Smart Cities in North Africa #ISSC2014

Are smart cities the next phase of urban development, and thereby, the collective hopes for improving living standards across the pita-consuming region?  On June 9th and 10th, PITAPOLICY attended the first annual summit on smart cities review of North Africa, or the Maghreb region (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya…with some mention of Egypt).  Below is our overview from the presentations…

Walking past the Check-in counter in Casablanca’s Mohamed V International Airport, a digital sign claims X amount of solar energy used and X amount of energy savings occurred in powering a transit hub with the use of polycrystalline panel technology.  As a tourist, this may come as a pleasant surprise if she has not yet had the opportunity to see other improvements, like Rabat’s tram system.  As a citizen, this may be inspiring as the term “smart city” hints at better infrastructure and technology use.  However, what qualifies a city as a “smart city” is more often a topic for discussion only among Maghreb countries and not implementation.  Infrastructural developments like this–as well as challenges with water access and traffic jams–prompted the 1st annual International Summit on Smart Cities in North Africa (#ISSC2014) at Al-Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco. [Click here to continue.]

 

 

 

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Economic, Social, and Human Costs of Gaza Strikes

Dear Pita-consumers:

For the last two weeks, we know that you have been diligently following the Gaza Crisis–which seems to re-ignite every two year with a confluence of triggers–accelerated into a series of surgical strikes resulting in 77 percent “unintentional” targeting of civilian death, according to a UN report.  Note that these surgical strikes are justified by military strategists for its “precision”.   As a result, there are economic, social, and human costs associated with the Gaza strikes, and now ground invasion by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), which started Thursday, July 17th.  But you don’t have to take our word for it; below include assessments by others who have clearly stated all this before we blogged about it.  Omar Baddar writes for Salon on the human costs that continue to grow with disproportionate use of violence by state military campaigns.

Economic Costs

Source: Deutsche-Welle, Germany

 

The conflict has so far cost Israel’s defense budget more than a billion shekels, some 200 million euros. Eitan Avriel of the business magazine “The Marker” suspects that the army will reclaim this money from the government.

There is also the additional expenditure on emergency programs in support of people living in the southern parts of the country. For instance, parents receive compensation for the loss of earnings resulting from their staying at home to care for minor children, as almost all summer camps in areas located in the vicinity of the Gaza strip have remained closed due to rocket attacks.

With just 15 seconds of warning time before a rocket strikes, it would be almost impossible to bring large groups of children into safety in time.

Less consumption, less tourism

“The government has already allocated 400 million shekels to support the communities living along the border with the Gaza Strip,” says Eitan. However, the greatest loss is the decline in the gross national product, he stressed, pointing out that consumption has virtually halved.

Carmel Markt in Tel Aviv - Carmel Markt in Tel Aviv,Marktstrasse, Foto: Robert B. Fishman, ecomedia, 19.2.2014 Eitan says consumption dropped by a third in Tel Aviv region

In the nation’s south, it completely collapsed, Eitan noted. “While in Ashdod, Ashkelon and Sderot sales have fallen by 60 to 70 percent, the area around Tel Aviv saw consumption drop by a third. At the same time, public transport has seen a loss of 20 percent,” said the journalist on Israeli television.

The tourism industry was particularly badly hit, says Yossi Fatael of the country’s tour operators association. Around 40 percent of the sector’s revenue is generated in the summer season.

“But we are incurring huge losses as new tourist bookings have totally stopped and there have been many cancellations,” he explained. That’s why we have approached the government and requested it to provide assistance to the industry, said Fatael.

Curtailing consumer protection

Employees who are not currently working should not be dismissed from their jobs, but rather undergo training and other skills development programs. But in order to implement such programs, employers are looking for government support.

Yossi Fatael argues that easing of consumer protection laws would also help. “For instance, a new law stipulates that we pay compensation in case of flight delays or cancellations,” says Fatael, demanding a suspension of the law.

The tourism industry also calls on the government to provide an alternative airport as the international Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv has become a target for Hamas and came under its rocket attacks. In case of such attacks, flights are diverted to either Jordan or Cyprus, said Fatael, demanding that the government should instead divert them to the rarely used Uvda airport in the Negev, 60 km north of Eilat. [Click Deutsche-Welle, Germany to continue.]

Social & Political Costs

The social and political costs associated with the crisis ultimately go back to credibility: how much political capital are attacking forces spending in the name of military force?  Watch this to see how media coverage represents how a country puts its credibility on the line.  Video link if not working below, forward to Minute 5…
<div style=”background-color:#000000;width:520px;”><div style=”padding:4px;”><iframe src=”http://media.mtvnservices.com/embed/mgid:arc:video:thedailyshow.com:dfe38ee1-09ff-4f6c-86da-f490f0fd2f88″ width=”512″ height=”288″ frameborder=”0″></iframe><p style=”text-align:left;background-color:#FFFFFF;padding:4px;margin-top:4px;margin-bottom:0px;font-family:Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;font-size:12px;”><b><a href=”http://thedailyshow.cc.com/”>The Daily Show</a></b><br />Get More: <a href=”http://thedailyshow.cc.com/full-episodes/”>Daily Show Full Episodes</a>,<a href=”http://www.comedycentral.com/indecision”>Indecision Political Humor</a>,<a href=”http://www.facebook.com/thedailyshow”>The Daily Show on Facebook</a></p></div></div>

Human Cost Outlined by PITAPAL, Omar Baddar

The civilian death toll in Gaza is immoral and unacceptable — and it’s time to talk honestly about all of it.

How commonly is the alleged moral superiority of the Israeli military invoked? So commonly that if you type “the most moral army in the world” into Google, you’ll immediately get a bunch of articles discussing the Israeli “Defense” Forces. Just last week, Slate’s William Saletan argued that while Hamas fires rockets at civilians, Israel takes “pains” in its “exemplary” efforts to avoid harming Palestinian civilians. The New York Times’ Steven Erlanger didn’t “argue” that Israel takes major precautions to avoid harming civilians, he seemed to be taking it as a given when he wrote Gazans were anxious about airstrikes “no matter how carefully Israel tries to target them.”

Despite the fact that the Palestinians are an occupied, besieged and oppressed population that lacks the capability to defend itself against systemic and daily Israeli violence, Hamas’s insistence that Israeli civilians are legitimate targets is morally indefensible, and should be condemned by all people of conscience. But according to what evidence is Israel’s conduct better? And how can it possibly be better when Israel has advanced surveillance capability and laser-guided weaponry, but has still managed to kill more than 150 Palestinian civilians (including 40+ children) in Gaza, compared to just one Israeli death in this latest round of violence? Instead of taking Israel at its word, let’s look at the take of credible observers. [Click here to continue.]

