Christmas has become important in the Palestinian territories as these hosting Bethlehem, the town in which Jesus was born, the once a year world festivities beginning in this part of the West Bank could be vitally important to their cause. Dorina-Maria Buda, Professor of Tourism Management, Leeds Beckett University explains in this story of Olive trees, markets and hikes: how the Palestinian West Bank welcomes tourists at Christmas.
There are often marches and demonstrations in support of Palestine in cities around the world, but for those who want to visit the region, a thriving tourism industry has emerged in recent years. “Solidarity tourists” arrive at all times of year to help improve the lives of ordinary Palestinians, with events like olive tree planting in February and olive harvesting in October organised by local Palestinian initiatives such as the Alternative Tourism Group and Joint Advocacy Initiative.
Given Palestine’s place in what is known as the Holy Land – the reputed birthplace of Jesus Christ – one of the busiest seasons for visiting is during the Christmas period. Despite the region’s troubled history, thousands make the trip each year.
Many will take the Masar Ibrahim – meaning the path of Abraham – a 330km-long trail running from the north to the south of the Palestinian West Bank. Tourists are encouraged to stay with local families, as the hiking trail passes through more than 50 communities, including villages that are entirely Muslim, entirely Christian or with mixed communities.
Christmas in Palestine is a season for neighbourly relations among the various communities, and a period to tell stories of the ancestors. During the first week of December, most Palestinian towns light a communal Christmas tree, while local bands and choirs perform, and international tourists are encouraged to take part.
Since September 2019, I’ve been researching tourism in the Palestinian West Bank and trying to understand how people celebrate their ancient heritage amid modern tensions and conflict. This is my second Christmas in the region, and on both occasions, I’ve had the opportunity to stay with a local family in Beit Sahour town, which is part of the Bethlehem area.
Peace and goodwill
Few visitors realise that three Christmases are actually celebrated in Palestine. The Latin churches, which includes Catholic worshippers, recognise December 25 as Christmas Day. But the Greek Orthodox church, which represents the majority of Christians in Palestine and Israel, observes Christmas according to the old Julian calendar created during the time of Julius Caesar in 45 BC. For them, Christmas Day falls on January 7, while the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem marks Christmas and Epiphany together on January 19.
It’s still warm enough to go outdoors, so most visitors at this time of year will explore the beautiful Palestinian landscape. Hiking in the hills of Battir between Bethlehem and Jerusalem takes tourists through a UNESCO heritage site, while in the north part of the country near Ramallah, the hills of Birzeit offer charming views of valleys and hillsides. Christmas markets are also popular and for children, there’s the traditional practice of decorating the al-burbara, a Palestinian dessert, at the Bethlehem Peace Center in celebration of Saint Barbara’s Day on December 4.
Violence flared after US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017. According to one hotel manager in Palestine’s West Bank, the cancellation rate for bookings that month was around 80%. Palestine’s tourism industry seemed to recover in 2018, but the conflict can have a lasting impression that serves to turn away potential tourists.
Local authorities are quick to denounce the risk and insist that Palestine is safe to visit. Anton Salman, the mayor of Bethlehem said:
Bethlehem as a tourist destination is a secure and safe place. We are showing to the world with the lighting of the Christmas Tree ceremony that Bethlehem is a safe place … Tourists can visit and they can have the experience together with Bethlehemites, ours is a welcoming, hospitable community.
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.
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).
Peter Welby in his December 15, 2019, write up describes An alliance of people of goodwill in the Gulf, as More than 500 religious and political leaders, academics and civil society activists from over 80 countries gathered in Abu Dhabi last week to launch a set of principles that champion the shared values of different religions and promote joint action for the global common good and against extremism.
The image above is: A group of the world’s most respected Islamic scholars and faith leaders, joined by experts from governments and representatives of civil society organizations signed a new charter to build global peace, based on tolerance and religious freedom. (WAM)
It is notable that this took place in the Gulf, and not in Europe or the US. The UAE has long prided itself on its promotion of tolerance — naming this past year the Year of Tolerance — but the event was attended by religious leaders from across the region, including Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, Secretary General of the Muslim World League in Saudi Arabia. The Charter of the New Alliance of Virtues is devoid of most of the usual platitudes that can form interfaith charters, and is based on an idea that could be embraced by all without being seen as owned by any one religion. This is because while the original Alliance of Virtues upon which this project was based is known of through the Islamic tradition, it predates Islam. The story goes that following the period of conflict around Makkah known in Islam as the Sacrilegious War, a Yemeni trader brought some goods to the city, and sold them to a Makkah nobleman, who refused to pay what was owed. The trader climbed Mount Safar, the place for public appeals at the time, and denounced his fraudulent purchaser and all those from Makkah who allowed one of their own to act unjustly. Other noblemen were appalled by the treatment meted out to this guest, in violation of the rules of hospitality let alone the rules of trade, and so convened an Alliance of Virtues that committed to defend the values deemed common among them, including the defense of the weak against the powerful. We know about this because Muhammad, before his prophethood, was there, and spoke about it later. And although it took place in pre-Islamic Makkah, he said that such was the value of this alliance that if he had been asked to join after the coming of Islam he would have done so. And despite this endorsement from the Prophet of Islam, the alliance can be viewed with equal approbation by other faiths too. The Alliance of Virtues was not formed by Christians or Jews, but by people whose goal was simply to do good work. This means that although this new Alliance of Virtues is designed with the Abrahamic faiths specifically in mind, it is open to any who share the values it espouses.
