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Letter from Kampala: Museveni’s Oil Bet

Posted by vmsalama on February 20, 2014

Letter from Kampala

Foreign Affairs
FEBRUARY 20, 2014

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, January 30, 2014. (Tiksa Negeri / Courtesy Reuters)

Feeble and gaunt from the illness that has eaten away at his body, Fideli Donge wobbled onto the porch of his mud-and-straw home, which is hidden by short palm trees off an isolated, craterous dirt road used mostly by barefooted pedestrians and the occasional bodaboda, an East African motorbike taxi. He’s in his 60s, he thinks, but a lifetime of hard labor and poverty has left him looking closer to 90. A few months ago, as Donge lay bedridden, and as his children and grandchildren — he has 52 altogether — worked the 20-acre farm that his family has owned for nearly half a century, men from the local municipality in his western Uganda village knocked at his door. 

“They told me that all the residents here have to leave and that they will give me a house or money,” Donge said. He and his family will have to abandon the land that they rely on for their own food and livelihood; they make pennies from the sale of maize, sugar cane, and cassava, a staple crop across Africa. “We don’t know when we will go, or where,” he said. The municipality promised Donge a new home, one large enough to accommodate his family, with soil rich enough to farm, but he hasn’t heard anything since the officials came to his door. “Until now, we are just waiting.”

Since 2008, more than 7,100 residents in surrounding villages have been given similar offers as part of the Ugandan government’s grand scheme to build an 11-square-mile oil refinery in the Lake Albert basin, along the country’s disputed border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The government hopes that the project will transform the downtrodden and war-torn nation, which just barely cracks the top 20 African economies by GDP, into the continent’s fifth-largest oil producer. The Ugandan government, in partnership with London-based Tullow Oil, discovered commercial reserves eight years ago, but production has been slowed by technical challenges and, especially, bureaucratic hang-ups. In early February, after years of protracted talks, the Ministry of Energy finally announced that it had signed deals with China’s CNOOC, France’s Total, and Tullow to build the estimated $15 billion worth of infrastructure needed to develop the oil fields. If successful, the government estimates reserves of up to 3.5 billion barrels of crude oil — enough to finally make this nation of 36 million people self-reliant for its energy needs.

The Lake Albert refinery is an ambitious venture, particularly for a government plagued by corruption allegations and with a history of empty promises. (Last year, the government’s auditor reported $100 million missing from the national budget.) But, perhaps, this time is different. The refinery is a pet project of President Yoweri Museveni, who has ruled the country for 28 years; he has repeatedly gone on record calling the reserves “my oil.” Uprooting Ugandan farmers to make way for a refinery might seem like a surprising move for Museveni, who spends so much time out of the capital of Kampala, at his own cattle ranch in southern Uganda, that he earned the nickname the Gentleman Farmer (it’s one of many). But the refinery plan is, ultimately, the perfect way to shore up a presidency for life. (click here to read more)

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Posted in Africa, Arab Spring, Central African Republic, Constitution, corruption, Coup, Debt, Democratic Republic of Congo, Development, dictatorship, Domestic Abuse, Economy, Education, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Human Rights, Invisible Children, Kampala, Kenya, Kony, Labor, Lake Albert, Lake Victoria, Media, military, Museveni, North Africa, Oil, Politics, Poverty, Protests, Refugees, Somalia, South Sudan, Stop Kony, Sudan, Terrorism, Uganda | Leave a Comment »

Ban on Male Sales Clerks in Saudi Lingerie Shops is Small Step for Womenkind

Posted by vmsalama on January 4, 2012

While this ban on male sales clerks in lingerie shops has been looming for quite some time, it is really a fascinating sign of the increasing empowerment of women in the kingdom, in this case, as they push for more jobs and more rights. (Although perhaps a male sales clerk would have better perspective on what to buy!) Booz and Co. estimates that female unemployment in Saudi Arabia stands at more than 26 percent – four times higher than the rate of male unemployment. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has tried since the start of the Arab Spring to introduce new reforms, both economic and social, to the kingdom to appease citizens….Last September, he said that women would be granted the right to run for elections and vote for members of the consultative shura council (although they were not allowed to vote in the 2011 election, which came days after this edict). While folks in the West may regard these changes as smallscale, it is a big leap for the kingdom. (After all, the joke goes, who will drive women to the polling stations since women in the kingdom are forbidden to drive?)

