Saudi Arabia unveils THE LINE a linear development of smart cities connected without cars as reported by DesignBoom seems to be a significant step out of the fossil fuels grip on any mode of transport but only in this corner of the country.
Saudi Arabia has unveiled plans for THE LINE, a 170 kilometer (106 mile) belt of communities connected without the need for cars or roads. described as ‘a revolution in urban living’, the project has been put forward as a blueprint for how people can co-exist in harmony with the planet. THE LINE will be completely free of cars and streets, with residents given access to nature and all of their daily needs within a walking distance of five minutes. furthermore, the team behind the project says that the linear development of hyper-connected AI-enabled communities will be powered by 100% clean energy.
all images and video courtesy of NEOM
Located in NEOM, linking the coast of the red sea with the mountains and upper valleys of the north-west of Saudi Arabia, THE LINE was announced by his royal highness Mohammed bin Salman, crown prince and chairman of the NEOM company board of directors.‘By 2050, one billion people will have to relocate due to rising CO2 emissions and sea levels,’ says his royal highness. ‘90% of people breathe polluted air. why should we sacrifice nature for the sake of development? Why should seven million people die every year because of pollution? why should we lose one million people every year due to traffic accidents? and why should we accept wasting years of our lives commuting? therefore, we need to transform the concept of a conventional city into that of a futuristic one.’
Although walkability will define life on THE LINE, with all essential daily services within a short walk, ultra-high-speed transit and autonomous mobility solutions will make travel easier and give residents the opportunity to reclaim time to spend on health and well-being. It is expected that no journey will take longer than 20 minutes. the communities themselves will be powered by artificial intelligence and will continuously learn in order to ‘make life easier’ for both residents and businesses. It is estimated that 90% of available data will be harnessed to enhance infrastructure capabilities. from an environmental perspective, THE LINE will comprise carbon-positive urban developments powered by 100% clean energy.
NEOM is a region in northwest Saudi Arabia on the Red Sea being built from the ground up as a ‘living laboratory’. Eventually the location, comprising towns and cities, ports and enterprise zones, research centers, sports and entertainment venues, and tourist destinations, will be the home and workplace to more than a million residents from around the world. It is hoped that THE LINE will create 380,000 new jobs, spur economic diversification, and contribute SAR 180bn ($48bn USD) to domestic GDP by 2030. construction of THE LINE will get underway in early 2021.
Corruption and Predation in Exercising Power: Algeria and Iraq as Case Studies by Nahla Chahal, Professor and researcher of political Sociology, Editor in Chief, Assafir Al Arabi.
All throughout 2020, Assafir al Arabi conducted a study on corruption as one of the pillars of power, just as important as repression, impoverishment, and despair. For such exercise, we chose Algeria and Iraq as case studies, hoping to extend our research to include other countries. This work will appear in the Books of Assafir al Arabi in three languages, Arabic, French, and English, and their online versions.
The following studies seek to examine corruption in Algeria and Iraq. They do not tackle its manifestation as bribes or looted public funds, but rather as a major governance mechanism, an essential part of its structure and operations.
Corruption is no self-treatable symptom; it cannot cure itself nor can its tailored arrangements; rather, it is channelled to empower a ruler(s), to sustain and perpetuate their power and hegemony. It could be more effective than oppression; takes on various shapes and forms; attacks society by taming it into submission, talks people out of pursuing change, and impoverishes them.
Corruption infests everything and partners with many people to various extents. Alternately, it asks for their complicity, or their acceptance thereof, at the very least, to simplify their lives. It remunerates certain social strata in particular, which happen to be fused with the ruling powers, for matching ideological considerations at times, and tribal-sectarian affiliations at others.
Numerous studies tackle corruption as a question indicative of imprudent governance, lack of transparency, collapsed mechanisms of oversight and accountability, or faded rule of law. The question of corruption has been widely contextualised in theory and through international standards outlined by organisations like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and Transparency International. Those focused on nepotism, theft, and lining influential people’s pockets; they proposed measures to protect whistle blowers, enhanced access to information, made way for civil society, and instilled social accountability; all of which have contributed to the creation of an extensive useful database.
