Category Archives: Analysis

By: Mehrunisa Qayyum

Female Iraqi Social Entrepreneurship Is Not New

“Women are the barometer of success,” emphasizes Manal Omar, who has undertaken several trips each to Iraq’s many provinces as the US Institute for Peace Director of Iraq, Iran and North Africa. Many non-profits raise awareness about women’s rights. In fact, female Iraqi social entrepreneurship on women’s empowerment is not a new trend. In 1993, Iraqi-American, Zainab Salbi, co-founded Women for Women International to counsel and rape victims and war widows. However, local Iraqis, like Susan Arif Maroof and Zainab Sadeq Jaafar inject their professional experience and passion into ensuring peace in Iraqi homes. Specifically, the Al-Mustaqbal Center for Women and Women Empowerment Organization (WEO), led by human rights activist Susan Arif Maroof, link the non-profit model to the community’s needs. The US Institute for Peace (USIP), the United Nations Development Programme, and the European Union recognize how the third sector merges the non-profit model with innovation. Iraq presents a case study of how Arab females apply their education and professional background to tackle violence on the ground in Iraq as well as provide support services to rebuild civil society, the family, and the confidence to move forward post-conflict.

On December 6th, USIP hosted Iraqi female social entrepreneurs to present on “Women Fighting for Peace in Iraq” and explore how tackling gender and post-conflict challenges better promotes women and households politically, economically, and thereby, socially. For over seven years, USIP has worked in Iraq and structures its engagement efforts by “supporting the growth of local Iraqi institutions”. Rather than designing programs and managing its entire life cycle, USIP employs a more networked approach that identifies local experts and specialists. Hence, about 18 of the 90 USIP Iraqi funded projects focus on peer learning and knowledge sharing among women and other Iraqi minorities.

Matching the Organizational Mission to the Right Grant
Triangulating between the organizational mission to the donor mission back to the target population presents a challenge and warrants strong messaging. For example, Jaafar explains that “Violence emanates from the man, so we have to have projects that make him aware of this circumstance,” as the documentary “Be Tender with Flasks” closes. Jafaar is an attorney and activist who procured donor funding to produce the documentary “Be Tender with Flasks”. Procuring funding for such projects, especially film, emerges as a challenge when many aspects of society require rebuilding, and thereby compete for funding. Thus, the 20 minute film speaks to how combatting violence against women is a “pre-requisite to peace building” in Iraq. USIP’s strategic priorities on Iraq includes “promoting moderation and reconciliation”, which emerged from discussions with local Iraqi activists. Similarly, Jafaar addressed the Soros Foundation’s goal to decrease violence against women in rural areas. As a result, Al Mustaqbal received almost $50,000.

In the second case, Maroof manages WEO to 1) operate a mobile health clinic, 2) provide a telephone hotline, and 3) coordinate training the trainers to complete the cycle on community engagement. WEO based in Erbil, Iraq. WEO’s aims to promote Women’s and human rights, gender equity, economic engagement and political participation, and elimination of all forms of discrimination against women. Often, many women’s organizations consist primarily of women. The challenge is recruiting men to engage in women’s issues while believing that the women’s issues go beyond gender. Women’s issues relate to their role in raising the human development index back to pre-war and pre-sanction levels. Consequently, both organizations enlist Iraqi males, like imams, to combat violence against women. The innovation by both models rejects that religious figures should remain absent from secular organizations. Consequently, their grant applications appealed to USIP’s goal to “enhance women’s access to justice in Iraq.”

Moreover, WEO’s project staff conducted eight workshops for 160 policemen judges, lawyer, religious leaders as well member soy the ob the general public. They share in disseminating 500 booklets and brochures to address domestic violence. Both USIP funded institutions acknowledge the social, political, and religious dimensions of violence. Jaafar elaborates on her observation that the cycle of violence in the home extends from the violence perpetrated on the battlefield and related security threats. Economic uncertainty and social factors, like unemployment directly contribute to domestic violence. This link should not be ignored as she asserts that “there’s nothing soft about forcing demobilizing solders to desist from domestic violence” a trend in post-Conflict Iraq.

Iraqi Social Entrepreneurs Grow Other Businesses Too
“Your success is our business” articulates Maroof such that the WEO model empowers women and youth to “strengthen them economically” as well. As such, WEO offers business counseling services and includes business training that ranges from agribusiness to advanced computer courses. For Iraqi women that want to emulate Maroof’s social entrepreneurial model, they may take “Proposal Writing”, “Reporting Skills”, or “Monitoring & Evaluation” training courses. For Iraqi women ready for private entrepreneurship, WEO offers “How to Start or Improve a Business” training course. Ultimately, all participants may enlist in “Business Association Management” as a way to support the growth of local Iraqi institutions.

