Not About WHO Is Governing, But HOW # UAE #YEMEN

Pick the Gulf country story you would prefer to read … but only one of them is true. The other is satire.  (Hint: It is story involving the only Arab country that has banned human rights group, Human Rights Watch, is worthy of satire.  The other story is about the Arab country with the lowest human development index.)  But remember, each story contains a little bit of truth.

Story 1: Download “iBribe” If You Can

Ajman, UAE (8:00 A.M. GMT)— The Middle-Eastern tech world is buzzing about a new app designed to connect government officials directly with their constituents more effectively this morning.

ibribe

The new app, iBribe, allows users to arrange meetings directly with their local, regional, or state representatives personally and regarding issues that concern them. The innovative technology is being hailed as a break-through by analysts and government officials. Mostly government officials, though. Chief of Police for Ajman, Khaled Rahman, went even further, calling the app “a new kind of national hero” and “the future of democracy.”     [Click here to continue.  If you like The Onion, then you’ll enjoy the Arab inspired/imitated Hummus News.]

Story 2: WHO’s in Control and HOW Did That Happen?

@USDeptState Due to uncertain security situation in Yemen, we have suspended our embassy operations; staff relocated out of Sana’a. ~Twitter account of U.S. Department of State

This morning the U.S. Department of State tweeted that they are suspending their embassy operations in Yemen due to the unrest that followed after the Houthi rebels took power from President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi. Yemen hosts a Bizarre Unlove Triangule of a power struggle between the recently organized rebel Houthis, the Yemen tribes predating the modern state, and Al Qaeda– a remnant from the 20th century.

Although the local Houthis control the army, the transnational movement of Al Qaeda still maintains its own set of weapons.  In a province, like Marib, all three forces of Houthis, tribes, Alqaeda exist, persist, and resist… along with oil.

By the way, Yemen’s oil is expected to run out by 2017, according to Yemen’s Oil Minister in 2010 from “Yemen on the Brink”.

Yemeni journalist and Founder of Yemen Alaan, Nasser Arrabyee, framed the Houthi power takeover in a conversation at Carnegie Endowment Center for International Peace, a D.C. – based think tank.  Arrabyee was by no means praising the Houthi rebels, but he pointed out that it was easier for them to successfully remove President Hadi–Yemen’s second president in 4 years–because the average Yemeni citizen deals with constant electricity shortages.  As a result,

  1. Houthi rebels have capitalized on Yemen’s weak central governance structure.
  2. Al Qaeda organizers have capitalized on the recruiting opportunity to push back against Houthi control while also destabilizing Yemeni tribes’ civil society role.

At the same time, Arrabyee advanced a theory that did not draw any pushback from his co-panelists.  He stated that, “All roads lead to Saleh.” Although ex-President Saleh was ousted in Yemen’s 2011 Arab Uprising, he doesn’t want to lead again.  But Saleh can’t let go, so he is believed to be supporting the Houthi rebels.  He wants power for his sons.  This is just a perspective reported in some other Gulf country media outlets.

At the end of the day, Yemeni civil society is more concerned about how their country will govern itself, rather than wrestling with Al-Qaeda, “It’s about governance as it was back in 2011 and now,” according to Nadwa Aldawsari, Executive Director of the Sheba Center for International Development.  Aldawsari’s core research looks at Yemeni tribes and their political dynamics.

Biggest concern is that Houthi, tribes, and Alqaeda power struggle will leave huge ungovernable areas.~Nadwa Aldawsari

Aldawsari added that five governors in Yemen’s southern provinces don’t follow the Houthis.  Instead, the tribes look after themselves since the national government has proven unreliable since September, in their eyes.

Aldawsari and Arrabyee disagreed on characterizing the Bizarre Unlove Triangle.  While Aldawsari worried out loud about the role of tribes in civil society to demand better governance, Arrabyee moved towards a more optimistic conclusion.  Heconcluded that, “Yemen is going in the right direction…although it’s a long one.”  What both did agree on was that, in Yemen, it’s not about WHO will lead, but HOW… and will they form a government with parliament?

 

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Line Between Defense Strategy & Development Assistance Continues to Blur

The United States will continue to provide support to its Afghan partners, counter terrorism abroad, maintain a strong forward presence in the Middle East region, and ensure U.S. military forces are ready to respond to a wide range of potential crises.~White House

The 2016 U.S. budget–released this week– reflects the Obama administration’s goals for the pita-consuming region.  Two weeks after President Obama addressed American taxpayers in the State of the Union, we can see how Obama’s words speak even louder as dollars committed to U.S. program funding.  U.S. budget allocations to program X, Y, or Z signify which countries are a priority… Iraq followed by Afghanistan …and which ones are not (Syria)… tied to to U.S. policy.

Like many other advanced economies (like France) the line between defense strategy and development assistance continues to blur.  France’s security and economic interests in Algeria almost mirror the U.S. interests in Iraq.

