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
Saudi Arabian authorities opted some time ago for the whole and/or part nationalisation of its 9 million-strong manpower, kickstarted and still is going through a programme labelled Saudisation that recently ended up by excluding non-domestic contracting of governments jobs.
On September 16, Jahangeer was deported to Bangladesh along with other Bangladeshi workers.
Jahangeer Hossain was heading to his factory along with other workers in a vehicle around 7:30 am in Riyadh on September 2 like every other day.
Soon, a police patrol car blocked their vehicle and detained them. It never occurred to him even in his dreams that he would be then kept at a Deportation Camp in the Saudi Arabian capital for 15 days without any knowledge of the future.
On September 16, Jahangeer was deported to Bangladesh along with other Bangladeshi workers.
“I had a valid Iqama [work permit for foreign nationals] in Saudi Arabia. It’s still valid for three more months. I have no idea why I was arrested and sent back home,” said the man, who is currently at his village home in Jhenaidah.
He told Dhaka Tribune that about 120 to 150 people were kept in each room at the Deportation Camp.
Jahangeer has no idea how he is going to provide for his family now. On top of that, he still has to pay back Tk1 lakh (more than GB£945) he had taken in loans to travel to Saudi Arabia.
Jahangeer said he could not even ask the Riyadh police why he was being held because he was afraid of getting beaten.
He said an official of the Bangladesh Embassy in Saudi Arabia visited the Deportation Camp, but he said he was not authorized to talk to them.
A total of 389 Bangladeshi workers like Jahangeer were sent back home by Saudi Arabia Arabian authorities in last three days following a crackdown on undocumented workers there.
Of them, 160 arrived in Dhaka on Tuesday night. Most of them complained that they were forced to return despite having valid documents.
What govt says
Government official and experts say the number of migrants is way more than the number of jobs over there, and the recent Saudization policy, officially known as Saudi nationalization scheme or Nitaqat, has led layoffs of Bangladeshi migrant workers.
Rownak Jahan, secretary of the Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment Ministry, told Dhaka Tribune: “We have asked the Bangladesh Embassy to Saudi Arabia to look into it.
“We will be able to comment after they give us a report on it. Our minister is also visiting Saudi Arabia. He will discuss this issue.”
She said migration does not remain static and recently Saudi Arabia is being very strict about undocumented migrants.
She told Dhaka tribune that more people are migrating to countries like Saudi Arabia for jobs. There are more jobseekers than vacancies, she said and added that sometimes migrants have valid papers but there are no jobs for them.
The Saudization policy of hiring Saudi nationals over migrant workers could be another reason because of which Bangladeshi migrants’ job contracts are not being renewed, the secretary added.
She said every country has its own law and other countries cannot intervene in their internal issues.
13,000 deported in 2019 alone
Shariful Hasan, the head of Brac’s Migration Program, told Dhaka Tribune that at least 13,000 Bangladeshi workers have so far been deported from Saudi Arabia in 2019 alone.
Some recruiting agencies and brokers are luring migrants saying they can go to Saudi Arabia with “free visa,” but there is no such thing, he said.
Shariful said the recruiting agencies and brokers are still sending people abroad without ensuring a secured job because the more they can send, the more money they will make.
As per the law, migrant workers are not allowed to work under any employer they want. They have to work under the employer they signed a contract with. If they leave the job and work under another employer, they will become undocumented.
Shariful recommended solving the problem bilaterally.
“Our embassy should ask the Saudi Arabian government why they are deporting Bangladeshi migrants [even though they had valid documents], and then they can work on the solution based on their response,” he said.
Marina Sultana, program director of Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit, said many Bangladeshi workers in Malaysia are not being regularized and as a result, they are being deported.
She also pointed finger at Saudization for the layoffs and eventual deportation of the migrant workers.
According to a Saudi Press Agency report, the Saudi authorities have so far arrested around 3.8 million foreigners as it continues the crackdown on labour and residency violations.
The latest figures indicate that 544,521 people have been arrested since early June.
