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The Egyptian ‘Architect of the Poor’

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EGYPTIAN STREETS in its ARTS & CULTURE posted a commemorative article on how Hassan Fathy, the Egyptian ‘Architect of the Poor’ developed against the then ongoing trends of modernism. Did he contribute in his own specific way to the birth of the Post-Modern movement? One wonders but lets us first have a look at this story.

The image above is of one of the architect’s achievements.

The Egyptian ‘Architect of the Poor’: Hassan Fathy And Why His Vision Still Matters

By Amina Zaineldine

25 September 2021

“[Some] saw him as a lonely guru, reminiscent of Old Testament prophets, promising that the world would reap misery for not listening to the truth of his message.”

These words, written in a study dedicated to Hassan Fathy’s legacy, paint a mysterious picture of the life and work of the controversial, yet highly celebrated, Egyptian architect. But who was he, and what makes him stand out until today as one of the most unique, timeless, and internationally recognized Egyptian architects of all time?

Born in 1900 in Alexandria to an upper-middle class family, one notable peculiarity in Fathy’s six-decade career is that much of his work – including New Gourna, the village that became his best-known project – was neither urban nor for the well-to-do.

The New Gourna Mosque by Hassan Fathy

Located in Luxor, New Gourna was a prime example of the philosophy ingrained in Fathy’s designs. Architecture, he believed, was for human beings. At the core of his concepts were the needs of those who would use his buildings. In the case of New Gourna and many of his other projects, those who used his buildings were Egypt’s rural poor, whom he centred in most of his work.

“We need a system that allows the traditional way of cooperation to work in our society. We must subject technology and science to the economy of the poor and penniless,” said Fathy, who became known as ‘the architect of the poor’.

His work also rejected many elements of internationalist modernism and embraced traditional styles, approaches, and materials, believing that they were best suited for the environment. He valued indigenous insights on architecture and believed that they were there for a reason; a direct result of indigenous needs.

While building New Gourna, for example, he championed cultural authenticity by using mud bricks as his main building material and designing domed ceilings as is common in Upper Egypt.

The design of buildings in New Gourna by Hassan Fathy.

Fathy, whose work focused on developing countries, the Arab and Muslim world, and particularly Egypt, believed that straying too far from traditional concepts and instead opting for culturally alien designs and materials, would with time encroach on the indigenous cultural identity.

These beliefs marginalised Fathy for some time within the Egyptian community of architects, which initially did not fully accept his rejection of modernism, but Fathy was immovable. Eventually, still within his lifetime, he was vindicated.

Gradually, more and more people in Egypt and the rest of the world began to see that what he was proposing was a different, more locally-centred form of modernism, which is far more sustainable and likely to preserve unique cultural identities.

Fathy was honoured many times for his work and architectural philosophy, receiving awards such as the first Aga Khan Chairman’s Award ever given, as well as the Right Livelihood Award in the first year of its inception, both in 1980. His book, Architecture for the Poor: An Experiment in Rural Egypt, in which he evaluates and discusses his project at New Gourna years after it was built, has become a staple for architecture students around the world.

Hassan Fathy’s Dar al-Islam Mosque in New Mexico.

Today, over three decades after Fathy’s death, his ideas are still proving to be relevant and insightful, perhaps even more than in his own day: for all the excitement about Egypt’s current construction boom, with developments in new urban centers such as the New Administrative Capital or New Alamein City, some are voicing concerns very similar to the core of Fathy’s message of humanism, cultural authenticity, and sustainability.

With expensive, modernist designs that do not tie in local designs or materials, Fathy’s words from 1969 are recalled:

“In modern Egypt, there is no indigenous style. The signature is missing; the houses of rich and poor alike are without character, without an Egyptian accent,” he writes in his book Architecture for the Poor: An Experiment in Rural Egypt. “The tradition is lost, and we have been cut off from our past ever since Mohammed Ali cut the throat of the last Mamluk.

