NAGOYA, Japan (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia is set to take over the G20 presidency for a year as it seeks to bounce back from an uproar over its human rights record and last year’s killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Foreign ministers attend a dinner during the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting, in Nagoya, Japan November 22, 2019. Charly Triballeu/Pool via REUTERS
The kingdom’s new foreign minister, a prince with diplomatic experience in the West, landed in Japan’s Nagoya city on Friday to meet with his counterparts from the Group of 20 nations.
Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud was appointed in October in a partial cabinet reshuffle, joining a new generation of royals in their 40s who rose to power under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 34, the de facto ruler of the world’s top oil exporter.
Saudi Arabia – a key U.S. ally in confronting Iran – has faced heavy Western criticism over the murder of Saudi national Khashoggi, its detention of women’s rights activists and its role in the devastating war in Yemen.
Diplomats say the G20 might help put Riyadh’s problems behind it and could prompt it to close more disputed files such as the Yemen war and the boycott of Gulf neighbour Qatar, though they have yet to see much progress.
King Salman has hailed the kingdom’s G20 presidency as proof of its key role in the global economy. [nL8N28041F]
Prince Faisal will pick up the baton at a ceremony on Saturday in Nagoya, where G20 foreign ministers have gathered for talks.
Japan – which headed the G20 this year – was the kingdom’s second-largest export market last year, at $33 billion, according to IMF trade data.
Apart from its reliance on Saudi oil, Japan has deepened its ties to the kingdom thanks to Japanese technology conglomerate SoftBank Group. Riyadh has been a big supporter of SoftBank’s massive Vision Fund.
Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told Prince Faisal he was pleased to meet him for the first time and both sides wanted to boost relations, according to a read-out from Japan’s foreign ministry.
Motegi praised Saudi work to stabilise southern Yemen, where Riyadh orchestrated a deal to end a power struggle between Yemen’s government, which it backs, and southern separatists. [nL8N27L6J1]
King Salman also said this week Riyadh wants a political settlement in Yemen, where it has battled Iran-aligned Houthis in a nearly five-year war that has killed tens of thousands and drive parts of the country to the brink of famine.
A diplomatic source said there had been an “apparent de-escalation” in Yemen’s conflict in recent weeks. The source said Saudi airstrikes killing civilians would not be “a great backdrop for hosting the G20” and would not mesh with the kingdom’s message of opening up.
Diplomats said that Saudi Arabia plans more than a dozen G20 summits throughout the year on tourism, agriculture, energy, environment and digital economy.
Top diplomatic and business contacts suggest Riyadh has already gotten over much of the opprobrium it received over Khashoggi’s murder, but it still struggles to attract foreign investors, said analyst Neil Partrick.
A Saudi court charged 11 suspects in a secretive trial and Western allies imposed sanctions on individuals. But Riyadh still faces heat from some governments saying the crown prince – known as MbS – ordered the murder. He has denied this though said he takes ultimate responsibility as de facto ruler.
Riyadh has sought to fix its image or turn attention to its social reforms since Khashoggi’s 2018 killing at the hands of Saudi agents in Istanbul.
A share sale of giant Saudi state oil firm Aramco this month and a bond sale earlier this year – under a drive to diversify the largest Arab economy away from oil – attracted interest in the traditional sectors of energy and finance.
After boycotting the Saudis’ annual “Davos in the Desert” summit in 2018, Western executives returned to the 2019 gathering last month. “Davos in the Desert” is unrelated to the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Reporting by Ellen Francis in Nagoya and Stephen Kailin in Bahrain with additional reporting by David Dolan in Nagoya; Writing by Ellen Francis; Editing by Mark Heinrich
Posted on March 8, 2020, in The Arab Weekly, Six decades after independence, Middle East still looking for growth model by Rashmee Roshan Lall is an accurate survey of the region that faces, as we speak, prospects of harshest times. How is the Middle East still looking for a growth model? Investing in the human capital of children and young people as well as enhancing their prospects for productive employment and economic growth is little more complicated than relying on Crude Oil exports related revenues. These are the main if not the only source of earnings of the region now plummeting perhaps for good before even peaking. In effect, all petrodollar inspired and financed development that, put simply, was transposed from certain parts of the world, using not only imported materials but also management and all human resources can not result in anything different from that described in this article.