Specific references to the MENA region will be found under the budget heading: “Advancing National Security Priorities ” because the goals are to:

  1. Degrade and Defeat ISIL in Response to the Syria Crisis.
  2. Ensure a Responsible Transition in Afghanistan.
 Given these policy goals, the U.S. Budget proposes $8.8 billion in OCO funds for the U.S. Department of Defense and Department of State. Of the $8.8 billion, the majority of the funds will address the first security threat mentioned — ISIL/ISIS — but not directed at a state actor.
This includes $5.3 billion for DOD to continue Operation Inherent Resolve, which includes conducting airstrikes, collecting intelligence, as well as training, advis ing, and equipping the Iraqi security forces and properly vetted members of the moderate Syrian opposition.~White House

Although the U.S. has stated that it has withdrawn from Afghanistan, other U.S. initiatives will continue, according to the budget:

The Budget also continues support for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) interventions to reduce HIV infections in young women, and expands USAID’s programs in support of adolescent girls’ education, including expanded investments in educating adolescent girls in Afghanistan.~White House

Qayyum of PITAPOLICY indicated that the MENA region will continue to occupy the world of U.S. national security interests–or vice versa.  Here’s Qayyum’s thoughts… or PITA POINTS

PITA Points on #SOTU2015

Originally published on MuslimMatters

President Obama enters into his final quarter of his big game. Watching President Obama’s State of the Union Address in D.C. is like watching the Super Bowl for political junkies, foreign policy junkies and social activists. (I would like to say I fall somewhere in between, but that is for others, like my PITAPALS, to judge.) Following President Obama’s approval rating on screen was not nearly as fun as following #SOTU2015 and viewing encouraging comments like… [click here to continue]

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Reducing Freedom Through #AutocraSisi #BloggerFlogger #OilSpoils … and torture

Freedom includes many things: freedom from autocracy and/or flogging.  (The autocratic practices in Egypt, by, say, President Sisi, is what prompted us to coin the term “autocrasisi”.  We are also a bit worried about the “blogger flogger” phenomena in Saudi Arabia… and how oil spoils many governments’ operating plans.)  Freedom also means freedom from the state pre-determining a citizen’s destiny.

Two huge U.S.-based NGOs, Human Rights Watch and Freedom House, released their reports on human rights and political rights, respectively, in the same week.  According to the Freedom House report, only 19,206,000 of the 410,277,000 people in what they define as the MENA region, are able to politically and civically engage without getting thrown in jail or suffer bodily harm.

On a regional level:

  1. Only two MENA countries, Tunisia and Israel, received ‘Free’ rankings; 3 countries received ‘Partly Free’ and the remaining 13 countries received ‘Not Free’ — see PITA Bits section for listing of countries with comments.
  2. The average regional freedom score for MENA was 70.21, which teeters on ‘Partly Free’.
  3. Libya lost its ‘Partly Free’ status this year–joining Egypt, which fell to “Not Free” last year.

January 2015 could not wind down completely without taking stock on the impact of state actors upholding–or not upholding– its citizens’ rights… and highlighting ISIS as a semi-state actor in three countries (Syria, Iraq, Jordan).   Human Rights Watch 2015 Report: http://www.hrw.org/world-report/2015/country-chapters/132018

At the same time, repressive practices by leaders did not go unnoticed. The HRW report revisited Egypt “brutal reign of the general-turned-president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi,” has led to “unprecedented repression”. Dare we say “autocraSisi” when he refused Human Rights Watch entry into Egypt to monitor human rights abuse claims.

In that vein, the #FreedomReport went one step further and linked how repressing political rights lead to conflict, which leads to huge economic costs by stating:

“Antidemocratic practices lead to civil and war and humanitarian crisis. They facilitate the growth of terrorist movements, whose effects inevitably spread beyond national borders. Corruption and poor governance fuel economic instability.”

FOTP2014Map

 

Resource Curse: Rent a Citizen
On that note of economic instability, the “resource curse” made an appearance. Resource curse argues that countries’ government officials (who are both the political and economic elite) can use natural resource wealth to take care of its citizens in exchange for political legitimacy. These are known as “rentier economies” since the state collects rent from its major resource: oil, natural gas, or precious metals. Think “Rent a Citizen”.

The panelists specifically noted Saudi Arabia and Bahrain’s kingdom’s worry: falling oil prices for oil exporting countries will literally fuel internal political debates about political rights and freedom of expression according to Brookings Fellow, Tamara Coffman-Wittes.

Decline of oil prices & #ResourceCurse will affect democracy trajectory 2016 Freedom Report.-Wittes

However, the oil factor, and its related “resource curse” goes beyond the few Gulf Cooperation Council countries. Look at Algeria and Libya. Currently, Algeria is considered ‘Partly Free’, but they are already dealing with internal mumblings.

Whereas Human Rights Watch focuses on the legal rights and protections against violence, Freedom House digs deeper in 197 countries by measuring how free a country is: ‘Free’, ‘Partly Free’, or ‘Not Free’. How? FH assess each country’s citizens political rights and civil liberties by reviewing how civic organizations and media outlets’ are treated in country.

PITA Bits & Bites

The following three categories are Freedom House’s classification based on how countries treat its citizens legally and politically through civic organizations and media outlets.

‘Free’

  • Israel – See report on Gaza.
  • Tunisia (112)- First time since the 1970s an Arab country received a ‘Free’ ranking. That honor used to be held by Lebanon.

‘Partly Free’

  • Lebanon (112)
  • Kuwait (127) – Government using repressive measures to quell political dissent, according to @HamadAlmatar
  • Algeria (127)

‘Not Free’

  • Turkey (134)
    -President Erdogan told a delegation of press freedom advocates Turkey doesn’t need an independent media, according to Freedom House panel.

“Authoritarian drift undermines rights. Kurdish peace process threatened” according to the World Human Rights Watch Report 2015 (#WR2015)

  • Libya (134)
  • Qatar (152)
  • Egypt (155)
  • Morocco (147)
  • Jordan (155)
  • Iraq (157)
    – its political rights score fell from ‘5’ to ‘6’ because of Isis of persecution of Christians, Shi’ite,Yazidis
    -political rights received a downward trend score since ISIS situation raised a red flag
  • Oman (161)
  • Yemen (167)
  • UAE (167)
  • Sudan (176)
  • West Bank/Gaza – Palestine (179)
  • Saudi Arabia (181)
    -Remember Raef Badawi in blogger flog incident? He called for a day of liberalism and campaigned for ending government dominance over public life using religion.  The blogger received a 10 year prison sentence and 1,000 lashes.