Among WEO other accomplishments, Maroof is pleased that WEO has been identified as a regional resource to provide information in small business development. After reviewing their website, which includes a range of social network tools to engage those beyond its base in Erbil, other workbooks may be downloaded by anyone looking to start a local business. Looking forward, WEO is working on other grants to implement advanced managerial training courses to meet the next level of societal demands.

Essentially, film, PSAs, trainer programs for law enforcement, and domestic violence awareness programs coupled with basic/advanced computer courses, women’s health clinics and services catapult Iraqi women activists’ entrepreneurial vision to match the needs of Iraqi households. From both a non-profit and profit standpoint: Iraqi households operate as the fundamental unit of rebuilding a society, and ultimately, an economy. Perhaps that is why a cartoon simulation shows an Iraqi girl handing her mother a pamphlet while an Arabic narrator emphasizes that legal help and training are available to Iraqi women.

The US completed its withdrawal from Iraq, which will prompt further debate about the economic, political and social costs and benefits. As international financial institutions and banks track Iraq’s oil output and world prices, others will speculate about Iraq’s investment climate based on other indicators. Such indicators reflect on the civil society development across institutions and household by tracking the rate of violence and treatment of women. As local Iraqi social entrepreneurs leverage their organizations to engage in mitigating violence, donors will observe that grant types will need to adjust from “peace and conflict” to “human development” and, perhaps phase out as the private sector engages in a development environment–not a “post-conflict” one. Revisiting Omar’s statement, that “women are barometer of success” of a post-conflict society, the Iraq case of female entrepreneurs present another insight. One could add that women’s ability to replicate models of success, like Jaafar and Maroof, in any society indicates success, and thereby, may foreshadow a healthy investment climate. For those who remain wary, review WEO’s provincial market assessments. To reiterate the Business for Social Responsibility’s report: once women are empowered, they are more likely to invest locally, and thereby contribute economically.

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Carnegie Asks: “Will Economic Difficulties Derail the Economic Spring?”-Part 1

By: Mehrunisa Qayyum

Washington, DC- On Monday, November 7th, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (Twitter handle: CarnegieEndow) asked the question: Will economic difficulties derail the Arab Spring? Uri Dahash moderated an economic discussion that snowballed into a political analysis of gains and losses. Panelists included: 1) Catherine Freund, Chief Economist of the MENA region at the World Bank, 2) Masood Ahmed, Director of the Middle East & Central Asia Department of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), 3) Robert D. Hormats, Under Secretary of State for Economic, Energy, & Agricultural Affairs, and 4) Marina Ottaway, Senior Associate of Carnegie’s Middle East Program. As Dadush further broke down the discussion by asking, “Politically, I’d like to understand: are transitional countries ready to be helped, do they want to receive (foreign aid/assistance)?” I could not help by following up with: do we have any experts that can dig deeper into the political culture analysis if we’re going to revert back to viewing through the political lens?

Will the Economic Difficulties Derail the Arab Spring?
In summary, most of the panelists offered a “no”, with caveats–as economists generally do. As Dr. Freund elaborated, the issue is not so much about the economics as it is the political and security concerns and cited the country example of Angola.

Under Secretary Hormats and Dr. Ahmed concurred, by offering some economic policy advice that essentially emphasizes the GCC nations and G-8 nations to support the economic transition with aid and assistance with the hope that this will EASE the political transition in parallel. In particular, other nations may assist by helping to stabilize the financial situation in Egypt, Tunisia–and hopefully Syria, advance trade opportunities, and provide economic assistance. However, Marina Ottaway expressed concern with the exact question as it presumes that the Arab Spring is supposed to follow a “pre-determined track that can experience derailment”–in essence, economics plays a significant role in the mid to long-term fates of countries in transition. Ottaway reasoned that some social problems will be addressed through economic reforms, but the degree to which social problems resolve afterwards will determine how the political transition facilitates further participation.

Even in the Short-Term, Economics Does Weigh-In…
The consensus argued that the economic difficulties will not derail the Arab Spring in part because the uprisings have noted corruption. However, Freund did elucidate the macro-economic indicators that do raise concern for countries in transition. For example,

⁃ Tourism dropped about 40% in Tunisia and Egypt;
⁃ Consumption is deteriorating;
⁃ Many countries have expanded civil service, raised wages, and keep the subsidies;
– Foreign Direct Investment is down; and
– Unemployment is still in double digits despite transitional reforms.

