“Governance and Stability in Iraq” Remarks by Deputy PM Saleh al-Mutlaq

The United States Institute of Peace (USIP), the National Defense University (NDU), and the Iraqi American Community Center (IAC) hosts H.E. Mr. Saleh al-Mutlaq, Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Iraq, and members of the Iraqi Council of Representatives for public remarks and a discussion on governance, services, transition, and peace and stability in Iraq. Live-stream link will show discussion by Deputy PM followed by discussion by two Members of Iraqi Parliament.  


Saleh al-Mutlaq on Terrorism, Sectarianism, Elections & Reconciliation

  • Iraq is not the only country suffering from terrorism–since terrorism has no borders.
  • We want to help everyone get rid of that disease, terrorism, because Iraq has paid a high price in fighting terrorism to kick Al-Qaeda out of Iraq.
  • We need your help: arming the Iraq army is not enough.
  • Sectarianism is a real danger in Iraq–bigger threat than terrorism–b/c its’ the basis of terrorism.
  • People who are uprising are former military soldiers and Ba’aathists.
  • Some people are feeling that they are marginalized…
  • If no stability, then no development. Important for everyone to cooperate.
  • Response to people uprising in Anbar: “weapons alone cannot do the job.”
  • Response to elections and his concern regarding the conduct of those elections
  • There was a mistake in the last election: b/c of pressure from Iran, and that the US didn’t act in a strong way, “my feeling is that without a national coalition, the country will not become united”
  • If there is a transparent and fair election–”until now I cannot see” then the outcome is promising.
  • “but if there’s a curfew and sectarian speech continues”, then the outcome won’t be promising.
  • “It will take time.” Response to moderator question: “Will government formation take as long as last time?
  • Good question. “Corruption is a huge concern. It will affect the result, definitely. I hope it’s not as much as people are expecting Response to moderator question: “How much is the role of foreign funding taking place in elections?
  • Displacement isn’t a problem only in Anbar–but also in Baghdad.  Defeating Al Qaeda in one place means that we’ll see them somewhere else.
  • The problem isn’t between the Iraqis themselves, but between the politicians. The politicians use secatarianism. Every 2 years we will have this same problem w/this tendency.
  • What happened to Iraq was mainly down by an external power.
  • There is a distance between the people and the military in Anbar–and it should be addressed.
  • “I will fight sectarianism, Al-Qaeda, and ISIS at the same time. This is among one of the main issues in the upcoming elections–in addition to fighting for inclusive governance.”

Note: Al-Mutlaq comes from the Anbar province in Iraq.

Al-Mutlaq on Syria and upcoming Geneva2 Talks

  • “What’s happening in Syria is annoying everyone,” — would like to see opposition ready to compromise.
  • Most of the complication comes from the outside, so would be best to see the U.S. and Russia positions reach agreement before arriving at Geneva2.

Al-Mutlaq on US relationship and security

  • Sale of weapons must be in parallel with reconciliation.  There’s no reconciliation in country.  But the weapons we need might be much less than what we need now.
  • Don’t neglect the other aspects: Inclusive government, sharing of power, and include discussion of security composition and need b/c it’s limited to one party.
  • Security should not be run by one person or one party.  Draws comparison with U.S. Commander in Chief: even he doesn’t take the decision on his own, he consults.
  • There is a US legal obligation to Iraq.

Energy & Governate Relations

  • I don’t agree w/any decision to export oil without decision participation by central government of Iraq response to Baghdad and Erbil energy relations, which have been tense.
  • Our country was written within 3 months time. That was a mistake!  We (his party) voted against the constitution.  If you ask Mr. Maliki, he will now say that this constitution has a problem.
  • Article 142 says amendment to constitution in 4 months time.  But it was clear constitution was written for the benefit of a certain region. “Gave too much decentralization” or devolving power to governates.
  • Again, this is where US politicians can discuss and advise Iraqi politicians to reach conciliation on problematic parts of amendments.
  • Certain amendments are unclear.

Note: ADCI-VOCA, a US international consulting firm focusing on agricultural development, working in Iraq since 2003, organized townhalls to address the capacity building issue, or what al-Muqatal described as “local governance proficiency’.   As a former employee of ADCI-VOCA told PITAPOLICY: it is simply untrue when Deputy PM Al-Muqatal argues that the Iraqi local governance officials lack “proficiency” because they have been trained before and after elections.  Looks like it’s a classic issue of federalism tension versus local governance power.    

Al-Muqatal on Iran, Egypt & Gulf

  • Egypt’s success is a success in the Arab region.
  • You know the answer to that (said with a smile) in response to “Does the road to reconciliation lead through Iran?”
  • It’s a given how much Iraq suffered under sanctions.
  • What does Iraq look like in two to four years?  I hope that my country is kept united, and that the people will live together in a peaceful way. “We didn’t think of sectarianism, or thought if the person sitting next to me was Shi’ite. This was introduced after 2003. Intermarriage between Sunni-Shiite is at 25 percent.  I am among them.”

Part 2: Town Hall Discussion with Iraqi Members of Council of Representatives


Sarhang Hamasaeed, Opening Remarks and Moderator, Senior Program Officer for the Middle East and Africa, U.S. Institute of Peace

  • Asks for comments on sectarianism and whether it’s feeding the violence in Iraq.  Is it impeding the institutions in Iraq.
  • Why backdoor channels and how long do we need to sustain these backdoor channel conversations?

