World Bank & IMF 2014 Spring Meeting: MENA Region Focus

For the third year, PITAPOLICY attempted to cover The Annual World Bank & IMF meetings finished on Sunday, which started off with the MENA economic outlook.  Throughout the week, government and civil society organizations representatives revisited the Arab Youth inclusion discussion (like last year) but sprinkled in the Syria crisis.  At the same time, a common theme on MENA, was the philosophical debate of “how to achieve political consensus” to implement reforms and move towards a participatory democracy.  These meetings are not just economic; they are political.  Note: During the briefing, a reporter asked to what extent Iran’s economy, which has contracted in the last three years, will swing back the other way depending on political developments–like reaching a nuclear deal.  Iran’s economy contracted in 2012 and 2013.

Overall growth for oil-importing countries is short of 3 percent.  IMF MENA Director stated that investment, rather than consumption, is playing a stronger role in promoting MENA growth as government policies are reallocating spending away from subsidies (shift from general to targeted). Given that the IMF approved a $225 Million loan to Tunisia, and grew 2.7 percent in 2013, there is a hope that its economy is expected to strengthen by 2015.

In other MENA transition countries: Egypt did not grow as much and has not asked for financing.  But Egypt’s Minister of Finance, Hany Diman, launched a blog to better communicate with the public, since consensus building is a goal.  Check out the blog:  Yemen has stabilized, with its budget deficit projected to decline in 2014.  But Yemen still has a ways to go since it requires “financing worth up to $50 billion in 2015″ according to the World Bank report released last week.

Nonetheless, Syria represents the worst in any type of transition as it reduces investor confidence in neighboring countries like Lebanon and Jordan.  Although not in transition, Jordan has received an IMF package too in the amount of $264 million.  The reasons for receiving $200+ million are due to economic shocks to its economy from Syrian refugees and the gas pipeline sabotage.

Oil-Exporting Countries (GCC and Algeria)

In the subcategory of ‘oil-exporting countries’ have grown more relative to their ‘oil-importing’ countries because of the stable oil market.    On the upside, Algeria will benefit as a gas exporter because Europe’s demand has grown.  On the downside, Bahrain and Oman are running fiscal deficits and are encouraged to diversify their economies.  Bahrain and Libya share the unique characteristic that they are both in the oil-exporting category and also in the transition category–no matter how much we dance around Bahrain’s political woes.,#sthash.U2VZI7BD.dpuf

“It is time to translate protests into the real work, which is inside institutions,” stated Morocco’s Youth Minister at the annual World Bank/IMF Spring Meeting…on the topic of ‘Arab Youth’ [Note: PITAPOLICY recognizes the oversimplification of lumping all of "Arab Youth" up until the age of 35 into one category.  There's a significant difference in the worry burden between a 13 year old and a 33 year old.  But we understand that they all are worried about jobs.  But so is a 43 year old :)]

A Conversation with Al Jazeera’s Ali Velshi and Jim Yong Kim On Thursday, Al Jazeera held a conversation with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim with Ali Velshi, Host of Al Jazeera America.


#EndPoverty 2030 – Millenials Take on the Challenge What Have Young People Gained from the Arab Spring?

  • Sri Mulyani Indrawati, Managing director & Chief Operating Officer, World Bank Group
  • Inger Andersen, Vice President of Middle East and North Africa region, World Bank
  • H.E. Mohamed Ouzzine, Minister of Youth and Sports, Kingdom of Morocco
  • Ahmed Alhindawi, Youth Envoy of the UN Secretary General, Jordan
  • Shatha al-Harazi, Academic/Journalist/Activist, Yemen
  • Mouheb Ben Garoui, I-WATCH Executive Director, Tunisia

Moderator: Abderrahim Foukara, Al Jazeera Bureau Chief, Washington, D.C. Highlights:

  • The estimates that the economic loss of exceeds US$ 40–50 billion annually across the Arab World.  30% of are unemployed, & 41% of 15-24 yr olds are inactive, i.e. in School, not in & Not in Training (NEETs).  On this note of worry, Alhendawi said, “If we don’t fix the situation for youth & address , we will just be recycling our failures.”
  • “Going out into the street is important but influencing policy is even more important,” argued CSO participant, Mouheb Ben Garoui, I-WATCH, Tunisia. He continued, “youth today are in a position to be empowered, but they need to organize in order to influence decision making.”
  • According to the Arab Youth Survey: nearly 40% of all prefer to live in the UAE followed by US at 25%. Alhendawi raised the point that “Four percent of the youth volunteered in according to the study launched a few weeks before the resolution. “Nothing has changed from the government, there is even more corruption in this new government,” added Shatha al-Harazi.  Forty-eight percent of have no confidence in their national government, said Indrawait. Over the past three years, support for traditional values in has dropped from 83% to 54%. The best tweet came from @kamelasmar “The funny part is when the speakers congratulate the Moroccan minister of youth for doing “his duty” ”   

If you missed the hot debate hosted by & on the current situation of , watch it here:


  • Ben Hammouda: As Tunisia is trying to stabilize its economy, emphasized the balance between stabilization and the”growth agenda”.  Stimulus packages are not the current path because the “private sector is better positioned” to do this.  Most important achievement is that we achieved a political consensus as demonstrated in passing a constitution.  Since trade unions have played a significant role in Tunisia’s political, social and economic life, another focus will be to negotiate salaries with only those among lowest wage earners.  Concurrently near an agreement with private sector on the taxes the Tunisian government will implement.


  • Baraka: Moroccan government is focused on small to medium sized businesses as it has now mandated a public-private council and passed the Small Business Act.  The SBA requires that 20 percent of the tender goes to SMES; and require that 30 percent of the corporate tax go to the SME sector.  At the same time, on the agriculture issue, Morocco is also concerned with food security in Morocco and beyond.  The King agreed to to offer lower-priced fertilizers to sub-Saharan African economies to address intra-regional food security and promote economic integration.
  • On the political front: Moderation and legitimacy is an alternative to one hundred percent consensus. [This contrasts a bit with a monarchy government structure.]  At the same time, his mission is focused on attracting FDI… no specification as to how.


  • Kharas:  If you want a citizen focused economy, must consider those in the rural areas…so focus on agriculture. Reforms that will produce immediate results don’t need to be big all the time because overhauling institutions take time.   Easy wins for immediate results will focus on agriculture because GROWTH is different from increasing household incomes (subsidizing food).  We’ve seen Japan, China, and Korea examples being where they are today– or “emerged” quickly– because they started with a focus on agriculture.


  • Dimian: In his capacity, he launched a blog on Ministry of Finance’s website illustrating Egypt’s financial needs and solicit public comment.

Syrian Crisis: The Art of Resilience

  • Chris Gunness, Spokesperson and Director of Communications, UNRWA
  • Jihad Yazigi, Founder and Editor, Syria Report
  • Laura Trevelyan, Anchor & Correspondent, BBC World News America
  • Dr. Jim Yong Kim, President, World Bank Group
  • Inger Andersen, Vice President of Middle East and North Africa region, World Bank Group

Find audience comments on Twitter by using #withsyria & #ArtofResilience

  •, to allow the public to effectively engage in open discussions, – See more at:  Deeply concerned about the polarization that is an impediment [Note: to get "quick wins" on certain reforms?]  We need to discuss the counter-measures that need to address the effects on vulnerable populations who will be affected by structural reforms.

