Documenting #SyriaCrisis: Part 2- Organizations

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

Organizational Model

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

The consortium operates by working through the following sectors:

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

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

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

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

Training & Professional Development

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

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

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

PITA POINTS (Observations)

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

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

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

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Analysis, Interests, PIDE (Policy, International Development & Economics), Politics

Documenting #SyriaCrisis: Part 1- Individuals

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

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

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

What?

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

How To Meet Objective?

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

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

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

Challenge 4: Verify social media accounts.

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

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

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

Digital Diaries of Syrian Civilians

Digital Diary of Fatemah AlAbed– Started in December 2016

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digital Diary of Bana Alabed

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Interests, Politics

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

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

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

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

Tehran Stock Exchange

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

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

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

Pakistan Stock Market

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

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

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

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

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

New Year’s Resolutions

PITAPOLICY has two new years resolutions.:

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

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

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

Leave a Comment

Filed under Analysis, Interests, PIDE (Policy, International Development & Economics), Politics

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

Dear Pita-consumers:

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

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

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

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

Egypt

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

Background

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

Egypt’s economic reforms have included:

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

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

Impact

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

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

Turkey

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leave a Comment

Filed under Analysis, PIDE (Policy, International Development & Economics)

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

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

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

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

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

“Breathe, Khalid.

“Breathe, Khalid.

“Breathe, Khalid.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leave a Comment

Filed under PIDE (Policy, International Development & Economics), Politics

Panama Papers’ Leak Leads to Flood of Questions for these MENA Figures

The [Panama Papers] are:

11.5m documents were obtained by the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

The ICIJ then worked with journalists from 107 media organisations in 76 countries, including UK newspaper the Guardian, to analyse the documents over a year.

In all, the details of 214,000 entities, including companies, trusts and foundations, were leaked.

The information in the documents dates back to 1977, and goes up to December last year. Emails make up the largest type of document leaked, but images of contracts and passports were also released.~BBC News

BBC graphic comparing size of Panama Papers data leak to other recent leaks

If we pushed fast forward on the events from Noah’s Flood, and brought them to the 21st century, we would be drowning in a sea of names, numbers, currencies, and banking entities in what we will, henceforth, refer to as the “Panama Leaks…and the Kitchen Sink”.  On April 1st, the “Panama Papers” linked names with “shell companies”–businesses set up outside the owners’ countries of origin to hide dark money in offshore tax havens through some of our biggest banks, which include HSBC, UBS, Credit Suisse, and Societe General. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists received the data– which PITAPOLICY used to search for the people listed below — from the German Newspaper, Sueddeutsche.

The Panama Leaks and the Kitchen Sink give credence to what many warned about in the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, and continue to argue: politicians, and their close associates, will hide their largest financial holdings away from the watchful eyes of tax collectors–and may engage in more nefarious activities.  For example, associates of deposed Libyan leader, Muammar Ghaddafi, are also listed with secret offshore holdings.  Given the wealth that Ghaddafi’s sons accrued from Libya’s Sovereign Wealth Fund–money that was supposed to be invested on behalf of the Libyan people– billions of dollars from that fund float in and around the United Kingdom, Dubai banks, and maybe with other entities listed in the Panama Papers.

Where the Gaddafis have hidden their vast funds is anybody’s guess, although Niblock expects that most of it is “in bank accounts and liquid assets in Dubai, the Gulf and south-east Asia” rather than in relatively transparent countries such as the UK, where the Libyan state has invested in London properties and in companies such as Pearson Group, owner of the Financial Times.~The Guardian UK

One wonders about the origin of these secret offshore holdings belonging to Libyan officials…and other countries’ political and business elite.

Panama Papers’ Implications

The names listed below do not necessarily equate with criminal activity, but, these individuals do represent the political and business elite in Middle Eastern and North African countries who chose not to keep all their wealth in their home country’s banks for legitimate or illegitimate reasons.  Legitimacy is not the only factor in the financial review.  Storing money offshore–even when legitimately earned–raises issues about whether the money will ever return to the country of origin for local investment or consumption.  For example, Arab Gulf countries store 57 percent of their national wealth offshore, according to finance expert, Gabriel Zucman. In which countries will that stored money be spent?

