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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.

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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.

Follow Business Chief on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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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.

MENA Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index 2019

MENA Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index 2019


It has been revealed by the local media that Chinese tourists numbers are growing by the day in the Gulf region. In effect, the number of Chinese tourists travelling to the GCC is expected to increase 54 percent from 1.4 million in 2018 to 2.2 million in 2023, according to new research. In however a wider view of the flows, here are excerpts of the WEF’s MENA Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index 2019.


MENA Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index 2019

Overview

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region significantly improved its T&T competitiveness since the last edition of the TTCI. With 12 of the 15 MENA economies covered by this year’s index increasing their score compared to 2017, the region was able to slightly outpace the global average in competitiveness growth. This is particularly important given that, in the aggregate, T&T accounts for a greater share of regional GDP than in any of the other four regions. MENA is also the only region where international visitor spending is greater than domestic visitor spending. Yet despite improved competitiveness and a strong reliance on T&T for overall economic growth, MENA continues to underperform the global TTCI score average.

MENA’s below-average competitiveness is primarily a result of low scores on indicators related to natural and cultural resources and international openness. The region’s historical and religious heritage and geographic features create the potential for significant natural and cultural tourism; yet, while some individual nations come close, no MENA country scores above the global average for natural resources and only Egypt and Iran score above for cultural resources. In fact, the entire region’s score in both of these areas has fallen in recent years. More needs to be done to expand habit protection and heritage sites. Moreover, digital demand for MENA’s natural, cultural and entertainment demand is fairly low, indicating potential gaps in marketing and traveller perceptions. One potential reason for this gap is continued safety and security concerns. Eleven MENA countries rank within the bottom 40 for terrorism incidents, with two among the worst 10 countries globally. Further, the region is plagued by geopolitical tensions, instability and conflict. Security concerns also play a role in why MENA members are some of the most restrictive when it comes to international openness, with only Qatar, Oman and Morocco making significant improvements. Consequently, travellers often face barriers when visiting the region, while the aviation and overall T&T sector is stifled by limiting bilateral air service and regional trade agreements.

More positively, stability, safety and security have started to recover throughout the region, slightly reducing travel fears and underlying one of the key reasons for the recent pickup in arrivals. Furthermore, it seems that there has been greater recognition of T&T’s importance, with broad regional improvements in T&T prioritization, including increased government funding and more effective marketing campaigns to bring back or attract new visitors. Greatly enhanced environmental sustainability also has the potential to pay dividends for natural assets (note that environmental sustainability comparison is influenced by the use of new data to measure marine sustainability). In addition, prices have become more competitive among countries within the region, amplifying MENA’s single biggest advantage relative to the global average. As one of the world’s main producers of fossil fuels, MENA includes some of the world’s lowest fuel prices, with some governments offering subsidies. Moreover, many of the region’s economies offer visitors greater purchasing power (especially Egypt, Algeria, Iran and Tunisia), which has been increased by lower exchange rates. Yet it is reductions in ticket taxes and airport charges as well as lower hotel prices that have primarily driven regional price competitiveness in recent years.

Infrastructure has also improved, with particularly impressive growth in the number of airlines and route capacity. Despite these gains, world-class infrastructure remains concentrated among the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. The Gulf countries have been able to use their natural resource wealth, central geographic location and relative security to develop world-class T&T infrastructure, defined by quality airports, ports, roads, tourist services and some of the world’s leading airlines. These efforts are in stark contrast to some other MENA nations that—due to a lack of investment and ongoing instability—have yet to develop competitive infrastructure, especially regarding air transport. Similarly, the region’s above-average score on the Enabling Environment subindex is due to the performance of the Gulf countries and Israel, which have developed economies, strong business environments, ICT readiness and some of the highest scores in safety and security. Finally, most regional economies also score near the bottom when it comes to female participation in the labour market, depriving the T&T industry of a greater labour and skills pool.

