Sidewalk Labs prototype would be the world’s tallest wood-frame building. That is good to know but Reach for the Sky—Wood Frame Building Will Be 35 Storiesby Roopinder Tara posted on January 28, 2020, could seriously be envisaged if the world were to be limited to the northern as well as to the Equatorial zones where forestry abounds. Transporting however wooden building materials from and/or to any other area of the world would probably cancel any significant environmental benefits.
Given that wood is flammable and biodegradable, it may never have been an ideal building material. We have steel for that. However, in many parts of the world, wood is available in abundance, so it is pressed into service for our buildings. Wood framing is common in North America for residential buildings but less so for commercial buildings. Wood framing has largely been unheard for use in high rises—until today, when plans of a 35-story wood frame skyscraper, part of Sidewalk Labs development project in Toronto, popped into my inbox.
No building this tall has ever been built with a wood frame. It’s not even close. The current tallest wood-frame building is Norway’s 85.4m-tall Mjøstårnet. The second tallest is the 53m-tall Brock Commons Tallwood House in Vancouver. Both buildings are 18 stories.
Sidewalk Labs has a digital model, a proof of concept it calls the PMX Tower (Proto-Model X). There’s a lot to be worked out when making a wooden building this tall.
The PMX plans do not call for using plain, ordinary wood, but “mass wood,” or a wood-mostly material that when glued together is called “glulam” and is used for ultra-long beams and columns. It is called nail laminated timber (NLT), and the plywood-like cross-laminated timber (CLT), which is used for floor and roof decks as well as bearing walls. Mass wood can be made fire resistant with the addition of chemical fire retardants, though this certainly makes the material less green. Mass wood’s manufacturers claim that the carbon emissions produced from making it are far less than the emissions created in making of steel or concrete—though cutting down trees is hardly green. Mass wood looks better than steel or concrete. We cannot argue with that. Plans for PMX call for a wooden external skeleton. (Image courtesy of medium.com.)
With a much lower strength-to-weight ratio than steel, wood of any type poses special challenges. But with a Sidewalk Labs team dead set on sustainability, a steel frame and concrete curtain walls were a nonstarter. Still, duplicating the same type of frame used in steel and concrete construction with wood would have resulted in ridiculously massive structural elements. A “timber core” design would have walls 5-feet thick. Not only would walls this thick require too many trees, they would also be difficult to manufacture and ship. In addition, they would take up too much floor space. PMX is going with a design that uses a wooden “exoskeleton” consisting of diagonal bracing and vertical columns on the outside of the building that support a 10-inch-thick “lean wood core.”
The BIM was done with Autodesk Revit and is hosted on BIM 360, a cloud-based construction management application.
A Counterintuitive Counterweight
A concrete and steel tower would be 2.5 times as heavy as a wooden skyscraper. But whereas light weight is an asset in aircraft and rockets that seek to escape gravity, it can be a liability in buildings that need to stay put. Preliminary analysis showed the 35-story wood frame construction had as much deflection in the wind as a 40- to 50-story building constructed with a steel frame.
The PMX team found that it had to allow a lot of steel into the design—in the form of a 70-ton steel weight, part of a system that is designed to dampen vibration.
While it may seem counterintuitive—perhaps even dangerous—to have massive weight on top of a building, that is exactly what civil engineers may order for a tall building that is swaying too much or is expected to do so. Tall buildings can have deflections of several feet on their top floors—unsettling and even sickening their occupants. A tuned mass dampener (TMD) system, can be designed in or retrofitted. A TMD with a precisely calculated amount of mass made of concrete, steel, lead or other dense material stays still due to its own inertia when a tall building initially bends— as a result of the ground shaking or a gust of wind. Dampeners attached to the mass absorb the energy and act to limit the number of oscillations.
TMD systems have been around for some time, but the increase in super tall and very thin tall buildings has made them even more sought after. Shanghai, New York and Dubai have several buildings with TMDs. Taiwan’s Taipei 101 tower uses a system that makes its TMD, with a suspended golden ball, a visible design feature.
The Canadian National Tower, at one time the tallest structure in North America at 102m, also in Toronto’s downtown, has two doughnut-shaped steel rings, one at 488m and the other at 503m—each weighing 9 metric tons—that serve as TMDs. They are tuned to the 2nd and 4th mode shape of the tower, while the 1st and 3rd mode are controlled by the prestressed concrete and don’t require additional damping.
