Category Archives: Middle East and North Africa

Could Community-Based Weather Forecasting Help Defuse Conflict?

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Weather stations like this one in Australia provide information that is vital to agrarian economies. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

By Gracie Cook

While religious, sectarian, and geopolitical divisions in the world’s hotspots often make headlines, an even more basic driver of conflict is often overlooked: the weather.

In agrarian or water-scarce societies, changes in weather patterns lay the groundwork for resource conflicts between ethnic and religious groups, while severe weather events like drought can exacerbate existing social, economic, and political tensions, often boiling over into violence. While poor governance in conflict-afflicted societies too often turns bad weather into catastrophe, a greater role for the private sector in dealing with weather-related problems might just help prevent future outbreaks of violence.

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The Future of a Nation: A One Minute Look at Lebanon

"Corniche beirut" by Varun Shiv Kapur from Berkeley, United States - Corniche. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Corniche beirut” by Varun Shiv Kapur from Berkeley, United States – Corniche. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

By Elie Obeid

Lebanon, it’s that country in the Middle East that you sometimes miss while going through a map. Despite its small size, Lebanon enjoyed quite a reputation in the 1960s and early 1970s as being the Switzerland of the Middle East, and Beirut, its capital, was known as the Paris of the Middle East due to the number of tourists it attracted and its role as a financial and trade hub for the region.

In recent years, however, Lebanon has been suffering from various social, political, economic problems. To discuss all these issues and possible solutions for them would require volumes so we’ll stick to economics this time with a little twist of politics. But before getting into that, how about we take a look at the numbers first.

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Fixing Tunisia’s Economy Requires Reform, Not More Foreign Investment

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In light of the recent terror attacks in Tunis and Sousse, which have debilitated the tourism industry and sent investors scurrying to reconsider their options and assets in the country, it is more important than ever to look at the intersection between economic growth and transparent democratic institutions in Tunisia.

President Obama and Tunisian President Béji Caïd Essebsi, meeting during Essebsi’s May visit to the United States, published this article about consolidating democratic gains in Tunisia and spurring responsible economic growth. The discourse would benefit from a deeper understanding of the legal and regulatory issues that stifle job growth in that country.

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CIPE Launches First Annual Photo Competition

Photo: © 2011 Swapping aid for trade in northern Uganda, Pete Lewis/UK Department for International Development

Photo: © 2011 Swapping aid for trade in northern Uganda, Pete Lewis/UK Department for International Development

“There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment.” – Robert Frank

Show us your best story-telling photo

Do you like to tell stories through photography? Then show us your best work! The first annual Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) Photo Competition is now open for submissions.

Open to participants of all ages, including student, amateur, and professional photographers, the inaugural photo competition will focus on the theme of Entrepreneurship.

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The New Middle East: An Uncertain Future

Map of Middle East Region

By Bahaa Eddin Al Dahoudi, CIPE-Atlas Corps Think Tank LINKS Fellow

What future awaits the Middle East? This question remains pivotal following the outbreak of the Arab revolutions four years ago. It keeps popping up as regional developments arise, especially with the decline of democracy and presence of revolutionary forces in many Arab countries. The region’s resort to military tools is increasing due to the rise of terrorism, violence, and political polarization, a decline of charismatic leaders, and a lack of support for institutional structures and democratic transitions. In a Middle East where “there is no winner,” two vital questions emerge: Is the Arab revolution the reason behind the chaos and collapses? And, what are the future scenarios for this inflamed region?

I would argue that the Arab revolution is not the reason behind the current chaos. Knowing the history of revolutions, it can be understood that the development of a revolution is subject to consecutive waves of ups and downs. Resistance from old patterns against new revolutionary movements seeking a change are to be expected. In other words, what happened in the Arab world was historic but also unavoidable. Regimes that refused to change and reform – and instead accepted the equation of corruption and the status quo— had to fall one day. If it hadn’t happened in 2011, it would have happened another time. Thus, it is not beneficial to simply look back at the past and remember the good old days. Instead, one must look to the future and start preparing for what will come next. Thus, the real question we must ask is: What future awaits us in the Middle East?

What future awaits the Middle East? It is a region where Syria has collapsed, Iraq and Yemen are divided, Libya is shattered, and Egypt and the Gulf countries face huge security, economic, and political challenges. What future awaits countries where oil is the main determinant of the principles and rules of political games? All while international statistics say the region is witnessing explosions in population, rising unemployment rates, and declining quality of health and education services.

Are we about to witness an Islamic Middle East ruled under a Caliphate model? Will there be a democratic Middle East where people will again revolt against dictatorship in hope of creating a change? Or will the Middle East become a sectarian region filled with disputes, conflicts, and divided small states?