Until recently only men were allowed to work in Saudi lingerie shops

Women only to work in Saudi Arabia lingerie shops

By Emily Buchanan

BBC world affairs correspondent

A law allowing only women to work in lingerie shops in Saudi Arabia is coming into force.

Campaigners hope this will end decades of awkwardness in the Islamic kingdom where women have always been served by male shop assistants. The heated issue of the total lack of female shop workers in Saudi Arabia has simmered for years. Many Saudi women say they have felt particularly uncomfortable buying their lingerie from men.

Female campaigners recently increased the pressure for change through a Facebook campaign and a boycott of lingerie stores. Now King Abdullah’s royal decree finally comes into effect, banning male staff from selling female underwear.

“It’s about time, it’s been a long struggle and the authorities have finally come to their senses,” says Radio Jeddah journalist Samar Fatany. (click here to read more…)

 

Posted in Arab Spring, Economy, Elections, Employment, Human Rights, Labor, Lingerie, Middle East, Saudi Arabia | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

‘Inhuman’ Conditions for Workers Overshadow Qatar World Cup, Unions Say

Posted by vmsalama on May 31, 2011

By Vivian Salama

Bloomberg (click here for original link)

The International Trade Union Confederation and Building Workers International urged FIFA and the Qatari government to prove that migrant workers won’t be subject to “inhuman” conditions as the Persian Gulf nation begins to build stadiums in anticipation of the 2022World Cup.

In a report released before the June 1-17 International Labor Conference in Geneva, the groups highlight the working and living conditions of migrant labor being used to build nine stadiums in 10 years as Qatar seeks to be the first Arab country to host the World Cup. The statement calls upon FIFA President Sepp Blatter and Qatar’s FIFA delegate Mohamed bin Hammam to rectify “unsafe and unregulated working conditions.”

“A huge migrant labor force, with very little rights, no access to any unions, very unsafe practices and inhuman living conditions will be literally putting their lives on the line to deliver the 2022 

World Cup,” Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the ITUC, said in a statement today.

Qatar beat the U.S., AustraliaSouth Korea and Japan to win the 2022 World Cup at a ceremony hosted in Zurich in December. The country will invest $88 billion in infrastructure for the games, Enrico Grino, Qatar National Bank’s assistant general manager and head of project finance, said on May 16.

As part of its bid, Qatar pledged to build nine stadiums and refurbish three others. Each will use solar-powered cooling technology in a country where summer temperatures rise as high as 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit).

“Their ability to deliver the World Cup is totally dependent on severe exploitation of migrant labor, which we believe to be barely above forced labor conditions,” Ambet Yuson, general secretary of Building Workers International, said in the statement.

Most migrant workers in Qatar come from India, Pakistan and Nepal, according to the report. The two unions said they will write to FIFA President Sepp Blatter and Qatar’s FIFA delegate, Mohamed bin Hammam, asking the organization to explain how it will protect workers building the stadiums.

The ITUC is the world’s largest trade union, representing 175 million workers.

To contact the reporter on this story: Vivian Salama at vsalama@bloomberg.net

Posted in Economy, Human Rights, Labor, Qatar, World Cup | Leave a Comment »

Gulf Rulers Welcoming Arab Democracy Anywhere But Home May Store Up Unrest

Posted by vmsalama on April 14, 2011

By Alaa Shahine and Vivian Salama

Bloomberg (click here to view original)

Persian Gulf rulers say they understand that this year’s wave of pro-democracy uprisings has changed the Middle East. So far, they haven’t allowed it to change their own countries.