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Beyond the Arab Spring: U.S. Engagement in a Changing Middle East @WilsonCenterMEP

PITAPOLICY is live-blogging ast in the series, of U.S. Engagement in a Changing Middle East from the Wilson Center. The panelists consider how a range of domestic and regional changes in the Middle East have generated new challenges for U.S. diplomacy. This event is co-sponsored with the United States Institute of Peace and is the 6th and final in a series of presentations on “Reshaping the Strategic Culture of the Middle East.”  The panel is moderated by Haleh Esfandiari, Director, Middle East Program at the Wilson Center.

Steve Heydeman, US Institute for Peace: As we enter the 4th year of the Arab uprisings, the picture has changed–and not for the better.

  • We’ve seen a steady erosion of democritization in Arab countries
  • Note the Freedom House Scores since 2000: None have reached ‘Free’ status
  • Look at political cartoons in Egypt and Algeria: eg. “Vote for Bouteflicka: Alive or Dead”
  • There are elements of continuity of corporatist politics with some troubling models: a trend towards more repressive and authoritarian governance
  • With this authoritarian upgrading,  policy responses produces economic impact.
  • We’ve seen dramatic increases in public spending to offset discontent.  Tripling of public spending in Jordan since 2011.
  • A shifting away from Western countries and the aid dialogue because Arab transition countries raise concerns about conditional aid.
  • Different external actors impacting certain countries, like Russia in Syria, a further reconfiguring of diplomatic, political, economic and strategic relationships have insulated regimes from sanctions.

Where have we arrived after 3+ years since the Arab uprisings?

1) Both responses have emerged to show that Western pressure for democratization is not working.

Daniel Brumberg, Senior Adviser, Center for Middle East and Africa, United States Institute of Peace; and Co-Director, Democracy and Governance Studies, Georgetown University
  • Reflected on Security Resolution 1973 and R2P and how it was used in Libya; while Morsi in Egypt jumped on the bandwagon of authirotiarian leaders
    • As Arab Spring entered its 3rd year, we saw a downturn.
    • At same time, Russia did play a supportive role in the Iran nuclear talks of 2013 to produce a final agreement.
    • Tunisia still presents good news.  Despite ideological divides, they passed a constitution.
  • Back to the downside, Russia has an opportunity to advance further with Egypt given U.S.-Egypt military shuffle. (Note Brumberg’s Freudian slip of”crowning” Al-Sisi as president)
    • Increased strengthening of global authoritarian leaders helps Iran, in that Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, depends on the assumption that there is a high amount of unity among the P5+1 players.

 Danya Greenfield, Acting Director, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, The Atlantic Council

Among the 3 panelists, Greenfield presenting a more optimistic interpretation because there is still a fundamental lack of clarity of what the US interests are in the region…

  • Optimistic about results because the metric of democratization wasn’t clearly articulated by the US–citing President Obama’s 2013 UN General Assembly speech: 1) countering insurgencies, 2) nonproliferation, 3) free flow of energy, and 4) countering terrorism.  No where did Obama state ‘Democritization’ as a fundamental goal.   In contrast, Russia, China, and Iran have articulated their agendas–which may explain why they have been more successful in exerting their influence in the region.
  • How important is a successful transition in the Arab world?  Is it vital to US interests?  If so, then how will we coordinate with our EU partners?
  • US posturing in Ukraine incident paints a better picture of how US acts according to core interests; whereas, in Egypt, US was not actively engaged because core interests were not articulated and acted upon…
  • 4 Reasons why MENA region fallen off US priorities:
  1.  Global financial crisis,
  2. Transitions have proven more difficult “bumpier”,
  3. Harder to implement a strategy when there’s less interlocuters or institutions in Arab transition countries
  4. Increased participation and rise of other regional players, like Saudi Arabia.
  • Meanwhile, EU concerned about extremists crossing over borders.
  • What’s the cost to US interests?


1) Audience member argues that US is depressed about the Arab Uprisings because we expected change…assuming that change would shift power away from military.  Only two countries where change has taken place: Yemen and Tunisia.  Other than that, there hasn’t been a power transition.  (Note: Heydemann agreed Yemen & Tunisia succeeded in getting change to take place AND agreed that there is confusion as to how that happened given that less success in other transitioning countries.)

2) Heydemann:  Growing popular fatigue with the instability in trying to wrestle power away from the authoritarian rule…or even ‘deep state’ politics where military is still the driving force.

3) Mystery of China’s role in the Arab Uprising.

4) There is US ambivalence about the Saudi Arabia financial role in Egypt and its less than democratic vision for Egypt.  The Saudis are unhappy with the US regarding Syria and Iran.  President Obama’s visit to Saudi was more about damage control rather than prioritizing Egypt.

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The Syria crisis is “not a game of chess, but of billiards because the players are constantly changing” and their interplay is both “horizontal” and “dynamic”, said former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at a Syria relief & development panel held on March 5th.  As such, the violence that has overrun Syria also catapults the narratives of militant groups and rebel forces using armed resistance.  As a result, the focus on militant operations overshadows nonviolent Syrian initiatives, and thereby overlooks the necessary factors for peace and reconciliation–when that inroad for Syria is made possible.  In particular, the Syria Justice & Accountability Centre’s (SJAC) joint report with Charney Research, which is the first comprehensive initiative to insert accountability into a political discussion by surveying Syrian citizens affected by the conflict, established a baseline for reconciliation. As Facebook shuts down pages of various nonviolent movements and civil society groups in Syria, and facilitating a black hole of many activists’ narratives, tools like the #Syria_NonViolence_Map and #SyriaTracker offer an alternative narrative–which will more likely advance a reconciliatory dialogue.  Consequently, this further alienates civil society efforts from what will be required once the Assad regime and opposition decide to renegotiate and move towards reconciliation–even if that juncture is five years into the future.  Tools like surveying and crowdmapping may help establish the baseline needed for reconciliation. [Click here to continue.]

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Global Donors Forum (April 13-16): PITAPOLICY EXCITED to Attend

Greetings Pita-consumers!

The biennial Global Donors Forum is coming to Washington, DC this year at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center.  PITAPOLICY is excited to be invited to participate!  From April 13-16, the World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists convene to discuss how to promote effective giving and forge strategic partnerships for high-impact social investment.  This year’s theme is “Celebrating Philanthropy in Emerging Economies”, which will cover a few Arab countries in transition, like Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen.  In 2008, GDF launched its first forum in Turkey.  Since then, the group has expanded and traveled beyond the MENA region and met in Malaysia at its last biennial event.