But to focus on those alone would be limiting, as they capture neither dynamics nor functions of corruption. Certainly, all such aspects of corruption must be interconnected somehow, given meaning and rendered a real “configuration”. The studies presented here precisely seek to examine such hypothesis and identify the circumstances that make corruption flourish.
There is, of course, a direct relationship between rampant corruption and failed national liberation –or its defeat– for getting rid of older colonialism is no complete realisation of that end – liberation. Massive privatisations also accompanied such failure and opened up new doors for corruption. Furthermore, real decision-making mechanisms may be seen hiding behind decision-making formalities, whether in ministerial cabinets or parliamentary buildings. Interchangeably, it hides behind decrees. Namely, corrupt practices take legal cover.
In his paper on Algeria, “Corruption as a Configuration of Power,” Daho Djerbal (1) argues that corruption is deemed institutionalised not only when widespread, but also when organised on the basis of socio-economic clientelist networks entrenched within the State apparatus, then disseminated into society through alternating intermediaries. It emerged fiercest, he says, when the State monopolised economy – in both capitalist and socialist paradigms.
Corruption is a configuration of economic rent which began as a system of economic and political regulation, whereby relations between State and its institutions, enterprises and their partners, civil society and its organisations, are all subject, by hook or crook, to rent-seeking logic instated to allocate all national resources (human, natural, financial, technical, and organisational), develop them, and distribute their generated revenues. Corruption thus became a “rite of passage” to accessing numerous public services.
As for decrees, Djerbal considers them as means for elected assemblies and democratically appointed authorities to avoid discussing major topics at hand. Those are tools invented to ensure wider reproduction of this system of new profits, to render the executive branch as sole party in charge of economic evaluation, and to arbitrage between conflicted interests for the sake of increasing revenues and systematise their redistribution. He also considers corruption and democracy as interlinked. As such, the emergence of “pragmatic practices” assumed by the authorities rely on a system of “remunerations, gift exchange, the fragmentation of spheres, places, and actors who determine what is legal and illegal, moral and immoral, legitimate and illegitimate…”
To illustrate his reflections, he gives a number of real-life examples from Algeria and analyses exposed “scandals”, the logic behind their trials, and the verdicts reached against their protagonists.
In investigating corruption in Algeria, Rachid Sidi Boumedine (2) wonders about what could be defined as corruption. He notes that one culturally distinguishes between corruption and bribes, commonly called “tchippa” or “qahwa,” that is, money ordinary citizens pay to buy access to services (mundane, occasionally) or any other goods, though already granted by virtue of law. One feature of a clientelist system is embodied in excessive authorised violations, starting from the highest ranks of the hierarchy, which simultaneously places the lower ranks at the mercy of executive circles, who could, in turn, punish the former for violation of the written law, if there need be.
Boumedine also notes how rentier networks function “internally”, like a clan (a family, village, affiliated community). As such, familiar arrangements of gift-exchange and mutual donations -characterised by their binding and impactful nature- create a favoured system of rights and obligations in society. Such principles consolidate a clientelist system by creating, nourishing, and sustaining reciprocal obligations among its members. He also claims that the system in Algeria has become neo-patrimonial.
This configuration of looting and corruption thus draws upon social acceptance for sustenance. As such, at least in part, it is not considered as theft carried out at the expense of the larger public. Such ideological design –which legitimises looting, whereby the latter is an act directed against an anonymous, undefined, long-hated state after all– thus becomes a gateway to a new social paradigm. He illustrates the question through describing those recurring handouts to the “poor”, or housing opportunities delivered in accordance with ever-contested lists – fashioned along surreptitious criteria. These operations further plunge their beneficiaries into that recognised mire of a clearly unjust system. It is a system that benefits whoever knows their way around maintaining good relations with network agents, ensuring access to those lists.
In their cowritten article reviewed by writer Omar Aljaffal (3), researchers Mohsin Ahmad Ali (4) and Abdul Rahman Al-Mashhadani (5) consider how the 2003 US occupation of Iraq –which toppled the political regime, dismantled the foundations of the state, reformulating them in accordance with US visions and under the administration of the “American civil governor of Iraq”, Paul Bremer– resulted in the transformation of corruption from a manageable and resistible phenomenon into a system protected by laws and legislations. It was thus turned into a daily practice protected by force of weapons, media, platforms, and religious fatwas.