-Had highest twitter penetration rate in 2013.

-Companies like Twitter and Google know that Saudi has largest market share in Arab world.  Given that they mind big data, there is an element of market interest and corporate social responsibility for these information technology companies to get more involved with information sharing practices and human rights protection.  In essence, we argue that these types of companies have a responsibility to their consumers in and around the GCC region.

  • Bahrain (188) – How much does it cost to jail political prisoners?
    رايت ووتش 2014 : قامت حكومة #الكويت باجراءات قمعية لإخماد المعارضة السياسي

لا زالت قوات الأمن في #البحرين تستخدم القوة المفرطة في فض المظاهرات دون محاسبة @NABEELRAJAB
من #WR2015
-In 2014, 4 award-winning photographers were in or facing jail in #Bahrain.

  • Syria (189)
  • Iran (190)

Note: Afghanistan ranked as ‘Not Free’; Pakistan (147) ranked as ‘Partly Free’

In fairness, let’s look at the global picture…. Freedom has declined for 9 consecutive years, according to the 2015 #FreedomReport.  Aside from the MENA region, each regional hub of –regardless of their perception of freedom–stands to improve.  As noted by the panelist, and political scientists, Michael Caster commented on that no country has a monopoly on the best practices of freedom:

Absolutely, U.S. & western societies can continue to improve democratic institutions, despite “Free” ratings.

 

 

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“Breaking the Cycle: Creating Solutions for Water Security in the Middle East”

In 2010, the U.S. World Threat Assessment listed water scarcity in MENA as a global threat. Source: U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

The Hollings Center for International Dialogue asked: How to create solutions for water security in the Middle East? Or “Breaking the Cycle”, if you will, which was supported by Saudi Arabia’s university funded Prince Mohammad Bin Fahd Program for Strategic Research and studies.  Aside from Saudi Arabia’s 30 million people’s need for water, note the needs beyond the other gulf countries (Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, UAE, Oman, Yemen and Qatar) — like 33.42 million in Iraq, 85 million in Egypt, and 39.21 million in Algeria.  Given the North African countries’, or Maghreb’s, water stress and scarcity challenges, we must emphasize should NOT be left out of MENA discussions, even if overlooked by panel’s funding partner.

Panelists includes Moore, Research Associate from the Council on Foreign Relations and Raymond Karam, Program Associate from the East/West Center.  The moderator was David Dumke from the above mentioned partner, Prince M. Bin Fahd Program.

In addition to the arid climate challenges, governments, like Saudi Arabia have over-subsidized certain initiatives that have increased water resource challenges.  For this reason, it makes sense that Saudi is trying to take a step back and exploring what additional measures can be taken to address water shortages beyond the conservation efforts.

Aside from government efforts, Arab NGO ACWUA (aqua pun intended) stands for Arab Countries Water Utilities Association established itself in 2006.  This January, ACWUA is behind Arab Water Week.  To what extent are businesses and Middle East governments breaking the cycle in #WaterScarcity?

 

Water Scarcity Challenges

  • Consider water quality of available water: Contamination from production
  • System of government, like authoritarianism, used to justify management of scarce resources, like water and oil, to ensure access and promote food security.  BUT authoritarian governments tend to rely on subsidy route clashes with options to invest and conserve resources.

Possible Solutions

  • Economically speaking: apply Carbon Tax Model, which has been successfully been adopted by Australia 40 years ago.
  • Implement cap and trade “water rights”.  However this is more difficult to do in the Middle East.
  • Invest in water desalination plants.

Did You Know?

  • Yemen used to be the bread basket of the Roman Empire.
  • On 2% of arable land, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had been the 4th largest exporter of wheat
  • Saudi Arabia is the region’s largest dairy provider

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Libya and #AlgerianAftermath

Libya’s and Algeria’s aftermath since Gaddhafi’s removal includes a shared border.

In Washington, DC, the Arab awakening and uprising discussions primarily focus on Tunisia and Egypt…and sometimes Libya.  Yemen’s successful ouster of its leader, President Ali Abdullah Saleh, has largely gone unnoticed because of its lackluster economic ties to industrialized countries.  Although the U.S. and Yemen do not share strong economic ties, their relationship is characterized by security interests in the form of a U.S. fleet off Bahrain, bases in Saudi Arabia, and a large concern for militant groups hanging around Red Sea.

The 2011 revolution started in response to corruption, poor governance, rising prices, unemployment and poverty, and there has been no discernible improvement in any of these areas. Half of the roughly 26 million people who live in Yemen do so under the poverty line. Around 60 per cent of Yemen’s children suffer from malnutrition, while 70 per cent of families need assistance from the government and international organisations.

But even regarding Libya, the flavor of discussion tastes anything but sweet given the U.S. experience with subsequent bombings and the increasing role of Libya militias in and around Misrata and Benghazi.  Again, Libya rises in the U.S., British Italian, and French consciousness because of its security and oil issues.  Note though: despite U.S. experiencing the downside of security challenges via civilian losses in Benghazi, the British, Italian and French have resurfaced to some extent in Libya to capitalize on Libya’s oil and gas industries.  Recently, Tunisia’s Foreign Minister called upon Libyan Authorities to act urgently since two Tunisian journalists were abducted.

Nonetheless, let’s explore the “Arab aftermath” in Libya. (Below, we’ll look at neighboring Algeria, which borders two countries that overthrew its leadership in their respective Arab Uprising experiences.)  Despite European countries’ return to Libya for diplomatic and economic reasons, Turkey evacuated its mission from Libya in early January due to their intelligence warning of attacks.  At a time Libya is calling for foreign direct investment, which is arguably a way to rebuild in its aftermath, it is a bit difficult to do when security is perceived as ‘dangerous’.  Consequently, billions of Turkish investment is at stake in Libya.