The Charter of the New Alliance of Virtues is devoid of most of the usual platitudes that can form interfaith charters, and is based on an idea that could be embraced by all without being seen as owned by any one religion.
But in the idea of shared values between the faiths lies the question. The interfaith world has long been dominated by a philosophy that seeks to downplay differences and focus on commonalities. There are plenty of commonalities to choose from, particularly in the Abrahamic faiths; for example, the belief in one God who created the universe and all that’s in it, and is directly concerned with the actions of humanity. But there are also profound differences, which will not be overcome by ignoring them. Moreover, the classical interfaith model is dominated, particularly among the Christian and Jewish participants, by religious liberals, occasionally operating well outside the orthodox parameters of their faiths. This domination leads to fears among many conservative believers of syncretism that the purpose of interfaith work is to deny that differences between religions are significant, and to push the belief that all paths to God are equally valid. The problem is that the social hostility and mutual suspicions between religions, at both a local and the global level, are often dominated by the conservatives. Gatherings dominated by liberals will fail to make significant movement toward overcoming these hostilities — they are preaching to the converted. Herein lies the delight of the new Charter. Not only are its values truly shared, at least in orthodox theologies of the Abrahamic faiths (values including human dignity, freedom of conscience, justice, mercy and peace), but it is backed by a number of US evangelicals, who among the Christian groups are most vocally hostile to Islam. They are also within the Christian tradition focused on the truth of the bible and the imperative to proselytize. They are not even close to syncretism between religions. The purpose is to draw on those shared values not to edge toward some specious “ever closer union,” but for shared action. Between them, the Abrahamic faiths account for more than half of the global population; if these principles are acted upon, it can have a powerful and wide-ranging effect. But here lies the challenge. Writing the Charter is only the beginning. Unlike many documents, it has been written, targeted at and signed by individuals rather than institutions or governments. Modeled upon the previous Alliance, it is an alliance of people of goodwill. But as with any Charter, its only value will come if it is acted upon. It must turn into practical reality. This will be the challenge for its signatories over the coming years.
Peter Welby is a consultant on religion and global affairs, specializing in the Arab world. Previously he was the managing editor of a think tank on religious extremism, the Center on Religion and Geopolitics, and worked in public affairs in the Arabian Gulf. He is based in London, and has lived in Egypt and Yemen. Twitter: @pdcwelby
Global Trends posted on November 19, 2019, The Dilemma of English-Medium Instruction in International Higher Education written by Philip G. Altbach, Research Professor and Founding Director, and Hans de Wit, Professor and Director at the Center for International Higher Education, Boston College. This article gives us an instead glance at the worldwide debate that is emerging about the role of English and languages in general in higher education. The issue in the MENA region has been de facto settled sometime back, despite resurging questions as to the position of the local language utilisation in the universities. Hence the featured picture above.
WENR would like to congratulate our partners at Boston College’s Center for International Higher Education (CIHE) for its upcoming 100th issue of International Higher Education. Enjoy this advance look into the issue with Philip G. Altbach and Hans de Wit’s article on the increasing global dominance of English-language instruction.
By the mid-twentieth century, English had become the global language of science and scholarship. With the rise of the internet and globalization in the latter years of the century and in the new millennium, this domination has only increased. The top 50 scientific journals are published in English, as are the vast majority of internationally circulated scholarly articles.
The advent of mass student mobility (more than five million students now study outside of their home countries, the majority of whom choose countries where English is spoken) has also increased the attraction of English. An increasingly mobile professoriate, including thousands of postdocs, gravitate to English-speaking universities. In non-English-speaking countries such as Ethiopia, academic programs and even entire universities use English as a language of instruction, or even as the only language of instruction. In Africa, Rwanda moved from French to English as a country and in higher education; and Algeria’s minister of education recently announced a shift from French to English in higher education.