The writers see the destruction of the public sector in the monopolisation of secure jobs by the ruling power and its parties. Those jobs are thus used as a card to purchase voter power in parliamentarian elections, whereby parties promise their supporters and clans jobs in return for their electoral vote. Subsequently, the number of government employees would reach 4.5 million, as opposed to 880 thousand employees in 2003. The two researchers claim that corruption developed and transformed into an “acceptable” social phenomenon after 2003, accompanied by a political shift towards a market economy led by political parties that landed with the occupier and/or emerged after 2003. Those parties have sectarian and racist agendas. Those parties ratified regulations and laws that furthered their interests, such as the “Jihad military service” – for people who had established organisations of armed resistance against Saddam Hussein’s regime and for “political prisoners”. As such, we do not stand before one type of corruption only (which manifests in bribery, among other illegal activity), but also before corruption protected by a legal framework that includes a larger range of different economic activities, subsequently rendering the country’s riches into material up for grabs to those in power and control, inside and outside Iraq. Between 2003 and 2018, financial crimes hit unprecedented records while financial waste surpassed $350 billion. The two researchers also affirm a close connection between intensified and aggravated corruption and external factors that instigate and encourage it. Many cases of corruption are thus entwined with external objectives abroad. Their article tackles manifestations of corruption throughout Iraq and its sectors, as well as those tools used by the ruling power to perpetuate its rule and those it uses to appease society.
Overall, research on corruption faces various challenges, some of which are obstructive indeed. Those include lack of published data, prohibited access to documents, lack of documentation in the first place, mistrust in researchers, and the potential harm that threatens the latter should their research be published. Additionally, research faces challenges that pertain to researchers themselves, from sticking to one familiar methodology they are prone to reproduce, to the scarcity of institutions capable of embracing and supporting them, or lack thereof, to competing over whatever little is available, all the way to declining intellectual standards and knowledge in general, and so on.
Ultimately, the endeavour we undertake here goes with an unexhausted obsession with searching and trying. It questions the way existing powers rule our countries. Along with the contributing researchers, Assafir Al-Arabi thus hopes to have tackled some of the aspects that could answer such a fundamental question.
1- Daho Djerbal is a historian. He teaches contemporary history at the University of Algiers 2. Besides his extensive research on economic and social history, he studies the relationship between history and memory. He has been the director of Naqd publication, a review of social studies and critique, since 1993. 2- Rachid Sidi Boumediene is both scientist and sociologist. He published a number of books and articles throughout his career as academic and consultant in both Algeria and abroad. 3- Iraqi poet and writer. He recently worked on a project that analysed Basrah’s local government in Iraq, as part of a “conflict resolution studies program” at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He received the Mostafa Husseini Prize for young journalists in 2017. 4- Professor of political economy at the University of Basrah. 5- Senior lecturer at Al Iraqia University, specialised
The pandemic has helped boost digital marketplaces in the region, opines Muhammad Chbib, CEO at Tradeling.
7 November 2020
The pandemic has propelled the use of e-commerce in the region and globally. What are the key trends you have seen? The most significant trend is the growth of homegrown capabilities in e-commerce in the region. Globally, while e-commerce has been recording strong growth – accelerated no doubt by the pandemic – the region has witnessed a transformational growth in the evolution of the digital economy. Not only have our homegrown companies demonstrated strong resolve to meet the needs of the people and support them, we have seen a tremendous amount of entrepreneurship – with new startups entering the market and building their own niche.
The second trend is more consumers warming up to the possibilities offered by e-commerce. While digital commerce was gaining momentum, one of the factors that has stymied its growth in the region is the relatively lower credit card penetration in some markets. There have also been typical concerns associated with conducting everyday business online. However, one thing the pandemic has brought about is the adoption of digital payments and the increased confidence of consumers to shop online and conduct e-commerce transactions.
In the B2B e-commerce space, how high is the penetration in the GCC market? Has it grown significantly this year? While B2B e-commerce was evolving at a slower pace compared to consumer-oriented digital business, this year has witnessed a real transformation. I believe it is a case of supply and demand. What matters is that in the new reality, business customers too want to access products and services easily, quickly and efficiently. We see a growth in the B2B marketplace – here in the UAE – and growing enquiries from across the GCC.
