PITAPOLICY Joins Polsky Exchange Because #Startup Ecosystems Overlap

PITAPOLICY, LLC is excited to enlist as a member of the Polsky Exchange, the startup ecosystem facilitated by the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Chicago in Hyde Park, Illinois.  Polsky is not just a co-working space, but it is a full-fledged turnkey operation for serious entrepreneurs at different stages of development:

  • Polsky Small Business Growth Program
  • Polsky Incubator (think of early-stage–solid concept, but ready for mentorship)
  • Fab Lab (think of ‘mockup stage’ in product development)
  • UChicago Startup Investment Program (laddering from the successful business class ‘proof of concept’ project and needs acceleration)

The Polsky community’s epicenter may be the Chicago area, but, startup ecosystems overlap because of their impact on their product/service delivery if it makes it easier/more accessible to their consumers.  When they overlap, their local influence broadens across markets, and perhaps, carries into training, hiring, and fostering communities in different spaces.  The two MENA examples of impact come from the Polsky Center.  However, let’s not forget the regional examples of startup support that are homegrown in the pita-consuming region.

MENA Startup Ecosystems

The Middle East & North Africa region has a few startup hubs that encourage the startup community–especially in Information Communication Technology sector.  Just look at Flat6Labs Accelerator, which originated in Egypt, but provides entrepreneurship advisory and funding (Sawari Ventures) to jumpstart startup ideas into commercialization from the MENA region.  The MENA incubator supports ilboursa:

 ilboursa.com is Tunisia’s first stock exchange news website. Founder Ismail Ben Sassi started the company with the intention of offering data to help investors in Tunisia make better financial decisions. The site is one of the most visited online sites in the country, averaging 80,000 visitors a month.~TechCrunch

Five years later, ilboursa has grown to provide business intelligence for those looking to invest in Tunisia.  In the bigger regional picture, with the Flat6Labs success, they may propel Tunisian startups to compete with Lebanon and Egypt to lead MENA’s entrepreneurial activity.  It’s definitely a competition to observe– like a close futball tournament.

Then there is Oasis500, which is another example of an incubator-accelerator hub for advisory and funding in MENA hub for early and mid-stage startups.  Startup Rising by Chris Schroeder describes many of the early startups that experienced success in the pita-consuming countries following the Arab uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya… but not so much in Bahrain, Yemen, or Syria.

Example 1: Fetchr

Fetchr, co-founded by University of Chicago Booth Business School alumnus, Idris Al-Rifai, offers a logistics godsend for those trying to deliver packages in the Middle East & North Africa region.  Although Fetchr was not a Polsky member, Fetchr serves as a success story for other University of Chicago entrepreneurs in the making who come from the MENA region.  Why? The UAE-based company, and co-founder, represents the FIRST early stage MENA applicant to qualify and receive U.S. venture capital funding as reported by FORBES.

As business graduates and mentors continuously say: networks matter. Networks matter in the startup ecosystem when a positive “disruptive” idea for the economy and society needs an injection of funding to fuel the technology and creativity in both emerging and frontier markets.

Entrepreneurship Boost in Countries Experiencing Violent Conflict?

Entrepreneurship role is boosted by Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in many areas.  But what about the role of entrepreneurship in countries embroiled in violent political conflict, like Syria?  With the rising displacement of Syrians internally and in neighboring countries, the Syria’s political conflict has also displaced spaces for small business growth and entrepreneurship training.  The Polsky Center dips into the social and logistical challenges by reaching out Syria’s parallel universe of refugees.  Read the following and let us know if you think entrepreneurship training can loop back into countries experiencing violent conflict!

Source: Chicago Tribune: Can entrepreneurship help revive Syria? This Polsky Center leader is training teens in business

 

Chicagoan Steve Lehmann has taken his expertise in early business development nearly 6,000 miles away to the Turkish border town of Reyhanli.

His mission: to teach Syrian teens how to launch startups of their own.

Even as war rages in the nation, there are still students learning business and plenty of people who can’t find work. With unemployment soaring, interest in starting small businesses has grown.

“There are entrepreneurs (in Syria), just like everywhere else,” Ahmad Sufian Bayram, a regional manager at Techstars, told the Guardian. “For the majority of women, they’re starting small businesses to support their families, making handmade items, for example, jewelry, homemade clothes. (Others) are doing freelance work, such as translation services. When we asked them why would you like to be an entrepreneur, it was one of the only options left to make money.”

Since 2011, Syrian refugees in Turkey have invested about $334 million to start more than 6,000 registered companies, many of which are small- and mid-sized businesses, according to a report from the global nonprofit Building Markets.

Lehmann, who’s also assistant director of the Polsky Center’s $20 million Innovation Fund, wants to strengthen the startup trend and “instill a sense of hope” in entrepreneurial-minded teens, he said.

“I’ll be within a short bike ride of the Syrian border and one of the hottest zones in the conflict,” Lehmann said before departing from O’Hare International Airport on Friday. “You never know how these things are going to go, but I’m probably more nervous about being in front of a bunch of kids I don’t know.”

The two-week trip was planned in collaboration with local youth center Karam House, where Lehmann is staying and holding a “hands-on entrepreneurship boot camp” for 15 selected Syrian teens. The work isn’t directly affiliated with the Polsky Center.

The training sessions Lehmann is participating in focus on customer engagement, product prototyping and developing successful business models. Material also pulls from the latest research on how good startups get founded, he said, and includes insights from the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps and IDEO.org’s human-center design approach to problem solving.

“Students had to apply and come with a business idea already put together,” Lehmann said. “Within the first four hours of the training, they’re going to be walking the streets of Reyhanli talking to potential customers.” click hereto continue.

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Cheaper to Fund Cyber Attacks than to Build Military Bases #QatarCrisis

Dear Pitaconsumers:

PITAPOLICY blogged about the U.S. President of the United States first overseas trip, which included commentary on ’45’s visit to Saudi Arabia and the unusual Qatar crisis that followed–coincidentally–where Qatar’s ambassadors were given 48 hours to leave the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain on June 4th.  (Yes: Right in the middle of Ramadan where all of these nations are observing this month long holiday of fasting and patience.)  We were really excited to repost an well-written op-ed by Arab American law professor, Sahar Aziz, who served in the U.S Department of Justice during the Obama administration.  Then, suddenly, the post vanished due to a technology glitch from our site’s end.  (At the worst moment, perhaps some bad words blaming a jinn were uttered.)  Apologies. Now after a week of recollecting what we wrote (and tracking down the sources again), a new development in the Qatar crisis shows that hacking and cyberterrorism played a more significant, pre-meditated role with financial implications for the wealthiest economies in the Middle East & North African region.  We are looking at this second attempt to blog on the Qatar shutout as redemption for the initial frustration with Saudi Arabia’s decision to award ’45’ –not an American museum–with a token gift of the sword.

Trump’s Counter-Terrorism Speech: Sad.

First things first, let’s revisit what we initially reposted by Sahar Aziz in her op-ed to CNN regarding ’45’s’ visit of holy sites that, thankfully, did not go up in flames.

Tr ump’s Doublespeak in Saudi Arabia

by Sahar Aziz

Editor’s Note: Sahar Aziz is an associate professor at Texas A&M University School of Law and nonresident fellow at Brookings Doha Center. She is the author of Rethinking Counterterrorism in the Age of ISIS. The views expressed are her own.

(CNN) If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Donald Trump, it is that he has no qualms about contradicting himself to get what he wants. In Saudi Arabia, he wanted a $110 billion arms deal — not to promote peace and tolerance, as he later proclaimed in his Sunday speech.

Thus, his speech will not “be remembered as the beginning of peace in the Middle East,” as he loftily put it, but rather a boost to the war that is ravaging it. Nor will Trump’s speech put an end to the Islamophobia and bigotry that he has spent the past two years inciting. After all, he needs scapegoats to blame when the terrorism in the Middle East inevitably reaches the United States.