The MENA’s Gulf area is home, though temporarily to numerous people from around the world, with nationals being a minority for decades now. All the neighbouring countries to Bahrain rely heavily on this imported manpower to not only get things done but mainly to keep the respective economies going. Life and above all its quality aspect, therefore of the various expat communities in the different countries does, unlike in the recent past, account for much in the socio-political stratosphere of the various work environments. And, Bahrain tops region for expat living.
However, while the populations in the area are recently noticed to be somewhat slowing, especially if compared to the boom years that started around the early 2000s, there are varying differences in the communities’ growths. But that’s a different story.
Bahrain remains the best place for expatriates to work and live in the Middle East, even as it dropped to the seventh place globally from being on top of the list last year in the InterNations Expat Insider survey.
With more than 20,000 respondents, it is one of the most extensive surveys about living and working abroad, sharing insights into expat life in 64 destinations. The survey offers in-depth information about expats’ satisfaction with the quality of life, ease of settling in, working life, personal finance, cost of living, and family life in their respective country of residence.
Despite Bahrain losing ground in terms of working abroad and family life, expats are still generally happy with both aspects of life abroad. They also keep finding it easy to settle in this country, the survey said.
Taiwan, Vietnam, and Portugal are the best expat destinations: all of them attract expats with their ease of settling in and good personal finances. While expats in Taiwan and Portugal are also extremely satisfied with the quality of life, those in Vietnam appreciate their great work life.
At the other bottom of the ranking, Kuwait (64th out of 64), Italy, and Nigeria are the worst destinations for expats in 2019. While Kuwait is the country where expats find it hardest to settle in, Italy offers the worst work-life, and Nigeria the worst quality of life in the world, the study found, it said.
After a first place in the Expat Insider survey in 2018 and 2017, Bahrain loses six places in 2019 (7thout of 64). These results may be affected by its sudden drop of 17 places in the Working Abroad Index(from 1st to 18th). While Bahrain is still in the top 10 countries for career prospects and job satisfaction (10th), expats seem to be less satisfied with their working hours (3rd in 2018 to 27th in 2019) and their job security (5th to 19th). In fact, 62% are happy with the state of the economy, which is just about the global average (63%). Expat parents are also slightly less happy, ranking Bahrain 13th out of 36 countries in the Family LifeIndex (vs. 7th out of 50 countries in 2018). Still, more than nine in ten parents (93%) rate the friendly attitude towards families with children positively (vs. 81% globally), and expats keep having no issues with settling in in their new country (2nd): more than four in five respondents (82%) say it is easy to settle down in Bahrain (vs. 59% globally). They find it easy to make friends (68% vs. 54% globally) and to live in the country without speaking the local language (94% vs. 45% globally).
Taiwan: Coming first out of 64 countries and territories in the Expat Insider 2019 survey, Taiwan stands out for its great quality of life (3rd place). Taiwan is rated best in the world for the affordability of healthcare, with almost nine in ten respondents (89%) satisfied with this factor (vs. 55% globally). Expats in Taiwan are also happy with the quality of medical care (92% vs. 65% globally) and their personal safety (96%vs. 81% globally). In addition to that, 78% agree that it easy to settle down there (vs. 59% globally), and88% find the locals generally friendly (vs. 68% globally).
Vietnam: After ranking 14th out of 68 destinations in 2018, Vietnam is voted the second-best country for expats in 2019. Expats there are particularly happy with their career prospects (68% satisfied vs. 55% globally)and their jobs in general (74% satisfied vs. 64% globally). However, Vietnam is not only the highest ranking country when it comes to working abroad, it is also the best destination for personal finance(1st out of 64). In fact, 81% of expats are happy with their financial situation (vs. 64% worldwide), and75% state that their disposable household income is more than they need to cover daily costs (vs. 49%globally).
Portugal: According to the Expat Insider 2019 survey, Portugal offers an excellent quality of life (1st worldwide) and a “relaxed lifestyle”, as a British expat highlights. It is one of the world’s best countries for leisure options (2nd): more than four in five expats (83%) are happy with the socializing and leisure activities available to them (vs. 65% globally), and almost every expat (95%) rates the climate and weather positively (vs. 61% globally). Moreover, Portugal ranks among the top 5 expat destinations where it is easy to settle in for the third year in a row (4th in 2019).