Which are the verticals within the sector where you see most scope for growth? It is really a matter of bringing more options to the customer, whatever the vertical. Customers like to shop around and feel they get value for money and exemplary service. But it is also a matter of sourcing new products and services that aren’t in the region yet.
For those entering the digital B2B industry, what are the main challenges? The main challenges are finding the right talent with expertise and insights into the B2B sector, which is a different terrain compared to B2C e-commerce. An in-depth understanding of the global market is essential in addition to knowledge of the trading dynamics. You must be flexible and agile to overcome any unprecedented situation. It is also a matter of understanding the customer – the B2B customer is very different from the B2C customer.
Our priority is making the customer journey seamless, taking away their pain points and streamlining processes to ensure efficiencies that save them time and money.
Tradeling launched in April, in the midst of the lockdown – how was your experience? Do you have any immediate plans to expand? We created Tradeling during the pandemic to connect regional and global suppliers to MENA-based business demand. Today, we have close to 400 suppliers from over 25 countries with gross merchandising value increasing from zero to a high two-digit million figure in just three months.
The key to overcoming the challenges was to enhance market confidence and we took decisive steps in this regard. Today, we have gone from a team of 40 to nearly 100 people and we continue to hire.
From logistics to financing support to ensuring a fully secure payment gateway, we are the first of our kind B2B platform across the region. This is our USP and this integrated approach to business has enabled us to address the challenges.
Looking ahead, what is the future of digital marketplaces in the region? Digital marketplaces constitute the future of retail and in the new reality, they will record a stronger rate of growth compared to brick-and-mortar retail. But the key for success is to define your own unique niche for the marketplace; increasingly, we see online aggregators trying to capitalise on the opportunity, which will only lead to market fragmentation. What we need is bold, innovative ideas that will help accelerate the momentum of e-commerce growth in the region.COVID-19DIGITAL MARKETPLACEE-COMMERCEGCCTRADELING
The spread of China’s “techno-authoritarianism,” its pursuit of the “innovation advantage,” and its incompatibility with the liberal democratic model is the focus of a new report. The underlying dynamics and tensions between markets, non-state actors and governments are compelling governments to pursue strategic alliances and partnerships, and the inherent ideological differences between the Chinese system and those of open market, liberal democracies will influence outcomes, argues analyst Alex Capri.
Beijing’s imposition of the national security law in Hong Kong, as well as its internment of ethnic Muslim minorities in China’s western Xinjiang autonomous region, were just several of the latest provocations causing European policymakers to rethink relations with China. Thus, for Beijing, it has become increasingly difficult to find sympathy in Europe regarding Washington’s campaign to crush Huawei….New partnerships, including the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence* (GPAI) and the G7 AI Initiative, that are designed to guide the liberal and transparent development of AI, stand in contrast to China’s export of techno-authoritarianism.
A question that has begun to circulate in trade policy circles is: could a coalition of willing nations form a new global trade institution with standards that require open market principles and democratic ideals? RTWT
In “Artificial Intelligence and Democratic Norms,” the fourth in the “Sharp Power and Democratic Resilience” series from the International Forum for Democratic Studies, Nicholas Wright explores how to establish democratically accountable rules and norms that harness the benefits of artificial intelligence-related technologies, without infringing on fundamental rights and creating technological affordances that could facilitate authoritarian concentration of power.
International cooperation to combat trafficking and terrorism, factors in destabilizing the MENA region by University professor, international expert Dr Abderrahmane MEBTOUL is given on the occasion of U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s Maghreb tour in Tunis, Algiers and Rabat.
This visit is officially aimed at strengthening ties with these three North African countries to combat terrorist threats. This visit to Algiers follows that of the head of the US Africa Command (Africom) Army General Stephen Townsend. It is not an insignificant visit because the United States of America considers Algeria, through the actions of its armed forces and its various security services, as a critical player in the stability of the Mediterranean and African region.This is because the stakes in the MENA region foreshadow significant geopolitical and geoeconomic reconfigurations. This region has become a sensitive area with significant rivalries between Russia, China and Europe.
