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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PITAPOLICY to Attend Smarter Cities Summit In Morocco June 9-10

PITAPOLICY is delighted to attend the first annual International Smart Cities Summit in North Africa, which will be held in Morocco. From June 9th – 10th, we will be live-blogging the summit and welcoming comments over Twitter.  The ISCSNA will feature the Kingdom of Morocco’s Minister of Industry, Trade, Investment and Digital Economy, Moulay H. Elalamy. 

  1. If you’re following urban planning, North Africa development, technology and innovation, then you may want to register to attend here
  2. Follow @SmartCities_NA on Twitter and LinkedIn with #ISSC2014.
  3. Global Partners include Microsoft and the World Bank. 
  4. For general inquiries, contact:

info@iscsummit.com.

Smarter Cities in North Africa

Casablanca, Rabat, Fez, Marrakesh, and Tangier served as great movie titles and backdrops (or stereotypes, like in The Battle of Algiers) for entertainment set in North Africa. However, film shots of these cities appear stuck in “once upon a time, in a land far, far away called the Maghreb.” Earlier this April, the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry finally paid his first visit to Algeria and Morocco two years into his tenure focusing mainly on security cooperation issues. Aside from the security focus, it is no surprise that Morocco will host the 2014 Global Entrepreneurship Summit and serving as a hub for other conferences, like the first International Summit on Smart Cities in North Africa this coming June around Casablanca, Morocco’s most populous city. [Click here for article on Huffington Post.]

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World Bank & IMF 2014 Spring Meeting: MENA Region Focus

For the third year, PITAPOLICY attempted to cover The Annual World Bank & IMF meetings finished on Sunday, which started off with the MENA economic outlook.  Throughout the week, government and civil society organizations representatives revisited the Arab Youth inclusion discussion (like last year) but sprinkled in the Syria crisis.  At the same time, a common theme on MENA, was the philosophical debate of “how to achieve political consensus” to implement reforms and move towards a participatory democracy.  These meetings are not just economic; they are political.  Note: During the briefing, a reporter asked to what extent Iran’s economy, which has contracted in the last three years, will swing back the other way depending on political developments–like reaching a nuclear deal.  Iran’s economy contracted in 2012 and 2013.

Overall growth for oil-importing countries is short of 3 percent.  IMF MENA Director stated that investment, rather than consumption, is playing a stronger role in promoting MENA growth as government policies are reallocating spending away from subsidies (shift from general to targeted). Given that the IMF approved a $225 Million loan to Tunisia, and grew 2.7 percent in 2013, there is a hope that its economy is expected to strengthen by 2015.

In other MENA transition countries: Egypt did not grow as much and has not asked for financing.  But Egypt’s Minister of Finance, Hany Diman, launched a blog to better communicate with the public, since consensus building is a goal.  Check out the blog: mofegy.blogspot.com.  Yemen has stabilized, with its budget deficit projected to decline in 2014.  But Yemen still has a ways to go since it requires “financing worth up to $50 billion in 2015″ according to the World Bank report released last week.

Nonetheless, Syria represents the worst in any type of transition as it reduces investor confidence in neighboring countries like Lebanon and Jordan.  Although not in transition, Jordan has received an IMF package too in the amount of $264 million.  The reasons for receiving $200+ million are due to economic shocks to its economy from Syrian refugees and the gas pipeline sabotage.

Oil-Exporting Countries (GCC and Algeria)

In the subcategory of ‘oil-exporting countries’ have grown more relative to their ‘oil-importing’ countries because of the stable oil market.    On the upside, Algeria will benefit as a gas exporter because Europe’s demand has grown.  On the downside, Bahrain and Oman are running fiscal deficits and are encouraged to diversify their economies.  Bahrain and Libya share the unique characteristic that they are both in the oil-exporting category and also in the transition category–no matter how much we dance around Bahrain’s political woes.

mofegy.blogspot.com,#sthash.U2VZI7BD.dpuf

“It is time to translate protests into the real work, which is inside institutions,” stated Morocco’s Youth Minister at the annual World Bank/IMF Spring Meeting…on the topic of ‘Arab Youth’ [Note: PITAPOLICY recognizes the oversimplification of lumping all of "Arab Youth" up until the age of 35 into one category.  There's a significant difference in the worry burden between a 13 year old and a 33 year old.  But we understand that they all are worried about jobs.  But so is a 43 year old :)]

A Conversation with Al Jazeera’s Ali Velshi and Jim Yong Kim On Thursday, Al Jazeera held a conversation with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim with Ali Velshi, Host of Al Jazeera America.

 

#EndPoverty 2030 – Millenials Take on the Challenge What Have Young People Gained from the Arab Spring?