Philanthropy has transformed and has been transformed–including in the Middle East & North Africa region.  A variety of factors continue to impact the philanthropy culture and trends within the MENA region, that range from social to socio-political to economic factors, like the Arab transition countries’.  Even though philanthropy is traditionally viewed as outside of politics, the role that development aid assumes does, indeed, recognize the role of politics as more institutions participate in aid giving through public-private partnerships..   But even before political changes in “Arab Awakened” countries, other socio-economic–dare we say religious-cultural factors like Islamic Banking and Zakat– factored into the philanthropy narrative. Given the increasing interest in public-private partnerships, it makes sense that the Global Donors Forum provides a space for such discussion beyond MENA countries.  Given the above, it makes sense that the Global Donors Forum is coming to DC: a global hub for civil society organizations to convene.



  • GD-logo-finalCelebrating Philanthropy in Emerging Economies

    Celebrating Philanthropy in Emerging Economies


    No longer is society looking outside their communities and national borders for change. Whereas, aid was once the only option, now regional philanthropy is increasingly positioning itself as the “game changer.” This sliding dichotomy from aid to philanthropy has already begun and nowhere is it more pronounced than in the “emerging economies.”

    Emerging economies provide opportunities for understanding the consequences of rapid growth and industrialization – including negative social and environmental effects. Donors working for change in these regions are often faced with complex social, political and legal contexts as they work to improve conditions for the citizens. Global Donors Forum carves a path that calls for business, government and civil society leaders to move beyond incrementalism and to dare, to dream and to design a whole new way forward.~GDF


Participation: Sponsors, Partners & Knowledge Contributors:

If you have an interest in philanthropy–as in how to get involved, or understanding the trends that affect your social and humanitarian causes–you should consider registering!  Registration ends April 6th.  The GDF will host donors and thought leaders to answer your questions during workshops.  

Global Donors Forum Sponsors, Partners, & Knowledge Contributors include:

  • UNICEF, UNDP, UNESCO; The World Bank, IFC; US Department of State; Dubai Cares
  • Harvard; George Mason University; Case Business School (London)
  • Save the Children; OXFAM, Education for Employment (EFE), Agha Khan Foundation, Akhuwat, Salam
  • International; Rockefeller Foundation; WFDD
  • GIFR; Academy of Philanthropy; Young Entrepreneurs in Philanthropy; MUPPIES; CSR Finance Institute
  • Al Faleh Group; Microsoft; Edbiz Consulting, KPMG

… is just a sample from the list.  If you decide to attend, tweet @PITAPOLICY your thoughts!  Details of which workshops PITAPOLICY Founder, Mehrunisa Qayyum, will be participating in to be announced in April.  Hope to see you there!



  • H.E. Dr. Sheikha Aisha bint Faleh Al-Thani CEO of Al Faleh Group, Qatar
  • H.E. Dr. Abdulaziz Othman Al-Twaijri Director General, ISESCO, Morocco
  • Ambassador Ufuk Gokcen OIC Envoy to the United Nations
  • Amir Dossal, Founder & Chairman Global Partnerships Forum, United States
  • Saleemah Abdul-Ghafur, Director The African Leaders Malaria Alliance, United States
  • HRH Princess Maha Bint Abdulaziz Al Saud Atheeb Group, Saudi Arabia
  • Ambassador Zainul Abidin Rasheed Member of Parliament, Singapore
  • Dr. Imtiaz Khan Chair, Board of Directors, WCMP, United States
  • H.R.H. Princess Banderi A.R. AlFaisal Director General, King Khalid Foundation, Saudi Arabia
  • Tan Sri Dr. Munir Majid Chairman of Bank Muamalat, Malaysia
  • Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool The Envoy of South Africa to the United States
  • Robert S. Kallen President, RSK Strategies, United States
  • Arsalan Iftikhar Founder,, United States
  • Ayah Mahgoub MENA Sustainable Development Department, The World Bank
  • Tariq H. Cheema Founder & CEO, WCMP, United States

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Should Tunisia and the US Establish an FTA?

Waging Peace: PeaceGame Exercise Looks at Best Outcome for Syria

Source: Washington Report on Middle East Affairs by Mehrunisa Qayyum, March/April 2014

In order to examine what “the best possible peace for Syria” might look like, the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) and the Foreign Policy (FP) Group organized their first PeaceGame simulation—the softer version of a wargame—on Dec. 9 at USIP’s Washington, DC headquarters. As FP CEO David Rothkopf explained, the exercise brought together 43 foreign policy specialists who played the roles of international and Syrian stakeholders in the ongoing conflict. [Click here to continue.]

PITAPOLICY heard the new Tunisian Ambassador to the U.S., Mohamed Ezzine Chelaifa, speak at the Peteresen Institue, an international economics center of study.  Ambassador Chelaifa briefly assessed the ground realities in Tunisia across   3 categories: political, security & socio-economic tensions.  Also, he highlighted Tunisia’s economic and political goals.  On December 1st, 2013, the Tunisian ambassador started his appointment.  (Last year, Mokhtar Chaouchi was selected–we are not sure of why the change.) We were surprised to hear that there’s an aeronautic industry.

Radwan Masmoudi, founder and president of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, – See more at: ) His current push for a Free Trade Agreement with the US is born out of a precedent.  Currently, the U.S. established an FTA with Libya, Algeria, and Turkey.
  • Worried about prolfieration of weapons from neighboring countries – acknowledges new terrorist threats
  • Consider disparities and unemployment sparked the conflict – GDP shrank 1.9% immediately after revolution, then bounced back.
  • More than 3,000 foreign companies are registered in Tunisia.

Regarding a security assessment, read #PITAPAL Dr. Noureddine Jebnoun’s findings in his security report.

The security sector, which includes the police and intelligence apparatus as well as the military, is the missing link in this fourth draft of the constitution; the document does not provide positive reform of the sector. For more than two decades, many Tunisians experienced political suppression and extensive surveillance, suffered torture, and were forced into exile. Internal security agencies, mainly the so-called “political police” and the state security service, were the regime’s instrument, acting as both the guardians of the public sphere and as invaders of personal lives. It is likely that the NCA members’ security illiteracy prevented them from addressing changes to the sector, which is crucial for a working democracy. Indeed, all Tunisians should be ensured “freedom from fear” in their constitution when it comes to this sector.

Tunisia Turns to Citizens in Budget Crunch

Source: Magharabia by Monia G

Tunis — In his first televised appearance since taking office, Mehdi Jomaa last week said that the government was facing a grim financial situation that required sacrifices. [Click here to continue]

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Quantity or Quality: The Push for Women’s Representation in Arab Politics

The push for women’s representation in Arab politics draws much attention by both human rights groups and democracy building groups. For example, the National Democratic Institute hosted Members of Parliament from Jordan, Morocco, Libya, and Tunisia to discuss “Women in the New Arab Politics”.  Although the MPs all shared in the struggle to amplify women’s voices, each one had a slightly different take on which path could bring about more

National Democratic Institute Panel: Members of Parliament from Tunisia, Libya, Morocco and Jordan

National Democratic Institute Panel: Members of Parliament from Tunisia, Libya, Morocco and Jordan

positive impact in amplifying Arab women’s voice in legislative politics.  Specifically, the “quantity versus quality” debate to increase women’s political representation in Arab politics came up: is it better to push for higher numbers of women in parliament–regardless of their internal dynamics–or focus on the quality of candidates so that they are better able to collectively bargain and form coalitions on issues beyond family status laws–like on the economy, defense budgets and not just the “soft” issues of cultural outreach and education.