With recent geostrategic tensions, traffic has increased in particular with the conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Mali, Niger and Libya. Transnational crime refers to organized criminal networks and consequently to terrorism that benefits from the sale of illegal goods. These international illicit markets, anonymous and more complex than ever, generate billions of dollars each year. This threat is worrying, not only for Algeria but also for the world and especially Europe. In the Sahel, armed groups have increased their capacity for nuisance, diversified into terrorists, insurgents, criminals and militias with a convergence that unites these groups. The most troubling aspect of the connection seems to be how the illegal drug trade undermines efforts to pursue the political reforms and development needed to stem the radicalization and rise of terrorist groups in several already fragile African countries. There is a deep vulnerability of states in the region characterized by poor governance and strong population growth. Only the Sahel, which will see its population double in 25 years, and has more than 100 million inhabitants by 2020. This growth affects human security, especially food security in the region as a whole. This is compounded by inequalities that promote radicalization, due to a combination of factors related to the individual, his relationships, his community and his relationship to society. Nevertheless, there are economic issues, where the Sahel is a space with critical departmental resources. Hence the foreign interference that manipulates different actors in order to position themselves within this strategic corridor and to take control of wealth are numerous. Libya, a wealthy country with a population of no more than 7 million, is an example where different foreign actors clash in interposed groups. The Sahelian arc is rich in resources: after salt and gold, oil and gas, iron, phosphate, copper, tin and uranium are all riches feeding the lusts of powers wishing to ensure control. The drug trade, for example, has the potential to provide terrorist groups with recruits and sympathizers among impoverished, neglected and isolated farmers who can not only cultivate on behalf of traffickers but also popularize and strengthen anti-government movements. More recently, with the impact of the coronavirus epidemic, this situation of vulnerability is likely to increase. The world of tomorrow will never be the same again because of the geostrategic implications in the political, social, security and economic fields at the level of North Africa and Black Africa. In an interview given to the American Herald Tribune of 23 April 2020, the author said: “We Have Witnessed a Veritable Planetary Hecatomb and the World Will Never Be the Same Again.”
In the face of these complex geostrategic situations at the regional level, international coordination is needed, including Maghreb integration, a bridge between Europe and Africa thus contributing to shared prosperity for the Mediterranean and African region to reduce migration flows. (see two important works coordinated by Professor Abderrahmane Mebtoul and Dr Camille Sari (from the Sorbonne) were published between 2014/2015 at Paris Edition Harmattan “The Maghreb facing geostrategic issues” – volume 1-dealing of institutions and governance (480 pages) and Volume 2 of the economic strands in different aspects (500 pages) bringing together for the first time -36 international experts, military-political scientists, economists, lawyers, sociologists, historians, Algerian-Moroccan- Tunisian- Mauritanian and Libyan- European).
Faced with these new geostrategic challenges that are upsetting the planet, international terrorism takes advantage of the dysfunctions of state regulation and has at least five characteristics in common. First, on networks often established in large geographic areas where people, goods and money circulate. Second, command control and communication. Third, is their need to process large amounts of money, launder them and transfer them across countries and continents. Fourth, criminals and terrorists tend to have private armies, hence the need for training, camps and military equipment. Fifth, terrorists and criminals in the Sahel region share common characteristics: frequent clandestine operations seeking legitimacy in supporting populations with the use of durable guerrillas to control territory and populations; sixth, contempt for international norms, the rule of law, or the notion of human rights, and a desire to kill those who oppose them; seventh, these guerrillas also create specialized cells specializing in the use of the media and the Internet to disseminate their propaganda and their demands. Thus, we have different forms of transnational organized crime that is an ever-changing industry, adapts to markets and creates new forms of illicit trade that transcend cultural, social, linguistic and geographical boundaries, and knows no limits or rules.