Ezzat al-Shebander, Member of Council of Representatives

  • It’s not uprising in Iraq. Rather, Al-Qaeda has an objective where they want to bring all their operatives from Yemen, Tunisia, etc to Iraq.  There are historical roots that Iraq has been against this type of ideology.
  • Communication between all sides of the parties is important.  Since 2010, 2nd term of Al Maliki,we’ve had a tough dialogue that has not happened publicly.  “The Shi’ites were forced to vote for PM Al-Maliki and accept him.” responding to Hamasaeed question on backdoor channels.
  • The problem is that the current Iraqi government failed to achieve confidence and trust with the other side.  That’s why the other side transferred, forcefully, to become an incubator of terrorism.  This resulted from misdealings in the government.  “I blame leaders who don’t distinguish from terrorists.”
  • On budgeting: “I’ve never heard of PM Al Maliki interfering with governate budgets.”
  • “I left the State Law coalition.After 4th year, felt there was a change: Mr. Al-Maliki abandoned his positions and reconciliation points.  I know Mr. Al-Maliki is not sectarian, but because of the environment around the upcoming elections, he adjusted and resorted towards a more Shi’ite appeal in his speech,” responding to why he departed from al Maliki’s party.
  • In the last election: only 35% of Iraqis voted.  “That means that the 65% who stayed at home, didn’t vote b/c of mistrust. Instead of going out and voting for better candidates, prefer to stay home and leave space to same failures.  We are witnessing a kind of peril. Those people will. Hopeful sign for me: the Shiite block that was elected on sectarian basis is dismantled.”
  • De-Ba’athification was a mistake because it made all those who participated in politics, especially if they disagreed with the Baath, were removed and lost in the reconciliation process.
  • Unfair to compare Assad and Al-Maliki in how each used military forces.  -Response to audience question about holding Al-Maliki accountable if we’re holding Assad accountable.

Mustafa al-Hiti, Member of Council of Representatives

Nada al-Juburi, Member of Council of Representatives

  • There is a relationship between the three: corruption, violence, and sectarianism in that they affect the institutions.  In the end, the citizen is dissatisfied.
  • “They elected the right people in 2010.  I’m working on the Commission of 5, which is looking at the demands of the people.  There is a shortage in basic services, like electricity in Najaf.”  Nobody is ignoring that there are terrorists.  Terrorism has no religion.
  • At the end of the day: the people who pay the price is the Iraqi people.  If you detain 100 people, what’s going to happen when they leave detention centers.  There needs to be due process.  Second point: legislation process needs to follow legal procedures,” that need to be passed but couldn’t be passed because of political differences between parliament and Ministers.   in responding to the question on likelihood of some governates seceding.  [Note: no reference to secession possibility in al-Juburi's response.]
  • We have to work on amnesty: you cannot punish a certain group.  “Prison is not the answer at the end of the day,” responding to Accountability & Justice Law.

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Impasse: #US Senate Hearing “#Syria Refugee Crisis” #SyrianRefugees

“Only 31 [Syrian] refugees were allowed into the U.S. in 2013,” said Senator Durbin, who added that none of the Gulf Cooperation Council members have committed to accepting Syrian refugees and that “these countries need to step up as well” and not just send money in a statement to the U.S. Senate Subcommitteee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights “Syrian Refugee Crisis”.  Allocating money to address the Syria crisis is politically challenging, but entertaining a non-financial solution, such as accepting refugees, ignites even more political controversy beyond the neighboring countries–that host 2.3 million Syrians while facing their own housing and unemployment challenges.

In Turkey, most refugees do not live in the camps, so “we must focus on the plight of urban refugees” and “the need for open borders,” testified Anne Richards, Assistant Secretary of State for Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.  Yet, in Lebanon, refugees make up about twenty percent of the population, with the United Nations Human Rights Commission projecting an additional one million Syrians seeking refugee in Lebanon by the end of 2014.

On January 15th, Kuwait will co-host a pledging conference with the United Nations since Kuwait is among the largest government (4th largest in 2013) and private donors.  In addition to government funding from GCC countries, it is estimated that “over hundreds of millions of dollars” in private funding reached Syria since 2011, according to a Brookings report from November 2013.

Although the packed hearing attracted participation by Senators outside of the subcommittee, basic questions regarding U.S. assistance to stem the Syrian human rights crisis received more attention than the tougher questions.  For example, Senator Klobuchar’s question exemplified a common misconception held by those outside of the donor community who believe that the humanitarian aid must be disseminated through the Assad regime.  U.N. agencies only need permission from the regime, clarified the witnesses.

However, the tougher questions, like funding throughout 2014, haunt the U.S. as much as it does multi-lateral donors.  The amount remains uncertain because “we keep passing the worst-case scenario”, testified Richards when trying to answer Senator Graham’s question: how much additional money do the Departments of State, Homeland Security and USAID need to plan for resettling refugee.

Of the 1.3 billion dollars provided in aid by the U.S. government, the U.S. Agency for International Development issues vouchers to Syrian refugees in neighboring countries to purchase food.  But, as USAID Administrator, Nancy Lindborg stated,“our aid will not stop bloodshed and will not solve conflict”.