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U.S. Announces New Sanctions Against Firms in UAE & Lebanon

Despite UAE’s great news: Dubai airport has ranked higher than Heathrow International for more air traffic, neighboring emirate of Sharjah has drawn the negative attention for supplying the Syrian regime with petroleum products.  On July 9th, Wednesday, the U.S. Treasury added Pangates to the U.S. sanctions list for supplying specialty petroleum products to the Syrian government and blacklisted two additional Syrian companies, Expert Partners and Megatrade, according to Reuters.  Both Syrian companies aided the regime in acquiring ballistic missiles used against its own people.  

The Syrian government’s continued violence against its own people is abhorrent,” -Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen.

The U.S. has long been a fan of using sanctions as a tool in the MENA region in conjunction with other tools, to stem terrorist  or perceived conflict activities.  Iran is a case in point regarding its nuclear program.  At the same time, the U.S. has been noted to also arm countries’ regimes that have also been sanctioned, like Iran, during the Iran-Contra Affair during the 1980s.

At the outbreak of Syria’s revolution turned crisis in 2011, the U.S. Treasury Department added Syrian dictator, Bashar al Assad, and his top 15 associates, to the list of sanctioned persons and entities.

The sanctions tool is most certainly a favorite tool.  Last week on July 10th, the U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions against Kamel and Issam Mohamad Amhaz, who run the Stars Group Holidng company in Beirut, Lebanon for ties to Hezbollah.  The full press release is posted below for more details.  Stars Group is reported to have subsidiaries in the United Arab Emirates and China.

Dubai’s Airport Ready to Take on Busiest Airport Hub Title

As Dubai airport’s importance increases due to its increased business traffic to parts of the MENA region, that’s where the good news in MENA ends for now.

Egypt’s Debt Crisis… Continues.

The Elbawaba news site reported that Egypt’s financial reserves dropped drastically due to Gulf Cooperation Council countries’ (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the UAE) decision to suspend aid in the amount of 12 billion dollars–with estimates as high as 20 billion dollars since Mohamed Morsi’s ousters in June, 2013.

Egypt’s net international foreign reserves fell by $600m, recording $16.68bn at the end of June, down from $17.28m in May, the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) announced on Monday.

Foreign reserves are now the lowest since the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, when they saw a jump following a total Gulf aid package of $12bn, in the form of cash grants, deposits and petroleum products.

Low financial reserves partially explain why the Sisi government enacted subsidy reform on petroleum products assistance to Egyptians. In Sisi’s speech last week, he called upon Egyptians to swallow the “bitter pill” of cut fuel subsidies while calling upon the wealthiest segment to donate to Egypt’s development.  Although the first part of his call to the Egyptians will become a reality, the second part will not.

 

Treasury Sanctions Procurement Agents Of Hizballah Front Company Based In Lebanon With Subsidiaries In The UAE And China

7/10/2014

Action Targets Company’s Owners and Several Managers Responsible for Supporting Hizballah’s Global Procurement Operations

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of the Treasury targeted a key Hizballah procurement network today by designating brothers Kamel and Issam Mohamad Amhaz, their consumer electronics business Stars Group Holding based in Beirut, Lebanon, its subsidiaries, and certain managers and individuals who support their illicit activities.  Today’s actions were taken pursuant to E.O. 13224, which targets terrorists and those providing support to terrorists, or acts of terrorism.  As a result of today’s action, all assets of those designated today that are based in the United States or in control by U.S. persons are frozen, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.  Today’s action highlights Hizballah’s continued reliance on companies for material support, including the procurement of material used to enhance the group’s military capabilities.

 

Hizballah has used the Stars Group Holding network to covertly purchase sophisticated electronics and other technology from suppliers across the world.  Items obtained by Hizballah using the Stars Group Holding network have directly supported the group’s military capabilities, including the development of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which have been used most recently to support Hizballah’s military activities in Syria and to conduct surveillance operations in Israel.

 

“With disturbing reach far beyond Lebanon, Hizballah’s extensive procurement networks exploit the international financial system to enhance its military capabilities in Syria and its terrorist activities worldwide,” said Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen.  “This global terrorist activity and expanding criminal network belie Hizballah’s claimed purpose as a national liberation movement.  It is critical that countries throughout the world work together to combat this dangerous organization and sever it from sources of revenue and support.”

 

Beirut-based Stars Group Holding is owned and managed by President and Chief Executive Officer Kamel Mohamad Amhaz and company Chairman Issam Mohamad Amhaz.  In addition to the company’s Lebanon-based businesses, Treasury-designated Stars Group Holding maintains subsidiaries in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Unique Stars Mobile Phones LLC, and Guangzhou, China, Stars International Ltd.  Today’s action also targets Ayman Ibrahim, who serves as the General Manager of Unique Stars Mobile Phones LLC, and Ali Zeaiter who is the General Manager of Stars International Ltd.

 

Over the past three years, Stars Group Holding, Kamel Mohamad Amhaz, Issam Mohamad Amhaz, Ayman Ibrahim, and Ali Zeaiter have used these China- and UAE-based subsidiaries to acquire a range of engines, communications, electronics, and navigation equipment from companies in the United States, Asia, Canada, and Europe for Hizballah’s use in UAVs and for other projects.  These individuals and entities have relied on false end-user certificates, mislabeled air waybills, and other fraudulent methods to avoid export restrictions and otherwise conceal Hizballah as the ultimate end-user or beneficiary of these goods.

 

In addition to the Stars Group Holding owners, managers, and companies described above, Treasury is also designating Hanna Elias Khalifeh, a Hizballah member and Lebanese businessman who has worked directly with Stars Group Holding network managers to facilitate these procurement activities on behalf of Hizballah.

 

The following Beirut-based subsidiaries of Stars Group Holding were also designated by Treasury today:  Stars Communications Ltd., Teleserve Plus Sal, Stars Communications Offshore Sal, and Fastlink SARL.

 

 

Identifying Information

Individual 1:               KAMEL MOHAMAD AMHAZ

AKA:                          Kamel Mohamed Amhaz  

AKA:                          Kamel Amhaz

AKA:                          Kamel Al-Amhaz

AKA:                          Kamil Amhaz

DOB:                          04 August 1973

Nationality:                 Lebanon

Passport:                      RL2244333, Lebanon

ID No:                         61 Niha El-Mehfara

Address 1:                   5th Floor, Ghadir Building, Kods Street, Haret Hreik (Baabda), Lebanon

Address 2:                   Ghadir, 5th Floor, Safarat, Bir Hassan, Jenah, Lebanon

Address 3:                   Ghadir, 5th Floor, Embassies Street, Bir Hasan, Lebanon

Address 4:                   Dallas Center, Saida Old Street, Chiah, Baabda, Lebanon

Occupation:                 President & Chief Executive Officer, Stars Group Holding

 

Individual 2:               ISSAM MOHAMAD AMHAZ

 

