Russia, Iran and Turkey. Essential initial input came from former UN Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura. Now UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen is working as a sort of mediator.
The committee started its deliberations in Geneva in early 2019.
Crucially, there are no senior members of the administration in Damascus nor from the opposition – apart from Ahmed Farouk Arnus, who is a low-ranking diplomat with the Syrian Foreign Ministry.
Among the opposition, predictably, there are no former leaders of weaponized factions. And no “moderate rebels.” The delegates include several former and current parliament members, university rectors and journalists.
After this first round, significantly, the committee’s co-chair, Ahmad Kuzbari, said: “We hope that our next meeting could take place in our native land, in our beloved Damascus, the oldest continuously inhabited capital in history.”
Even the opposition, which is part of the committee, hopes that a political deal will be clinched next year. According to co-chair Hadi al-Bahra: “I hope that the 75th anniversary of the United Nations next year will be an opportunity to celebrate another achievement by the universal organization, namely the success of efforts under the auspices of a special envoy for political process, who will bring peace and justice to all Syrians.”
Join the patrol
The committee’s work in Geneva proceeds in parallel to ever-changing facts on the ground. These will certainly force more face-to-face negotiations between Presidents Putin and Erdogan, as Erdogan himself confirmed: “A conversation with Putin can take place any time. Everything depends on the course of events.”
“Events” seem not to be that incandescent, so far, even as Erdogan, predictably, releases the whiff of a threat in the air: “We reserve the right to resume military operation in Syria if terrorists approach at the distance of 30km to Turkey’s borders or continue attacks from any other Syrian area.”
Erdogan also said the de facto safe zone along the Turkish-Syrian border could be “expanded,” something that he would have to clear in minute detail with Moscow.
Those threats have already manifested on the ground. On Wednesday, Turkey and allied Islamist factions launched an attack against Tal Tamr, a historic Assyrian Christian enclave 50km deep inside Syrian territory – far beyond the scope of the 10km patrol zone or the 30km “safe” zone.
Poorly-armed Syrian troops pulled out under fierce attack, and with no apparent Russian cover. The Syrian military on the same day issued a public statement calling on the Syrian Democratic Forces to reintegrate under its command. The SDF has said a compromise must be reached first over semi-autonomy for the northeastern region. Thousands of residents in the meantime fled farther south to the more protected city of Hasakeh.
Two facts are absolutely crucial. The Syrian Kurds have completed their pull out ahead of schedule, as confirmed by Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu. And, this Friday, Russia and Turkey start their joint military patrols to the depth of 7km away from the border, part of the de facto safe zone in northeast Syria.
The devil in the immense details is how Ankara is going to manage the territories that it now actually controls, and to which it plans to relocate as many as 2 million Syrian refugees.
Your oil? Mine
Then there’s the nagging issue that simply won’t go away: the American drive to “secure the oil” (Trump) and “protect” Syrian oilfields (the Pentagon), for all practical purposes from Syria.
In Geneva, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov – alongside Iran’s Javad Zarif and Turkey’s Mevlut Cavusoglu – could not have been more scathing. Lavrov said Washington’s plan is “arrogant,” and violates international law. The very American presence on Syrian soil is “illegal,” he said.
All across the Global South, especially among countries in the Non-Aligned Movement, this is being interpreted, stripped to the bone, for what it is: the United States government illegally taking possession of natural resources of a third country via a military occupation.
And the Pentagon is warning that anyone attempting to contest it will be shot on sight. It remains to be seen whether the US Deep State would be willing to engage in a hot war with Russia over a few Syrian oilfields.
Under international law, the whole “securing the oil” scam is a euphemism for pillaging, pure and simple. Every single takfiri or jihadi outfit operating across the “Greater Middle East” will converge, perversely, to the same conclusion: US “efforts” across the lands of Islam are all about the oil.
Now compare that with Russia-Iran-Turkey’s active involvement in a political solution and normalization of Syria – not to mention, behind the scenes, China, which quietly donates rice and aims for widespread investment in a pacified Syria positioned as a key Eastern Mediterranean node of the New Silk Roads.
Iraq’s recent wave of protests against poverty, a lack of basic services, unemployment, and the interference of Iran in the country’s domestic affairs showed a country at the end of its tether. Official figures put the number killed in the violent crackdown of protesters at 157.