Furthermore, previous systems worked in an environment socially and economically many recognize that this cannot be sustained. Given these economic issues, Dadush probed further by asking: Can the World Bank do more, e.g. give money, although countries like Libya have Sovereign Wealth Fund to support transition? Freund and Hormats generally referenced the positive historical examples of Europe post WW II and the Eastern European countries transitioning in the 1990s. Essentially both timeframes recognized that political and economic reforms moved best together. Nonetheless, Freund noted how the global economy was much healthier in the more recent case of Eastern Europe–and it didn’t hurt that ascension into the European Union and NATO provided “fresh carrots” to incentivize various reforms regarding governance, participation, and overall redressing corruption charges.

On that note, Ahmed proposed a regional trade affiliation–and the more interesting question of when could the international community expect to see this. Since many of the oil-importing and oil-exporting regions offer little comparative advantage over one another, a free trade zone provides other benefits. Ironically, a regional trade entity– accompanied by various free trade zones for Arab countries (or the larger MENA region)–could serve as more a signal to foreign investors that the environment can support investment without as much bureaucracy.

Given the policy recommendations, Egypt might reconsider international aid or accepting an IMF loan. However, the terms of accepting the packages would have to acknowledge that conditionalized aid operates much more differently when it’s not the binary world circa “Cold War era” or the transitional countries are not looking to obtain membership with any economic cliques…

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Meet Syria’s Opposition

By: Randa Slim (Randa Slim is an adjunct research fellow at the National Security Studies Program at the New America Foundation and a scholar at the Middle East Institute. You can follow her commentary on Middle East affairs @rmslim.)

Source: Foreign Policy Magazine Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Seven months into the uprisings, the Syrian opposition has yet to develop a united voice and platform. Unless these disparate groups unite and present a credible and viable alternative to the Assad regime, both Syria’s fearful majority and the international community will find it difficult to effectively push for meaningful change in Damascus.

The divisions among the Syrian opposition groups remain daunting, despite prodding from abroad and some progress toward unification. The Syrian National Council (SNC), recently formed in Istanbul, Turkey, remains a work-in-progress. The Damascus-based National Coordination Committee (NCC) is at odds with the SNC. The organizations disagree on two of the most urgently contested issues: dialogue with the regime and foreign intervention. Meanwhile, youth activists are divided among three national coalitions. The military defectors formerly divided between the Free Officers Corps and the Free Syrian Army have coalesced under one organizational umbrella, but according to officials in both the Syrian National Council and the Free Syrian Army, there are no formal communication channels yet between the two entities.

This fragmentation and disunity poses a formidable challenge. It makes it difficult to assess who is representing whom, the level of public support each enjoys among Syrians, and the role each is playing in the protest movement. While it is impossible to know which side commands a majority, a critical mass of Syrians has clearly opted for regime change. In this quest, they are laying their lives on the line. The challenge is whether the different leadership centers in the opposition could overcome their differences and coalesce under a unified organizational umbrella akin to Libya’s Transitional National Council…To continue reading the article, click here.

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Part 2: Is There Anyone Talking About Technology in the Middle East?

On October 9th, Contributor Technology Consultant, Ramy Ghaly, provided an overview of the technology system in the Middle East & North Africa region (MENA). In his second part, he will elaborate on the prevalent uses with key statistics. PITAPOLICY invites readers to comment and submit a response and/or perspective that relates to the technology ecosystem. Perhaps there are innovations that were missed in the first or second parts. PITA-CONSUMERS: Please review and participate!

By: Ramy Ghaly
Edited by Mehrunisa Qayyum

Intelligence is another area where ICT becomes even more intelligent. People’s behavior, individual preferences, and object interactions among other elements will be more easily stored, analyzed, and used to provide intelligent insights for action. The business intelligence global market is estimated to be $11 billion industry having text analytics (10% market share of BI) a major player growing on an average 15 to 25 percent year-on-year to continue till 2013. There are few IT vendors in MENA Region that specialize in artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language technology (NLP); however, this technology is still new not only to MENA region, but to the world’s market as well due to its complexity and very few specialists that specializes in computational linguistics technology.

Eric Schmidt recently stated, “Every two days now we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003.” How can one understand it, measure it, and generate insight from it? 

List of High-Tech Vendors in MENA Region
~Sakhr: Is an exception because it is a US company located outside the region that specializes in “Arabic Natural Language Processing”.


~Kngine: Is a semantic search engine with Q&A application that was launched from Egypt, aiming to provide more meaningful search results to users.


~Pragmatech: Unlike traditional IT companies in the MENA region, which for the most part are companies that deliver customized enterprise IT solutions, Pragmatech was established with the vision of building an IT company that conducts applied research to develop state-of-the-art solutions and technologies – technologies that would have an impact on a global scale. To see this vision through, Pragmatech has assembled a Research and Development (R&D) team which is a blend of technical expertise, experience, talent and an unparalleled passion for making a difference. A wholly owned subsidiary of the United Development Company (UDC), Pramatech is based in Doha, Qatar. Also a development branch operates in Jounieh, Lebanon–just outside the capital, Beirut. 