MENA Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index 2019

Subregion Analysis

The Middle East subregion is by far the more competitive of the two subregions, outscoring North Africa on nine pillars. Thanks to the Arab states of the Persian Gulf and Israel, the subregion is wealthier and more developed than the North Africa subregion. Consequently, it is no surprise that the Middle East scores above the global and regional averages on indicators related to enabling environment and infrastructure, with particularly high ranks on ICT readiness and business environment. Nevertheless, the subregion does trail the world and North Africa on T&T prioritization and policy and natural and cultural resources. In particular, many Middle East nations score relatively low on the International Openness and Natural Resources pillars, which represent the subregion’s greatest disadvantages relative to global competition. One of the Middle East’s highest-scoring pillars is Price Competitiveness, with some economies leveraging their fossil fuel abundance to offer lower fuel prices. Since the 2017 edition of the report, the subregion has improved across all pillars of T&T policy and enabling conditions, safety and security, ICT readiness and much of infrastructure, but declined or stagnated on other pillars.

This year, eight out of the subregion’s 11 members improved their TTCI score since 2017. Oman demonstrated the greatest improvement, moving up eight places to 58th. MENA’s safest (3rd) country recorded the subregion’s fastest improvement for its human resources and labour markets (103rd to 65th), and is among the most improved when it comes to international openness (116th to 97th), environmental sustainability (109th to 57th) and overall infrastructure (60th to 52nd). Yet some of the improvement in environmental sustainability is exaggerated due to new marine sustainability metrics. In contrast, the UAE had the Middle East’s largest decline, falling from 29th to 33rd, including the biggest percentage decline in score on the Safety and Security pillar (falling from 2nd to 7th) and Ground and Port Infrastructure (19th to 31st) and the subregion’s only decline on Environmental Sustainability (40th to 41st). Nevertheless, the country remains in the lead in the Middle East and is MENA’s top TTCI scorer, leading on ICT readiness (4th), air transport (4th) and tourist service (22nd) infrastructure. The Middle East’s—and MENA’s—largest T&T economy is Saudi Arabia (69th), which scores above the subregion’s average on most pillars, but near the bottom on international openness (137th). Plagued by ongoing conflict and a lingering humanitarian crisis, Yemen (140th), ranks at the bottom of the global index.

North Africa scores lower than the Middle East, but demonstrates far greater improvement in overall competitiveness. The subregion outscores the Middle East on five pillars and bests the global average on four. North Africa is the most price competitive subregion in the world, with three out of its four members among the 12 least-expensive economies covered in the report. North Africa’s greatest advantage relative to the Middle East is its natural and cultural resources—although it still underperforms the world on both the Natural Resources and Cultural and Business Travel pillars. The subregion also bests the MENA average in prioritization of T&T and environmental sustainability, areas where it has improved since 2017. On the other hand, North Africa has underdeveloped infrastructure and T&T enabling environment, contrasting some of the high performers in the Middle East subregion. In particular, North Africa trails when it comes to tourist service infrastructure and ICT readiness. The subregion’s strong rate of improvement is due to enhanced safety and security, overall T&T policy and enabling conditions and air transport and ground infrastructure.

All four members of the North Africa subregion increased their TTCI scores over 2017. Egypt (65th) is the subregion’s top scorer and its largest T&T economy. The country is also MENA’s most improved scorer. Egypt is price competitive (3rd) and has MENA’s highest score for cultural resources (22nd). Its improvement comes from increases on 11 pillar scores. These include the world’s second-best enhancement of safety and security (130th to 112th), albeit from a low starting base. Morocco (66th) demonstrates North Africa’s slowest improvement in TTCI performance. The country is a close second to Egypt when it comes to overall competitiveness, boasting the MENA region’s top TTCI scores on natural resources (63rd) and North Africa’s best enabling environment (71st) and infrastructure (69th). However, TTCI performance improvement is tempered by declining safety and security (20th to 28th), which remains well above the subregion’s average, and a deteriorating combination of natural and cultural (41st to 54th) resources. North Africa’s lowest scoring member is Algeria (116th), which nonetheless did move up two ranks globally. The country ranks low on business environment (118th), T&T prioritization (132nd), tourist services infrastructure (136th), environmental sustainability (133rd), natural resources (126th) and international openness (139th). On the other hand, Algeria is one of the most price-competitive countries in the world (8th).