Boston’s John Hancock Tower had two 30-ton sliding dampers installed retroactively that were designed to reduce the building’s sway by 40 percent to 50 percent.
TMDs can take several forms, including sliding, rolling or swinging weights.
Not Your Parents Prefab
As much as possible, the PMX designer sought to make the building off-site in parts, and then assemble the parts on-site. This is the long sought-after advantage manufacturing has enjoyed, while construction has lagged behind. PMX is making staircases, floor panels, walls, and kitchen and bathroom “pods” standard and assembled in assembly lines, transporting them to the waterfront site on trucks, and then snapping them together … like Legos, according to this article. These “cassettes,” as the sub-assemblies are called, will be made in 25 steps, with each step estimated to take 25 minutes. It is assembly line techniques at work, rather than the painstaking, laborious, material wasting current practice of laying floors, pouring concrete, joining gigantic steel members, and so on, that is the common conventional construction trade practice.
In addition to busting out of age-old construction practices, the PMX also hopes to bust out of the lowly status that prefab construction can’t seem to shake, like a screw-top wine. The plan’s exoskeleton can be draped in any manner of dress and color—a far cry from the welcome to middle-class, prefab homes in cookie cutter neighborhoods that gave prefab a low-class status.
Sidewalk Labs has a $1.3 billion project to develop Quayside, a 12-acre area in Toronto on the banks of Lake Ontario. Sidewalk Labs, part of Alphabet Inc., which also owns Google, was formed to create communities “from the Internet up.” When complete, Sidewalk Toronto would potentially bring 44,000 jobs, many of them tech jobs, to Toronto’s downtown. It was to be a test bed for technology close to city scale, including roads especially designed for autonomous vehicles. But the proposal may have represented too much technology for Toronto’s residents. Sidewalk Labs plans to pool and make public “urban data” gathered from those who were in Sidewalk Toronto. The city will be voting on whether to move forward with the Sidewalk Labs proposal.
The value of a liberal arts education has become a pivotal discussion within the global higher education sector over the last decade. No longer confined to the hallowed halls of ivy-covered American colleges, this multidisciplinary approach, which focuses on developing creative thinking skills, has begun to transform the curricula of institutions worldwide.
To examine this further, the Times Higher Education MENA Universities Summit 2020, taking place at NYU Abu Dhabi on 10-12 March, will explore the benefits and challenges of broadening the liberal arts educational model across Middle Eastern and North African countries.
Fostering discussions on how to prepare students for a variety of career paths after graduation is high on the list of the summit’s objectives. Hoda Mostafa, director of the Center for Learning and Teaching at the American University in Cairo, will share useful practices to facilitate the leap between an interdisciplinary education and careers both in and out of academia.
Wasif Rizv, founding president of Habib University, Pakistan’s first liberal arts and science institution, will provide an instructional model from south-east Asia to demonstrate how a liberal arts education can develop talent to meet the demands of a global workforce.
Another key focus will be enhancing the research culture in countries where talent attraction has faced challenges. Rana Dajani, associate professor at Hashemite University, who established stem cell research ethics law in Jordan, will debate with other panellists which tools are needed to support the next generation of researchers in the MENA region.
Safwan Masri, the current vice-president for Global Centers and Global Development at Columbia University, who has written extensively on the role of Tunisia in the Arab Spring, will deliver the summit’s closing keynote, underlining the power of research and knowledge transfer in the region to ultimately promote a greater cultural understanding and bridge political boundaries.
The summit will include an exclusive THE rankings masterclass that will dissect the methodology behind the World University Rankings, giving an analysis of the MENA region’s successes and future opportunities. Additionally, delegates will enjoy a deep-dive into THE’s new University Impact Rankings, which are based on universities’ successes in working towards the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.
John Gill, editor of THE, said: “We are at a crucial moment for the world on numerous fronts – from how to respond to global threats such as climate change, to how to navigate a path to greater understanding and collaboration. Higher education and research will play crucial roles in finding the answers.
“At this summit, we will discuss the role of liberal arts education, at a time of debate about how best to prepare students for the new economy, and how to support societies in transition. We will consider how a global perspective can transform the impact of education, and address the interplay between education and research in the MENA region. These topics touch on every aspect of what universities do, as institutions that educate, create new knowledge, and drive economic and social progress, so we are delighted to have such a diverse programme of speakers, and to be meeting at NYU Abu Dhabi, itself a great example of innovation.”
