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Developed Countries to compete with Low-Cost Labour in the Developing

Developed Countries to compete with Low-Cost Labour in the Developing

The COVID-19 pandemic will accelerate the rise of industrial automation and enable manufacturers in developed countries to compete with low-cost labour in the developing world. As such, developing countries must respond by developing local industrial capabilities with new technologies and skills that will allow them to become more integrated into world trade. As per the AMEinfo published on 3 July 2020, this interesting essay is worth reading, especially since it might affect the MENA region countries.

Developing countries could lose out as automation competes with low-cost labour

  • WTO: Future of global value chains depends on China’s industrial strategy and the global adoption of 4IR technologies
  • UNIDO: Developing countries must bolster local capabilities with new technologies and skills to become more integrated into global value chains
  • mPedigree: African SMEs enter global value chains as virtual technologies lower business costs

The COVID-19 pandemic will accelerate the rise of industrial automation and enable manufacturers in developed countries to compete with low-cost labour in the developing world; multinational corporations are already considering repatriating some manufacturing production as a result of the unprecedented disruption the pandemic has caused to global value chains; developing countries must respond by developing local industrial capabilities with new technologies and skills that will allow them to become more integrated into world trade.

These are some of the key findings from the first virtual panel discussion between representatives of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), and Africa-based technology company mPedigree at the Virtual Edition of the Global Manufacturing and Industrialisation Summit (#GMIS2020)

Xiaozhun Yi, Deputy Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), highlighted that more than a third of the predicted decline in world trade brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic was caused by a rise in trade costs and temporary disruptions to transport and logistics.

He stressed that the future structure of global supply chains depends on whether the pandemic accelerates two key trends that have been underway for several years. These include China moving up the value chain due to its industrial strategies or rising labour costs, and the increasing adoption of labour-saving technologies in modern manufacturing. “We believe that this pandemic may accelerate the trend of production automation and we know that this trend may reduce some opportunities in low skilled manufacturing,” Yi said.

However, he added that governments of developing countries can still attract multinational companies by introducing measures to limit trade costs, such as lifting tariffs and minimising travel restrictions and border controls. 

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Cecilia Ugaz Estrada, Special Advisor, Directorate of Corporate Management and Operations, United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), agreed that automation erodes the comparative advantage that low-cost labour gives developing countries over developed countries and this could lead to production being brought closer to the headquarters of transnational corporations that are at the head of global value chains. In response to this shift, developing countries should accelerate efforts towards more regional integration, allowing them to expand markets and trade more with their neighbours, said Ugaz Estrada.

However, Bright Simons, Founder and President of Africa-based technology company mPedigree, said COVID-19 has affected regional trade in Africa as much as global trade and that in some cases regional trade is more impacted. He cited a number of barriers to expanding regional trade within the continent, including high transportation costs, which can make it more expensive to trade within Africa than to trade internationally. “It’s not that easy, even if you wanted to, to maintain a sourcing regime that involves cutting yourself off from global value chains,” he said.

Simons added that the capacity of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Africa to export had been constrained for many years by stringent standards requirements and supplier certification programmes in developed countries, particularly in Europe. However, he added that technologies are now emerging that can streamline these processes and reduce the cost for all businesses.

“What virtual capabilities now enable is to reduce the cost of skills importation, so we have had situations where certification bodies are now able to conduct end-to-end audits online,” he said. “That cuts costs by as much as 95% and this for the first time makes it possible for some SMEs to meet these demands and be able to export overseas.”

Hosted by former BBC Journalist Declan Curry, the virtual panel discussion on ‘Glocalisation: localising production and capacity building for survival and success’ is the first of a sequence of weekly sessions of the #GMIS2020 Digital Series that commenced today, and will lead up to the Virtual Summit on September 4-5, 2020. The session is available to watch on-demand here

Under the theme – Glocalisation: Towards Sustainable and Inclusive Global Value Chains, the third edition of the internationally recognised Global Manufacturing and Industrialisation Summit will virtually, for the very first time, bring together high-profile thought-leaders and business pioneers from around the world to shape the future of manufacturing, discuss the impact of pandemics on global value chains, and highlight the role of fourth industrial revolution (4IR) technologies in restoring economic and social activities. At the top of the #GMIS2020 virtual edition agenda will be the topic of digital restoration – how 4IR technologies are helping to restore the global economy and overcome unprecedented challenges.

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The Middle East’s Threat Multiplier

The Middle East’s Threat Multiplier

Authors Olivia Macharis is a researcher at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut and Nadim Farajalla is Program Director of the Climate Change and Environment Program at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut. They came up with this realistic picture of the Middle East’s Threat Multiplier. It is published on Project Syndicate of 12 June 2020.


The picture above is that of An Egyptian boy holding bread and flashing the victory sign shouts slogans at Cairo’s Tahrir Square on April 1, 2011 as he joins tens of thousands of Egyptians who gathered, issuing calls to “save the revolution” that ousted president Hosni Mubarak and to rid of the country of the old regime. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/GettyImages)


Although many factors contributed to the mass protest movements in Iraq in recent years, and in Egypt a decade ago, climate change was the common denominator. By exacerbating endemic problems such as water scarcity and food insecurity, global warming threatens to plunge an already unstable region into the abyss.n Egyptian boy holding bread and flashing the victory sign shouts slogans at Cairo’s Tahrir Square on April 1, 2011 as he joins tens of thousands of Egyptians who gathered, issuing calls to “save the revolution” that ousted president Hosni Mubarak and to rid of the country of the old regime. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/GettyImages)
Survey the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and you will find no shortage of crises, from escalating tensions between the United States and Iran to the cycles of violence in Libya, Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere. Countless young people across the region feel a sense of despair as they confront the daily realities of poor governance, economic immobility, and sectarian violence. Now, the COVID-19 crisis is putting increasing and unprecedented pressure on the global economy, state institutions, and livelihoods. It has also highlighted the dire consequences of health, social, and economic inequality. And as bad as these problems are on their own, all will be exacerbated and magnified by an even larger crisis: the devastating impacts of climate change.
With its largely arid conditions, the MENA region is particularly vulnerable to the physical impacts of climate change. It is one of the world’s most water-scarce regions, with a high dependency on climate-sensitive agriculture. Along with rising temperatures, the region is already experiencing a wide range of deteriorating environmental conditions, including decreased rainfall in Iraq, longer droughts in Syria, more severe flash flooding in Jordan and Lebanon, increasingly intense cyclones in Yemen and Oman, and rising sea levels. There is also evidence of rapid desertification regionwide, as well as unprecedented heat waves and increasingly frequent and intense dust storms.
Looking ahead, researchers warn that summer temperatures in the region will increase twice as fast as average global temperatures. This will lead to increased evaporation rates and accelerated loss of surface water, which will reduce the productive capacity of soils and agricultural output. Projections by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change also warn of rising sea levels and an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. In large parts of the region, the combination of worsening heat waves and increasing air pollution owing to sand and dust storms will likely compromise human habitability and force people to migrate.
Climate change not only has serious implications for the environment and public health, but also for economic growth, livelihoods, and peace. Climate-induced impacts have the potential to reinforce factors that lead to or exacerbate conflict and instability. For one, resource scarcity may undermine the livelihoods of vulnerable households and communities, potentially leading to increasing competition, which may turn violent in the absence of conflict resolution institutions. Most vulnerable are fragile states and communities with a history of violence. In Iraq and Syria, the occurrence of devastating droughts between 2007 and 2012, combined with governments’ inability to provide relief to vulnerable populations, favored radicalization and recruitment efforts by jihadist militias, including the Islamic State.
Other risks of conflict arise when growing resource scarcity is met with inadequate government action, which may cause grievances among the population and increase tensions along ethnic, sectarian, political, and socioeconomic lines. Water scarcity and contamination have already triggered recurrent protests in Iraq, and rising food prices have fueled protest movements in Egypt and other countries. The region desperately needs to start developing and implementing more robust adaptation strategies before it is too late.
UNPREPARED FOR THE WORST
Most countries in the region are woefully behind when it comes to preparing for the physical effects of climate change on the environment and for the socioeconomic effects on much of the population. Many governments are unable or unwilling to tackle issues related to poverty, slow and unequal economic growth, high unemployment, lack of basic services, and widespread corruption.
Instead, the region’s governments have long relied on what political scientists call the “authoritarian bargain,” an implicit contract in which the state provides jobs, security, and services in exchange for political loyalty (or at least obeisance). This contract assumes that the population will remain politically inactive. But protest movements over the last decade, from the Arab Spring to more recent demonstrations in Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, and other countries, have shown that people across the region want to renegotiate.
In many countries, the protests are the result of worsening economic and political conditions, many of which stem from strained government resources that have led to a decline in the provision of public services. With climate change projected to put additional pressure on water and food security, livelihoods, health, and overall living standards, public discontent is likely to keep growing in the coming years, resulting in a heightened risk of political instability and conflict.
The linkages between climate change, resource scarcity, and social unrest are of course complex. Examining two cases – one dealing with water scarcity and contamination, the other with rising food prices – can help shed urgently needed light on these dangerous dynamics.
WATER POLITICS IN IRAQ
A good place to start is by considering Iraq’s water resources, which have been under increasing stress for more than three decades. As a result of both natural and anthropogenic causes, water quantities have decreased and water quality has deteriorated. The natural phenomena include increasing climate variability and lower annual precipitation, resulting in a lack of snowfall in the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates. The anthropogenic causes center around increasing water demand, inadequate government policies, and dam-building by upstream neighbors Syria, Turkey, and Iran.
The Tigris and Euphrates are Iraq’s most important sources of freshwater. These twin rivers converge in al-Qurna, in the southern Basra governorate, to form the Shatt al-Arab River and drain toward the Gulf (see map). Both rivers originate in Turkey, with the Euphrates cutting through Syria before reaching Iraq. Several of the rivers’ tributaries originate in Iran, with the Greater Zab, the Lesser Zab, and the Diyala flowing into the Tigris. In total, more than 50% of the country’s renewable water resources originate outside of its borders.