Gulf wealth: all that glitters is not gold. Little suggests that fabulously wealthy Gulf states and their Middle Eastern and North African beneficiaries have recognized what is perhaps the most important lesson of this year’s popular uprisings in Algeria and Sudan and the 2011 Arab revolts: All that glitters is not gold.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and to a lesser extent Kuwait have in the last decade invested billions of dollars in either reversing or hollowing out the revolts’ achievements in a bid to ensure that political change elsewhere in the region does not come to haunt them.
Qatar, in a counterintuitive strategy that has earned it the ire of the rulers of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, has sought to achieve the same goal by attempting to be on the right side of the region’s forces of change.
The irony is that both approaches, despite also involving huge investments at home in economic diversification, education, and healthcare, could produce the very result Gulf states seek to avoid: a region that has many of the trappings of 21st century knowledge states but that is incapable of catering to the aspirations of a youth bulge expected to annually increase the work force by a million people over the next 12 years.
UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, concluded earlier this year, that the region’s youth bulge was a double-edged sword. It could either pose a threat to regional stability or be an asset for development.
Turning the youth bulge into an asset “requires urgent and significant investment to create opportunities for meaningful learning, social engagement and work, all of which are currently limited, particularly for young women and the most vulnerable,” the UN agency said in a report entitled MENA (Middle East and North Africa) Generation 2030.
UNICEF arrived at its conclusion even though Gulf states have adopted grandiose plans that envision them becoming within a matter of a decade or two diversified, knowledge-driven economies that enact the social reforms needed to create opportunity for all segments of society.
The group’s conclusion applies as much to the wealthy Gulf states as it does to the Arab beneficiaries of their politically motivated financial largesse.
The problems with the flexing of the Gulf states’ financial muscle as well as the implementation of reform plans are multi-fold.
They relate as much to quality of the upgrading of services such as education as they are about how political intent shapes development efforts and how high domestic debt in countries like Egypt, where 27 percent of government expenditure goes to interest payments, and Lebanon, which spends 38 percent of its budget on debt servicing, benefits Gulf banks and stymies social and economic development.
Credit rating agency Fitch recently downgraded Lebanon’s credit rating to CCC from B- because of “intensifying pressure on Lebanon’s financing model and increasing risks to the government’s debt servicing capacity.”
“In Lebanon, just over 50 percent of the country’s bank assets are held by GCC-related banks, in Palestine this figure is 63 per cent, and in Jordan it is as high as 86 percent,” Mr. Advani wrote in a review of political economist Adam Hanieh’s study of Gulf finance, Money, Markets, and Monarchies.
Mr Hanieh argues that the bulk of the debt payments are to financial establishments whose major shareholders include Gulf institutions in a process in which “the Arab state…increasingly mediates the transfer of national wealth to large Gulf-related banks.”
Mr Advani warned that “indebted governments are compelled to intensify a politics of austerity, further trapping these societies in cycles of debt. Investments in social programs or infrastructural developments are often stalled. Popular movements are unable to realize their demands at the state level due to the requirements of foreign creditors and domestic capitalists. The ensuing scenario is one where alternative politics are asphyxiated and increasingly circumscribed by an atrophied status quo.”
That may well be the purpose of the exercise with economic diversification efforts in the Gulf being driven more by the need of autocracies to upgrade their autocratic style and create opportunity for a restive youth in a bid to ensure regime survival rather than by the acknowledgement of a government’s responsibility to serve the people.
The result is a flawed approach to all aspects of reform.
In Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 economic and social reform plan that calls for greater private sector involvement has turned into a top down effort that emphasizes state control with the government’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) as the key player.
A combination of depressed oil prices and the recent replacement of energy minister Khalid al-Falih as chairman of the board of Aramco by PIF head Yasir al-Rumayyan, a close associate of Prince Mohammed, raises questions about the state oil company’s positioning in advance of a much-touted initial public offering.
Ellen Wald, an energy analyst and author of a history of Aramco, the kingdom’s main source of revenue, noted that at PIF Mr. Al-Rumayyan had overseen investments more geared towards speculative gains than the sustainable growth of Saudi wealth.
Nonetheless, Ms Wald cautions that Mr Al-Rumayyan’s appointment “doesn’t necessarily bode well for Aramco, which is a different kind of company. It has to make stable decisions for the long term,” she said.