Construction projects worth $19 billion have been mothballed by Turkish firms because of the fighting, according to the Turkey Contractors’ Association. 

As Turkey evacuates, a few U.S. think tanks ask: What about Libya in 2015?  Former Ambassador Mack, consultant Jason Peck, and Libya scholar, Karim Mezran thought out loud about Libya in this frame “The Scramble for Oil and Scenarios for Transition”.  Mezran illustrated a few Libya scenarios:

  • partition — worst case
  • military win by 1 side — highly unlikely
  • Intervention.

Yet, Ambassador Mack stressed caution before urging the U.S  to promise engagement with Libya.  At the same time, getting towards stronger security must consider how Libya undertakes its national reconciliation process– a shared concern that both Tunisia and Egypt are dealing with as well.  As one commenter warned, “avoid Iraq’s de-Ba’athification mistake,” and asked: What’s the extent to which Qaddafi era officials participate?  The key to national reconciliation is not blacklisting every Qaddhafi regime era official because 1) not each official was complicit to the same degree, and 2) divisiveness among leadership will further embolden militias.

Aside from security challenges, an oil analyst warned about the Dutch Disease phenomena–where natural resource wealth increases economic development but decreases its manufacturing and agricultural production as a result of increase in currency value.  One way to rectify Dutch Disease is for Libya to redistribute its oil revenue as a lump sum and divide it across each citizen to spend or invest as they will.  We want to know why many Libyan sitting in the room responded with with shaking their heads ‘No’.  Why? Because it worked to some extent in Norway, a non Arab country? Or because they do not trust a power to carry out this redistribution package?
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Algeria Aftermath

Libya’s Arab Uprising may have produced an upside for its neighbor Algeria’s political and military actors.  According to a panel held at the U.S. based think tank, New America Foundation:

Despite border problems, it broke Algeria’s state monopoly of violence…~Hannah Rae Armstrong

At the same time oil prices have plummeted below even below $50, Algeria is experiencing decreasing government revenue.   In response, the Algerian Prime Minister placed a freeze on public sector employment.

As a sidenote, unemployment levels are not as high in Algeria as in Morocco, but this freeze will not bode well if non-oil sectors do not emerge.  There is no tourism industry in Algeria–so that sector is not going to offer any short to medium term solutions.

Armstrong interviewed Algerians regarding changes in Algeria since 2011.  One Algerian related to her that “
Head of Algeria intelligence services is like God: Everywhere and nowhere at once.”  Crises on the borders help Algerians stay together because it is evidence of what happens when you don’t, says Armstrong.

The thing is: Armstrong focused on police and military culture, and its impact on civil society in Algeria.  However, conducting interviews in Algeria is no easy task as interviewees may not feel comfortable sharing all their views–even for academic scholarship.  So, we at PITAPOLICY humbly disagree with Armstrong’s conclusion that Algeria’s aftermath– since Libya’s uprising — translates as a success for the Algerian leadership.  Yes, Libya may be more “unstable” since getting rid of Gaddhafi, which makes Algeria look even more stable.  But stability is a goalpost (and argument) used by authoritarian leadership and oil companies.

 

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Pivoting from Dispossession: Arab American’s Entrepreneurial Path

Dear Pita-consumers:

Happy 2015!  We want to start the year off right with some positivity and inspiration.  Thankfully, one of our earliest PITAPALS, Asma Jaber, an Arab-American, has inspired this first week’s posting with her vision and explanation of establishing her entrepreneurial venture: PIVOT, a mobile application and web based platform. Note to all those starting and stopping with their entrepreneurial ventures: to “pivot” is also the the approach needed to adjust to obstacles, as Jaber outlines below, and change strategy–be it business model, target audience, or services.

In 2014, Arab tech news, WAMDA, featured PIVOT.  So read Jaber’s inspiration shared by her at the Network of Arab American Professionals DC chapter seminar.  (It is a shortened version of her remarks.)  Her vision for PIVOT started before studying at the Harvard Kennedy School.  Check out PIVOT, and find her on LinkedIN.

Sincerely,

PITAPOLICY

PIVOT: My Entrepreneurial Venture

By Asma Jaber

“’The old will die & the young will forget,’” The first part of this statement is true, as it is for anyone. The second is wrong”

Two years ago during Ramadan my father passed away (May God have mercy on his soul), very suddenly, very tragically; He was also born during Ramadan, 66 years earlier.

Let me take you back fifteen years ago when my daily routine was to say to my late father, “No! Not at the entrance baba. Drop me off here!” hoping my adolescent friends would not see me running from a glaring yellow taxi into my middle school. The taxi was how my father, a twice-displaced Palestinian refugee, provided for our family once we finally reached rural South Carolina.
Inside that taxi I was Palestinian, reliving my father’s childhood as he recalled story after story, and learning about our Palestinian heritage; but as soon as I stepped out, I felt that I did not belong. I was in a completely different world – one in which my classmates thought Palestine was Pakistan and poked fun at my lunch of stuffed grape leaves, or maklouba, really whatever my mom had left over from the night before. I’m sure many of us here had that feeling of not belonging during our youth and even, today.
I chose to go to Palestine because (contrary to the earlier quote, said by former Israeli PM Ben Gurion’s) I did not forget.

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Dispossession is going back, no matter how many walls are built on the beautiful land that our ancestors used to till.

It’s growing into the shoes of your ancestors and somehow carrying a burden too heavy to ignore.