Indeed, most countries now have English-medium universities, branch campuses that use English, or complete graduate programs in English. For example, one can obtain an English-medium Master of Business Administration from more than 30 universities in China. Universities in Russia are offering academic programs in English that target mainly Russian students, who seek such degrees to boost their prospects in local and international job markets. Chinese universities urge their faculty members to publish in prestigious English language journals and offer them handsome financial rewards for doing so—while, at the same time, publishing in Chinese journals yields few benefits. Indeed, the number of journals in English in China is growing exponentially. The same is true in South Africa and other countries. Without question, English will remain the key global scientific language and an important language of instruction for the foreseeable future. Even in these days of nationalism and populism, its role is likely to increase. Countries, institutions, and individuals are seeking to adapt to the impact of global English on academic life worldwide. Yet, at the same time, a worldwide debate is emerging about the role of English and of languages in general in higher education.
Questions Worth Asking
It is worth raising questions concerning the impact of the tide of English. In the broader sense, there is no use in rejecting it; just as globalization is an inexorable force, so is the role of English in higher education.
Language is more than just a means of communication; it is also an aspect of culture. The implications of using English as a key language for higher education in non-English-speaking countries may affect culture and ways of thinking. The French and the Italians, historically protective of their culture, have long resisted the use of English in higher education, but even they have recently yielded. There are now a growing number of English-medium courses in France and Italy, despite intense protests not only by nationalists and advocates of safeguarding their national cultural heritage, but also by academics.
Using English also has implications for research methodology, publication, and academic orientation. This is true for several reasons. The prestigious English-medium journals are edited almost exclusively by academics in English-speaking countries, and these editors rely in large part on reviewers also located in these countries. Even the most internationally minded editors will bring a bias toward the methodologies and academic orientations favored in English-speaking academe, as will most reviewers. Studies show that the journals and articles that are most cited are written in English, disadvantaging academics from non-English-speaking environments in several ways: The academics’ command of the English language will often be imperfect. More important, in general, they will be pressured to conform to the methodological strictures of mainstream English-dominated trends in their disciplines. This may be less consequential in the natural sciences where methodologies may be more universal, but it has considerable salience in the social sciences, where cultural and national realities shape scholarship. And researchers and scholars in all fields may be tempted to orient their research topics toward what will appeal to journal editors and publishers in the dominant English-medium markets.
Another implication, especially for the humanities and social sciences, is that the pressure to publish in English-medium international journals limits opportunities to contribute to the debate in local language media and to contradict fake news. Academics in the Netherlands have argued against this pressure. In International Higher Education No. 88, Winter 2017, Akiyoshi Yonezawa noted that “limited publication in English in these fields is becoming a serious obstacle to the further development of the humanities and social sciences in Japan,” and that “it is unlikely and undesirable that English as an academic language should continue to monopolize fields such as the humanities and social sciences, which are deeply rooted in multilinguistic and multicultural activities and values.”
A consequence of offering English-medium courses and programs in many non-English environments is the poor quality of the instruction offered by many faculty whose command of English may be only rudimentary, or whose ability to teach in the language is limited. This low-quality instruction, often combined with limited English comprehension on the part of many local and non-Anglophone international students, creates an environment where little actual learning is taking place. Additionally, knowledge of and access to current course texts and other materials in English may be limited. In short, offering high-quality programs in English is a complex undertaking that requires a high level of fluency on the part of both faculty and students.
A little-noticed consequence of the rise of global English in universities is the deteriorating status of learning other languages by students in English-speaking countries. Enrollments in “foreign language” courses and programs throughout the English-speaking world have declined, with many students (and faculty) feeling that they can communicate anywhere in the world in English. This trend has also led to declines in courses on world cultures and world civilizations, thus reducing in-depth knowledge of cultures among native English-speaking students. An additional concern is the increasing sophistication of machine translation of academic materials of all kinds, further reducing the perceived need to learn languages other than English.
There is also a consideration about the role of colonial languages in the developing world, particularly in Africa. Local languages are used in public primary and secondary education but, with some exceptions, are not the language of instruction in higher education. The risks of such policies are high and can result in or exacerbate elitism in higher education access, lower quality education and research, lack of alignment with local needs, and the dominance of Western paradigms.
The Debate in the Netherlands
Resistance to the use of English as a language of instruction in the developed world is increasing. In Italy and the Netherlands, academics have gone to court to stop universities from adding more English-taught programs to their course offerings. Arguments vary, from concerns about maintaining the national culture and the quality of education, to claiming that internationalization is a source of revenue that is promoted at the expense of good education for local students. These last two arguments are dominating the current debate in the Netherlands, where there is a general feeling that the spread of English as a language of instruction, with its lack of a strategic approach, has gone too far and become a liability.
The following are among the questions that have been raised:
Why should subject areas such as Dutch literature, history, or law be taught in English?
Are disciplines like psychology taught in English in order to attract international students and compensate for a decline in interest among local students?
Should the substantial contribution that international students make to institutional budgets and to the local and national economy count more than investing in quality education for local students?
Why should local students have to compete with international students for limited student housing?
How does one counteract the declining interest of local students in Dutch language and literature?