The Times Higher Education MENA Universities Summit 2020 will take place 10-12 March at NYU Abu Dhabi. Find out more.
The world of fungi has attracted a lot of interest and seems to be becoming very fashionable of late. A new exhibition at Somerset House in London, for example, is dedicated to “the remarkable mushroom”. No surprise: we’re being promised that mushrooms may be the key to a sustainable future in fields as diverse as fashion, toxic spill clean ups, mental health and construction. It’s in this last field that my own interests lie.
Climate change is the fundamental design problem of our time: buildings are hugely complicit in the crisis. Together, buildings and construction contribute 39% of the world’s carbon footprint. Energy used to heat, cool and light buildings accounts for 28% of these emissions: households are the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases since 2015, accounting for a quarter of total UK greenhouse gas emissions in 2017.
The remaining 11% of buildings’ carbon emissions consists of those associated with construction and building materials. The UK construction industry, for example, uses around 400 million tonnes of materials each year and approximately 100 million tonnes become waste. Cement alone is responsible for a whopping 8% of global CO₂ emissions. Compare this to the much maligned global aviation industry, which emits 2% of all human-induced CO₂ emissions. Buildings and, by association, the construction industry, are profoundly responsible for climate change.
There is evidently a real need for the construction industry to reduce the impact of its material and energy use and to take part in the transition towards a more sustainable economy by researching and using alternative materials. This is not an absurd ask: such materials already exist.
And yes, one such material happens to be derived from fungi: mycelium composites. This material is created by growing mycelium – the thread-like main body of a fungus – of certain mushroom-producing fungi on agricultural wastes.
Mycelium are mainly composed of a web of filaments called “hyphae”, which acts as a natural binder, growing to form huge networks called “mycelia”. These grow by digesting nutrients from agricultural waste while bonding to the surface of the waste material, acting as a natural self-assembling glue. The entire process uses biological growth rather than expensive, energy intensive manufacturing processes.
Mycelium materials offer an exciting opportunity to upcycle agricultural waste into a low-cost, sustainable and biodegradable material alternative. This could potentially reduce the use of fossil fuel dependant materials. The materials are low-density, making them very light compared to other materials used in construction. They also have excellent thermal and fire resistant properties.
To date, mycelium materials have been used in a number of inventive ways in building projects. One particular company of note is The Living, a New York based architectural firm which designed an organic mycelium tower known as “Hy-Fi” in the courtyard of MoMA’s PS1 space in midtown Manhattan. Designed as part of MoMA’s Young Architects Program, the structure illustrates the potential of this biodegradable material, in this case made from farm waste and cultured fungus grown in brick-shaped moulds.
Another project of note is MycoTree, a spatial branching structure made out of load-bearing mycelium components. This research project was constructed as the centrepiece for the “Beyond Mining – Urban Growth” exhibition at the Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism 2017 in Seoul, Korea. The project illustrates a provocative vision of how building materials made from mycelium can achieve structural stability. This opens up the possibility of using the material structurally and safely within the construction industry.
I am investigating the development of mycelium materials using locally sourced materials such as wheat straw. Wheat straw is a cheap and abundant source of waste in the Yorkshire region, so would be a fantastic raw material for construction. My main objective is to develop a material for use in non-load bearing applications, such as internal wall construction and façade cladding. The material displays similar structural properties to those of natural materials like wood.
The development of mycelium materials from locally sourced agricultural waste could reduce the construction industry’s reliance on traditional materials, which could improve its carbon footprint. Mycelium composite manufacturing also has the potential to be a major driving force in developing new bioindustries in rural areas, generating sustainable economic growth while creating new jobs.
The construction industry is faced with a choice. It must be revolutionised. If we carry with business as usual, we must live with the potentially catastrophic consequences of climate change.
The University of Pennsylvania’s 2019 Global Go To Think Tank Index (GGTTI) launched in 2006, marks its fourteenth year of continued efforts by reviewing all world countries’ in its Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program (TTCSP). Doing so was through focusing on “Researching the trends and challenges facing think tanks, policymakers, and policy-oriented civil society groups” per one of the leaders of the study.