Though a large youthful population would normally be regarded an economic blessing, it’s become the bane of the MENA region.
It’s been 75 years since World War II ended and the idea of decolonising the Middle East and North Africa began to gain ground but, while formal colonisation ended about six decades ago, the region seems unable to find a clear path to growth.
Rather than an “Arab spring,” what may be needed is a temperate autumn, a season of mellow fruitfulness to tackle the region’s biggest problems. These include finding a way to use the demographic bulge to advantage, reducing inequality of opportunity and outcome and boosting local opportunity.
Here are some of the region’s key issues:
The MENA region’s population grew from around 100 million in 1950 to approximately 380 million in 2000, the Population Reference Bureau said. It is now about 420 million and half that population lives in four countries — Egypt, Sudan, Iraq and Yemen.
The 2016 Arab Human Development Report, which focused on youth, said most of the region’s population is under the age of 25.
The youth bulge is the result of declining mortality rates in the past 40 years as well as an average annual population growth rate of 1.8%, compared with 1% globally. The absolute number of young people is predicted to increase from 46 million in 2010 to 58 million in 2025.
Though a large youthful population would normally be regarded an economic blessing, it’s become the bane of the MENA region. The demographic trend suggests the region needs to create more than 300 million jobs by 2050, the World Bank said.
Jihad Azour, International Monetary Fund (IMF) director for the Middle East and Central Asia, said MENA countries’ growth rate “is lower that what is required to tackle unemployment. Youth unemployment in the region exceeds 25%-30%.” The average unemployment rate across the region is 11%, compared to 7% in other emerging and developing economies.
Unsurprisingly, said Harvard economist Ishac Diwan, a senior fellow at the Middle East Initiative, young Arabs are unhappier than their elders as well as their peers in countries at similar stages of development.
Last year’s Arab Youth Survey stated that 45% of young Arab respondents said they regard joblessness as one of the region’s main challenges, well ahead of the Syrian war (28%) and the threat of terrorism (26%).
The region’s population is expected to nearly double by 2030 and the IMF estimated that 27 million young Arabs will enter the labour market the next five years.
Poverty and inequality
Most Arab people do not live in oil-rich countries. Data from the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) stated that 116 million people across ten Arab countries (41% of the total population), are poor and another 25% were vulnerable to poverty. This translates to an estimated 250 million people who may be poor or vulnerable out of a population of 400 million.
The MENA region is also regarded as the most unequal in the world, with the top 10% of its people accounting for 64% of wealth, although the average masks enormous differences from one country to another.
The middle class in non-oil producing Arab countries has shrunk from 45% to 33% of the population, ESCWA economists said. In a report for the Carnegie Corporation last year, Palestinian-American author Rami G. Khouri described what he called “poverty’s new agony,” the fact that a poor family in the Middle East will remain poor for several generations.
Egypt is a case in point. In 2018, Cairo vowed to halve poverty by 2020 and eliminate it by 2030. However, Egypt’s national statistics agency released a report on household finances last year that said that 33% of Egypt’s 99 million people were classified as poor, up from 28% in 2015. The World Bank subsequently nearly doubled that figure, saying 60% of Egyptians were “either poor or vulnerable.”
Wealth gaps between countries are greater in the region than in others because it has some of the world’s richest economies as well as some of the poorest, such as Yemen.
Inequality is not the only problem in the region. Former World Bank economist Branko Milanovic said the uneven picture means that last year’s protests in Lebanon, Algeria, Sudan and Iraq cannot be explained by “a blanket story of inequality.”
Indeed, Algeria, a relatively egalitarian country, was roiled by protests, first against a long-serving president and then against the wider political system.
French economist Thomas Piketty, who wrote the bestselling book on income inequality, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” said Arab countries must come up with a way to share the region’s vast and unequally distributed wealth.