Of particular concern to Iraq is Turkey’s controversial Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP), which is located at the Euphrates-Tigris Basin in the upper-Mesopotamian plains. At an estimated cost of $32 billion, the GAP is one of the world’s largest river-basin development projects. Other serious concerns include Iranian dam-building activity and an expected increase in Syrian water usage. Regional cooperation to improve water management is limited, and political negotiations have so far fallen short of concluding a legally binding, comprehensive, and long-term agreement.
On the domestic front, while rapid population growth, urbanization, and increasing industrial production have driven up water demand, decades of conflict and sanctions, along with inadequate government policies and the lack of a regulatory framework for sustainable water management, have undermined investment in supply. The main challenges include chronic deterioration of infrastructure, inefficient irrigation and drainage, lack of water treatment facilities, and weak regulation of agricultural runoff and discharges of sewage, industrial waste, and oil byproducts. In addition, the continuous decline in the water levels of the Shatt al-Arab has led to severe saltwater encroachment from the Gulf into the river.
DISASTER AREA
Basra, a port city with direct access to the Persian Gulf, was once glorified as the “Venice of the East” for its myriad of freshwater canals lined with palm trees. The surrounding governorate accounts for most of Iraq’s oil production, with nearby West Qurna considered to be one of the world’s most lucrative oilfields. But these strategic assets have not benefited the public, because government mismanagement and negligence have turned Basra into a decrepit and dysfunctional city, plagued by strained utilities and broken infrastructure. Its waterways have become open sewers that are poisoning the population.
In the summer of 2018, Basra became the epicenter of an environmental and socioeconomic disaster that threatened the stability of the entire region. In July, Iraqis took to the streets to demand basic services such as clean drinking water, electricity, jobs, and an end to pervasive corruption. Then, in August, an outbreak of gastrointestinal illnesses, most likely caused by water contamination, sent tens of thousands of people seeking medical assistance in increasingly overwhelmed hospitals. Later that month, the UN-affiliated Independent High Commission for Human Rights called on the Iraqi government to declare Basra a “disaster area.”
The water supply problems fueled further public outrage. Street protests resumed and gradually intensified. By September 2018, the protests had turned violent, with deadly clashes between protesters and security forces. Demonstrators burned government and political party offices and attacked the headquarters of the popular mobilization forces and the Iranian consulate, voicing anger over the growing influence of Iran-backed militias in the city. By early October, 18 civilians had been killed, and another 155 had been injured.
While a wide range of long-neglected issues fueled the protests, water scarcity was cited as the most immediate cause or trigger. According to one civil servant quoted in The Independent, “The water shortages have made all the other problems gather and explode. It’s so extreme because it’s water, it’s essential for life.” Concerns remained that the health of the Iraqi people would continue to be affected unless the water situation improved drastically and quickly. Despite efforts to contain the outbreak of waterborne diseases and despite promises by the government to improve water infrastructure, it did not.
In October 2019, the unrest spread to Baghdad, where protesters demanded economic reform, an end to corruption, and the provision of basic services, including clean water and electricity. A brutal crackdown by security forces resulted in more than 100 deaths in the first five days. Still, the demonstrations gained momentum, with protesters going so far as to call for an overhaul of the entire sectarian political system. According to the UN’s special envoy to Iraq, more than 400 people were killed, and another 19,000 were injured, just between October 1 and December 3 last year.
EGYPT’S TROUBLED WATERS
Likewise, climate change and politics have become inextricably intertwined in Egypt, where agricultural production and food security are threatened by acute water scarcity and other climate-related challenges. Egypt is also heavily reliant on food imports, which makes it all the more vulnerable to the impact of adverse weather events on global output and prices.
Similar to the situation in Iraq, increasing water stress in Egypt reflects not only climate change, but also rapid population growth and resource mismanagement. The government bears a significant part of the responsibility, as a lack of treatment facilities, poor infrastructure maintenance, and weak regulations against dumping domestic, agricultural, and industrial effluent have all created water scarcities.
Egypt’s water dependency ratio is one of the world’s highest, with the Nile River providing more than 95% of its total supply. Approximately 86% of the Nile’s total volume comes from the Ethiopian Highlands, flowing through Sudan before reaching Egypt (see map). As a result, water allocation has long been a source of political tension among Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan.
The biggest challenge to Egypt’s water supply currently comes from the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project. At an estimated cost of $4.8 billion, the dam’s construction is a crucial step toward energy security for Ethiopia. For Egypt, however, the project poses a significant threat to its water supply, especially with Ethiopia becoming the dominant power in the Nile River Basin.

Egypt’s economy is highly dependent on agriculture, which itself is almost entirely dependent on irrigation, accounting for over 85% of the country’s total water usage. Egypt’s food production is thus severely restricted by rising temperatures and more frequent droughts, which translate into higher water demand and lower agricultural yields.
Worse, climate models show that Egypt’s national food production could decline by anywhere from 11% to 50% by 2050, depending on the level of warming. Moreover, the Nile Delta, Egypt’s breadbasket, is subsiding and extremely vulnerable to sea-level rise. Higher sea levels are expected to affect around 30% of fertile land in the Nile Delta within this century.
With tightening resource constraints and a growing population, Egypt’s dependence on imported food is growing, as is its vulnerability to supply and price risks on the global market. The Egyptian population was hit particularly hard by the global food crisis of 2006-08, which came at a time when the country’s domestic production was weakened by severe water scarcity and debilitating agricultural reforms.
BREAD, FREEDOM, AND SOCIAL JUSTICE
As world commodity prices rose in 2007, Egypt’s government was unable to contain domestic food price inflation, owing to increasing resource scarcity, a corrupt and unsustainable food-subsidy system, and other structural problems. The annual rate of growth in food prices soared from 6.9% in December 2007 to a peak of 31% in August 2008, compared to an average of only 4% in the early 2000s. Rising food prices eroded the purchasing power of the population, causing poverty and food insecurity to rise. Between 2005 and 2008, the incidence of extreme poverty – defined as the inability to meet basic food needs – increased by about 20%, and a growing share of the population became dependent on government-subsidized bread.
When the government struggled to meet demand, bread shortages became the focus of a wave of anger at perceived official incompetence, indifference, and corruption. On April 6, 2008, in response to low wages and rising food prices, Egyptian textile workers in the northern town of Mahalla al-Kubra organized a strike. Residents took to the streets, participating in the biggest demonstration that Egypt had seen in years. Police responded with live ammunition to disperse the crowds and arrested more than 300 people. The strike spread to other cities, including Cairo, albeit not with the same intensity. According to news reports, the demonstrators’ complaints were mainly economic: higher food prices, stagnant wages, and “unprecedented” inequality. Many view the Mahalla protests as a precursor to the Arab Spring less than three years later.
Then, in 2010, fires in Russia and floods in Pakistan disrupted global wheat and rice markets, and the prices of basic foods in Egypt rose again (see graph). By the end of the year, Egyptians had been pushed to the brink by the sharp increases in food prices, escalating unemployment, chronic government corruption, rigged parliamentary elections, lack of political freedoms, growing concern about police brutality, and crackdowns on the media and universities. Resentment toward Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year-old regime was growing. Social media had raised awareness of state repression and the fall of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on January 14, 2011, gave Egyptians hope that political change was possible.

Two weeks later, thousands of protesters poured into Cairo’s Tahrir Square, demanding dignity, democracy, and better livelihoods for all. One of the popular chants called for “bread, freedom, and social justice” (“aīsh, huriyya, adala igtima‘iyya”). As the call for “aīsh” indicates, the accessibility and affordability of food was part of the population’s key grievances against the government. And although rising food prices were not the main factor behind the uprising, they likely played an important role in the sequence of events that led to nation-wide demonstrations and deadly unrest. Protest movements were met with extreme police violence and the excessive use of force by the military. Reported deaths in January and February amounted to 846 persons, in addition to mass arbitrary arrests and many cases of abuse and torture.
THREATS, MULTIPLIED
Resource scarcity and the lack of basic services are feeding public frustration, social unrest, and broader instability throughout the MENA region. In Iraq, water scarcity and contamination have given rise to recurrent demonstrations in Basra, and also contributed to the protest movement that started in Baghdad in October 2019. In Egypt, steep increases in domestic food prices led to riots and sporadic protests in 2008 and contributed to the uprising in 2011.
Basic services such as running water, sanitation, stormwater drainage, solid-waste management, electricity, and access to staple foods, but also – as highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic – basic health care, social protection, and emergency response mechanisms, are the pillars on which governments build relationships with their citizens. The collapse of one or more severely erodes public trust and can lead to social upheavals, as demonstrated again by the recent uprisings in Lebanon, Jordan, Sudan, and other countries.
At the heart of the water and food scarcities in Egypt, Iraq, and other countries lie poor governance, weak regulation, and a lack of cross-border cooperation. But looming large in the background is a changing climate, which has exacerbated these problems. As the ultimate threat multiplier in a region that is extremely vulnerable to its effects, it must not be overlooked.
Given the risks, it is crucial that governments in the MENA region make adaptation efforts a top priority. If anything, the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored this need. Countries with preset plans have contained the spread of the coronavirus and managed its consequences much better than those with no plans. Likewise, confronting climate change requires developing comprehensive national and regional strategies that take into account the projected effects on water resources, agriculture, and human health. It is up to MENA governments to start building more resilience. The climate will not wait for them.

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The Expats are leaving Dubai

The Expats are leaving Dubai

Business Maverick tells us the Expats are leaving Dubai and that’s bad news for the economy

By Bloomberg
It’s a choice facing millions of foreigners across the Gulf as the fallout from the pandemic and a plunge in energy prices forces economic adjustments.

“Dubai is home for me,” said Sissons, who owned a small cafe and worked as a freelance human resources consultant. But “it’s expensive here and there’s no safety for expats. If I take the same money to Australia and we run out of everything, at least we’ll have medical insurance and free schooling.”It’s a choice facing millions of foreigners across the Gulf as the fallout from the pandemic and a plunge in energy prices forces economic adjustments. Wealthy Gulf Arab monarchies have, for decades, depended on foreign workers to transform sleepy villages into cosmopolitan cities. Many grew up or raised families here, but with no formal route to citizenship or permanent residency and no benefits to bridge the hard times, it’s a precarious existence.

The Expats are leaving Dubai
A letting sign sits on display outside a commercial property available to let in Dubai on June 8. Photographer: Christopher Pike/Bloomberg

The impact is starkest in Dubai, whose economic model is built on the presence of foreign residents who comprise about 90% of the population.

