Middle East’s Oil Industry Remains Strong Despite Turmoil

Middle East’s Oil Industry Remains Strong Despite Turmoil

By Kim Reynolds

In the world of investment, the prices of important commodities go up whenever there’s political turmoil that can strain the flow of trade. Oil’s value has always been volatile because the Middle East, a major producer of the precious black liquid, is no stranger to geopolitical issues. In light of recent events, however, it would seem that the region would have to adjust to a new setup as the U.S. now has an increased supply of oil for themselves.

Disturbance in oil production or shipments due to strife used to be the major reason why prices of precious commodities go up in the U.S. However, oil prices in the global market showed no signs of an upward movement in the past couple of months. Even with radical groups spreading violence all over the Middle East, oil prices and production remained steady, especially in the country of Iraq. As of this writing, oil is at $56.13 per barrel.

In Southern Iraq, oil exports remain steadfast and even reached new highs. Unaoil, one of the biggest oil companies that serve Iraq, opened a North Rumalian hub last year in order to support its growing operations in the country, and reports say that geopolitical concerns do not have a major effect on the firm’s ventures.

The U.S. used to rely heavily on the Middle East for shipments of oil but now, hundreds of private companies are involved in the oil production of the country. Despite its abundance of oil, however, Amos Hochsten, the U.S. Special Envoy for International Energy Affairs, said that the U.S. must still maintain and deepen its relationships with the countries in the Middle East. After all, there’s no guarantee when the U.S. will need support again from one of the major oil producers in the country.


Kim is a freelance writer specializing in business news. She used to cover fashion shows in 2004 but her interests changed when she made her first investment. In her free time, she likes reading novels written by Sidney Sheldon.

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Rosseau Isn’t the First, nor Last, to Negotiate a ‘Social Contract’ #BreakTheCycle

“50% of Arab world citizens are dissatisfied with public services in their area,”

according to the World Bank survey — which prompted not one, but two sessions at the Annual World Bank/International Monetary Fund Spring 2015 Meeting. So it was no coincidence that the meme #BreaktheCycle emerged in another MENA panel, which also revisited the theme of the social contract in both oil-importing/exporting countries. In all honesty, it was easy to borrow some of the tweeted comments from the live webcast of “Trust, Voice, and Incentives: Learning from Local Successes in Service Delivery in the Middle East and North Africa” because the #BreaktheCycle meme applied to daily life struggles by MENA citizens receiving public services — assuming that they ultimately received service.

Many of the tweeted comments read like a customer service hotline for a company that made a series of errors. For example:

  • @ayadsalman 44% of students in the #Arabworld attend schools with severe shortages of instruction materials. #Breakthecycle
  • “public services ‘?’ what does that mean” #egypt respondent wrote on @WorldBankMENA survey #breakthecycle
  • @WorldBankMENA: Citizens in the #Arabworld pay ‘wasta’ but its negligible in some localities, to over 90% in other localities. #BreaktheCycle

Such comments further supported the call for a new ‘social contract’ throughout the MENA region.
The new social contract should cut down on oil subsidies, asserted the World Bank’s Chief Economist of MENA, Shanta Devaranjan and Dean of the Board of Executive Directors, Mirza Hussain Hasan; and World Bank Vice President, Middle East and North Africa, Hafez Ghanem.  However, when asked if Arab countries would share a uniform social contract, a key distinction surfaced: Hasan focused on oil-exporting countries’ need to review oil subsidies whereas Devaranjan stated that each MENA country will have renegotiate its own ‘social contract’, thereby implying that no uniformity should be expected.

Redefining social contracts sounds great in theory … and in practice.  ‘Social contract’, a phrase coined by Jean-Jacques Rousseau outlining the expectations the individual has of society and vice-versa. Somehow, government assumes the role of key intermediary. However, one cannot take Rosseau’s thinking too literally because his political philosophy held controversial implications, namely that “aristocracies tend to be the most stable”.