Lost decades of growth
In the decade from 2009, the region’s average economic growth was one-third slower than in the previous decade. The IMF said per capita incomes have been “near stagnant” and youth unemployment has “worsened significantly.”
The state is the largest employer in many Arab countries and over-regulation of the private sector left it underdeveloped and unable to overcome the significant barriers to trade and economic cooperation across regional borders. Meanwhile, inflexible labour laws stifled job creation and cronyism allowed inefficiency to stay unchallenged. In 2018, the average rank of Arab countries on the World Bank’s Doing Business survey was 115th out of 190 countries.
Along with structural factors, conflict has had a debilitating effect on economic growth. Three years ago, the World Bank noted that the Syrian war had killed approximately 500,000 people, displaced half the population — more than 10 million people — and reduced more than two-thirds of Syrians to poverty.
By 2017, conflict in Yemen and Libya had displaced more than 15% and 10% of their respective populations of 4 million and 6 million. Taken together, the Syrian, Yemen and Libyan civil wars have affected more than 60 million people, about one-fifth of the MENA population.
Infrastructural damage runs into the billions of dollars but it is the loss — or outright collapse, as in Yemen — of economic activity that has affected real GDP growth.
Countries in the region affected by conflict lost $614 billion cumulatively in GDP from 2010-15 — 6% of the regional GDP, ESCWA’s 2018 report on institutional development in post-conflict settings stated.
New thinking needed
This is the year when, for the first time, an Arab country holds the chairmanship of the Group of 20 of the world’s largest economies. It could be an opportunity to consider existing trends within the region, what needs to be changed and how.
In the words of Oxford development macroeconomist Adeel Malik, “the Arab developmental model… seems to have passed its expiration date.” In a 2014 paper for the Journal of International Affairs, Malik said “failure of the Arab state to deliver social justice is ultimately rooted in the failure of a development model based on heavy state intervention in the economy and increasingly unsustainable buyouts of local populations through generous welfare entitlements.”
It’s a good point, for the region’s richest countries just as much as its poorest. Oil-rich states are affected by dramatic changes in oil prices and the increasingly urgent suggestion that the world is at “peak oil.” An IMF report warned that, by 2034, declining oil demand could erode the $2 trillion in financial wealth amassed by Gulf Cooperation Council members. The IMF said “faster progress with economic diversification and private sector development will be critical to ensure sustainable growth.”
Creativity and courage will be needed if the Arab world is to meet the expectations of its youthful population and the challenges posed by its increasing inequality.
How Saudi Arabia and Iran could make peace and bring stability to the Middle East, if it were up to them only, would not be an impossibility as clearly demonstrated here bySamira Nasirzadeh, Lancaster University and Eyad Alrefai, Lancaster University. It would in our opinion, be made even more reachable if both countries manage to transition off their hydrocarbon-based economies and into more diversified ones.
Saudi and Iran: how our two countries could make peace and bring stability to the Middle East
Relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran have rarely been worse, regarding the attacks on the oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman – for which both sides blame each other. Nevertheless, in the history of relations between the two countries, there have been regular shifts between tension and rapprochement – and things can change for the better once again.
As an Iranian and a Saudi, working as research fellows for peace studies, we believe it is time that our two countries seek to manage the conflict, improve their dialogue and begin the peacebuilding process. And we are hopeful that this could happen.
But how? Peace cannot be achieved overnight; it requires a range of factors to strengthen diplomatic ties and decrease the level of enmity between the two states. First, we suggest both states’ politicians soften the language in their speeches, altering the hostile rhetoric to a more moderate one. This would open new paths towards a direct and constructive dialogue, reducing the tensions that are affecting the two countries, the region and, potentially, the world.
Direct dialogue between the two regional actors could launch negotiations that may lead to more stability in the region. The existing regional turmoil has had a detrimental impact on relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran over Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain and Yemen. The [Yemen war], which has caused a [dramatic humanitarian crisis], remains one of the main areas of conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, but it also offers ground for talks between the two states.