MENA Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index 2019

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Second Great Recession highly unlikely: Report

Second Great Recession highly unlikely: Report


At its December 2019 12th edition in Dubai, the Arab Strategy Forum affirmed that a Second Great Recession highly unlikely: Report. This gathering run under the theme of ‘Forecasting the Next Decade 2020-2030’ concluded that after all, it’s business as usual with no ad-hoc surprises at all.


DUBAI — The global economy is not likely to witness another Great Recession-style collapse, despite several indicators to the contrary in recent months, according to a newly-published report by the Arab Strategy Forum in partnership with Good Judgement Inc., the world’s leading geopolitical and economic forecasting institution.

Global Growth



Titled ‘11 Questions for the Next Decade’, the wide-ranging and far-reaching findings and themes of the report, will be discussed in depth by former ministers, decision-makers and politico-economic thought leaders, including former US Vice President Dick Cheney, at the 12th edition of the annual Arab Strategy Forum in Dubai on Dec. 9 at the Ritz Carlton, Dubai International Financial Centre.

The ‘state of the world’ style report– tackles 11 vital mega-trends and questions that will define the global social, political and economic landscape in the 10 years ahead. Unlike previous editions, this year’s report looks to predict the future leading up to 2030 – a crucial time for many Middle Eastern economies whose visions are set to come to fruition by that year.

‘11 Questions for the Next Decade’ analyses 11 major political and macro-economic situations – or ‘mega-trends’ as the report terms them – and their likely consequences to determine where the world is headed, come 2030. Topics covered range from the global recession to the fragmentation of superpowers and Brexit to the Iranian regime and America’s anticipated fall from dominance, to the emerging US-China tech war and the prospective ‘splinternet’, water scarcity in the region and the growing crop of gas fields in the East Mediterranean region.

Qualitative and quantitative feedback and data was garnered for the report’s 11 sections following rounds of discussions on Good Judgement’s online platform, with a series of ‘ignition questions’ posed to ‘Superforecasters’ – 150 experts from diverse backgrounds, such as political scientists, economics researchers, scholars, and subject-matter experts in professions ranging from finance to intelligence, to management and medicine. The ignition questions for each topic seek answers to the issues at the heart of major economic change in the years ahead. The Superforecasters’ answers serve as indicators and monitors of predicted change based on the outlined global mega-trends.

Mohammad Abdullah Al Gergawi, President of the Arab Strategy Forum, said: “The report provides answers to the most pressing questions today, these outcomes will have a significant impact on regional and global policies. It explores a range of scenarios that will support the decision-makers of today and tomorrow to guide progress and prosperity for generations to come.

“Unlike previous years, this year’s reports predict the future of the region and the world over the next decade in the context of the current events that will have a major impact. They provide an up-to-date analysis of the increasing need for decision-makers to understand future scenarios on which to base their plans.”

As the world’s first platform for forecasting geopolitical and economic events, both regionally and globally, and targeting the most influential leaders and decision-makers in the Arab world and beyond, the Arab Strategy Forum will provide invaluable insights from the world’s foremost thought leaders on the crucial topics addressed in the report and elsewhere. Below is a list of the mega-trends, their related ignition questions, and a brief summary of the findings from the ‘11 Questions for the Next Decade’ report.

• Will the world avoid another Great Recession through 2030?

Based on current global economic performance records and data from the last 100 years of economic cycles, the report sought to find out whether the next recession will be a repeat of the Global Financial Crisis / Great Recession (2007-2009) or whether we are likely to see a return to an earlier pattern of a brief economic downturn followed by resurgent and steady growth.