Aside from the U.S. financial ability to capacity to absorb more refugees, there is the American fear that inviting refugees will also invite radicalization.  “Americans shouldn’t equate refugees with terrorists,” explained Richards, rather, “most are law-abiding people who are just shattered.”

U.S. immigration law poses the biggest challenge in resettling Syrian refugees, which prohibits  granting refugee status to those who worked with rebel groups, like the Free Syrian Army, which is receiving U.S. assistance, according to Durbin.  Discretion is needed to issue exemptions to those requiring Temporary Protective Status (TPS), which lasts for 18 months.  Still, no draft legislation was presented to incorporate this mutual agreement.

The hearing raised the same questions raised in the Senate Foreign Relations committee AND again in the House Foreign Affairs Committee six months ago.  “By now we should have some answers regarding resettlement policies,” said Amer Mahdi Doko,  was among the three Syrian refugees, under TPS, recognized during the hearing.

Doko faced imprisonment by the Assad regime — twice for organizing pro-democracy and human rights activists.  The Assad regime also detained two of Doko’s brothers.  The other two exiled journalists, Iyad Sharbaji and Omar al-Muqdad, fled to the U.S. with their wives and continue to testify on the regime’s atrocities  Sharabji was arrested and tortured by the regime for publishing recordings of the regime’s response to a non-violent protest.  Similarly al-Muqdad, who hails from Dara’a–the city where young boys were tortured for spray-painting “Down with the regime” in 2011– documented human rights abuses by security forces.  For this, al-Muqdad was arrested seven times and imprisoned twice for his reporting activities.

Doko expressed no hope that Durbin’s appeal to GCC countries (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, the UAE, an Qatar) in hosting Syrian refugees, would offer new resettlement options for Syrian refugees.  In a sad irony, on the day of the hearing, the United Nations announced its decision to suspend the Syrian death toll count, which has exceeded 130,000, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.  Policy on refugees and counting civilian deaths has hit an impasse.

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Town of Kafranbel in Syria Is 2nd Wave of Revolution

Note: On January 7th, the U.S. Senate will hold another hearing on the humanitarian crisis in Syria.   Senator Durbin, (D-IL) will preside as Syrian activists provide testimony. 

We are live-blogging and live-tweeting The Coalition for a Democratic Syria (CDS), which is proud to present “Voices of Hope From Syria”.  The event features special Syrian guest speakers from Kafranbel.  As the organizers state, the strategy for sharing the voices of the Syrian people must shift and to represent the structural changes that have emerged since the revolution in Syria first started.  The tour has traveled to 10 cities.

Specifically, CDS recognizes the changing focus from political protests to development and support of Syrian civil society.  The strengths of Syrian expatriates living outside Syria boil down to “Capacity Building”, which means helping Syrians help themselves. Kafranbel serves as an example.

Raed Fares, Kafranbel’s Artistic Mastermind and Media Office Director (Kafranbel is a small town in Idlib Province)

  • Town of 30,000 transformation: resurgance of civil society work as of Jan. 3, 2014 revamped revolution?
    In Kafranbel, it isn’t true, there are 30K heroes.
    The 23 million of Syria are a people who have been enslaved in service for a single family.
  • 22nd of May, 2011 Syrian regime forces arrested 40 activists around 4 am and burned down homes.
  • 4th of July, 2011:  Assad regime sent tanks -entered Kafranbel and installed checkpoints and occupied towns.  People first protested in front of tanks, but realized it wasn’t sustainable.  So they started protesting outside the village so that the firing tanks couldn’t reach them–in orchards 300 meters outside of Kafranbel… the tanks would follow the next day, followed by the moving target of protests.  Ironically, the protests drew the tanks further away.  Later, ISIS entered, and protests restarted.  (ISIS is on the side of the Assad regime.)
  • February 2012, first formed Kafranbel battalion.
  • Several massacres occurred, but specifically Nov. 5, 2012: a Russian fighter jet  conduced mock raids on Kafrabnel.  (Video in on Youtube, which is in Arabic.)
  • Revolutionaries realized that they didn’t have the capacity to govern Kafranbel, so they recruited technocrats: engineers and doctors.  Rather than rebuild the town, after destruction by regimes forces, needed to rebuild citizenship.
  • Parallel government in place, which explains Kafranbel’s success for two reasons: 1) Organization by the people to demonstrate, record, and disseminate — which eventually coalesced into a Coordinating Committee; and 2) Persistence.
  • About a year after, Kafranbel held elections and started to pay salaries for those working in the civil organizing capacity/staffing the office (3,000 Syrian pounds for individuals, 5,000 Syrian pounds for families).
  • Vision is a Syrian state regardless of sect, religion or other traits.  This state will provide for the dignity of the citizens first envisioned with the onset of the revolution.  Sumud will bring freedom and liberation for all.
  • The power of radio: alerts Kafranbel residents when regime fighter jets are approaching.  It’s about a 20 to 50 km radius from Kafranbel’s radio station.  Walkie Talkies cost $150, so not every person can afford to have one.  Radio replaces this need.
  • Aside from a media office, Kabranbel has a women’s center.  First aid and language training, a program for women.  Sewing and knitting for women to come and participate.
  • ISIS attacks compound the challenges that Kafranbel faces as regimes forces conduct “operations”, e.g. 4 activists and a Editor-in-Chief of local magazine abducted.
  • Makes a humble appeal to Syrian Americans to get more organized.  Surprised that Obama wasn’t ready to attack after 70% of Americans were against striking Syria “as if Syria was a free country”.  “Failure to deliver message to key decision-makers” in the U.S. by Syrian Americans.  The American public should know what it going on in Syria.  Shouldn’t be just organizing around a critical decision, but ongoing effort to organize so that the decision isn’t left to 11th hour.