The Dutch minister of education, culture, and science along with institutional leaders is caught between the pressure to compete internationally and the imperative of responding to these arguments—as well as those of nationalists in parliament. Finding a compromise is not easy. Other countries, like Denmark and Germany, are having similar debates.
There are no easy solutions to what some are calling “English imperialism.” It is a fundamental reality today that English is the dominant language of science and scholarship, and increasingly of communication, both formal and informal, among students and academics globally. Understanding all the implications of selecting the language of instruction of a program or of an entire institution, including the costs and benefits of that decision, is crucial, and decision makers bear a heavy responsibility.
EF Education First (EF): MENA Countries Ranked for English Proficiency by Global Index of 100 Countries shows clearly that the ranking of each country has if only culturally, little to do with, as it were, its specific historical track record. The top ten middle eastern countries are as follow.
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, Nov. 12, 2019 / PRNewswire/ — EF Education First released the ninth annual edition of its EF English Proficiency Index (EF EPI), analyzing data from 2.3 million non-native English speakers in 100 countries and regions, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, and other Arab countries. The Netherlands topped this year’s index, placing Sweden, last year’s top-scorer, in the second position.
In the MENA region, Bahrain scored the highest. However, the region has continued to lag behind the other regions of the world. The index has also found that in the MENA region, young adults have a somewhat similar English proficiency level as adults over 40 years of age. This suggests that English instruction in the region’s schools has not been evolving over the years. The results have also shown a great convergence in the levels of proficiency among adults in the region, with only 9 scores separating Bahrain, MENA’s best achiever, from the weakest performing country, Libya.
The EF EPI has shown a direct relationship between the average per capita income and standard of living in a country, and the average proficiency in the English language among its adults. Moreover, with exports accounting for nearly 20 per cent of world trade output, adopting English as a language of communication will further reduce costs for businesses and governments. These findings indicate the potential returns of investing in English instruction to qualify the young human capital in MENA for the major economic transformations that the region is witnessing.
In speaking about Saudi Arabia, EF Education First‘s country manager in the Kingdom, John Bernström, said: “This year’s ranking arrives as Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 and its National Transformation Program are in full swing to transform the Kingdom’s economy. As the country invests tremendously in the education and training of its youthful human capital, our report aims to assess how local English language proficiency fits within this frame and what are the best methods to optimize it in the future”.
The EF EPI is based on test scores from the EF Standard English Test (EF SET), the world’s first free standardized English test. The EF SET has been used worldwide by thousands of schools, companies, and governments for large-scale testing.
The EF English Proficiency Index for Schools (EF EPI-s), a companion report to the EF EPI, was also released with the index. The EF EPI-s examines the acquisition of English skills by secondary and tertiary students from 43 countries.
EF Education First is an international education company that focuses on language, academics, and cultural experience. Founded in 1965, EF’s mission is “opening the world through education.” With more than 600 schools and offices in over 50 countries, EF is the Official Language Training Partner for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
But, like women elsewhere, they lag when it comes to careers in these fields. As recent research shows, bridging this gap matters not just for women, but for the future of us all. So, how come Arab women are thriving in science and math education? The New York Times tells this story.
Here’s a strange paradox: In the Middle East, where many countries face stark gender inequality, women earn more science and math degrees per capita than their counterparts in the United States and Europe. In fact, up to 57 percent of all STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) graduates in Arab countries are women, according to Unesco.
On the other hand, take Qatar, a small country with a population of just 2.8 million. The country’s first university, Qatar University, opened its doors only in 1973, with separate faculties for men and women. But by 2012, there were almost twice as many female students enrolled in the university as there were males.
Bolstered by the country’s fervor for higher education, more women are attending Qatar’s private universities — and more are pursuing traditionally male-dominated career paths, including engineering and science. Qatar Foundation’s 3,000-acre Education City campus, home to eleven K-12 schools and nine leading universities — including branches of Georgetown, Cornell and Texas A&M — standing alongside a science and technology park, global innovation forums, a modern art museum, start-up incubators and more.
Many of these Qatari campuses are already drawing much greater percentages of women in their programs than similar ones in the U.S. At Texas A&M University at Qatar, women account for 51.6 percent of all undergraduate engineers — more than double the U.S. national average of 23.4 percent.“For people who have never been to the Middle East, they may well think women here are somehow oppressed, covered up and kept at a different level,” says Lama Al-Oreibi, reservoir engineer at Shell and former student at Texas A&M University in Qatar. “But engineering and science are professions that are looked upon highly in this part of the world. And I was encouraged by my family to pursue this path.”
In contrast to stubborn stereotypes elsewhere, adds Mashael Al-Sabah, a cybersecurity scientist at Qatar Computing Research Institute inside Education City, Qatari people don’t generally perceive men to be better at science and math.