In other countries, the political figures are not listed in the Panama Paper, but rather, their the larger business conglomerates–in one case: 600 companies and two banks.

Remember the impact Wikileaks had on the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia?  He was ousted after mass protests in Tunisia followed revelations of his regime’s kleptocracy.

Algeria: Abdeslam Bouchouareb, Member of Parliament & Minister of industry and mines

Egypt: Alaa Mubarak, Son of Former Authoritarian Leader, Hosni Mubarak

Mubarak and his brother, Gamal, were released from jail in October 2015.  They were indicted for embezzling millions of dollars from the state.  However, they still face trial for insider trading.  Meanwhile, Mossack Fonseca, the Panamanian law firm, was fined $37,500 in 2013 for failing to properly carry out checks on Alaa Mubarak who was defined as a “high-risk customer”.

Iraq: Ex-Prime Minister Ayad Allawi (2004-2005)

Allawi is a former Baath Party member who opposed Saddam Hussein, which led to his exile and prompted a working relationship with the U.S. intelligence agencies.  Allawi is the sole director and shareholder of Foxwood Estates Limited, Moonlight Estates Limited and IMF Holdings Inc.  According to ICIJ, Allawi’s office emailed this response:

any income generated in the United Kingdom from the properties owned by the companies has been properly accounted for” and “taxes have been paid promptly and on time.

Jordan: Former Prime Minister, Ali Abu Ragheb

Ragheb resigned from his shortly after the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Morocco: Mounir Madidi, Personal Secretary to King Mohamed VI

 

Pakistan: Children of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan

Maryam, Hasan and Hussain run their family businesses in the sugar and textile industries from overseas.  Their family has been scrutinized for corruption, tax evasion, and money laundering in the past.  They faced trial and were acquitted during their exile in Saudi Arabia.

Palestine: Tareq Abbas, the son of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas

Tareq Abbas invested $982,000 (£695,265) in the Arab Palestinian Investment Company.  Currently, over 40 percent of Palestinians live below the poverty line.

Qatar: Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, Former Emir &  Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani, Former Prime Minister

Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani served as Qatar’s Prime Minister between 2007 until 2013, when a new Emir took power.  His business deals earned him a spot on Time Magazine’s ‘100 Most Influential People” in 2012.

Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani seized power from his father in a bloodless takeover and ruled as Qatar’s Emir from 1996 until 2013.

Saudi Arabia: King Salman of Saudi Arabia & Crown Prince Mohammad bin Naif bin Adbulaziz Al-Saud

King Salman bin Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman Al Saud began his reign in January 2015. He served in key positions of Defense Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, and as the Governor of Riyadh.

King Salman did not respond to repeated requests made through the Saudi Embassy in the United States for comment.

Mohammad bin Naif bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud serves as Saudi Arabia’s interior minister and counterterrorism chief.

Syria: Bashar the Butcher’s Entourage

Syria’s authoritarian butcher, Bashar Al-Assad is connected to others named in the “Panama Leaks”: his   cousins, Rami Makhlouf  The Makhlouf brothers, appear on the Panama Papers with offshore holdings under the guise of shell companies, to avoid the sanctions directed at them with the Assad regime’s brutal reprisals against civilian protesters, reports Democracy Now.   They monopolize Syria’s oil (to fuel Syria’s airforce in bombing its citizens)–yes, this lower-middle income country has enough oil for an authoritarian to capitalize on it, but not enough for Syrian citizens to benefit as well– and telecommunications company.