But the debate should not de-emphasize the gains that female parliamentarians have produced for society.  Women parliamentarians are not just focused on women and family rights.  “In Jordan, because of our constitution, we have stopped the practice of trying civilians in military courts,” said one of the MPs visiting from Jordan.

Earlier, the Wilson Center hosted an event that broadly focused on the public and private space opening, or closing, for women in the Middle East & North Africa region earlier in 2014. PITAPOLICY’s summary and analysis on that event may be found here.

If an underrepresented group faced a choice between more representatives in parliament, or less representatives, the group would argue for more representation. That’s a simple numbers game that –one would hope–would advance the underrepresented group’s interests.  The goal is to achieve impact.  However, what if this underrepresented group, let us say women, had to choose between quantity or quality.  Some female Members of Parliament would push for quantity.  As one second-term MP from Jordan said, “we still need a certain quantity in order to have get that quality of service heard.”  On the other hand, other female MPs would argue for quality in the types of female candidates because of the politics behind debating legislation among women.  She fears that there is not a consensus among women MPs, who are still hesitant to press for more women’s rights.  Moreover, she argues that there needs to be more unity on specific issues, like advancing women’s rights.    That way, rallying support is easier to form a bloc to pass or lead on legislation that favor women.

Many on the panel say a quota system is a necessary measure until the inclusion of women in political process holds constant within Arab society. To be fair, countries that pride themselves on leading democratic processes through legislative representation, still struggle with disproportionate levels of female legislators. For example, only 20 of the 100 U.S. Senate seats (the American equivalent of the ‘Upper House’) are held by women, according to The Washington Post. The U.S. has not implemented a quota system for women or minorities to address their under-representation in the Senate or the House of Representatives.

“Will part of women’s equality issue be solved in time because of generational changes?” asked the moderator, Tamara Coffman-Wittes from the Brookings Institute Saban Center. Each of the panelists expressed optimism as long as their countries’ legislative processes include female MPs. For example, the Jordanian MP said she was “very optimistic” because Jordan amended many laws in the 1990s.

Below are highlighted comments from Members of Parliament representing their countries. Ironically, Libya’s representative on the issue of women’s representation, was, in fact, a man.

Morocco: Member of Parliament, attorney who previously litigated in criminal court prior to serving.

  • Between 1963 to 1993: no women in parliament. Currently, Moroccan parliamentary quotas require 60 women and 30 young people to serve as Members of Parliament.
  • Female Moroccan MP astonished at low numbers of women in some Western legislatures–including the US Senate, which she says hurts their cause in Morocco.
  • Women’s effective participation in politics requires support from men during panel -female lawyer serving as MP

Note: Male MP from Morocco commented that the presence of women in cabinet sets public expectations. So when the number of women in cabinet went down, the Moroccan public expressed surprise.

Tunisia: Rabiaa Nalaoui, Member of Parliament

  • Ms. Nalaoui is the youngest Tunisian MP and hopes that her efforts in next parliament will pass legislation to lower candidacy age requirement.
  • Calls for Tunisia to follow Libya in adopting the horizontal “zipper system” for gender quotas in parliament.
  • (Note: The Zipper system means that one list includes all male candidates and a second list includes all female candidates. Then one would select from each list alternately from party lists.)
  • “We need to also work on the horizontal system because zipper system didn’t work to guarantee that 50% of head of lists were women.
  • Keep gender quotas until culture changes so that competent women are elected on their merits without a quota.  In Tunisia, even with “Zipper” quota system, 94% of the heads of the lists were men, need horizontal lists as well.
  • “Implementation of constitution is most important. We don’t need just female MPs,” because parliament requires leadership on pro women’s rights.

Jordan: Reem Abu Dalbouh, Member of Parliament

  • Constitution is a tool to defend against discrimination.
  • Legislation achieved the following: In 1982, women allowed to run in elections; In 2003 amended election law for transition in that 6 seats increased to 12 seats (in 2010) to establish first female alliance.
  • First Arab country to pass law to protect against violence against women.
  • Younger generations should learn from the experience of other generations who have fought for equality for women.

Libya: Musa Faraj, Member of Parliament

  • Status of women has advanced significantly in past two generations.
  • “Libyan women were central to 2011 uprising and have a bright future.”


Photo by Dana Zureikat Daoud @DanaZkat: (R) Reem Abu Dalbouh, Member of Parliament from Jordan

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Tunisia’s Donor Assistance Glossed Over Sectors Related to Economy

Remember the underlying causes of Tunisia’s revolution for dignity?  Remember how the police-security sector represented the discontent and mistreatment than many Tunisians faced? Well, take a look at how many donor assistance projects glossed over these sectors.   As shared on Huffington Post earlier, PITAPOLICY believes that Police Reform, Informal Economy, and Corruption represented the root causes–which pretty much did not receive as much donor assistance attention as the more glamorous issue areas of new media/blogging.  #Smuggling

Note: An earlier version was shared on January 17th.  Due to unforeseen circumstances, the first outlet that reviewed and edited this, lost the latest version in its queue–a downside of blogger reality… which means that bigger news outlets covered aspects of this topic even though PITAPOLICY reviewed this issue and submitted the piece in early January.  Although it is a shame that some media outlets “get behind the eight-ball” in their editing queue, thank GOD Huffington Post allows PITAPOLICY to share content when other media outlets fail to deliver.  In other good news is that on April 13th, at the annual Muslim World Global Donors’ Forum, PITAPOLICY’s Mehrunisa Qayyum will be participating on a panel looking at donor assistance. 

Another version available on Huff Po.

A speech given by a Tunisian Lorax on donor assistance is very much needed.  On February 18th, U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, made a “surprise visit’ to Tunisia.  However, a conversation that goes beyond a congratulations on the new constitution, and an intake on the security situation, would have been more surprising.  In fact, a conversation on how Tunisia’s donor assistance largely glossed over sectors related to the economy may explain why protests continued in January — even after the Ennahda ruling party agreed to step down.  Below is a conversation that we would have hoped Secretary Kerry had with Tunisia’s President Moncef Marzouki.  This speaks more to the recipient’s interests than the various donors’ interests…


Following the 2011 uprising, Tunisia has received $849.5 million in aid from 25 different donors, according to the  report “Inside the Transition Bubble–International Expert Assistance in Tunisia” released by the Institute for Integrated Transitions (IFIT).  The report categorized  financial and technical assistance into four areas of: media reform; security sector reform, judicial reform, and youth employment.
Donor Savior Complex?
Despite Tunisia’s center-stage role in attracting large amounts of donor assistance, the root causes which prompted Tunisia’s revolution, like high unemployment, remain unaddressed while the informal economy and illicit trade have expanded.  As a result, “the smuggling of illicit goods now accounts for 40 percent of the Tunisian economy and 30 percent of its jobs” and reflects how little impact international donor assistance has had on the two sectors that received the bulk of aid.