AKA:                          Issam Mohamed Amhaz

AKA:                          ‘Isam Amhaz

DOB:                          04 March 1967

POB:                           Baalbek, Lebanon

Nationality:                 Lebanon

Passport:                      RL0000199, Lebanon

ID No:                        61 Nabha

Address 1:                   Ghadir, 5th Floor, Safarat, Bir Hassan, Jenah, Lebanon

Address 2:                   Issam Mohamad Amhaz Property, Ambassades (Safarate), Bir Hassan Area, Ghobeiri (Baabda), Lebanon

Occupation:                 Chairman, Stars Group Holding

Occupation:                 General Manager, Teleserve Plus Sal

 

 

Individual 3:               AYMAN IBRAHIM

AKA:                          Ayman Ahmad Ibrahim

DOB:                          01 April 1979

POB:                           ‘Adlun, Lebanon

Occupation:                 General Manager, Unique Stars Mobile Phones LLC

 

 

Individual 4:               ALI ZEAITER

AKA:                          Ali Zoeiter

AKA:                          ‘Ali Zu’aytar

AKA:                          Ali Husayn Zu’aytir

DOB:                          24 February 1977

Nationality:                 Lebanon

Passport 1:                   RL1924321, Lebanon

Passport 2:                   RL0877465, Lebanon

Address 1:                   No. 351 Tianhe Road, Tianhe District, Guangzhou, China

Address 2:                   Room 2203A, Grand Tower, No. 228 Tianhe Road, Tianhe District, Guangzhou, China

Address 3:                   Room 2203A, Guangcheng Building, No. 228 Tianhe Road, Guangzhou,   China

Address 4:                   204 No. 253 Tianhebei Road, Guangzhou, China

Occupation:                 General Manager, Stars International Ltd.

 

Individual 5:               HANNA ELIAS KHALIFEH

AKA:                          Hanna Khalifah

AKA:                          Hanna Khalife

DOB:                          09 July 1955

Nationality:                 Lebanon

Passport:                      RL2033216, Lebanon

Address 1:                   Midan Street, Mazraat Yachouh, Metn, Lebanon

Address 2:                   Asaad Karam Building, Midan Street, Mazraat Yachouh, Lebanon

 

Parent Company:      STARS GROUP HOLDING 

AKA:                          Stars Group Sal (Holding)

AKA:                          Stars Group Holding SAL

Registration/File

Number:                      1901453, Beirut, Lebanon

Registered Office:      Property Number 5208/62, Issam Mohamed Amha, 6th Floor, Dallas Center, Old Saida Road, C, Lebanon

Chamber of

Commerce Number:    317211

Mailing Address:        Postal Box 13-5483, Lebanon

Address 1:                   Bdeir Building, Snoubra Street, Bir El-Abed Area,  Haret Hreik, Baabda, Lebanon

Address 2:                   Bir El Abed, Hadi Nasrallah Highway, Middle East & Africa Bank Building, First Floor, Beirut, Lebanon

Address 3:                   Old Saida Road, Dallas Center, 6th Floor, Beirut, Lebanon

Webpage URL:           www.starscom.net

 

Subsidiary 1:              UNIQUE STARS MOBILE PHONES LLC 

AKA:                          Unique Stars LLC

Registration/

File Number:               591610, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Chamber of

Commerce Number:    116340

Registered Office:      Postal Box 98498, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Mailing Address:        Postal Box 98498, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Location 1:                  Al Maktoum Road, Deira, Al Kabira Building, First Floor, Office #103, PO Box 98498, Dubai, UAE

Location 2:                  Office 103, 1st Floor, Sheikh Rashed Building, Al Maktoum Road, Deira, DXB Municipality, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Location 3:                  Gargash Center, Nasser Square, Shop No. 41, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

 

Subsidiary 2:              STARS INTERNATIONAL LTD 

AKA:                          Stars International Co. Ltd

Location 1:                  Room 2203A, Grand Tower, No. 228 TianHe Road, TianHe District, Guangzhou P.R., China

Location 2:                  F-18, Dubai Airport Free Zone, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

 

Subsidiary 3:              STARS COMMUNICATIONS LTD 

AKA:                          Stars Communications Ltd Sarl

AKA:                          Stars Communications LLC

AKA:                          Stars Communications

Registration Number:  2001929, Baabda

Location 1:                  Hadi Nasrallah Av, MEAB Building, 1st Floor, Beirut, Lebanon

Location 2:                  Bir el Abed, Snoubra Street, Haret Hreyk, Beirut, Lebanon

Location 3:                  Tayyouneh, Haret Hreyk, Beirut, Lebanon

Location 4:                  Port, Nahr, Beirut, Lebanon

Location 5:                  Ras El Ain, Baalbeck, Lebanon

Location 6:                  Hadeth, Lebanon

Location 7:                  Nabatiyeh, Lebanon

Location 8:                  Old Saida Road, Beirut Mall, Beirut, Lebanon

Location 9:                  Duty-Free Airport, Rafik Hariri International Airport, Beirut, Lebanon

Location 10:                Sharl Helo Street, Beirut Seaport, Lebanon

Location 11:                Kamil Shamoun Street, Dekwaneh, Beirut, Lebanon

Location 12:                Hermel, Lebanon

 

Subsidiary 4:              TELESERVE PLUS SAL 

AKA:                          Teleserveplus

Registration/

File Number:               2004609, Baabda, Lebanon

Registered Office:      4th Floor, Dalas Center, Old Saida Road, Chiyah (Baabda), Lebanon

Mailing Address:        Postal Box 13-5483, Lebanon

Address 1:                   6th Floor, Dallas Center, Old Saida Avenue,  Beirut, Lebanon

Address 2:                   6th Floor, Dallas Center, Old Saida Road, Chiyah, Baabda, Lebanon

Webpage:                    www.teleserveplus.com

 

Subsidiary 5:              STARS COMMUNICATIONS OFFSHORE SAL 

AKA:                          Stars Communications Offshore

AKA:                          Stars Communication Sal Off-Shore

AKA:                          Stars Offshore

Registration Number:  1801374, Baabda

Location 1:                  Hojeij Building, 2nd Floor, Zaghloul Street, Haret Hreik, Baabda, Lebanon

Location 2:                  Bdeir Building, Ground Floor, Snoubra Street, Ghobeiry, Baabda, Lebanon

Location 3:                  Hadi Nasrallah Av, MEAB Building, 1st Floor, Beirut, Lebanon

 

Subsidiary 6             FASTLINK SARL

AKA:                          Fast Link SAL

Location 1:                  Hadi Nasrallah Av, MEAB Building, 1st Floor, Beirut, Lebanon

Location 2:                  Cendrella Street, Dalas Center, Chyah, Baabda, Lebanon

Location 3:                  Dallas, 6th Floor, Saida Old Road, Chiyah, Beirut, Lebanon

 

 

 

##

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Who’s Been Giving in Ramadan: #Algeria #Saudi

Islam SlimaniPhoto: Diehard Sport   Source: http://www.diehardsport.com/2014/07/02/algeria-striker-announces-team-will-donate-world-cup-prize-money/

On July 1st, the United Nations applauded Saudi Arabia for committing to donate $500 million dollars in humanitarian aid to Iraq, which is dealing with the rise of mercenary moves by the Islamic State of Iraq & Syria (aka ISIS, or ISIL when referring to Levant area).  It is the month of Ramadan, where charitable giving and Zakat (Islamic practice of allocating 2.5 percent of yearly income to charity) are on the rise anyways.  But Saudi Arabia isn’t the only country to make the news for donations.