(l to r) Bin Ali, Saleh, Qaddafi, Mubarak

None of the region’s monarchies has taken steps to broaden political participation that match the spending pledges they have offered since the start of the unrest that toppled Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali andEgypt’s Hosni Mubarak. Instead, the rhetoric about a new era in the Arab world, and the cash handouts for homes and social security, have been accompanied by police repression.Protests have already reached Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait and the eastern province of Saudi Arabia this year. The reluctance of the Gulf Arab leaders, who control about two-fifths of the world’s oil, to loosen their grip on power may leave more of them vulnerable to the wave of unrest that has already pushed crude prices up more than 20 percent.“What we have learned from the uprisings in general, and from Tunisia and Egypt in particular, is that it’s really a matter of when,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research at Brookings Institution’s Doha Center, in a telephone interview. “Autocracies don’t last forever.”Oman’s Foreign Minister Yusuf Bin Alawi Bin Abdullah told Arab counterparts in Cairo last month that regional leaders need “new thinking” to deal with the “Arab renaissance.” In Abu Dhabi, then-GCC Secretary-General Abdul Rahman Al-Attiyah said that “political participation has become a key demand for development.”

‘Hydrocarbon Dictatorships’

Qatar’s ruler, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, said in February that change was coming to the region and that Europe shouldn’t support “hydrocarbon dictatorships” in return for economic benefits, according to Al Sharq newspaper. He didn’t say which countries fall into that category.Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the other three Gulf Cooperation Council members are listed as authoritarian regimes in the 2010 Democracy Index of the Economist Intelligence Unit.The region’s leaders must convert ideas about change into concrete steps that will “improve the relationship between the state and the people,” said Prince Turki Al-Faisal, former Saudi ambassador to the U.S. “We have to change words into actions, actions that are arduous,” he said in a lecture in Abu Dhabi March 21.Some countries have begun to act. Sultan Qaboos of Oman agreed last month to boost the powers of the nation’s consultative council; the United Arab Emirates announced Sept. 24 elections to the Federal National Council, an advisory body; Saudi Arabia said it will hold municipal elections in September, while backtracking from earlier signals that women would be allowed to vote.

Saudi ‘Counter-Revolution’

Those measures, though, don’t involve real transfers of power, Hamid said. Repression has been a more typical response, with Saudi Arabia as “the leader of the Arab counter- revolution,” he said. “They are fighting change tooth and nail.”Saudi Arabia’s Information Ministry declined to comment and no one was available to comment at the Saudi Foreign Ministry or the U.A.E.’s federal government or Federal National Council, in response to repeated phone calls over two days.The prospect of unrest spreading to the world’s biggest oil exporter drove the benchmark Saudi stock index into a 13-day losing streak through March 5, the longest since 1996. Crude for May delivery rose above $112 a barrel last week, the highest since September 2008.

‘Not Very Worried’

The political upheaval in the Middle East has left markets “pricing in an element of uncertainty,” said Arthur Hanna, an industry managing director at Accenture Plc.Saudi oil wealth will help it escape the wave of unrest even though unemployment is high and civil rights limited, said Kai Stukenbrock of Standard & Poor’s. “We are not very worried about that scenario,” Stukenbrock, S&P’s director of sovereign ratings for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said March 7.Simon Henry, chief financial officer at Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA), also backed the kingdom to navigate through the political tensions. “It has the resources, it has the established capability to handle some of the unrest it may face,” Henry said on March 8.One risk to Saudi stability is the succession to King Abdullah, who turns 87 this year, Henry said. Crown Prince Sultan is also in his 80s. Next in line is Prince Nayef, the septuagenarian interior minister who filled central Riyadh with police to block a planned demonstration March 11, after rallies by Shiite Muslims in the oil-producing eastern provinces.

Bahrain Crackdown

Saudi rulers offered asylum to Ben Ali, backed Mubarak before his ouster, and sent troops to Bahrain to support a crackdown by Sunni royals that has left more than 20 protesters dead, mostly from the country’s Shiite majority.The violence in Bahrain showed unrest can be expensive even when it doesn’t lead to regime change. It pushed borrowing costs more than 150 basis points higher and Bahrain’s credit rating at Standard & Poor’s three steps lower, and dented efforts to compete with Dubai as the region’s business hub.Qatar and the U.A.E. both sent troops to Bahrain to help the government quell protests. InLibya, they are on the opposition’s side, backing a U.S.-led military campaign to help the rebels fighting Muammar Qaddafi. Qatar will “look at” the possibility of providing defense equipment to the insurgents, Prime Minister Hamad bin Jasim Al-Thani said yesterday.

