Archive for the ‘Recession’ Category
Posted by vmsalama on December 15, 2011
Thanks to TIME Magazine for recognizing the revolutionaries all over the world… I’ve been meaning to write this for quite some time but only finding the chance to do it now.
A year ago when Mohammed Bouazizi, a fruit vendor in Tunisia, burned himself out of frustration from a political system that neglected him, I was en route to Beirut ahead of the Christmas holiday and writing, mainly, about the credit crunch in the Arab Gulf states and mounting concerns that the banking system would not soon recover from the blow. Days after I returned from Beirut, my host, Rania Abouzeid, came to stay with me in Dubai in a desperate attempt to fly to Tunisia, where flights were almost entirely grounded amid an uprising across the country. It was hard to imagine then that the desperate act of this young man not only set in motion a revolution in his country, but around across the region.
On January 14, 2011, following a month of violent protests against his rule, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali – Tunisia’s president since 1987 — was forced to flee to Saudi Arabia along with his wife and their three children. A week later, Rania and I were on a flight to Cairo where calls for a revolution had begun to circulate on social media websites. They were days I will never forget, and with TIME Magazine’s 2011 Person of the Year issue being dedicated this year to The Protester, I want to share with you all a few memories and photos of the protesters I met in Cairo this year. (Click here to read some of my stories on the Arab Spring)
On January 27, two days after the protests officially begun, Internet and mobile phone service was completely cut off in Egypt and we were left guessing where crowds were gathering. After trying a few spots around town, Rania and I decided to go toward the Mohendiseen neighborhood near the Moustafa Mahmoud mosque. It was a good guess! About 500 protesters had gathered after Friday prayers where they came face to face with riot police chanting slogans like “The people want the end of the regime” and “Hosni Mubarak: illegitimate.”
Sure enough, we were quickly confronted by tanks and soldiers firing tear gas at the crowd. I’ve never seen so much camaraderie in my life. Soldiers at a nearby military hospital threw medical masks at the protesters and pharmacists handed them out to the crowds. At one point I felt quite ill from the tear gas. A man approached from behind me and pressed a vinegar-covered mask against my mouth and nose. A nearby vendor (who probably struggles to feed his own family with the pennies he earns) emptied his refrigerator, handing out water bottles and cans of soda to the fatigued protesters.
Every where I looked, people were helping each other, helping strangers tie their masks, sharing water bottles, aiding those who were most affected by the gas.
There was one point, marching with the crowd from Mohendiseen, when we approached a major intersection and I heard roaring cheers. I jumped up on a car to see what had happened and was personally overcome by emotion. From three different directions, massive groups of protesters were approaching the intersection – the other groups coming from as far as Giza and the Nasr City. They did this without Internet or mobile phones.
Groups of young men pushed to the front of the crowd and began to battle riot police, taking over their vehicles and chasing them away. Our group, now numbered in the hundreds of thousands, pushed slowly across the historic Qasr El Nil bridge in an attempt to move into Tahrir. There were moments when I worried that an attack by the military would trigger a stampede – we were stuffed tightly onto the bridge. But every time protesters began to push back, the young men in the crowd would grab the women in the crowd and push them against the bridge railing so to protect them from being knocked down.
It was a long night with protesters burning the ruling National Democratic Party headquarters and battling with soldiers in Tahrir. Riot police trucks were set on fire (and the Semiramis Hotel, where many journalists took refuge) was partially on fire for part of the evening. I was trapped in Tahrir for the night and forced to take a last minute room at the Semiramis. I woke up early the next morning to a different Cairo, where charred military tanks stood in the middle of Tahrir Square and smoke billowed from the NDP headquarters and, sadly, from the adjacent National Museum. It would take another two weeks (only!) to overthrow Hosni Mubarak but that first Friday was by far the most memorable. There is an Arabic expression that often refers to the Egyptian people as being “light blooded” (light hearted/good senses of humor). They definitely showed their spirit throughout the frustrating 19 days (and 30 years) it took to shake up their political system.
I visited Bahrain in the weeks that followed and I spent a lot of time covering the uprisings in Yemen and, less so, the ongoing crisis in Syria. After years of battling misguided stereotypes of terrorism and violence, these protesters have showed the world that they desire freedom and a decent standard of living and they have the right to demand it just as those in Europe and the US demand of their governments.