Oxford Economics estimates the United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is a part, could lose 900,000 jobs — eye-watering for a country of 9.6 million — and see 10% of its residents uproot. Newspapers are filled with reports of Indian, Pakistani and Afghan blue-collar workers leaving on repatriation flights, but it’s the loss of higher earners that will have painful knock-on effects on an emirate geared toward continuous growth.

“An exodus of middle-class residents could create a death spiral for the economy,” said Ryan Bohl, a Middle East analyst at Stratfor. “Sectors that relied on those professionals and their families such as restaurants, luxury goods, schools and clinics will all suffer as people leave. Without government support, those services could then lay off people who would then leave the country and create more waves of exodus.”

With the global economy in turmoil, the decision to leave isn’t straightforward. Dubai residents who can scrape by will likely stay rather than compete with the newly unemployed back home. The International Labor Organization says more than 1 billion workers globally are at high risk of pay cuts or job losses because of the coronavirus.

Some Gulf leaders, like Kuwait’s prime minister, are encouraging foreigners to leave as they fret about providing new jobs for locals. But the calculation for Dubai, whose economy depends on its role as a global trade, tourism and business hub, is different.

The crisis will likely accelerate the UAE’s efforts to allow residents to remain permanently, balanced against the status of citizens accustomed to receiving extensive benefits since the discovery of oil. For now, the UAE is granting automatic extensions to people with expiring residence permits and has suspended work-permit fees and some fines. It’s encouraging local recruitment from the pool of recently unemployed and has pushed banks to provide interest-free loans and repayment breaks to struggling families and businesses.

A Dubai government spokesperson said authorities were studying more help for the private sector: “Dubai is considered home to many individuals and will always strive to do the necessary to welcome them back.”

Expat Exodus to Hit Spending in Mideast's Consumer And Business Hub
Residents spend time on the beach at the Jumeirah Beach district on June 8. Photographer: Christopher Pike/Bloomberg

Dubai’s main challenge is affordability. The city that built its reputation as a free-wheeling tax haven has become an increasingly costly base for businesses and residents. In 2013, Dubai ranked as the 90th most expensive place for expatriates, according to New York-based consultant Mercer. It’s now 23rd, making it the priciest city in the Middle East, though it slipped from 21st place in 2019 as rents declined due to oversupply.

Education is emerging as a deciding factor for families, especially as more employers phase out packages that cover tuition. Though there’s now a wider choice of schools at different price points, Dubai had the region’s highest median school cost last year at $11,402, according to the International Schools Database.

That will likely lead parents to switch to cheaper schools and prompt cuts in fees, according to Mahdi Mattar, managing partner at MMK Capital, an advisory firm to private equity funds and Dubai school investors. He estimates enrollments may drop 10%-15%.

Sarah Azba, a teacher, lost her job when social distancing measures forced schools online. That deprived her of an important benefit; a free education for her son. So she and the children are returning to the U.S., where her 14-year-old son will go to public school and her daughter to college. Her husband will stay and move to a smaller, cheaper home.“Separating our family wasn’t an easy decision but we had to make this compromise,” Azba said.

Expat Exodus to Hit Spending in Mideast's Consumer And Business Hub
A cyclist rides past a commercial property advertised for rental in the Jumeirah district. Photographer: Christopher Pike/Bloomberg

For decades, Dubai has thought big, building some of the world’s most expansive malls and tallest buildings. From the desert sprang neighborhoods lined with villas designed for expat families lured by sun and turbo-boosted, tax-free salaries. New entertainment strips popped up and world-class chefs catered to an international crowd. But the stress was building long before 2020. Malls were busy but shoppers weren’t spending as much. Residential properties were being built but there were fewer buyers. New restaurants seemed to cannibalize business from old.

The economy never returned to the frenetic pace it enjoyed before the 2008 global credit crunch prompted the last bout of expatriate departures. Then, just as it turned a corner, the 2014 plunge in oil prices set growth back again. The Expo 2020, a six-month exhibition expected to attract 25 million visitors, was supposed to be a reset; it’s now been delayed due to Covid-19.

Weak demand means recovery will take time. Unlike some Middle Eastern countries, the UAE isn’t seeing a resurgence in Covid-19 infections as it reopens, but its reliance on international flows of people and goods means it’s vulnerable to global disruptions.

Emirates Group, the world’s largest long-haul carrier, is laying off employees as it weighs slashing some 30,000 jobs, one of the deepest culls in an industry that was forced into near-hibernation. Dubai hotels will likely cut 30% of staff. Developers of Dubai’s man-made islands and tallest tower have reduced pay. Uber’s Middle East ride-hailing unit Careem eliminated nearly a third of jobs in May but said this week business was recovering.

Dubai-based Move it Cargo and Packaging said it’s receiving around seven calls a day from residents wanting to ship their belongings abroad. That compares with two or three a week this time last year. Back then, the same number of people were moving in too. Now, it’s all outward bound.

Marc Halabi, 42, spent the past week reluctantly sorting belongings accumulated over 11 years in Dubai. Boxes line the rooms as he, his wife and two daughters decide what to ship back to Canada. An advertising executive, Halabi lost his job in March. He’s been looking for work that would allow the family to remain but says he can’t afford to hold out any longer.

“I’m upset we’re leaving,” Halabi said. “Dubai feels like home and has given me many opportunities, but when you fall on hard times, there isn’t much help and all you’re left with is a month or two to pick up and move.”

Read more in related :

The Expat Life Is Struggling to Survive Covid-19

MENA’s trade performance, and its projected growth

MENA’s trade performance, and its projected growth

Rebecca HardingCEO of Coriolis Technologies, invitee of Trade Briefing, discusses MENA‘s trade performance, its projected growth and key political risks for 2020.


Note on the impact of Covid-19: 

This report was compiled before the Covid-19 pandemic and therefore refers to patterns and trends based on data that was current at the time of writing in February 2020. The full impact of Covid-19 on trade is unknown, but the World Trade Organization estimates that trade will fall by anything between 13% and 32% globally during 2020. Alongside this, and ahead of any impact on trade, the Mena region was already being affected by the collapse in global oil prices, which happened in March and, again, was not factored into this report. However, the points in the report remain valid: that the region’s dependency on oil will have an impact on its trade and economic performance, greater in net oil exporting countries than in net oil importers.

There are other general concerns amongst trade finance professionals around the role of the trade credit insurance sector, which is now heavily exposed to the sharp downturn in global trade. Inventories are collapsing as just-in-time distribution models struggle to cope with restrictions on the physical movement of goods. This is affecting invoice payments and, while it is too early to say exactly how this will affect the recovery from the current crisis, it is undoubtedly the case that many businesses in supply chains worldwide will not survive. As a result, the role of government agencies at present is vital in supporting exporters. In addition to fiscal support, countries will also need clear and robust strategies to rebuild economically once lockdowns are lifted.

GTR: 2019 was a sluggish year for trade. How was MENA affected by this general climate of uncertainty?

Harding: Mena has had a tough few years and last year was not really any different. The combined effects of the trade war between the US and China, the UK’s exit from the EU and enduring intra-regional tensions, particularly between the US and Iran, made 2019 a poor year for trade.

This follows five years of sluggish growth. A weak or volatile oil price over the period since 2013 to the end of 2018, which is where the data is actual rather than forecast, has meant that export revenues have dropped at an annualised rate of 6% in Mena – the highest decline of any global region (Figure 1). This has had a spill-over effect on the region’s economies as well, with imports falling back by nearly 3% annually over the period, suggesting weaker demand both within Mena and globally for the goods that are re-exported from the region.

MENA's trade performance, its projected growth

The Mena region is particularly vulnerable to underlying uncertainties globally. It is highly dependent on two things: oil prices and global demand for the goods that are shipped through the Gulf via its largest ports. As a result, the overall picture for the region in 2020 is likely to be mixed and show no particularly clear pattern of recovery from the uncertainty that has dominated the last few years in terms of oil prices, and 2019 in terms of broader geo-economic and geopolitical issues (Figure 2). The collapse of oil prices, following an OPEC meeting in early March, was a product of Saudi Arabia’s decision to launch a price war; this will have major repercussions for the region.

What stands out from Figure 2 is that, in spite of the difficult environment around sanctions and its fraught relationship with the US, Iran is projected to fare well in trade terms during 2020, especially in terms of its exports. That said, care should be taken when interpreting Iran’s data as a lot of its trade is hidden or executed with poor reporting partners.

MENA's trade performance, its projected growth

Even if the figure of a 55% increase in the projected value of Iran’s exports seems extreme, it arguably reflects a slowdown in trade in 2018 as a result of US sanctions, and a pick up into 2020 as the country finds a way to work around the restrictions it now faces. Its largest export partner is China and the projections suggest an increase in export trade during 2020 of around 8%, alongside imports from China of around 17%. But it is not just China where Iran is seeing trade growth. Exports to the UAE are set to grow by nearly 39%, to the Republic of Korea by over 52% and, perhaps most intriguingly of all, to parts of Asia not indicated elsewhere (Asia NIE) of more than 2,000% year on year.

Asia NIE is Iran’s second largest export partner. It is an amalgamation of trading partners that are too small or too unreliable in their reporting to be classified individually as countries in trade statistics. The fact that it is both a large partner and that its growth is volatile but substantial during the course of the coming year suggests some of this growth is a reaction to the political and economic uncertainties that exist in the region.

Morocco is another country in the region which is predicted to see export growth in 2020. This reflects its position as a non-oil-dependent trading nation with an increasingly strong manufacturing base. Its top five trading partners are European, which points to its role as a gateway for trade between Mena, Europe and Africa. Its imports from Spain, for example, are increasing rapidly, with growth predicted at 8% during the course of the coming year. While oil and gas are important imports to Morocco from Spain, machinery and components, automotives and electrical products and equipment imports are also large and growing sectors. Spain has also taken over from France as Morocco’s largest export partner.

Nonetheless, the region remains vulnerable to global trade’s broader fragilities. These are likely to continue into 2020, not least because there is no sense that trade tensions have gone away, even if in an election year for the US there may be a slightly toned-down rhetoric. Trade growth remains negative or flat for most of the region’s countries and this will affect the extent to which GDP picks up.

GTR: Is there any sign that Mena has increased its resilience into 2020 and beyond?

Harding: The real measure of resilience in the region is the extent to which it is managing to reduce its dependency on oil. This is most evident in its imports (Figure 3). The region’s GDP expansion has failed to pick up since the collapse of oil revenues and, according to the IMF, is likely to be around 1.6% in 2020, down from 2.2% in 2017.