The problems for Iraq are deep-rooted and institutional, and if not addressed may yet escalate into a full-scale revolution. What’s needed is reform of the country’s 2005 constitution, which was written during a period of political instability after a war and occupation ridden by conflict. The only way for Iraq to have a chance at prosperity and peace is by addressing its flawed foundations which were heavily influenced by the occupiers.
Iraq’s 2005 constitution, which was influenced by the US, failed to create a unified, representative government. Ambiguities within the document have been abused by those in power and it has exacerbated sectarian divisions within Iraq’s politics. The constitution created a system in which public sector and government roles are allocated based on sect and ethnicity.
Iraq has become a nation that is for the few and not the many, as unrepresentative Iraqi political elites bid to share out its resources. Millions of Iraqis are left unrepresented and without prospects.
While the majority of citizens are discontented and struggling, Iraq’s elites remain fortified and continue to govern through a system known as “wasta”, which involves serving those you favour and hold close, such as friends and family. Divides along ethnic and sectarian lines remain a key theme when identifying the causes of disagreement between competing sects who unite to form political blocs in Iraq’s government.
The lengthy government formation process that takes place after elections is dependent on the division of key state institutions based on ethnic and sectarian identities. To achieve this, political parties form blocs with and against each other to achieve their goals, with the biggest becoming the governing bloc. Although Iraqi elites are divided based on ethnicity, sect and religion, this race for power – and with it the ability to distribute and share the country’s resources – creates a unity between elites.
For example, in three separate parliamentary elections since 2003, the winning candidate has not become prime minister. In the 2014 elections, Nouri al-Maliki, as the head of the State of Law coalition, won the largest number of seats in parliament, yet due to disagreements over government formation and the fight against Islamic State, he was replaced by Haider al-Abadi. In the 2018 elections, Muqtada al-Sadr’s Saairun coalition won a majority, but it was eventually Adil Abdul-Mahdi, an independent, who was chosen as prime minister.
Ministerial fiefdoms where political parties are given ministries in exchange for support to form governing blocs have created a dysfunctional government. It means there is no clear governmental strategy, which in turn severely impedes development.
The mechanics of this power-sharing system are illustrated by coalitions of oligarchs who use public institutions to distribute favours to clients. Political parties control government procurement and reconstruction contracts, who either auction them off or set up shell companies to award contracts to themselves. These contracts are then sub-contracted, or simply never fulfilled, with funds ending up being drained in the process, ultimately benefiting a narrow Iraqi elite. Iraq was ranked 168 out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s 2018 corruption perception index.
In order for Iraq to ever be able to meet the growing demands of its people and the challenges of prospering on the global stage, immediate political reform is needed. The reform process must directly address the rushed and divisive constitution. This needs to be followed by the democratisation of Iraq’s institutions and the re-creation of Iraq’s national identity so the country can escape the worst of its sectarianism and become more unified as a nation.
Without all of these issues addressed with equal importance, the cycle of adversity will continue as Iraq will remain a reactive as opposed to proactive nation.
Gaza’s growing pet population stretches scant vet resources these days because of a greater number of Palestinians turning to pets caring for emotional comfort is more and more noticeable in the minuscule strip. In effect, populations of the tightly enclosed Gaza strip appear to have discovered that dogs and pets generally can help one get through tough times.
GAZA (Reuters) – Palestinians in Gaza are increasingly turning to domestic pets for emotional comfort from the harsh realities of the economically-depressed enclave but the growing animal population is stretching ill-equipped veterinarian facilities.
Some 130 veterinarians work in Gaza but the lack of animal hospitals means most have to turn to regular medical facilities and even to Israel to help care for ailing pets.
At Imad Morad’s veterinary clinic, shelves are filled with pet food and medicine and his equipment includes an ultrasound machine. But for further care, he depends on human medical facilities.
“We send blood and urine samples to human labs for examination. It wasn’t until two years ago when they started taking our requests. We also use them for X-rays,” Morad said.
In some rare cases, cats have been sent for treatment in Israel, which maintains tight restrictions along its border with the Islamist Hamas-run territory.
Unlike cats, dogs are considered unclean in Islam and are usually kept outside, but there is no ban on them.
Dog ownership, however, is becoming more popular and pet food is increasingly available in shops. Owners walking their dogs on Gaza’s streets are now a common sight.