Mobiles and Smartphones ring for attention. In particular, their calls have been answered in the Arab world. The wide adoption of the mobile phone has already brought ICT to the masses. Advances in hardware (the look and feel of the revolutionary iPhone) to software (e.g., natural language interfaces), and communications (e.g., broadband wireless) will continue to make computing more mobile and more accessible.

In MENA, people are infatuated with their mobile devices and Smartphones to the extent that almost 34 percent claim to own more than one Smartphone, thereby making MENA a hub for mobile applications. According to a study compiled by Real Opinions entitled: “Apps Arabia Mobile Report MENA”, here are some major highlights:
• The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Region has the highest incidence of multiple Smartphone usage with 41% of users (34% with 2 and 7% with 3 or more).
• Smartphones have a short shelf life. 70% of Smartphone users are likely to upgrade within the next 12 months.
• The industry is undergoing rapid growth in the region. Of those who do not own a Smartphone, 54 percent claim they will get one within 12 months.
• Nokia is the clear leader now, but faces fierce competition in the GCC nations from Apple and BlackBerry. 54 percent claim to use Nokia Smartphones, 45 percent consider their mobiles as their main phone for apps. Finally, only 22 percent would consider Nokia as their next Smartphone.

Application Category Highlights:

Top 15 Applications Used in MENA

• While ‘Communication’ apps are of most interest, in GCC ‘Social Networking’, Maps & Navigation’, ‘Business’, ‘Banking & Finance’ and ‘Travel are particularly appealing. In North Africa, ‘Music’, ‘Video’, and ‘Religion’ are particularly popular.
• Interest in apps isn’t being reflected in their regular use, issuing a challenge for developers to pick up the test.
• The top 5 gaps between interested in and use: ‘Maps & Navigation’, ‘Books’, ‘News & Information’, ‘Video’ & ‘Photography’.
• Convenience apps dominate the paid apps market in the Middle East, with ‘Banking/Finance’ (35%), ‘Travel’ (34%) & ‘Communication’ (33%) leading the paid categories.


In my final thoughts, asking the question on how the MENA Region can produce innovative products that will impact not only the Middle East, but the global market scale as well. Woopra is one company from the region that illustrates this category and warrants examination. Founded by Elie Khoury, 25, Woopra is a Lebanese website analytics start-up and began as a college project at the Lebanese American University.

Four years later, Woopra has an office in Silicon Valley where they are positioning themselves to compete with global players such as Google;
From those humble origins, Woopra is now one of the few Lebanese startups to be competing on the global stage.

“We got really negative feedback from one professor saying that the project was nice but we should be looking for a job instead of wasting our time on projects,” recalls Jad Younan, Khoury’s former classmate and current business partner.

“A few months after that, the computer science professors were citing Woopra as a success story for the students to urge them take the programming courses more seriously,” emphasizes Younan.

At the time, one of the founder’s IT professors, Haidar Harmanani, chairman of LAU’s Computer Science department at the Byblos campus, recounts that, “They [Younan and Khoury] would sometimes show up late or be sleepy in class. I later found out they were up late working on their project.” Soon after, Harmanani went on to help the two students secure funding to travel to Morocco for a regional competition.

With such determination, I can only say that Woopra is a true, innovative tech start-up that the region should consider. Woopra encapsulates an experience that innovates next generation products that competitively place MENA in the global technology market place.

About the Author
Ramy Ghaly is a Marketing Strategist with more than ten years in international markets experience. He held professional and managerial positions in various global markets in industries ranging from retail, wholesale, consumer goods, to technology product management with concentration in channel development. He holds a degree in International Marketing Management with a minor in International Relations and Middle Eastern studies from Daytona State College. He is interested in social media developments, next generation search technologies, semantic search engines, and text analytics. Needless to say, strategies in geopolitics, Middle Eastern Studies, and Environmental factors that affect global business growth are general interests that keen to always monitor and encourage writing about. He can be reached at Follow Ramy on Twitter @ConsultRamy

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Tunisia’s Test: POMED Releases “A Guide to the Tunisian Elections”

By: Mehrunisa Qayyum

This coming Friday, October 23rd, Tunisia will elect candidates for the 218-seat assembly: the National Constituent Assembly, which will write the new constitution and oversee the processes for both the presidential and parliamentarian elections. (Earlier on September 15th, one of the three interim committees, the High Commission, agreed to limit the National Constituent Assembly for one year. Yadh Ben Achour chairs the High Commission.) In the short term, a number of systemic changes will facilitate other reforms. These include Tunisia’s decision to: a) indict and find Ben Ali of corruption in absentia; b) dismantle his party, Constitutional Democratic Rally, as well as the Secret Police; and c) confiscate Ben Ali’s and his cronies’ assets. We will see the mid to long term results. Though this all snowballed from Tunisia, another round of activity will ensue for not only Tunisia, but for the 21 other Arab countries since the Arab Spring proved successful in some countries–and more challenging in others.