By the same token, UNICEF warned that poverty, violent conflict, restrictive social norms, patriarchy, rights violations and lack of safe spaces for expression and recreation were limiting opportunities as well as civic adolescent and youth engagement.
Gulf emphasis on geopolitical dominance, regime survival and return on financial investment produces short term solutions that often exacerbate conflict, produce little trickle-down effect and few prospects for long-term stability.
“As a result, adolescents and youth in MENA (the Middle East and North Africa) feel disillusioned, with girls and young women, refugees, those with disabilities and the poor being particularly marginalised and underrepresented,” the UNICEF report said.
“Youth unemployment in the region is currently the highest in the world. Education systems are failing to prepare adolescents and youth for the workplace, and markets are not generating urgently needed jobs,” the report warned.
Gulf wealth glitters but if the UNICEF report is anything to go by, it has yet to demonstrate that it can produce the gold of a development that is sustainable and benefits not only all segments of Gulf societies but also of those across the region that have become dependent on it.
Dr James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, an adjunct senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and co-director of the University of Wuerzburg’s Institute of Fan Culture.
AMEinfo on September 5, 2019, came up with this superlative statement article because Dubai remains one of the world’s most visited cities in the world of today. The same media has already covered the same topic last year.
“The impressive visitor numbers are set to increase even further next year, as we welcome 192 nations for a once-in-a-lifetime celebration at Expo 2020 Dubai” – Sanjive Khosla, CCO, Expo 2020 Dubai
Dubai welcomed 15.93 million overnight visitors in 2018, retaining its ranking as fourth most popular destination globally
Abu Dhabi is Middle East and Africa’s fastest-growing city with a 2009-2018 CAGR of 16.7%
When looking at the cities by dollar spent, Dubai tops the list with travellers spending USD $553 on average a day
Dubai has retained its position as the fourth most visited city in the world for the fifth year in a row, according to Mastercard’s Global Destination Cities Index (GDCI) 2019. The city welcomed 15.93 million international overnight visitors last year and the city is expected to continue building on its success in 2019.
The UAE’s capital, Abu Dhabi, was ranked as the fastest-growing city in the Middle East and Africa, with a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 16.7% between 2009 and 2018 in overnight arrivals.
“Once again, Dubai has earned and maintained its position as the fourth most visited city in the world in Mastercard’s Global Destinations Cities Index. As the most attractive destination in the Middle East and Africa region for international visitors, Dubai connects people from all over the world with a diverse range of offerings for leisure and business travellers alike,” said Girish Nanda, General Manager, UAE & Oman, Mastercard.
Sanjive Khosla, Chief Commercial Officer, Expo 2020 Dubai, said: “The impressive visitor numbers are set to increase even further next year, as we welcome 192 nations for a once-in-a-lifetime celebration at Expo 2020 Dubai. With millions of visitors projected to come from outside the UAE, we anticipate that the region’s first ever World Expo will create short- and long-term benefits for Dubai’s tourism industry while enhancing its reputation as a dynamic and diverse global meeting point.”
Mastercard Global Destination City Index 2019 – Key Findings
Over the past ten years, the world has seen economic ebbs and flows, evolving global competition and partnership, and boundless technological innovation. But, one thing has remained constant: people’s growing desire to travel the world, visit new landscapes and immerse themselves in other cultures. Mastercard’s Global Destination Cities Index, released today, quantifies this desire: since 2009, the number of international overnight visitors grew an astounding 76 per cent.
This year, the Global Destination Cities Index—which ranks 200 cities based on proprietary analysis of publicly available visitor volume and spend data—reveals that Bangkok remains the No. 1 destination, with more than 22 million international overnight visitors. Paris and London, in flipped positions this year, hold the No. 2 and 3 spots, respectively both hovering over 19 million. All top ten cities saw more international overnight visitors in 2018 than the prior year, with the exception of London, which decreased nearly 4 per cent. The forecast for 2019 indicates across-the-board growth, with Tokyo expecting the largest uptick in visitors.