“When someone raises a pet he feels like getting a new friend in his or her life, a friend who cares for him or her more than usual human friends do,” said Saeed el-Aer, a retired civil servant who trawls the streets carrying a bag full of food and medicine, looking for abandoned cats and dogs.
At a Gaza pet shop, its owner, Baha Ghaben, said opening the business had been a risk.
But, he said: “We were surprised at the large number of people who raised pets at home. I sell between ten to twenty animals a month.”
The political impasse in which Algeria has been mired for more than seven months would result in a sharp economic slowdown in the short term. This Algeria’s Political deadlock and economic breakdown that the World Bank forecasters have reached is by any means comprehensive but could be read as some sort of alert.
The institution expects non-hydrocarbon sectors, as well as all oil and gas-related activity, to run through an air hole this year; which should have some unavoidable consequences on the country’s GDP growth. In effect, in similar way to other developing countries, it is expected to come down to 1.3% in 2019 from 1.5% the previous year.
“Uncertainty policy is expected to lead to a slowdown in the non-hydrocarbon sector in 2019,” reads a World Bank report released last Thursday. The Bretton Woods institution has not failed to highlight the impact of the arrests of business leaders on investment morality grounds or lack of these, and more generally, on the economy. “Business leaders from various sectors were arrested in connection with corruption investigations, which has disrupted the economy due to sudden changes in the direction and supervision of these companies, as well as uncertainty over investment,” the same report said. Since the beginning of the crisis, a wave of arrests affected the business community, public institutions, banks and social bodies alike. This blocking situation had worsened over the weeks; appropriation sets did not meet, officials at the level of economic administration were careful not to take the slightest risk. That is to say how violent the shock wave was. The impact on the economy could be disastrous as the situation continues to worsen by the day. As such, the World Bank (WB) estimates that “the pre-election period also risks further delaying the fiscal consolidation process scheduled for 2019, increasing the budget deficit to 12.1% of GDP and increasing the risk of a more abrupt adjustment in the future.” For the WB, widening budget and current account deficits is almost inevitable. While the fiscal deficit would be unlikely to be reduced internally, “on the external front, the current account deficit is expected to widen to 8.1% of GDP, mainly due to a significantly larger trade deficit.”
Investment is being impacted
“As the course of political events is expected to have an impact on economic activity, it is also expected that more resources will be allocated to social measures, to the detriment of public investment spending,” the Bank predicts. The report, stating that “private sector activity and investment will be affected by political disruptions and an unfavourable business climate, as well as disruptions caused by delays in payment of workers in several industries.” This is the case, since the draft Finance Bill 2020 foresees a sharp decline in capital expenditure, to the tune of 20.1%, while operating expenses and social transfers are maintained as they are. WB experts are merely saying out loud what Algerian economists and operators are thinking, warning of a situation that could go along if solutions to the political impasse run out. “The delays at the end of the political impasse and political uncertainty could further damage the country’s economy, leading to increased imports and further dwindling foreign exchange reserves,” concludes the WB report. Moreover, macroeconomic indicators are unlikely to improve at any time under current political conditions.
Economic growth to only 1.9% in 2020
Moreover, against a background of falling capital spending and low morale among investors, the growth of the Algerian economy would be only 1.9% in the year 2020. A stagnation is due in particular to the “slow” growth of the hydrocarbons sector, combined with the contraction in economic activity, which has limited growth in non-hydrocarbon sectors, according to the WB’s economic monitoring report released on Thursday. “Growth in the hydrocarbon sector has been slow, with economic activity contracting by 6.5% and 7.7% in 2018 and the first quarter of 2019, respectively, partially off-sparing the effects of the slight increase in non-core growth 3.4% and 3.9% in 2018 and the first quarter of 2019, respectively,” the WB noted. The tiny increase in investment in the first half of the year (4.9%) was driven by public investment in construction, public works and hydraulics, as a result of the expansion of social housing programmes, the WB said. Furthermore, the institution believes that “the recent discovery of a new gas field suggests a rebound in gas production and exports, but only in the medium term, and if and only if the framework for investment in hydrocarbons lends it to it.” The World Bank is merely bringing water to the government’s mill, which has called the enactment of the new hydrocarbon law urgent.