Given the Arab transitioning countries’ political shifts, none of their movements supported maintaining aristocracies (Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen). In particular, Tunisia’s movement organized to rebuff the political aristocracy that also held significant financial clout. On this cautionary note, PITAPOLICY looked beyond the French political philosopher — surely, other cultures must have hinted at the concept of social contracts prior to the European Enlightenment.  A few examples come to mind: Abu Nasir Al-Farabi, and Hammurabi’s Code .

Al-Farabi alluded to the social contract between individuals and society in the 9th century, thus influencing Rosseau’s work, according to European philosophy historians (Source: Breaking With Athens: Alfarabi as Founder). Although Hammurabi’s Code originated in ancient Babylonia, it is a document that outlines what an individual may expect from a society, and vice-versa.

Whether one vehemently agrees, or disagrees, about who originated the term ‘social contract’, one can at least agree that political philosophies thrive or retreat based on civil societies’ reactions to the status quo.  Based on the comments from the participants, an overwhelming number of MENA parents want to break the cycle of teacher absenteeism.  Also 44 percent of students in the Arab world attend schools with severe shortages of instruction materials. (This would resonate with several parent teacher associations in schools just 10 miles away in Southeast Washington, DC.)

On that note, a Jordanian civil society organization representative argued later that political reform is needed to actualize a new social contract, which is why her organization is “lobbying to raise the quota for women in parliament”.

Political philosophies evolve, borrow, reorient, and reinterpret to better respond to societies pressing socio-economic issues.  Therefore, we remain eager to see how each Arab transitioning country entertains political debate on economic policies (taxes, subsidies, and NGO grants) in parliament.  It is only one arena — albeit the slow one — where each country’s respective social contract will be renegotiated. The second arena is the government agency responsible for delivering a service.  The third is civil society in its power to engage.

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Breeding Employees or Entrepreneurs in the Middle East & North Africa Region

Finally, after having this piece rejected twice, PITAPOLICY questions on strategies to address the employment gap are here–at least the first part: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mehrunisa-qayyum/generating-employment-opp_b_7041812.html  As usual, PITAPOLICY remains wary of trends since the same ideas get recycled with newer catchphrases or dressed in rhetoric that is politically enticing.  The mantra of “breeding and creating entrepreneurs” sounds promising, but does this give Arab transitioning countries a realistic hope in employing its masses?

  • Strategy 1: Encourage everyone to believe that he or she should start a small business.  Hope that the business succeeds after the first year and amasses a profit.  Expect successful entrepreneur to expand and hire others.  How many of these successes can we expect over the span of 5 years?  How many unemployed will be converted to full-time employees of these sole-enterprises?
  • Strategy 2: Encourage foreign firms to establish in-country while establishing conditions for local hiring.  Local populations don’t possess the “skills” argues the foreign firm.  Offer incentives to foreign firms to train local hires.

Would it not be more sensible to retrain underemployed populations and rising graduates into sectors that would hire them?  For every entrepreneur, how many others will he or she really be able to employ once the new business has accrued enough of a profit to expand its operations to hire beyond the sole-entrepreneur?  We consider both strategies below and in the hyperlinked piece.

After the IMF-Worldbank Spring meeting concludes this week, PITAPOLICY will post the second part of the longer article.

Since the Arab Spring, the West has focused on individual entrepreneurship in MENA. Not surprisingly, both Arab transitioning countries (Tunisia and Egypt), and non transitioning (the UAE, Qatar, Jordan, Morocco and Saudi Arabia) are pursuing the industry-government coordination model to promote entrepreneurship by sponsoring large industry conferences. What’s the impact of these large industrial conferences on Arab world unemployment? Are we seeing local Arabs employed, or “diverted” on to the more romantic path of entrepreneurship? Encouraging entrepreneurship in the Middle East and North African region morphs into generating employment opportunities, when in fact, implementing this approach requires more time, skills and resources that compete with large industry forums catering to bigger (often foreign) firms. [Click here to continue.]