The fact that economic growth looks to have slowed somewhat has had an impact on the region’s imports. For example, imports of machinery and components (which includes computer machinery as well as tools for infrastructure development projects), will decline by 0.6% in 2020. The longer-term outlook to 2023 also points to an annual drop in imports of 0.3%. Iron and steel products, aircraft and automotives all exhibit a similar pattern.

MENA's trade performance, its projected growth

This could arguably be a function of two things. First, the region’s infrastructure has gone through a growth phase as ports and airports have been constructed to support its increased role as a trade hub. The slowdown now may well be because this construction process has slowed as more projects have been completed.

The second cause may be a slowing of regional or global demand, as might be suggested by the drop in automotive imports. This could suggest that there is a bigger picture to the sluggishness of trade in the region.

However, the data does not support this interpretation. The Mena region imports over US$75bn in automotives each year and exports just US$13bn. Exports are forecast to increase both in 2020 and for the next few years (Figure 4). This suggests that the region is potentially becoming more important as a hub, and that it will be re-exporting more in the coming years. The slowdown in imports therefore looks as if it can be attributed to the region’s economic fortunes. Indeed, the fact that iron and steel product imports are also declining indicates that there is less construction work going on.

MENA's trade performance, its projected growth

Even so, the projected growth in exports is encouraging. The region has a trade deficit in all of its largest sectors except mineral fuels and some of the import sectors where growth is slower, such as infrastructure products like iron and steel, may simply be a function of the fact that a lot of resource has been put into catching up over the past couple of decades and that this development is now slowing. Growth in exports of other infrastructure sectors such as machinery and components, aluminium and electrical products, alongside growth in automotives, suggests that the region’s role is changing – and this will mean that its long-term resilience is somewhat more assured.

GTR: How is intra-regional trade developing in Mena?

Harding: Mena will see an increase in intra-regional trade from 2019 to 2023, and this is noticeable in comparison to the pick-up in intra-regional trade in other net oil exporting regions such as South America and Sub-Saharan Africa (Figure 5). The only other region with faster intra-regional trade growth is Asia Pacific (APAC).

While oil remains the dominant traded sector in Mena, this greater intra-regional trade indicates either that the region’s oil dependency is declining or simply that there is a greater amount of cross-border trade within the region.

MENA's trade performance, its projected growth

Could this therefore mean that more export diversity across the region is behind the growth in regional trade? A first glance suggests not. The top five countries for intra-regional exports are the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq and Oman. In terms of export growth, the UAE, Iran and Saudi Arabia are growing quickly, but Iraq and Oman are falling back. Similarly, the top five countries for intra-regional imports are the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran and Oman. All of these countries are likely to see growth in intra-regional import values between 2019 and 2020 (Figure 6).

A couple of points stand out from this chart: first, the impact on Qatar’s trade because of the blockade, which began in June 2017, is evident. Intra-regional trade values fell back between 2013 and 2018 at an annualised rate of over 20%. While this initially aligned with the collapse in oil prices, an annualised decline of 16.1% in imports between 2016 and 2019 covered the pick-up in oil prices and the onset of the blockade, while intra-regional exports over the same three-year period fell annually at over 22%. The data suggests that this will continue into 2020.

MENA's trade performance, its projected growth

Furthermore, Morocco’s trade with the region looks set to decline at the same time it increases with the EU27 and Spain and France in particular. The country’s trade with Mena spiked during the financial crisis, largely because of an uptick in gold prices, with a three-year growth in imports of over 300%, albeit from a low base. Other imports, such as automotives, clothing and accessories, and milk and dairy products have remained on a consistent downward trend since 2014.

Morocco exports hard commodities and plastics to the rest of Mena, and these have also been on a downward trend since 2014 because of weak commodity prices. In other words, the structure of Morocco’s trade with the rest of the region is very different to its trade outside of the region, which is focused on intermediate manufactured goods.

This leads to the conclusion that, in fact, growth in intra-regional trade has been driven by a rise in oil prices, rather than any diversification efforts. Indeed, between 2017 and 2020, intra-regional trade in oil and gas grew by nearly 6% annually. The UAE, Egypt, Jordan and Bahrain have been major beneficiaries of this pattern, which looks set to continue.

GTR: Geopolitical tensions between the US and Iran have added a layer of uncertainty into the 2020 outlook. How will this play out during the course of the year?

Harding: On January 3, US forces carried out a drone strike near Baghdad International Airport killing Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Quds Force and right-hand man to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader. Khamenei vowed “severe revenge”. Five days later, on January 8, 16 short and medium-range ballistic missiles were launched at two US airbases in Iraq (Ain al-Asad and Erbil). No fatalities were reported, which US officials attributed to an effective satellite early warning system known as the Space Based Infrared System. It is likely that Iran’s response was an example of ‘escalation for de-escalation’; by providing the US with a degree of early warning, casualties could be minimised and direct conflict with the US avoided, while still demonstrating to Iran’s domestic base that action had been taken. From the US perspective, President Trump was equally unlikely to be willing to become embroiled in a costly war during an election year.

Although tensions between Iran and the US are unlikely to lead to direct conflict, there are two real risks to the region. The first is that of miscalculation – in other words, the danger that either Iran or the US misinterprets the actions of the other and acts accordingly. For example, had the US had any fatalities from the Iranian response, there may have been a more severe, escalatory response. This risk is always there but the fact that neither side appears to have much appetite for conflict means that it is unlikely to be the major issue affecting trade during the course of the year.

Of more consequence is the second risk that is apparent in the region at present, which is that it is increasingly caught in the power struggle between Russia, China and the US. As Coriolis Technologies has been observing for some time now, Russia is increasing its influence in the region. Our data suggests that the average annualised growth in imports from Russia for the period 2016-2020 will be around 14%. While much of this is oil and gas, the period 2015-2018 saw a worrying exponential growth in so-called commodities not elsewhere specified – trade in which closely correlates with conflict around the world. This reflects Russia’s role in Yemen and Syria in particular.

The consequence for trade of this type of uncertainty is obvious. It holds back investment as businesses outside of the region tread cautiously to avoid conflict. However, while Russia’s engagement in the region provides a backdrop to traditional “hard” power, the US is now using its financial power rather than military means to support its regional objectives.

The tightening of sanctions on Iran since the US withdrew its support for the Iranian nuclear treaty (JCPOA) has affected the way in which banks can operate in the region. The risk of secondary sanctions, for example inadvertently using the US dollar for a transaction, as well as the direct risk of trading with a sanctioned entity or person is the core way in which trade with the region will be affected.

Mena continues to be dominated by trade with areas not elsewhere specified (Areas NES), which is an agglomeration of countries which are either too small or report too irregularly, potentially indicating hidden trade. Exports to this partner were worth US$519bn in 2018; US$97.1bn of these exports were in commodities not elsewhere specified. The region’s exports to Asia NIE were worth US$19bn in 2018.

What this says is that trade in the region remains opaque. While this continues to be the case, it is very difficult for dollar-denominated trade finance to work with banks in the region. Swift has shut down its messaging services to Iran; and although European government officials announced in April that Instex, a trade vehicle set up to bypass US sanctions on Iran, has successfully completed its first transaction, there remain doubts over the viability of the mechanism. China, Russia, Iran and Turkey have been building an alternative to the Swift network, but as this would be subject to the same sanctions constraints as other regions, unless and until US strategy changes, the opacity and political nature of trade will be a core challenge for the region as a whole.

GTR: The largest ports like Dubai are increasingly focusing on their role as trading hubs for re-exports. How will this expand in the coming year?

Harding: The best way of approaching this question is to look at trade with free trade zones (FTZs). These are the economic areas around ports or airports which are specific to a sector and which enable re-export activity by providing tax and customs duty incentives to overseas investors and trading businesses. Dubai alone has more than 30 of these zones; the UAE has the greatest number of FTZs of any country in the region.

Because countries report exports to FTZs, but FTZs do not report imports as a country in their own right, the data depends on the reliability of the partner country and, as a tax and duty payment mechanism rather than as a trading partner, the numbers tend to be small. The Mena countries are amongst the least reliable reporters globally, so the data is somewhat erratic but nevertheless tells an interesting story:

  1. Mena as a region exported some US$981mn to freeports in 2018. The dominant products that the region exported were electrical products and equipment, precious metals and stones (gold and diamonds), commodities not elsewhere specified, machinery and components and mineral fuels (oil and gas).
  2. Mena imported some US$220mn of goods from freeports in 2018. The dominant sectors were commodities not elsewhere specified, mineral fuels, electrical products, machinery and components and coffee and tea.
  3. Exports to FTZs declined between 2013 and 2018. However, Coriolis Technologies is expecting growth in exports to be nearly 150% between 2018 and 2019, and to fall back to around 2% between 2019 and 2020.
  4. The trade with FTZs is not necessarily attributable to hidden trade as such. By way of comparison, the region trades over US$519bn with areas not elsewhere specified and US$27.5bn with Asia not elsewhere specified. Since these have been shown to be highly correlated with sanctions avoidance and conflict as discussed, the distinction is an important one to be made.

These patterns tell an interesting story about how FTZs may be utilised at present. Oil and gas, precious metals and stones and commodities not elsewhere specified are sectors which hide other patterns in trade. However, trade in electrical products, automotives, machinery and components and coffee and tea suggest that something else is happening given the expected overall growth in trade with FTZs.

Because trade looks to have grown so quickly between 2018 and 2019, FTZs clearly play an important role in the region’s trade. The data is naturally opaque, so any conclusion is to some extent speculative. However, tighter sanctions and the risk of secondary sanctions against Iran from the US means that trade with one of its main trading partners became very difficult for Mena during that year. Alternative mechanisms, such as FTZs, mean that trade technically does not touch either Iran or its financial institutions. As a result, FTZs may become a route to continued legal trade with sanctioned countries.

GTR: China is playing an increasingly active role in Mena. What are the key developments and are there any particular sectors of interest?

Harding: One cannot overstate the importance of China to the Mena region. Imports from China were worth US$146bn and exports worth US$169bn in 2018.

Mena’s exports to China are dominated by oil and gas, which makes up nearly 76% of the total at US$128bn.

Imports from China are far less concentrated. The top five imports from China are electrical products and equipment (US$38.1bn), machinery and components (US$22bn), knitted clothing and accessories (US$4.6bn), iron and steel (US$6.2bn) and automotives (US$6.2bn).