  • Sri Mulyani Indrawati, Managing director & Chief Operating Officer, World Bank Group
  • Inger Andersen, Vice President of Middle East and North Africa region, World Bank
  • H.E. Mohamed Ouzzine, Minister of Youth and Sports, Kingdom of Morocco
  • Ahmed Alhindawi, Youth Envoy of the UN Secretary General, Jordan
  • Shatha al-Harazi, Academic/Journalist/Activist, Yemen
  • Mouheb Ben Garoui, I-WATCH Executive Director, Tunisia

Moderator: Abderrahim Foukara, Al Jazeera Bureau Chief, Washington, D.C. Highlights:

  • The estimates that the economic loss of exceeds US$ 40–50 billion annually across the Arab World.  30% of are unemployed, & 41% of 15-24 yr olds are inactive, i.e. in School, not in & Not in Training (NEETs).  On this note of worry, Alhendawi said, “If we don’t fix the situation for youth & address , we will just be recycling our failures.”
  • “Going out into the street is important but influencing policy is even more important,” argued CSO participant, Mouheb Ben Garoui, I-WATCH, Tunisia. He continued, “youth today are in a position to be empowered, but they need to organize in order to influence decision making.”
  • According to the Arab Youth Survey: nearly 40% of all prefer to live in the UAE followed by US at 25%. Alhendawi raised the point that “Four percent of the youth volunteered in according to the study launched a few weeks before the resolution. “Nothing has changed from the government, there is even more corruption in this new government,” added Shatha al-Harazi.  Forty-eight percent of have no confidence in their national government, said Indrawait. Over the past three years, support for traditional values in has dropped from 83% to 54%. The best tweet came from @kamelasmar “The funny part is when the speakers congratulate the Moroccan minister of youth for doing “his duty” ”   

If you missed the hot debate hosted by & on the current situation of , watch it here:

Highlights:

  • Ben Hammouda: As Tunisia is trying to stabilize its economy, emphasized the balance between stabilization and the”growth agenda”.  Stimulus packages are not the current path because the “private sector is better positioned” to do this.  Most important achievement is that we achieved a political consensus as demonstrated in passing a constitution.  Since trade unions have played a significant role in Tunisia’s political, social and economic life, another focus will be to negotiate salaries with only those among lowest wage earners.  Concurrently near an agreement with private sector on the taxes the Tunisian government will implement.

 

  • Baraka: Moroccan government is focused on small to medium sized businesses as it has now mandated a public-private council and passed the Small Business Act.  The SBA requires that 20 percent of the tender goes to SMES; and require that 30 percent of the corporate tax go to the SME sector.  At the same time, on the agriculture issue, Morocco is also concerned with food security in Morocco and beyond.  The King agreed to to offer lower-priced fertilizers to sub-Saharan African economies to address intra-regional food security and promote economic integration.
  • On the political front: Moderation and legitimacy is an alternative to one hundred percent consensus. [This contrasts a bit with a monarchy government structure.]  At the same time, his mission is focused on attracting FDI… no specification as to how.

 

  • Kharas:  If you want a citizen focused economy, must consider those in the rural areas…so focus on agriculture. Reforms that will produce immediate results don’t need to be big all the time because overhauling institutions take time.   Easy wins for immediate results will focus on agriculture because GROWTH is different from increasing household incomes (subsidizing food).  We’ve seen Japan, China, and Korea examples being where they are today– or “emerged” quickly– because they started with a focus on agriculture.

 

  • Dimian: In his capacity, he launched a blog on Ministry of Finance’s website illustrating Egypt’s financial needs and solicit public comment.

Syrian Crisis: The Art of Resilience

  • Chris Gunness, Spokesperson and Director of Communications, UNRWA
  • Jihad Yazigi, Founder and Editor, Syria Report
  • Laura Trevelyan, Anchor & Correspondent, BBC World News America
  • Dr. Jim Yong Kim, President, World Bank Group
  • Inger Andersen, Vice President of Middle East and North Africa region, World Bank Group

Find audience comments on Twitter by using #withsyria & #ArtofResilience

  • mofegy.blogspot.com, to allow the public to effectively engage in open discussions, – See more at: http://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2014/04/09/ministry-finance-launches-blog-communicate-public/#sthash.U2VZI7BD.dpuf  Deeply concerned about the polarization that is an impediment [Note: to get "quick wins" on certain reforms?]  We need to discuss the counter-measures that need to address the effects on vulnerable populations who will be affected by structural reforms.