@ramahkudaimi: Raed concludes Syrians dont want anything from US, but Syrians here failing when discourse of regime fighting terrorism is what dominates.

Razan Ghazzawi (@RedRazan)

  • “Civil society activists have mostly left Damascus b/c we’ve been targeted by regime.”
  • In the last 40 yrs, we didn’t have those skills to practice versus “how to recruit people” (knowledge transfer)
  • There are some things that only students on campuses can do that would support outreach.

Wittiest Tweet of the Evening from @RamahKudaimi:

Razan sharing different acts of the revolution she has been a part of, all nonviolent civil resistance (white male leftists take note)

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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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Does coverage of government corruption overshadow coverage of business corruption in the Middle East & North Africa region?

Embedded image permalink

“The world with all countries resized to their ” Source: Twitter @RichardMclellan

Notes: Egypt is 2nd largest populated country in Africa; among largest in MENA region–with Iran, Turkey and Pakistan.

Middle East and North Africa: Holding Public and Private Corruption Accountable by PITAPOLICY

Public finance is a given when it comes to overseeing public sector corruption and holding people accountable.  Recently, Turkey’s Prime Minister and Iraq’s public sector triggered more distrust as corruption trickles into hiring practices, according to the National Democratic Institute and the Wall Street Journal.  But private sector corruption does not invite the same amount of attention in the media.  Often, public sector corruption accompanies some business operations looking to increase profits.  A couple of oil and media company names come to mind when public money meets private industry…or in “public-private partnerships” like Weatherford, International’s role in a UN programme. 

Known as ‘Business Integrity’, The Organisation for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD) recognizes the need to monitor private sector corruption as it impacts investment climate and ability to attract foreign investment, “Responsible behavior in business and investment is more likely to contribute to sustainable development and employment creation.”  Guidelines for multi-national corporations and MENA responsible business conduct hint that private sector corruption require similar levels of scrutiny in the public eye BECAUSE the private sector can negatively impact the public with their behind the scenes operations.  In a survey reported by the Financial Times, business leaders in the MENA region are almost twice as likely to engage in bribery and other corrupt practices compared to their global counterparts.

The Third Wheel

Aside from public and private sector, the military is like a third wheel when it comes to financial accountability.  It represents its own sort of sector in that it needs public funding, yet does not experience the same level of budgetary oversight.  At the same time, the military is that rare hybrid of people who transition into the private sector since many retire early, or enter private security contractor jobs.  The military sector is in the gray area when it comes to property ownership–look at Egypt, Algeria, and Lebanon.  So what’s really surprising? Transparency International’s 2013 study showed that 107 countries’ respondents did NOT see its military as an institution facing corruption.   

Big Spending, No Kidding.

Speaking of public finance, earlier this week, Saudi Arabia passed its largest budget yet.  As the world’s largest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia still faces the same challenges it did 10 years ago.  The same warnings apply:

The IMF told Saudi Arabia this year it was spending more than it should if it wanted to preserve oil wealth for future generations, and that its state budget could fall into deficit by 2016 if expenditure continued rising fast. ~Agence Free Press

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What Are 5 Innovative Trends in Women’s Economic Equality?

Greetings Pitaconsumers,

Apologies for being offline for the last 10 days, the PITAPOLICY sight underwent technical maintenance!  Much has happened as we wind up the 2013.

  • On December 8th, we observed the first “Peace Game” simulation at the  U.S. Institute for Peace (think of War Games but without making the Department of Defense the main actor).  The two day simulation used the Syria crisis as the real-life scenario of how to achieve the “Best, Possible” peace.  We’ll share our observations of what went well, and what did not in a future post.
  • On Friday, we reached our 2,000th follower on Twitter!  This means that we look forward to hearing your thoughts whether you’re a think tank, or an economic enthusiast in one of the pita-consuming countries, or  someone who enjoys following MENA issues as a hobby out in Sweden–you know who you are!
  • Last week marked the 3rd anniversary of Tunisian civil society’s ouster of their autocratic leader, Benali, in response to Mohammed Bouazizi’s self-immolation protest.
  • PITAPOLICY Founder, Mehrunisa Qayyum, had a great conversation with an Intrapreneur (leading change from within) at Ashoka, Reem Rahman, who recently published her piece on women’s economic inequality.  The jist of the conversation: Ashoka has many opportunities for women in the Ashoka Arab World programs that are not limited to those who want to start a business or social venture.  There are other ways to serve as a “CHANGEMAKER” since not everyone embodies the skills or will be be an entrepreneur.  In her piece below, you will see what to expect from the online competition designed for women.  Winners from the MENA region to be announced January 15th, so stay tuned!