The combination of these various elements in too complex patterns induces a climate of increasing insecurity conducive to the destabilization of the states of the region with different forms of trafficking numbering eight interdependent. First, the traffic of goods amplified for some countries that subsidize necessities such as Algeria, accentuated by distortions in exchange rates. Secondly, the “black” market for weapons and their ammunition, necessarily derived from the “white” market since each weapon is manufactured in a legal factory, is a theme that allows us to understand the wills of power of various geopolitical actors around the world. Arms trafficking is regulated by states that profit from it and the advantage of arms trafficking for terrorists is that they can both use it and make a profit. The best prevention remains a sales control, a contractual framework, i.e. define beforehand the use of weapons and the establishment of international conventions on the sale of automatic or non-automatic firearms. Thirdly, the rise of drug trafficking at the regional level has implications for all of North Africa and Europe where we can identify actors with geostrategic implications where drug traffickers create new national and regional markets to transport their products. In order to secure the transit of their goods, drug traffickers resort to the protection that terrorist groups and various dissents can provide, by their perfect knowledge of the terrain, thus contributing to their financing.
Moreover, according to some intelligence sources, if drug traffickers were a country, their GDP would rank them 20th in the world. Fourth, human trafficking is an international criminal activity in which men, women and children are subjected to sexual exploitation or exploitation through labour. Fifth,as we are currently seeing in the Mediterranean through migrant trafficking, which is an organized activity in which people are displaced around the world using criminal networks, many smugglers do not care whether migrants drown at sea, die of dehydration in a desert or suffocate in a container. Each year, this trade is valued at billions of dollars. Sixth, the trafficking of natural resources which includes the smuggling of raw materials such as diamonds and rare metals (often from conflict zones) and the sale of fraudulent drugs that are potentially lethal to consumers. Seventh, cybercrime, which is linked to the revolution in information systems, can destabilize an entire country militarily, security and economically, encompassing several areas, including increasingly exploiting the Internet to take private data, access bank accounts and sometimes fraudulently obtain strategic data for the country. Digital technology has transformed just about every aspect of our lives, including the notion of risk and crime, so that criminal activity is more effective, less risky, more cost-effective and more accessible than ever. Eighth, money laundering is a process in which money earned by a crime or an illegal act is washed away. It is a matter of hiding the origin of the money to use it after legally (investment, purchases). The multiple tax-havens, clearing companies (also Off Shore) allow hiding the origin of the money.
This different traffic linked to the importance of the informal sphere produces malfunctions of the state apparatuses, in fact, governance, the weight of bureaucracy that maintains diffuse relations with this sphere and exchange rate distortions, representing in Africa according to the latest ILO-2020 report – more than 75/80% of employment and more than 20 50% of gross domestic product(GDP) (Study of Professor Abderrahmane Mebtoul – French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) Paris December 2013- The informal sphere in Maghreb countries and its geostrategic impacts). The main determinants of informality can be summarized as follows. First, the weakness of formal employment is obvious. This is a factor that explains the evolution of the informal sector in both developed and developing countries. As a result, the supply of formal jobs in the labour market can no longer absorb all the demand as the labour force; particularly the unskilled labour force is growing at an accelerated rate. Second, when taxes are numerous and too high, businesses are encouraged to hide some of their income. Third, the weight of regulation or the complexity of the business environment discourages business registration. Where the institutional framework is not conducive to the creation of businesses in a formal way, entrepreneurs prefer to operate in the informal sector and avoid the burden of regulation. Fourth, the quality of public services provided by the government is an important determinant of the informal sector because it influences the choice of individuals. Individuals active in the informal sector cannot benefit from public services (protection from theft and crime, access to financing, protection of property rights). That is one of the drawbacks of this sector. Fifth, as a result of economic policy, the primacy of bureaucratic administrative management is required when transparent economic mechanisms refer to governance are required.
In short,Algeria’s security is at its borders; with Mali, 1376 km; with Libya 982 km; with Niger 956 km; with Tunisia 965 km as can be imagined not an easy task. It is because the reading of the threats and challenges facing the world and the region is based on the need to jointly develop a collective and effective response in a strategy on international terrorism, human trafficking and organized crime through drugs and money laundering. All safe for security has limitations that exist dialectical links between development and security. Also, the fight against terrorism implies, first of all, an internal development, linked to new governance of Africa, of regional sub-integrations where inter-African trade according to the UN only exceeds 16/17% in 2019, and to put an end to this inequality where a minority takes over a growing fraction of the national income giving birth to misery and therefore terrorism, referring to the morality of those running the email@example.com
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