“THE WOMEN IN ENGINEERING AND SCIENCE HERE OUTNUMBER MEN AND, OFTEN, THEY PERFORM BETTER.”
Up to 57%
of all STEM graduates in Arab countries are women.
This sentiment is echoed by Rana Dajani, a Jordanian molecular biologist and associate professor at Hashemite University, who is currently writing a paper about this subject, slated for publication later this year. “[Middle Eastern] women’s attraction to STEM studies is something that runs much deeper than the region’s modern history,” she says. “A theme in Islamic culture is that you are respected for your mind. Therefore, if you go into science, this is something respectful, because it celebrates your mind — and this was the same for boys and girls.”
THE WOMEN CHALLENGING STEM’S STATUS QUO IN QATAR
From current students to alumni, here are the stories of some women of Education City who have broken through stereotypes in Qatar to pursue their dreams in STEM.
For 14-year-old Al Shamari, technology “is the solution to everything.” “Take astrophysics, for example. If we have a way to control it, we have a way of sustaining life on Earth without having to go back to traditional ways.”
Now a student at Qatar Academy for Science and Technology, she says she enrolled because the only other STEM school for her age group in Qatar is an all-boy school. “Here, everyone puts gender aside because that doesn’t matter in education. We all know how to work together,” she says. And for the future? “I want to go to MIT. There was a girl who graduated from MIT who figured out the algorithm for the black hole picture. It’s like a 900,000-line algorithm to figure out where to put the pieces, and I’m really impressed by her.”
“I LOVE SCIENCE AND ESPECIALLY ASTROPHYSICS. PEOPLE ALWAYS LOOK TO THE GROUND FOR SOLUTIONS. WHY DON’T WE LOOK UP?”
As a part of her course, Abdalla, a student at Texas A&M University in Qatar, is currently making an innovative type of low-fuel vehicle — from scratch. But even for a pioneering engineer like her, gender expectations have been hard to escape. “We were taking the car from the garage to the lab,” she says, “and this guy shouted at my [male] friend, saying he should help me carry it!”
The 22-year-old, who is studying mechanical engineering, says she likes that engineering opens up many different areas of work. “I feel that there will always be a need for scientists and engineers. As an engineer, you feel like you’ve got some skills that other people may not have — and I like that.” After graduation, Abdalla is set to start a Ph.D. in Virginia, in the U.S.
“ONE OF THE THINGS I REALLY LIKE ABOUT GOING INTO ENGINEERING IS THAT YOU CAN ACTUALLY GO INTO SO MANY OTHER AREAS. I LIKE THAT IT TRAINS YOUR MIND IN A CERTAIN WAY AND I FEEL THERE WILL ALWAYS BE A NEED FOR SCIENTISTS AND ENGINEERS.”
Al-Oreibi was among the first groups of students to attend Texas A&M University in Qatar. “I wanted to stay in Qatar for university, and Texas A&M was opening here at the time,” she says. “It’s still a male-dominated industry, but in my class there were six girls and five guys, so we had a pretty good head start.”
Now a reservoir engineer at Shell, Al-Oreibi says she’s excited to be a part of the transition toward sustainability in oil and gas. “We have more awareness around our carbon footprint, something that wasn’t as strongly driven when I first joined the industry,” she says. “I’m very proud to be contributing to the global energy supply and doing so in a safe, environmentally friendly manner.”
“WITH SCIENCE, FOR ME, THE SKY’S THE LIMIT. YOU CAN DO ANYTHING WITH IT, AND YOU CAN HAVE AN IMPACT. AT THE END OF THE DAY, I’D LIKE TO THINK THAT WHAT I DO ON A DAY-TO-DAY BASIS HAS A POSITIVE IMPACT ON MY SOCIETY AND THE HUMAN RACE.”
But for Veronica Bermudez, senior research director for energy at Education City’s Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute, the real issue comes after university, when these highly educated women enter the job force — or rather, don’t. In fact, although Qatar’s female labor-force participation ranks higher than the world average, the proportion of Qatari women in the work force still lags slightly behind that in developed countries. “In the renewable energy sector, for example, the growth expectations in terms of jobs are going to triple in the next 10, 20 years,” says Bermudez. “We really need to engage more females in STEM to be able to address that challenge.”
Despite regional differences in female participation in STEM education, getting more women into science and math jobs remains a challenge across the world. High female participation in STEM education doesn’t necessarily translate into employment. Across OECD countries, 71 percent of male graduates in STEM subjects work as professionals in STEM fields, compared with only 43 percent of female graduates, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
For Arab women in particular, a number of barriers block them from finding employment in their respective STEM fields: Unesco’s “Science Report: Towards 2030” points to everything from low awareness about what a career in STEM entails to a lack of female role models and a family bias against working in mixed-gender environments. A dearth of suitable positions can hold women back, too. “We simply don’t have a market like Silicon Valley,” says Sana Odeh, clinical professor of computer science at New York University in Abu Dhabi, who’s working on a study on Middle Eastern women’s participation in STEM. “There aren’t thousands of jobs that are opened up by these large companies.”