Streets demonstrations in the vast and populous countries of the MENA region’s Algiers, Khartoum, Cairo and finally, Bagdad chasing some long-time running democratic awakening appear to be stalling. However, these capital cities of the so-called republics’ populations seem to be going through a quasi-general disenchantment with their respective establishments because of all the prospects for future development in political and security terms have become uncertain given this sudden but not surprising worsening regional situation. Like throughout all these countries, Iraq protests expose the fallacy of the country’s democracy. Technological advances in the world and their penetration in the MENA region could definitely be behind all these upheavals.
Whether these media as social or just digital distribution of news, they did help to connect citizens and build linkage to an unprecedented level. Government organisations always in desperate need of credibility fell short to keep up with how fast the region’s peoples demands of more democracy, etc. This article elaborates on the specifics of Iraq’s.
Violent crackdown against Iraq protests expose fallacy of the country’s democracy
When Muhanad Habib, a 22-year-old Iraqi from the Sadr City district of Baghdad, posted on Facebook in late September, he probably didn’t imagine that his demands for a better life and basic rights would be met with bullets.
It will be a huge and angry public revolution in Baghdad … We will take to the streets protesting … Enough silence about what’s going on in Iraq. We cannot just watch Iraq being destroyed when we have armies of jobless and poor.
This was how it all started. Angry youth from Baghdad took to the streets. Unaffiliated with any political party or with well-known activists, the protesters – the majority of whom were born in the late 1990s or early 2000s – despaired about any prospect for change in Iraq.
Yet, Salih’s statement raised questions about who is actually running the Iraqi state. And despite his and international condemnation, the crackdown continues on the ground.
Calls for a homeland
Endemic corruption, unemployment, flawed institutions and poor public services linger in Iraq and have prompted protests since 2011, including notably in Basra in 2018. The recapture of Iraqi lands from the grip of Islamic State (IS) gave many Iraqis hope that lessons would be learnt about the repeated failures which gave rise to IS, and that those in power would take sincere steps to reform. But that hope has been diminishing every day.
The most recent protests came in the wake of multiple smaller demonstrations by different groups, including PhD graduates, doctors and engineers in September 2019.
They followed government actions that caused widespread anger. Impoverished people were outraged at a recent state campaign to destroy unlicensed properties and market stalls across Iraq, leaving many homeless and jobless.
It also followed the removal of a key general, Abdul Wahab Al Saadi, from his position as commander of the Counter-Terrorism Service, followed by his demotion to a lower post at the Ministry of Defence. The marginalisation of a figure admired for his role in the military campaign against IS enraged many Iraqis.
The new generation want a homeland. “We want a respected homeland,” and “I am taking to the streets to get my right,” were among the slogans on display during the protests. “The issue is not about water or electricity, but about a homeland,” shouted another protester.
The immediate crackdown of the protests has surprised, shocked, and shaken Iraqis. The suppression turned a protest about anti-corruption and unemployment into an uprising against the status quo and what participants see as foreign interference, particularly from Iran.
Tear gas, live ammunition, and snipers were used to quell the protesters. As one protestor put it: “They did things to us they never did to IS. They beat and insulted us. They used live fire and grenades. What have we done? All what we are asking for are our rights and all people’s rights.” The protestor’s words were used as the opening of a new rap song titled “Iran’s tails” released in the wake of the crackdown by an Iraqi expat in solidarity with the demonstrators.
The violent oppression and state’s authoritarian measures to cover up the carnage are reminiscent of the days of Baathist rule and former president Saddam Hussein’s oppression of a 1991 uprising. In 2019, such measures included an internet blackout across Iraq except in the Kurdistan region, curfews in Baghdad and other provinces in the south, and blocked roads leading to Tahrir square in Baghdad where demonstrators gathered. Comparisons were also made with IS, who also cut off the internet in Mosul when Iraqi troops were advancing to retake the city in 2016.
Offices of media agencies covering the protests were attacked and reports emerged of protesters, activists and journalists being threatened and arrested.
By disconnecting Iraqis from the outside world, the authorities in Iraq tried to control the circulation of videos that showed civilians killed in broad daylight. But they also pushed the narrative of Iran-backed political parties and officials: that “intruders” – an implicit reference to Baathists or actors backed by an external agenda – were responsible for riots. A similar narrative was echoed by Iranian media outlets to undermine the legitimacy of the protests, accusing foreign powers of being behind them, an indirect reference to the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Despite the internet blackout, which remains partially in place, footage of the live shooting at the protestors and ambulances carrying the wounded were shared on social media as some Iraqi protesters resorted to innovative methods with the help of Iraqi expats to reveal the scale of the violence.