5 Innovative Trends in Women’s Economic Equality

Source: Forbes 12/13/2013   by Ashoka Contributor, Reem Rahman

Investing in women creates a multiplier effect for society – including better health and education outcomes, more resilient societies, reinvestment in communities, and greater prosperity. While there has been overall progress globally, women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) still face some of the greatest barriers in asserting their economic rights.

To help break through these barriers, the Women Powering Work: Innovations for Economic Equality in MENA online competition, launched by Ashoka Changemakers and General Electric, was launched to support innovations that enable full economic participation by women. Nine competition finalists have emerged who are building quality livelihoods and securing economic rights for women across the region. The competition is also uncovering a series of trends that demonstrate how investing in women’s economic equality is smart.


The Women Powering Work competition received 107 applications from more than 23 countries, spanning very diverse economic, social, and political contexts. In the spirit of open learning and collaboration, below is a list of the finalists and the themes that are emerging from their solutions.


Who are the finalists?



Emerging Trends:


Trend #1: Reinvent Jobs for Maximum Flexibility


When Maria Umar was refused maternity leave as a teacher, she quit her job and worked to found an online company that would offer flexibility in work options for any woman who needs it. Umar’s organization, Women’s Digital League (Pakistan), and two other finalists — Nabbesh (United Arab Emirates) and engineering firm Handasiyat.net (Jordan) — are creating project-based jobs that women can easily access online. A key part of their success is customizing their services to meet the unique needs of their local context. They are securing partnerships with local companies to ensure quality jobs are available for posting, embedding ratings systems to help employees build their reputation, and partnering with NGOs to provide training and infrastructure to access IT jobs in hard to reach, rural communities.


Trend #2: Partner for Entrepreneurial Success — Create Access to Markets


A number of changemakers are not only helping women to establish their own micro-enterprises but also providing them with the services and partnerships they need to grow into medium-to -large sized businesses. Projects such as Badaweya Handicraft Initiative (Egypt) and Afghan Women Entrepreneurs (Afghanistan) are delivering skills trainings, providing start-up materials, coupling skills-trainings with consulting advice about how to make enterprises successful, and also linking women to distributors and networks to ensure their products can reach enough customers to make a profit. Afghan Women Entrepreneurs, along with the Khadija Technology Program (Yemen), step further outside the box by focusing on industries such as farming and information technology, giving women the training, access to partner networks, and experience needed to establish their own enterprises in fields that aren’t limited to handicrafts.


Trend #3: Replace Intense Stigma with Empowerment


Sometimes innovation can come from applying established solutions to previously unreached populations. A number of entries stood out for their focus on segments of women that were especially disenfranchised. Changemakers Finalist Children of Female Prisoners Association (CFPA) (Egypt) focuses on breaking the cycle of poverty and stigma faced by women who are imprisoned along with their children, many due to having small debts or due to the debts of relatives. CFPA provides vocational training and support and creates public campaigns to help ensure that women can break free of any stigma and become gainfully employed. Other entries focused on pioneering economic development opportunities for widows (Athar Foundation, Yemen), orphans (Woman to Woman, Jordan), and bedouins (Badaweya, Egypt).


Trend #4: Lift Environmental Barriers to Employment


A few finalists stood out for proposing solutions that would ease access to jobs while also tackling environmental barriers that exacerbate the employment gender gap such as poor transportation and healthcare. In order to make it easier for women to get to jobs within cities, Busanti (Pakistan) not only seeks to provide safe, harassment-free transportation with women-only buses but also provides essential health-education during the transportation. DoctHERS in the house (Pakistan) is also finding innovative ways to deliver healthcare to the underserved but by utilizing technology to enable female doctors who cannot access the workplace to continue practicing medicine from home. They train local community nurses, provide diagnostic tools, and conduct examinations by remotely utilizing mobile and internet technology.


Trend #5: Engage Men as Part of the Solution


While a number of solutions are inspiring examples of social businesses for and by women, a key strategy for success cited by strong entries included deliberate efforts to ensure men in the community were engaged as full allies and participants in the economic development opportunities.  BADAWEYA Women’s Handicraft Initiative (Egypt), for example, ensures that activities also involve  husbands and brothers and that good relationships are maintained with tribal leaders.


With so many promising projects, inspiring changemakers, and social challenges needing solutions, it certainly wasn’t easy to narrow down the list to nine finalists or to recognize every strong applicant! With this in mind, our aim is to offer tools to help ensure that every applicant gains value from this experience. Resources we created as a result of this collaborative competition include: a custom feedback report highlighting strengths, areas for improvement. and suggested projects to learn from or partner with as well as a Changemaking Toolkit, where you can explore all projects related to the field of women’s economic development on a single map, navigate an interactive report about trends in social innovation for this field, access a guide to pitching and wooing funders, and more.




This post was written by Reem Rahman (@reemrahman), who works at Ashoka @Changemakers as a Product and Knowledge Manager to help anyone with an idea for social change succeed in making a difference.