Then, of course, there are the more universal issues, which for Dajani are every bit as important. “The workplace as we know it today was created around 100, 150 years ago by men, for men,” she says.
“THE FUNDAMENTAL DIFFERENCE IS BIOLOGICAL, EVOLUTIONARY — WOMEN HAVE BABIES AND NEED TO NURSE THEM. AND THE MODERN WORKPLACE DOESN’T FIT THIS.”
of the total student body at Texas A&M University in Qatar are women.
Anna Paolini, director of Unesco’s regional office in Doha, agrees. “We see willingness and interest from women to continue working, but once they get married many don’t go back to work, and that’s a loss for the system and for countries as small as Qatar.”
This “loss” that Paolini points to takes a toll on the bottom line, too. A growing body of evidence shows that more diverse organizations enjoy greater creativity, stronger governance, better problem-solving skills — and increased profitability. What’s more, an International Monetary Fund report from this year states that the growth gains from adding more women to the labor force are larger than previously thought — closing the gender gap could increase GDP by an average of 35 percent for much of the developing world.
And nowhere is diversity so valuable as in scientific study itself, according to Andrei Cimpion, associate professor of psychology at New York University, who has conducted studies on gender stereotypes in STEM. “The reality of what scientists do is that they work in teams. They work for socially important goals that help humanity,” he says.
“SCIENCE CAN ACCOMMODATE — AND NEEDS — THESE DIFFERENCES. SCIENCE DOES NOT EXCLUDE NOR DOES IT PREVENT SUCCESS BASED ON PERSONALITY CHARACTERISTICS.”
of female STEM graduates in OECD countries work in STEM fields, vs. 71% of male graduates.
However, for Bermudez, the costs of a lack of diversity in STEM could be even greater than that. “Men and women see things from a different point of view,” she says. “And if we keep this male dominance in STEM, we are skipping 50 percent of human resources around the world. With a diverse group, you have more opportunities to find the right way to solve problems.”
Gaza’s growing pet population stretches scant vet resources these days because of a greater number of Palestinians turning to pets caring for emotional comfort is more and more noticeable in the minuscule strip. In effect, populations of the tightly enclosed Gaza strip appear to have discovered that dogs and pets generally can help one get through tough times.
GAZA (Reuters) – Palestinians in Gaza are increasingly turning to domestic pets for emotional comfort from the harsh realities of the economically-depressed enclave but the growing animal population is stretching ill-equipped veterinarian facilities.
Some 130 veterinarians work in Gaza but the lack of animal hospitals means most have to turn to regular medical facilities and even to Israel to help care for ailing pets.
At Imad Morad’s veterinary clinic, shelves are filled with pet food and medicine and his equipment includes an ultrasound machine. But for further care, he depends on human medical facilities.
“We send blood and urine samples to human labs for examination. It wasn’t until two years ago when they started taking our requests. We also use them for X-rays,” Morad said.
In some rare cases, cats have been sent for treatment in Israel, which maintains tight restrictions along its border with the Islamist Hamas-run territory.
Unlike cats, dogs are considered unclean in Islam and are usually kept outside, but there is no ban on them.
Dog ownership, however, is becoming more popular and pet food is increasingly available in shops. Owners walking their dogs on Gaza’s streets are now a common sight.
“When someone raises a pet he feels like getting a new friend in his or her life, a friend who cares for him or her more than usual human friends do,” said Saeed el-Aer, a retired civil servant who trawls the streets carrying a bag full of food and medicine, looking for abandoned cats and dogs.
At a Gaza pet shop, its owner, Baha Ghaben, said opening the business had been a risk.
But, he said: “We were surprised at the large number of people who raised pets at home. I sell between ten to twenty animals a month.”
This article is part of a series on academic freedom where leading academics from around the world write on the state of free speech and inquiry in their region.
Last year I was imprisoned for nearly seven months in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). I was held predominantly in solitary confinement, endured heavy interrogations, with my human rights violated on a daily basis.
During my imprisonment, I was force fed drugs, battled depression and thoughts of self-harm. Later, having endured nearly half a year of isolation and mistreatment, I wrestled with thoughts of suicide.
Eventually, in a trial lacking all due process and disregard for international legal standards, I was handed a life sentence. My crime? Undertaking academic research for my doctoral thesis.
My research examines the evolving national security strategy of the UAE, and my knowledge has evolved from years of professional work and research in the UAE and the wider Middle East and North Africa.
I had no reservations about conducting research in the UAE. And I underwent a rigorous ethical and fieldwork assessment and was sure to follow established protocols before and during my trip.