When looking at the cities by dollar spent, Dubai tops the list with travellers spending USD $553 on average a day. Makkah, new to the top 10 last year, remains at No. 2 for the second consecutive year, with Bangkok rounding out the top three.
Notably this year, the Global Destination Cities Index offers a decade of insights to consider, with three key trends standing out.
-Consistent & Steady Growth: Over the past decade, the one constant has been continual change. Each year, more people are travelling internationally and spending more in the cities. Between all of the destinations within the Index, arrivals have grown on average 6.5 per cent year-over-year since 2009, with expenditure growing on average 7.4 per cent.
-The Sustained Dominance of Major Cities: While there has been significant movement in visitors to smaller cities, the top 10 has remained largely consistent. London, Paris and Bangkok have been the top 3 since 2010, with Bangkok as No. 1 six of the past seven years. New York is another top 10 stalwart, with 13.6 million overnight visitors this year.
-The Rise of Asia-Pacific International Travelers: Cities in the Asia-Pacific region have seen the largest increase in international travellers since 2009, growing 9.4 per cent. In comparison, Europe, which saw the second highest growth, was up 5.5 per cent. This is spurred on by the growth in mainland Chinese travellers. Since 2009, mainland China has jumped up six places to be the No. 2 origin country for travellers to the 200 included destinations—behind only the U.S.
Jackline Wahba, Professor of Economics at the University of Southampton looks at the civil unrest in Syria direct implications on the country’s populations movements on one of the neighbouring countries, i.e. Jordan. Why Syrian refugees have no negative effects on Jordan’s labour market is a question in everybody’s mind since the start of the ensuing multilateral conflicts.
Forced displacement is a global challenge. The number of displaced people rose from 43m to 69m between 2007 and 2017, with the highest growth primarily due to the Syrian conflict, which started in 2011. Since then, more than 6.3m Syrians have fled to neighbouring countries and beyond. This humanitarian crisis has generated public sympathy as well as concern about the implications of such a massive flow of people.
Jordan, which shares a border with Syria, has experienced a substantial influx of refugees. Around 1.3m Syrians live in Jordan, which has a total population of just 6.6m. The impact of so many people on members of the host community is a subject of great importance and debate.
One area of particular concern tends to be the job market. Jordan gives a unique insight into this as it signed an agreement with the EU in 2016, agreeing to allow Syrian refugees to enter legal employment in return for humanitarian aid, financial assistance and trade concessions from the EU. Known as the Jordan Compact, I studied its effect on the Jordanian labour market with colleagues Belal Fallah and Caroline Krafft. We found that the compact did not have a negative effect on Jordanian jobs or wages.
Using data that represented the whole country, combined with information on where most refugees live (which is fairly concentrated in certain areas of the country), we were able to identify the effects that Syrians had on Jordanians’ job prospects by comparing Jordanians’ labour market outcomes before and after the Syrian influx.
We found that Jordanians living in areas with high concentrations of refugees had no worse labour market outcomes than Jordanians with less exposure to the refugee influx. This result held across all labour market outcomes, including unemployment levels, hours, wages and characteristics of employment (such as sector, occupation and whether the work was formal or informal).
Our findings contrast with most of the very recent literature on the impact of the Syrian refugee influx, which to date had been limited to evidence from Turkey. Here, research found that natives who were employed informally were affected by Syrian refugees. But the global literature generallyfinds a similar mix to our findings of refugees having no or small specific negative effects on native job markets. This could be due to the demographics of refugees in Turkey and the fact that refugees aren’t legally allowed to work there, among other reasons.
There are several reasons why the massive influx of Syrian refugees has had a minimal impact on the job situation in Jordan. The demographics of the Syrians in Jordan may have played an important role. Almost half are under the age of 15 and only 23% of Syrian refugees in Jordan are in the labour force (45% of men and 4% of women).
The aim of the Jordan Compact was to provide 200,000 Syrian refugees access to work permits and formal work. But the take up of work permits by Syrians has been very low. According to Jordan’s Ministry of Labour, by the end of 2017 only 87,141 work permits to Syrians were issued. This means there are few Syrians competing in Jordan’s (formal) labour market, making their effect on the labour supply relatively small.