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Bad And/Or Good News: TIME Magazine Names General al-Sisi; Egypt’s New Tech Park

Added 12/10/13: What’s really puzzling is that the Egypt’s Defense Minister did not make it to TIME Magazine’s top ten finalists for 2013–a separate selection process that is distinct from last week’s readers’ poll.  But two other figures from the Middle East did make it: Hassan Rouhani…and Bashar al-Assad.  Call it “diverse”, and other PITAPALS call it “illogical”. PITAPOLICY calls it ridonculous since Bashar al-Assad is notorious for leading a regime that has earned Syria the sad title of “worst human rights offender among 197 countries”, according to the 2014 Human Rights Risk Atlas.  All occurring around December 10th’s “Human Rights Day”.   (Note: TIME magazine will determine Person of the Year for its much anticipated cover on Wednesday, December 11th.)  Please TIME Magazine, do not confuse controversial with stupidity when selecting among the most infamous.  Top Ten finalists include Pope Francis, Edward Snowden, and Miley Cyrus.

“Controversial and popular are not synonymous,” we tweeted, shortly after TIME Magazine announced that General al-Sisi won Person of the Year, according to its audience world poll.  Surely, the al-Sisi name is both controversial because of the June 30th events and his role as a military leader while Mohammed Morsi faced public outcry calling for his resignation. 

For that same reason, al-Sisi is popular with different segments in the so-called “liberal” or “conservative” or dare we try to use the term “secular” Egyptian citizenry.  al-Sisi, like many other strong military actors prompt PITAPOLICY to ask: is there a word that has the same power of “secular” that also means calling for a separation of state from another important institution, like military, as proscribed by secularists regarding the role of state that must be distinct and unperturbed by “Church” or any religious institution.

Apparently, before Egypt’s 2014 Presidential election, the interim leadership is winning a TYPE of popularity…or for those who are traditionally wary of the military role in Egypt: notoriety.  Either way, the TIME vote demonstrated how al-Sisi has been a household name.  Will this, albeit unscientific, poll signal a “Go Ahead” to General al-Sisi to throw his name in the presidential run?  Will he take off his military uniform prior to officially running?  We recommend reading Ashraf Khalil‘s piece challenging the wisdom of pop culture versus the elections ballot.  As Khalil points out, no limits to how many times a voter could vote.   We include some truly straight-forward good news, regarding Egypt’s new technology business startup park,  to balance the indeterminate good/bad news of Time’s naming Person of the Year @TIMEPERSONoftheYear.


How Egypt’s General al-Sisi Won TIME Person of the Year (link: http://poy.time.com/2013/12/06/how-egypts-gen-al-sisi-won-times-person-of-the-year-poll/)

When TIME announced on Thursday that Egypt’s Defense Minister, Gen. Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, had topped TIME’s 2013 Person of the Year poll with more than 440,000 votes his supporters were triumphant. Ahmed Abu Hashima, an Egyptian steel magnate and Sisi supporter, was one of the first to publicly congratulate Sisi on Twitter. Writing in Arabic, he called the victory an, “appreciation for [Sisi's] national role and the love of Egyptians towards him.”

Sisi’s success reflected the genuine popularity of a man who led what was essentially a military coup in July against the democratically elected government of then President Mohammed Morsi. Sisi remains the most powerful political figure in Egypt. The win was driven by hundreds of thousands of votes from inside Egypt; the country of about 85 million provided more votes than more populous nations like India and the United States. Many of those voters came via websites like Alwafd.org, one of the several Egyptian news portals that drove voters to the poll. These included youm7.com and el-balad.com. These sites tracked the voting throughout the week and informed readers when voting would close and how close the gap was between Sisi and the person who came second, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Hopefully one the upcoming presidential voting process will not replicate the TIME global audience poll…and rather, will protect against repeat voting.


Just off Tahrir Square, first companies move into Cairo’s new tech park…by Damian Radcliffe for Heat Sink

This week will see the first tenants move into a new technology park in downtown Cairo, after The American University in Cairo leased its Greek Campus to the Tahrir Alley Technology Park for a period of 10 years.

The site, which is just off Tahrir Square, has been vacant since 2008 when much of AUC moved to a $400m, 260-acre campus in ‘New Cairo’ — an area to the east of the historic city.

Ahmed El Alfi, founder of Tahrir Alley Technology Park (TATP), told ZDNet that the first tenants will move in this week and the organisation is expecting “full occupancy in a year”.

Bought by The American University in Cairo (AUC) from Cairo’s Greek community in the 1960s, the site’s five buildings will offer tenants flexible working spaces ranging from 60m2 to 1,400m2, alongside “daycare, a gym, food court, daily technical lectures” as well as social activities such as “concerts and a rock-climbing wall”, Alfi said. [Click here to continue.]

PITAPOLICY RESPONSE: We love the creativity even behind the name “GrEEK”, which is a play on the ‘Tech Geek’ phenomena.  Sure, the execution of the concept  Here’s our earlier analysis on the broader expansion of Arab professionals jumpstarting technology in MENA. let’s put the non-Arab countries in MENA to the side for a moment. Instead, let’s refocus on reviewing the three factors that jumpstart technology entrepreneurship and innovation: 1) talent; 2) people networks, and 3) funding.

Factors #1 & #2: Talent and People

Talent and great people networks exist in many MENA countries, as was evidenced by the debate by Arab Technology CEOs speaking at the Arab Net Conference. Indeed, Arab Net is a real-life example of this. Arab Net Summit, founded by Omar Christidis, holds technology entrepreneur competitions on both the individual and business level. For example, Qordoba’s online program to create Arabic content online, beat nine other startups–each representing different interests ranging from online gaming to educational missions.