The heartbreaking scenes caused uproar among the Iraqi diaspora who protested in several countries around the world in solidarity. But for people inside Iraq, many still don’t know the scale of the atrocities as they haven’t been able to access social media sites.
The fallacy of democracy
Since the fall of Hussein’s regime in 2003, successive governments have failed to put an end to Iraqis’ grievances. Time and again, only empty promises were made, and superficial measures taken. The electoral system has helped to produce and perpetuate a hybrid form of kleptocracy, authoritarianism and kakistocracy – a government run by the worst, or most unscrupulous people. Armed groups, tribes, foreign powers and religious clergy have all maintained this system.
The latest protests may have been suppressed but they revealed that democracy in Iraq is nothing but a facade. What sort of democratic government kills its own people, taking away their hopes and dreams? And can it still be called legitimate? Reacting indifferently to the deadly crackdown of innocent people in Iraq, the world needs to at least recognise that the root causes of Iraq’s ills are in the post-2003 system itself.
In the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda, stories on Migration and Workforce and Employment abound. This one on India‘s record-breaking diaspora is the latest. It is doubly interesting because of a) the significant presence of more than 8 million NRIs (non-resident Indians) in the Gulf and b) it is reflective of a mutual necessity relationship between the Gulf and India.
In 2019, remittance flows to low- and middle-income countries are expected to reach $550 billion, becoming their largest source of external financing. ‘Indians abroad sent back $80 billion, making the country the leading recipient of funds from overseas.’ Per Image above: REUTERS/Pawan Kumar.
Katharine Rooney, Senior Writer, Formative Content, the Indian diaspora elsewhere seem to be not that dissimilar to that of the GCC’s.
Despite a sizeable outflow, India is still home to 1.39 billion people – and by 2027, it’s set to overtake China as the world’s most populous country. While there has been progress in reducing extreme poverty levels, there are still 176 million people living in poverty in India, and money remitted by expatriates is an important part of economic development and growth. In 2018, Indians abroad sent back $80 billion, making the country the leading recipient of funds from overseas.
Robert Malley in this article titled The Unwanted Wars published in September / October 2019 of Foreign Affairs gives some answers to this question that has been marauding everyone for millennia. Why the Middle East Is More Combustible Than Ever, would, sarcasm apart, be a good start to try to understand the multi-layered mess of all past and passing powers. Here are some excerpts of the article.
war that now looms largest is a war nobody apparently wants. During his
presidential campaign, Donald Trump railed against the United States’
entanglement in Middle Eastern wars, and since assuming office, he has not
changed his tune. Iran has no interest in a wide-ranging conflict that it knows
it could not win. Israel is satisfied with calibrated operations in Iraq,
Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza but fears a larger confrontation that
could expose it to thousands of rockets. Saudi Arabia is determined to
push back against Iran, but without confronting it militarily. Yet the
conditions for an all-out war in the Middle East are riper than at any time in
conflict could break out in any one of a number of places for any one of
a number of reasons. Consider the September 14 attack on Saudi oil facilities: it could
theoretically have been perpetrated by the Houthis, a Yemeni rebel group,
as part of their war with the kingdom; by Iran, as a response to
debilitating U.S. sanctions; or by an Iranian-backed Shiite militia in Iraq. If
Washington decided to take military action against Tehran, this could
in turn prompt Iranian retaliation against the United States’ Gulf allies,
an attack by Hezbollah on Israel, or a Shiite militia operation against U.S. personnel in Iraq.
Likewise, Israeli operations against Iranian allies anywhere in the Middle
East could trigger a regionwide chain reaction. Because any development
anywhere in the region can have ripple effects everywhere, narrowly containing
a crisis is fast becoming an exercise in futility.
it comes to the Middle East, Tip O’Neill, the storied
Democratic politician, had it backward: all politics—especially local
politics—is international. In Yemen, a war pitting the Houthis, until not
long ago a relatively unexceptional rebel group, against a debilitated central
government in the region’s poorest nation, one whose prior internal conflicts
barely caught the world’s notice, has become a focal point for the
Iranian-Saudi rivalry. It has also become a possible trigger for deeper
U.S. military involvement. The Syrian regime’s repression of a
popular uprising, far more brutal than prior crackdowns but hardly
the first in the region’s or even Syria’s modern history, morphed into an
international confrontation drawing in a dozen countries. It has resulted in
the largest number of Russians ever killed by the United States and
has thrust both Russia and Turkey and Iran and Israel to the brink of
war. Internal strife in Libya sucked in not just Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey,
and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) but also Russia and the United States.