The Tunisians, Egyptians and all the other citizens around the world fighting for democracy have a very long and bumpy road ahead. The TIME Magazine Person of the Year issue questions whether there is a global tipping point for frustration. I believe what happened this year is, in large part, because of overpopulation and because of the global economic slowdown touched societies rich and poor – but toppled those that were already on the brink before markets crash. The world is smaller than ever thanks to the Internet and various technologies that allow us to share experiences with people on opposite corners of the world. As we continue to get closer, and the world, smaller, it will become impossible to distance ourselves from even the most seemingly remote events.
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Posted by vmsalama on December 2, 2011
As some of you may know I just moved back to New York last week after living in the Middle East for much of the last 10 years, most recently in the United Arab Emirates, which is today celebrating its 40th anniversary. There is no doubt that the UAE has accomplished pretty spectacular things in 40 years, fueled greatly by the abundant oil wealth of Abu Dhabi, which holds more than 90 percent of the crude in the country, and about 7 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves, according to BP data.
The country is home to the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, one of the world’s biggest malls, the world’s largest dancing fountains (I must confess, the fountain is rather amazing), the only manmade island visible from space and one of two gold vending machines in the world!
It is, undeniably, a remarkable accomplishment given that just 40 years ago the emirates, prior to unification and the discovery of oil, earned much of their income from pearl diving and exporting dates.
The pride of its citizens is something to be admired, and for weeks (even before I departed for the US), skycrapers were covered from top to bottom in lights of white, green, red and black, the colors of the UAE flag. Emiratis, the citizens of the UAE, wore scarves and jewelry with the colors of the flag, and cars were covered, literally, in photos of leaders past and present.
But a challenging road lies ahead for the UAE, particularly after this year’s events in the Middle East, where longtime dictators were forced out by popular uprisings. There is one clear advantage the UAE has over countries like Egypt, Syria, Libya and Yemen: it’s citizens are not poor. There are parts of the country that are in great need for updated infrastructure – roads, power lines, etc – but citizens are, at worst, comfortable thanks to lifetime handouts by the government. (Click here for my story Abu Dhabi’s Spending on Soccer and Skyscrapers Masks Slower Times at Home)
But citizens of the UAE are hungry for one thing: opportunities. Currently, foreigners make up about 85 percent of the country’s population – the majority hailing from countries on the Indian subcontinent. British/Western European, Canadian, Australian and South African expats hold many of the high paying white-collar positions, in SOME cases because they are better trained to do so, leaving few high profile jobs for the locals.
Emiratization, a policy now enforced by the government in many workplaces, seeks to boost Emirati employment whether by providing training and education for Emiratis, or setting quotas in certain sectors for Emirati employment. Ultimately the government is trying to prevent their own talented citizens from being lured to the West. But many critics believe that the UAE cannot afford to lose its foreign workers as they may have been the driving force for the country’s speedy success in the first place. In the meantime there is growing resentment among foreigners who, despite making up the majority of the population, have few rights. There is no legal protection on property rights, and police, in practice, do not need a reason to stop, question or even detain people.
Another challenge is maintaining the “vision” set by the country’s founders some 40 years ago. Seldom was there a day in the UAE that I did not hear someone refer to the “vision.” Abu Dhabi and Dubai have set urban planning roadmaps for diversifying their economies away from oil and expanding certain sectors (services, real estate, alternative energy, etc). However, the global economic crisis dealt a massive blow to the once seemingly invincible UAE and its seemingly invincible real estate market. Slowly we’ve seen the country scale back, but its officials still maintain that the overall “vision” is intact and on track. We shall see.
Finally, a problem facing many of the Gulf sheikhdoms: succession. The country’s founder Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan has been dead for 7 years now but his legacy undeniably lives on. The question is whether his sons, the current President Sheikh Khalifa and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed, can continue the vision he laid out for the country 40 years ago. Many experts I’ve spoken with believe that the vision of the two brothers has grown less cohesive, and the two have developed mini “kingdoms” – investing money in projects that are too different, both from each other and from that envisioned by their father.