Despite the massive inflow of Syrian refugees, the number of non-Syrian immigrants has not decreased in Jordan over the same period of time. According to Jordan’s 2015 population census, Jordan hosted an additional 1.6m non-Syrian foreigners. Other research has shown that Syrians mainly compete with economic immigrants in the informal sector where they don’t get given contracts, such as construction and some sales jobs. Here there is limited competition between refugees and Jordanians.
Demand and supply
The inflow of foreign aid has also been a potential mechanism for creating jobs for Jordanians. To help address the needs of the Syrian refugees, Jordan has received foreign aid from multiple sources. This aid has been channelled to help offset the budget deficit, finance public projects and support public services such as schools, hospitals and transport nationwide. Both direct assistance to refugees and aid to the government can create jobs, the latter disproportionately in the government and public sectors.
Finally, the increase in demand for public services by refugees, in particular education and health, has resulted in the Jordanian government increasing the provision of those services, which in turn increased the demand for workers (almost exclusively Jordanians) in these sectors.
Overall our results suggest that providing legal work opportunities to refugees is not detrimental to the native job market. The inflow of foreign aid to Jordan to assist with some of the needs of refugees, as well as the conditions of the Jordan Compact, which included aid and trade concessions and employment support for Jordanians, may have played an important role in creating labour demand for Jordanians. So it is vital to ensure sufficient resources and public services are in place to support refugees and the host economy.
Ask anybody with their ear to the rail of the global games industry about the MENA region and they’ll very likely assert that it offers ‘opportunity’.
The vast area has for some time now been associated with market potential that games companies from across the globe would be wise to harness.
However, the detail around what founds that opportunity, how it should be seized and the reality of its distinct challenges can seem like something of a mystery. A thorough analysis, however, reveals a region that might not be as atypical or enigmatic in its machinations as many assume.
As the oft-talked about BRIC region – ‘Brazil, Russia, India and China’ – has blossomed from ‘emerging’ to ‘emerged’, the MENA countries have been quietly building an impressive momentum of their own. And it is the mobile games sector specifically that provides the region with its most striking prospects.
By MENA, of course, we mean ‘Middle East and North Africa’. It is ultimately an area without a firm or agreed definition. But for the purposes of this article – which kickstarts a series of pieces looking at MENA – we’re considering numerous countries, including but not limited to, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates/Dubai, Bahrain, Iran and Lebanon.
Nations such as Israel, Turkey and Egypt also warrant reflection, though those are places with games sectors that are relatively well-known to the outside world and even distinct from the rest of their MENA family.
Speaking the same language
While one could spend a lifetime developing a universally agreed framing of ‘MENA’, the reality is that the opportunity for mobile games developers, publishers, platforms and service providers is significantly defined by a language; not a list of countries. That language is Arabic, and one thing is clear; the Arabic speaking world provides a substantial audience for those that make a living from mobile games to consider.
“The reason why the mobile gaming market [here] is so interesting comes from the fact that Arabic is the fourth most spoken language in the world, yet less than one per cent of all content available online is in Arabic,” offers Hussam Hammo, CEO of Jordanian outfit Tamatem, which specialises in publishing and maintaining mobile games in the MENA region.
“More than 70 per cent of the population of the Arabic speaking countries – around 400 million – use Arabic as their default language on their smartphones. Add to that that countries like Saudi Arabia have the highest ARPPU in the entire world, and you have a perfect opportunity.”
Record-breaking ARPPU alone should immediately prick the ears of industry observers. For while the world’s biggest gaming market China has ARPPU of around $32, Saudi Arabia’s ARPPU is a striking $270. Tamatem’s own figures, meanwhile, point to consumers in MENA spending $3.2 billion on games broadly back in 2016.
Arabic is the fourth most spoken language in the world, yet less than one per cent of all content available online is in Arabic.
And then there are those 400 million people keen to digest Arabic language smartphone titles. They are presently served with a bounty of gaming content; but a great deal more fails to support both Arabic language – and culture.
An appetite for growth
It seems clear there is an underserved and ravenous appetite for gaming in MENA, which means one thing; there is a generous capacity for growth. Indeed, consulting giant strategy& predicts that by 2022, mobile gaming across MENA will stand as a $2.3 billion industry.