United Arab Emirates: Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan

Al Nahyan currently serves as the Emir of Abu Dhabi and the President of the Emirates.  PITAPOLICY counted 31 companies that he is affiliated with regarding offshore holdings.  In the U.S., he financed one of the healthcare facilities in Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Interests, Politics

Response to “Lessons for the GCC” About the European Union #Migration #Regulation

Senior Research Fellow Omar Al Ubaydli outlines the lessons that the Gulf Cooperation Council countries may learn from the United Kingdom’s experience with the European Union–specifically the migration and regulatory experiences.  He uses the Eurozone framework to compare and contrast with the GCC countries of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar.  At the Arab Gulf States Institute, he explored the migration issue in more detail, which may explain why it was not a primary focus in his March 11th article for Al-Hayat “The UK and the EU: Lessons for the GCC”.

Migration in GCC: “It’s Complicated”

On the issue of migration, Al-Ubaydli states, “In the GCC, the migration issue is not a concern since the GCC economies are built upon foreign workers, which represent more than 70% of the labor force.”  However, I would tweak this a bit and say that the labor dynamics within the Gulf Cooperation Council is simple economics married to complicated politics for two reasons.  First, the migration issue is a socio-political concern regarding human rights, as documented by Human Rights Watch.

Second, the migration issue is a socio-economic concern regarding future labor opportunities for the second generation of expatriate labor and their families.

Perceptions and aspirations of non-Emiratis, especially 2nd generation ones, are important in terms of their future retention in, and productive contribution to the labor force.~Nasra Shah, Kuwait University at the MESA 2014 Conference discussing “Arab Gulf Labor Markets and Migration: Data, Challenges, Policy”
In all fairness, Al Ubaydli advocated in a related conference for GCC policy interventions to reduce the number of migrant workers arriving in receiving countries under false pretenses.

Background: How Did This Happen?

Since the 1970s oil boom in the six GCC countries’ increased oil revenues facilitated more infrastructure projects, which translated into more employment opportunities.  Coupled with a demand for both skilled and unskilled labor, hundreds of thousands immigrated to each of the GCC nations to either train domestic labor or fill the construction jobs.

“We were building two schools every three days. We had to build seven universities. We were trying to do so much in a constrained period of time. So the debate was, ‘Do we import foreign labor, or do we wait until we train our labor and then carry the projects ourselves?’ And I was of the opinion then that the decision that was taken at the time to import foreign labor was a great decision.” ~Shaikh Hisham Nazir, Saudi Minister for Petroelum in an interview with PBS Frontline

Consequently Gulf countries’ human development accelerated while GCC labor gaps were filled by overseas labor, both skilled and unskilled.  Think “land of perceived opportunity”–but without the chance for citizenship, unlike the Eurozone.

Between 2002 and 2008, the oil boom re-emerged to increase the average purchasing power in GCC households.  For example, the oil boom resulted in as high as $36,000 for a Qatari household.

However, filling these employment opportunities–both skilled and unskilled labor–presented an economic solution with socio-political challenges.  Bahrain’s VP Labor Regulatory Authority observed how importing foreign labor would trigger a critique of how non “citizen” labor were treated by citizens:

This “great decision,” which was made by all of the GCC states at that time, had a profound impact not only on the shape of the labor market, but also on power relations within the whole society between the citizens and non-citizens.

It is true that labor gaps had been filled, and continue to be filled by foreign/expatriate workers in the last five decades, as cited by Al-Ubaydil in “The UK and the EU: Lessons for the GCC”.  

In the GCC, the migration issue is not a concern since the GCC economies are built upon foreign workers, which represent more than 70% of the labor force. The six countries are also culturally and linguistically highly homogenous, and there are strong cross-border tribal bonds. The Gulf peoples did not experience any analogue to the horrific wars of Europe, and thus we find that Gulf citizens welcome and trust their Gulf bretheren.

However, Al-Ubaydli does not outline the various expatriate groups working in GCC countries and how much of the labor force they make up in each GCC country.  For example, Qatar is an example of the foreign workers outnumber the citizen population: Qatar has a native population of 300,000 while 1.8 million represent foreign labor.