While I was driving from Jerusalem to Nazareth the first time I returned to Palestine after my dad’s passing, I wanted him, his stories. I wanted him back there with me. I wanted him to tell me what was beneath my feet, where those Palestinian villages once were, what they looked like, and the history of these places. I couldn’t have him back, but I was still craving that knowledge and that experience that he gave me.

PIVOT: Pinpointing Location Despite Dispossession

This dispossession led me to come back to the U.S. with a passion to build that experience. So my fiancé Sami Jitan and I are building PIVOT, a technology platform & mobile app that will allow you to see what a specific place looked like in the past (first in Palestine and later on throughout the world), with images changing as you select a different time frame. We are collecting disparately located multimedia (photos, videos, sound bytes), (sourcing content from museums, books, archives, and what we like to call “shoebox” archives – the archives that I’m sure everyone’s household possesses). We reference those multimedia to a specific location, allowing those images and sounds to be easily accessed through a mobile app. It’s like looking at a place through a tunnel of time.

My vision is for PIVOT to promote historical and cultural preservation in my homeland of Palestine because it is of utmost importance in an area under constant threats and acts of erasure and ethnic cleaning (especially today as the Israeli government continues to destroy entire neighborhoods in Gaza, the West Bank, including Jerusalem, while at the same time approving 1000s of illegal settlement homes); we plan to later expand to other parts of the world where cultures are at similar risk of being destroyed. It my hope that this will amplify the voice of the downtrodden.

According to entrepreneurship gurus, the definition of entrepreneurship is “the pursuit of opportunity beyond resources controlled.” Social entrepreneurship is about pursuing innovative solutions to social problems in order to add value to society, in my case to promote digital cultural and historical preservation.

In laymen terms –it’s about believing and building towards a vision, so much to where you will pass up a full time job offer, live off of ramen noodles, and eat up your savings for a while in order to pursue your calling.
Entrepreneurship is also about navigating obstacles and unknowns.

  • Obstacle 1 – I didn’t have experience building a business, nor was I raised to be a CEO. I didn’t know the first thing about business models, the world of app developers, or venture capitalism.

Lesson 1

The learning curve in a startup/the entrepreneurial world is HUGE. I have learned more from this experience than my entire Master’s degree at Harvard. The first lesson: don’t let not knowing how to do something stop you from learning how to do it. I’m not telling you to fake it until you make it, I’m telling you let your spirit for change drive you to open the doors that you know need to be opened in order to do the things you believe in. A year ago I didn’t know anything about entrepreneurship, and of course I’m still learning~

  • 
Obstacle 2 – I’m not an app developer. In fact, I kind of didn’t like technology very much before this. Sami, will tell you when I first met him, I was still learning how to use my first iPhone two years ago; but I digress:

Lesson 2

When I let the vision drive me, the pieces fell into place. Even though I’m still somewhat technologically impaired, I am still able to influence our developers (who themselves have developed three award-winning apps) with my own vision and now they want to explore mapping in their own apps and have mentioned to me about taking a trip to Palestine to discover it for themselves.

  • Obstacle 3, and this is a big one- I’m a female – a Palestinian – a Muslim – and I’m speaking in the U.S about Palestinian dispossession and the need for the preservation of Palestinian culture and places under threat by Israel. <whew> There were skeptics, myself included (!),who thought that if I mentioned Israeli-destroyed Palestinian villages in a Harvard-wide startup competition we entered, that we would not have a chance at winning.

Lesson 3

Times are changing because we won the competition, and I know we are on the right side of history!
Times are changing because we are now slowly, but surely, living in a world where you can –and should – discuss human rights abuses openly and condemn and protest the brutal injustices and collective punishment in Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Egypt and all of over the world.

Times are changing, and we must support women who enter the business world, just like a man, and a woman who does so while wearing a traditional dress on stage if she so desires (points to self). We don’t necessarily have to choose between career, our cultural or religious traditions, and family. We can try to have it all, if we sacrifice some food, sleep and keep the faith – and isn’t that what Ramadan is all about?

In fact, holding onto my culture and remembering my family’s and the collective Palestinian dispossession is what led me to this new career and, really, to what I believe is my greater calling in life. I have been lucky to find a way to stay rooted, to try and preserve places and memories in my homeland at risk of not being preserved, and to honor my father and his memory, all while making a living. Weaving all those together as a Palestinian-American Muslim in a creative way is part of my own definition of personal entrepreneurship.

I stumbled upon entrepreneurship, not because I sat down and wanted to come up with a cool idea (though that can work for some people!);  I stumbled upon this entrepreneurial path because imagination was always part of my identity – sitting in a taxi in South Carolina and imagining what Palestine must have looked like when my father was there. This all naturally grew out of my living in 2 different worlds simultaneously – my American surroundings and my Palestinian heritage, and navigating living in that hyphen- “Palestinian-American”

Message isnt’ to make entrepreneurs out of all of us…

My message isn’t to make entrepreneurs out of all of us (because not everyone wants to eat Ramen Noodles for the first few years of their professional lives). But my message is centered on the fact that many of us here may live in a hyphen – Arab-American, Muslim-American and so on. Perhaps we are not made to ever fully fit in or belong (the same way I felt upon exiting my father’s taxi everyday), which leads us to have, as the great intellectual Edward Said said a “plurality of vision (similar to what our app PIVOT will do, by allowing you to pivot through a place across time). Such vision gives “rise to an awareness of simultaneous dimensions” And that plurality of vision is what makes us better leaders, entrepreneurs, and global citizens.