This study showed that within the MENA region, the top three places in this year’s rankings were in this order, the Israeli think-tank: Institute for National Security (INSS), followed by the Lebanese Think-tank Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Middle East Center. Third place in this ranking in the MENA region went to the Egyptian think-tank Al Ahram Center for Political Strategic Studies (ACPSS).
Here are some excerpts.
Asia, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and North Africa continue to see an expansion in the number and type of think tanks established
Asia has experienced a dramatic growth in think tanks since the mid-2000’s
Many think tanks in these regions continue to be dependent on government funding along with gifts, grants, and contracts from international public and private donors
University, government affiliated, or funded think tanks remain the dominant model for think tanks in these regions
There is increasing diversity among think tanks in these regions with independent, political party affiliated, and corporate/business sector think tanks that are being created with greater frequency
In an effort to diversify their funding base, think tanks have targeted businesses and wealthy individuals to support their core operations and programs.
Reasons for the Growth of Think Tanks in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries
Information and technological revolution
End of national governments’ monopoly on information
Increasing complexity and technical nature of policy problems
Increasing size of government
Crisis of confidence in governments and elected officials
Globalization and the growth of state and non-state actors
Need for timely and concise information and analysis that is “in the right form, in the right hands, at the right time”
2019 Top Think Tanks in Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Table 13
Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) (Israel)
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Middle East Center (Lebanon)
Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS) (Egypt)
Al Jazeera Centre for Studies (AJCS) (Qatar)
Brookings Institution (Qatar)
Emirates Policy Center (United Arab Emirates)
Policy Center for the New South-FNA OCP Policy Center (Morocco)
International Institute for Iranian Studies, Rasanah
Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) (Israel)
Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) (Turkey)
Egyptian Center for Economic Studies (ECES) (Egypt)
Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches en Sciences Sociales (CERSS) (Morocco)
Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (Israel)
Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR)
King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Centre (Saudi Arabia
Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM) (Turkey)
Association for Liberal Thinking (ALT) (Turkey)
Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace (Israel)
Information and Decision Support Center (IDSC) (Egypt)
Dubai Public Policy Research Center (United Arab Emirates)
European Stability Initiative (ESI) (Turkey)
Royal Institute for Strategic Studies (IRES) (Morocco)
Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies (Israel)
Libyan Organization of Policies and Strategies (Loops) (Libya)
Economic Research Forum (ERF) (Egypt)
Reut Institute (Israel)
Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs (ECFA) (Egypt)
Center of Arab Women for Training and Research (CAWTAR) (Egypt)
Tunisian Institute for Strategic Studies (ITES) (Tunisia)
Emirates Diplomatic Academy (United Arab Emirates)
Bahrain Center for Strategic, International and Energy Studies (Bahrain)
Cercle d’Action et de Réflexion Autour de l’Entreprise (CARE) (Algeria)
Moroccan Institute for International Relations (Morocco)
Muscat: Enhancing skills and supporting job creation for locals is the new goal and vision 2020 for Knowledge Oman.
Speaking about the new plans, Tariq Hilal Al Barwanni, Knowledge Oman Founder said: “Supporting job creation by enhancing the necessary skills employers require from nationals to acquire is Knowledge Oman’s 2020 new goal and direction.”
This came as an announcement of the Sultanate’s multi-award winning knowledge-sharing platform’s strategic plan to make vision 2040 a reality. Knowledge Oman begins the new year with setting attainable goals, based on past achievements, which will support His Majesty Sultan Haitham bin Tarik in maintaining a prosperous and thriving country.
“Empowering the society with the necessary knowledge that is required to build a prosperous future is our key objective going forward. We will do this by aligning with vision 2040 and supporting His Majesty Sultan Haitham bin Tarik’s leadership,” he emphasised.
Since 2008, Knowledge Oman has managed within 12 years to solidify the vision of late His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said bin Taimour of transforming Oman into a knowledge based society by impacting hundred of thousands of people with 74 initiatives in the form of projects, workshops, seminars that positively impacted students from college and universities, women, entrepreneurs and professionals from various industries.
Projects were supported by over 35 partners locally and internationally attracting over 80,000 registrations and 700 volunteers across the years.
Knowledge Oman received 4 awards that includes the Outstanding contribution to the cause of education from the World Human Resource Development (HRD) Congress.
Members of the platform consist of multinational group of both locals and expatriates living in the country with the passion of creating, sharing and exchanging knowledge.