Not all expatriate workers undergo the same treatment–especially the unskilled labor force.  The labor policies and practices remain under scrutiny due to treatment of foreign workers who do not come from neighboring GCC countries.In the unskilled labor sector, foreign workers undergo the most challenging conditions, or “indentured servitude”, as discussed in “Kingdom of Slaves”.  Through the “kafala” system, which is Gulf country sponsorship of foreign workers through a middleman, foreign workers must pay off their debt to middlemen who brought them into the country.

Regulations: GCC versus European Union “Eurozone”

In Al Ubaydi’s review, he highlights how regulation challenges and opportunities also exist for the GCC, and that, “the GCC economic model is based on economic freedom and commercial flexibility.”  One example of regulations is measured by the “Doing Business Index”.  However, I would push back on his assertion given how foreign employers undertake doing business.  First, I push back because the “Ease of Doing Business” measures the ease for LOCAL businesses–or startups founded by the country’s own citizens.  It will not indicate the experience of foreign businesses trying to invest, for instance, in the UAE. Second, I push back because, in the Eurozone framework, foreign companies are not required to identify local partners as partial owners.

In contrast to the labor dynamics of expatriate employment in the GCC region, being the expatriate employer is a different experience–but still challenging.  According to the Doing Business Index, the UAE ranks 31st overall, and leads the MENA region, for “Ease of Doing Business”, which is compiled by the World Bank Group. Yet, foreign firms seeking to sell products and services in the U.A.E. market must have a local agent/distributor.  This adds a layer of bureaucracy to the challenge of working with an emerging market.

One may critique this regulation– that is popular in other GCC countries– by saying that small to medium foreign businesses cannot fully participate, nor introduce intellectual capital, unless a local partner is “dealt in” like a poker game.  As such, it looks like the local partner must be given some type of majority ownership after setting up a subsidiary.

However, the UAE may be more receptive than other GCC countries to outside businesses, or expatriate employers, trying to do business because the UAE has implemented “Free Zones”.  In a country of 9 million people, a whopping 85 percent are actually expatriates living and working in the UAE.

The U.A.E. Commercial Companies Law, Federal Law No. 8 of 1984, as amended, provides
for a number of different corporate structures. The primary alternatives for foreign entities to establish direct business operations in theU.A.E. (outside the free zones) are (i) registration of a branch or representative office; or (ii) incorporation of a limited liability company with a U.A.E. national “partner”.
Except for companies located in the free zones, at least 51% of a business establishment must be owned by a U.A.E. national. A business engaged in importing and distributing a product must be either a 100% U.A.E.-owned agency/distributorship or a 51/49 (U.A.E./foreign) limited liability company. Subsidies for manufacturing firms are available only to those companies with at least 51% local ownership. Branch offices do not involve U.A.E. national ownership, but do require a U.A.E. national as a sponsor.
It is recommended that a U.S. company retain the services of a local attorney to ensure its best interests are carefully considered when establishing an office or entering into a business partnership of any kind.
Nonetheless, foreign firms that hope to manufacture in UAE –or even other GCC member countries–must still identify a reliable UAE citizen as a business partner and allocate “at least 51% local ownership.”  This is a markedly strong departure from Eurozone practices for American businesses.  Given these two conditions, I am curious to know to what extent the U.S., or other foreign, manufacturing companies find it cost-effective to produce in the GCC so that they may export to their Asian markets.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Analysis, PIDE (Policy, International Development & Economics), Politics

Remember the Syrian Electronic Army

Sadly, the so-called Islamic State struck again–this time in Brussels–to claim31 lives and injuring over 270 others.  Yes, we realize that the tragic irony is the so-called Islamic State targets Muslims just as brutally–but with less media attention and solidarity declared for those victims’ families.  Because of this vehement entity, more Muslims died weekly, in Syria or Iraq, between 2013 to 2016.  This fact does not escape the pita-consuming region or pita-consumer community.  Terror is universally experienced, and  experienced disproportionately by Muslims and Christians in non-“Western” countries like Lebanon (Beirut attacks in October 2015), Iraq, and Syria.