Sahar Aziz

Given Trump’s opportunistic leadership style — what he calls “principled realism”– we can expect more contradictions between his rhetoric and his actions. Four specific contradictions warrant exploring to predict what is in store for American foreign policy in the Middle East, as well as for the treatment of Muslims in the United States.
First, Trump preaches peace and prosperity in his speech, but then sells weapons to the Saudis, which will inevitably fuel war. Trump treats terrorism in the Middle East as a business opportunity to create jobs at home and enrich defense industry tycoons.
While addressing the world’s longest-ruling dictators about terrorism, Trump failed to mention how state violence and repression feeds ISIS and al Qaeda’s propaganda campaigns. Instead, he proclaims the Arab leaders to be defenders of the people’s freedom. As he advised his allies to allow “young Muslim boys and girls (to) be able to grow up free from fear, safe from violence and innocent of hatred,” he disingenuously pretended that the Arab Spring never occurred. The people revolted against their authoritarian governments seeking just those things, but found themselves abandoned by the United States and violently repressed by Arab regimes — which he is once again arming.
Thus, we should not expect any meaningful attempts by the Trump administration to decrease terrorism in the region. Rather, the focus of US counterterrorism strategy will be to geographically contain the violence within the Middle East and prevent it from crossing the Atlantic.
This brings us to the second of Trump’s contradictions — deliberately disconnecting Islam from terrorism in his speech to his Saudi arms purchasers while bolstering Islamophobia in the United States. Over the past two years, Trump has repeatedly stated that “Islam hates us” and Islam is a “hateful foreign ideology,” a kind of rhetoric that has emboldened his white nationalist supporters to discriminate against and attack Muslims. The growing anti-Muslim bigotry could give his administration free rein to disproportionately target Muslims in counterterrorism investigations, surveillance and prosecutions.
Third, there is little evidence Trump is willing to participate in the global effort to “counter extremist ideology,” a new term he strategically coined instead of “radical Islamic terrorism” that he’s been peddling to his right-wing base. As Trump announced a “groundbreaking new center (that) represent(ed) a clear declaration that Muslim-majority countries must take the lead in combatting radicalization,” he took no responsibility for his own divisive rhetoric that radicalizes the political right in the United States. Indeed, over the past five years, extremist ideology from the right has risen at troubling levels.
Accordingly, we should expect the continued use of “radical Islamic terrorism” in his speeches to American audiences and willful blindness to the rise in violence of the alt-right, right-wing militia groups, and the Ku Klux Klan.
Finally, Trump stated that in “the scenes of destruction, in the wake of terror, we see no signs that those murdered were Jewish or Christian, Shia or Sunni.” Here he intimates sympathy for Muslims, even as his domestic policies single out and discriminate against Muslims. His first executive order barred millions of people from Muslim-majority countries from lawfully entering the United States. The refugee clause in the order applied only to Muslim Syrian refugees while exempting Christian Syrian refugees — as if the lives of the hundreds of thousands of Muslim Syrians killed were of no value. And in all of his speeches warning about terrorism committed by Muslims, he has never acknowledged the rise in hate crimes, mosque vandalizations and bullying suffered by Muslims in the United States. For Trump, there is a major difference between Muslims and everyone else.
While citizens in the Middle East and America may find his contradictions repugnant, his audience in Saudi Arabia will not. On the contrary, Middle East authoritarians see Trump as a fellow demagogue who will do whatever it takes to get what he wants. And what he wants has little to do with peace, stability and prosperity for the people of the Middle East.

As Aziz reviews ’45’s’ Saudi trip through the counter-terrorism lens, we agree with her political conclusions regarding his interests overlapping with other authoritarian leaders’ interests, and not with either the American people or people of the Middle East.  Aziz’s parallel commentary on the hypocrisy of focusing on terrorism, born out of extremist ideologies in other countries, and not the extremist ideologies that have transformed into violent actions (a.k.a. terrorism) carried out by certain white-supremacist movements in the U.S., hit home for PITAPOLICY.

Arms Sales #Fail

However, the issue of ’45’ negotiating a final 110 billion U.S.-dollar deal in arms sales to the Gulf countries is “sad” (to quote ’45’ in his own self-aggrandizing terms): an arms sales #FAIL. Yes, a fail,  just like he conflated his “counter-terrorism” speech in Saudi Arabia with believing he addressed the Middle East crisis.  Again, he conflated his negotiation skills and confused it with deals that took years to finalize.   There was no 110 Billion dollar deal, as Brookings Institute Fellow, Bruce Riedel, revealed:
I’ve spoken to contacts in the defense business and on the Hill, and all of them say the same thing: There is no $110 billion deal. Instead, there are a bunch of letters of interest or intent, but not contracts. Many are offers that the defense industry thinks the Saudis will be interested in someday. So far nothing has been notified to the Senate for review. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the arms sales wing of the Pentagon, calls them “intended sales.” None of the deals identified so far are new, all began in the Obama administration.~Bruce Riedel in Markaz
Basically, one cannot even believe how ’45’ claims financial success for America or his ability to really broker diplomacy within a region that has become home to over 10 American military bases. At the same time, he pontificates about terrorism, but does not even see the irony of promoting weapons sales to countries, like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Kuwait.
 Yet, it is worth noting that the Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy’s fifth fleet.  Saudi Arabia and Qatar also host a few U.S. military bases.  Specifically, Qatar hosts the American al-Udeid airbase.  The UAE is begging for one too, apparently.  See Figure 1, which shows how the U.S. leads among U.N. permanent members in military bases throughout the Middle East.  Note how Russia has none.  Then view Figure 2 to see where Russia deploys military bases.  We will revisit this military base disparity in a moment.

Figure 1: U.N. Permanent Members’ Military Bases in the Middle East

Source: Rob Prince Blog https://robertjprince.net/2017/01/30/notes-from-trumps-middle-east-policy-lost-in-the-desert-kgnu-hemispheres-middle-east-dialogues-with-ibrahim-kazerooni-and-rob-prince-january-24-2017/

Figure 2: Russian Military Bases as of 2015

Source: Al Jazeera
http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/9/18/russia-foreign-military-bases.html

Cyber Hack Attack: Qatar Kerfuffle

Initially, leaked emails allegedly revealed that Qatar funded terrorist groups.  Here is where the four Arab nations’ kerfuffle with Qatar turns stranger: the origin of the leaked emails may lead back to the UAE ambassador to the United States, Yousef al-Otaiba, for the following motivations:

  1. Political-Military: Nations, like Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United Arab Emirates, have been critical of the U.S. nuclear deal with Iran and have opposed any improving relations between Iran and the U.S. and resent Qatar’s diplomatic ties with Iran.
  2. Economic-Military: Related to point one, but recognizing that the UAE specifically seeks to gain for Qatar’s isolation.  The UAE seeks increasing U.S. ties and wants a U.S. base on its soil, which would invite large construction and security project dollars.
  3. Political: Qatar also hosts the largest Arabic media outlet, Al-Jazeera, which has criticized Middle East regimes for the last two decades.

Since our last attempt to discuss the fallout from ’45’s’ visit, Qatar’s 2.7 million people may face a food shortage since 38 percent of its food comes from Saudi Arabia and the UAE.  An opportunity for neighboring Iran emerges if Qatar decides to buy their food from them. Nonetheless, Qatar leads the world in Liquified Natural Gas production.  Qatar’s other two leading sectors: manufacturing and transport –which have respectively dropped 18% and 31% since 2017 began–may face further decline resulting from the Arab blockade.

Unfortunately, the main issue– who is financing terrorist groups– is swinging in a limbo of authenticating emails and identifying the truth.  Investigations show that Russia may be the source of a disinformation campaign through cyber terrorism.  But they were not alone; the disinformation campaign served the interests of other nations too, like the UAE and Israel.

Remember our earlier point about the stark contrast between the number of U.S. and Russian bases in the Middle East?

The Qatar kerfuffle illustrates two takeaways for PITAPOLICY:

  1. friend, or foe, a variety of nations have crossed the fine line of self-righteousness and hypocrisy in the case of financing armed groups in Syria.
  2. It is cheaper to to fund a cyber attack and facilitate a diplomatic meltdown and ensuing trade blockade than it is to fund building a military base to launch attacks.

Unfortunately, Russia has figured that out before us.

By the way: we are still troubled by Saudi Arabia giving a sword to ’45’ as much as we are troubled by his bragging about a so-called arms deal that his administration actually did not orchestrate within a four-month period.

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That which is measured improves. #Hope #SyrianRefugees

Pearson’s Law: “That which is measured improves. That which is measured and reported improves exponentially.” – Karl Pearson

Greetings Pita-Consumers!

Before you do anything: share this link with your organizations and friends working to assist Syrian refugees.  Note: there are 4.89 Million Syrian refugees, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ office. It’s been a rough week for many (ourselves included)–considering that Egypt’s former dictator, Hosni Mubarak, was found acquitted of the 900 protestors’ deaths during the 2011 Egyptian January 25th revolution by Egypt’s highest court: the Court of Cassation.  The fallen dictator has gone free as 60,000 political activists remain in Egypt’s jails.

Read here for Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Egyptian scholar’s (and pacifist) account of political prisoner dilemma and costs in Egypt.