“In planning our strategy for 2020, we are focusing on three key areas to support Oman towards a society which is rich in human, economic and natural resources that aligns with the 2040 vision. We are launching Knowledge Oman Talks, refining our Knowledge Oman Seminars and collaborating with like-minded partners to deliver initiatives that benefit the society” outlined Tariq.
Knowledge Oman Talks will manage and invite experienced professionals to schools, colleges, and universities to bridge the gap between academia & industry. Knowledge Oman Seminars will be enhanced to organise periodic events that discuss contemporary issues and offer suggestions for development to society. Moreover, Knowledge Oman will invite partners to collaborate on initiatives that benefit the society.
Knowledge Oman’s mission in the past was driven by the vision of late His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said bin Taimour to create a knowledge-based society.
Optimistic about the year ahead and working under the leadership of His Majesty Sultan Haitham bin Tarik, Knowledge Oman will continue to build local and international partnerships and work towards providing people in Oman with the necessary knowledge and skills to meet the Oman Vision 2040.
ABU DHABI, 1st February 2020 (WAM) — Making the UAE the first Arab country to deliver safe, clean and peaceful nuclear energy, Barakah is the first major national achievement this year.
Nawah Energy Company, the subsidiary of the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation, ENEC, responsible for the operation and maintenance of nuclear energy plants in the UAE, has confirmed that the World Association of Nuclear Operators, WANO, has cleared Unit 1 of Barakah as ready for start-up.
After it’s fully operational, the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant’s four Units will prevent the release of 21 million tons of harmful carbon emissions every year, equivalent to removing 3.2 million cars from the country’s roads on an annual basis.
Located in the Al Dhafra region of Abu Dhabi Emirate, approximately 53km west-southwest of the city of Ruwais, the plant’s four APR-1400 design nuclear reactors will also supply up to 25 percent of the UAE’s electricity needs in compliance with the highest standards of safety, security and operational performance.
The journey started in April 2008 with the issue of the Policy of the United Arab Emirates on the Evaluation and Potential Development of Peaceful Nuclear Energy.
The Policy focuses on six key principles, which include the UAE’s commitment to complete operational transparency, pursuing the highest standards of non-proliferation and adhering to the highest standards of safety and security.
It also includes working directly with the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, and conforming to its standards when evaluating and establishing a peaceful nuclear energy programme, developing any peaceful domestic nuclear energy capability in partnership with the governments and firms of responsible nations, as well with the assistance of appropriate expert organisations, and lastly approaching any peaceful domestic nuclear energy programme in a manner that best ensures long-term sustainability. The UAE programme has since been successfully developed in line with all of these principles and continues to uphold these going forward.
In 2009, the Korea Electric Power Corporation, KEPCO, which is the largest nuclear power corporation in South Korea, was selected as ENEC’s Prime Contractor for the development of the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant in the UAE.
KEPCO is one of the leading nuclear energy companies in the world in terms of safety, reliability and efficiency, as classified by WANO.
The UAE selected this company after a comprehensive year-long process conducted by a team of 75 international energy experts. The evaluation focused on several factors, most notably, safety and operational excellence. The APR1400 technology selected has since been certified by the US-based Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NRC, highlighting the design’s strong safety and reliability characteristics.
In 2010, the environmental impact assessment and licensing requests for preliminary works were submitted, and approval was obtained from the UAE’s independent nuclear regulator the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation, FANR.
In March 2012, ENEC submitted a construction license application for Barakah’s Units three and four, and in May 2013, the safety nuclear concrete was poured for Unit 2 and the installation of major components had begun at Unit 1.
In October 2016, ENEC and KEPCO signed a Joint Venture agreement for a long-term partnership and cooperation for the UAE Peaceful Nuclear Energy programme.
Through the Joint Venture, Nawah Energy Company was established to operate and maintain the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant.
ENEC and KEPCO also announced the establishment of Barakah One Company PJSC, another independent subsidiary owned by both companies, which represents the commercial and financial interests of the Barakah project.
Under the JV, KEPCO has an 18 percent stake in Nawah Energy Company and Barakah One Company, while ENEC owns the remaining 82 percent.
In November 2016, Barakah One Company signed the first nuclear energy Power Purchase Agreement with Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Company, now the Emirates Water and Electricity Company, for the purchase of the electricity to be generated at Barakah.