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Beyond the Arab Spring: U.S. Engagement in a Changing Middle East @WilsonCenterMEP

PITAPOLICY is live-blogging ast in the series, of U.S. Engagement in a Changing Middle East from the Wilson Center. The panelists consider how a range of domestic and regional changes in the Middle East have generated new challenges for U.S. diplomacy. This event is co-sponsored with the United States Institute of Peace and is the 6th and final in a series of presentations on “Reshaping the Strategic Culture of the Middle East.”  The panel is moderated by Haleh Esfandiari, Director, Middle East Program at the Wilson Center.

Steve Heydeman, US Institute for Peace: As we enter the 4th year of the Arab uprisings, the picture has changed–and not for the better.

  • We’ve seen a steady erosion of democritization in Arab countries
  • Note the Freedom House Scores since 2000: None have reached ‘Free’ status
  • Look at political cartoons in Egypt and Algeria: eg. “Vote for Bouteflicka: Alive or Dead”
  • There are elements of continuity of corporatist politics with some troubling models: a trend towards more repressive and authoritarian governance
  • With this authoritarian upgrading,  policy responses produces economic impact.
  • We’ve seen dramatic increases in public spending to offset discontent.  Tripling of public spending in Jordan since 2011.
  • A shifting away from Western countries and the aid dialogue because Arab transition countries raise concerns about conditional aid.
  • Different external actors impacting certain countries, like Russia in Syria, a further reconfiguring of diplomatic, political, economic and strategic relationships have insulated regimes from sanctions.

Where have we arrived after 3+ years since the Arab uprisings?

1) Both responses have emerged to show that Western pressure for democratization is not working.

Daniel Brumberg, Senior Adviser, Center for Middle East and Africa, United States Institute of Peace; and Co-Director, Democracy and Governance Studies, Georgetown University
  • Reflected on Security Resolution 1973 and R2P and how it was used in Libya; while Morsi in Egypt jumped on the bandwagon of authirotiarian leaders
    • As Arab Spring entered its 3rd year, we saw a downturn.
    • At same time, Russia did play a supportive role in the Iran nuclear talks of 2013 to produce a final agreement.
    • Tunisia still presents good news.  Despite ideological divides, they passed a constitution.
  • Back to the downside, Russia has an opportunity to advance further with Egypt given U.S.-Egypt military shuffle. (Note Brumberg’s Freudian slip of”crowning” Al-Sisi as president)
    • Increased strengthening of global authoritarian leaders helps Iran, in that Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, depends on the assumption that there is a high amount of unity among the P5+1 players.

 Danya Greenfield, Acting Director, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, The Atlantic Council

Among the 3 panelists, Greenfield presenting a more optimistic interpretation because there is still a fundamental lack of clarity of what the US interests are in the region…

  • Optimistic about results because the metric of democratization wasn’t clearly articulated by the US–citing President Obama’s 2013 UN General Assembly speech: 1) countering insurgencies, 2) nonproliferation, 3) free flow of energy, and 4) countering terrorism.  No where did Obama state ‘Democritization’ as a fundamental goal.   In contrast, Russia, China, and Iran have articulated their agendas–which may explain why they have been more successful in exerting their influence in the region.
  • How important is a successful transition in the Arab world?  Is it vital to US interests?  If so, then how will we coordinate with our EU partners?
  • US posturing in Ukraine incident paints a better picture of how US acts according to core interests; whereas, in Egypt, US was not actively engaged because core interests were not articulated and acted upon…
  • 4 Reasons why MENA region fallen off US priorities:
  1.  Global financial crisis,
  2. Transitions have proven more difficult “bumpier”,
  3. Harder to implement a strategy when there’s less interlocuters or institutions in Arab transition countries
  4. Increased participation and rise of other regional players, like Saudi Arabia.
  • Meanwhile, EU concerned about extremists crossing over borders.
  • What’s the cost to US interests?

Comments:

1) Audience member argues that US is depressed about the Arab Uprisings because we expected change…assuming that change would shift power away from military.  Only two countries where change has taken place: Yemen and Tunisia.  Other than that, there hasn’t been a power transition.  (Note: Heydemann agreed Yemen & Tunisia succeeded in getting change to take place AND agreed that there is confusion as to how that happened given that less success in other transitioning countries.)

2) Heydemann:  Growing popular fatigue with the instability in trying to wrestle power away from the authoritarian rule…or even ‘deep state’ politics where military is still the driving force.

3) Mystery of China’s role in the Arab Uprising.

4) There is US ambivalence about the Saudi Arabia financial role in Egypt and its less than democratic vision for Egypt.  The Saudis are unhappy with the US regarding Syria and Iran.  President Obama’s visit to Saudi was more about damage control rather than prioritizing Egypt.

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