Right as we think we are witnessing the fall of an authoritarian leader, we are seeing the rise of another authoritarian leader (45: #OrangeAlert) in the very country that has selectively shamed authoritarian led regimes in the Middle East and North African regions…and consistently provided international assistance to Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and others.

Measure to Improve: Survey of Syrian Refugees’ Experience

On a more positive note, we want to be pro-active on a dismal subject: Syrian refugee resettlement and relief efforts. If we can measure something, we increase its chances of improving.  Thus, we would like to continue using this platform to gather data to measure and promote the greater good.  (Al Mubadarah refers to this as “MENA Social Good”, which we’ll borrow again.)  To understand how Syrian refugees resettlement experience, we need to ask them.  A survey an Arabic is one data gathering tool.  Because the target population is spread throughout three continents, the data responses will vary.  So let us step away from generalizations and specifically ask Syrian refugees who are participating in resettlement programs.  Please share the link: https://universityofsussex.eu.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_3I8ZpUMnZJejQSV&Q_JFE=0

Survey Background

Two months ago, we sat next to a social scientist at a Syria Forum USA event in Chicago.  As we discussed the power shortages and livelihood assistance in Lebanon, we discussed the burgeoning Syrian refugee population in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq.

Registered Refugees According to United Nations Data (more Syrians could be seeking refugee in host country)

Although Gulf Cooperation Countries do not share in the refugee accommodation, the Syrian diaspora has grown in Germany, Sweden, the UK, and France (over 850,000 asylum applications received including those pending)… and across the Atlantic Ocean in Canada.  Yes, and a humble amount (10,000) in the USA.   The current U.S. president inaccurately portrayed the demographic makeup of the Syrian refugee population.  According to Politifact, about three-quarters of Syrian refugees entering the United States are women and children under 18 years of age.  Here’s a breakdown of fiscal year 2016 Syrian refugee admissions:

– Total: 12,587

– Male: 6,571

– Female: 6,016

– Boys and girls under 14 years old: 6,118 (about 48.61 percent of admissions)

The gentleman is collaborating with an Arabic speaking member from the University of Sussex to gather data from Syrian refugees who may be participating in resettlement programs.  As the social scientist stated to us, “The survey responses are confidential and they will only be used for statistical purposes only and no identifying information will be shared outside of the research group,” we would like to help facilitate their outreach efforts.

Here’s a shout out to White Helmets (@SyriaCivilDef) because of their Message to the United Nations Security Council:

“Barrel bombs – sometimes filled with chlorine – are the biggest killer of civilians in Syria today. Our unarmed and neutral rescue workers have saved more than 78,529 people from the attacks in Syria, but there are many we cannot reach. There are children trapped in rubble we cannot hear. For them, the UN Security Council must follow through on its demand to stop the barrel bombs, by introducing a ‘no-fly zone’ if necessary.” – Raed Saleh, head of the White Helmets, the Syrian Civil Defence.

Hopefully the following U.S.-based NGOs supporting Syrian refugees and human development will be able to circulate the above survey.

  • Syrian American Medical Society (@SAMS_US):  Founded in 1998 in Chicago, the national network mobilized in 2012 to upgrade its medical care services to Syrians after the Syrian uprising against the Assad regime transformed into crisis mode in 2013.  SAMS launched the “Save Syrian Lives” campaign to focus on medical relief activities directed to help Syrian patients, healthcare workers, administrators and hospitals to deal with the multi-faceted consequences of violent conflict impacting all affected areas of Syria.
  • Syrian American Council (@SA_Council)
  • Syria Forum USA (@SyrianForumUSA): Description previously highlighted by PITAPOLICY
  • Syrian Community Network (@SCN_Network):The Syrian Community Network (SCN) was established by a diverse team of community members with intentions to aid and to assist in easing the resettlement of Syrian refugees. SCN is prepared and organized to support the anticipated influx of Syrian refugees scheduled for resettlement in the Chicagoland area.  SCN is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that will supplement efforts on helping the refugees adjust to their new home. What distinguishes SCN from other organizations is that it wants to facilitate building the bridge for mutual support between the newly arrived Syrian refugees with local Chicago communities.The following are SCN goals:To partner with refugee resettlement agencies in providing support to the newly-arrived Syrian refugees
    To connect refugees with appropriate services and community resources available
    To foster a relationship between the Syrian refugees and the larger Chicago community
    To establish cultural competency for staff working with Syrian refugees as well as for Syrians who need to learn about their new culture in the US.

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Iran, Saudi Arabia, and US: The Enemy of My Enemy Is My Frenemy

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

We would like to challenge the above ancient proverb that advises one to befriend his enemy’s friend because they share a common goal: defeat the shared enemy.  We challenge it because the proverb did not foresee several”Machiavellis” emerging to power at the same time.  Therefore, PITAPOLICY moves to amend this advice: The enemy of my enemy is my frenemy.  (Thanks to Stephen Colbert for his word wit and Washington’s Blog for laying out a 21st century example in the MENA region for showing the errors in applying to multi-actor settings.)

Relationship Chart Analysis by Joshua Keating, Slate Magazine and Chris Kirk.

Former Iranian President Khatami noted the hawkish upswing in the United States because of the 45th U.S. President.  Khatami, who comes from The Reform party, faces a government ban from official media.  Nonetheless, this has not stopped him from warning his fellow Iranians that “this is the best time for an environment of national reconciliation”–which hints to the current Iranian leadership to recognize the dissident movements, like political prisoners who participated in the 2009 Green Movement, according to political commentator, Arash Karami.  Perhaps the controversial “45” will inadvertantly unite some hawkish and moderate voices in Iran.  Reconciliation is not unwarranted given that Iran’s Foreign Minister wants to upgrade Saudi Arabia to its ‘Frenemy’ list, according to this speech at the World Economic Forum:

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was crystal clear at the World Economic Congress in Davos on Jan. 18 when he said that Iran and Saudi Arabia must cooperate to end the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, just like they did in Lebanon when they worked to lift the obstacles for Lebanese presidential elections.

Original Source: Addiyar (Arabic newspaper:)
Some may argue that a recent example of cooperation between Iran and Saudi Arabia brokered a deal among Lebanese political parties to produce a president, while Lebanese party heads deny this.
On a somewhat related note: neither the Syrian nor Yemen conflicts emerged in the top ten twitter chatter topics during the World Economic Forum, according to the Netnograph site.  Netnograph tracks the leading topics of interest at global events.

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#OrangeAlert to MENA: This Is Not Normal.

Americans may remember the cryptic “Orange Alerts” created during President Bush’s tenure as our 43rd U.S. President.  In response to 9/11, terror warnings came out in color code. Red was the worst: attack occurring. Green was normal. Yellow was in-between.  Orange was…strange, but something bad will happen…we just can’t tell you how or when.  Then this system was phased out during the Obama years.  Then, a new orange phase began.

Last July in Lebanon, several Lebanese friends expressed pity that a U.S. presidential candidate displayed such petty, unpresidential (now is a word), xenophobic behavior.  It was simply abnormal to see such a xenophobe come so far as the future leader of a free nation.  Mind you, at that time, Lebanon still did not have a president, which was not normal.  But at every opportunity possible, they asked, “HOW did a famous businessman, whose financial interests intersect so many political figures (donations to both GOP and Democratic senators) come so far in the U.S. presidential race?” Mind you: the country without a president later elected a president who represents oligarchic interests too--one of the very issues they had protested in the #YOUStink campaign. (By everyone, we are including all taxi drivers who provide more alternative political theories than one can jot down.)   Maybe writing an ethnocentric post will help identify why the 45th American president’s executive “power” moves are taking place.

It is truly ironic, that one of the most ego-centric, narcissistic leaders in the modern era, is promulgating policy that FORCE the Middle East & North Africa region to notice him as much as the consequences of his Executive Orders.  The speed and impulsiveness behind these Executive Orders are not normal.  This is not normal.  As a result, this will not be a normal post.  Rather, writing this will be an ethnocentric U.S. post. –which PITAPOLICY tries to avoid because MENA’s political economy is a topic that deserves its own blog.  We will cover the illogical, self-defeating nature of the 45th U.S. Administration’s Executive Orders that directly impact the MENA region.  From here on out, 45th U.S. Administration of DJT, his V.P., Mike Pence, and Strategy Advisor, Steve Bannon, will be referred to as: 45.