Both Saudi Arabia and Iran agree that the conflicts in Yemen and Syria can only be ended through the implementation of political, rather than military, solutions. If Saudi Arabia and Iran can take steps toward political compromises in Syria and Yemen, this subsequently will reflect positively on the trust building process.
While Saudi Arabia relies on its strategic Western allies and its ever-increasing military expenditure, Iran, which has been isolated by the US, prefers a more regional approach. Indeed, Saudi Arabia may have to ignore US protests to sit down at the negotiating table with Iran.
But the will for closer ties is, perhaps, there. Indeed, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, declared on March 13, 2018:
We believe that security of our neighbours is our security and stability within our neighbourhood is our stability. I hope they [Saudi Arabia] have the same feeling and I hope that they come to talks with us for resolving these problems. There is no reason for hostility between Iran and Saudi Arabia. However, we tell the Saudis that you cannot provide security from outside of the region.
Adel Al-Jubeir, the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs, also recently stated in an interview that his country “does not want war with Iran, but will not tolerate what it considers hostile Iranian activity in the Middle East”.
Suspicions clearly remain, but such pronouncements could be viewed as a pause in hostilities, a turning point that could bring both sides closer together to resolve tensions.
There are also domestic reasons for a reduction in tensions, with both states building strategic plans for the future. Since 2015, Saudi Arabia has embarked on an ambitious socioeconomic plan to diversify the country’s economy by curbing its historic dependency on oil and challenging conservative social constructs and norms by unshackling society from some past constraints. In a state where most of the population is under the age of 30, Vision 2030 serves as a mega project that will lead the country to modernise economically and socially.
The same goes for Iran. The country has adopted a promising strategic plan called the 20-Year National Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran which has social, economic, and political objectives. But to be successfully implemented, both countries’ strategies will need stable societies and vibrant economies which cannot be attained in a hostile neighbourhood. Integration and cooperation will be essential.
Diplomacy is the solution
It is evident that Saudi Arabia and Iran will benefit more from direct dialogue than hostile rhetoric. Through discussing and working together on domestic, regional and international issues, it is in the interests of both states – and the wider region – to reduce conflict and increase cooperation through diplomatic ties.
The gradual shift from hostile to inclusive rhetoric by politicians is a helpful first step, but it is also necessary for Saudi and Iran to take practical action in their bilateral relationship.
It is expected for states to compete in their sphere of influence, but pragmatism must prevail if both countries want to put an end to their conflicts in the region.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates’ deepening intervention in Yemen is the triumph of hope over experience. Riyadh’s latest campaign in Yemen began in 2015 to topple the then-triumphant Houthi rebels, whom Saudi leaders considered too close to Iran. Rather than dissuading their good buddies in Riyadh from this dangerous course, the UAE too has plunged into the morass, also hoping to set back Iran. Unlike in Egypt, where the two helped bring about a coup that put President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in power, the result has been a disaster. This is true not only for Yemen, whose war and humanitarian crisis only seem to worsen by the day, but also for the UAE and Saudi Arabia themselves, with Iran in particular gaining influence at their expense.
A PATTERN OF INTERVENTION
Saudi Arabia has intervened periodically in Yemen since the start of the modern Saudi state. For many centuries, the Zaydi Imamate of Yemen controlled part of what is now the Asir Province in Saudi Arabia, and the two countries fought a border war in 1934. The Zaydis are Shiite, and their leaders’ descendants would form the core of the Houthi opposition today. Border clashes continued as late as the mid-1990s, and an agreement defining the border would only be finalized in 2000.
Aside from territorial disputes, Saudi Arabia feared the wrong faction would come to power in Sanaa. In 1962, when Yemen plunged into civil war between Imamate and Arab nationalist factions from Yemen’s military, the Saudis (in addition to Iran and Jordan) intervened on behalf of the Imamate, while Egypt intervened to support the Arab nationalists, drawing on Soviet support. In a lesson the foreigners would fail to heed in the future, the intervention fueled the war but left the outside powers exhausted. In 1970, a negotiated agreement put the Arab nationalists in charge, but the Imamate faction received several prominent positions and a share of the patronage.
