Happy 2014 Pitaconsumers: Wrestling with a form of secularism that doesn’t alienate.

Dear Pitaconsumers,

Time to start 2014 with some good news, sandwiched by bad news, wrapped up in more good news.  That is definitely not a formula for objective blogging. But, it is tooo easy to note all the worrisome predictions that may snowball into more bad puns regarding the “Arab Winter” or cliche points regarding the broader Middle East & North Africa region.  Currently, I am still wrestling with a form of secularism that does not alienate anyone from contributing to the knowledge economy, political process, or producing positive social impact.

Good News

First the good news–which means we MUST look towards technology: the November 2013 nuclear deal between Iran and the United States decidedly bodes well for Iran’s industrial sectors as measures to ease economic sanctions opens up Iran’s export opportunities.  Take for example, Iran’s auto industry that has its largest auto factory in Karaj, reports Al Jazeera.  Iran’s goal is to produce 3 million cars a year to make it into top 10 global car manufacturers.

Moving to the softer side of technology–that is information technology used for marketing products–we see continued growth of e-marketing in Egypt with “Shahbander”.  Shahbander is Persian for ‘harbormaster’, and is Egyptian for e-marketing hub of Egypt’s historical textile industry.  (Think 1000 thread count for Egyptian cotton sheets.)  This startup is not creating new technology, but it is revealing the challenges of market research in countries, like Egypt, (little to no access to data) and getting local products to meet global standards to export outside of Egypt.  Shahbander and 5 other startups are being incubated at Venture Labs, an American University of Cairo initiative.

Turkey could be the 12th largest economy by 2028, says a British research firm’s study.

Turkey will climb to the 12th rank with a total gross domestic product (GDP) of $3.46 trillion in 2028, a Center for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) report on “World Economic League Table (WELT) for 2013,” has said.

Bad News

Now the bad news.  Unfortunately, the Beirut bombing that killed Mohammed Shatah on December 27th, Lebanon’s former Finance Minister and ambassador to the U.S., was immediately met with outside funding to support Lebanon’s military and security sector:  Saudi Arabia will provide $3 billion to boost Lebanon’s military capacity.  Imagine how many other ways this type of funding could actually translate into other types of infrastructural development: number of schools, seed funding for startups via competitions, meeting teacher salary raise requirements, housing development projects outside of Beirut, or just spending one-tenth of that aid in expanding Lebanon’s telecommunications capacity, which relies on a shared cable between France, Cyprus and Lebanon.  I could give some estimates, but why depress you.

Egypt has outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood.  Although the MB is a religious-social-political institution that does not win blind applause from me, banning them just risks pushing them underground and promoting that self-fulfilling prophecy that MB leaders rallied around during Egypt’s one-man show of Nasser and Sadat followed by encore performances played by Hosni Mubarak.

Both and secularists  may be guilty of exclusionary politics via legislation.  (Secularism sounds great.  According to Webster’s dictionary:

1) religious skepticism or indifference; or 2) view that religious considerations should be excluded from public and civil affairs.

But how secularism is “practiced” varies.  I guess that’s what we call anyone that is against any group organizing around religion?   As the Washington Post editorialized:

How can there be dialogue and inclusion if the opposition is criminalized?

Sowing strife by bombing civilians is beyond hypocritical – it also undermines pluralism.  Not to diminish the terror attacks carried out against Egyptians since June 30th–ban the actions and criminalize the behavior–but is it necessary to criminalize an entire movement that includes opposition members that do NOT condone the violence, or terrorist actions?  This is a political economy blog, so I hesitate to delve into religious movements and groups.  But if their existence actually or mythically disrupts a country’s political and economic move forward…well, I must ask what secularism means, what it offers to movements that want to engage in moving forward economically and politically, and HOW secularism promotes pluralism.

Good News, Depending on How One Spins It

And now to wrap up this good news sandwich.  In reflecting on PITAPOLICY’s thousands of social media interactions, only 2 negative instances come to mind–that’s pretty good.  I think I may even try to emulate some of 9 Timeless Lessons from Cyrus the Great, which was reviewed by Forbes magazine: Cultivate courtesy until it blooms into perfect harmony. Therefore, I believe in attacking the point, not the person.

One negative encounter is not even worth mentioning.  But the second, is pretty recent, which is probably why I am most bothered by it.  But turning a negative into a positive is the role of thinker, not a complainer.  So I try to remain courteous over social media because I put my face with my name and my thoughts–PITAPOLICY is not some cartoonish avatar who hides behind a fake name or image just to shoot off snarky comments.

Over the weekend, I questioned why the Western narrative consistently underlines the “Secularist versus Islamist” narrative in Turkey, Tunisia, and Egypt.  I believe in attacking the point, not the person.

So we’re going w/secular v Islamist, eh? “Protests erupt in over probe into Erdogan’s govt

Note that I tweeted without naming the person nor the editor nor mentioned the news outlet in my attack point. Without directing the statement to the news agency or editor,  I stated that it was ‘Lazy’ to continue promoting this narrative.  I swear to the Cyber Space guardian angel that some news editors must have NSA like senses  or something, because the next thing I knew, I got an extremely harsh, presumptive response from the Defensive News Editor–I mean Defense News editor saying that I was lazy for sharing that point.  Way to engage audiences for your news outlet Mr. Defense News Editor.  One can’t claim that his/her tweets only represent opinions that do not reflect the news outlet he/she works for, soak in the prestige associated with the affiliation, and back away from it when opinions are shared–and then suddenly realign themselves with the news organization.   Can’t have it both ways.

Then, I realized, “hey, if a regular blogger’s point invited so much negativity by a trolling news editor, or news editor troll, then either 1) he has nothing better to do on a Saturday, or 2) what I said may be the very criticism that his American-minded hubris believes he is above, but tripped on.”   Anyways, here’s to more dialogue on social media and increasing my patience without alienating those that do not agree with PITAPOLICY points.

~Mehrunisa Qayyum



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

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