Algeria World Cup Team: Non-state Charity Makes Powerful Statement

In a surprising twist of the World Cup, Algeria’s national team striker, Islam Slimani, said that the team will donate their World Cup prize money –about $9 million– to the people in Gaza because “they need it more than us.” Non-state actor charity makes a powerful statement.

On June 30th, Algeria faced-off with Germany in the final 16, but lost in overtime.  Symbolically, in the ultimate game theory scenario, the Algeria vs. Germany game earned the nickname “Revenge” because of the infamous 1982 World Cup playoffs where West Germany colluded with Austria to orchestrate a marginal victory by the Germans (avoid a tie) in order to eliminate Algeria from advancing to the next round.  We have all seen the New York Times coverage of the infamous match, so here’s an Arab media reporting of the story by Lebanon’s The Daily Star.

 Although Slimani will rejoin the team Sporting Lisbon, most of his other teammates will be making a relatively bigger financial sacrifice by committing their World Cup prize money. 

This is important to note given the widely publicized praise for Saudi’s donation to its neighboring country–which may be viewed more as benefiting Saudi’s national security interest. Currently, Saudi Arabia has tense relations with Iraq.  Due to the border security concerns with ISIS, Saudi Arabia has already posted 30,000 of its troops along the shared border, according to Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television.

Here is a quick snippet of Ramadan giving by pita-consuming countries as of July 3rd.  (For more comprehensive data, contact qayyum at pitapolicyconsulting dot com.)

  1. UAE: UAE Water Aid Campaign – 76.450 Dirhams
  2. Kuwait: Kuwait Red Crescent Launches 30 Day Meal Program in Beirut for Syrian Refugees
  3. Turkey:  150,000 Meningitis vaccines to Pakistan ($6.6 million)  & IHH Ramadan Campaign for 91 countries
  4. Qatar: Reach Out to Asia, Qatar Charity, and Qatar Red Crescent Charities Pledge $6.87 million

Food Stuff Prices Increase in Ramadan

Source:  Today’s Zaman, Turkey

“Some food companies have resorted to opportunism in the past in Turkey, trying to cash in on increased demand by either setting relatively higher prices or selling expired products, among other things. Ahead of this year’s Ramadan, beginning on June 28, fears concerning possible price gouging is pushing the government to increase monitoring of markets and dealers. Consumer unions, meanwhile, are issuing warnings that people be wary of opportunism by some dealers.

Food prices experience artificial increases due to price speculation a few weeks before the holy month of Ramadan every year, Mustafa Karlı, chairman of the İstanbul Food Wholesalers Association (İGTOD), said on June 17, warning consumers not to be deceived by these high prices.”

Source: Zawya

“Ramadan is here and prices of foodstuff have gone up, albeit erratically. Many customers have noticed that drinks popular in Ramadan are dearer compared to the beginning of the holy month. Others have also complained of an increase in the prices of fruits and vegetables. This may be true in some places while it’s not the case at others.

For instance, prices of vegetables at Khaldiya Co-op have not changed for the past two months, according to the research by Kuwait Times. The same applies for beef and chicken, whose prices have remained the same since May. But a worker at this supermarket admitted that the price of some drinks have increased, while those of sweets haven’t.

Fathi from Ahmadi Co-op noted that the prices at their supermarket haven’t increased during Ramadan. “We have special offers on selected items and for shareholders only. For instance, they can buy a pack of Tang for the cheap price of KD 1.890, and any additional piece will cost the regular price of KD 3.500. They can also buy a bottle of Vimto for 295 fils instead of 720 fils, and so on. So some people may think prices have increased, but it’s not true,” he told Kuwait Times.”

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We had to catch Gigi Ibrahim and Syrian election coverage on The Daily Show b/c El Barnamej canceled.

“Could you imagine a country that would strip civil rights under the guise of fighting terrorism… we are not so different, you and I.” ~Jon Stewart as he interviews Egyptian activist, Gigi Ibrahim on the “common ground” shared by US and Egypt.

American satirist, Jon Stewart, alluded to the common ground that the U.S. and Egypt may share: suspending civil liberties to better protect national security interests–the “Greater Good”.  (Pitaconsumers: try not to chuckle, then cringe, at the use of “greater good”.)  Satire fans may recall from the film “Hot Fuzz”, which satirizes society’s attempt to destroy the individual for his or her ultimate welfare.  On this note, weapons support to the Egyptian government continues for combating terrorism–despite the US freeze on Egypt, reports Middle East Eye.

Syria Votes in Blood

Fortunately (and unfortunately) The Daily Show covered Syria’s sham elections and Egypt’s 41,000 political prisoners as best as any satirical news can do–arguably even better than any “real” Syrian or Egyptian news program… Does Syrian news reporting explain why Syrian voters must mark their ballots with a drop of blood from their fingers or why even Bashar al-Assad’s opponents refuse to criticize him on policy?  Political cartoons seem to do a better job illustrating how Syrians vote in blood.

Bashar Al-Assad  won presidential with 88.7 percent of votes.  We find it impossible to believe that Syrian elections produced a 73.42 percent voter turnout.

Withdrawal and Withdrawing from Public

Now that Bassem Youssef’s Egyptian satire program, El-Barnamej, is gone, we are going through withdrawal.  Youssef’s commentary and interviews covered social, economic, and political issues in Egypt — one of the reasons Egypt used to be considered a media hub for the MENA region, and had no Arab media rival throughout the 1980s and 1990s …  until Al-Jazeera’s launch.

So it is with some sad resignation that we could only make up for this withdrawal by catching Egyptian human rights and social justice activist, Gigi Ibrahim’s, visit to The Daily Show, hosted by Jon Stewart.  Stewart invited Ibrahim in 2011 immediately after Hosni Mubarak’s removal.  Check out her remarks:

  1. Abdel Fateh El-Sisi’s election win despite how the ‘Freedom of Expression’ space is narrowing.
  2. Example 1: Imprisonment of Mahienoor El-Masri, Egyptian Human Rights & Labor Attorney for protesting during Egypt’s controversial Anti-Protest Law. (#FreeMahienoor)
  3. Example 2: El-Barnamej self-cancellation because Youssef does not want an Egyptian program, about Egypt, broadcast by a NON-Egyptian channel.  Egyptian reporter and photographer, @Zeinobia who blogs from Egypt, broke down the whole El Barnamej story here. To what extent will Bassem Youssef withdraw from public life?

http://thedailyshow.cc.com/extended-interviews/zbldif/gigi-ibrahim-extended-interview?xrs=share_copy_email

 

 

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93 Percent Confident that Sisi Believes It’s His Job to Reckon With #EgyEconomy

Now that Egypt’s second presidential election within two years is finished, we can not help but hum the Pet Shop Boys classic tune, “I’m With Stupid”, poking fun at political leaders’ unquestioning allies.  A few weeks ago, Qayyum expressed some optimism for Egypt’s elections on Freedom House’s blog.  Now, we are “93 percent” confident that el-Sisi supporters believe that their candidate understands that it’s his job to “reckon” with the economy.