‘Digging In Heels’

Dubai police on April 8 arrested Ahmed Mansour, a human rights campaigner, promptingHuman Rights Watch to criticize the U.A.E. for “digging in its heels” against democratic reforms. Two more activists, including an economics professor at the Abu Dhabi branch of France’s Sorbonne university, were arrested in the next two days. In Oman, two people have been killed as police broke up protest rallies.Saudi Arabia has also led the spending spree. King Abdullah ordered $128 billion of measures, including $90 billion on house-building and home loans, that will help the economy grow 6.6 percent this year, Standard Chartered Plc estimates.“The enormity of the stimulus package will help the region overall,” as it’s too much for the Saudi economy to absorb alone, and reduce the risk of civil unrest, Said Hirsh at London-based Capital Economics said in a March 21 report.GCC spending is another reason to expect high oil prices, according to John Sfakianakis, chief economist at Bank Saudi Fransi. Saudi Arabia needs a price of at least $80 per barrel, higher than previous breakeven figures, to finance its budget, he calculated.

‘Money Lying Around’

The GCC has promised $10 billion apiece to Bahrain and Oman to help assuage protesters. The U.A.E. allocated $1.6 billion for water and infrastructure projects in northern emirates that lag behind Dubai and Abu Dhabi.Spending conceived as a way of avoiding political change may end up fuelling popular demands, said Christopher Davidson, author of “Power and Politics in the Persian Gulf Monarchies.”

“You have the people in Saudi Arabia, for example, now asking: ‘If all that money was lying around all this time, why wasn’t it used on us earlier?’,” Davidson said. “These rulers are just reacting to the events around them, and their citizens know it.”

Posted in Abu Dhabi, Arab, Arab League, Arab Spring, dictatorship, Dubai, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Hosni Mubarak, Human Rights, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Labor, Lebanon, Libya, Middle East, military, Mubarak, Oil, Palestinians, Politics, Qaddafi, Qatar, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Shi'ite, State of Emergency, Syria, Terrorism, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, United States, Yemen | Leave a Comment »

Egyptians Return to Cairo’s Tahrir Square to Underline Protests

Posted by vmsalama on February 18, 2011

By Vivian Salama and Maram Mazen

Bloomberg (Click here for original story)

CAIRO — Tens of thousands of Egyptians gathered in central Cairo today to reassert demands for change, one week after street protests led to the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, fueling similar demonstrations throughout the Middle East.

Salesmen offered souvenir t-shirts commemorating the protests that started on Jan. 25 to the crowds who packed into Tahrir square. Some carried photographs of people killed during the unrest and others followed regular Friday religious ceremonies with prayers for the dead.

Photo by Vivian Salama

Photo by Vivian Salama

The Health Ministry said yesterday that 365 people were killed during the demonstrations. The Egyptian army on Feb. 13 dissolved parliament and suspended the constitution, meeting demands made by the opposition movement that forced Mubarak from office two days earlier, and said it will rule Egypt until elections are held.

“I’m sure our demands will be met, but it’s better that we all come together again to show them that we’re serious,” said Mahmoud el Hady, a 23-year-old commerce student at Benha University, north of Cairo, who was wrapped in a red, white and black Egyptian flag. “Some people need to go from the old regime. We need to dismantle the national security forces.”

Demonstrations continued today in Bahrain, where people called for democracy and the fall of the government during a funeral procession for two men killed by security forces.

The dissent in Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, follows the toppling of autocratic rulers by popular movements in Egypt and Tunisia and marks the spread of dissent into thePersian Gulf, where most of the Middle East’s oil is produced.

Libya, Yemen

The past week has also seen anti-government protests and clashes in Libya, Africa’s biggest holder of crude oil reserves, and Yemen, a producer of liquefied natural gas. Brent crude futures this week rose to the highest level since 2008.

The Egyptian Exchange has been closed since Jan. 27 after the biggest stock selloff in more than two years.

“We want the army to rule temporarily and then never to rule us again,” said Ali Bassam, 45, a physical education teacher. “We want anyone chosen by Hosni Mubarak to leave his position. This country has been a big prison for 30 years.”

Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, Economy, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Inflation, Insurgency, Islam, Labor, military, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Politics, Religion, Tunisia | 1 Comment »

Cairo Protesters Converge in Message Aimed at Defiant Mubarak

Posted by vmsalama on February 9, 2011

By Mariam Fam, Vivian Salama and Ahmed A Namatalla

Bloomberg (Click here for original story)

CAIRO — Egyptians converged on the presidential palace and Tahrir Square in Cairo vowing to topple President Hosni Mubarak after he yesterday defied calls for his resignation for the second time this month.

Military helicopters flew over the palace before dusk, in the suburb of Heliopolis, after state television said the presidency would issue an urgent message “soon.” Earlier, the army beefed up its deployment downtown as tens of thousands of demonstrators poured out of Friday prayers and into the square downtown, swelling the ranks of those who camped there overnight. State television said Mubarak had left the capital.

Photo by Vivian Salama

Photo by Vivian Salama

With the army today reiterating its support for Mubarak, attention is shifting to how far it will go as the protests gather momentum. The violence has already claimed more than 300 lives, Human Rights Watch says, and has sparked concern that further unrest will grip a region that holds more than 50 percent of the world’s known oil reserves. The protests were inspired by the revolt that ousted Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on Jan. 14.

“The nightmare of a coup is very bad for everybody, for the young people, for the economy, and that’s the scenario we would like to avoid,” Finance Minister Samir Radwan said on BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program. “The military is highly disciplined, they have taken a decision not to fire at the young people, but of course this stalemate cannot continue forever.”

Emergency Law

A group of demonstrators gathered near the presidential palace and protests were also under way in the cities of Suez and Alexandria. Mubarak and his family left Cairo and arrived in the resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh, Al Arabiya television reported today.

The Supreme Military Council said today it will guarantee the implementation of the measures announced late yesterday in Mubarak’s televised speech, including constitutional changes and an eventual end to an emergency law that has marked his 30-year rule. In a sign the government may offer further concessions, the head of the ruling National Democratic Party, Hossam Badrawi, said today in an interview that an early presidential election may be possible.

Mubarak, 82, reiterated his intention to stay in office until the vote in September, while handing day-to-day powers to Vice President Omar Suleiman in a bid to placate opponents. Protesters erupted in a roar of disapproval as they listened to Mubarak’s evening address in Tahrir Square.

“In Cairo alone today it will be millions,” demonstrator Abdel Rahman Sabry, a 24-year-old engineering student, said in an interview. “Yesterday’s speech has really angered people. We tell him to go, he tells us: ‘I won’t go, you love me.’ Either he is crazy or we are crazy.”

Photo by Vivian Salama

Photo by Vivian Salama

‘Not Worthy’

As Muslims gathered in a mosque near Tahrir Square, the imam leading today’s prayers told them over a loudspeaker, “You are bringing down a corrupt regime that is not worthy of ruling you.”

The Supreme Military Council gathered yesterday before Mubarak’s speech to “safeguard the interests” of the nation, sparking speculation that a military takeover was in progress. The panel is now in permanent session, the first since the October 1973 war with Israel.

Global stocks fell for a third day, U.S. index futures declined, and the dollar and oil rose, after Mubarak spoke. The cost of insuring Egyptian government debt soared 42 basis points to 379, the biggest increase in two weeks, according to CMA prices. Egypt’s 10-year bond yield jumped 29 basis points. The global depositary receipts of Commercial International Bank Egypt SAE, Egypt’s largest publicly traded lender, fell the most this month, dropping 7.2 percent to $5.65.

“We were all hoping that the statement by the president yesterday should calm things down, but obviously it hasn’t,” Radwan told the BBC. “That makes for a very difficult situation where things continue to deteriorate.”

Posted in American, Arab, Arab Spring, Constitution, dictatorship, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Hosni Mubarak, Inflation, Labor, Middle East, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Politics, Religion, Social Media, Terrorism | Leave a Comment »

Mubarak Divides Egypt Opposition to Retain Hold on Power as Protests Fade

Posted by vmsalama on February 7, 2011

By Vivian Salama and Glen Carey

Bloomberg (click here for original story)

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who may have won concessions yesterday allowing him to serve the rest of his mandate, did so with the same tactics that kept him in office since 1981: Divide and conquer the opposition.