Over the past three years, the transitional government has made little progress on reining in high public spending, one of the key requirements of international financial institutions in receiving further monetary assistance. After calling for reducing subsidies and increasing taxes, the transitional government has suspended energy price increases and taxes, losing tax revenue from its growing illicit trade.  According to last month’s World Bank  report, Tunisia’s informal economy has grown to an estimated $1 billion.  Consequently, combined with cross border smuggling, the Tunisian government has lost out on an opportunity to extract revenue through value-added taxes on goods coming in from neighboring Libya and Algeria.
In trying to make up for its fiscal woes, the government proposed to levy taxes in an effort to raise $220 million in revenue--a fraction needed to support the $2.59 billion in food and energy subsidy commitments within the proposed 2014 budget.   Add to that Tunisia’s latest economic challenges.  First, renewed protests resurged on January 7th among farmers, January 9th with a public outcry over taxes in Ettaddamon on the 11th); and second, The fact that multilateral agencies like the African Development Bank cancelled their $300 million line of credit, and one may wonder what was the purpose of the record number of international NGOs providing assistance to Tunisia.  Was it just another case of the Donor Savior Complex fulfilling a need to feel relevant by doling out advice and funds towards secondary challenges?
Although Tunisia represents a version of political success marked by its transitional political period –or to borrow from Ibrahim Sharqieh’s description “sound management of transition process”– how does one get the upside of political development to spillover into its economic development using donor assistance?

  • Targeted donor assistance.  In order for financial and technical donor assistance to be effective, it must be targeted to sectors that the host country deems a priority. However, if assistance is provided in areas that do not address the sectors of Tunisian economy that require help, then perhaps that effort was futile.  For example, why not offer vendor license training along with micro-loans.  At least those who do not received the loans for their small shop have the ability to start small with a cart.  Another example: organize and engage farmers who struggle with transportation costs, which is why they protest rising energy prices. Donor donor assistance to Arab transition countries is one solution, but other tools may be used to drive more positive impact to the root causes that brought protesters to the streets…


  • Sectoral assistance. After the uprisings and with security deteriorating across the region, the tourism sector was hit hard effecting current account balances. One way for Arab transitional governments to contain political spillover to  boost economic growth is by reforming the tourism sector. Sharqieh argues that staying the course of successful political transition will signal ‘normalcy’, and thereby reignite its tourist industry and boost the economy.  Even prior to the 2011 uprising in Tunisia, the sector was disjointed from the growing economic grievances.

Although, the recommendations put forward by the Institute for Integrated Transitions for targeting donor assistance to improve economic productivity are useful, there was overemphasis on the Security Sector & Rule of Law (SSR) sector as opposed to the employment sector–ironically, the very criticism that emerged within the report targeting international experts.  In contrast to Libya and Yemen, both heavily-dependent on US security assistance, Tunisia’s transition resulted in militarization of  groups.  Consequently, a weapons smuggler sympathizing with Salafi extremists, assassinated Mohammed Brahmi and Chokri Belaid –which goes back to the growing smuggling business described earlier.

Nonetheless, given that Tunisia’s revolution represents the least violent transitions among transitional Arab countries, we can see how many would anticipate assistance as a positive “boost”.  However, there is a  body of evidence argues that donor assistance often triggers violence: “higher risk of civil war in those countries that have much wealth, but where a large share of the population is potentially excluded from accessing it,” says the Journal of Peace Research.  Tunisia is not at the brink of civil war, but Tunisia did revolt against a system where ‘a large share of the population is potentially excluded from accessing it’.  Technical and financial assistance considers ‘north-south’ dynamics, right?

Meanwhile, the renewed protests signify how the original issues remain sidelined as donor assistance deals with the parallel world that does not intersect with the underlying causes.  Training police forces does not address their fundamental , problematic role in a security state, which requires police reforms.  Why not imagine a different for international NGOs to provide support–especially since funding sectors unrelated to employment are not equally impactful on transitional societies.     Four observations highlight how donor assistance missed out on facilitating more impact by glossing over key drivers of Tunisia’s revolution:

  1. Absorptive Capacity: The absorption capacity in spurts mirrors the challenges witnessed in moments of state emergency.  As noted in the report, unfortunately, conferences served as the easy way to spend funds while allowing the opportunity to claim accomplishments, e.g., training, publicity, and overall “territory marking”.
  2. Assistance Avoided Economic Related Challenges: Given the large amounts of assistance, it was frustrating to see that ‘generating employment’ did not focus on how to mainstream informal economy.  There was no mention of international experts nor NGOs that could claim ownership of the leading problem: growing employment within the formal economy.  Since the challenge of ‘generating employment’ appeared daunting, none of the donor assistance programs felt that they could even approach labor activists or associations that have vested interests in addressing economic solutions.  Instead international experts went for low-hanging fruit first.  For example 20 NGOs targeted assistance towards media and human rights by meeting with unions and five media conglomerates–whereas 18 NGOs targeting assistance towards primary challenges, like employment, interacted with only three actors in the private sector and no unions.
  3. Donor Savior Complex Emerges in Media Sector Reform:  Not surprised that media training hyper-focused on “blogger” expansion when investigative reporting is more crucial in both addressing the political transition process as well as providing a more structured outlet for gainful employment.  Who pays bloggers?  In a field that is largely self-taught (and clearly advanced in Tunisia), providing loads of training in this field is not an effective allocation of resources if it does not generate employment.
  4. Hyper-Focus on Security: The IFIT report highlighted the limited supply of SSR experts for police reform, which also mirrors the problems of monopsony in that only five institutions(UNESCO,the ICRC, FRANCOPOL,OHCHR, and DCAF) could deliver modern SSR and police training programs suited to Tunisia” and that Interior Ministry “ministry officials criticized the predilection for pre-packaged models of assistance based  more on suppositions than actual needs,” reported IIT. There is a need to cleaving police law and order from larger security-military culture reform.  Rather than reinforcing boiler-plate model at the state level, SSR issues need to incorporate the province level experience.    For example, elevate local NGOs to the debate and engagement level. Civil society groups that focus on police brutality should be recognized for what they are: neighborhood watch groups.  At the same time, dealing with police brutality through civilian dialogues moves away from hyper-security state.  Dr. Jebnoun elaborates on the types of security reform needed and how to implement vis a vis the new constitution.

Unlike Yemen and Libya, foreign donor assistance targeted low-impact issues, like social media training, rather than addressing economic reform and development areas that have triggered protests in Tunisia again.  Meanwhile, the upswing of Tunisian’s smuggling magnify the economic –not security–concerns that preceded its revolution.  Had donor assistance ventured into the youth employment sector, as deeply as the security sector, to identify growth sectors, the informal economy “opportunities” (smuggling) may have been averted.  Moreover, it would also bolster other Maghreb countries’ intra-regional trade opportunities.  Tunisia is not only the first of the transition economies in the Arab world, but proves crucial in leveraging its own economy to bolster intra-regional trade, a key challenge shared by Libya, Algeria, and Morocco.

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MENA + Social Good Aims to Empower Arab World on Diplomatic Pouch

Note: The original version of this article by Mehrunisa Qayyum appeared on Diplomatic Pouch, produced by The Washington Diplomat (@DiplomatNews).