Sooo….even though Egypt’s election commission extended voting for a third day in Egypt, Abdel Fatah el-Sisi is now Egypt’s second elected president since Mubarak’s ouster.  (El-Sisi served as Egypt’s former defense minister, who led the coup that removd Egypt’s last elected president, Muhammad Morsi.) The extra third voting day was granted due to low voter turnout.

His opponent, Hamdeen Sabahi, contested the results last week arguing that el-Sisi’s campaign violated the rule of campaigning within polling stations.  Sabahi’s campaign withdrew its monitors from the polls, complaining that security forces there were heckling them.  Sabahi’s allegation is no surprise since election rigging is commonplace in Egypt and a range of private Egyptian media outlets have favored el-Sisi’s campaign calling him the inevitable winner months before the actual election.  Sabahi’s conclusions are not without evidence.  On June 1st, an Egyptian NGO, the Committee for Monitoring & Evaluating Media Performance released its report that monitored how private channels pressured the High Presidential Election Commission (HPEC) and invited guests who heavily favored candidates.

In the end, Sabahi conceded to el-Sisi, who “won” about 93 percent of Egypt’s electorate–or 23.9 million votes.  In the 2014 presidential election case, Egypt’s electorate was less than half the country’s eligible voting population– about 47 percent.

Accusations of unfair elections process continue:  “Egypt’s repressive political environment made a genuinely democratic presidential election impossible,” Eric Bjornlund, president of Democracy International, an election-monitoring organization funded by the United States, said in a statement.

 

But the numbers game isn’t over: budgetary issues and targeted subsidies remain on the table for el-Sisi.

Getting elected Egypt’s president is nothing compared to fixing its economy

by Shaheen Pasha

There were no surprises in Egypt’s elections this week. Former general Abdel Fattah el-Sisi secured a sweeping victory after three days of lackluster turnout. His election was all but assured, given the lack of any real, credible opposition. But his real challenge lies ahead: fixing the decimated Egyptian economy. [Click here to continue.]

Sisi’s economic plan

Initial indications aren’t promising. Sisi’s “Map of the Future” economic plan, released days before the election, seems to mirror costly economic policies that were around during the Mubarak regime. The plan, calling for 48 new cities, eight airports as well as fish farms and renewable energy projects, would cost $140 billion. Sisi claims the plan will be funded by aid from Gulf countries, as well as support from Egyptians living abroad and FDI. But he gives no set plan on just how he will raise the money.

For Sisi, the election was the easy part. His win was assured. But he is taking over a country that has now overthrown two governments. To maintain public support, Egypt’s struggling economy will have to take priority in his agenda. Otherwise, he may be laying the seeds for another revolution.

To that end, Sisi faces a Herculean task. The charts below illustrate just how fragile the Egyptian economy has become in the wake of the 2011 uprising and the subsequent political turmoil in the country.

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Why Should Citizens Stifle Their Voices By NOT Voting? #Egypt #Algeria #VoiceViaVoting

Another version of this article appeared on the Freedom House Blog on May 16th, 2011 and on Huffington Post Politics on May 21st trying to figure out answers to the following five questions:

  1. If voting is a fundamental right in a democratic process, then why would an individual, or group, choose to forgo a chance at participating in elections?
  2. Why stifle one’s own voice?
  3. Can the activity or party strategy of calling upon society to boycott elections as a way to delegitimize the results actually increase democratization?
  4. What are the political and social gains when boycotting elections?
  5. What’s been the success rate of boycotting elections?

Boycotting elections poses an existential crisis for opposition parties–not the ruling ones– whether the people are ready to vote or not.  Earlier this week in Egypt, both the April 6 youth movement and the Strong Egypt Party decided to boycott the presidential elections between Hamdeen Sabbay and former General Abdel Fattah Al Sisi which are scheduled for May 26-27.  Ahmed Imam, official spokesman for “Strong Egypt” Party, told Aswat Masriya that the upcoming elections is a “skit to install Sisi as president.”  Switch out Sisi with some other high-profile candidate, and we see this familiar fear from 2011…

In the Oscar nominated Egyptian film, about voice and votes, “The Square” hints at a central dilemma that Egyptians have faced since holding presidential, parliamentary, and constitutional referenda elections in the last three years.  In a deliberate screenshot, activist Khalid Abdalla debates with his writer/activist mom the necessity of delaying elections so that more parties can participate; the alternative is for voters and blocs to boycott elections if they are held too early as it diminishes new parties’ abilities to organize.  His mother responds that aiming for perfect elections by delaying them does not promote stability–and allows society’s frustration to fester.

Khaled says “There are no decent parties.”

Activist/Author, Mona Anis: “So what?” I want the people to vote in the next two months.

Khaled: But the Ikhwan will win.

“Humanity has not discovered anything better for representation than elections.” If we don’t have it as soon as possible.

Where is anything in the middle?

Mona: “I am so “***” scared of the moment that some lieutenant or brigadier general or something will say ‘enough of this rubbish…we are back to military rule completely.’ It’s in their interest that this disintegrates into chaos. It is in their interest to say: ‘you people, enough–law and order.’”

Usually in elections, the voters’ central dilemma is deciding whether to vote for candidate ‘A’, ‘B’, or even ‘C’. However, in Egypt’s upcoming presidential elections, voters and organizing blocs are revisiting the dilemma they faced in their 2012 elections in deciding whether to even vote at all.  Simply put: to boycott elections or not to boycott?  If voting is a fundamental right in a democratic process, then why would an individual, or group, choose to forgo a chance at participating in elections? Why stifle one’s own voice?  Boycotting elections emerges as a “third option”, but the boycott strategy presents a false option for voters and parties because it throws away a vote and voids the collective voice.

Why Boycott Elections
Considering Egypt’s upcoming presidential election on May 26th, a few reasons may push election boycotts. The first reason applies to many countries–not just Egypt–and that is the concern for election fraud. One can sympathize with the voter decision to boycott elections given the concerns for ballot secrecy. Depending on how secure the voting measures are, voters worry that casting their ballot for anyone, other than the incumbent or winner, may be targeted once they exit the polling station. But secret ballots also introduce an element of risk. It is easier to commit voter fraud if the ballot is secret during electronic voting. In principle, the most secret type of ballot means that even the voter has no record of her vote, thereby making the vote ‘untraceable’. If the vote is untraceable, then there is an opportunity for parties to rig electronic voting and exclude candidates and groups.