Going to Jerusalem

Day 2: Let us begin with 45’s announcement to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  (Skipping Day 1 because 45’s inaugural speech failed to outline a vision for peace or positive engagement– while inviting settlers from illegal settlements in Palestinian territories.  However, there are some cautionary remarks from Imam Majid that specify the need for “tribes and nations” to convene, at the Inaugural Church Service.) This is unprecedented, except for the fact that 45 literally announced his intention to do so in 2016. Yes, seriously.  Very few media outlets took this seriously though–maybe for good reason.  What is this good reason?  Well, since 1947, the United Nations declared a partition plan placing Jerusalem under international control.  Jerusalem belonged to everyone and no one–meaning not as a Jewish or Arab state capital. The 1947-1948 war left Israel in control of the western part of the city, with Jordan taking the east.  YET, Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967, effectively annexing it in 1980.  Still, American foreign policy media, like The Atlantic,  report that 45 may not follow through with this hawkish move because he is trying to demonstrate his power of words without actually fulfilling his promise.  That is debatable.  We will have to wait until June 2017, which is when the Presidential Waiver to relocate the embassy to Jerusalem is up for review.  Regardless of political party, this waiver has been renewed since 1995.  45’s rhetoric and decision highlights that he fails to understand how to prioritize diplomacy initiatives as he could certainly be using his political capital to negotiate illegal settlements or clamp down on his proposed trade deals.  Elevating a trivial priority, such as relocating an embassy, despite legal precedence and advise, is not normal.

Challenge Iraqi Sovereignty: Seize Iraq’s Oil Part III

Day 2 and again Day 4: At his first press conference, which happened to be at the CIA, DJT announced that the U.S. “may have another chance” to just take oil from Iraq.  Remember, DJT argued taking Iraqi oil back in his campaign.  To be precise: he stated this in his interview with Matt Lauer on September 7th, 2016.

leave a certain group behind and you would take various sections where they have the oil. … You know, it used to be to the victor belong the spoils. Now, there was no victor there, believe me. There was no victor. But I always said: Take the oil.”

45 has consistently argued that American interests lie in seizing other countries’ resources, however unethical.

 The dummies left Iraq (and Libya) without the oil!

Essentially, 45 is using the pretext of battling the ISIL movement to occupy Iraq, and commandeer its oil reserves.  Meanwhile, he remains ignorant of Iraq’s current effort in battling ISIL with the support of a $5.3 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund.  45 continues to echo the rallying war cries of infamous dictators, like Saddam Hussein, when he calls for invading another country for its resources.  This is not normal.

Reintroducing Torture

Day 6: Adding to the “This is not normal” course of executive action, 45 drafted an Executive Order to reintroduce torture, despite top military officials, like General Michael Hayden (former National Security Agency appointee), warning against such measures.  This is not normal.

The Muslim Ban That Distracted

On Days 7-9: 45 decided–without any legal or legislative consultation from the judicial or congressional bodies of power–to ban immigrants, legal aliens, tourists, and refugees from seven countries with majority Muslim populations. As hundreds of thousands of Americans (civilians, veterans, and retired generals) protested, 45 moved to replace all high ranking officials in the National Security Council and installing Steve Bannon, a known white-supremacist, with the highest security post in American government.

These countries (Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, and Libya) excluded countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt–places –to provide cover for 45’s pretext of not banning “all Muslims” just bad people. DJT’s apologists would argue further, that this was not a “Muslim ban”, but a protection for religious minorities who needed to seek refugee from Syria or Iraq–and that Muslims in those countries were not religious minorities.  At the same time, one cannot help but note the coincidence of 45 banning people from countries where he has no personal financial interests, but DJT does have financial interests in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, countries where the 9/11 hijackers originated from–if one refers back to the reason he cited in his Executive Order calling for the travel ban.  He has eight companies in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  Not to mention, he also has conflicts of interest in Turkey, as reported by The Atlantic:

“I have a little conflict of interest ‘cause I have a major, major building in Istanbul. It’s a tremendously successful job.”

Moreover, DJT has financial interests in the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and

His administration determined that extreme vetting was the new U.S. policy in the interests of “national U.S. security”, as described in the Executive Order’s transcript below.  In effect 134 million people were detained, sequestered, or literally sent back to their country of departure–including Syrian, Iraqi, and Yemeni refugees who had sold their homes and lost their livelihoods.  This is not normal.