In 1990, South and North Yemen united under the leadership of the North’s longtime strongman, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who proved adept at dodging his many enemies and consolidating his power—“dancing on the heads of snakes,” as he called it. Yet Yemen remained weak. The South never fully integrated, the country was desperately poor, and resentment and anger at Saleh simmered.
During these years, Saudi Arabia meddled from time to time, trying to buy local leaders, stop terrorists linked to al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, weaken Marxist forces in the South, undermine the government in Sanaa when it went against Riyadh’s wishes, and otherwise spread its influence. Yemen’s politics and leaders seemed to get under the skin of the al Saud family. To change the country from the bottom-up, Riyadh encouraged the spread of Salafism in Yemen, funding mosques and preachers and otherwise trying to advance its austere and anti-Shiite interpretation of Islam. However, while Saudi Arabia at times won over a particular leader or killed or stopped a terrorist, most Yemenis remained fiercely nationalistic and suspicious of Riyadh. They were happy to take Saudi money, but they often stopped short of fulfilling Riyadh’s ambitions.
Instability intensified in the 2000s. Houthi rebels based primarily in the Saada region posed a particular problem. The Houthis resented their poor treatment by Sanaa and loss of state patronage. For many years, they fought to receive some of the state’s spoils rather than to break away or to replace Saleh. They became more radical, however, when they realized that the years of negotiations and the 2011 revolution during the Arab Spring would not restructure power in Yemen as they hoped. In addition, the bitter anti-Shiite message of the Salafi proselytizing angered the Houthis.
ENTER THE HOUTHIS
The latest round of intervention began in 2015. The Arab Spring spilled over into Yemen in 2011, forcing Saleh to abdicate reluctantly in favor of his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. Continued violence from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, separatist sentiment, Saleh’s attempts to undermine Hadi and restore his and his family’s position, a collapsed economy, and other maladies kept the Hadi government weak despite international goodwill.
Houthi rebels took advantage of the chaos, conquering Sanaa and eventually much of Yemen in 2014 and 2015, and Hadi fled first to Aden in the South and then to Saudi Arabia. Saleh, always opportunistic, allied the military forces still loyal to him with the Houthis, despite having fought them fiercely when he was in power. At the time, the Houthis had limited but real links to Iran that alarmed Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, which saw Tehran as ascendant not only in Yemen but also in Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria. The Houthi core area also extends to Yemen’s border with Saudi Arabia, which the paranoid Riyadh often interprets as Iranian presence on its frontier.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE intervened to put Hadi back in power, and Saudi officials declared the intervention would be over within weeks. Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco and Sudan all joined the fray, largely out of a sense of obligation to the UAE and Saudi Arabia rather than genuine concerns about Yemen. Djibouti, Eritrea and Somalia opened their airspace and facilities to the coalition. Qatar was also a token coalition member until strains between Doha and the UAE and Saudi Arabia led to its expulsion.
At first, the Saudi and Emirati campaign seemed to make progress, helping forces loyal to Hadi take Aden and then much of southern Yemen. Riyadh supported an array of tribal and military forces that worked with Islah, Yemen’s most important Sunni Islamist party and an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. The UAE loathes the Brotherhood (and has undermined its power in Libya, Egypt, and elsewhere) and supports southern secessionists and Salafists, who distrust Islah and see the Houthis as apostates. Related Books
Progress slowed and then largely came to a halt, however, as Saudi and Emirati-backed forces tried to move on areas closer to the Houthi heartland. Saudi hopes of a quick victory, like most of their hopes for Yemen, proved an illusion. More than three years later, Riyadh has flown more than 100,000 sorties and spends billions a month on the war. Airstrikes managed to destroy much of Yemen’s already-tottering infrastructure and kill thousands of civilians, but the Houthis held on. (Look here to see who held what as of June 2018.) Meanwhile, the factions often turned on each other. Saleh turned his coat and agreed to work with the Saudis in 2017, but the Houthis killed him before this flip could pay off. At least some of the forces once under his command now work with the UAE, but the anti-Houthi forces are divided. In Aden, forces backed by the UAE fought fighters loyal to Hadi, whom Saudi Arabia backed, over bases and facilities. UAE leaders reportedly consider Hadi a serial incompetent, while the Saudis are more willing to work with Islah, which Islah tried to distance itself from the Muslim Brotherhood to please the UAE and Riyadh. For obvious reasons, Riyadh also focuses more on border security than does the UAE.