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The anxiety list for MENA entrepreneurs is long, as is the one curing it

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Hadi Khatib on AMEInfo of 18 September 2021 came up with this deep statement on the anxiety list for MENA entrepreneurs that is long, as is the one curing it

The anxiety list for MENA entrepreneurs is long, as is the one curing it

A research report on the mental health challenges and wellbeing of entrepreneurs due to COVID-19 in the MENA region revealed anxiety has several facets in the minds of these leaders. But all of these insecurities have cures.

  • 55% of startup founders said that raising investment has caused the most stress.
  • More than 95% of entrepreneurs view co-founders as family members and/or friends.
  • Research finds that entrepreneurs are happier than people in jobs.

EMPWR, a UAE-based digital media agency dedicated to mental health and an exclusive mental health partner for WAMDA and Microsoft for startups, published a research report on the mental health challenges and wellbeing of entrepreneurs due to COVID-19 in the MENA region.

The research indicated that startup founders undergo higher levels of stress than the rest of the region, with twice the likelihood of developing depression issues.

55% of startup founders said that raising investment has caused the most stress; the pandemic was the second most-cited reason cited by 33.7% of respondents.   44.2% spend at least 2 hours a week trying to de-stress. 

Other insights, uncovered by the report, include:

  • A good relationship between co-founders can help startups navigate the pandemic-hit market. More than 95% of entrepreneurs view co-founders as family members and/or friends
  • Many entrepreneurs live well below their means to fund their ventures, leading to stress that is detrimental to their health

With only 2% of healthcare budgets in the MENA region currently spent on addressing mental health, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on young entrepreneurs and achievers could lead to an economic burden of $1 trillion, by 2030, according to the report.

EMPWR’s MENA partners shared special offers on their mental health services for the region’s entrepreneur community.

From Saudi Arabia:

Labayh is offering the technology ecosystem a 20% discount on their online mental health services for 2 months. Promo code: empwr, with the offer valid until October 29.

From Egypt:

O7 Therapy are offering 50% off their online mental health services, for 50 Entrepreneurs in the MENA region. Promo code: Entrepreneur50, valid until December 1, 2021.

From the UAE:

My Wellbeing Lab is offering 20 one-on-one coaching sessions to entrepreneurs that wish to be coached and helped; alongside unlimited access for any entrepreneur to their “Discovery Lab”, a platform that gives entrepreneurs and leaders insights into their mental wellbeing as well as their teams. Promo code: MWL21.

Takalam is offering 10% off for 3 months. Promo code: Impact.

Mindtales is offering the MENA ecosystem 50% off their services for one month. Their App can be downloaded here.

H.A.D Consultants is offering 20 one on one coaching sessions to entrepreneurs. Promo code: HAD_SME01.

From Oman:

Nafas, a meditation app focused on reducing stress, anxiety, and help with insomnia, is offering access to its platform. Register as a user via this link to redeem benefits. 

Entrepreneurs’ mixed emotions

Entrepreneurs must grapple with uncertainty and being personally responsible for any decision they make. They likely have the longest working hours of any occupational group and need to rapidly develop expertise across all areas of management while managing day-to-day business.

Yet despite all this, research finds that entrepreneurs are happier than people in jobs.

To understand this, a comprehensive and systematic review of 144 empirical studies of this topic, covering 50 years revealed:

1. It’s not all about pay

Work on the economics of entrepreneurship traditionally assumed that entrepreneurs bear all the stresses and uncertainties in the hope that over the long term they can expect high financial rewards for their effort. It’s false.

2. Highly stressful, but…

High workload and work intensity, as well as financial problems facing their business, are at the top of the entrepreneurs’ stress list.

But some stressors have an upside. While they require more effort in the here and now, they may lead to positive consequences such as business growth in the long term. Some entrepreneurs appear to interpret their long working hours as a challenge and therefore turn them into a positive signal.

3. Autonomy is both good and bad

The autonomy that comes with being an entrepreneur can be a double-edged sword. Entrepreneurs can make decisions about when and what they work on – and with whom they work. But recent research into how entrepreneurs experience their autonomy suggests that, at times, they struggle profoundly with it. The sheer number of decisions to make and the uncertainty about what is the best way forward can be overwhelming.