The report’s Superforecasters said there is a 76 per cent chance that the world will not undergo another global financial crisis similar to the one in 2007 in the next decade, citing central banks’ improved technological ability to adapt and steer skidding economies out of difficulty. In their analysis of the last 100 years’ of business cycles, the Superforecasters concluded that the Great Recession was an outlier rather than the expected norm.

• Will China, Russia, or a G7 country leave the World Trade Organization by 2030?

Considering the emerging tendency of two, or a group of countries, setting out to establish new regional trading systems, such as the US-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership or the Russian-backed European-Asian Economic Union, the report noted that such new trading entities pose a populist threat to long-established global trading systems.

It goes on to rule out the possibility of China, Russia or one of the G7 countries withdrawing from the World Trade Organization by 2030, as doing so would cost more than the gains are likely to be worth in the long run. However, considering the relentless pressure on the WTO in the face of populism, the post-World War II trading body faces a big challenge in maintaining its status and platform in the next 10 years.

• Will China, Russia, the US, or the EU lose 0.5% or more of its territory or population before 2030?

After the fall of empires in the 20th century, the question lingers over whether countries and blocs will fragment in the 21st century. The Superforecasters anticipate a 5% likelihood that the EU will lose 0.5% or more of its territory or population before 2030, a 2% likelihood that Russia or China will, and 1% likelihood that the United States will. Though the uncertainties and problems hanging over the United Kingdom are mainly considered ‘peaceful’, market volatility and decreased consumer confidence could have an impact on the EU’s territory and population in the next decade. The Superforecasters also said that a split or fragmentation in China or Russia, will only occur through a violent disruption.

• Will the US economy be ranked 1st, 2nd or 3rd in 2030?

Despite being the largest economy in the world since the beginning of the 20th century, the US’s position as the world’s number one is under threat from the formation of a multipolar system and the emergence of several countries and regions that contribute today to the international community.

The report claims that there is a 65 per cent chance that the US will still be the world’s largest economy a decade from now, and a 33 per cent likelihood it will be second, after China.

The most prominent countries competing with the United States, in terms of nominal GDP, the report adds, are China, the European Union bloc, and India. And, as the US economy shrinks to the size of other countries, it will be less able to influence other nations of the world.

• Will OPEC’s share of global crude oil production remain above 33% in 2030?

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) currently holds a share of about 40 per cent of the world’s crude oil production. But the future of the organization and its domination is likely to be called into question, with the emergence of hydraulic fracturing and new oil discoveries outside the Middle East and North Africa.

There is a 90 per cent chance that OPEC will supply more than a third of the world’s crude oil supply in 2030. However, its fiscal revenue is likely to result in a decline in its production. Given its resilience and adaptation to multiple challenges in past decades, including wars, revolutions and global recessions, the organization is viable in a carbon-free world, but new and innovative adaptation measures are needed later, the report pointed out.

Cyberattacks

• Will a cyberattack shut down a major infrastructure system in a G7 country for 1+ days before 2030?

The Superforecasters see a 66 per cent likelihood of a cyberattack shutting down a major infrastructure system in a G7 country for at least one day before 2030. Outside of the G7, there are countries perhaps more vulnerable. “It will be worth monitoring these situations as harbingers of larger-scale attacks elsewhere. For instance, in the Philippines, government hearings recently raised concerns that China could remotely ‘turn off power’ in the country,” the report noted.

• Will Lebanon be involved in a major military conflict by 2030?

After the discovery of the East Mediterranean gas fields off the coast of Cyprus, Lebanon and Egypt, questions have arisen over whether the East Mediterranean gas fields will enhance the stability of the region or pose a security risk. The report said there’s a risk that offshore gas fields could escalate tensions between nations over disputed drilling rights, but potential energy revenues are worthwhile, and will lead to a strengthening of the region’s economic stability, as well as the internal stability of the concerned countries and reduce risks of war.

• Will water scarcity cause a deadly conflict between Jordan & Israel, Egypt & Ethiopia, or Turkey & Iraq before 2030?