Speaking of exclusion, a second argument for employing the boycott strategy is to draw attention to how non-inclusive the electoral process is, which would result in underrepresented minorities. Boycotting by underrepresented groups may draw international attention — specifically, signaling to human rights groups that elections are not inclusive, which thereby, delegitimize the election results.

The third argument for boycotting elections speaks to the frustration of a “perceived” false choice, as seen in Egypt’s post-Mubarak elections. During the 2012 presidential run-off elections, most Egyptians felt that they were compelled to choose between a Scylla and a Charybdis with Ahmed Shafiq or Mohamed Morsi on the ballot. Egyptians could either vote for a remnant of the Hosni Mubarak era, Ahmed Shafiq, or vote for a symbol of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Morsi. Consequently, only 46 percent of eligible Egyptian voters turned out for the first round of elections, according to the International Foundation for Electoral Systems. By the second round, the campaign to boycott Egypt’s presidential elections, known as “voiders” or “mokate’oon” in Arabic, presented itself as the “third option” to Shafiq and Morsi.  As a result, voter turnout was even lower.

South Africa’s Unique Success With Elections Boycott
Revisiting South Africa’s 1994 elections demonstrates how the boycott strategy produced success as it mobilized domestic and international pressure to include more representative voices. These were the first elections after the fall of apartheid — a success championed by Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) party. As such, it was no surprise that the ANC was positioned to win because of Mandela’s leadership success. Yet, the ANC’s popular support meant that there was less chance to have a broad representation of voices in the electoral process, which worried opposition forces. For example, opposition party head, like Mangosuthu Buthelezi of Inkatha, stood little chance winning outside of his province. Buthelezi wanted more autonomy for his province, so he used the boycott threat to leverage his party’s position and represent his province’s interests. Buthelezi rallied domestic pressure around international pressure to negotiate with the ANC and gained two concessions. The gains in boycotting elections were recognized before the election because it was the THREAT by Inkatha/opposition party to carry out the boycott, which facilitated their goal of beating the ANC in KwaZulu, the province that had lobbied for more autonomy. South Africans in KwaZulu also voted, rather than boycotting, because they had more choices since Inkatha ultimately competed. Thus, Inkatha leveraged its role by employing the threat of boycotts as a tactic without actually implementing the boycott.

Boycott Strategy Fails in Most Cases
Although the boycott strategy worked in South Africa’s case, evidence shows that boycotting elections failed in most cases. Between 1990 and 2009, the boycott strategy rarely succeeded for voters, according to a 2010 study entitled “Threaten but Participate: Why Election Boycotts Are a Bad Idea” by Matthew Frankel. In the 171 cases Frankel examined, he found that the boycott strategy only worked 4 percent of the time globally. Given Frankel’s findings, why did the South Africa example from 1994 experience the rare success while the other 96 percent of cases did not? Frankel reasoned that the threats of boycotts can be effective when there’s strong domestic and international pressure to ensure that the elections are fully representative.

Boycotting elections may make a point at the expense of both the individual voter as well as at the organizational level.  The intended goal of boycott is to sit on the sidelines and let him (or the predominant party) fail so that the opposition stands a better chance of winning in the next cycle.  But this is the gamble that Frankel discusses, which has not proven successful in most cases. For example, consider Venezuela’s 2005 elections, which show how the opposition boycott drew in only 25 percent voter participation.  The following year, Chavez’s coalition passed a series of policies because “he was also aided by high abstention rates among opposition voters who were convinced that the balloting was futile or not entirely secret,” reported Freedom House.

Lebanon’s 1992 election provides a similar example, with even longer-term implications. Maronite Christians boycotted electoral participation (about one-third of Lebanon’s electorate). The immediate result of boycotting left a void for a newer political party, like Hezbollah, to gain more of a political voice. With about 87 percent of voters not voting (mainly Christian) a “record number of candidates won unopposed or with nominal competition” found a Lebanese study of 1992 parliamentary elections. In the last two decades of Lebanon’s electoral politics, Hezbollah has maintained its increasing voice because it has rallied its voting base. Overall, evidence shows that giving up a vote — ironically to “voice” a larger grievance — is a gamble that has worked for very few groups in 4 out of 100 instances.

In addition, the boycott strategy incorrectly assumes that the opposition parties can stay out of practice in organizing campaigns and then easily reactivate for each campaign cycle. For example, look back at Iraq’s 2005 elections where voicing without voting did not change outcomes. In Iraq’s January 2005 elections, a concerted Sunni boycott resulted in a “strategic blunder”, according to Frankel, because Sunnis won only 5 of 275 parliamentary seats. Consequently in the short term, Sunnis relinquished their veto power during the constitution drafting process that followed. In the long-term, groups that boycotted had to redouble their efforts to reactivate its voter base so that they could regain lost seats in the December 2005 elections.

In addition to Frankel’s study, recent cases reinforce the 96 percent failure rate in boycotting elections. Libya’s and Algeria’s 2014 elections witnessed both a voter and party boycott. In March 2014, Libya’s ethnic Amazigh decided to boycott Libya’s Constituent Assembly. Consequently, 2 of the 60 seats designated for the Amazigh remain empty and without a voice.

Likewise, in Algeria’s case, six parties boycotted because they feared vote tampering would occur to guarantee the incumbent’s win. In a self-fulfilling prophecy, Algeria’s presidential incumbent (Bouteflika) won with even less opposition. When parties boycott, they fail the electorate. Neither Libya’s, nor Algeria’s, boycott strategies produced a party to party negotiation, unlike the successful South Africa case. Furthermore, voters pay for the decision in both the short-term and long-term given that alternative parties remove themselves from the next cycle of legislation (Iraq, Libya, and Venezuela) and decision-making (Lebanon).

Frankel’s study and recent case show that executing an elections boycott does not achieve the goal of getting the contested party out of power. Unlike South Africa’s example where the threat of — not the actual boycott — proved successful, boycotting the presidential elections amounts to apathy at the ballot box.  In the case of Lebanon, Venezuela, Iraq, Algeria and Libya, it would have been better for candidates to invest their energy into organizing an election campaign rather than a boycott campaign. When the opposition and voters boycott, they forget that elections are not just a one time effort. There is always the next election cycle. So why sit on the sideline and relegate the party voice to “non participant”?

Reflecting back to Egypt’s case, boycotting elections poses an existential crisis for opposition parties — not the ruling ones– whether the people are ready to vote or not.  “The Square” hints at the central dilemma that Egyptians have faced since holding presidential, parliamentary, and constitutional referenda elections in the last three years.  In a deliberate screenshot, activist Khalid Abdalla debates with his writer/activist mom on the necessity of delaying elections so that more parties can participate. The alternative is for voters and blocs to boycott elections if they are held too early as it diminishes new parties’ abilities to organize.  His mother responds that, “Humanity has not discovered anything better for representation than elections,” and that aiming for perfect elections by delaying them does not promote stability while society’s frustration festers.