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Nuclear Energy Debate: Before and After #Jordan #Iran

Despite the continuing airstrikes in Yemen, led by Saudi coalition forces, there are some positive regional developments.  Specifically, on April 2nd, a framework for an Iran nuclear reached successful agreement between the U.S. and Iran.  The framework is set up for final agreement on June 30. Phase 2: The U.S. must get regional partners’ buy-in.  Partners include members of the Gulf Cooperation Council and Israel (ironically). Phase 3: Lift economic sanctions off Iran.  According to a Gallup study, many Iranians have felt standards of living slightly improve since certain Iranian assets were unfrozen as part of the preliminary measures in the nuclear talks process started two years ago.  Or as we like to refer to the sanctions, nuclear deterrent, diplomacy process: New version of Nuke,Stick, Carrot).

Jordan’s MPs Debate Energy Options

“Empower the woman, you empower the nation.”- Hon. Hind AlFayez receives public service award by the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee

On Tuesday in Washington, DC, Qayyum of PITAPOLICY heard Jordanian Minister of Parliament, Hind H. Al Fayez, speak about development projects in Jordan.  MP Al Fayez resembles the populist standce when it comes to energy and social justice issues.  In particular, she is against the joint Russian-Jordanian plan to build nuclear plants to meet Jordan’s rising electricity needs:

The last time Jordanian lawmakers voted on the proposal, back in 2012, they decisively shot it down. MPs such as Hind al-Fayez, who represents the Beni Sakher tribe that lives around the proposed Amra site, have noted that Jordan is yet to complete a thorough environmental assessment of the area or to identify a suitable location for depositing spent fuel rods. “They’ll build that plant over my dead body,” she has said.  Source: Al Jazeera America


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#Egypt: Investing in Infrastructure Isn’t a “Fool/Full Proof” Plan

From March 13th to 15th , Egypt hosted a two-day economic summit to present its business case as THE emerging economy in the Mediterranean and African region.  Meanwhile, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported on the status of the U.S.-Egypt military assistance to the U.S. Congress: U.S. Government Should Examine Options for Using Unobligated Funds and Evaluating Security Assistance Programs (GAO-15-259). The U.S. watchdog agency made its February report on U.S. assistance to Egypt publicly available a day before Egypt’s March summit, which invited global multi-national companies, like General Electric and Siemens, among others.

Held at a luxurious Red Sea resort, current Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi wants the world to know that Egypt is not just a transitional nation since its 2011 ouster of its ex president, Hosni Mubarak (followed by its 2012 ouster of another ex-president, Mohammed Morsi) and other security and budgetary hiccups.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

Egypt signed investment deals worth more than $138 billion on the first two days of the conference, while its Arab Gulf neighbors—Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates—pledged another $12 billion to help stabilize its economy. The total amount of investments it sealed at the conference is expected to rise after Sunday’s numbers are added, officials said.

Also, Egypt secured deals from dozens of European companies, like Siemens.

Investment Targets: Military or Non-Military

Which sectors will these investment funds target: military or housing or miscellaneous infrastructure (e.g. water)?  Infrastructure encompasses the military too… so it is not enough to say that investing in Egypt’s infrastructure is a “fool/full proof” plan.  On one end of the spectrum, political satirist, Karl Remarks, characterized Egypt’s economic summit with his sharp humor, tweeting that “[President] Sisi is crowd-sourcing funding for his military start-up.”  This sharp view is not without evidence given that Egypt’s military controls between 25 to 40 percent of Egypt’s economy — the second largest in Africa.

On the other end of the spectrum, non-military development plans for Egypt may benefit from this $12 billion pledge.  Already, Egypt’s housing ministry is expected to sign a deal with Dubai’s Arabtec company to build one million homes in Egypt. This infrastructure project requires investment of $40 billion, which is estimated to produce homes between 2017 to 2020.

Egypt’s housing crisis remains among Egypt’s top infrastructural problems — as difficult it may be to glean if focused on BBC and CNN headlines describing Egypt’s internal security issues, which Sisi emphatically refers to as “terrorism”.