is a principal explanation for such risks. The Middle East has
become the world’s most polarized region and, paradoxically, its most
integrated. That combination—along with weak state structures, powerful nonstate
actors, and multiple transitions occurring almost simultaneously—also makes the
Middle East the world’s most volatile region. It further means that as long as
its regional posture remains as it is, the United States will be just one
poorly timed or dangerously aimed Houthi drone strike, or one particularly
effective Israeli operation against a Shiite militia, away from its next costly
regional entanglement. Ultimately, the question is not chiefly whether the
United States should disengage from the region. It is how it should choose to
engage: diplomatically or militarily, by exacerbating divides or mitigating
them, and by aligning itself fully with one side or seeking to achieve a sort
LOCALLY, THINK REGIONALLY
story of the contemporary Middle East is one of a succession of rifts, each new
one sitting atop its precursors, some taking momentary precedence over others,
none ever truly or fully resolved. Today, the three most important
rifts—between Israel and its foes, between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and between
competing Sunni blocs—intersect in dangerous and potentially explosive ways.
current adversaries are chiefly represented by the so-called axis of
resistance: Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and, although presently otherwise occupied,
Syria. The struggle is playing out in the traditional arenas of the West Bank
and Gaza but also in Syria, where Israel routinely strikes Iranian forces
and Iranian-affiliated groups; in cyberspace; in Lebanon, where Israel faces
the heavily armed, Iranian-backed Hezbollah; and even in Iraq, where Israel has
reportedly begun to target Iranian allies. The absence of most Arab states from
this frontline makes it less prominent but no less dangerous.
those Arab states, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been nudged to the
sidelines by the two other battles. Saudi Arabia prioritizes its rivalry with
Iran. Both countries exploit the Shiite-Sunni rift to mobilize their
respective constituencies but are in reality moved by power politics, a
tug of war for regional influence unfolding in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, and
the Gulf states.
there is the Sunni-Sunni rift, with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE vying
with Qatar and Turkey. As Hussein Agha and I wrote in The New Yorker in March, this is the
more momentous, if least covered, of the divides, with both supremacy over the Sunni
world and the role of political Islam at stake. Whether in Egypt, Libya,
Syria, Tunisia, or as far afield as Sudan, this competition will largely define
the region’s future.
Together with the region’s polarization is a lack of effective communication, which makes things ever more perilous. There is no meaningful channel between Iran and Israel, no official one between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and little real diplomacy beyond rhetorical jousting between the rival Sunni blocs.
The Brookings’ FUTURE DEVELOPMENT elaborated these 5 steps to reshape economic geography and rejuvenate the MENA this Friday, September 20, 2019, as a demonstration that it is possible to do so. The story is by Somik V. Lall and Ayah Mahgoub. Here it is.
The destinies of people in the Middle East and North Africa are shaped more by accidents of where they were born than in any other part of the world (Figure 1). This is considered a problem by governments in the region, and it should be. They have tried many ways to respond to the needs of people in lagging areas; much money has been spent on investment in these places. Thus, to add jobs in poorer areas, policymakers have tried to strong-arm new production facilities into these areas. To meet the need for decent homes and amenities in poor urban neighborhoods, money has been poured into massive housing projects.
Even so, spatial disparities continue to grow, or are closing more slowly than would be expected given the volume of investment directed to these locations. The main reason: the causes of spatial exclusion are not locational and physical but are economic and institutional.
Figure 1: With a few exceptions such as Jordan, spatial inequality is higher in MENA
WHY IS MENA SO FRAGMENTED?
Why is territorial convergence so difficult? In a report that we just completed at the World Bank, we identified four reasons.
Most lagging areas in MENA have not been able to leverage the full returns to their endowments because the business environment and infrastructure in their cities and towns makes it hard for new firms to start and grow (Figure 2). One reason is that outside the capital city in MENA countries, smaller cities invariably lack the authority to raise their own revenues and to manage local service provision.