The government is so private in nature (painfully so) that it’s always hard to know exactly what is going on behind the scenes. But given Dubai’s economic disaster and, more recently, Abu Dhabi’s problems, it raises a lot of questions as to who is calling the shots. The country enjoys making a splash, and it’s served them well, but if it genuinely wants to keep out of the spotlight during tougher times, it may want to adopt a more humbled approach over the next 40 years. (ie, no more $20 million hotel debut parties, ok?)
Good luck UAE. I am excited and eager to see what you have up your sleeve for the next 40 years!!
Posted in Abu Dhabi, Aldar, Arab, Arab Spring, dictatorship, Dubai, Economy, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Libya, Media, Middle East, Mubarak, Politics, Recession, Succession, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen | 1 Comment »
Posted by vmsalama on October 22, 2011
A short one from the World Economic Forum at the Dead Sea, Jordan (Click here for original link):
By Vivian Salama
Oct 22, 201
Bloomberg — Qatar is concerned about the effects of European legislation on sovereign wealth funds and is willing to cooperate with Europe on its economic crisis, Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani said.
“We have some agreements, but not with everyone, not as we want,” Sheikh Hamad, who is also the country’s foreign minister, told reporters today at the World Economic Forum in Jordan. “Discussions are under way with some European countries to resolve certain regulatory hurdles, such as taxation. We are worried that there will be new regulations that can make obstacles for our sovereign wealth fund.”
Qatar has already agreed several investments in Greece, including a 1 billion-euro ($1.3 billion) commitment to invest in Greek mining companies. The Persian Gulf emirate will also acquire a 10 percent stake from Ellaktor SA and will have an option to buy another 5 percent from the Greek construction company, Ahmad al-Sayed, the chief executive officer of Qatar Holdings, said on Oct. 1.
Qatar may buy a 7.5 percent stake in European Aeronautic, Defence & Space Co. from Daimler AG with the voting rights remaining at Daimler, Handelsblatt reported Sept. 28, without saying how it got the information.
Sheikh Hamad said he is ‘‘worried’’ that European politicians have done ‘‘too little too late’’ to solve the ongoing economic crisis.
Posted by vmsalama on September 11, 2011
By Vivian Salama – Sep 21, 2011
“Everyone got really excited about the plans to build up Abu Dhabi, then out of nowhere everything came to a stop,” said Kaddourah, 31, who runs a local private hospital and invests in property to rent. “If this can happen here, I don’t want to imagine what’s happening in the rest of the world.”
Abu Dhabi internationally is the oil-rich emirate spending billions of petrodollars on English soccer team Manchester City, the iconic Chrysler Building in New York and London’s Gatwick Airport. Yet that image is masking pressure at home as the government supports its six neighboring emirates while financing a $500 billion development plan.
In a year that saw uprisings in almost a dozen Arab countries, citizens in the U.A.E. will head to the polls for only the second time in the country’s 40-year history on Sept. 24 to choose members of a council that will advise the sheikhs in control. In the background are deteriorating infrastructure and rising unemployment in the northern emirates and an end to the breakneck investment in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
“We’re starting to see chinks in the armor,” Christopher Davidson, author of “Power and Politics in the Persian Gulf Monarchies.” “The bottom line is they can’t keep distributing the wealth to an ever-growing, ever-developing population.” (click here to read more…)
Posted by vmsalama on February 15, 2011
By Vivian Salama and Mariam Fam
Click here for original story
Feb. 15 (Bloomberg) — Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit called on the international community to offer support for the economy, saying it “has been greatly affected by the political crisis that has rocked the country.”
The protests that culminated in the Feb. 11 ouster of the former president, Hosni Mubarak, have led businesses to shut down, scared off tourists and pushed up Egypt’s borrowing costs. The Mubarak-appointed government, now running the country under military oversight pending elections, is forecasting slower growth. It has promised a stimulus plan to address the economic complaints of the demonstrators, such as high unemployment.
Egypt’s finance minister, Samir Radwan, said yesterday the country’s budget deficit will widen to about 8.4 percent — less than some analysts forecast — as spending increases and economic growth slows after Mubarak’s fall. The Institute of International Finance in Washington predicts the budget gap will be 9.5 percent of gross domestic product, rather than the 7.9 percent previously forecast by the government.