Today, UAE-led forces are trying to make a dramatic push and end the stalemate by capturing the port of Hodeida, the Houthi’s most important port through which food and other supplies go into Houthi-dominated areas. (The Saudis claim that Iranian weapons also flow through the port.) The UAE assembled as many as 25,000 fighters backed by air cover and with armored vehicles against a few thousand Houthis, most of whom are recent recruits. The UAE-backed forces include fighters who once fought the UAE’s allies because they were loyal to Saleh—now they follow his nephew, who believes the wind is blowing from Abu Dhabi and Riyadh. In addition, the UAE forces are better trained than in 2015. The urban battlefield, however, heavily favors the defenders, and Iran and Hizballah probably taught the Houthis how to exploit this terrain. Hodeida, moreover, is not the only port available to the Houthis, and smuggling is a proud Yemeni tradition. As such, the Houthis will likely have access to arms in any event. In addition, they have Iranian-supplied ballistic missiles that can harass Saudi Arabia.
An outright coalition military win is unlikely, though the UAE-backed forces have a tremendous advantage in weaponry, numbers, and money, making the capture of Hodeida seem likely. However, the Houthis will continue to hold territory in their heartland, where much of Yemen’s population lives. Additionally,even if they lose Sanaa and other major cities, they have proved that they can and will wage a relentless guerrilla campaign. To back their claim, they still have tens of thousands of men under arms. Even putting the Houthis aside, it is not clear what political solution would satisfy the disparate coalition the UAE and Saudi Arabia have put together.
Even ignoring the disaster in Yemen, the Saudi and Emirati intervention failed on its own terms. They are caught in the Yemeni quagmire. Hadi is not in power, their allies fight one another, Al Qaida is stronger, and Yemen is less stable than before. Additionally, and most importantly from the Saudi and Emiratis’ perspective, Iran is stronger. Although the Houthis are hardly Iranian puppets, they work with Iran by necessity, and its influence has grown as a result. Now, Tehran has an ally that can threaten Saudi Arabia and shipping in the Red Sea.
The civil war exacerbated Yemen’s desperate poverty, pushing the country even closer (or, more accurately, farther over) the brink. Around 10,000 people have died in the war, roughly half of them civilians. Yet, that pales before the high but unknown death toll from the other horsemen that ride along with war: disease and famine. More than 50,000 children died of starvation and disease in 2017, and hundreds of thousands of Yemeni children suffer from acute malnutrition. Three million Yemenis are now displaced. According to the United Nations, 75 percent of Yemen’s 22 million people need assistance, and more than 11 million fall into the category of “acute need,” with imminent starvation staring them in the face. Further, the country suffered the world’s largest cholera outbreak last year. In parts of the country, the UAE provides some humanitarian aid, and Saudi Arabia also provides limited support—but not nearly enough to offset the disaster facing the entire country. Repeated UN attempts at negotiation have foundered, and today Yemen is home to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Al Jazeera’s Middle East showcased this story in pictures of certain peoples of the Arabian peninsula. Amongst their present wide and diverse variety, the Flower Men of Saudi Arabia are exceptionally unique in their well held till today customs.
These are the Descendants
of the ancient Tihama and Asir, fierce warriors, reclusive tribesmen, and
lovers of floral headwear.
Originally posted on ArabLit & ArabLit Quarterly: Back in 2018, our Algeria & Morocco Editor wrote about one of her favorite discoveries, Safia Ketou’s La Planète Mauve et Autres Nouvelles: By Nadia Ghanem In six years of rummaging through Algerian literature, Safia Ketou’s sci-fi story “The Mauve Planet” remains my favorite find. Born Zohra Rabhi in…
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