On November 4th, Al Mubadarah (Arab Empowerment Initiative) went global with its purpose: to engage Arab Diaspora on every topic — but politics –  by focusing on how technology and philanthropy may converge to achieve “social good”. Inspired by the yearly “Social Good Summit”, which is organized by Mashable, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the United Nations Foundation, Al Mubadarah co-founder, Hazami Barmada sought their support and posed the same question to the Arab Diaspora: how can the Arab world achieve positive impact through technology, social media, and the internet–how do we promote “MENA + SocialGood”?  The DC based non-profit, Al Mubadarah organized the first interactive, virtual summit in Washington, DC.  United Nations participants, like Senior Advisor in the Partnerships Office, Annette Richardson, emphasized the power of one regarding social responsibility while U.N. Secretary General’s Youth Envoy, Ahmed Alhendawi, highlighted that a key issue for achieving “MENA + SocialGood” is that youth led organizations need to be “treated as partners, not beneficiaries” since it is their generation that is maturing in the technology and philanthropy spaces.

Alhendawi’s words matched the sentiment for those speaking virtually.  Those following social media trends would have noticed the overwhelming response as the meme on social media, the hashtag #MENASocialGood, trended–or ranked in first place in DC– with comments from over two million Twitter users from the 17 organized meetups.  Meetups, or organized off-site virtual meetings, came from the United Kingdom and Belgium to Egypt, Qatar, Palestine, Lebanon, Tunisia, UAE, and Morocco.  With support from the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates, the League of Arab States, and over 45 “SocialGood” partners, like Ashoka Arab World, summit organizers, Alaa’ Odeh and Omar Al-Chaar, fulfilled their promise to engage anyone interested in participating in the social good dialogue.

Arab Diaspora is a broad category-not just because it covers over 22 Arab countries, but extends to wherever Arab expats believe innovation is possible.  Participants  ranged from Lebanese expatriates working in Dubai as well as Egyptian expatriates, who established, a mentoring hub for technology startups in Silicon Vally, California.

Although the technology field is rather broad, “MENA + SocialGood” focused more on information communication technology sector, with an emphasis on social media.  Through a mix of workshops, face to face and video-chat conversations (with the support of Cisco), Barmada invited small businesses, non-profits and activists among the Arab Diaspora to tell their stories of how they problem solve outside of the political space because of technology and philanthropy.

To better connect with its audience, the summit included a few workshops to demonstrate how a charity could utilize social media to fundraise across a pool of donors in a “crowd-funding” platform. Participants weighed in on topics, like “Digital Philanthropy: Changing the Landscape Of a Donor in MENA”.  As Barmada shared, crowd-funding increases opportunities for many to share and have ownership rather than promoting the lone-donor syndrome, or “Savior Complex”, which is a common tension between local recipients and donors among Diaspora communities.

In the same vein of leveraging community platforms, “crowd-sourcing”, a social media technique, can collect information from citizen activists to monitor health emergencies, as Hend Alhinnawi explained, co-founder of Humanitarian Tracker.  “Eye witness reporting + social media mining to give a holistic view of what is happening on the ground,” reasoned Alhinnawi.  For example, when polio broke out in Syria, the tool Syria Tracker received over 70,000 eye-witness reports.  This is crowd-sourcing, much like the way Wikipedia operates.  But unlike Wikipedia, Syria Tracker pools the verified reports with data from the World Health Organization, before mapping out polio cases by town. Both the U.N. and U.S. State Department follow Syria Tracker.  As a result, social media tools can achieve social good through online collective efforts, like monitoring epidemics.

Another key challenge that technology, with the aid of philanthropy, needs to address is education.  “Education is the key…yet teachers are not being given the tools and resources they need,” emphasized Muna Abu Sulayman, a Saudi Arabian thought leader of philanthropy.  Given the education concern, participants realized the power of investing programs that do exactly that as championed by Rama Chameitelly, a civil engineer who established the kid friendly program: “The Little Engineer”.  Based in Lebanon, Chameitelly’s mission exposes elementary school kids to explore engineering concepts.  This is crucial since computer programming has risen in popularity, but does not capitalize on all that technology has to offer in employment possibilities.  The Little Engineer offers an alternative that goes beyond developing mobile phone applications.

MENA + SocialGood covered social impact examples from the less technology focused initiatives too. The Arab world audience constantly faces images and stories revolving around conflict.  As Nawara Chakaki stated, “We have become desensitized to the negative images media portrays,” and need local Arab narratives that are uplifting and “inspires us to make a difference”  So Nawara and her sister, Rama, created Baraka Bits to share uplifting stories and news from around the Arab world and specifically cover social entrepreneurship, youth initiatives, and women enterprises with the belief that readers will gain inspiration to try similar ventures.

As the “MENA + SocialGood” organizers asked each participant to tweet their commitment by using #MyArabWorld, she hopes that this is not just a yearly conversation. Whether or not there is a formalized engagement effort, “people in MENA are not waiting around for others to create solutions — they are empowered to create them and now have the tools,” concludes Barmada.

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Live-Blog: “Arab Spring or Arab Autumn: Women’s Political Participation in the Arab Uprisings and Beyond”

PITAPOLICY Summarizes: The Wilson Center Middle East Program was the first in Washington, DC to convene a discussion on women in the Middle East and North Africa region, shared its Program Director, Haleh Esfandiari.  The panel debated to what extent Arab women’s political participation has produced economic, political, social, and legal gains:  Spring, Autumn, or euphoria–meaning that obstacles for women have decreased or increased or are improving at different levels.  There is a paradox: women being sidelined as they are still part of organizing because of fragmentation.  It’s problematic.


Photo by PITAPOLICY at Wilson Center: (Left to Right) Haleh Esfandiari, Stephenie Foster, Sherine Ibrahim, Maryam Jamshaidi

Ibrahim pointed out that three divides pose challenges for the women’s movement, according to her report for CARE.  These divides are: generational, demographic (urban versus rural), and socio-economic.  Jamshaidi, pushed back a bit on the generational point by explaining that different generations of women continue to push back on the concept of ‘Public Space’.  In fact, they use it more creatively to challenge social, cultural, and business norms.  At the same time, Ibrahim noted that the state has had a history of interrupting public spaces in varying degrees depending on the country.  (Fair point.)   Overall, the discussion focused on more examples from Egypt and a few from Yemen and Palestine.  Although we heard two great contrasting interpretations from Ibrahim and Jamshaidi, on the status of women’s political participation in the MENA region, we wish we had heard some more concrete country examples.

In addition, Esfandiari supplied a great personal anecdote from her time being imprisoned in Iran.  She explained, that during her political imprisonment in 2007, she was struck by how stunned her prison guard was that over thousands of Arab women had signed a petition calling for her release.  Her prison guard’s realization at Esfandiari’s overwhelming support by Arab women–Middle Eastern neighbors, many of whom were probably mostly Muslim–united for Esfandiari’s freedom.  The petition was started by an Iraqi woman, according to Esfandiari.