China is strategically focused on its electronics exports and, in 2019, Mena is estimated to have imported US$9.2bn of specialised electronic equipment from China. This represents an annualised growth of 27% since 2016, when President Trump came to power in the US and China became more explicit about its global aspirations. While China’s imports from Mena may well be focused on energy security, it is extending its reach into the region through technology.

Yet trade growth overall has been sluggish. Over the period between 2013 and 2018, imports from China grew at an annualised rate of 1%, while exports increased by just 0.6%. This is largely because of oil price related economic weakness in Mena, which has affected both domestic demand as well as the value of exports to China.

Even so, Mena’s trade with China is twice the size of trade with its second largest country-level export partner, the US. China overtook the US as the region’s largest country partner (excluding blocs like the EU27) in 2009. The growth in the trading relationship was particularly evident between 2002 and 2014, likely driven by Chinese investment into the energy sector, given that post-2014 growth has trailed off amid lower oil prices (Figure 7).

MENA's trade performance, its projected growth

Despite China’s expansionary policy through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to develop infrastructure more generally, it is energy security that seems to underpin its trade with the region. Investment has supported that with the majority going into the energy sector. This highlights the fact that China invests for its strategic purposes, although real estate (construction) and transport have featured strongly. In effect, then, the BRI has just given a name to an investment trend that has been growing gradually since before the financial crisis (Figure 8).

Up to 2013, all investments by China into Mena were classified as non-BRI, but since 2014, all investments have been classified as BRI – this is again a reflection of how China is now categorising its investments. The pattern is clear, though: the general trend is for more investment in the region, both in terms of consistency and in terms of value. The fact that investments appeared to drop in 2019 may reflect two things: first, the general uncertainties during the course of the year that arose from the US-China trade war which held back investments globally. Second, and as a result of the dispute, China was relatively quiet about the BRI during the course of the year having been very public about its intentions the previous year – perhaps as a signal to the US that it was growing its economic power.

Whatever may be the case, what is important is that the investments appear to support China’s trade aspirations in the region.

MENA's trade performance, its projected growth

GTR: What are the key upside and downside risks to growth in the region in 2020 and what are the consequences for trade finance?

Harding: Trade within the region is substantial and the value of bank-intermediated trade finance from intra-regional trade alone is as much as US$122bn per year. Electronics trade between countries in the region has grown by 36.7% since 2016, machinery and components by nearly 19% and, against the odds perhaps, Iran’s intra-regional trade is growing by an annualised figure of 47%.

Much of the growth in trade finance will depend on the risk appetite of the region’s financial institutions. There is plenty to invest in, as is clear from this report, but the region itself has a number of challenges which banks will need to overcome: Coriolis Technologies risk indicators for the region, particularly around the risk of terrorism, the risk of repression and threats from regimes, are among the highest in the world. While businesses on the ground are trying to reduce the region’s dependency on oil, particularly in technology and digitalisation, this reputational risk cannot be ignored.

The region is particularly prone to commodity price fluctuations. The collapse of oil prices since the beginning of 2020 presents a serious threat to Mena’s economic wellbeing. Saudi Arabia is unlikely to be able to thrive economically at an oil price below US$70 a barrel. With 82% of its export revenues coming from oil and gas (approximately US$455bn in 2019) and its next largest export products like plastics also being heavily oil dependent, its overall trade is 96% correlated with the price of oil.

Russian influence in the region is growing as a result of the US strategy to withdraw militarily and, in reality, economically as well. Since the global financial crisis, imports from Russia have grown from US$11.8bn in 2009 to US$27.8bn in 2018. Similarly, exports have grown over the same period from US$1.9bn to US$4.2bn. Increased trade with Russia and China is likely, not least because of the sanctions that are now associated with any trade in US dollars that might touch Iran. This will have the effect of limiting trade and investment – and the role of global banks – in the region if there is any compliance risk from supporting intra-regional trade in particular. Meanwhile, greater Russian involvement in Mena will add to the complexity of already fraught relations between countries in the region, with the potential of an escalation into broader conflict.

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused widespread economic disruption around the world. This is a key risk which could impact events in the region, travel and tourism and, of course, oil trade. These are risks that are the same for everywhere in the world at present, but the potential for a global recession is obvious. The extent to which the region’s reforms over the past few years have created economic resilience are likely to be tested during the course of this yea

MENA Region Is Poised To Be The Next Fintech Hub

MENA Region Is Poised To Be The Next Fintech Hub

SCOOPEMPIRE‘ s TECH wondering Why The MENA Region Is Poised To Be The Next Fintech Hub, its Scoop Team on June 4, 2020, answered by posing another question such as What is Fintech, and where is it most prominent in this essay.


As the world braces itself for a potential global recession, it’s hard to countenance the idea of growth markets or lucrative industries. However, entities such as the fintech sector undoubtedly challenge this mindset, with the global market worth an impressive $127.66 billion by the end of 2018.

The market is also poised for further expansion in the near-term, with a compound annual growth rate rate of 25% forecast through 2022. This will create a fintech sector worth approximately $309.98 billion, while also helping to drive significant innovation and technological advancement in the wider financial services space.

Interestingly, we’re also seeing the geographical diversification of fintech, with locations in regions such as Africa and the Middle East now competing with established financial powerhouses like London. But why exactly will the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) jurisdiction become the next major fintech hub?

What is Fintech, and where is it most prominent?

In simple terms, fintech refers to financial technologies, while it continues to drive a diverse range of innovations and applications within the financial services sector.

Historically, it was used almost exclusively by financial institutions themselves, but over time it has continued to evolve to represent emerging technologies in their own right and the widespread disruption of the traditional financial services sector.

MENA Region Is Poised To Be The Next Fintech Hub

The history of fintech can also be traced back to the origins of the 21st century, while over the course of the last decade it has evolved into a rapidly growing and advancing customer-oriented spectrum of services. This is true across a number of financial industries too, although it’s fair to surmise that the impact of fintech innovation has been more prominent in some markets than others.

Take the foreign exchange, for example, which has been gripped by a fintech revolution that remains largely unchecked to this day. Make no mistake; the impact of fintech has been felt throughout every aspect of forex trading over the course of the last two decades, from the emergence of online and mobile brokers to the implementation of high-frequency trading tools and automated risk-management measures.

These fintech innovations have helped to make the forex market far more accessible to a wider international audience, while enabling everyday and non-institutional investors to trade variable derivatives and forex trading sessions.

This includes lucrative and high-volume entities such as the Asian trading session (which operates between the hours of 12am and 9am GMT), along with an entire basket of emerging currencies and asset classes associated with regions such as Africa and the Middle East).

The rise of Fintech in MENA – a marriage made in heaven?

Of course, this is just one measure of the growing relationship between fintech and the MENA region, and one that becomes increasingly formidable with every passing year.

This is borne out by the figures too; with the fintech market in the MENA region expected to account for 8% of the areas’ total financial services revenue by 2022. This growth has been largely inspired by a rising number of fintech startups in sectors such as forex, combined with increased mobile Internet penetration and sustained economic reforms throughout the region.

Overall, the number of fintech startups offering fiscal services in the MENA jurisdiction will peak at 250 by the end of this year, up from a paltry 46 back in 2013. This evolution has also been driven by sustained investment in the sector, with the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) having launched a notable $100 million fintech fund back in November 2017.

The main purpose of this investment was to accelerate the growth and influence of fintech in Dubai and the Middle East as a whole, and this has already had a marked impact in terms of achieving this objective. This also involved market-leading financial institutions such as HSBC, who have recently committed to renewing their participation for the third year.

This means that the region’s most dynamic and profitable fintech startups will continue to benefit from sustained support and nurturing, paving the way for the MENA region to become increasingly influential in the marketplace and challenge established entities such as London and Hamburg.

WE SAID THIS: The region is booming in more ways than you know!

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Following The Likes Of Other Platforms, LinkedIn Introduces Stories,…Jun 3, 2020

Indian billionaire Ambani accelerates debt plan

Indian billionaire Ambani accelerates debt plan

Oil, telecom and retail conglomerate Reliance Industries now expects to reach zero net debt ahead of the March 2021 target as reported by Arabian Business of 1 May 2020. Here is the story of how and why Indian billionaire Ambani accelerates debt plan as stake sale to Saudi drags.

Indian billionaire Ambani accelerates debt plan as stake sale to Saudi drags

Ambani’s focus on paying down debt and attracting investors comes as Reliance on Thursday reported its biggest profit slump since 2008

Mukesh Ambani, Asia’s richest man, accelerated the timeframe for wiping out $21 billion in net debt at his Reliance Industries Ltd., seeking to quash skepticism that emerged as talks to sell a stake in some assets to Saudi Arabian Oil Co. have dragged on.

The oil, telecom and retail conglomerate now expects to reach zero net debt ahead of the March 2021 target Ambani had set in August, the Mumbai-based company said in a statement Thursday. A $7 billion share sale to existing investors was approved by the board on Thursday, a week after Facebook Inc. agreed to invest $5.7 billion in Reliance Industries’ Jio Platforms business.

The rights issue — the latest in a series of fund-raising efforts — may help Ambani, 63, pay down borrowings that piled up as the company spent almost $50 billion to roll out a wireless network. Building investor confidence has become all-the-more crucial after the pandemic caused a crashin oil prices, undermining prospects for Reliance’s proposal to sell an estimated $15 billion stake in its oil and chemicals business to Saudi Arabian Oil.

Talks on the investment by the world’s biggest oil producer are on course, Reliance said Thursday in the statement. The company also said it has sought regulatory approvals to carve out the oil and chemicals division. Investors have sought clues to the progress of negotiations with Aramco, as the Saudi company is known, helping drag the stock to a two-year low in March. The shares have rebounded, gaining about 66% since the March 23 close, on renewed confidence in Ambani’s ability to attract investors.

“Reliance Industries has demonstrated excellent timing for fund raising,” said Chakri Lokapriya, chief investment officer at TCG Asset Management. “The Jio Platforms-Facebook deal provides Reliance a huge, scalable business venture with first-mover advantage. The rights issue is a smart way of raising capital.”

Ambani’s focus on paying down debt and attracting investors also comes as Reliance on Thursday reported its biggest profit slump since 2008, missing analyst estimates, on a plunge in oil prices and slumping demand.