4. An addictive mix

The evidence review confirms that, by any stretch of imagination, entrepreneurs’ work is highly demanding and challenging. This, along with the positive aspects of being their own boss coupled with an often competitive personality, can lead entrepreneurs to be so engaged with their work that it can become obsessive.

So the most critical skill of entrepreneurs is perhaps how they are able to manage themselves and allow time for recovery.  

Stress management tips for entrepreneurs

Identify what the actual source of your stress is. Is it tight deadlines, procurement issues, raising capital, managing investors’ expectations, building a talented team, or delay in landing the first sale for your new startup business?

Even if numbering more than a few, break them down because unmanageable tasks look simpler when broken down into smaller segments. Then, list down how you plan to successfully tackle each issue. Meanwhile, exercising multiple times a week has been rated as one of the best tactics for managing stress.  

Another technique for handling stress is to take a break. Rest as much as you can before going back to continue with the tasks.  It’s also a good idea to reach out to friends, family, and social networks because they are likely to understand what you’re going through and offer words of wisdom and courage.

Stay away from energy-sapping junk food. Eating healthy keeps you fueled for the next challenge. Finally, get enough sleep, and power naps. Sleep helps your body and mind recover.   

Hadi Khatib is a business editor with more than 15 years of experience delivering news and copy of relevance to a wide range of audiences. If newsworthy and actionable, you will find this editor interested in hearing about your sector developments and writing about them. He can be reached at:  hadi.khatib@thewickfirm.com

QF stemming the brain drain

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A Qatar based media The Peninsula dwelt on how a local institution Qatar Foundation aka QF is stemming the brain drain meaning of earlier times. Qatar representing 0.10% of the total MENA region land area could perhaps be only doing that to the same proportion. Is it still worth it? Another hiccup would be that of the increasingly divested from and diminishing fossil fuels export-related revenues; could these be that helpful at the same rate in the future, be it near or far? In any case, let us see what it is all about.

The image above is for illustration only and is of the Qatar Foundation headquarters in Doha, Qatar.

QF stemming the brain drain

The Peninsula

Doha: In the past decades, many of the MENA region’s best Arab scientists, inventors, engineers, designers, and innovators left their home countries for better opportunities in the West.

While the reasons for the “brain drain” in this part of the world have been varied, many of these talented youth cite a lack of support and resources as their reason for leaving. However, the situation is evolving – for the better.

For more than a decade, Qatar has become a confluence for science and innovation in the MENA region. It is home to Qatar Foundation’s (QF) edutainment show Stars of Science, and it hosts Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP). 

Qatar’s Abdulrahman Saleh Khamis developed a unique smart educational prayer rug. Targeted at young and newly converted Muslims, the rug teaches the user the correct way to pray, and more.

The show falls under QSTP’s umbrella of programmes that support incubation and start-ups, enhancing capacity to further develop the Qatar Foundation Research, Development and Innovation (QF RDI) ecosystem. The area is fast becoming recognised as the epicentre for technological, engineering, and scientific innovation.

This ecosystem supports and nurtures home-grown innovations from some of the region’s brightest young Arab minds with a view to stemming the tide of MENA innovators seeking resources, support, and mentorship elsewhere. It provides inventors with a nurturing environment where they can refine their inventions, gain guidance, confidence, and mentorship, with the aim to retain promising talent. And with numerous alumni creating innovations that are being used globally, the program also helps to showcase Arab talent to the wider world. 

While Stars of Science helps shape the region’s future through revealing the potential of innovators, QSTP promotes one of QF’s key objectives; empowering the innovator behind the idea. 

Contestants are automatically enrolled into the flagship accelerator programme, XLR8, where they can continue working on their projects with QF’s support. This unique innovation hub assists inventive entrepreneurs with successful startups, helping them bring their creations to the market within the region, but also internationally.

One such innovator is Dr. Nour Majbour, former researcher at Qatar Biomedical Research Institute, part of QF’s Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU), who took her fascination with the human brain and created a laboratory kit designed to diagnose Parkinson’s disease in its early stages through antibodies. After the show, Dr. Majbour went on to further develop her Stars of Science project, named QABY, within Qatar’s supportive technological ecosystem and officially registered it as a trademark with QF.