We are live-blogging the event hosted by The Middle East Program and Global Women’s Leadership Initiative of the Woodrow Wilson Center and CARE:  Arab Spring or Arab Autumn: Women’s Political Participation in the Arab Uprisings and Beyond

We are especially excited because one of the panelists is Maryam Jamshaidi, the founder of Muftah.Org, which lists PITAPOLICY Blog on its side!


Stephenie Foster
Senior Policy Advisor, Office of Global Women’s Issues, State Department

Sherine Ibrahim
Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and Eastern Europe, CARE

Maryam Jamshidi
Founder,, and Author, “The Future of the Arab Spring: Civic Entrepreneurship in Politics, Art, and Technology Startups”

Haleh Esfandiari
Director, Middle East Program, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

In 2010 as young people across the Arab world began to rise up and demand a new kind of politics, women were active as leaders and participants, taking part in demonstrations, making their voices heard, and seeking change. Talk of an Arab Spring has now been succeeded by warnings about diminished human rights and democracy in the region. Within this complex and evolving picture, what are the prospects for expanding women’s rights? What is the evolving role of women in shaping the future of the region?-Wilson Center MEP

Esfandiari:  Congress established The Wilson Center as the official memorial to President Woodrow Wilson, a nonpartisan center of research and dialogue.  Earlier today, we held an event looking at Egypt. MEP has convened over 100 meetings on gender alone–the first in Washington, DC to host one focused on women in the MENA region.

CARE is co-sponsoring because the focus on women and family poverty in 84 countries–reaching 83 million people in the world.

Ibrahim: Quoting from opening of new report she has released looking at “Spring” to “Autumn” “To join the protests on Friday mornings,and pray jumaah, I had to take rugged routes on Thursday to get there, no force would stop me.”

Note World Economic Forum Gender Gap report: MENA women ranked at bottom.

Note Parliamentarian Participation

  • Egypt in 2012 parliament: the lowest ever.
  • Yemen: only 3 women hold Ministerial posts out of 35 positions.
  • Palestinian Authority: 17 women out of 132 men represented.

This is a critical time.  In the spirit of social and gender justice movement,  the spotlight has moved away from women’s issues in general…now focus is on safety, security, and counter-terrorism.

First challenge: The divisions are divided across 1) urban versus rural, 2) generational, 3) socio-economic.

Second Challenge: The established women’s movement is not renewed…the challenge is to reach younger activists–especially in dialogue:  if you can’t find the opportunity or common ground.

Many felt that they were co-opted by states.  In these institutions, there is an experience

3rd Challenge: Note Islamic women’s activists… some noted the intolerance of liberals.

It’s not just the spotlight has been taken away, but the fact is that we’re not helping each other to bring back the spotlight because of this fragmentation described.


1) We want to make sure that the more established institutions and organizations (MEN and women) in the women’s movement can bridge the divide.  There’s a lot of fear, anxiety and division.  CARE is an example that is looking at that.

2) There is a need to focus on being more flexible in working with young men and women because they are in a state of disappointment.  Many haven’t been able to channel that excitement or euphoria.

3)  We need to bridge the religious and secular divide (while acknowledging that these are very loose categories.)  There are some interesting and progressive attempts to reinterpret and realign related to women’s rights.  Note Mussawa, a forum doing that already.

4) We need to foster the conditions for civil society to thrive to bridge 3 divides, e.g.: Donor governments need to take a more proactive approach…let’s not compromise one issue area (women rights) over others (security).

5) Mechanism: hold not just national government accountable to the donor money, bu the donorgovernment as well on such programming to advance policy areas.  Told that recipient governments should be held accountable.

Jamshaidi: I’m going to push back a bit on what Sherine Ibrahim said based on civic entrepreneurship and its related shift.   The “West” still grapples with concept of what constitutes a revolution in Arab transition countries.  There have been revolutions, although their outcomes remain unclear.  It’s not just political shifts within a country, but how people see their relationships with their governments.  Also, there have been transformations in the Arab world about how even business is done.

Civic entrepreneurship: citizen driven effort to organize with resources to help further public good.  They’re pretty creative and innovation. Cites anthropologist, David Graber: followed by intellectual and artistic activity as they see that they all have a right.

There have been many Arab countries that had a public sphere.  Yes, some were more interrupted by state interference.  It’s just as important to democracy as elections, citing Hannah Arendt.

Disagrees with Ibrahim: There has been collaboration across generations and socio-economic barriers.  We saw diaspora working with host country, note technology sector.  It’s been a dynamic process.   There’s been on the job training.

Women’s Participation

This didn’t occur within a ‘blackbox’.  Don’t want to generalize, but by and large, women did have a public presence across the Arab world.  Gives example of women and men working together in nationalist movements mobilizing against colonialism.  Women made the strategic decision to put women’s rights issues behind the movement…but they were not rewarded for this strategic move. Every Arab country granted women the right to vote except Saudi Arabia and the UAE–where no one gets to vote.

Since the “Arab Spring” (PITAPOLICY: prefer to call it Arab Awakenened, so will continue to use instead).

Jamshaidi shares policy recs: Institutionalization and Innovation both needed. Set benchmarks in gauging women’s progress in the region.  Embed cause for women’s rights within social justice movement.

Foster: Women’s economic empowerment, political participation, protecting women in conflict are all inter-related and are the focus of Office of Global Women’s Issues within the US State Department. Women’s rights is a priority. We work through programming mainly through USAID.

Through programming: “We work with trade union movements and women in journalism” to bring participation and prevent conflict.  Emphasizes the power of cultural and educational exchanges to encourage network building and their likelihood to participate more in home countries via elections and public life.

Esfandiari: Shares personal story from 2007 when imprisoned in Iran under solitary confinement.  Her jailer was stunned with number of hundreds and thousands of Arab women who signed a petition calling for her freedom–disputing the myth that it was just a bunch of “Western women”.  The petition was started by an Iraqi women.

Jamshaidi on personal status law:  Before July 3rd, there was a movement to have religious affiliation removed from national identity cards.  These are problematic because it allows more government involvement.

Foster: Believes that women face challenges in Arab world because they don’t have collateral, or ability to own property, when getting capital together.  Jordan and Morocco participate in Equal Futures program.  “Interesting point: Arab countries are committed to looking at barriers”.

According to the World Economic Forum Gender Parity report: There is more gender parity in economic sphere than in the political sphere–but there are still barriers to both, and they’re interlinked.

Ibrahim: It depends on how you define political participation–everything I do is political participation if I do something in my village regarding my social or economic sphere. Women make up 26 percent of the labor force in the MENA region.

Platform for Accountability

Arab Network on Accountability encourages young men and women, whether they have access to internet or not, by giving them a space to develop the tools to hold “duty bearers” accountable.  It is up to them to develop the tools–especially when political platforms are closed.

“Discuss what women leaders do, not what she wears!” response to a 2012 poll in Egypt where 18% of respondents would welcome a women leader.

Jamshaidi: Talking about technology startups has become fashionable (agreed), which many have been started by women.  (See PITAPOLICY coverage of technology startups when Mehrunisa Qayyum visited Lebanon.) Also recommend checking out Asma Mahfouz’s video on Youtube, which calls on men in Egypt to join in one of the protests.  Remember, Committee for Egypt constitution had only 5 women of the 50 serving.  Legal efforts need to complement the organizing efforts.