POMED’s Guide Forward
On October 14th, The Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), which is based in Washington DC, invited Chiheb Ghazouan, Mongi Boughzala, Stephen McInerney, and J. Scott Carpenter assembled to conjecture about the social and economic dynamics impact on the Tunisia’s parties’ participation in the first open elections. POMED also released its publication “A GUIDE TO THE TUNISIAN ELECTIONS”, which outlines the following points:

~Currently, over 100 political parties received legal accreditation to participate this Friday.

~Elections will comprehensively conclude in one round.

~Quotas will be calculated by counting the number of votes casted in a district (x), and then dividing ‘x’ by the number of seats allocated for that district (y).

~Gender parity among candidates is ensured by alternating between male and female candidates on each submitted list.

~Parties are required to list one candidate under the age of 30; however, many political parties do not include the face of the Jasmine Revolution–specifically 17 percent of voters between the ages of 18 to 35 have registered to vote.

Managing Expectations Between Civic & Political Levels
The youth element is more engaged at the civic-social level as opposed to the political and economic levels. In a similar vein, the speakers focused primarily on the Tunisian precedent for change or the economic conditions or the “liberal” versus “conservative” role in political participation. With the exception of Boughzala’s point, the focus on youth engagement was not as prominent, as referenced in POMED’s report. Boughzala said that the youth are involvement in NGOs and associations and think tanks.

Chiheb Ghazouani is an attorney and Vice President of the Tunisian organization Afkar, which acts as a watchdog for the main political parties. Ghazouani’s key point was that both “Islamists”, or as he recategorizes as conservatives, and secularists embrace market economy.

Mongi Boughzala described the economic situation upfront: Tunisia’s unemployment is around 15 percent. Boughzala is a processor of economics at the University of Tunis El-Manar and is a research fellow at the Economic Research Forum. He added that the challenge is not whether Islamist participation will present a burden. The bigger challenge is how to manage expectations when there will be a temptation to downplay fiscal discipline.

J. Scott Carpenter, who is a Principal with Google Ideas in New York, spoke broadly about how technology could play a role to improving governance in transitional economies.

Stephen McInerney, who serves as POMED’s Executive Director, contrasted Tunisian electoral politics with Egypt’s. For example, political parties are more cohesive in Tunisia than in Egypt and that “Tunisians are more cautiously optimistic than Egyptians.”

If McInerney’s assessment of “cautious optimism” is correct, then the youth factor might be the proxy for conjecturing the success of the October 23rd elections.

POMED: The Project on Middle East Democracy is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to examining how genuine democracies can develop in the Middle East and how the U.S. can best support that process. Through dialogue, research, and advocacy, we aim to strengthen the constituency for U.S. policies that peacefully support democratic reform in the Middle East.

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I Vote to Give Myself a Raise, After I Vote to Drive, But Before I Vote to Open a Business Without Male Guardian’s Permission…

By: Mehrunisa Qayyum, Founder PITAPOLICY Consulting

Does economic reform follow political reform or vice versa?  Is it better to be an entrepreneur who demands the franchise, or to be the voter who articulates the need to expand more favorable business conditions for women?  Can voting on issues translate into agenda setting on political, social, and economic fronts?

In 2010, the Middle East Economic Intelligence Unit ranked the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) the least democratic nation in the Middle East.  Women in Saudi Arabia may not work for wages without written consent by their male guardian.  Currently, about 80 percent of Saudi women remain unemployed, according to Hatem Samman, lead economist of the Booz & Company Ideation Center. Granted, this number does not take into account the percentage of Saudi women who will not pursue employment, but Saudi Arabian women have the lowest employment rate in the GCC.