We must be able to reconcile the “disparate halves” of our individual identities, perhaps reconciling our humble upbringings with our fancy jobs or ‘ivory tower’ education; or reconciling our privileged American-ness with our connections back home – wherever that may be – to empower people struggling for justice and equality across the ocean. It is not until we can reconcile our identities and, no matter how conflicted they may make us feel, that we can use that to advance human rights and make a better world for everyone.
Let us remember: That we can succeed in our professional lives, while still being connected to the beliefs that drive us, to our histories that brought us to where we are, and to the people, even if they are no longer here, who continue to guide us. And we must NOT forget our roots, no matter who gets old and dies – but rather continue their memory and the quest for social justice in the most productive and faithfully spirited way.

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Beji Caid Essebsi Wins Tunisia’s First Presidential Election–

After Sunday’s elections, Beji Caid Essebsi of the Nida Tounis Party won Tunisia’s first free presidential race and beat his opponent, Moncef Marzouki.  Essebsi won with 55.68 percent of the vote. Congrats and good luck to Essebsi.  He is going to need it — along with a cabinet that will respect Tunisia’s various institutions.

A month after Tunisia held its first round in the presidential run, Noureddine Jebnoun analyzed the polarized politics days before the second run-off in his Al-Jazeera piece “Tunisia Caught Between Fear & Stability“.  Jebnoun teaches at Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies.  He raised two points that we generally agree with:

  1. Patriarchal politics still manifest itself in the mindset of candidates and in rhetoric– patriarchy means that only the leader can promote a vision as he assumes that the citizens are perpetually uninformed and incapable of independent decision-making. No matter how much one candidate (Moncef Marzouki) may believe he differed in his approach with his opponent, patriarchy in the executive role undermines the role of the potential power others have.  Marzouki underestimates the role that social-political activists and institutions have and continue to play a role in Tunisia’s democratic process.
  2. Dismissing Islamism as a form of political thought, discourse, and organizing force that runs counter to democractization is reductioninist.  Simply stated: those that argue that Islamism is undemocratic, while secularists are inherently democratic, fail to recognize the tenets of democratiziation: inclusive political engagement for all.

An excerpt is below for this week’s PITAPAL points — Source: Al Jazeera, December 19, 2014

The Tunisian transition is perceived as exceptional in the light of the instability in the rest of the region: return of authoritarianism, spread of sectarian and ethnic violence, chaos and civil war. L Carl Brown recently praised the “Tunisian exception” for providing a “less hectic and less bloody revolutionary transition” in the Arab world.

But a closer look at Tunisian politics shows that the perceived exceptionalism of political developments in the country is somewhat overstated and necessitates a more nuanced analysis.

Political fatigue

Three years after Bouazizi’s immolation set off the Arab uprisings, Tunisia is living in the rhythm of elections. Most recently, parliamentary elections where held on October 26, followed by the first round of presidential elections. On December 21, Tunisia will have its presidential runoff between Beji Caid Essebsi of Nidaa Tounes (Call of Tunisia) and the incumbent interim President Moncef Marzouki. The outcome of these elections will provide the country with its first democratically elected permanent institutions.

Tunisia youth frustrated by unemployment

But as much as the world is praising these elections, Tunisians do not seem as enthusiastic. While the number of registered voters surpassed 5 million out of more than 8.2 million Tunisians of voting age, barely 3.3 million turned up at the voting stations for the first round of the presidential elections. This indicates a low voter turnout particularly among youth, the most disenfranchised social group whose mobilisation was decisive in the fall of Ben Ali’s dictatorship.

This first round of the presidential elections mirrored the political fatigue and apathy of the Tunisian electorate whose confidence in the potential of democracy to generate positive outcomes has declined. This declining confidence was already observed in the parliamentary elections, which showed that Tunisians apparently have preference for a leader with “a strong hand” who is able to stabilise the country.

Presidential candidates and sensationalist media coverage instrumentalised this desire for stability, seeking to nurture Tunisians’ anxieties and maintain their fear of insecurity in order to affect their vote.

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Which Country Earned ‘Most Improved Nation’ in 2010 for #HumanDev? #OmanSymposium

Dear Pitaconsumers,

Which country earned ‘Most Improved Nation’ in the 2010 Human Development Report?  The country whose major art display reflects on how trade ties go as far back as linking Mesopotamia’s civilization with the Indus civilization.  And who also claims Sinbad the Sailor…or as some refer to as “Sindhbad” the Sailor because of his trips to present-day Pakistan.  By this point, we hope you have arrived at one of the Gulf countries.  The correct answer: Oman.  Last week the Embassy of Oman organized the #OmanSymposium around this central theme: pluralism promotes human development–especially in Oman.  An entire display outlining religious tolerance kicked off the Oman Symposium event.

In 1967, the first development projects began in Oman because there were no docking ports and no color television sets.  IMore importantly, telephones were limited to government ministers.  Until 1970,  Oman had only 1 school.  The seventies represented the greatest period of change in Oman economically, socially, and education-wise.  Politically, not so much.

 

One of the strongest HDI impacts was the growth of transportation infrastructure.  By 2014, the World Economic Forum ranked Oman as 17th in overall quality of transport infrastructure.  Currently it has a rate of 5% on import duties, which is considered “low”.  Indirectly, other benefits accrued for other sectors, like oil: About .9 million barrels per oil ae produced and transported.  Oman jumped up in its “Doing Business Index” ranking from 114th in 2007 to 47th in 2013.

Oman’s ability to enforce property rights greatly improved from 2007 til now, making it among the top 25 countries to enforce property rights for doing business.

Oman set two 5-Year plans: the Year of Industry and the Year of Agriculture.  Now, Oman is underway with  Vision 2020, an initiative from 1993 that focuses on developing its human capital…which brings us to education: the way to socially engineer any type of human capital.

Education For All… Shift to Quality

Another HDI impact was that the literacy rate among Omani women grew so dramatically that they now represent the majority of university studies.  According to one of the presentations, “percentage of women studying had grown to the point that it became necessary to allocate quotas at Sultan Qaboose University for men.”