The turmoil has cost the nation about $1.5 billion of tourism revenue, according to Central Bank Governor Farouk El- Okdah. It has also forced companies to close and sent the currency skidding to a six-year low. Before Mubarak’s resignation, the benchmark EGX30 Index tumbled 16 percent in one week. The bourse has been closed since Jan. 27.
Aboul Gheit said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Abdulaziz bin Faisal al-Saud were among the officials who have called him to discuss support and developments in the country, according to a statement posted on the ministry’s website late yesterday. (click here to read more…)
Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, Arabic, dictatorship, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Inflation, Middle East, Mubarak, Persian Gulf, Politics, Qatar, Recession, Saudi Arabia, State of Emergency, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United Nations, United States | Leave a Comment »
Posted by vmsalama on February 2, 2011
By Vivian Salama, Dahlia Kholaif and Caroline Alexander
Bloomberg (Click here for original story)
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood didn’t immediately join the spontaneous street demonstrations against President Hosni Mubarak. Now the Islamist group, the country’s largest opposition faction, is positioning itself to help shape the country’s political future.
The Brotherhood waited a few days after the uprising began and then publicly supported the protesters, saying it shared their goals: an end to Mubarak’s 30-year rule, a new constitution, open elections and a new all-party government. Mubarak’s Feb. 1 announcement that he won’t seek another presidential term may allow the Brotherhood, brimming with grassroots skills, to take advantage.
“They are the most organized and most popular, with a hierarchy in Egypt in terms of membership and leadership,” said Omar Ashour, an Egyptian lecturer on Arab politics at the University of Exeter in England. “In the post-Mubarak period, they may have a role,” even though “their involvement right now isn’t major.”
Founded in 1928, the same year Mubarak was born, the Muslim Brotherhood has influenced Islamist movements across the globe, including Hamas in the Palestinian territories, which the U.S., European Union and Israel consider a terrorist organization. As conditions change in the Arab world’s most populous country, the group may have to allay concerns about the role it will play. The Brotherhood is banned from politics in Egypt, and members have had to run for office as independents.
Essam al-Erian, a senior Brotherhood leader who was arrested several times under Mubarak, says the opposition is united. The Brotherhood is working with “liberals, secularists, communists and every section” to ensure “the transition from a tyrannical corrupt regime to a civil democracy that guarantees equal rights to all,” he said in a telephone interview from Cairo.
“The Muslim Brotherhood is part of Egypt’s people, and we acquiesce in the verdict of the people, whatever it may be,” al-Erian said, adding that the group seeks “a democratic regime with the Islamic Sharia as a reference,” which he said already is enshrined in Egypt’s constitution. Sharia is based principally on laws from the Koran, sayings by the Prophet Mohammed and the opinions of Muslim scholars, and it’s the basis of some areas of Egyptian law though not the penal code.
That stance may conflict with other vested interests. Egypt’s military leadership is committed to the foreign policy pursued by Mubarak, who has helped Israel blockade the Hamas- ruled Gaza Strip and sought to rally Arab support against Islamic extremism.
While President Barack Obama’s administration has reached out to a range of Egyptian contacts since the uprising began, it isn’t talking to the Brotherhood, State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said Jan. 31 when asked at a press briefing how America would view its involvement in a future government. Any group that wants to play a role must be “committed to nonviolence” and “respect a democratic process,” he said.
U.S. foreign-policy experts and former diplomats are evaluating America’s position as they gauge how the strife in Egypt might spread across the Arab world. Protests continued early this morning in Cairo, as demonstrators who demand Mubarak’s ouster clashed with supporters of the president’s regime, hurling rocks at each other in Tahrir Square.
Anti-government turmoil already has spilled over into neighboring Jordan, where King Abdullahon Feb. 1 sacked his prime minister. Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh said yesterday he’ll step down when his term ends in 2013, and protesters in Algeria have been killed in clashes with security forces.