At the same time, the top 100 Arab women include 16 from Saudi Arabia, 15 of whom are either social or business entrepreneurs. Regardless, KSA female entrepreneurs do not depend on loans to start their initiatives since they usually inherit family businesses or wealth.  Thus, current female entrepreneurs might not set an agenda that reflects the middle to low income females aiming to launch a business who require access to financial capital. listed the top 100 ‘Most Powerful Arab Women’ for 2011. The category of ‘Culture & Society’ encompasses those leading in non-profit work, activism, and philanthropy. For a variety of reasons, this category led out of all the categories and boasted about 31 of the most powerful Arab women. If we use the category of ‘Culture & Society’ as a proxy for social entrepreneurship, ironically, Saudi Arabia leads in this subcategory—ranking more Arab entrepreneurs than even Egypt, which has reflected its share of women’s activism and empowerment in the larger Arab Spring movement. Yet, these women emerged prior to winning the right to vote. Perhaps non-political factors play a stronger role in advancing social entrepreneurship.

Does the same trend play out for Saudi women engaging in private entrepreneurship? According to the ‘Ease of Doing Business Index’ in Saudi Arabia, which applies to both men and women in Saudi Arabia, in three of the factors that represent how easy it is for an entrepreneur to engage in business, Saudi leads all the other MENA countries by ranking in the top two. For example, a Saudi national has the most ease in ‘registering a property,’ compared to nationals of other countries. Furthermore, ‘getting credit’, or access financial capital to launch a private venture, is easier in Saudi Arabia than almost any other MENA country—with the exception of Israel.

Yet, despite KSA’s extremely high ranking in conducting private enterprise for either a Saudi male or female, a 2007 study in Arab News showed that Saudi women own about four percent of the total registered businesses in the Kingdom.

So what difference will female enfranchisement make?

Perhaps the KSA’s democracy ranking might improve with the new opportunity for Saudi women to both vote and run for office–in 2015.  But, in 2015, will women be able to drive themselves to the polls?  Our interview with Saudi activist and social network entrepreneur, Areej Khan, highlighted that the issue of driving and voting are intertwined.  Areej explained that, in June 2011, when Saudi officials arrested fellow activist Manal al-Sharif for driving in protest, the current king, King Abdullah, promised change in the future.  Yet, that optimism can easily be overturned by his likely successor, Prince Naif, who, according to Areej, is “not personally religious but uses religion as means to control…Looking forward to Naif is not encouraging because in a monarchy like this you really can move backward.”  What is the guarantee that the new law cannot be undone by unilateral government action? 

Similarly, according to Businessweek, a legal decree from King Abdullah last June required that women take over male employees’ positions as sales associates in lingerie stores.  If royal decrees determine how the political and business environments operate, then how much weight will a vote–albeit a female vote–carry when more controversial demands are made, such as a woman demanding equal pay irrespective of her marital status?

And how will the female vote determine the direction of other political and business environments?  The right to vote presupposes that one can exercise the right to express other freedoms, such as choosing how to live and what makes it to the agenda.  Politically, Saudi Arabia has symbolically adopted the ‘UN Covenant for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women’ (CEDAW) in September 2001.  Will the right to vote play a similarly symbolic, but largely ineffectual role?

Point, Counterpoint, I Beg Your Pardon?
On the one hand, we may argue that the right to vote will be granted as a symbolic gesture and largely ineffectual for two reasons. One, whenever there is controversy, such as the arrest and sentencing of one protesting woman driver on September 28th, “pardoning” or appeasing women emerges as an easy public relations—domestically and internationally—to rebuild political capital. As one observer noted at the joint conference by the Women’s Leadership Partnership and Woodrow Wilson’s Middle East Program, “separating the women’s issue from the larger human rights” and human development agenda “does not help the country or the cause.” Perhaps that is why the vote and opportunity to run for office will not take effect until 2015.

Second, the delayed timeline may serve as a pretext for ineffectual outcomes. When progress on the political front is not seen in 2016, skeptics may seize the opportunity to criticize the reform measure as a wasted effort. If the monarchy was serious about the granting the franchise on a delayed timeline, they would have recognized the intermediary steps and programs that they might be able to facilitate—such as implementing voter registration drives, offering candidate training programs, and perhaps decreeing the right for women to drive as Areej explained above as an intertwined issue.

On the other hand, we may argue more optimistically and learn from the Arab Spring experience that it does not matter what analysis outside of Saudi Arabia suggests. For years, Tunisia served as the “poster child” for the World Bank and International Monetary Fund programs in the MENA region. Tunisia demonstrated increased growth, but “suddenly’ experienced a mass movement from within calling it out Ben Ali on corruption charges.

Political and social reform in Saudi Arabia is among the slowest, in large part because it operates as a rentier economy that continues to crowd out innovation and private initiatives that do not complement the welfare state structure. 2015 or not, the right to vote will accrue value based on the confluence of mass interests within KSA—not the confluence of interests outside of Saudi Arabia.