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Turkish Opposition Party, CHP, Visits U.S.A After 37 Years


Photo by PITAPOLICY: Kemal Kilicdaroglu at the Kenney Auditorium of the Johns Hopkins SAIS building.


“The government in Ankara is democratic in name only,” wrote the head of a Turkish opposition party in the Wall Street Journal.  On December 4th, after 37 years since its last visit to the United States, one of Turkey’s main political opposition parties, the Republican People’s Party, CHP, addressed audiences in Washington, DC, which has a sizable Turkish diaspora.  The CHP party leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, described his party’s foreign policy vision at the  Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies.

Turkey is a country representing over 80 million and applauded for its “Turkish Model of Democracy” in the Middle East and beyond.  Even before Turkey’s bold move with Brazil to initiate a deal with Iran, Turkey has certainly elevated its regional leader status.  So we naturally expected the forum to focus mostly on Turkish foreign policy.  But much of the discussion touched upon Turkey’s domestic politics (Gezi Park)–perhaps because the CHP’s leader charged the current Turkish government as moving towards authoritarian practices and welcomed questions on press freedom and monitoring the 2014 elections.  It will be the first time Turkey’s 52 millioin-ish registered voters will be able to vote directly for its president– a feat that has not yet been accomplished in the United States.

The 40 minute Q & A session was co-hosted by the Sirdar Group where Kemal Kilicdaroglu opened with a video by the CHP explaining why Turkey’s Gezi Park incident last summer calls for more government accountability.  In fact, his party has produced an English version of its report “The Aftermath: Turkish Government’s Relation to Gezi”.   (Turkish article on CHP) The snazzy video could provide a few tips to opposition parties around the world who dislike their opponents because the CHP narrative focused on protestor images, included a strong narrative on domestic Turkish media, framed the incident as an environmentalist concern as well as a peaceful youth effort to organize.  If a political party were to run just on the Gezi Park incident, that may not guarantee an easy win, though.  (Opposition parties, like the GOP in the U.S. should probably take note on how to propagate without demonizing SUPPORTERS of opposition party.)

What was most disappointing was that the questions on Armenia and investigating the massacre of Armenians met anger by other audience members–as if the whole discussion on sequestering the political and media voices in Turkey was somehow disjointed from this conversation.

Other topics, like the ruling Justice & Development Party’s “Good Neighbor Policy” fell under attack.  Kilicdaroglu stated point blank that Prime Minister has failed to achieve any success in expanding regional relations.  For example, he cited Egypt and Iraq’s tense relationship with Turkey.  Recently, Egypt’s government deemed Turkey’s ambassador “persona non grata” and Kilicdaroglu expressed his disappointment by chastising the AKP for being a “bad neighbor beginning with its deteriorating relations with Egypt”.
  • The CHP visited Egypt in an effort to repair Turkish relations with them.
  • We would like to see Palestine as an independent state,” stated the CHP leader. Furthermore, the future of Syria’s crisis must be resolved through a forum like Geneva2, he stated as he explained that Geneva 2 was a policy recommendation that the CHP presented two years ago.  In his view, Turkey’s ruling party has faltered in its dealings with Syria by allowing arms to pass through borders into the hands of Al Qaeda operating in Syria.
  • The CHP welcomes Iran’s nuclear deal through the P5+1 process–regardless of the political posturing accusations Iran faces with pursuing a nuclear program.CHP also discussed Turkey’s controversial battle with the European Union in gaining membership. “Both sides r to blame,” explained Kemal Turkey didn’t implement all the reforms recommended by the European Union.”  At the same time, however, the EU applied  stated Kilicdaroglu.

Full membership of Turkey to EU is a goal of the CHP.  Kilicdaroglu continued, “We must ask why this hasn’t happened yet.”  What are the steps Kilicdaroglu recommends to pursue this goal–regardless if the CHP wins power or not in Turkey’s 2014 elections, is our question.  Is the CHP’s platform on the Gezi Park incident enough to galvanize more supporters for a 2014 win?  Or is the CHP’s frustration with current foreign policy regarding Egypt, Syria, Iraq more reflective of Turkish voters?

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Forbes Middle East’s Top 50 Influential Women Is From Syria

Originally Interviewed for Oryx Premium by Mehrunisa Qayyum,  Founder of PITAPOLICY Consulting & Blog

Forbes Middle East’s Top 50 Influential Women Is From Syria

Published for Qatar Airways Oryx Premium magazine

What does one of the Forbes Middle East Top 50 Influential Women do immediately after expressing deep humility with the recent honour? She keeps working. 

“Replying quickly is an important business practice, and believe me, it is an indicator of professionalism when related to business – regardless whether responding to a man or woman,” confides Yasmina Azhari, the Deputy General Manager of Trade Coordination Office, a shipping agency which represents Maersk Shipping Line in Syria.


She certainly means it – we had to dovetail our interview around her busy work schedule managing 90 employees at Mira Trading and six employees at her latest business venture, Al Yam Trading, a retail complex of three supermarkets in Damascus.

Over the course of the interview, I received helpful tips for running a business, such as “not becoming too dependent on an executive assistant, because one has to take responsibility for one’s own schedule – especially in the event a mistake is made”.