There are many outstanding questions and no one can definitively predict the outcomes. Undoubtedly, the years to come will carry more ambiguity in the political, socioeconomic, and cultural spheres in that region. In the meantime, we can continue to support freedom of speech of the people with the hope that the ultimate outcomes reflect the choices of the people of this region.

CIPE-Atlas Corps Think Tank LINKS Fellowship brings talented young professionals with strong research backgrounds to shadow researchers and experts at leading U.S. think tanks for six months. Bahaa Eddin Al Dahoudi is serving at Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED).

A Way Forward for a Viable Syria

From left to right: Abdulwahab Alkebsi, Ayman Tabba, Ellen Laipson, and Geneive Abdo discussing the role  of private sector and civil society democrats in reshaping Syria and countering extremism.

From left to right: Abdulwahab Alkebsi, Ayman Tabba, Ellen Laipson, and Geneive Abdo discussing the role of private sector and civil society democrats in reshaping Syria and countering extremism.

“We hear a lot about Syria— we hear the narrative of the Syrian government, we hear the narrative of ISIS, we hear the narrative of some of the opposition groups, but we don’t usually hear from the private sector, about what’s going on.”  

With this introduction, CIPE Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa Abdulwahab Alkebsi opened a panel discussion on May 21 co-hosted by CIPE and the Stimson Center entitled “A Way Forward for a Viable Syria: An Insider Perspective from the Private Sector and Civil Society.” The panel featured Chairman on CIPE partner, the Syrian Economic Forum (SEF) Ayman Tabbaa, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Stimon Center Ellen Laipson, and Middle East Fellow at the Stimson Center Geneive Abdo. The panelists discussed the role of democrats from the private sector and civil society in reshaping Syria and countering extremism.

Tabbaa spoke of SEF’s role as the first independent economic think tank in Syria working to change the trajectory of the conflict and rebuild a better Syria for the future. “We have to go back to the roots of this conflict,” he told the audience. Under the regime of Bashar Al Assad, citizens are oppressed and disenfranchised— they lack opportunity for meaningful political and economic participation. But after four years of war, people are wondering what it means to be a Syrian anymore. It is crucial, in this context, to redefine the social contract and the relationship between the citizen and state. As a think tank, SEF is playing a leading role in doing so.

“…after four years of war, people are wondering what it means to be a Syrian anymore.”

Syrians are looking for democratic alternatives to the forces tearing the country apart. Every day we see news about atrocities and violence in Syria. Much of the media focuses on sectarian violence and ISIS-created mayhem. But, even with the chaos and human suffering, Tabbaa offered signs of hope through examples of SEF’s work during the conflict.

He spoke about the recent memorandum of understanding (MOU) that SEF signed with the Ministry in Local Administration of the Syrian Interim Government (SIG). SEF has a network of liaisons inside Syria who provide the SIG and Local Councils with economic data, analysis, and recommendations. Providing this on-the-ground information to decision-makers supports improvement of local governance and enhances the democratic legitimacy of the Councils

Another SEF project helps Syrian youth develop solutions to the challenges in their communities through civic education. SEF has provided 600 young Syrian high school graduates with training in entrepreneurship, leadership, and civic skills. The course offers an alternative to the regime’s propaganda and the empty promises of extremist ideology.

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Maximum Wage in Egypt: Who Pays the Bill?

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Photo: Muhammad Mansour

Hiba Safi is a CIPE-Atlas Corps Think Tank LINKS Fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.

This post originally appeared on the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy blog

Over the course of the past several months, a revolt has taken place in Egypt’s banking sector. Seeking better opportunities and higher salaries in private sector banking jobs, hundreds of banking officials have resigned in protest since July 2014 legislation placed a cap on salaries for employees in Egypt’s public sector. While most public servants had little cause for concern, the law also applies to those working in state-owned companies. Suddenly executives at Egypt’s many state-owned banks would earn a maximum monthly wage of 42,000 Egyptian pounds (roughly US$6,000)—a mere fraction of their earning potential.

Former Minister of Finance Samir Radwan has spoken out against the implementation of a maximum wage, stressing that such an approach deprives public servants of their rights and does not meet demands for social justice. On February 17, a Cairo administrative court sided with workers from the Housing and Development Bank and the Export Development Bank of Egypt, ruling the maximum wage law to be unconstitutional. Tasked with fulfilling revolutionary calls for social justice and repairing an Egyptian economy on the ropes since the January 2011 uprising, President Abdel-Fattah El Sisi’s decision to cap a maximum wage at “no more than the president earns” aims to promote equality and social justice, halt the growth of income inequality, and bolster the middle class. But the actual impact of a maximum wage merits more consideration: Should there be a maximum wage in Egypt? Would the economy really be better off after capping earnings, particularly given the landscape of public and private ownership of many key sectors in the Egyptian economy?

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