In Egypt’s case, citizens still have a chance to vote–so why not cast the ballot so that there is stronger voice to hold the winner accountable if he does not satisfy the electorate? The task is to organize the voice and votes, not to organize ‘non-voting’. Therefore, Egyptians must voice beyond protesting, and vote, because voting provides the incentive for political parties to organize themselves and produce better candidates.

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U.S. Recognizes Syrian Opposition as Foreign Mission

Dear Pitaconsumers:

May 15th marks Al-Nakba from 1948, which produced one of the largest refugee crises in the 20th century.  It has now been joined by the Syria crisis– also produced a record number of refugees– fueled by the Assad regime’s refusal to share power and lay siege on his own people.

Syrian Opposition Gains Foreign Mission Status by U.S. Government

The U.S. government formally recognized the Syrian opposition, Syrian National Council, by granting them ‘foreign mission’ status, a move that the U.K will be following.  Beginning on May 12th, the Syrian opposition was represented in DC by Ahmed Jarba, Hadi al-Bahra (Chief Negotiator), Monzer Akbik, and Rime Allaf who presented their case to the White House, Senators, Congressmen, think tanks (U.S. Institute for Peace and New America Foundation) and Georgetown University.   As Akbik stated to New America, “The extremists are not the opposition. We are the opposition. Al Qaeda uses failed countries as a safehaven.”

This status change provides the backdrop for their leader, Ahmed Jarba’s visit to Washington, DC this week.  PITAPOLICY’s Mehrunisa Qayyum was interviewed by Al-Jazeera Arabic’s Yaser Alarami on what Jarba’s visit means.  Arabic Version here.

Jabra’s Visit & Implications

  1. AJ Arabic: In your opinion what are the indications of Ahmed Jarba’s meeting with President Obama?
  • Qayyum: Indicator 1: As you know,  Jarba met with legislative leaders, like Senate Majority Whip, Dick Durbin, U.S. House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor and Ranking Member of Senate Foreign Relations Committe, John Cain–as well as with the Executive Branch leaders, like Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Adviser, Susan Rice.  But the Congressional discussions continue to veer towards Humanitarian aid/nonlethal support, rather than lethal weapon support.
  • Indicator 2: On April 30th, The U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee voted unanimously  to urge the Obama administration and the United Nations to stop recognizing Bashar al-Assad as the “rightful” ruler of Syria and to “redirect” humanitarian assistance directly to private aid groups.  Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/05/jarba-congress-visit-syria-opposition.html##ixzz31bi0nR00
  • Indicator 3: Perhaps, with the newly formalized status of representing a ‘foreign mission’ Jarba has raised the opposition’s profile by speaking at significant US civil society fora, like at the US Institute for Peace, the Council on Foreign Relations.   Meanwhile the United States is planning a $27 million increase in non-lethal assistance to rebels.
  • In sum: Jarba’s meeting with Obama will occur, but solidifying relations to increase support for a more involved Syria strategy is easier, and more likely, with U.S. Congressmen and Senators.  Jarba’s visit will only reinforce what key officials already believe.
  1. AJ Arabic: Do you think that there will be significant American arming of the Syrian opposition after Jarba’s visit? 
  • Qayyum: To be honest: not in 2014 since the U.S is gearing up for midterm elections, and the Syria issue is controversial and ranks as a secondary issue (compared to the Ukraine crisis).  For example, both Jarba and Hadi al-Bahra sound like a broken record trying to assuage American concerns of Jabhat al-Nusra Front and other Al Qaeda affiliates–whether they’re speaking to congress or to high-profile think tanks, like the New America Foundation on May 12th.  Also note Cantor’s rhetoric beyond Syrians, “confront Iran’s malign influence, and combat the threat posed by extremist terrorists.”  Arming opposition is only to appealing to achieve the eternal threat objectives…not the internal massacres.  Several Senators and Congressman are too worried about increasing the violence on the ground against Syrian civilians if the US turns to arming the rebels.  So another tactic is being used: call out other regimes who are supplying arms–as the U.S. Treasury Dept did with Kuwait’s Islamic Minister Nayef al-Ajmi.  In my humble view, the U.S. is deflecting the U.S. arms discussion by calling out Gulf countries, like Qatar, which has funded over $3 billion to support fighters with arms since 2011.
  • Yet, at the same time, the CIA has already been providing technical training and small arms to Syrian rebels since 2012.  I do not believe that Jarba will walk away with a public U.S. commitment of anti-aircraft weapons and drones support.  In a nutshell, covert operations saves face from publicly debating and acknowledging providing heavier support.

 

  1. AJ Arabic: What tools does Jarba have to convince Washington in this matter?
  • Qayyum: It’s significant that Jarba publicly prioritized the “no-fly zone” matter over the request for arming rebel forces with manpads, anti-aircraft weapons, etc.
  • He has coupled the SNC request with a political solution and pointedly asking the US to exert political pressure.
  • If Jarba focuses on the threat that Russia and Iran pose in arming the Assad regime, he will appeal to the conservative, hawkish base in the U.S.

حفلت زيارة رئيس الائتلاف الوطني السوري أحمد الجربا لواشنطن باللقاءات على أعلى المستويات في الإدارة الأميركية، لكنها على ما يبدو لم تحقق أبرز أهدافها المتمثل في الحصول على سلاح نوعي أو إقناع واشنطن بإقامة منطقة حظر جوي ضد النظام. Click here to continue.

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Al-Nakba, The Catastrophe

As you know, May 15th marks ‘Al-Nakba’, or the ‘Catastrophe’ where Palestinians were displaced by the creation of a new state.  As human rights organization, Amnesty International notes, “For many Palestinian citizens the Prawer-Begin plan evokes the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the late 1940s and early 1950s, in events referred to as the ‘Nakba,’ or catastrophe.”  Therefore,”Amnesty International calls for Palestinians who fled or were expelled from Israel, the West Bank or Gaza Strip, along with those of their descendants who have maintained genuine links with the area, to be able to exercise their right to return.”

For more details on the numbers and recounting of events, we have included the facts shared by Amnesty International.