PROTECTING THE NATION FROM FOREIGN TERRORIST ENTRY INTO THE UNITED STATES
By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America, including the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. 1101 et seq., and section 301 of title 3, United States Code, and to protect the American people from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals admitted to the United States, it is hereby ordered as follows:
Section 1. Purpose. The visa-issuance process plays a crucial role in detecting individuals with terrorist ties and stopping them from entering the United States. Perhaps in no instance was that more apparent than the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when State Department policy prevented consular officers from properly scrutinizing the visa applications of several of the 19 foreign nationals who went on to murder nearly 3,000 Americans. And while the visa-issuance process was reviewed and amended after the September 11 attacks to better detect would-be terrorists from receiving visas, these measures did not stop attacks by foreign nationals who were admitted to the United States.
Numerous foreign-born individuals have been convicted or implicated in terrorism-related crimes since September 11, 2001, including foreign nationals who entered the United States after receiving visitor, student, or employment visas, or who entered through the United States refugee resettlement program. Deteriorating conditions in certain countries due to war, strife, disaster, and civil unrest increase the likelihood that terrorists will use any means possible to enter the United States. The United States must be vigilant during the visa-issuance process to ensure that those approved for admission do not intend to harm Americans and that they have no ties to terrorism.
In order to protect Americans, the United States must ensure that those admitted to this country do not bear hostile attitudes toward it and its founding principles. The United States cannot, and should not, admit those who do not support the Constitution, or those who would place violent ideologies over American law. In addition, the United States should not admit those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred (including “honor” killings, other forms of violence against women, or the persecution of those who practice religions different from their own) or those who would oppress Americans of any race, gender, or sexual orientation.
Sec. 2. Policy. It is the policy of the United States to protect its citizens from foreign nationals who intend to commit terrorist attacks in the United States; and to prevent the admission of foreign nationals who intend to exploit United States immigration laws for malevolent purposes.
Sec. 3. Suspension of Issuance of Visas and Other Immigration Benefits to Nationals of Countries of Particular Concern. (a) The Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Director of National Intelligence, shall immediately conduct a review to determine the information needed from any country to adjudicate any visa, admission, or other benefit under the INA (adjudications) in order to determine that the individual seeking the benefit is who the individual claims to be and is not a security or public-safety threat.
(b) The Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Director of National Intelligence, shall submit to the President a report on the results of the review described in subsection (a) of this section, including the Secretary of Homeland Security’s determination of the information needed for adjudications and a list of countries that do not provide adequate information, within 30 days of the date of this order. The Secretary of Homeland Security shall provide a copy of the report to the Secretary of State and the Director of National Intelligence.
(c) To temporarily reduce investigative burdens on relevant agencies during the review period described in subsection (a) of this section, to ensure the proper review and maximum utilization of available resources for the screening of foreign nationals, and to ensure that adequate standards are established to prevent infiltration by foreign terrorists or criminals, pursuant to section 212(f) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1182(f), I hereby proclaim that the immigrant and nonimmigrant entry into the United States of aliens from countries referred to in section 217(a)(12) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1187(a)(12), would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, and I hereby suspend entry into the United States, as immigrants and nonimmigrants, of such persons for 90 days from the date of this order (excluding those foreign nationals traveling on diplomatic visas, North Atlantic Treaty Organization visas, C-2 visas for travel to the United Nations, and G-1, G-2, G-3, and G-4 visas).
(d) Immediately upon receipt of the report described in subsection (b) of this section regarding the information needed for adjudications, the Secretary of State shall request all foreign governments that do not supply such information to start providing such information regarding their nationals within 60 days of notification.
(e) After the 60-day period described in subsection (d) of this section expires, the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, shall submit to the President a list of countries recommended for inclusion on a Presidential proclamation that would prohibit the entry of foreign nationals (excluding those foreign nationals traveling on diplomatic visas, North Atlantic Treaty Organization visas, C-2 visas for travel to the United Nations, and G-1, G-2, G-3, and G-4 visas) from countries that do not provide the information requested pursuant to subsection (d) of this section until compliance occurs.
(f) At any point after submitting the list described in subsection (e) of this section, the Secretary of State or the Secretary of Homeland Security may submit to the President the names of any additional countries recommended for similar treatment.
(g) Notwithstanding a suspension pursuant to subsection (c) of this section or pursuant to a Presidential proclamation described in subsection (e) of this section, the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security may, on a case-by-case basis, and when in the national interest, issue visas or other immigration benefits to nationals of countries for which visas and benefits are otherwise blocked.
(h) The Secretaries of State and Homeland Security shall submit to the President a joint report on the progress in implementing this order within 30 days of the date of this order, a second report within 60 days of the date of this order, a third report within 90 days of the date of this order, and a fourth report within 120 days of the date of this order.
Sec. 4. Implementing Uniform Screening Standards for All Immigration Programs. (a) The Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Director of National Intelligence, and the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation shall implement a program, as part of the adjudication process for immigration benefits, to identify individuals seeking to enter the United States on a fraudulent basis with the intent to cause harm, or who are at risk of causing harm subsequent to their admission. This program will include the development of a uniform screening standard and procedure, such as in-person interviews; a database of identity documents proffered by applicants to ensure that duplicate documents are not used by multiple applicants; amended application forms that include questions aimed at identifying fraudulent answers and malicious intent; a mechanism to ensure that the applicant is who the applicant claims to be; a process to evaluate the applicant’s likelihood of becoming a positively contributing member of society and the applicant’s ability to make contributions to the national interest; and a mechanism to assess whether or not the applicant has the intent to commit criminal or terrorist acts after entering the United States.
(b) The Secretary of Homeland Security, in conjunction with the Secretary of State, the Director of National Intelligence, and the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, shall submit to the President an initial report on the progress of this directive within 60 days of the date of this order, a second report within 100 days of the date of this order, and a third report within 200 days of the date of this order.
Sec. 5. Realignment of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for Fiscal Year 2017. (a) The Secretary of State shall suspend the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for 120 days. During the 120-day period, the Secretary of State, in conjunction with the Secretary of Homeland Security and in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence, shall review the USRAP application and adjudication process to determine what additional procedures should be taken to ensure that those approved for refugee admission do not pose a threat to the security and welfare of the United States, and shall implement such additional procedures. Refugee applicants who are already in the USRAP process may be admitted upon the initiation and completion of these revised procedures. Upon the date that is 120 days after the date of this order, the Secretary of State shall resume USRAP admissions only for nationals of countries for which the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and the Director of National Intelligence have jointly determined that such additional procedures are adequate to ensure the security and welfare of the United States.
(b) Upon the resumption of USRAP admissions, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, is further directed to make changes, to the extent permitted by law, to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality. Where necessary and appropriate, the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security shall recommend legislation to the President that would assist with such prioritization.
(c) Pursuant to section 212(f) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1182(f), I hereby proclaim that the entry of nationals of Syria as refugees is detrimental to the interests of the United States and thus suspend any such entry until such time as I have determined that sufficient changes have been made to the USRAP to ensure that admission of Syrian refugees is consistent with the national interest.
(d) Pursuant to section 212(f) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1182(f), I hereby proclaim that the entry of more than 50,000 refugees in fiscal year 2017 would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, and thus suspend any such entry until such time as I determine that additional admissions would be in the national interest.
(e) Notwithstanding the temporary suspension imposed pursuant to subsection (a) of this section, the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security may jointly determine to admit individuals to the United States as refugees on a case-by-case basis, in their discretion, but only so long as they determine that the admission of such individuals as refugees is in the national interest — including when the person is a religious minority in his country of nationality facing religious persecution, when admitting the person would enable the United States to conform its conduct to a preexisting international agreement, or when the person is already in transit and denying admission would cause undue hardship — and it would not pose a risk to the security or welfare of the United States.
(f) The Secretary of State shall submit to the President an initial report on the progress of the directive in subsection (b) of this section regarding prioritization of claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution within 100 days of the date of this order and shall submit a second report within 200 days of the date of this order.
(g) It is the policy of the executive branch that, to the extent permitted by law and as practicable, State and local jurisdictions be granted a role in the process of determining the placement or settlement in their jurisdictions of aliens eligible to be admitted to the United States as refugees. To that end, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall examine existing law to determine the extent to which, consistent with applicable law, State and local jurisdictions may have greater involvement in the process of determining the placement or resettlement of refugees in their jurisdictions, and shall devise a proposal to lawfully promote such involvement.
Sec. 6. Rescission of Exercise of Authority Relating to the Terrorism Grounds of Inadmissibility. The Secretaries of State and Homeland Security shall, in consultation with the Attorney General, consider rescinding the exercises of authority in section 212 of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1182, relating to the terrorism grounds of inadmissibility, as well as any related implementing memoranda.
Sec. 7. Expedited Completion of the Biometric Entry-Exit Tracking System. (a) The Secretary of Homeland Security shall expedite the completion and implementation of a biometric entry-exit tracking system for all travelers to the United States, as recommended by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.
(b) The Secretary of Homeland Security shall submit to the President periodic reports on the progress of the directive contained in subsection (a) of this section. The initial report shall be submitted within 100 days of the date of this order, a second report shall be submitted within 200 days of the date of this order, and a third report shall be submitted within 365 days of the date of this order. Further, the Secretary shall submit a report every 180 days thereafter until the system is fully deployed and operational.
Sec. 8. Visa Interview Security. (a) The Secretary of State shall immediately suspend the Visa Interview Waiver Program and ensure compliance with section 222 of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1222, which requires that all individuals seeking a nonimmigrant visa undergo an in-person interview, subject to specific statutory exceptions.
(b) To the extent permitted by law and subject to the availability of appropriations, the Secretary of State shall immediately expand the Consular Fellows Program, including by substantially increasing the number of Fellows, lengthening or making permanent the period of service, and making language training at the Foreign Service Institute available to Fellows for assignment to posts outside of their area of core linguistic ability, to ensure that non-immigrant visa-interview wait times are not unduly affected.
Sec. 9. Visa Validity Reciprocity. The Secretary of State shall review all nonimmigrant visa reciprocity agreements to ensure that they are, with respect to each visa classification, truly reciprocal insofar as practicable with respect to validity period and fees, as required by sections 221(c) and 281 of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1201(c) and 1351, and other treatment. If a country does not treat United States nationals seeking nonimmigrant visas in a reciprocal manner, the Secretary of State shall adjust the visa validity period, fee schedule, or other treatment to match the treatment of United States nationals by the foreign country, to the extent practicable.
Sec. 10. Transparency and Data Collection. (a) To be more transparent with the American people, and to more effectively implement policies and practices that serve the national interest, the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Attorney General, shall, consistent with applicable law and national security, collect and make publicly available within 180 days, and every 180 days thereafter:
(i) information regarding the number of foreign nationals in the United States who have been charged with terrorism-related offenses while in the United States; convicted of terrorism-related offenses while in the United States; or removed from the United States based on terrorism-related activity, affiliation, or material support to a terrorism-related organization, or any other national security reasons since the date of this order or the last reporting period, whichever is later;
(ii) information regarding the number of foreign nationals in the United States who have been radicalized after entry into the United States and engaged in terrorism-related acts, or who have provided material support to terrorism-related organizations in countries that pose a threat to the United States, since the date of this order or the last reporting period, whichever is later; and
(iii) information regarding the number and types of acts of gender-based violence against women, including honor killings, in the United States by foreign nationals, since the date of this order or the last reporting period, whichever is later; and
(iv) any other information relevant to public safety and security as determined by the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Attorney General, including information on the immigration status of foreign nationals charged with major offenses.
(b) The Secretary of State shall, within one year of the date of this order, provide a report on the estimated long-term costs of the USRAP at the Federal, State, and local levels.
Sec. 11. General Provisions. (a) Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:
(i) the authority granted by law to an executive department or agency, or the head thereof; or
(ii) the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.
(b) This order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.
(c) This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.
DONALD J. TRUMP
THE WHITE HOUSE, January 27, 2017

 

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Documenting #SyriaCrisis: Part 2- Organizations

Last week PITAPOLICY briefly discussed the need for documenting the #SyriaCrisis by distinguishing between individuals and organizations.  We argued that documenting narratives of Syrian civilians as individuals –rather than by political affiliations– is necessary to convey to Syrian outsiders.  At the same time, there are some organizational models that try to build from the local leadership of individuals, through local councils, and connect them to other organizations to deliver relief and development services during the Syria Crisis.

Organizational Model

The Syrian Forum, registered in Turkey, is an example of a connective model, or “consortium” by working through six specialized institutions to build a free and democratic Syria that is based on the rule of law.  They have partnered with Austria and the USA (Follow as @SyrianForumUSA) with 10 offices located in Syria, Turkey, Austria, and the United States–and planning on one in Jordan, which is the third largest Syrian refugee host country.