Arab Investment Plus U.S. Assistance

Investment in Egypt will take time.  As Gulf Arab countries continue to invest based on conditions, so does the U.S. continue to provide heavy military assistance based on conditions.  Up until 2013, the U.S. assistance relationship with Egypt (a source of comfort and discomfort since the 1979 Camp David Accords) viewed Egypt’s assistance based on external, rather than internal, conditions: Egypt’s peace with Israel.  For example, some U.S. assistance halted in 2013 due to the Obama administration decision to suspend funds:

This included $260 million in prior year funding allocated for a cash transfer to Egypt that the administration announced in October 2013 that it would not carry out. According to U.S. officials, these funds have not been reprogrammed for other purposes.~GAO Report

GAO’s full report may be found here.  GAO made two recommendations to the U.S. Subcommittee on Middle East & North African Affairs, which is chaired by the Honorable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.  Here are the recommendations:

GAO recommends that (1) State and USAID develop a plan for other uses for $260 million previously allocated for a cash transfer and (2) State establish specific time frames for completing a required evaluation of security assistance. State and USAID generally agreed with these recommendations.~GAO report

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How do you increase GDP by 20% in MENA region? #IWD2015

If, during the next 15 years, the participation of women in the workforce across the Middle East and North Africa simply reaches that of two-thirds of men—around 60 percent—it has the potential to spike regional GDP by 20 percent or more.- Saadia Zahidi, Senior Director for World Economic Forum in the McKinsey Report

How does the MENA region increase its GDP by 20 percent?  (Hint: One out of two people know–give or take a few million.)  Earlier this week on March 8th, the world celebrated — or simply noted– International Women’s Day in 2015.  We say noted because very few men write about the impact of women on society, politics, and economy.  This statement is not limited to the Middle East & North Africa.

In fact, no region has a monopoly on the oppression of women.

  • Socially and physically: Note thriving pornography industries in North America, South America, Japan, and Europe amounting to over . Pornography produced over $13.3 billion dollars for U.S. entrepreneurs and middlemen in 2006.  Meanwhile, women in Egypt are tackling the issue of sexual harassment: 17% of Egyptian women were harassed by security forces.
  • Politically: Note limits women’s ability to vote on their reproductive rights–worldwide),
  • Legally: Arabia isn’t even within basic standards of international law regarding human trafficking, according to data mapped from Women Stats database.
  • Economically: Worldwide women’s wage inequality in conjunction with low level workforce participation in Arab world, see below) or business-wise (note the disproportionate number of female CEOs).

With these observations, PITAPOLICY purposely waited for articles on women’s progress written by men in their fields because the conversation on progress requires all actors.  We already know women are a powerful resource, as documented by the thousands of well-articulated articles and studies led by women.  We are just waiting for their male counterparts to catch up in this documentation process.

Even for women who succeed socio-economically, obstacles pop up on the roads towards progress.  World famous Iraqi architect, Zaha Hadid, shared the business challenges she still faces as a woman in her interview with Alain Elkann, columnist for the Italian Daily:

There are other professions that are very difficult, but architecture is particularly difficult because your career is reliant on the people you work with, and that’s the first hurdle. The second hurdle is the people you work with as a client. You have no control over the developer or the economics.~Zaha Hadid [click here to continue.]


Economic research continues to support the case for empower women as gender equity promotes economic growth for Arab countries and their neighbors.  Case in point, read Hafed Alghwell’s summary:

Economic research has demonstrated conclusively over the past few decades that more economically empowered women, invest far more in the education and health of their children It is the single most important factor in reducing poverty in developing countries. Many studies have also shown serious GDP per capita losses that can be directly linked to gender-gaps in labor markets. In the UAE, for example, the GDP would increase by as much as 12 percent and in Egypt by as much as 34 percent, if women’s labor participation were to rise to the level of men.

From 1975, the ratio of females to males enrolled in tertiary education tripled to 112 percent in 2010. In fact, eight Middle East and North Africa countries have a “reverse gender gap” in education at the tertiary level; reverse gender gaps also show up in primary education.

So how shall we conclude this blogpost on International Women’s Day?  We won’t– because the above discussion needs to continue beyond March 2015 in parliament and at the dinner table.  Everywhere.  Not just in the MENA region.

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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.


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.”



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.


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