Another alumnus from the show is veterinarian Dr. Mohammed Doumir from Algeria – his  ingenious project addresses the issue of limping in racing camels. Post Stars of Science, Qatar’s unique collaborative ecosystem appealed to Dr. Doumir, and he stayed in the country pushing for technological advancement and promoting innovation. With the support of the QSTP Product Development Fund – which incubated and funded his idea – he opened his own company named Vetosis, and is now the director for veterinary research and innovation at QSTP. He is currently adding new applications to his device for camel training and fitness promotion. 

In Stars of Science Season 11, Abdulrahman Saleh Khamis, from Qatar, took inspiration from his Islamic faith to develop Sajdah, the unique Smart Educational Prayer Rug. Targeted at young and newly converted Muslims, the rug teaches the user the correct way to pray — and more. 

After Stars of Science, he started his own company, Thakaa Technologies currently incubated at QSTP where he received funding through the QSTP Product Development Fund. He also successfully completed a pre-order crowdfunding campaign on Launchgood, a platform co-founded by another Stars of Science alumnus, Omar Hamid.

These projects serve as prime examples of incredible collaborations with Qatar’s technological ecosystem, and are a testament to successfully promoting Arab innovators. They highlight Qatar’s unique atmosphere of innovation and support, to the benefit of the Arab region – and beyond – transforming ideas into inventions that positively impact local and international communities. 

Arab University Rankings 2021: results announced

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Universities in the MENA region were assessed and ranked by THE World University Ranking under the title of Arab University Rankings 2021: results announced.  So here are those results.

The picture above is for illustration and is of THE of 12 February 2021.

Arab University Rankings 2021: results announced

Saudi Arabia dominates top of new regional table, while Egypt is most-represented nation overall

July 27, 2021

Jeddah Saudi Arabia – Source: iStock

Browse the full results of the Arab University Rankings 2021


Universities in Saudi Arabia lead a new Times Higher Education ranking focused on the Arab region.

King Abdulaziz University tops the inaugural THE Arab University Rankings, while four other institutions in the county also feature in the top 10: King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) (third), Prince Mohammad Bin Fahd University (fourth), King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (fifth) and King Saud University (eighth).

Overall, 22 Saudi Arabian universities are ranked in the list. On average, the country performs particularly well on metrics relating to the share of international staff, international co-authorship and institutional income.

The United Arab Emirates is the only other nation with more than one institution in the top 10; Khalifa University and United Arab Emirates University are sixth and seventh respectively, with both institutions receiving high scores for metrics relating to the research environment.

Qatar has only one representative in the table – the flagship Qatar University – but it claims second place thanks to strong scores across the board.

Meanwhile, Egypt is the most-represented nation, with 31 institutions, led by Zewail City of Science and Technology in 10th place. Five other Egyptian universities feature in the top 20. The country receives a strong average score for citation impact and teaching reputation, the latter of which is based on the first THE survey exclusively dedicated to published academics in the Arab region. Egypt is also home to the most leading large universities in the region; there are 20 ranked institutions with more than 50,000 students and all of the top 10 are in the North African country.

Lebanon is the only other country to feature in the top 10, with the American University of Beirut claiming ninth place.


Arab University Rankings 2021: top 10

Rank 2021 Position in World University Rankings 2021 Institution Country
1 201–250 King Abdulaziz University Saudi Arabia
2 301–350 Qatar University Qatar
3 NR King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) Saudi Arabia
4 NR Prince Mohammad Bin Fahd University Saudi Arabia
5 501–600 King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals Saudi Arabia
6 351–400 Khalifa University United Arab Emirates
7 301–350 United Arab Emirates University United Arab Emirates
8 401–500 King Saud University Saudi Arabia
9 301–350 American University of Beirut Lebanon
10 NR Zewail City of Science and Technology Egypt

NR = not ranked 


Overall, 125 institutions from 14 countries are ranked in the inaugural Arab University Rankings, with the vast majority (100) being public institutions. A further 30 institutions are listed with “reporter” status, meaning that they provided data but did not meet our eligibility criteria to receive a rank. The top-ranked private university is Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammad Bin Fahd University in fourth place.