I complied with the university’s requirement to remove all Emirati research subjects as it was assessed that these nationals would not be safe nor trusted when engaging in security-related academic research. And I was happy to go along with the university and the third-party risk firm employed to assess any other risks for researchers travelling overseas. But unfortunately, as my experience proved, this was simply not enough to protect me or my integrity as an academic.
A vulnerable position
It became clear there was a lack of understanding by the Emirati authorities about what a legitimate academic is, and about how research is carried out. Standard actions needed to complete field research – such as interviewing sources, researching books, articles and maps along with taking notes – were very quickly taken out of context and distorted by the UAE security authorities. I routinely battled to explain how information cited in my thesis was referenced from publicly available academic books and not from “secret intelligence sources” as the interrogators would often claim.
Following my release, I have had the opportunity to reflect upon my experience. I have also been lucky to travel to academic institutions in the UK and US to discuss the ramifications of my experience upon academic research.
When discussing how academic fieldwork actually works, my main observation has been that beyond the academic community, there is a very limited understanding of what academic research actually consists of. As such, there is little understanding of the risks it entails.
This leaves academics engaging in fieldwork research in a particularly vulnerable position. It can even lead to a situation, like in my case, where their integrity and legitimacy as an academic is under question.
Indeed, I believe that this lack of information on academic practice exacerbated my situation. Trying to speak reason to the authorities holding me captive, and to those with the power to intervene diplomatically and politically on my behalf, went nowhere. And baseless accusations cast a shadow of doubt upon the legitimacy of my work.
Safety and security
For researchers and academics at all levels, the problem of misinformation has consequences extending to the very institutions to which they are affiliated. My experience demonstrates how bureaucracy-led universities are not equipping their students and staff with the appropriate skills and competencies needed to undertake their job in today’s world. Ultimately, effective instructions for fieldwork safety and security are lacking. Furthermore, as the technical capabilities of many states improve, there is an increased risk of deployed researchers falling victim to surveillance and unjust prosecution.
Another issue widely under-reported is that while researchers may be somewhat supported by their university, their human subjects are not. This leaves many academics, including myself, questioning whether it’s even possible or ethical to engage in fieldwork in the current age.
Having heard testimony from academics with diverse research backgrounds, it is abundantly clear that my experience was not isolated. Hundreds of scholars around the world are targeted and prosecuted for their research. Yet, while their cases are of great concern within the academic community, they continue to rest dormant in the public eye, the political arena and higher education boards.
If academics and universities are to continue to contribute to the generation of knowledge, then research practice and its risks must be acknowledged and respected. The freedom to research is paramount for knowledge creation. And if it is not protected, we risk being accomplices to those who wish to silence us.
MENA parents are attracted to e-commerce for the “Back to School” shopping, increasing their interests and buying habits at exponential levels between 2017 and 2019.
The buying trends between August 2017 and August 2019 in the Back to School category revealed that traditionally the sales spike around the month of August
In 2019, online sales reached their highest level, measuring a 6 times growth compared with August 2017
With the region opening up more to e-commerce and with the market competitive sellers, the Back to School online sales will stay on a growth pattern
ADMITAD analysts recently released an online sales report that shows Back To School shopping has grown 6 times since 2017. Analysts observed data over the course of 2 years measuring the buying trends in the Back To School categories across different countries in the MENA region.
The buying trends between August 2017 and August 2019 in the Back to School category revealed that traditionally the sales spike around the month of August. However, in 2019, online sales reached their highest level, measuring a 6 times growth compared with August 2017. With the region opening up more to e-commerce and with the market’s competitive sellers, Back to School online sales will stay on a growth pattern, expecting to reach in August 2020 the highest level measured in the past years.
“The growth we’ve seen in 2 years is indicative of MENA region developing into a more mature market in e-commerce, with giants like Amazon, Noon, Namshi creating outstanding value for the customers. Other factors are contributing too, such as the rise of social media influencers and the unparalleled cash value offers online shopping provides. Having said that, this is just the beginning as we estimate the growth to continue at a rapid rate in the next 2 years” said Artem Rudyuk, head of MENA Operations at ADMITAD.
The convenience of fast-delivery, an abundance of offers and eye-catching promotions alongside a wider diversity of the products, are some of the top reasons why MENA region Back-To-School customers’ interest in online shopping is growing.
One of the fastest-growing marketplace for parents, Sprii.com, is confirming the positive climb of the online sales during August, with a growth of 181% in the back to school category. Sarah Jones, CEO, and Founder of Sprii said: “Sprii has seen a 181% increase in sales in its back to school category over the last year. We see traffic fast moving away from your traditional bricks and mortar stores to online platforms as product ranges increase, prices are cheaper and delivery becomes easier. The leading contributor of growth in this category has been kids lunchboxes and healthy snacks, which we see in keeping with the regional movement towards healthy sustainable living, and the site-wide increase in organic product sales.”