Azhari intrigued me – but not just because she is a female entrepreneur who has been recognised twice by Forbes magazine, three times by Arabian Business Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential Women, and as Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2010. Most of all, I am intrigued by her style – a combination of extrovert and introvert. “I would never be what I am if my society did not help me and encourage me. So, I have to reciprocate and render a small part of my gratitude by participating with the NGO community,” she shares, revealing her more introspective side. But this is the same Azhari who rose to the top to serve as the first woman on the Tartous Port board of directors, the first female honorary consul in Syria, and the first woman member within the Lattakia Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Both professionally and personally, Azhari’s most treasured advice has come from her parents, or as she describes them, “my guardian angels”.
For the last 32 years her businessman father, who runs the shipping agency, served as her mentor, reminding Azhari that “money, effort, time, the right strategy, and vision must come together to create added value”. “I still ask him for his advice in business and in life,” she adds.

He also gave her the following invaluable advice:


A real entrepreneur is a man or woman with one head and one hundred hands.

She recognises that money and vision alone truly are not enough to give that elusive ‘added value’, and she has passed on this advice to her two children, Mohammad and Rania Sayhouni. Her son recently graduated with a degree in business administration, while her daughter is in the process of earning a degree in graphic design.

Most Arabs in the business world speak English or one of the Romance languages – but rarely a Slavic language. Again, Azhari intrigues me, because she speaks Serbian – a distinctive skill that complements her strong command of English. Her mother is Serbian, which has had a positive impact on Azhari’s outlook, helping her to engage with different groups.

Azhari’s daily routine includes much reading – including articles on leadership – as well as at least two hours dedicated to a multitude of favourite charitable and voluntary works. From environmental preservation to children’s welfare, Azhari holds herself accountable to the ideals that she believes have been key to her professional success, shunning the exuberant hyperbole that tends to surround the issue of corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Although Maersk is not allowed to have its own Syrian office, the shipping giant is supportive of her business’s sponsorship of a range of causes, such as her presidency of Bashaer Al Nour, a non- governmental organisation that provides an outlet for individuals with autism and Down’s syndrome. This cause has become a real family project – her son produces films for Bashaer Al Nour and her daughter also lends support. Damascus has several facilities and various opportunities available to the special-needs community. As such, Bashaer Al Nour was founded in Lattakia to help those with Down’s syndrome to move from learning how to read and write on to undertaking vocational training through a programme known as irada – meaning ‘will’. The young participants build their confidence in areas such as learning to swim and gardening, along with a host of other vocational skills that will enable them to lead a more independent adult life.

The initiative employs a staff of 32, all with graduate degrees in psychology and social studies, who mentor just 50 children between the ages of three and 14. Bashaer Al Nour gives Azhari the opportunity to leverage her business networks to promote Arab art and culture, and also to raise funds for those with autism or Down’s syndrome in Syria. Azhari’s passion for children with special needs travels with her.

“I visited Sharjah city for humanitarian services. It is a great place that hosted our teachers for three separate training [events]. We have an excellent cooperation with them,” notes Azhari. Regardless of the social or economic disparities between some Arab countries Azhari adds: “Tragedies, celebrations, tears, smiles, regret, shame, broken dreams. All of these things make us who we are…these are the things that make our stories real and help us to connect and to inspire and influence those around us.”

From her community-service work to her extensive hands-on knowledge of the business world, I attempted to distil the key lesson from Yasmina Azhari. Azhari herself summed it up best: “Try and fail…But never fail to try….”


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Western Sahara: Resolution Between Three, Not Two Parties

PITAPOLICY is excited that its founder, Mehrunisa Qayyum, contributed her first piece to the Atlantic Council’s MENASource Blog.  The Atlantic Council is a Washington, DC based think tank that houses the Rafik Hariri Center focusing on the Middle East & North Africa region (Tweet at @ACMIDEAST).  Prior to that, Qayyum contributed to their EgyptSource Blog by writing about institutions, trade relations, and Egypt’s military industrial complex.  Qayyum shares one point of view regarding the Morocco-Algeria dispute of the Western Sahara, and the native Sahwari people, while PITAPAL, Nabil Ouchagour, offers a counterpoint.  He tweets as @nabilouchagour. 

Perception of a Binary Conflict: Wrong

Tensions between Algeria and Morocco reignited on the thirty-eighth anniversary of the Green March, when Morocco reclaimed the Western Sahara territory left behind by Spain in 1975. Although ongoing tensions between Morocco and Algeria over this issue contribute to the perception of a binary conflict, the reality is that three concerned parties—including the Sahwari Polisario Front, the representative body originating from the territory—have a stake in a final resolution.

The Western Sahara Conflict epitomizes how two governments equally use political posturing to assert their regional influence. Algeria’s president, for example, called for “the establishment of an international mechanism to monitor human rights in the Western Sahara,” on November 1. Shortly after the Algerian President’s statement, Morocco recalled its ambassador from Algiers and a group of protesters tore down the flag at the Algerian consulate in Casablanca. To be fair, many Moroccans condemned this action, but in the words of a fellow Moroccan blogger, the conflict is as much about the transparency of the Polisario Front as much as it involves the resolution of a territorial dispute. Nonetheless, the Polisario is recognized by many African countries and UN Security Council members, so questioning their legitimacy only delays negotiations. [Click here to continue.]

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