The consortium operates by working through the following sectors:

  • Ihsan → @IhsanRD1 →Relief & Development:1)  Conducts needs assessment and 2) Monitoring & Evaluation
  • Fener → Community Advancement
  • Omran → @OmranDirasat → Strategic Studies: 1) conducting public opinion polls and surveys, 2) Research team on military, social, political, and public service tracks to plan for rebuilding.
  • Bousla → @Bousla_org →Training and Innovation: 1) Offers Anti-Corruption Training Program
  • Rizk → @Rzktr → Professional Development: 1) Conduct vocational job training, 2) Offer Refugee job placement services, 3) Reverse Brain Drain
  •  Alsouria → @AlSouriaNet → Media: 1) Reporting/Content Development and 2) Professionalism Training

The Syrian Forum Board is chaired Mustafa Sabbagh.  Like many other Syrian relief organizations, they coordinate with Syria’s Local Administration Councils and coordinate refugee placement.  Unlike many other Syrian organizations–perhaps due to limited resources–SF invests in its staff’s continuing education.   Their partners include: The World Food Programme, UNICEF, Human Appeal, ACTED, FAO, Qatar Red Cresecent, OCHA, Save the Children, Expertise FRANCE, Syrian American Medical Society, IOM, Global Communities, Shaam Relief Foundation, Syrian Business Forum, UNFPA, Amici de Bambini, World Vision, GIZ, GAOL,

Regarding its Relief and Development sector, The Syrian Forum has undertaken 273 projects to cover 17,108,941 Syrians’ since 2013.  These projects cover services in:

  • food security & livelihoods
  • water needs and waste management as well as hygiene awareness activities
  • education
  • shelter
  • protection

Training & Professional Development

RIZK operates in Turkey and serves as the professional development institutional arm of SF.  Partners include Hope for Syria, Silatech, Iskur, RET, AFAD, SODES, Tumsiad and a few others.  As mentioned above, Syria is struggling with brain drain.  So Syria’s private sector and civil society institutions struggle with keeping highly educated and technically trained civilians during the 6 years of political and military violence. RIZK tries to reverse brain-drain by “keeping high-caliber Syrians geographically close”, which begs the question: when will this take hold in Lebanon, where waves of university educated Syrians, who fled to Beirut in the beginning of the Syrian Revolution–2011 and 2012–before devolving into war?

RIZK states that it maintains a database of job applications and employment offers.  According to their data, they’ve received 22,874 applicants and employed 6,926 Syrians–about one-third of them being female (2,603).  RIZK  provided offered 16 training courses for 748 trainees.

Al-Souria started in 2014 with a specific purpose: to cover Syrian affairs in a balanced manner that adheres to journalistic ethics, thereby rejecting all forms of extremism.  Sections include multi-media infographics on children, women, and violence statistics; book reviews; and how Syria is reviewed in other press.  Topics include describing and reviewing the political economy of the regime; the Russian occupation of Syria; Syrian Children in the Adoption Sphere; the Iranian Nuclear Program and Iran’s Role in Syria; and Orientalism’s Role in Syrian political culture and neighboring countries’ revolutions.  As a result, Al-Souria news coverage is translated by other foreign news agencies while its page has received over 9 million visits.

PITA POINTS (Observations)

One of the more interesting aspects of The Syrian Forum is that their Relief and Development activities considers the psyscho-social developmental needs of Syrians in crisis.  For example, they partner with SAMS to provide counseling.  And SF provide safe spaces for women and children through their protection program.

Another interesting, unique aspect is that they focus on economic development while also trying to create a political culture that departs from a historically violent regime headed by an oligarchy.

Finally, we noticed that the Qatar Red Crescent Society works with SF to provide relief and development.  However, other Gulf country institutions–like from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the UAE, and Oman –were noticeably absent.

 

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Documenting #SyriaCrisis: Part 1- Individuals

Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.~Anne Frank, Author “The Diary of Anne Frank”

We remember reading “the Diary of Anne Frank” as part of our required elementary school reading list.  For many of us, her diary first exposed us to the terms: ‘hostages’,’Gestapo’, ‘They’re being gassed’; the concept of ‘Genocide’, ‘Gestapo’, and ‘political persecution’; and the narratives of ‘Holocaust’.  During World War II, Frank’s diary was not shared in real time.  She died in a German concentration camp before her diary was published.   Over fifty years later, Syrian civilians experience most–if not all–of the above dangers via political imprisonment and mustard gassing by Assad regime; the Syrian police force equivalent of Gestapo–Shabeeha and Mukhabarat; and their most recent #AleppoSiege, as the Hama Massacre reverberates in memories throughout neighboring Syrian towns.

PITAPOLICY’s new year’s resolution was to help document individual accounts from Syrians on the ground share what they are experiencing and witnessing.  After following a young girl from Aleppo, Syria, Bana Alabed (@AlabedBana) on Twitter, (thanks to her mom, Fatemah) many of us can stop pretending that pundits are the only sources of a reality experienced by Syrian civilians living in Syria.  Like Anne Frank, Bana chronicled her story of being held hostage by a repressive regime.  Unlike Anne Frank, Bana still lives.  But both survive through sharing her narrative: Anne through a written diary; Bana through typed tweets.

What?

We all agree that the Syria crisis has cost over 400,00 Syrian lives and wrought destruction leaving half of its 21 million citizens internally displaced, or seeking refugee outside of Syria.  Reporters and human rights watchers have documented in short and long form coverage.  But in one generation, the tragic events will have to be pieced together –and the historical narrative will largely depend on “who won?”– even though millions would have lost their homes, loved ones, or lives.

Why?

One of the reasons why the Holocaust narrative has become so mainstream is because a young girl’s diary documented the struggle to stay alive in Europe after the Nazi rise and the resulting concentration camps imprisoned Jews, Slavic people, Political dissidents (e.g. communists), Gays, and the Rumi people.  Because of Frank’s  persistence and discipline to keep a journal, publishers translated her diary in over 67 languages with over 30 million copies sold.  Her diary is what first introduced Generation X and Millennials growing up in North America and Western Europe to the Holocaust–as we learned about the related tragic events of WWII. Our most memorable quote:

“What is done cannot be undone, but one can prevent it happening again.”

illustrates how important it is document a narrative:  to remember tragedy, and work to avoid repeating those mistakes.  Clearly, we have not learned from her diary as the Assad regime violates his own people’s human rights every day, as he learned from his father, Bashar al-Assad, since 1970.

By no means are we discounting the power of civil society and the work that organizations provide as the Assad-led government has failed in its duty to protect its citizens (in particular those engaged in civil dissent).   But, individuals function as the building unit of an organization.  So before we talk about growing or regrowing the unit of ‘organizing’ via organizations, we believe we need to identify the basic unit of organizing first: the voice…and that voice comes from the individual… be it citizen, refugee, or political prisoner.

Objective: To emulate “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl” and document a collection of civilian Syrian voices experiencing, or who escaped, the Syria crisis.

How To Meet Objective?

We realize that tracking Syrian voices on social media is a huge project. It will require various organized efforts.  Challenge 1: Identify how many social media outlets to cover, e.g. include Facebook postings by Syrians in Syria.

Challenge 2: Recognize that the Syria blackouts and electricity disruption has nearly eliminated many moments of narrative.

Challenge 3: Translate from Arabic to English since many authentic voices will only share in native Arabic.

Challenge 4: Verify social media accounts.

We recognize these challenges.  But in the meantime, we will take one small step by tabulating  at least one young Syrian girl’s story through her tweets on this page posting.

  1. PITAPOLICY commits to adding any suggested Syrian civilian social media account that is verified.
  2. PITAPOLICYwill support and help fund a Syrian Diaspora effort that also wishes to see Bana’s story published that will be part of a classroom reading list.

Perhaps the next generation will do a better job of respecting and enforcing human rights than our generation did.

Digital Diaries of Syrian Civilians

Digital Diary of Fatemah AlAbed– Started in December 2016

I hope you all loved apologies for anyone I didn’t answer for. I hope you all enjoyed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • I am just crying.. innocent kid dead. Why? Why? Today I need the world’s support to end the Syrian war. PLEASE I beg u, we do something.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Seriously for some people. seems that American shooting wasn’t a terrorist attack after attacker identified to be a white person.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Russian trolls & Assad supporters begging for unblock now. One says he enjoyed the amount of RT & likes he got under my tweets

 

 

 

 

  • I understand now Assad supporters are the worst people who can’t take even simple evidence. They are all about imagination thinking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • About the Internet in East Aleppo, u don’t know how many videos we didn’t tweet because of the net. All those we tweeted were difficult

 

 

  • For those wondering how can 7 year old tweet, I help her compose the tweets while she’s with me. I let her read all the replies & she enjoys

 

 

  • Yes speaking English is difficult for me & Bana. But when writing we research & also know what we know. I hope you understand now. Thank u

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • I can’t express my gratitude to you all when many of u said your happiest moment of 2016 was when “we got out of Aleppo” . God bless u all

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digital Diary of Bana Alabed

“I am very sad. No one is helping Syrian children. Please please please evacuate all of them out of the war.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • They use to hide from the bombs. We are not hiding anymore. Peace is very new to us & we love everything right now.