The estimated increase in back-to-school spending represents an opportunity for MENA based e-commerce companies to capitalize on this new profit-making shopping season, together with Christmas, Ramadan, and Back Friday. The MENA region players have an unprecedented opportunity to convert customers with competitive advertising, offers, prices and bundles during the online browsing process.
Artem Rudyuk is the Head of MENA Operations for Admitad, heading the Development of affiliate partnerships between e-commerce merchants and online publishers on cost per action basis and bringing affiliate marketing in MENA region to a new level with the most transparent and tech advanced platform.
As Yalies continue to push for greater Middle Eastern and North African representation on Yale campus, the student organization advocating for the creation of a MENA Cultural Center held a launch event Thursday.
While there are only four institutionalized cultural centers at Yale, the Middle Eastern and North African Students Association has advocated for MENA to become the fifth cultural center for the past two years. Spearheaded by members of the Arab Students Association and other cultural groups, the association is still in the midst of advocating for full-fledged cultural center status from the University. With support from the Yale College Council, the club plans to proceed in the meantime with programming similar to that of existing cultural centers.
Thursday’s MENA “Welcome Mixer” was intended to connect students and faculty who identify as Middle Eastern, as North African or who are interested in the region. The event was the club’s second official event since becoming a formally registered student organization last semester.
“[Last year], I started thinking about why a MENA house did not exist on campus to act as a [homey] umbrella for various students on campus who did not identify with the existing four institutionalized cultural centers,” MENA Co-Presidents Shady Qubaty ’20 and Yasmin Alamdeen ’21 said in a joint email to the News on Monday. “After all, breaking up the MENA region into an ‘Asian’ identifying region in the [Asian-American Cultural Center] and an ‘African’ identifying region in the [Afro-American] House disregards the social and cultural realities of Middle Eastern and North African identifying persons.”
Approximately 40 people attended the welcome mixer, including undergraduate Yale students, a student from Gateway Community College in New Haven and Jackson Institute World Fellows. They served a wide array of food, including treats from the MENA region such as baklava and grape leaves. The desserts came from Havenly, a startup bakery created by Yale students that employs refugee women in New Haven.
Qubaty and Alamdeen explained that the cultural house project first started to gain attention at the YCC Elections Debate in 2018, where Qubaty introduced the idea of a fifth cultural center to each of the candidates. They added that each candidate then incorporated the initiative into their platform, starting the YCC’s involvement in advocating for the MENA club.
According Qubaty and Alamdeen’s email, three questions related to the MENA club received a “nearly [unanimously]” positive reaction on the 2018-2019 YCC survey, motivating Qutaby and Alamdeen’s team to move forward with the project. Since then, they explained, the club has secured a base room at 305 Crown St., which is also next to the AACC and La Casa Cultural.
Qubaty and Alamdeen also emphasized that the momentum gained since receiving the official endorsement of the YCC signals that a MENA cultural center is “no longer just the demand of [their] association, but one concerning Yale’s official undergraduate student government.”
They added that this “huge step forward” has provided a YCC-based task force that has helped facilitate contact and advocacy on the prospective cultural center’s behalf.
“In addition, we have managed to garner the support of countless faculty members and are now in the process of forming an advisory board for the club consisting of Yale Alumni who are very passionate about this proposal,” the email said. “In that respect, we will have students, faculty and alumni all heading in the same direction.”
YCC President Kahlil Greene ’21 said that while MENA is “still in the process of advocacy that started last year,” the first step in establishing an official cultural center has already been achieved.
According to the email, Qubaty and Alamdeen characterized the process of achieving formal recognition as “very sticky” and one that “involves a lot of bureaucracy that is not just related to funding.”
They noted that the establishment of the other cultural houses took decades and that Yale administration has to be convinced that demand for a new cultural center is “real.” The email also explained that from there, the Administration will have to form a committee devoted to discussing its need and its feasibility “which takes time.”
Still, Qubaty and Alamdeen emphasized that formal recognition is “definitely possible” and that they “will not stop pushing” for a MENA house to be established.
Zakaria Gedi ’22, communications chair for the MENA Students Association, told the News that there is a large group of students who could be served by a MENA house and that this need applies “especially for a first-year who is trying to find their identity and make friends of similar heritage.”
Onur Burcak Belli, a Turkey-based journalist and Jackson Institute World Fellow at Yale, attended Thursday’s event and told the News that she was “really disappointed when [she] learned you don’t have a particular place to represent an area that has a lot to do with U.S. politics.”
She is proud of the students who have pushed for the establishment of the MENA Cultural Center and hopes to send a message that people living in the MENA region “are much more than victims.”
As the MENA Students Association does not currently have their own space, the Welcome Mixer took place on the first floor of the Asian-American Cultural Center.
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