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Freedom House Releases Report #WorldPressFreedomDay

May 3rd marked ‘World Press Freedom Day’, which honors journalists and media abilities to report without political restrictions.
In preparation for this, the Freedom House organization (based in the U.S. since the 1970s) published its annual “Political Freedoms ad Civil Liberties” report.   Zeroing in on the Middle East & North Africa region, below are the top level observations of how the MENA region fared. Note:  FH includes Israel, but not Afghanistan nor Pakistan in its regional analysis, but assessed in Asia.  Here’s the report link:
  1. Saudi Arabia and Syria made the ‘Worst of the Worst’ list.  (Bahrain downgraded near the bottom of the list too.)
  2. Algeria was upgraded to “Partly Free” (barely)
  3. Tunisia and Lebanon tied with a score of ’53′ as “Partly Free” — (Second place winners? See MENA rankings below…)
  4. Turkey downgraded to “Not Free” (dramatic drop from 2013)
  5. Israel upgraded to ‘Free’ (They crossed the threshhold into “Free” by improving from a score of ’31′ in 2013 to ’30′ in 2014.)

PITAPOLICY focused on Tunisia’s political and media environment, which remained in transition in 2013.  Investigative journalism probed into judicial proceedings, civil society, and corruption.  For specifics, feel free to contact us at qayyum at pitapolicyconsulting dot com.

Check out Freedom House’s Factsheet in Arabic: Overview Fact Sheet – Arabic(1)

Country Score 2014 Rating 2014 Score 2013 Rating 2013 Change ’13-’14
Country  Rank   Score 2014   Score 2013

Israel       62nd        30 F              31 PF    1

Lebanon 112th        53 PF             53 PF -2

Tunisia    112th        53 PF             52 PF -5

Kuwait     127th      59 PF             59 PF 0

Algeria     127th       59 PF            61 NF 1

Libya        134th      62 NF           59 PF 0

Turkey      134th      62 NF           56 PF -9

*Pakistan  141st       64 NF

*Afghanistan 147th  66 NF

Morocco   147th      66 NF          66 NF 0

Qatar         152nd     68 NF          67 NF -1

Egypt         155th     68 NF           62 NF -6

Iraq            157th     69 NF            67 NF -2

Jordan        155th    68 NF          63 NF -5

 

Oman         161st      71 NF            71 NF 0

United Arab

Emirates      167th   76 NF            74 NF -3

Yemen          167th   76 NF             79 NF 2

Saudi

Arabia            181st  83NF             84 NF +1

West Bank

and Gaza       179th  82 NF              84 NF -2

Bahrain         188th  87 NF              86 NF -1

Syria               189th   89 NF            88 NF -1

Iran                 190th   90 NF            92 NF

Can’t Forget About Egypt

Egypt has earned a “Not Free” status since Hosni Mubarak’s rule.  In that time, their “civil liberties” score improved because of more judicial protections.  However, political rights hovered towards ’6′ out of ’7′ points–towards the worse end of the spectrum.  Egypt’s 2014 score for overall political and civil liberties worsened  from ’62′ to ’68′.  Ironically, May 3rd also marked Egypt’s first trial day for the Al Jazeera trio of journalists imprisoned for reporting on Egypt’s political transition.  The Egyptian judge wished them a “Happy Press Freedom Day” right before refusing their bail.

 

Reporters Without Borders Lists Heroes of Middle East

Afghanistan- Danish Karokhel

Algeria – Ali Dilem

Bahrain- Ali Abduleman & Ahmed Humaiden

Egypt – Abeer Sady

Iran – Adnan Hassenpour, Jila Bani Yaghoub, Siamak Kaderi, & Said Matinpour

Iraq – Sardar Mohummand

Libya – Amira Al Kitabi & Hanan Al Mqawab

Morocco-Ali Lmrabet & Ali Anouzla

Pakistan – Hamid Mir, Muhummad Ziaudin

Syria – Mazen Darwish & Razan Zeitouneh

Tunisia – Najiba Hamrouni & Fahem Boukadous

Turkey- Ismail Saymaz, Hasan Kemal

Yemen – Abdul Bahry Taher

United Arab Emirates – Waleed Al Shehhi

The complete list may be found here.

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Tunisia at the Crossroads: An Interview with Rached al-Ghannouchi #Tn

As social justice discussions increase in the global village–be it the Catholic Church, among labor unions, or citizens of “Arab Spring” countries—the language cuts across politics, religion and economics.  We welcome the overlap as much as we welcome the interview below…

PITAPOLICY veers away from religious discussion on the blog.  But, not all political and economic philosophies (or philosophers) are set in a purely secular domain.   Look at the Quaker movement in the U.S.:  a religious organization of individuals who vocalize pacifism.  Their religious belief influences their political voice against armed conflict.   Look at St. Augustine, who was a theologian and philosopher that reconceptualized the role of the Catholic church as the Western Holy Roman Empire disintegrated.  Recently, renowned Christian divinity scholar at the University of Chicago, Jean Bethke Elshtain, challenged political and social systems by introducing God into the debate.  A practicing Christian, Elshtain believed that human participation, in political systems, boils down to power relations–of all kinds.  There are power relations between individuals and their conscious (spiritually or emotionally); between their higher authorities (earthly)–and sometimes these may be the same, depending on interpretation. 

Similarly, such a hybrid of political-religious thought–dare we say social consciousness–exists in other parts of our global village.  Today, the current Pope and Islamic philosopher, Tariq Ramadan, consistently share observations on social and economic responsibilities of individuals and institutions.

In December 2013, PITAPAL, Dr. Noureddine Jebnoun of Georgetown University, interviewed Tunisian political and religious thought leader of the Ennahda Party, Sheikh Rached al-Ghannounchi.  Below is the transcribed conversation between Dr. Jebnoun and Dr. al-Ghannouchi.  The exclusive interview for the Al-Waleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, lasted SIX hours and covered economics, politics, and an interpretation of religious doctrine. Director for the ACMCU, Dr. John Esposito, shares his remarks in the preface and specifies Sheikh al-Ghannouchi’s role as a “creative reformer”.

PITAPOLICY appreciated getting  the political-religious philosopher’s point of view on ideas of pluralism and social justice were refined during exile, perhaps, because of the exile experience.  For example, al-Ghannouchi explored with others in the Tunisian diaspora, and beyond, on how political participation for individuals, associations, and parties may form.  

Al-Ghannouchi returned to his native Tunisia after being exiled throughout the Ben Ali regime. He was and remains the leader of Tunisia’s first party to rule since its 2011 revolution.  Since November 2013, Ennahda stepped down in a power sharing agreement.  PITAPOLICY Founder, Mehrunisa Qayyum, had difficulty understanding in only one portion.  This was Sheikh G’s emphasis on the economic relationship between Tunisia, the region, and the EU.  Qayyum wasn’t clear if he was arguing that these three areas are interdependent, thereby resulting in an “interrelationship” that cannot be measured by the World Bank/IMF economic indicators. Is it because there’s no aggregate indicator that represents the European fiscal crisis’s intermediary impact on Tunisia’s tourism sector, and larger economic sphere?  In Qayyum’s humble view, she thinks that Sheikh al-Ghannouchi intended to remain vague since he didn’t tie this into a current Tunisian problem: its increased regional smuggling. 

Click here for interview, transcribed from Arabic into English by Dr. Jebnoun.

 

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