Most residents in lagging areas are “stuck in place,” unable to take full advantage of jobs that more vibrant urban economies offer. Credentialist education systems may be most to blame for making people immobile.
In leading areas, rigid and outdated regulations distort land markets and stymie development. For example, regulations in Tunisia prohibit residential buildings more than three stories high, and regulations in Jordan impose a minimum lot size of 100 square meters—restricting the supply of affordable formal housing.
MENA’s governments have created formidable obstacles to trade and migration. The main barriers are limits on news and information and practical constraints on travel and trade (visa difficulties, weak infrastructure, logistics hurdles).
Figure 2: It’s tough for firms outside MENA’s capital cities
Notice that while they result in spatial inequalities of opportunity, the reasons for fragmentation are not themselves spatial.
ENGINEERING A CONVERGENCE MACHINE
Increasing the pace of integration and convergence will require fixing these problems. Governments in the region can reduce territorial disparities quickly and effectively by doing five things:
Strengthen coordination and complementarities across initiatives. Development strategies are more likely to succeed if they are multidimensional, including access to energy, transport, land, and markets—in the same place, whether sequentially or concurrently. A good place to start is by anchoring investments in and around cities. Complementary reforms that help get the prices right—for energy and for land—can go a long way in creating the conditions for job creation in lagging areas. The good news is that governments don’t have to pay more to see better results, because spatial coordination will generate cost savings in the medium to longer term.
Redistribute roles and responsibilities across tiers of government. Citizens in different parts of the country have varying needs, and local conditions require flexible service delivery models. Redistributing responsibilities for local revenue generation and local service provision to local governments can make them better equipped and more accountable.
Enable mobility of people between lagging and leading areas. On average, people in MENA are half as mobile domestically as people in other parts of the world (Figure 3). Our research shows that living standards of people moving internally to major cities can increase by an average of 37 percent in the region. Women are more likely to move and find jobs in urban areas, but they need support to do so. Education systems across the region need to be reoriented toward marketable skills.
Build dense and connected cities. Well-functioning cities offer a wide variety of jobs—for women and men. Making land markets in cities more efficient is critical for agglomeration and specialization—two dynamics that enhance job creation and economic prosperity. Whether in larger or in smaller (secondary) cities, agglomeration and specialization require the benefits from high economic density, which concentrates economic activity geographically. For this, the fabric of cities needs to be spatially connected, dense with people, and transit-oriented—not sprawling that perpetuates the dispersion of people and jobs. Planners and regulators can attract firms to invest in cities by reducing frictions such as zoning regulations, impediments to property acquisition and new construction (costs, height limits, density limits), challenges to local business registration and licensing, limits on news and information, and obstacles to developing local business networks.
Enhance market access nationally and regionally. Historically, MENA’s cities were part of economically important global trade networks. Many of these cities persisted into modern times as large urban areas. But governments in the region have managed to shrink the networks from global to local. These networks have, at a minimum, to be expanded to national and regional dimensions. A good place to start would be to improve the links across national borders—reducing tariffs, improving logistics, and facilitating trade, and instituting migration protocols. Such efforts will grow the economies, providing much-needed resources to redistribute in areas left behind.
Figure 3: Just 14 percent of MENA’s people have left their place of birth, compared with 28 percent in countries elsewhere
In other words, MENA’s governments have to start putting together a modern convergence machine. The main parts of the machine are institutions that integrate and infrastructure that connects. MENA is no longer a poor place: Last year, the region’s GDP per capita was nearly $7,000 placing it comfortably in upper middle-income levels. Its people should have access to quality basic services such as education, clinics, sanitation, and public security. Well-chosen infrastructure initiatives—roads, railways, ports and communication facilities—can provide its entrepreneurs access to the region’s sizeable markets (the region’s GDP is $3 trillion) and even bigger nearby markets to MENA’s north and east. Spatially targeted interventions might also be needed, but they are not the main components of the machine.
Perhaps the biggest mistake that governments have been making is to regard these interventions—programs to push economic activity into lagging areas while simultaneously favoring capital cities—as the mainstay of the machine. It’s time to stop these self-defeating measures that exacerbate fragmentation in MENA, and speed up efforts to engineer integration.
Somik V. Lall, Global Lead on Territorial Development Solutions and Lead Economist for Sustainable Development in Middle East and North Africa – World Bank. somikcities
Ayah Mahgoub, Senior Urban Development Specialist – World Bank