The ranking is THE’s most comprehensive assessment of higher education in the Arab region to date. Fifty-five of the ranked institutions, including Bahrain and Palestine’s two representatives each, did not feature in the latest World University Rankings due to its stricter eligibility criteria. Iraq is the third most-represented nation in the Arab ranking, with 16 ranked institutions (and a further 15 with reporter status), but only two of these were included in the global table.

The methodology behind the Arab ranking is based on the same framework as the global table, but some adjustments have been made and some new metrics have been included to reflect the features and missions of universities in the Arab region. There are regional measures on reputation and collaboration as well as metrics related to social impact.

Nasser Al-Aqeeli, Saudi Arabia’s deputy minister for research and innovation, said that the country’s strong performance in the ranking was partly driven by recent policies to strengthen research and innovation in universities.

The Ministry of Education has worked with a number of public and private sectors to establish 12 national research and innovation priority areas “to help universities focus their research on what is needed in Saudi Arabia”, Professor Al-Aqeeli said. It has also worked directly with institutions on their own research strategies based on their strengths and what is needed in their local cities and regions.

Meanwhile, last year the ministry initiated a new national funding system for universities. The “institutional fund program” gives a pot of research funding to each university and the university administration manages how this is distributed to its academics, instead of scholars submitting grant proposals to the ministry, to help speed up the process. As a result, Saudi Arabia was ranked first in the Arab world and 14th globally for the number of coronavirus-related research publications, Professor Al-Aqeeli said.

Habib Fardoun, director of the Observatory Center for Academic Standards and Excellence at King Abdulaziz University, said that the institution’s research projects are all done in collaboration with international, regional and national partners to acheive the strongest results, while over the last 10 years the university has worked on improving the quality of its education.

On the Arab ranking more broadly, Dr Fardoun said the methodology is “aligned with the Arab countries’ strategies”, which will enable governments to measure the outputs of their universities and to give institutions more support in shaping and fulfilling these strategies.

Phil Baty, chief knowledge officer at THE, said that universities in the Arab world have achieved “very strong progress” in recent years in the World University Rankings but “the increased presence of Arabic institutions in the global ranking does not do full justice to the rich diversity of the sector, and does not fully reflect the range of activities and missions at the regional level, or the priorities of more regionally focused institutions”.

“So it is very exciting that this new, bespoke ranking for the Arab region allows us to offer a more nuanced, regional context, allowing many more institutions in the region to benchmark themselves against a range of relevant performance indicators and deploy THE’s trusted data to support their missions and their development,” he said.


Countries represented in the Arab University Rankings 2021

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com 

Radical improvements are needed to eradicate illiteracy in the region

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ZAWYA published an article by Sara Al-Mulla on how illiteracy is still the dominant factor in the MENA region. It recommends notably no less than Radical improvements are needed to eradicate illiteracy in the region once and for all.

Radical improvements are needed to eradicate illiteracy in the region once and for all

The picture above is for illustration and is of the Gulf Times.

Students learn the alphabet in a classroom of 12 women of different ages all eager to learn to read and write at the literacy centre of Umm al-Hareth secondary school on April 17, 2009, in Amman, Jordan. Getty Images By Sara Al-Mulla, Arab News

In today’s world, knowledge is deemed to be the key to progress; spearheading innovations in myriad futuristic sectors, commandeering global competitiveness and empowering people to live high-quality lives. Indeed, the true wealth of any nation lies in its human capital’s ability to thrive.

The Arab region has achieved great strides in the field of education in the past five decades, with the widespread establishment of schools, high enrolment rates and government support for students. Data from the World Bank demonstrates this remarkable progress, as the Arab region has lifted literacy rates from 43 percent in 1973 to 79 percent in 2019. Despite this phenomenal achievement, illiteracy remains a shortcoming in the region. It is estimated that about 50 million adults in the Arab world are illiterate today, limiting their roles as active members of their societies. These figures are aggravated by the 6 million children who have been forced out of school due to conflicts and poverty.