The agreement establishes the contractual framework between the two entities for the sale of the safe, clean, efficient and reliable electricity produced at Barakah.
In March 2018, construction was completed of Barakah Unit 1, and the first batch of Reactor Operators, ROs, and Senior Reactor Operators, SROs, were certified to operate by FANR in July 2019.
Emirati citizens account for 60 percent of the employees in ENEC and its subsidiary companies, and the total number of reactor operators is 72, including 42 Emirati ROs and SROs.
In the past decade, the UAE has welcomed the IAEA and WANO to carry out more than 40 review and inspection missions.
The success of these missions and FANR’s stringent oversight has resulted in the UAE Peaceful Nuclear Energy programme being recognised as a role model for the development of a new civil nuclear energy programme and a global benchmark for a new-build nuclear energy project.WAM/Hazem Hussein
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.
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 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.
‘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.
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. ♦
In Equal Times (a trilingual news and opinion website) OPINIONS, an article by Jesús A. Núñez Villaverde titled Something is shifting in the MENA region – and it is happening from the ground up brings to light a near year-long movement of streets protests. These are affecting nearly all the so-called republics type of countries of the MENA. Fun fact, it was at the beginning generally thought of as being only a short trip by all leading elites. What they ignored then and/or overlooked was Mobile telecommunications and social media making quite a difference. Tomorrow will be the 50th Friday of streets pavement beating in Algiers as well as other town and villages of Algeria with yet again and as highlighted here by Nunez Villaverde, to no significant and noticeable effect.
With all the caution that any generalisation implies, the central feature of the mobilisations/revolutions now taking place, with varying intensity, in a growing number of countries – Lebanon, Iraq, Algeria and Sudan being the most recent cases – is the huge public frustration with failed, corrupt, inefficient and totalitarian rulers who are incapable of guaranteeing decent levels of wellbeing and security for all. In this image from 11 January in Tehran (Iran), a woman chats with a policeman.(AP/Mona Hoobehfekr)
For too long, the Arab and wider Muslim world of the Maghreb, the Near East and the Middle East, has been perceived as synonymous with underdevelopment, instability and violence. Within the framework of imperfect systems – socially, politically and economically – the interests of dominant elites, determined to maintain their privileges at all costs, clash with those of increasingly critical citizens, driven by the inability to satisfy their basic needs, the violence they suffer in the flesh, the daily rights violations committed by their rulers and the denial of their right to a decent life.
Added to this is the traditional and pernicious interference of regional and global powers, much more attentive to the local elites than to the local populations, determined to meddle in the affairs of their neighbours and increase their global sway, with no regard for the malaise and insecurity generated for others.
A structural hotbed has thus been created, a breeding ground for the temptation to resort to violent repression, for some, and for social unrest and protest, for others. The result is a highly worrisome situation with no way out, or so it may appear at first sight.
For decades, violent repression has been by far the preferred option of the governments in the area, combined with variable doses of patronage and paternalism aimed at maintaining social peace. To maintain their grip on power whilst showing little sensitivity to the needs and demands of their respective populations, it has become commonplace for them to resort to punishment as the preferred method for preserving, in clear collusion with many foreign governments, a status quo of which they, and their allies, are the prime beneficiaries. Hardly willing to allow free speech, and even more so after the experience of the so-called Arab Spring, a real counter-revolution is now underway, the protagonists of which are the regimes of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Syria and Egypt (not forgetting Iran on the Shia side).
With the passing of time and the impact of the successive crises that have seriously impaired the capacity of the aforementioned regimes and most others to continue ‘buying’ social peace, what they are left with, above all, is their repressive capability, and they are applying it with great resolve. This means that no substantial change can be expected in their behaviour, as they cling on to a strategy that primarily seeks to keep them in power without giving up anything substantial in return.
And the same can be said, unfortunately, of the external actors with interests in the region, given that they generally prefer to deal with the current rulers – no matter how uncomfortable it may make them feel and no matter how much their own civil societies may criticise them for their crude ‘realpolitik’ – rather than risk allowing grassroots mobilisations to bring new rulers to power and jeopardise a regional order that has long served their interests.
This powerful dynamic is countered by another, driven by a growing number of citizens who want to find a way out and see a substantial change in their situation.
It is they who are really trying to overcome the current challenges and to find solutions to the problems that define their lives and life in their countries. They have far less power than that accumulated by their rulers and those who support them from the outside. But they have lost their fear of repression and their resolve seems to be growing ever firmer, fed by the visible disgruntlement that has built up over the years.