Now Oman’s current economic development challenge must integrate a more education labor force with its diverse labor in the form of migrant workers.  At the same time, like its other MENA neighbors: update its education system to prepare the next generation of unemployed but “ready to study abroad” population.

The Best Is Yet To Come

As Governor Jon Huntsman, who served as U.S. Ambassador to China, stated, “Oman was a model of development.”  As the keynote speaker, Huntsman argued for Oman to invest more into its Research & Development sector, R&D.

The best is yet to come. The US can help Oman.

At the same time, how to prepare for the “Best”–when it arrives– requires a bit of adjustment.

  1. Enact a minimum wage for foreign labor workers.
  2. Note that the 68% of local population is under age 30 and REVISE educational curricula to encompass team building homework assignments. (Even super-advanced economies like the U.S. are rethinking how to improve upon Pre-kindergarten learning and challenge the necessity of going to college.)
  3. Define which type of SMEs and size would BEST encompass local population before signing any type of partnership promising to improve this sector.

Big Difference Between SMEs And Same

The main criticism we would highlight from the discussion at the symposium would be the emphasis on small to medium enterprises (SMEs) without emphasizing how general this term really is–which has no baseline for comparison.  What do we mean?  Well, when a speaker says he won’t get into the definition or the criteria, which he remarked as the “nitty-gritty”, then it’s way easier (and convenient) for the speaker to make generalizations.  An SME can range from having 2 employees to 200 employees.  Employee size is only 1 characteristic of SME size, and yet, generally overlooked when reduced to a 10 minute presentation.  How will partnerships, which were heavily sought after in the networking sessions, emerge if the parties can’t even get on the same page of what type or size of SMEs should be targeted.

To the speaker who served as the “expert” on development based on his Iraq and Pakistan experience.  (Clearly the term expert was liberally applied.  It’s not like SMEs catapulted to success in Iraq or Pakistan.) Stop Invoking SMEs As If They’re All the Same!

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Round 2 of Tunisia’s Presidential Election: December 28th, 2014

Sometimes, we wish the U.S. offered as many presidential candidates on the final ballot– like some Arab countries demonstrated in the last four years.  We are not kidding or being facetious.  Why?  Tunisian voters aren’t yet stuck with the two-party choice.  But one thing American elections do share in common with Tunisian elections: certain old guys keep coming back to race.  We call it “fringe benefits of crony constituency”–or “nostalgia-era” candidates depending on their name recognition, more than their actual historical policy association, to move forward, again.-Mehrunisa Qayyum 

On Sunday November 23rd, Tunisia held its first democratically elected presidential election since transitioning from authoritarian rule.  Unlike the U.S., where presidential candidates think of campaigning two years before the November elections–wasting hundreds of millions of dollars in campaigning instead of reinvesting extra funds into public works projects–Tunisia actually listed more than two candidates on the actual ballot–21 were on the ballot.  Unlike the parliamentary elections, The Ennahda Party did not run a presidential candidates.  (Nidaa Tounis Party won the majority in parliament last month.)  The two leading candidates, current interim-President Moncef Marzouki of the Congress for the Republic Party, and Baji Caid Essebsi of Nidaa Tounis Party,  will run off in a second round of voting in one month on December 28th.

Second place candidate, Marzouki, earned 33.43% of the vote.  Criticized by his opponents for living abroad, he continued with his human rights activities while living in France.  (Note, most of the opposition candidates of Ben Ali’s regime lived abroad if they weren’t imprisoned–journalist and TV channel owner, Mohamed Hechmi Hamdi, serves as another example of presidential candidates who lived abroad.) He is a human rights activist and physician who was also arrested in the nineties for his political opposition to Ben Ali.   In 2001, Marzouki founded the Congress for the Republic Party, which was banned during the Ben Ali regime, and forced Marzouki to reside in Europe again.   Unlike his opponents, he traveled to South Africa to learn about their post-Apartheid transitional period.

Essebsi earned about 39.46% of the vote.  He presents a cliche case of “regime-era experience” during the time of the Ben Ali policy and practices.  Essebsi is 87 years old and, yes, bring “loads” of experience to the presidential race.  Two questions for Tunisians is: 1) can a relic–excuse us–remnant provide integrity to the political process given that corruption was one of the triggers of discontent? and 2) We repeat, Essebsi is 87 years old… too uncanny of a resemblance to their next door neighbor’s presidential “situation”.

Voting in Tunisia triggered many observations ranging from the helpful to the “You’ve got to be joking” points.  For example, on the helpful front, the International Foundation for Election Systems prepared a visual illustrating voting information as shown below in both Arabic and French for Tunisian voters.

For those interested in looking at the moment to moment observations online, here were the memes focusing on Tunisian elections:

  1. #TNelec2014
  2. #TNelec
  3. #TunisiaVotes
  4. #TnPrez

Our favorite observation was the one shared by @T-78Himself who said:

Dear correspondents: women in have the right to vote since 1957. Women casting their votes isn’t news. FYI.

He’s absolutely right: there’s no need to keep focusing on images of women voting AS IF this is revolutionary…when in fact the revolutionary aspect may be that women voters may have higher expectations of their presidential candidates than male voters–if anybody bothered to ask or survey on issues of policy change.

Voting Results

How did Tunisians vote?  Given that 69% of eligible voters participated in the last election, the current election saw a slight decrease: 65% eligible Tunisian voters voted– still higher than the rates of democracies of the United States, which was 57.2% in the U.S. 2012 Presidential election, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center.  Of that 65%, about a 16.89% were voters from Tunisians casting a ballot from abroad, as shown below in the second image after the poll results.