Water scarcity is unlikely to drive any regional conflict in the MENA region over the next decade, the report stated. There is a small, 1 per cent chance of a conflict on the flow of water between Jordan and Israel, according to the Superforecasters. Meanwhile, the chance of a conflict between Egypt and Ethiopia or Turkey and Iraq during the next decade will reach 3per cent.

• China-US tech war and peace

Will a ‘splinternet’ – with one Internet led by the US and one led by China – be avoided as of 2030?

The Superforecasters offer an 80 per cent chance that a ‘splinternet’ – one Internet led by the United States and one led by China — will not be in place by 2030. “Information will continue to flow across global networks, even as other types of political or ideological information will be blocked,” the report pointed out.

Worldwide Shipments of IoT Enterprise Drones take off

Worldwide Shipments of IoT Enterprise Drones take off


Flying drone shipments to grow 50pc in 2020: Gartner predicts, after worldwide shipments of IoT enterprise drones take off, as these flying electronic-mechanical eyes are increasingly in demand in all field industries such as those mainly related to the built and non-built environment.


Worldwide shipments of Internet of Things (IoT) enterprise drones (defined as flying drones) will total 526,000 units in 2020, an increase of 50 per cent from 2019, said Gartner, a leading research and advisory firm in a new report.

Global shipments are forecast to reach 1.3 million units by 2023, it added.

“The construction sector is an early adopter of drones, which causes construction monitoring to be the largest use case by shipments worldwide across the forecast,” said Kay Sharpington, principal analyst at Gartner.

“Shipments are estimated to reach 210,000 drones in 2020, and more than double by 2023. Drones are taking over tasks such as site surveying and earthworks management as they are faster and safer to carry out with a drone than on foot.”

To save costs when surveying sites, the number of global construction employees per drone will decrease from 2,400 to 640 between 2018 and 2020.

In the short term, most use cases will be based around surveillance and monitoring due to the technical complexity of other applications. In 2020, the second and third use cases by drone shipments will be fire services monitoring and insurance investigation.

The insurance industry is the second largest use case by shipments with 46,000 drone shipments forecast for 2020. Shipments are expected to nearly triple by 2023, to reach 136,000 that year.

“Drones are used to carry out inspections on buildings and structures after a claim has been made, to assess the extent and cause of the damage. They can also be used to evaluate the type and condition of the building when providing an insurance quote,” said Sharpington.

“Their benefits are valuable. For example, they reduce the cost of scaffolding, ladders and employee time and provide a comprehensive photographic record of the building condition.”

To survey claim areas at a lower cost, Gartner expects insurance drones will grow from one per 152,000 people in 2018 to one per 72,000 people worldwide in 2020.

Police and firefighting agencies globally are deploying drones in public safety operations, wildfire management, crime scene investigation, and search and rescue operations. Gartner estimates that the number of drones used by police and firefighters will grow from one per 210,000 people to one per 47,000 people between 2018 and 2020.

“Fire service drones use cameras and thermal imaging to identify fire sources, extreme heat areas, trapped people and the positions of firefighters in the field,” said Sharpington. “Consequently, firefighting agencies can deploy resources in the right areas in emergencies and investigate incidents while minimizing risk to lives.”

Adoption of drones in the retail sector to rise rapidly after 2023

Drones used for retail deliveries will provide customers with rapid service and allow retailers access to customers in remote areas. However, the regulatory restrictions and logistical challenge of coordinating flight paths, managing airspace over densely populated areas and managing various payloads means that retail, overall, is a longer-term opportunity for drones.

Drone shipments will total 25,000 in 2020 and will rise to 122,000 units in 2023. Following this predicted trajectory, the biggest opportunity for retail will come after 2023.

In addition, Gartner estimates that the number of employees per drone will decrease from 73,000 global retail employees per drone in 2018 to 18,000 global retail employees per drone in 2020. – TradeArabia News Service

Saudi Arabia ready to take over G20 reins

Saudi Arabia ready to take over G20 reins

Ellen Francis of UK Reuters informs that With young prince and PR push, Saudi Arabia ready to take over G20 reins. Here is her difficult to believe story. The young leader knows that his majority-youthful country has no hope for the future if it doesn’t rapidly transition to a post-oil economy before its world-famous reserves run dry, which is why he’s doing everything in his power to court infrastructural, industrial, defense, and technological investments in order to prudently give his people a chance to survive when that happens.