With all the caution that any generalisation implies, the central feature of the mobilisations/revolutions now taking place, with varying intensity, in a growing number of countries – Lebanon, Iraq, Algeria and Sudan being the most recent cases – is the huge public frustration with failed, corrupt, inefficient and totalitarian rulers who are incapable of guaranteeing decent levels of wellbeing and security for all. All it takes, on such potentially explosive ground, is a simple spark to ignite the flames of revolt – such as the young man who set himself on fire in front of a police station in Tunisia; the repression of children who painted political slogans against the government in Syria; the attempt to apply a monthly fee of almost €6 for WhatsApp calls in Lebanon; the increase in the price of fuel, in Iran; or less outstanding factors, in the case of Libya, Yemen, Syria or Algeria.
The substantial difference with previous episodes of grassroots mobilisation – when the application of structural adjustment programmes at the end of the last century triggered revolts that were limited to demanding the reinstatement of subsidies for basic necessities – what we have been witnessing since 2011 is a movement with a decidedly political profile, demanding not only the removal of the ruler of the day, but also the dismantling of a status quo that, at best, offers no more than the crumbs of paternalism and clientelism. The more recent protest movements have been, and continue to be crosscutting (going beyond the usual signs of ethnic or religious identity), young (in keeping with the demographic structure of these countries), spontaneous (in the sense that they emerge from society itself and not out of foreign manipulation) and peaceful (it is the powers that be, faithful to their repressive pattern, that resort to violence as the default option).
Support for legitimate and representative regimes without delay
What is also clear, however, is that these movements have yet to be structured and the only factor seemingly uniting them is the desire to rid themselves of the current establishment. In many cases, this means that they have even stopped identifying leaders and do not, as a rule, have coherent government programmes. And all this reduces their strength to overcome the resistance of actors who are better organised and experienced when it comes to seizing and maintaining power.
This is why simply wishing them luck, trusting that they will finally succeed in overcoming all the obstacles in their path, will not suffice. It is likely that in addition to the persistent repression and in keeping with the Lampedusa paradox [“If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change”], some of these governments will be willing to accept cosmetic reforms to ultimately prevent any substantial change.
It is essential that Western democratic governments actively support these movements, overcoming the traditionally short-sighted approach that is content with merely patching up the surface in the hope that time will eventually bring all the pieces of the puzzle together.
The current rulers are not going to relinquish power without a fight, and even less so if they feel that they are supported by Washington, Brussels, Moscow or so many other administrations with interests in the region. The current socio-political and economic management model is totally spent, and the millions of people living in these countries no longer expect anything from leaders who have amply demonstrated that the only thing that moves them is the desire to increase their privileges. The elites have squandered any political capital left in the eyes of citizens who, fully aware of their plight and the fact that there are other ways, in the 21st century, of ensuring that their basic needs are met and their security guaranteed, are calling for a thorough clean-up of a profoundly dysfunctional system.
Although many unknowns remain, there is already scope for concluding that, without public pressure, none of these imperfect regimes is ready to change course. The problem is that the foreign powers involved in the region seem no more ready to stop aligning with them. They do not yet appear to have realised that backing failed governments is not the best way to defend their real interests, not to mention the fact that such behaviour clashes head-on with their own values and principles. It can only be hoped they will eventually come to the realisation that the best course of action would be to contribute to the establishment and consolidation of legitimate and truly representative governments.
We often treat the decisions to find alternative ways of living more sustainably and to pursue political resistance against big polluters and inactive governments as separate. But our recent research found that the relationship between alternatives and resistance is really far more complex. One can often lead to the other.
Previous studies have shown that taking individual responsibility for the environment or developing green alternatives often go hand in hand with political action. Our research suggests that this relationship can form over time, and that when people change their lifestyles for environmental reasons this can galvanise their political action more generally. But we also found that this doesn’t always happen and that bringing the two together can be difficult.
Our first study, carried out with Soetkin Verhaegen of UCLouvain in Belgium, looked at the environmental actions of a group of over 1,500 politically interested Belgians between 2017 and 2018. We found that citizens who took individual actions such as buying ethical products, changing how they travelled or producing their own food or energy, became more politically active over time. This included interacting with political institutions (for example, contacting elected politicians) and other actions such as taking part in protests.