The KSA has started to recognize the importance of investing in employment opportunities that extend beyond the public sector. Traditionally in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, public sector jobs comprise the bulk of employment for both men and women—but particularly for women. Once the KSA falls short of providing public sector opportunities, we will see the confluence of political and economic interests seized by not Saudi women, but by Saudi women voters.

Feel free to send a rebuttal or alternative thought to this piece at Or, feel free to tweet your response @Pitapolicy :).

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September 29th NAAP-DC & PITAPOLICY Roundtable: MENA On Media; Media on MENA

By: Ramah Kudaimi
Summary of Roundtable hosted by the Network of Arab-American Professionals-DC Chapter & PITAPOLICY Consulting

9/29/11: NAAP-DC & PITAPOLICY Joint Media Event

9/29/11: "Reflecting Not Forecasting"

For Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, the liberating power of social media is something which he experienced personally. The co-host of Al Jazeera’s “The Stream”- a show which taps into social media to uncover unheard voices and new perspectives- told the audience at last week’s media roundtable held by NAAP-DC and PITAPOLICY Consulting that for years after 9/11, Western media exclusively highlighted one narrative of Muslims and Arabs which focused on violence, extremism and terrorism. When he would search “Ahmed” on Youtube, the first video which would pop up was entitled “Ahmed the Terrorist” and had almost seven million views. But with the uprisings sweeping the Arab world, the power of social media to change this narrative has been on display. On a personal level, while Ahmed was traveling on a train in the United States a few weeks ago, he saw that #flagman was trending on Twitter. In a few clicks he learned that a young man had scaled the Israeli embassy in Cairo and replaced the Israeli flag with an Egyptian one, symbolizing the empowerment Egyptians felt in demanding their leaders represent their interests. And this flagman’s name was Ahmed, a stark contrast to Ahmed the terrorist.

On the macro level, social media has changed business as usual in the Arab world. Dr. Sahar Khamis, an expert on Arab and Middle Eastern media and author of Islam Dot Com: Contemporary Islamic Discourses in Cyberspace, explained that there have been two dangerous extremes in regards to analysis of recent events, especially those in Egypt. On one end the role of social media is underestimated by some who claim that the uprisings would have happened anyways. On the other end the role is overestimated as seen by those labeling what happened as the “Facebook revolution”

“Social media represent catalysts for change,” Dr. Sahar said. “It complements and supplements desires for reform.”

Egypt is unique amongst the countries experiencing upheavals because it had a vibrant and dynamic scene for change before January 25, the first day of major protests. This included opposition papers, alternative voices on private satellite channels and on the ground organizing such as the Keffiyeh (Enough) movement.

“But what failed in the past was being able to mobilize large numbers of people,” Dr. Sahar pointed out. “With the help of social media, larger numbers were able to be rallied and engaged with the protests. This was due to cascades of information which were facilitated by social media.” This is particularly significant for the Arab world due to the overall youthfulness of the region: 70 percent of people are under the age of 30. As Facebook statuses and Tweets were being shared and passed around, people were able to feel each other out and realized that their neighbors shared the same resentment and anger and were then encouraged to do something about it.

Social media also allows people to transcend borders, something which is particularly significant for Palestinian activism explained Will Youmans, founder of Kabobfest. Due to the deterritorialization of Palestinians, their struggle has been a transnational one, making social media an ideal platform for organizing. These tools have also led to the flattening of hierarchies, as new clusters of communication have developed amongst people, and the decentering of ideas and narratives. No longer do Western media hold an overall sway over information.

“These applications have helped the Palestinian cause spread outside of traditional media constraints,” Will said. “Being a part of an online community which is pro-Palestinian allows one to feel less of a target.” Increased Palestinian engagement and activism worldwide through social media platforms are encouraging alternative methods of mobilization away from the traditional political leadership and, Will hopes, will lead to the same type of empowerment other Arabs in the region are now realizing.
This recent and intense focus on social media though cannot take away from the continuing significant role more traditional media outlets play in the region, especially television. For example the Cairo News Company had 70 live broadcasts during the 18 days of protests which rocked Egypt. Several of its reporters were attacked and multiple times its offices were closed forcing reporters to work from various secret locations. Hanan El-Badry, the DC Bureau Chief, was responsible for making sure the stories and images being collected back in Egypt were reaching the international media. As the state run stations and newspapers were either completely ignoring the protests or claiming that protesters were committing acts of violence, it was the responsibility of El-Badry and other independent television reporters to counter such claims with their own reports. Traditional media also help verify information posted online. While in Egypt there were actual reporters on the ground, said Anar Virji, Deputy Program Editor at Al Jazeera English, in other places like Yemen and Syria there have been major restrictions on the freedom of journalists to travel and report. Thus it becomes more difficult to confirm videos and stories posted online and then pass them on to viewers and readers.