Smartphone penetration has also hit alluring levels in many MENA countries. 46 per cent of Saudi Arabia’s 33,554,000 residents own a smartphone, according to Newzoo data. That’s just shy of 15.5 million people.
The United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, can boast of an 80.6 per cent smartphone penetration rate. That is against a relatively modest population of 7.5 million, but it still presents a demographic worth serious attention.
Contemporary data on smartphone penetration on Jordan is a little harder to come by, but the Pew Research Center’s data for 2016 lists a 51 per cent rate. The same study gives Lebanon a slight lead at 52 per cent. Of course, not every country in MENA provides such appealing device penetration, but looking at the region as a whole, growth is forecast.
The global trade body for mobile network operators, the GSMA, counted 375 million unique mobile subscribers across MENA in 2017. They expect that number to reach 459 million by 2025. By that same year, GSMA predicts the area will count 790 million individual SIM connections, not including IoT devices. That’s a striking 118 per cent penetration rate, if you consider the region’s entire population, across all languages.
As for the make-up of mobile device breakdown in MENA, region-specific data is in relatively short supply. StatCounter figures for specific countries in the area do, however, paint a fairly familiar picture.
As of July 2019, in Saudi Arabia specifically Android accounts for 65.6 per cent of in-use handsets, while iOS trails at a still-healthy 34.12 per cent. That leaves a trivial amount of unknown and fringe or legacy OSs, including the likes of Series 40, which still has a 0.01 per cent penetration rate in the country.
Over in Jordan, Android dominates with 84.65 per cent of the market, while iOS accounts for 15.15 per cent of smartphones. And in the UAE, Android can claim 77.34 per cent of the market, with iOS holding on to 22.18 per cent. The picture appears reasonably consistent, including looking back over the last year.
The Google Play and Apple App Stores dominate, but that is a topic PocketGamer.biz will return to in-depth later in this series of features.
‘Growth’ remains the keyword if you look at MENA as a place to succeed with gaming content. And, when considering mobile specifically, that growth which will likely be significantly facilitated by providing a great deal more games in the Arabic language. Those 400 million handsets set to Arabic by default are active now, and their number is likely to climb.
Not that language is the only factor in localising a game for MENA. The region is culturally a different place from both the West and areas like China or Southeast Asia. Making a game created outside of MENA culturally appropriate for the market will perhaps offer the biggest challenge to companies external to the area.
The UAE and the Gulf region are at the forefront globally in terms of 5G launches and plans.
It’s a perfect example of the distinction between translation and true localisation. As for the key to mastering cultural localisation? Collaboration with resident MENA outfits may be an absolute necessity.
Tamatem is one of a number of companies specialising in publishing to MENA, and it’s certainly not alone in its effort. Babil Games, MENA Mobile and others are striving to connect international games companies with the local market.
Another factor central to the potential of mobile gaming in MENA is, of course, the arrival of 5G networks. GSMA points out that in some parts of MENA, 5G has already been commercially deployed.
“The UAE and the Gulf region are at the forefront globally in terms of 5G launches and plans,” confirms Jawad Abbassi, head of Middle East and North Africa at GSMA.
“Operators in MENA – particularly in the GCC States – are among the first to launch 5G networks commercially. Following these launches, operators in 12 other countries across MENA are expected to deploy 5G networks, covering around 30 per cent of the region’s population by 2025. By then, regional 5G connections will surpass 50 million. Early global 5G pioneers include the GCC countries, South Korea, the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom.”
Clearly, when it comes to infrastructure, much of the MENA region rivals some the rest of the world’s tech leading nations.
Ultimately, of course, MENA is a diverse and multifaceted place. Its various nations all bring their own distinct make-ups, and in taking a broad perspective this round-up has perhaps just served to highlight the fundamentals of a very real opportunity.
The figures speak for themselves. But if you want to move on what MENA offers? You’ll want a little more detail.
That is why this piece is just the start of a series of articles looking at the companies, countries and trends shaping MENA’s mobile gaming future.
So keep an eye on Pocketgamer.biz and consider joining us at Pocket Gamer Connects Jordan on November 2nd and 3rd, where you can come and meet the publishers, developers and game tech outfits that might be the future of your success in MENA.
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