Comment on persistent growth of informal economy: Nabesh based in Dubai helps freelancers find opportunities.

Ibrahim: There is a paradox…women being sidelined as they are still part of organizing because of fragmentation.  It’s problematic.  One of the opportunities–aside from losing the battle for quotas–seize the opportunity to pushback on “what does reasonable representation” mean.

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Role of Entrepreneurship in Building a Better Egypt


PITAPOLICY is live-blogging “Role of Entrepreneurship in Egypt” event hosted by the Middle East Institute… (Note the focus on technology entrepreneurship discussion, which is more focused on the Information Communication Technology sector.)

In Egypt, innovative enterprise development has taken off in the wake of the 2011 protests with thousands of youth turning to entrepreneurship as a means of creating economic opportunity as well as addressing social challenges.

The Middle East Institute is proud to host a discussion about Egypt’s burgeoning start-up sector with entrepreneurs  Yumna Madi (KarmSolar), Mona Mowafi (Rise Egypt), and Dina Sherif (Ahead of the Curve, Silatech), who will discuss their companies’ innovative ideas, the opportunities and challenges they face as entrepreneurs, and their hopes to see greater development and job creation in Egypt through the support of more innovators and start-ups. James A. Harmon, chairman of the Egyptian-American Enterprise Fund, will discuss U.S. and international support for emerging business initiatives in the country.  Christopher M. Schroeder, author of Startup Rising: The Entrepreneurial Revolution Remaking the Middle East, will lead the discussion.  Bios here.


Big institutions (top down) think of people as problems, bottom up institutions think about people as assets-paraphrasing Dina Sherif by Schroeder in opening up discussion.

Schroeder: What are big institutions, who are doing good things in places like Egypt, missing most?

Dina Sherif: Many Egyptian youth are serving as assets.  Look at all the incubators and accelerators, like Flat6 Labs and Silatech. Ahmed Alfi founded Flat6, a technology park on the AUC campus to create a “mini-Silicon Valley”.  Focus should be on young people to create the businesses.  (Alfi’s shared workspace is the largest in the Middle East).

Schroeder: What’s the story of RISE Egypt?

Mona Mowafi: People are still fighting for economic justice–keeping a “laser focus on the social and economic justice” of the country.  For example, many Egyptian diaspora from Harvard and Yale wanted to make an impact, so founded RISE Egypt.  Realizing impact for Social Entrepreneurship will be incorporated later this summer.

Schroeder: What’s the difference between entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship?

Mona Mowafi: Social entrepreneurship is focused on business development considering the community’s social and cultural environment while utilizing private sector for development outcomes.  Our needs assessment showed that “access to capital” ranked need number 2.  Financial return is a bottomline for many businesses, but social entrepreneurship is

Schroeder: “We hear that it seems like an elite phenomena–those students coming from Harvard and such–having a warm and fuzzy feeling?”

Mowafi: It may be true for some.  But there are many examples of projects going out to areas that do not reflect the environments that these people (Diaspora who are alumni from elite institutions) come from.

Schroeder: What’s the backstory of the Frontier Fund?

James Harmon, Chairman, Egyptian-American Enterprise Fund (used to be an investment banker): I am an optimist and a hopeful.  My former life comes from running the Export-Import Bank in the US and makes a distinction between the “frontier” developing world, where the risks are much higher, to set up a separate fund.  We invested in Pakistan and Lebanon, with an average return on our fund of an average of 17% per annum.  The Frontier world fund covers all of the Middle East.

Where there is political stability, we see economic stability.

6 Egyptian citizens and 3 Egyptian-Americans are part of this Egyptian-American Enterprise Fund.  Initially the fund had 300 million dollar fund was to be a partnership between public sector and private sector.

Egypt’s stock market has gone up 45% since “Egypt’s coup”.  Yet so little investment made in infrastructure.  Investors will get good returns.  50 percent of Egypt population is under 30…but I think the unemployed is even more: one-third!

This isn’t rocket science: once there’s a parliament and president, private investment will grow–as we’ve seen in frontier markets.  If it’s Sisi, he has the critical leadership skills and can address the subsidy issues.

Schroeder: People think of investment and rebuilding but say that there’s not enough money in Egypt.

Harmon: Five years from now, people will be saying “Why didn’t we invest in Egypt when Chris Schroeder” first told us?”  Look at the automobile market–we can improve the traffic flow and reduce accidents in Cairo if we introduce new forms of transportation.  At the same time we can recycling…and same for healthcare.  My one message–especially to those who say there’s no money like we see in Japan– there is money available…look at how people invested in the stock market I described earlier.  It’s not impossible.

Schroeder: How do you think about confluence of opportunities down the road for education?

Mona Mowafi:  We should see the areas of recycling, alternative energy like solar, healthcare, and education.  Look at “Educate Me” a program that is the equivalent of a charter school system for experiential learning.


We see actors on the ground like Injaaz, Endeavor, Ashoka, and others, which create a pipeline of support to get people to think about innovation before they enter the programs.

  • Dina Sherif: I’m going to differ a bit from Mona.  Not enough schools exist and not enough teacher training, yes, but it’s more about the way teachers teach.  I love EducateMe, and other NGOs that started the one-classroom school.  But these are small initiatives that will never go to scale because they are dependent on donor funding. Nafhem, another organization, provides accessibility to those families who want tutors.  But it’s not solving the problem of education scope.

Harmon & Schroeder: Banks don’t fund startups.  Silicon Valley wasn’t build because of banks–need angel investing in Egypt, like any other country.

Sherif: We NEED education on investor culture and what their potential impact can be rather than having a dependence on other countries like the US and UK because we can bring money from within.

Schroeder: We discussed other sectors that will help build a better Egypt, like alternative energy.  Thanks for joining us, Yumna to describe Karm Solar…your presence here is a testament to infrastructure development making attendance possible. (Madi was able to take a train to get over to DC even though many flights were canceled due to US winter storm Janus.)

Yumna Madi: Karm Solar est. 20011: wanted to pump water in deep wells and are very from electiricty grid.  We wanted to offer a solution with a partner in US to compete widisel generators, which is subsidized.  We didn’t want to rely on the government.  Karm Solar developed the first high-capacity water pump solution in Middle East.

In terms of hard to reach locations, we have a site in Sudan.  Why is this better for a farmer.  won an innovation award.  took 2 yrs.  50 kilowatt solution for a 30 kw pump.  Signed a contract for one well…and are now doing 7 wells.  It’s not about cost, but about reliability.  If they don’t get supply for 1 day they lose their entire season of crops.  Built our office in the western desert by using natural earth material.  Client saw it and asked for a structure like that for a site they had for farming.

Sherif: Collaborating with USAID is too complicated, so many walk away from seeking them out for Egypt projects. (Harmon added that 40 pages long used to be a form at the Ex-Im Bank–which hasn’t done enough in Egypt.)

Madi: Starting a business in Egypt is easy: only 5 days. But it’s the knowledge needed for permits.   Her response to “Does Government Hate Entrepreneurs” by Mohammed Eldahshan


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