 

 

  • No more bombing.. I have 20 days of peace in my life. I thought the world was just like Aleppo & bombing was normal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • I am a refugee, we are refugees. But we shall overcome this someday because i even overcame the Aleppo siege.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Because so many confused, I am setting up my own account. This account will only be about Bana & promise u it will be her own words.-Fatemah

 

 

 

 

  • I beg u to spread this. Mom in Syria countryside need urgent cardiologist & medical care. We will pay expenses. any doctor? Mention.-Fatemah

 

 

  • A mom inside Syria needs urgent cardiologist & care but denied so far. She’s pregnant & endured months of Aleppo siege. – Fatemah

 

 

  • Together we can change the suffering of people in conflicts around the world. Like u Aleppo, cry for Yemen, Iraq, Libya.. Etc – Fatemah

 

 

  • One of my friends wasn’t lucky to escape like me. One night she was killed in bombing. The world didn’t help her. – Bana

 

 

  • Hello my friends, how are you? I am missing my friends who were killed & buried in Aleppo. I am very sad tonight. – Bana

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • People who were evacuated from East Aleppo are living in hell life in countryside. Can we support them? They need us right now. – Fatemah

 

 

 

 

 

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May The Force Be With You. #StockMarkets #Iran #Pakistan #UNResolution

Last week we discussed Egypt’s and Turkey’s stock market activity and promised that we would discuss the stock markets in other populous countries, like Iran and Pakistan, in the MENA region before the new year.  We are discussing Iran because we are curious to see the impact on its other markets due to the easing of economic sanctions.  The joint US and EU decision of easing sanctions is seen as a positive result of the Iran Deal reached in 2015-2016.

Further to their economic news, Iran also participated in the global economic shake–not the Harlem Shake– as an OPEC member: for this first time since the height of the 2008 financial crisis—OPEC cut its oil production in November.

Also, we are discussing Iran’s neighboring trade partner Pakistan, because the Pakistan Stock Market  (KSE100) hit a record trading high this past December: 47806.97 points.  This represents how Pakistan’s KSE100 grew 40 percent in 2016, according to Forbes.

Tehran Stock Exchange

Iran’s sanctions ease was one of the top five economic shocks in 2016.  Now, Iran has the opportunity to regain lost revenue from oil exports by $10 billion in the coming year.  Also, the US has removed sanctions on Iran’s banking sector, according to the US Office of Foreign Assets Control.

Iran’s central bank says lifting banking sanctions would allow $30 billion of foreign reserves currently frozen in accounts around the world to be brought back.~Economic Times

As a result, in large part, the Tehran Stock Exchange reported growth.
In addition, an Iranian media corporation Donya-e-Eqtesad established a stock market information service called Donya-e-Bourseon.  The service’s founder, Ali Reza Bakhtiari, stated that the service will “promote the free market, competitiveness and openness.” As such, one of the sections will feature a weekly survey of market trend predictions by investors and analysts.
Nonetheless, inflation remains high: Iranian currency stands at 1 USD = 32,368.34 IRR.
Internal trading options opened up too.  On December 18th, Iran introduced the Single Stock option Contracts.  The first day resulted in more than 15,000 trading contracts.

Pakistan Stock Market

As you may know, Pakistan has held a free floating currency exchange since 2000.  It’s been a big year for Pakistan’s money markets and its overall macro-economic development.  Like Turkey’s growth in GDP, Pakistan has seen about 6 percent growth.  Other good news: Pakistan’s inflation rate (now at 4%) is out of double digits range– a situation that heavily mirrored higher food prices in the last part of the 20th century and continued until 2012. This has not been without the support of the World Bank’s 1 billion dollar package.

The Pakistan Stock Market (KSE100) was previously known as the Karachi Stock Exchange to track the top 100 companies earning across each of its 34 sectors.  Since the closing of the first quarter, the KSE100 has been climbing each day in the last nine months.  Perhaps, that is why during last summer, financial markets assessor, MSCI, recategorized Pakistan as an “Emerging Market”.  This was an upgrade shared by economies like Brazil, China, and Russia.

For 2017, however, a rise in oil prices could disrupt this rising growth in the KSE100 since Pakistan has doubled its imports of oil.

The usual suspects that haunt frontier and emerging markets: inflation, corruption, and revolution. Not always in the same order.~ Panos Mourdoukoutas, Forbes Contributor

Pakistani consumers must remain wary of inflationary prices; corruption and revolution are another discussion–their discussion as citizens.

New Year’s Resolutions

PITAPOLICY has two new years resolutions.:

  1. Emulate Anne Frank’s method of tracking her crisis–The Diary of Anne Frank–in World War II Europe and apply to documenting Syrians tweets.  Tweets are testimonials documenting the Syria Crisis and impact on children.  I will begin this post on the first day of 2017, and update as pita-consumers tweet @PITAPOLICY back with their observations on the ground.  Documentation means we can never forget. Ever.
  2. Have hope. We know it may be below expectations of many when continuous resolutions regarding Palestine do not get a “Yes” in support of their self-determination from the U.S.  However, last week’s “Abstain” from the U.S. at the UN Security Council was historic: for the first time in 40 years, the U.S. did not veto a UNSEC resolution (introduced by the only Arab member of the Security Council).  In the Obama administration’s last attempt at Mideast engagement, Secretary John Kerry targeted the illegal settlements, as summed up by international human rights lawyer, and Palestinian-American, Noura Erekat: And the problem is not Palestine. And Kerry said it today in his speech: the settlements do not increase Israelis security.”

“The status quo is leading towards one state and perpetual occupation, but most of the public either ignores it or has given up hope that anything can be done to change it. And with this passive resignation, the problem only gets worse, the risks get greater and the choices are narrowed.”~U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry [Full transcript of speech here.]

Pitaconsumers: please share with us yours–whether they be hopes for economic development, human development, or your country’s development.  Tell it to the universe because declaring your intent is the first step towards tracking the goal; tracking the goal is the step towards making something better.  Making something better is WHY we are here.  May the Force Be With You.

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MENA countries’ stock markets produced an economic shock tantamount to the political shock of a Trump presidency

Dear Pita-consumers:

Apologies for the five-month long hiatus. We have been trying to update our blog site to reflect the various MENA stock markets showcased on our cousin’s site: PITAPOLICY Consulting.  Obviously, we are still tinkering with the backend of these widgets.  Then we got hacked.  IN ADDITION, some of us also took an extended pause (like a couple hundred million did with the shock of the 11/9 U.S. presidential election results) to distinguish surreality from an uncertain future.  Again, apologies: this blog site is about you, the pita-consumer, who follows development trends in the Middle East and North Africa region.  We realize that the world does not revolve around “us”, or #US, but we will do our best to monitor the president elect’s nominees as they relate to new U.S. ambassador appointees to the MENA region, and such.  But in our defense: MENA countries’ stock markets produced an economic shock tantamount to the political shock of a Trump presidency–that rivaled an OPEC meeting to raise oil prices– in stable economies like Turkey:

The U.S. dollar versus Turkish lira rate witnessed a historic high of 3.3041 early morning after Trump’s victory started to factor in global markets.

The Borsa Istanbul tanked 1,806.10 points, or 2.37 percent to open at 74,561.69 points, amid late projections indicating the Republican candidate’s victory.-ATA

So let’s talk about two of the most populated MENA countries: Egypt and Turkey, who greatly contrast in their economic story this past year.   We promise to discuss the more populated countries (Iran and Pakistan) next week after updating the number on Syrian refugees and Internally Displaced Persons.

Egypt

Just as the World Bank approved of lending another $1 billion in US dollars to Egypt (the second portion of the whole $3 billion package for implementing economic reforms), the Egypt Stock index stock market crossed the 12,000 point mark by rising 3.4 percent.   As @TheBigPharaoh observed: it was the first time since April 2008.  For example, energy and infrastructure focused companies–like Qalaa Holdings, who reported $98 million in US dollar profits ($1.79 billion in Egyptian pounds), according to Trade Arabia–partially explain the 3.4 percent increase on the Egyptian stock exchange.  Meanwhile, the broader EGX100 index rose 1.5 percent.