‘Calamitous’ for Security
The Brotherhood “would be calamitous for U.S. security,” Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council of Foreign Relations in New York and a former U.S. assistant secretary of state, wrote Jan. 29 on the Daily Beast website. The group opposes the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty of 1979 and “would endanger counterterrorism efforts in the region and worldwide,” he said. “That is a very big deal.”
It “supports Hamas and other terrorist groups, makes friendly noises to Iranian dictators and torturers,” and would be “uncertain landlords of the critical Suez Canal,” he added.
The canal carries about 8 percent of global maritime trade. Crude-oil prices have risen more than 5 percent since the protests began Jan. 25 on concern that the turmoil in Egypt may disrupt supply.
The Brotherhood is “committed to all international agreements and treaties at this phase,” Mohamed al-Beltagy, a senior leader of the group, said in a phone interview. “Later, it should be left to the people to decide.”
The idea that the Brotherhood could hijack the anti-Mubarak rebellion has been dismissed byMohamed ElBaradei, the former United Nations atomic agency chief and one of the opposition movement’s leaders. Mubarak stoked such fears to perpetuate U.S. support, ElBaradei told ABC News on Jan. 31.
“This is what the regime sold to the U.S. and the West: It’s either us and repression, or al-Qaeda type extremist groups,” ElBaradei said of the Brotherhood, describing the group as religiously conservative and nonviolent. “You have to include them.”
International companies including Amsterdam-based brewer Heineken NV, which bought Egypt’s Al Ahram Beverages Co. for $287 million in 2002, have halted operations in the country or pulled expatriate staff since the protests began. As the turmoil continued yesterday, businesses were trying to forecast the future and the likelihood of a government with Islamist influence.
Such a government may pursue “economic policies which cater more to social welfare but are less friendly to foreign investment from the West and business in general,” London-based risk consultant Maplecroft said in report this week.
The Brotherhood’s history fuels the concern. While its radical wing was accused of trying to assassinate Gamal Abdel Nasser, a former president, in 1954, the group has been a persistent critic of the Mubarak regime for decades without pursuing violence.
It has survived widespread jailings of its leadership over the years to emerge as the main opposition in parliament after 2005, when it won about one-fifth of parliamentary seats by running candidates as independents. It lost ground last year when the government disqualified a quarter of its candidates from the November elections.
The Brotherhood has sought to avoid being identified as a religious movement and to broaden its appeal. Its former Supreme Guide, Mahdi Akef, instructed members in 2005 not to brandish the Koran at anti-government protests, saying that would undermine their politicking. Still the Brotherhood raised objections from other opposition groups, and dissent within its own ranks, when it proposed in 2007 that women and non-Muslims shouldn’t be eligible for the presidency.
It has fostered social and health programs for Egypt’s poor that, in turn, have helped its political prospects. The social- service model has been followed by other Islamist groups in the region with varying success.
“One could quite easily see the Muslim Brotherhood picking up 20 to 25 percent of the vote” in a free election, said Paul Rogers, a specialist in international security at Bradford University inEngland.
While the group is conservative, its brand of Islam isn’t “puritanical,” and “the idea that we are going to get an Islamic revolution in Egypt like in Iran is very unlikely, just nuts,” Rogers said.
Michele Dunne, who tracks the evolving political situation in Egypt for the Carnegie Endowmentin Washington, said differences between Hamas and the Brotherhood, and their political impulses, have to be explored.
“They founded Hamas. There is a relationship,” she said of the Brotherhood. “The big difference is Hamas has used violence and arms to pursue its goals. And the Brotherhood hasn’t used violence in 40 years.”
Dunne said the U.S. likely will have to reconcile itself with whatever transpires.
“At this point, it’s irrelevant what we think about the Brotherhood. Things are moving very fast in Egypt,” she said. “If the political leadership opens up, the Brotherhood will be there.”
RELATED STORIES WRITTEN BY ME:
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Plans to Establish Official Party — by Mariam Fam and Vivian Salama
Mubarak Orders Egyptian Army to Aid Police as Protests Against Rule Widen — by Vivian Salama, Ola Galal and Caroline Alexander
Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Hosni Mubarak, Human Rights, Inflation, Internet, Middle East, military, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Politics, Recession, State of Emergency, United States | Leave a Comment »