Profit plunged by nearly 40% in the March quarter as the coronavirus outbreak slammed fuel demand. To cut costs, Ambani is foregoing his pay and has cut salaries at the oil unit, the company said Thursday.

The billionaire has vowed to shift Reliance away from dependence on profit from its energy-related businesses to faster-growing consumer segments including its digital platform and retail.

Reliance said Thursday that it has received interest from new potential global partners in taking a stake of similar size to Facebook’s agreement to buy a 10% stake in the company’s platform business.

Reliance “has received strong interest from other strategic and financial investors and is in good shape to announce a similar sized investment in the coming months,” it said in a statement. The company “is set to achieve net zero debt status ahead of its own aggressive timeline.”

The Facebook-Jio Platforms transaction is to be closed by end of this quarter, the company said in a presentation to investors on its website.

Under the planned rights offering, Reliance will issue shares worth 531.3 billion rupees, it said Thursday. The deal includes one rights share for every 15 held, at 1,257 rupees each, or 14% lower than the closing price on Thursday. Ambani and other members of the founding family who own stakes will subscribe to their entire entitled portion and will buy any stock left over, under the plan.

The offering comes at a tumultuous time for many companies in India.

Even before the pandemic triggered one of the world’s most extensive lockdowns and slammed economic growth, companies were struggling to raise money as banks cut back lending. The atmosphere may make it hard for Ambani to come through on his plans, said Arun Kejriwal, director at KRIS, an investment advisory firm in Mumbai.

“The rights issuance is not attractive,” said Kejriwal. “Hence, the math is not adding up for Reliance in cutting its net debt to zero ahead of the promised deadline. The road map needs to be clearer as the earnings were below expectations.”

In April, Reliance said it would raise as much as 250 billion rupees through non-convertible debentures.

Adjusted debt peaked at 2.7 trillion rupees in fiscal 2020, according to S&P Global Ratings. The ratings company expects that to decline to about 2.2 trillion rupees in the following year and 1.7 trillion rupees by fiscal 2023.

Earnings growth at the company’s digital and retail segments will be about 50% in fiscal 2020, S&P estimates. The businesses will account for about 40% of the company’s earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, from just 3% in 2017, S&P said.

“The company’s strategy of transforming its upstream energy focus to domestic consumption-driven businesses has been successful,” S&P said in an April 28 report affirming Reliance’s BBB+ credit rating. “We expect digital and retail growth to continue in fiscals 2021 and 2022.”

Reactions to the Coronavirus Outbreak in the Middle East

Reactions to the Coronavirus Outbreak in the Middle East

What Have the Reactions to the Coronavirus Outbreak in the Middle East Shown? Wondered Michael Young citing four members of the middle Eastern elites on yet another challenge that the region is confronting.


Souha S. Kanj | Professor of medicine, head of the Division of Infectious Diseases, chair of the Infection Control and Prevention Program at the American University of Beirut Medical Center

The events related to the coronavirus outbreak are evolving quickly around the world. The situation in the Middle East is probably more complex than elsewhere. The countries of the region are a mix of rich and poor states, with variable GDPs and health infrastructures, and are frequently characterized by political instability and tension. War and violent conflicts have weakened health infrastructure in many countries. The influx of migrants through borders has contributed to healthcare related challenges. The region also has geopolitical and economic ties to both China and Iran, which recently appeared as the epicenters for the COVID-19 outbreak in the region.

There is a striking variation in the number of reported cases by country in the Middle East. Underreporting is thought to be prevalent, whether due to an unwillingness, and sometimes a lack of preparedness, to perform accurate testing. Syria, for example, has not reported any cases, despite its close ties to Iran. Its fragile health system is likely incapable of detecting and responding to the epidemic. The same applies to Yemen.

Some countries in the Middle East have raised the alert level during the past week by imposing school closures and other measures of social distancing. The Saudi authorities have cancelled the Umrah pilgrimage and access to Mecca to nonresidents until further notice. Some Gulf countries are requiring visa applicants to produce a negative test for COVID-19. Other countries are still reporting few cases. In Iran, the response was slow, suggesting an unwillingness to report cases before the country’s elections. Mortality among infected patients in Iran seems to be among the highest after China.

There is little to suggest that Middle Eastern countries have joined efforts to address this global viral threat. The Arab League has remained silent. No meetings have been announced to discuss the evolving situation. Arab countries in the Middle East have so far missed an opportunity to overcome political divisions and closely collaborate to contain the spread of the virus in the region. It might not be too late to engage in coordination, especially from the wealthier states, to provide technical, material, and financial assistance to their neighbors.

Amir A. Afkhami | Associate professor of psychiatry, global health, and history at George Washington University, author of A Modern Contagion: Imperialism and Public Health in Iran’s Age of Cholera.

Karl Marx once said that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. Nothing illustrates this more than the series of baffling policy decisions by Iran’s leadership that have resulted in the largest outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in the region. Despite advances in the biomedical sciences and infectious disease control in the past century, the Iranian government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak has been hobbled by ideological, religious, and economic concerns.

Other countries in the Middle East have followed suit, often prioritizing their non-medical domestic and foreign policy interests in establishing travel bans, quarantines, and other forms of public health precautions. These religious, political, and economic determinants of infectious diseases hark back to the pre-World War I period in the region. Devotional visits to shrine cities and burials at holy sites played an important role in the dissemination of pandemic outbreaks in the Iranian and Ottoman Empires throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. Similarly, political, economic, and religious interests often took precedence over public welfare in the way quarantines, travel bans, and disinfection policies were established within the empires and on their frontiers. This shows us that historic social and political forces continue to shape the impact of contagions on the peoples of the Middle East.

Basem al-Shabb | Former Lebanese parliamentarian, American Board in general and cardiothoracic surgery

The response to the COVID-19 epidemic in the Middle East has followed the usual script in the region for dealing with calamity. Whereas human suffering invites cooperation in other places, in the Middle East it seams to accentuate cultural and sectarian tensions. As reports of cases were trickling out of Iran, the authorities engaged in denial. Only recently did the Syrian Health Ministry confidently state that there were no known cases in Syria. In Lebanon, flights from Iran, the epicenter of the epidemic, continued unabated and screening at the airport was instituted rather late in the game. Throughout the region, there is an undercurrent of sectarianism. While Iran wrestles with a massive epidemic, Egypt has reported only a few cases and, interestingly, Turkey has reported none. There is hardly any cooperation or exchange of information on COVID-19 among the countries of the Levant.

The epidemic has also touched on religious sensitivities, with some churches in Lebanon insisting on pursuing communion using a single utensil. There is no doubt the coronavirus has brought out the usual regional reactions of denial, delayed responses, myth-mongering, sectarianism, as well as conspiracy theories.

Bader al-Saif | Nonresident fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, where his research focuses on the Gulf and Arabian Peninsula

The coronavirus outbreak is a potent reminder that the Middle East is no different than the rest of the world. The outbreak has reinforced preexisting tendencies in the region, where it is no secret that systems are largely broken. It has further exposed governmental weakness, evidenced in ambiguous, inconsistent policies. Crisis management and transparency are largely lacking, and so is the faith of citizens in governments’ ability to protect them. Political considerations have triumphed over necessary health directives in various states, putting citizens at further risk, whether by allowing the continuation of flights from high risk areas, such as Iranians traveling to Lebanon, or deferring necessary testing, as in Egyptians traveling to Kuwait. There are notable exceptions, such as Saudi Arabia, where the state has managed the outbreak of the coronavirus and peoples’ reactions to it.

Responses have ranged from denial to fear. Some assume the virus is a conspiracy theory, while others are misinformed about its nature. The virus has also justified racist slurs. With most of the Middle East contracting the virus via Iran, the anti-Iran camp has condemned Iran’s irresponsibility and poor services (ignoring the impact of U.S. sanctions), with some even suggesting that the virus is a Shi‘a phenomenon aimed at infecting the Sunni-majority Middle East.

There has been a third, more measured response among less ideological people. These include business owners, who are concerned about the economic impact of the outbreak; expatriates barred from returning to their homes due to travel bans; families who do not want their children’s education affected by prolonged breaks; and sensible policymakers who have sought to jointly coordinate responses. The outbreak has reminded Middle Easterners of their shortcomings. They patiently are awaiting a breakthrough that would end the coronavirus outbreak, so they can redirect their efforts to addressing other problems long plaguing the region.

The Middle East still looking for a growth model

The Middle East still looking for a growth model

Posted on March 8, 2020, in The Arab Weekly, Six decades after independence, Middle East still looking for growth model by Rashmee Roshan Lall is an accurate survey of the region that faces, as we speak, prospects of harshest times. How is the Middle East still looking for a growth model? Investing in the human capital of children and young people as well as enhancing their prospects for productive employment and economic growth is little more complicated than relying on Crude Oil exports related revenues. These are the main if not the only source of earnings of the region now plummeting perhaps for good before even peaking. In effect, all petrodollar inspired and financed development that, put simply, was transposed from certain parts of the world, using not only imported materials but also management and all human resources can not result in anything different from that described in this article.


Though a large youthful population would normally be regarded an economic blessing, it’s become the bane of the MENA region.


The Middle East still looking for a growth model
Dramatic changes. Employees of Aramco oil company at Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq oil processing plant. (AFP)

It’s been 75 years since World War II ended and the idea of decolonising the Middle East and North Africa began to gain ground but, while formal colonisation ended about six decades ago, the region seems unable to find a clear path to growth.

Rather than an “Arab spring,” what may be needed is a temperate autumn, a season of mellow fruitfulness to tackle the region’s biggest problems. These include finding a way to use the demographic bulge to advantage, reducing inequality of opportunity and outcome and boosting local opportunity.

Here are some of the region’s key issues:

Youth ‘explosion’

The MENA region’s population grew from around 100 million in 1950 to approximately 380 million in 2000, the Population Reference Bureau said. It is now about 420 million and half that population lives in four countries — Egypt, Sudan, Iraq and Yemen.

The 2016 Arab Human Development Report, which focused on youth, said most of the region’s population is under the age of 25.

The youth bulge is the result of declining mortality rates in the past 40 years as well as an average annual population growth rate of 1.8%, compared with 1% globally. The absolute number of young people is predicted to increase from 46 million in 2010 to 58 million in 2025.