Background

This month’s World Bank loan is small compared to the International Monetary Fund’s loan of $12 billion in US dollars.  Its first installment was issued November 11th–just five weeks ago. Foreign investors have most definitely noted this as indicated by the 3.4 percent increase.

Egypt’s economic reforms have included:

  • lowering fuel subsidies;
  • floating the Egyptian pound;
  • and introducing a value-added tax.

Seventy-five percent of Egypt’s government subsidies were allocated to the energy sector.  Given that one-third of Egypt’s government spending is earmarked for subsidies, it is no wonder that the World Bank’s economic reform programme began to take root in 2014 and cut down fuel subsidies — an opportune time since gas prices were lower. 

Impact

With all these reforms, inflation is more than double-digits: 13.5%–and expected to rise to 20% by 2018.  Cost of basic food items, like sugar, cheese, and bread, has risen dramatically so much so that, “In a bid to soften the blow, the central bank raised its key interest rates by three percentage points this month and the army is handing out millions of food parcels at discounted prices,” reports Qantara.  Also, there are appeals to the government to monitor prices as many Egyptian consumers feel that merchants are unnecessarily hiking up prices.

Mada Masr examines how some countries, like Argentina, Indonesia, and Brazil handled the upsides and downsides of huge loan injections into the economy.  The success behind one country seems to emerge from how it handles the unintended consequence of economically strangling the poor.

Turkey

The economic narrative for Turkey, since its failed coup in July, was pretty much gloomy–arguing that its growth contracted for the first time in seven years.  However, last week Bloomberg reported that Turkey’s GDP actually grew since 2015.  Despite the coup attempt, and restricted ,Turkey’s government-led growth resulted in its economy producing an additional 20 percent increase of goods and services over the last year.  In other words: Turkey’s economy grew to $865 Billion dollars instead of the earlier calculation of $720 Billion dollars.  “How?” you and I ask… well, Al-Monitor explains it through the lens of Turkish economist, Mustafa Sonmez:

The revision is said to be made according to EU standards, but unlike the EU, which took 2010 as the basis year, Ankara opted for 2009, a crisis year in which the Turkish economy had contracted by about 5%. Relevant to 2009, GDP increases in following years turned in bigger, meaning that an important part of the overall increase stemmed from the choice of a problematic basis year.

Basically, Turkey measured for its “personal best” by setting the bar lower.   Manufacturing and Construction sectors represent the 25 percent of Turkey’s growth. Apparently, Turkey’s labor force grew too: 9.1% instead of the previously believed 8.8%.  Per capita income also increased from $9,257 to $11,082.  But by setting the bar lower, other indicators will not fare as well: such as the Human Development Index for 2016–if spending in the social and health sectors did not keep pace.

On a different note, Turkey also represents one of the four emerging markets that is strongly affected by changes in U.S. monetary policy.  So, earlier in December, when the U.S. federal reserve announced an increase in interest rates, Turkey’s Central Bank responded by holding its interest rates at 8 percent–as they had already tried to curb inflation to 7 percent with a November decision to raise interest rates.  Nonetheless, the Turkish lira fell again, according to the Wall Street Journal:

Turkey’s lira has weakened significantly since the summer’s failed coup attempt. It has also slumped 12% against the dollar since the U.S. elections, in line with a broader selloff in emerging-market currencies. The plunge was also driven by rising security threats by Islamic State and Kurdish insurgents, domestic political uncertainty and expectations of further rate increase from the U.S. Federal Reserve after it raised interest rates by 0.25 percentage point at its December policy meeting.

Despite Turkey’s 20 percent growth story, Turkey’s monetary story is more complicated.  Turkey’s currency challenge has been further exacerbated by the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey by a lone Turkish gunman.  The EU is halting membership talks.   All three of these–and more-– adversely impact US companies that based their MENA operations in Turkey: Microsoft, Intel and Coca-Cola…and a planned Trump venture.

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After today, EVERY DAY is #WorldRefugeeDay for 4.8 Million #SyrianRefugees

Each minute, 24 people around the world flee their home because of violence or persecution.~National Public Radio (USA)

Today the UN recognizes World Refugee Day.  This is a day NOT to be celebrated because the world is witnessing the largest amount of displaced people since the United Nations emerged in 1942.  Since writing this sentence and figuring out how to explain why 4.8 million Syrians became refugees while 6.5 million Syrians and 2. 4 million Yemenis are internally displaced, another 24 people have been made refugees.  Of the 6.5 million Syrian refugees, the largest host country is Turkey with 2.5 million Syrian refugees.  The #SyrianRefugee problem is due to –in order of chronology–the following violent events:

  1. the Assad regime’s military clampdown on activists and dissidents, which has led to the blacklisting and murder of journalists and Syrian activists;
  2. the resulting pushback by resistance fighter;
  3. the emergence of foreign fighters, mercenaries and DAESH/”Islamic State” of Iraq & the Levant; and
  4. the bombing campaigns by Russia that precipitated in September 2015.  (Russia and Iran are allies of the authoritarian Assad regime.)

Asma Akhras, a PITAPAL we had interviewed for another project on the Syrian Diaspora project, has contributed a piece that focuses on the humanitarian challenges of Syrian refugees.  Whether the story is repeated in Jordan, or Lebanon, Turkey, or Germany, the financial resource challenges remain the same.

“Breathe, Khalid.

“Breathe, Khalid.

“Breathe, Khalid.”

We are in a white van used to transport Syrian refugees to medical facilities, and the driver has beads of sweat coming down his face. Serious looking with dark sunglasses and a clean white professional shirt, he’s focused on getting us to the emergency room of a nearby hospital as fast as he can.

We couldn’t wait for a taxi or an ambulance anymore.  Dr. Naveed Iqbal is calmly sitting in the passenger seat focused on Khalid’s breathing, holding an asthma inhaler and thinking how to approach a variety of potential medical scenarios. I’m the interpreter, sitting in the back seat next to Khalid and his mom. Khalid is sitting on his mother’s lap. Her hands are wrapped securely around him, and he is quite overwhelmed. (We are not using Khalid’s last name because of his family’s concerns about their security.) Click here to continue on USA Today.

After reading PITAPAL’s, Asma Akhras, account of serving as an interpreter in the UN camp of Zataari, in Jordan, we ask that you apply pressure to your government to ask them how they’re honoring World Refugee Day.  Especially if you have already donated time or money to alleviating the #SyrianRefugee humanitarian concerns, ask your government what’s their action plan… For example, many high-income countries refuse to offer a solution to mitigate the dilemma: 13.5 million people in Syria need humanitarian assistance due to the turmoil.  According to Amnesty International:

  • Gulf countries including Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain have offered zero resettlement places to Syrian refugees.
  • Other high income countries including Russia, Japan, Singapore and South Korea have also offered zero resettlement places.
  • Of those that escaped to Jordan, 86% of Syrian refugees in urban areas in Jordan are living below the local poverty line.
  • Germany has pledged 39,987 places for Syrian refugees through its humanitarian admission programme and individual sponsorship; about 54% of the EU total.
  • Germany and Serbia together have received 57% Syrian asylum applications in Europe between April 2011 and July 2015
  • Excluding Germany and Sweden, the remaining 26 EU countries have pledged around 30,903 resettlement places, or around 0.7% of the Syrian refugee population in the main host countries
  • “6. Other countries need to do more. Shameful that GCC countries are not taking Syrian refugees for example.

Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and who have significantly invested financially and politically into the Speaking of Arab Gulf countries failing to take in refugees, this applies to Yemeni refugees as well.  (For example, the UAE has pledged $137 million in the last 4 Syria Donors Conferences.  But here’s an idea: why not stop spending money on the weapons to supply foreign and local fighters in Syria?  ) Here is the most ironic piece of refugee research we came across:  Although Yemen is the poorest country in the Arab world, unlike its Arab Gulf neighbors, Yemen has signed on to the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol.  At the same time, Saudi Arabia’s feud with the UN entails the Kingdom’s threat to withhold their funding commitments towards refugee and humanitarian assistance.  We recommend picking one of two action items:

  1. For Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, and the UAE: Reach out to the consular offices or embassies of Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, UAE, and Oman and ask them when they will make good on their UNHCR pledges for the humanitarian crises.  If they’ve done that, like the UAE, then follow up with: how will they ease restrictions to allow Syrians access to primary education if they have managed entry into their country.
  2. For Saudi Arabia: Rather than applying for a visa to perform Umrah or Hajj this year, ask the Saudi Counselor Officer to consider housing a Syrian or Yemeni refugee this year–or at least to stop facilitating the violence by arming fighters.

After today, every day is World Refugee Day for the over 65 million refugees reported by the UN — until June 20, 2017 arrives.

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