There is another tragic irony: cyber-terrorism introduces more financial damage to the U.S. economy than the so-called Islamic State high-jacking Iraqi oil fields.  Remember the Syrian Electronic Army–the group that falsely claimed President Barack Obama was caught in a White House attack in 2013?  It’s a group of Bashar al-Assad regime sympathizers who punish countries who declared that Assad must go.  As a result of the Syrian Electronic Army’s malevolent cyber attack, the Dow Jones Industrial Average–America’s business health indicator– fell by 143 points and “wiping out $80 billion in value”!

It is no surprise that the Dow’s top performing American companies responded so sensitively.  What is surprising is that the information was FALSE, but still, adversely influenced investors to lose confidence in the U.S. economy as if there was an American political crisis.

On Tuesday, March 22, those responsible for carrying out the Syrian Electronic Army cyber attack were charged, according to Bloomberg News.

The alleged hackers include Ahmad Umar Agha, 22, known online as “The Pro,” and Firas Dandar, 27, who goes by the online alias “The Shadow.”~Bloomberg News

In another cyber-terrorism incident that hurt the U.S., US Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, charged seven Iranians for allegedly hacking nearly 50 financial companies and a New York dam between 2011 to 2013.  The financial damage amounts to “tens of millions of dollars“.  The Department of Justice believes that the cyber attacks were coordinated from employees at Iranian computer companies: ITSecTeam and Mersad Company..

The seven defendants include: Ahmad Fathi, 37; Hamid Firoozi, 34; Amin Shokohi, 25; Sadegh Ahmadzadega, 23; Omid Ghaffarinia, 25; Sina Keissar, 25, and Nader Saedi, 26.  However, it is unlikely that their extradition will come to light.

“It’s very unlikely that the Iranian government will allow these people to be arrested and have them sent to the United States to face these charges,”~Al Jazeera’s Kimberly Halkett, reporting from Washington.

Leave a Comment

Filed under PIDE (Policy, International Development & Economics), Technology

Were Economic Issues the Driving Force For Higher Voter Turnout in #IranElections2016?

What would you rather ponder: the first set of elections after almost four decades of sanctions…or a theory of why a so-called group–whose name will forever not be named in the header of this blog– is gaining more recruits?  Fine, we’ll touch upon both in a very disjointed way.  Economic issues factor into why many turn out to vote…and may factor into why people join crazy groups–not just violent extremist groups across the Atlantic Ocean, but extremist groups (like the Ku Klux Klan) that follow #DonaldDrumpf.

Congrats to Iranian Voters Who Hope Legislation Will Reflect Top Concerns, Like Economy

Post-sanctions, Iran held its first parliamentary elections February 26th where about 28 million Iranians voted.  That’s half of Iran’s eligible voting population–impressive.

  • Eligible voters: 54,915,024
  • Districts: 52000
  • Boxes: 120,000
  • MP seats: 290
  • Candidates: 6200

Why is a huge voting turnout a notable point? Well, Trita Parsi, a U.S.-based Iranian scholar tweeted:

Big turnout in #IranElections2016 isnt cuz of agreement with political system; rather, people recognize votes can lead to change. Peacefully

Post-sanctions also means Iran is developing a pathway to re-engage economically.  Iran’s Energy Minister announced a new development plan that aims to increase its GDP by 8 percent each year beginning this year because foreign companies, like the U.S. giant, Boeing, hope to win contracts.

There’s huge appetite for Turkish business.  It’s a neighboring country where Turkish is widely spoken, with a similar culture. It’s very easy to engage with Iranian business.~Turkish Government Official to Reuters

Within the neighborhood, Turkey is optimistic about increasing bilateral trade with Iran.  Specifically, Turkish Economic Minister, Mustafa Elitas, said that Turkey will increase trade from about $10 billion to $30 billion by 2023.  Turkey’s optimism comes from Iran’s recent parliamentary elections that resulted in 30 moderate candidates winning seats in Tehran.

Of the 290 parliament seats: Reformist-oriented candidates won all 30 Tehran seats as well as 49 seats in other districts. Independent candidates won 44.  Of the 290 parliament seats, 20 women made it into