Though a large youthful population would normally be regarded an economic blessing, it’s become the bane of the MENA region. The demographic trend suggests the region needs to create more than 300 million jobs by 2050, the World Bank said.

Jihad Azour, International Monetary Fund (IMF) director for the Middle East and Central Asia, said MENA countries’ growth rate “is lower that what is required to tackle unemployment. Youth unemployment in the region exceeds 25%-30%.” The average unemployment rate across the region is 11%, compared to 7% in other emerging and developing economies.

Unsurprisingly, said Harvard economist Ishac Diwan, a senior fellow at the Middle East Initiative, young Arabs are unhappier than their elders as well as their peers in countries at similar stages of development.

Last year’s Arab Youth Survey stated that 45% of young Arab respondents said they regard joblessness as one of the region’s main challenges, well ahead of the Syrian war (28%) and the threat of terrorism (26%).

The region’s population is expected to nearly double by 2030 and the IMF estimated that 27 million young Arabs will enter the labour market the next five years.

Poverty and inequality

Most Arab people do not live in oil-rich countries. Data from the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) stated that 116 million people across ten Arab countries (41% of the total population), are poor and another 25% were vulnerable to poverty. This translates to an estimated 250 million people who may be poor or vulnerable out of a population of 400 million.

The MENA region is also regarded as the most unequal in the world, with the top 10% of its people accounting for 64% of wealth, although the average masks enormous differences from one country to another.

The middle class in non-oil producing Arab countries has shrunk from 45% to 33% of the population, ESCWA economists said. In a report for the Carnegie Corporation last year, Palestinian-American author Rami G. Khouri described what he called “poverty’s new agony,” the fact that a poor family in the Middle East will remain poor for several generations.

Egypt is a case in point. In 2018, Cairo vowed to halve poverty by 2020 and eliminate it by 2030. However, Egypt’s national statistics agency released a report on household finances last year that said that 33% of Egypt’s 99 million people were classified as poor, up from 28% in 2015. The World Bank subsequently nearly doubled that figure, saying 60% of Egyptians were “either poor or vulnerable.”

Wealth gaps between countries are greater in the region than in others because it has some of the world’s richest economies as well as some of the poorest, such as Yemen.

Inequality is not the only problem in the region. Former World Bank economist Branko Milanovic said the uneven picture means that last year’s protests in Lebanon, Algeria, Sudan and Iraq cannot be explained by “a blanket story of inequality.”

Indeed, Algeria, a relatively egalitarian country, was roiled by protests, first against a long-serving president and then against the wider political system.

French economist Thomas Piketty, who wrote the bestselling book on income inequality, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” said Arab countries must come up with a way to share the region’s vast and unequally distrib­uted wealth.

Lost decades of growth

In the decade from 2009, the region’s average economic growth was one-third slower than in the previous decade. The IMF said per capita incomes have been “near stagnant” and youth unemployment has “worsened significantly.”

The state is the largest employer in many Arab countries and over-regulation of the private sector left it underdeveloped and unable to overcome the significant barriers to trade and economic cooperation across regional borders. Meanwhile, inflexible labour laws stifled job creation and cronyism allowed inefficiency to stay unchallenged. In 2018, the average rank of Arab countries on the World Bank’s Doing Business survey was 115th out of 190 countries.

Along with structural factors, conflict has had a debilitating effect on economic growth. Three years ago, the World Bank noted that the Syrian war had killed approximately 500,000 people, displaced half the population — more than 10 million people — and reduced more than two-thirds of Syrians to poverty.

By 2017, conflict in Yemen and Libya had displaced more than 15% and 10% of their respective populations of 4 million and 6 million. Taken together, the Syrian, Yemen and Libyan civil wars have affected more than 60 million people, about one-fifth of the MENA population.

Infrastructural damage runs into the billions of dollars but it is the loss — or outright collapse, as in Yemen — of economic activity that has affected real GDP growth.

Countries in the region affected by conflict lost $614 billion cumulatively in GDP from 2010-15 — 6% of the regional GDP, ESCWA’s 2018 report on institutional development in post-conflict settings stated.

New thinking needed

This is the year when, for the first time, an Arab country holds the chairmanship of the Group of 20 of the world’s largest economies. It could be an opportunity to consider existing trends within the region, what needs to be changed and how.

In the words of Oxford development macroeconomist Adeel Malik, “the Arab developmental model… seems to have passed its expiration date.” In a 2014 paper for the Journal of International Affairs, Malik said “failure of the Arab state to deliver social justice is ultimately rooted in the failure of a development model based on heavy state intervention in the economy and increasingly unsustainable buyouts of local populations through generous welfare entitlements.”

It’s a good point, for the region’s richest countries just as much as its poorest. Oil-rich states are affected by dramatic changes in oil prices and the increasingly urgent suggestion that the world is at “peak oil.” An IMF report warned that, by 2034, declining oil demand could erode the $2 trillion in financial wealth amassed by Gulf Cooperation Council members. The IMF said “faster progress with economic diversification and private sector development will be critical to ensure sustainable growth.”

Creativity and courage will be needed if the Arab world is to meet the expectations of its youthful population and the challenges posed by its increasing inequality.

MENA youth’s perception of the private sector

MENA youth’s perception of the private sector

The following article titled Oliver Wyman: MENA youth’s perception of the private sector by Georgia Wilson – Leadership is worth reading to comprehend the peculiar situation of the MENA youth. In effect, the region despite having the highest youth population shares in the world, as well as the highest rates of youth unemployment, there seems to be still some sort of freedom of choice between private and public service employment.

Business Chief looks at Oliver Wyman, and INJAZ Al-Arab recently conducted research on the youth perception of the private sector. 

Across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, over 2,400 young people between the age of 16 and 36 were surveyed to gain insight into the youth perception of the private sector.

“It is critical to capture the perspective of the youth and assess what they require to bolster the private sector of the future. We see a healthy inclination towards entrepreneurship, and a clear idea of what factors can facilitate lifelong learning. These are both indicators of their perception of the private sector, which is key to sustainable economic growth of their countries and the region. The youth are a key driver in the realization of economic stability, and we are proud to support INJAZ Al-Arab in helping the youth to fulfill their economic potential,” commented Jeff Youssef, Partner at Oliver Wyman.

Key findings of the youth survey:

  • 79% feel positive about the private sector’s contribution to the economy – a 41% increase from 2018
  • 75% expect the private sector to grow in the next five years – an 11% decrease from 2018
  • 55% are discouraged from working in the private sector due to lack of opportunities and lack of competitive benefits – an 8% increase from 2018
  • 50% perceive the “who you know” favouritism within organisations, to be the primary obstacle when seeking private sector employment
  • 78% see themselves working in the private sector in the near future
  • 84% feel inspired to start their own entrepreneurial venture in the near future 
  • 53% see leadership, creativity and communication as the most important skills for the private sector

“For young people today, it is extremely important that they are well equipped with skills, knowledge, and sense of entrepreneurship to enter the workforce. INJAZ’s collaboration with Oliver Wyman will further allow us to tackle the issue of youth unemployment in MENA, as we are certain that the findings are of great benefit to multiple stakeholders and that our initiative reflects on their potential to impact policy reform, program creation, and educational institution transformation,” added Akef Aqrabawi, CEO at INJAZ Al-Arab.

For more information on business topics in the Middle East, please take a look at the latest edition of Business Chief Middle East.

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Construction Activity Can Signal When Credit Booms Go Wrong

Construction Activity Can Signal When Credit Booms Go Wrong

An IMF blog article by Deniz Igan dated February 12, 2020, holds that Construction Activity Can Signal When Credit Booms Go Wrong. This state of affairs seems to apply almost universally.  Indeed, as per the French saying “when the building goes, everything goes,” it appears that it took time for the international financial institution to reach this conclusion, especially with regards to the countries of the  MENA region.


In Spain, private sector credit as a share of GDP almost doubled between 2000 and 2007. This increase was accompanied by a boom in housing prices—which doubled in real terms over the same period. The economy as a whole also grew at a record pace.

But then in 2008, Spain’s credit bubble burst, and with it came loan defaults, bank failures, and a prolonged economic slowdown.

A less-noticed development in Spain was in the construction sector, where employment grew by an astounding 47 percent, compared to the economy-wide increase of 27 percent.

New IMF staff research, based on a large sample of advanced and emerging market economies since the 1970s, shows that long-lasting credit booms that featured rapid construction growth never ended well.

New evidence on credit booms

Rapid credit growth—known as “credit booms”—presents a trade-off between immediate, buoyant economic performance and the danger of a future crisis. The risk of a “bad boom”—where a rapid credit growth episode is followed by a financial crisis or subpar economic growth—increases when there is also a boom in house prices.

Long-lasting credit booms that featured rapid construction growth never ended well.

Our research shows that the experience with the dangerous combination of credit booms and rapid expansion in the construction sector goes beyond the Spanish borders and extends to time periods not related to the global financial crisis.

We find that signals from construction activity may help to tell apart the dangerous booms, which need to be controlled, from the episodes of buoyant but healthy credit growth (“good booms”).

Credit booms do not lift all boats alike

During booms, output and employment expand faster. But not all sectors behave the same. Most of the extra growth is concentrated in a few industries—specifically, construction and, at a distant second, finance.

However, the same industries that benefit the most during booms experience the most severe downturns during busts. This implies that credit booms tend to leave few long-term footprints on a country’s industrial composition.

Construction Activity Can Signal When Credit Booms Go Wrong

Construction is special

Construction is the only sector that consistently behaves differently between good and bad credit booms. On average, output and employment in the construction sector grow between 2 and 3 percentage points more in bad booms than in good ones. In all other sectors, the difference is smaller and not significant (except trade, but only when it comes to output growth).

Construction Activity Can Signal When Credit Booms Go Wrong

What makes construction special? Construction does not have the growth potential of many other industries. In other words, too much investment in construction may divert resources away from more productive activities and result in lower output.

Also, the temporary boost in construction employment and the relatively low level of skills needed may discourage some workers from investing in their education and skills. This may have long-lasting effects on output after the boom ends.

Finally, construction projects have large up-front financing needs, and final consumers of the product (for example, houses or hotels) also tend to borrow to finance their purchases. As a result, debt may increase significantly more during booms led by construction.

The predictive power of construction activity

An unusually rapid expansion of the construction sector helps flag bad credit booms. A 1 percentage point increase in output and employment growth in the construction sector during a boom raises the probability of the boom being bad by 2 and 5 percentage points, respectively.