Our research suggests that taking individual responsibility for the environment increases your concern for it, which in turn motivates you to participate in other forms of action. While the effect was quite small, this seems to be good news for environmental movements. It shows that when people (at least the politically interested ones) can be motivated to adopt modest lifestyle changes, they can, in turn, become politically active in more a general sense.
Yet on a practical level, trying to encourage both individual alternatives and political resistance isn’t easy, as we found in our study of two organisations promoting local food and energy systems in Manchester in the UK. As well as having limited time, the organisations found political activism sometimes conflicted with their aim of promoting alternative lifestyle projects to the broadest possible audience. As one interviewee put it: “If we’re trying to influence the uptake of solutions, then being seen as the opposition … isn’t particularly productive.”
However, we’ve also seen how bringing alternatives and resistance together can be done, and that its success can depend on location. In a series of in-depth interviews with environmental organisers in Bristol, we found the activists strongly benefited from their city’s compact size and layout (when compared to Manchester). Being more likely to bump into people from other activist groups means that, according to one interviewee, “your socialising is political”.
The result was that activists in Bristol were better at maintaining relationships between different groups and at keeping the social side of activism going than in Manchester. This enabled a crossover of participants between the alternatives and resistance sides of the movement.
Some started growing their own food and ended up defending their allotments against urban developments. Others who were initially protesting against supermarkets ended up in a food-growing scheme.
Pursuing alternatives also helped sustain the resistance activities. This was both because the alternatives often involved a more positive experience and because they made it easier to point to viable solutions during environmental protests.
So from a campaigner’s point of view, there’s little evidence that promoting alternative lifestyle choices and political resistance are mutually exclusive. In fact, in many cases the two feed into each other in positive ways, especially in the form of spillover from participation in one form of action to another.
The effect we found was quite small and spillover will certainly not happen automatically. But that suggests there’s an important role for organisers to stimulate it further. Different organisations are needed to provide both personal and political activities and encourage more (and more diverse) people to get involved.
For most ordinary people concerned, the debate over the effectiveness of taking individual responsibility for the environment is likely to continue. Our research at least suggests that people motivating each other to take personal action doesn’t undermine a broader environmental project. But it’s still important for people to discuss what other action is needed, and to look for or even organise ways to put pressure on powerful actors to take their responsibility.
“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.
The outlook for the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region for the new decade is a “fascinating” one, full of continued economic reforms, transformation and market liberalisation, according to HSBC. “With these developments, opportunities are expected to be widespread, across multiple industries and across the region. The combination of supportive monetary policy and responsive central banks are a few of the additional supportive variables for the region,” it said in a release yesterday.
The new decade will not be as kind to investors as the last and this will mean a new path for investments, said HSBC Private Banking in its first quarter’s investment outlook. “We will most likely see a US recession at some point in the next ten years, and while central banks’ policies should remain accommodative, it is clear that the new decade will mean a new path for investments,” says HSBC Private Banking in its investment outlook for the first quarter of 2020. “A multi-faceted investment strategy is needed to achieve the three objectives of income, growth and stability,” pointed out Willem Sels, chief market strategist, HSBC Private Banking. In a low growth and low interest rate environment, returns are unlikely to be as high as they were in the past decade, and in an environment where broad-based market upside is lower than in the past, and political risks remain high, HSBC Private Banking believes diversifying risk exposures will be especially important. HSBC Private Banking says portfolios should avoid excessive cash balances as well as the lowest rated end of high yield. It favours dollar investment grade, emerging markets’ local and hard currency debt, complemented with dividend stocks, real estate and private debt instruments to generate further income. It also sees opportunities to boost the return potential of portfolios by focusing on quality companies with sustained earnings growth and, where appropriate, it believes some leverage can help boost the net income of portfolios. It can also make sense selectively to look to hedge funds and private equity to capture growth opportunities and private equity to look through short-term market volatility. “It’s a new path for investments, but sometimes, new paths lead you to the most interesting sights” Sels noted. In 2020-21, HSBC Private Banking says investors can expect interesting opportunities for long term growth in sectors, geographies or themes related to the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ or ‘sustainability’. It is also optimistic that the ageing, urban, digital, mobile, sharing-based, knowledge-based, circular, fast-paced and increasingly Asian global economy provides companies and investors with plenty of opportunities.
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