“The regime is really good at what it does,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center. “It’s very good at dividing the opposition. That’s its skill and we’ve been seeing it for 30 years.”

Vice President Omar Suleiman and opposition groups agreed to conclude studying constitutional amendments by the first week of March and form a committee to oversee progress, according to a statement distributed in Cairo yesterday.

The opposition, which ranges from the Muslim Brotherhood, to the socialist Tagammu party, may struggle to gain a foothold in Egypt’s political system as years of government marginalization and internal divisions weakened them. The Wafd party, billionaire Naguib Sawiris and some representatives of the country’s youth also attended the meeting.

Concern that turmoil in Egypt would spread sent the Dubai Financial Market General Index down 4.3 percent on Jan. 30. Since then, the measure has recovered and was little changed today at 1,605.72 at 12:48 p.m. The cost of insuring Egypt’s debt for five years with credit-default swaps closed at 380 basis points on Feb. 4 after hitting 430 on Jan. 28, the highest since April 2009, CMA prices in London show.

‘Gaining Momentum’

Mubarak appointed Suleiman on Jan. 29, his first vice president since he came to power. Mubarak’s declaration Feb. 1 that he will step down later this year failed to appease protesters who want him to quit immediately, and prompted a call from President Barack Obama for the transition to “begin now.” Mubarak said he’ll stay on to ensure “stability.”

The protests, which grew from Jan. 25 to Feb. 1, were shaken on Feb. 2 after the army didn’t move to prevent Mubarak supporters from battling demonstrators, some of them charging into Tahrir Square on horseback. The two sides spent the next two days hurling rocks, bottles and concrete chunks at each other. About 300 people have died in the clashes, according to the United Nations.

Police last year detained hundreds of supporters campaigning for the Muslim Brotherhood in the run-up to a parliamentary election, in what the movement said was part of an effort to drive it out of politics. The Brotherhood said Nov. 22 that police had detained more than 1,200 of its supporters.

“Suleiman is gaining political momentum and enjoys a clear advantage in terms of his ability to negotiate favorable terms,” Hani Sabra, a Middle East analyst at Eurasia Group in New York, said in a note to clients. He’s “already been successful in splitting off the soft Mubarak opponents.”

Armchair Interview

Sabra said Suleiman’s Feb. 3 interview with Egyptian state television, in which he sat in an armchair and said he had heard the protesters demands, may have led some to believe the government is serious about making changes.

“The protesters are amorphous,” Sabra said. “Suleiman is pursuing a divide-and-conquer strategy.”

In the same Feb. 3 address, Suleiman split the opposition by saying that talks would be held with willing parties and not the Muslim Brotherhood because of its reluctance to negotiate. The group later changed its stance and attended the talks.

Fragmented Opposition

Photo by Vivian Salama

Photo by Vivian Salama

Diluting the opposition’s influence are the many voices with which it speaks. On some occasions, the same party has held different views. Yesterday, for example, Mohamed Saad El- Katatni, a member of Muslim Brotherhood’s top executive body, said keeping Mubarak in power while changes are made is a “safer option” to win implementation.

Three hours later, Mohammed Morsey, another spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, said they still wanted Mubarak gone. “We’re in the field, and we’re in the dialogue, there’s no contradiction,” he said.

Youth organizations, including a group called the April 6, initiated the original Jan. 25 demonstration that started the uprising. The speed with which the rally grew in size blurred party lines so that no single group speaks for the all.

“The opposition is fragmented,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, a professor of politics at the United Arab Emirates University in Al Ain. “The opposition is not the one who speaks for the Y2K generation.”

The agreement forged yesterday may not represent some of those who packed into Tahrir Square for a 13th day of protests.

No Alternative

“We all insist that there is no alternative to Mubarak stepping down,” said Ahmed Maher, who led a group of youth gathering in the square. “Those meeting with the regime do not represent us and they cannot move the people.”

In the last presidential election in 2005, Mubarak won 88 percent of the votes. Ayman Nour, who ran a distant second, was jailed in December 2005 for four years on fraud charges.