Construction growth is also a strong predictor of the economic costs of bad booms than other variables. A 1 percentage point increase in output growth in the construction sector during a bad boom corresponds to nearly a 0.1 percentage point drop in aggregate output growth during the bust.

Policy takeaways

If policymakers observe a rapid expansion in the construction sector during a credit boom, they should consider tightening macroeconomic policies and using macroprudential tools (such as higher down payments for mortgages).

In some cases, policy action will be triggered by other indicators, such as house prices or household mortgages. Sometimes, however, these other indicators may not sound the alarm (for example, because the construction boom is financed by the corporate sector or by foreigners), yet risks accumulate. Then, unusually rapid growth of construction could give a signal, for instance, to impose limits on banks’ exposure to real estate developers and other construction firms.

Finally, given that data on output and employment in the construction sector are often available with a few months’ lag, higher-frequency indicators such as construction permit applications could act as valuable signals. Construction indicators should also be included in models that assess risks to future economic activity.

Eight years after Egypt’s uprising, a craftsman stitches history

Eight years after Egypt’s uprising, a craftsman stitches history

An artisan practising the ancient Egyptian technique of khayamiya safeguards his memories of the 2011 uprising into quilts. This article of Asia Times tracks Eight years after Egypt’s uprising, a craftsman stitches history as told by Jenny Gustafsson, in CAIRO.

Hany Abdel Kader has worked stitching khayamiya since his childhood. Photo: Claudia Willmitzer for Asia Times

There is a soft smile on Hany Abdel Kader’s face as he takes out the carefully folded cotton piece, kept at the back of his small shop.

As he unfolds the fabric, a decorated front appears, with carefully stitched appliqué in bright colors – typical of Cairo’s long-established khayamiya (needlework) tradition. But this piece is unlike any other in the neighborhood’s workshops, where the art has been practiced for centuries. It has none of khayamiya’s customary patterns, based on geometry or Arabic calligraphy, but army tanks and masses of people – scenes from the 2011 Egyptian revolution.

‘That’s when I did my first piece, when we were all unsure about what would happen in the future,’ Abdel Kader, 44, told Asia Times.

He points to images stitched along the borders of the quilt, each depicting a different scene during the revolution. One shows a figure trying to climb the enormous government building, the Mogammaa; another, the infamous camels brought in to fight protesters in the street. Most of the scenes are set in Tahrir Square, the symbolic epicenter of the revolution.

Details from the quilt show state violence and wounded protesters being carried away. Photo: Claudia Willmitzer ‘I felt the need to describe what I saw. And I had the fabric at home, so I just laid out a big piece on the floor and started creating the design,’ said Abdel Kader.

As the days passed he added elements to the outer border, based on what he saw himself, heard from friends, or watched on TV. He embroidered words like ‘Peacefully’ and ‘Step down’.

He also stitched the slogan heard across the Arab world in 2011: ‘The people want the fall of the regime’.He added protesters getting hurt by bullets – and others coming to their rescue.

Appliqué showing scenes from Tahrir Square: tanks and protesters praying in the street, plus the demand ‘step down’. Photo: Claudia Willmitzer for Asia Times

Eight years ago, on 25 January 2011, Egypt witnessed the start of mass protests. They came on the heels of similar demonstrations in Tunisia, which set the Arab Spring in motion. After 18 days of protests in Cairo, which spread to cities across Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak – in power since 1981 – was forced to resign.Protests continued throughout 2011 demanding the armed forces that took power after Mubarak’s resignation hand over the reigns of power to civilian rule. Elections in 2012 brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power, but the elected President Mohamed Morsi was ousted in a military coup led by current ruler Abdel Fatah El Sisi, who has since been accused of rights abuses and criticized for giving the military unchecked power.

Abdel Kader recalls the period of the revolution eight years ago as a step into the unknown.

‘It was a very strange and unknown time for us. Suddenly, there were tanks underneath our windows. We had never seen that before,’ he said.An ancient craft Khayamiya, which takes its name from the Arabic word for ‘tent’, historically involved the production of tents and panels to be used in a range of settings, from political gatherings to funerals to celebrations. Its usage dates back at least one thousand years in Egypt.

The Cairo district of Darb al-Ahmar. Photo: Claudia Willmitzer for Asia Times

The view over Cairo’s ancient Al-Darb Al-Ahmar quarter, where many of the city’s craftspeople are located. Photo: Claudia Willmitzer Throughout the centuries, the craft has evolved. Ottoman rulers, kings Fuad and Farouk, presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat would all receive guests in rooms decorated with khayamiya.The opening (and, almost one century later, nationalization) of the Suez Canal had tents to host guests and officials.

Traditional celebratory tents are seen at a festival in the Egyptian city of Ismailia, on the west bank of the Suez Canal, for the occasion of the canal’s grand opening in 1869. Photo: Collection of Roger-Viollet Egyptian musicians, when traveling, would often bring stitched panels to put up as backdrops at their performances.The popularity of khayamiya remains until present – only now, fabrics are mostly printed by machine.

Photo: Claudia Willmitzer for Asia Times

‘You find them all over Egypt, they are so common that people rarely think about them,’ said art historian Seif El Rashidi, who recently co-authored a book on the topic.The most revered work done by Cairo’s khayamiya guild was doubtless on the kiswa, the elaborate cover for the holy Kaaba, the black cube in Mecca, which was historically produced each year in Cairo’s alleys and ceremoniously brought all the way to the holiest city in Islam. Abdel Kader comes from a family of such prominent crafters: his grandfather Mahmoud earned the name Al-Mekkawi, ‘of Mecca’, from being one of the leading kiswa artisans.

Amm Hassan, the colleague of Abdel Kader, works on a piece of khayamiya. Photo: Claudia Willmitzer Seated in the inner corner of his shop, with his long-time colleague Amm (uncle) Hassan working on a cushion next to the entrance, Abdel Kader takes out images of his first two revolution pieces.Both are in museum collections now, at Durham University and Victoria and Albert Museum in London – destinations he never imagined when drawing that first design during the revolution.

It is not entirely uncommon that political art develops this way, historian Rashidi tells Asia Times: ‘It might be spontaneous at first. An artist starts working on something, and only later on it takes on a specific meaning.

Transforming folk art

Many of the most powerful artworks from 2011 were street art, such as Ammar Abo Bakr’s portraits of martyred protesters with angel-like wings, or Bahia Shehab’s stencilled blue bra for the protester who was dragged in the streets by members of the military until her clothes ripped – creations symbolizing the ongoing regime brutality. Or the dozens of artists who came daily to the sidewalks around Tahrir, to draw what was happening. Abdel Kader’s work is different, belonging as it does to the much less utilized craft tradition.

‘Sketches for new pieces and photographs of Abdel Kader’s trips to exhibit his work abroad. Photo: Claudia Willmitzer for Asia Times

Usually, Abdel Kader’s work is not a commentary on society. Like all of Cairo’s khayamiya artists, he spends his days cutting, folding and stitching colorful pieces of cloth onto canvas to create vivid and detailed tapestries.

“Khayamiya is usually not a form of art that lends itself to this kind of work. That’s what makes Hany’s pieces so interesting,” said historian El Rashidi.

Eight years after the onset of the revolution, under another strong and repressive state apparatus, looking back at what happened is for many Egyptians associated with gloom, even a sense of despair.

But for Abdel Kader, the events that took place in Tahrir Square still form a source of inspiration.

In his home on the top floor of an apartment building in Muqattam, a dusty hill on the outskirts of Cairo, he has several sketches for new pieces.They portray the same crowds, the same skyline of Cairo and the same commemorative date, January 25th.

‘If I think about my craft there is something else that I would like to do,’ he said. That is to work on a big, traditional tent. But, he says, with the advent of machine printing, no asks for them these days. ♦

MENA outlook promises to be ‘fascinating’ for investors in this decade

MENA outlook promises to be ‘fascinating’ for investors in this decade

GULF TIMES, Qatar top-selling English daily newspaper in its BUSINESS section posted on January 28, 2020, this article on MENA outlook promises to be ‘fascinating’ for investors in this decade, says HSBC.

“A multi-faceted investment strategy is needed to achieve the three objectives of income, growth and stability,” points out Willem Sels, chief market strategist, HSBC Private Banking.

MENA outlook promises to be ‘fascinating’ for investors in this decade
Willem Sels

The outlook for the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region for the new decade is a “fascinating” one, full of continued economic reforms, transformation and market liberalisation, according to HSBC.
“With these developments, opportunities are expected to be widespread, across multiple industries and across the region. The combination of supportive monetary policy and responsive central banks are a few of the additional supportive variables for the region,” it said in a release yesterday.


The new decade will not be as kind to investors as the last and this will mean a new path for investments, said HSBC Private Banking in its first quarter’s investment outlook.
“We will most likely see a US recession at some point in the next ten years, and while central banks’ policies should remain accommodative, it is clear that the new decade will mean a new path for investments,” says HSBC Private Banking in its investment outlook for the first quarter of 2020.
“A multi-faceted investment strategy is needed to achieve the three objectives of income, growth and stability,” pointed out Willem Sels, chief market strategist, HSBC Private Banking.
In a low growth and low interest rate environment, returns are unlikely to be as high as they were in the past decade, and in an environment where broad-based market upside is lower than in the past, and political risks remain high, HSBC Private Banking believes diversifying risk exposures will be especially important.
HSBC Private Banking says portfolios should avoid excessive cash balances as well as the lowest rated end of high yield.  It favours dollar investment grade, emerging markets’ local and hard currency debt, complemented with dividend stocks, real estate and private debt instruments to generate further income.
It also sees opportunities to boost the return potential of portfolios by focusing on quality companies with sustained earnings growth and, where appropriate, it believes some leverage can help boost the net income of portfolios. It can also make sense selectively to look to hedge funds and private equity to capture growth opportunities and private equity to look through short-term market volatility.
“It’s a new path for investments, but sometimes, new paths lead you to the most interesting sights” Sels noted.
In 2020-21, HSBC Private Banking says investors can expect interesting opportunities for long term growth in sectors, geographies or themes related to the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ or ‘sustainability’.
It is also optimistic that the ageing, urban, digital, mobile, sharing-based, knowledge-based, circular, fast-paced and increasingly Asian global economy provides companies and investors with plenty of opportunities.

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