 

Not Just “Youth”, But Young Adults

Discontent about unemployment and other challenges continued to operate as the leading election concerns.  Yasmine Ryan made a short film on by on ‘s disenchanted youth.  Although a valiant effort,  we would argue such comments are not just “youth experienced” and hesitate to frame these challenges as such because, 32 year olds dissatisfied with underemployment are grown adult men and women and not just a cohort of teen-angst ridden individuals.  The “youth” category is a misnomer because it belittles the responsibilities and role that a large segment of the “youth” have–such as heading households, politically engaging, paying rent, and other adult responsibilities.

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Middle East Institute 68th Annual Conference: “Navigating the Storm” #MiddleEast

“What’s happening in the region is renegotiation of social contracts.”~ Randa Slim, Director for Initiative for Track 2 Dialogues at Middle East Institute

This bodes true for countries that are in the middle of transitioning power… and can be argued for countries that are still not inclusive.  We ask, “who are the ‘middlemen’ in these transitions? (Since we’re feeling cheeky, we ask if countries, like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and Iran are Middlemen or Meddlemen?

Middle East In Flux: Opportunities

  • Solar Energy
  • Education Reform
  • Desalinization Plants

Solar power decreased costs for desalinization plants in the Gulf countries, like the UAE, according to Juan Cole.  Specifically, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain have earmarked more than $100 billion in their water sectors between 2011 and 2016 to improve desalination technologies.  Herein lies as  opportunity for investment into Yemen, which is the lowest-income country in the Arabian peninsula and also faces water scarcity.

And…Risks

  • Reductionism
  • Middlemen or Meddlemen? Arabia

Be wary of simplifying the problem through reductionsim of MENA region, warned many scholars, like Charles Schmitz.  (They are not the only ones–bloggers get it too!)  Using sectarianism as a frame, like “Shi’ite Crescent” is not helpful because at the end of the week, conflict is about power.

Containing the Islamic State

Although each panelist from morning panels had something to say about ISIS–since it is what the U.S. perceives as the top MENA priority– at least two reasoned that ISIS emerged “due to ‘unfinished job’ of rebuilding Iraq”.  As Turkish Columnist for Radikal, Cengiz Candar, said: ISIS in Iraq is primarily made up of former soldiers from the Ba’ath party era, Saddam Hussein’s party.  It is a sad irony since the Ba’ath Party was established as a secular party in Iraq and in Syria.  ISIS can be viewed more as an outlet for ideological opportunism.  As Randa Slim shared: “in the war for hearts and minds, the ISIS group has 40k tweets a day.”

Let’s revisit the main issue: Syria.  Why? Syria is the country where ISIS developed with funding from Gulf countries to remove Bashar Assad’s regime –unsuccessfully–from a powerbase dating back to 1971.  Gulf country “intervention” failed.  At the same time, U.S. non-intervention on Syria transformed into intervening against ISIS… in Iraq.

Commentators, like Juan Cole, questioned if the U.S. should even have been a country to intervene militarily at all.  If not the U.S., then who?  So BBC correspondent, Kim Ghattas asked Iraqi, Iranian and Turkish panelists on what each of their country’s role should be in intervening.  The Irani panelist, Hossein Mousavian, who teaches at Princeton University did not mention Iran specifically.  Rather, he said, “We need to cooperate to keep in tact…election needs to be held, supervised by .”

Candar shared this story,” When US jets appeared over , the Kurds start to shout ‘Long Live .”

Travails in Transition: Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen

In keeping with the earlier argument–that the MENA region is renegotiating its social contract– the subheading was the theme for the afternoon panel. According to Charles Schmitz of the Middle East Institute, Yemen is also renegotiating its social contract –again–through the Houthi movement.  (Here’s an ethnographic breakdown of who makes up the Houthis since they are not technically a political party, but represent a voice for about one-third of Yemen.) Earlier in November, the Houthi Movement leadership gave a 10 day ultimatum to President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi to step down, which resulted in Hadi reforming his cabinet…but remaining in power.

Former Minister of Parliament, Amr el-Shobaki, represented the Egyptian perspective.  In Egypt, El-Shobaki is a founding member of the Al-Adl Party, which is against the the ban on labor and political strikes and the use of military trials for civilians.  He served as a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment Center for International Peace, based in the US.  In a nutshell, despite the existence of some parties, he argues that Egypt lacks the political infrastructure to broker between competing ideologies.

Moving from Egypt to Libya, Fred Wehrey probed the Libya example with respect to its neighbor’s high-profile presidential leadership because he observed the “Sisi Effect”:  the trend of tremendous support for General turned Interim Leader to President within a year of former President Morsi’s removal.  Similarly, the El-Sisi effect took hold, or “reverberated with young liberals in led to Kalifa Haftar.and argued that Libya needs national reconciliation.  Moreover, Libya cannot be viewed through an Islamist versus non Islamist lens because there is a complex network of town rivalries and patronage networks.  El-Sisi effect reverberated with young liberals in led to Kalifa Haftar.   In a nutshell: When asked if Libya is a failed state?   Wehrey stated, “In Libya there was no state to fail.”

Really? Tunisia should be 2nd Largest Recipient of U.S. Aid?

Regarding Tunisia, there is a school of thought that dominates the DC “Beltway”.  That is “Tunisia’s political success is a great example, not necessarily a model, in MENA. More needed in economy & security though,” according to former U.S. Foreign Service Officer Lawrence.  True, economic downturn existed even before Tunisia’s rejection of the Ben Ali regime, it declined further in 2012. Note “J-Curve” of Tunisian economy after transition…so Tunisia panelist (former U.S. Foreign Service Officer Lawrence) argues that  shld be 2nd largest aid recipient, not 9th.

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