Mohamed ElBaradei, 68, the Nobel Prize winner who formerly ran the UN’s nuclear watchdog agency, has emerged as a surprise face of the opposition. Still, having spent most of his adult life outside of the country, he has none of the organizational structure that other groups have.

“The opposition’s weakness was greatly caused by their inability to be united,” said Samer S. Shehata, assistant professor of Arab politics at Georgetown University in Washington. “The only thing that united them is that Mubarak must leave. Once they abandon that they risk basic goals that they want to realize.”

 

Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, dictatorship, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Hosni Mubarak, Human Rights, Labor, Middle East, military, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Politics, Religion | Leave a Comment »

Sharjah: register or leave

Posted by vmsalama on May 8, 2008

 

by Vivian Salama and Robert Ditcham

The National

Thousands of construction workers being housed in Sharjah may be relocated under a proposal requiring them to be employed by a company registered in the emirate, following several incidents of labour-related strife. 

In a proposed amendment to the labour law, companies that are not licensed to operate in Sharjah will be prevented from using the emirate to cheaply house workers they employ for jobs elsewhere in the country.

The affected companies will be forced to either obtain a trade licence through the Sharjah Municipality enabling their resident workers to stay, or find new accommodation for them in the UAE’s six other emirates.

By way of comparison, the fees for companies obtaining a licence from Hamriyah Free Zone in Sharjah range from Dh12,000 (US$3,260) for a general trading licence to Dh2,750 for an industrial, commercial or service licence.

Two senior members of the Sharjah Government confirmed that the law was in the final stages of approval and just weeks away from coming into effect. 

They said they were pursuing the amendment to the current legislation to improve law and order following a series of protests and violent skirmishes over the rising cost of living. 

“Most of the companies are in Dubai, but the workers live in Sharjah,” said Sheikh Sultan bin Ahmed, chairman of the Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority. “The companies will be forced to either register their workers in Sharjah or find new accommodation in Dubai or the other emirates.

“If anything happens, it is usually Sharjah to blame,” said Sheikh Sultan, who added that the number of workers living in the emirate greatly outweighed the number of police officers available to contain labour protests. 

However, the move would be unpopular with workers who commuted from Sharjah to escape Dubai’s high rental rates, said Burhan Turkmani, the general manager of the Dubai-based Al Rabiah Trading company, a food importer.

“Sixty per cent of my employees live in Sharjah,” he said. “It’s far too expensive for certain employees to live in Dubai.

“These people, they live there, they spend much of their income in Sharjah, their children go to school in Sharjah, and they only go to Dubai to work. It may be a bit harsh. Food prices and the cost of living are going up, so people are suffering as it is.”

With a more affordable cost of living than Dubai and lower operating costs for worker compounds, Sharjah has attracted thousands of construction labourers. Many are employed in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, where construction is expanding rapidly.

In recent months, Sharjah has been rocked by violent protests. 

In April, more than 600 Asian labourers were arrested after a protest in the Al Nahda district. Workers from the Tiger contracting company attacked police with stones and bricks from an upper storey of a building under construction, the emirates news agency WAM reported.

Weeks earlier, about 1,500 rioting workers set alight management offices in a labour camp, clashing with police and officials.

Shehab el Orabi, the senior development manager at the Waterfront real estate project in Dubai, said he understood Sharjah’s motive for amending its labour law.

“I fully agree with them. Why would I have to take care of problems arising from labour camps there if they [workers] were not even working in Sharjah or contributing to the local economy?”

Mr Orabi said implementation of the law would likely encourage companies to build more modern accommodation facilities in proximity to the places that the men worked, thereby cutting the travel time to work and reducing the number of vehicles on the road.

About 250,000 vehicles travelled through Sharjah every day to locations outside the emirate, 50,000 of which were trucks, Sharjah officials have reported. 

Mr Orabi said construction companies required to remove their workers from Sharjah would seek to build new sites or lease accommodation at existing facilities. This would create a strong demand for sites such as Nakheel’s Omran worker housing project in Dubai, which had the capacity to house 60,000 workers, he said.

vsalama@thenational.ae

rditcham@thenational.ae

Posted in Inflation, Labor, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates | Leave a Comment »