NAGOYA, Japan (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia is set to take over the G20 presidency for a year as it seeks to bounce back from an uproar over its human rights record and last year’s killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Foreign ministers attend a dinner during the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting, in Nagoya, Japan November 22, 2019. Charly Triballeu/Pool via REUTERS

The kingdom’s new foreign minister, a prince with diplomatic experience in the West, landed in Japan’s Nagoya city on Friday to meet with his counterparts from the Group of 20 nations.

Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud was appointed in October in a partial cabinet reshuffle, joining a new generation of royals in their 40s who rose to power under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 34, the de facto ruler of the world’s top oil exporter.

Saudi Arabia – a key U.S. ally in confronting Iran – has faced heavy Western criticism over the murder of Saudi national Khashoggi, its detention of women’s rights activists and its role in the devastating war in Yemen.

Diplomats say the G20 might help put Riyadh’s problems behind it and could prompt it to close more disputed files such as the Yemen war and the boycott of Gulf neighbour Qatar, though they have yet to see much progress.

King Salman has hailed the kingdom’s G20 presidency as proof of its key role in the global economy. [nL8N28041F]

Prince Faisal will pick up the baton at a ceremony on Saturday in Nagoya, where G20 foreign ministers have gathered for talks.

Japan – which headed the G20 this year – was the kingdom’s second-largest export market last year, at $33 billion, according to IMF trade data.

Apart from its reliance on Saudi oil, Japan has deepened its ties to the kingdom thanks to Japanese technology conglomerate SoftBank Group. Riyadh has been a big supporter of SoftBank’s massive Vision Fund.

Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told Prince Faisal he was pleased to meet him for the first time and both sides wanted to boost relations, according to a read-out from Japan’s foreign ministry.

Motegi praised Saudi work to stabilise southern Yemen, where Riyadh orchestrated a deal to end a power struggle between Yemen’s government, which it backs, and southern separatists. [nL8N27L6J1]

PR PUSH

King Salman also said this week Riyadh wants a political settlement in Yemen, where it has battled Iran-aligned Houthis in a nearly five-year war that has killed tens of thousands and drive parts of the country to the brink of famine.

A diplomatic source said there had been an “apparent de-escalation” in Yemen’s conflict in recent weeks. The source said Saudi airstrikes killing civilians would not be “a great backdrop for hosting the G20” and would not mesh with the kingdom’s message of opening up.

Diplomats said that Saudi Arabia plans more than a dozen G20 summits throughout the year on tourism, agriculture, energy, environment and digital economy.

Top diplomatic and business contacts suggest Riyadh has already gotten over much of the opprobrium it received over Khashoggi’s murder, but it still struggles to attract foreign investors, said analyst Neil Partrick.

A Saudi court charged 11 suspects in a secretive trial and Western allies imposed sanctions on individuals. But Riyadh still faces heat from some governments saying the crown prince – known as MbS – ordered the murder. He has denied this though said he takes ultimate responsibility as de facto ruler.

Riyadh has sought to fix its image or turn attention to its social reforms since Khashoggi’s 2018 killing at the hands of Saudi agents in Istanbul.

A share sale of giant Saudi state oil firm Aramco this month and a bond sale earlier this year – under a drive to diversify the largest Arab economy away from oil – attracted interest in the traditional sectors of energy and finance.

After boycotting the Saudis’ annual “Davos in the Desert” summit in 2018, Western executives returned to the 2019 gathering last month. “Davos in the Desert” is unrelated to the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Reporting by Ellen Francis in Nagoya and Stephen Kailin in Bahrain with additional reporting by David Dolan in Nagoya; Writing by Ellen Francis; Editing by Mark Heinrich

The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.