The calamity of illiteracy manifests itself in a number of threats. Without the basic tenets of communication, people could find themselves drastically limited in their life choices and their ability to carry out important daily tasks. For example, illiterate people are unable to examine a medicine label, read a bank statement, skim through the news, calculate a financial investment, understand government policies, or communicate with family and friends via mobile phones or online social networks.

Illiterate parents also tend to have lower expectations with regards to their children’s educational attainment, aggravating generational illiteracy. Dr. Bernadette Dwyer, a professor of literacy studies in education at Dublin City University, made a powerful statement in this regard: “Literacy permeates all areas of life, fundamentally shaping how we learn, work, and socialize. Literacy is essential to informed decision-making, personal empowerment, and community engagement.”

Illiteracy also costs the global economy an estimated $1.19 trillion annually in lost economic productivity, according to the World Literacy Foundation. Globally, illiterate people earn 30 to 42 percent less than those who are literate, severely limiting their capacity to thrive and access important goods and services, such as food, shelter, education, and healthcare services. Furthermore, illiteracy has been linked to unemployment or low-quality jobs, lower lifelong earnings, reduced access to professional development courses, poorer health outcomes, increased crime rates, lower civic participation and community involvement, lower feelings of self-worth, increased isolation, limited retirement savings, and welfare dependency.

In order to tackle the issue of illiteracy in the region, it is imperative that policymakers understand its root causes. Perhaps the greatest barrier to literacy is the rampant poverty rate in certain communities, where children are forced to work to help their families make ends meet. At the same time, low economic productivity in many Arab nations has limited public funding for schools and reduced financial support for families in the form of tuition subsidies and scholarships. Poverty has also worsened gender discrimination in many parts of the region, resulting in limited female enrolment in schools due to early marriage and pregnancy, violence or cultural norms about the role of women.

Additionally, deteriorating safety issues and raging conflicts have, in recent years, resulted in an exodus of children from schools. Another leading cause of illiteracy is the presence of children with learning disabilities or difficulties that go undetected or untreated. Special education is expensive to finance for families on their own, as they would need to pay for diagnostic tests, treatments, dedicated shadow teachers, and special resources.

Research shows that children living in rural areas are more likely to drop out of school compared to children in urban areas, as nearby schools are lacking. Other institutional aspects that undermine children’s ability to learn include unsatisfactory learning environments, overcrowded classrooms, shortages of trained teachers, unengaging school curricula, and insufficient learning resources.

As such, radical improvements are needed to eradicate illiteracy in the region once and for all. It is imperative that household data be captured to elucidate illiteracy rates according to geographical location, age group and gender. Additionally, such research should evaluate the root causes behind illiteracy so that appropriate policies and programs can be formulated to overcome these specific barriers.

Solutions could be designed based on the size of the cohorts, such as the establishment of modern schools to cater for large groups or individualized workshops that are tailored to the needs of small groups of learners. Enrolment can be encouraged by taking on local volunteers who can sign people up or via applications on online portals. Additionally, relevant and engaging educational curricula need to be designed to accommodate local workplace needs, in addition to the hiring of skilled teachers. For participants who are unable to attend school due to work or family responsibilities, one-on-one tutoring sessions could be facilitated on a weekly basis to meet their learning needs.

Perhaps the greatest challenge is the cultural attitude toward education. Nationwide grassroots and media campaigns can play an influential role in highlighting the priceless value of literacy and its beneficial effects on people’s lives, especially among cultures that have contradicting viewpoints on the subject. Furthermore, governments could partner with nonprofit and private sector organizations that dedicate their funds and efforts toward literacy programs.

Nations are today competing against one another in terms of their ability to transform knowledge into economic productivity and high-quality living for their citizens. Literacy is the key for Arab nations if they are to create a new renaissance period.

  • Sara Al-Mulla is an Emirati civil servant with an interest in human development policy and children’s literature. She can be contacted at http://www.amorelicious.com.