Regimes have also learned from the experience of Egypt and have made it more difficult to make use of social media as a mobilizing tool.

“While in Egypt the government was taken by surprise and not prepared,” Dr. Sahar said, “Syria realized its people’s lack in technological savvy and prepared themselves to hack websites and take actions against protesters in the online realm.”

There is still much to be accomplished in the Arab world but whatever difficulties protesters must overcome towards achieving their goals, it cannot be denied that social media has expanded civic engagement and further eroded media exclusivity. And this means many more, like Ahmed, will experience the invigorating power of social media.

Ramah Kudaimi is a Master of Arts Candidate in Conflict Resolution at the Department of Government at Georgetown University. She may be reached at Tweet Ramah @ramahkudaimi.


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Palestine: The History of Peacemaking & the Need for a Game-Changer

By: Omar Baddar

**********************************************************************************************************Editor’s Note: Omar is focusing on the particular issue of Palestine, which will be discussed at a joint event held by the Network of Arab American Professionals-DC Chapter panel cosponsored by PITAPOLICY. On September 29th, at 6:30pm, the NAAP-DC/PITAPOLICY Media Roundtable will be held in Washington, DC at 1025 5th Street, NW: Busboys & Poets Restaurant. blog founder, Will Youmans, will examine how the role of social media impacts the discourse of Palestine. Ahmed Shihab-Eldin will relate how Al Jazeera English’s (AJE) program “The Stream” participates in the media discourse of the Arab Spring. Dr. Sahar Khamis will explore the broader role of social media in communication strategy. Anar Virji will highlight the behind the scenes efforts at AJE.
18 years ago this month, Palestinians kicked off the “peace process” with Israel in pursuit of a two-state solution for the decades-long conflict. Palestinians recognized Israel proper, renouncing any territorial right to 78% of historic Palestine, with the idea that Israel would gradually withdraw from the remaining 22% (the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem) to facilitate the creation of a Palestinian state on those territories. But rather than withdrawing from the occupied territories during the peace process, Israel did the opposite; wildly accelerating settlement expansion on those territories, demolishing homes, driving many Palestinians out of Jerusalem, and pursuing a wide range of atrocious policies that can collectively be summed up as the illegal and brutal military occupation of Palestine.

11 years ago today (another September anniversary for Palestinians), the 2nd Palestinian intifada (uprising) ignited when 7 protesters were killed on Temple Mount during a provocative visit by Ariel Sharon, surrounded by hundreds of armed guards. While Sharon’s visit was the spark that lit up the intifada, the gas barrel it ignited was the frustration of 7 years of supposed “peace process” which, in reality, did nothing but entrench the occupation. Despite initiating, provoking, and using disproportionate violence of its own, Israel used Palestinians’ violent reaction as an excuse to rob them of further rights, most notably by building the annexation barrier (disguised as a “security barrier”) cutting off Palestinian access to more and more of their own lands and further restricting their movement.

President Obama’s unprecedented rhetoric in his Cairo speech 2 years ago, coupled with the very public confrontation with Netanyahu over settlements, raised the hopes of many that he was a different kind of President; one that will bring pressure to bear on Israel and compel it to abide by its obligations and come to a sensible peace agreement with the Palestinians. After backtracking on settlements, vetoing a U.N. resolution condemning them, and lobbying against the Palestinian bid for U.N. membership, it is clear now that Obama has capitulated. Of course, the political calculus behind Obama’s capitulation is obvious, especially after Republicans (presidential contenders and in Congress) have falsely charged him with throwing Israel under the bus. While the charge is completely baseless (Obama overseas the tightest military/strategic relationship between the US & Israel), it nevertheless stuck and did some damage, as evident by the campaigning & result of the congressional special election in New York’s 9th district.

Whether Obama would be any better if he were to win a 2nd term is an interesting question to debate, but not one that we have time for right now. We can’t just sit and wait for 14 months to see if Obama will win, if he will be better, and if better will be good enough to change the game (too many “ifs”); we have to deal with the current situation, which looks as bleak as ever with regard to any U.S.-led diplomatic process. Palestinians and Palestine-solidarity activists understand the need for a game-changer better than anyone else, which is why they are pushing forward with two efforts: international activists are escalating the BDS campaign which has clearly gotten the attention of the Israeli government, and the Palestinian leadership is pursuing the internationalization of the process of resolving the conflict by taking Palestine back to the U.N. through this membership bid.

Both efforts (BDS & U.N. membership bid) have been widely criticized, including by many within the movement fighting for Palestinian rights. But much of the criticism from within the movement has completely missed the point. Yes, the critics are right in that statehood recognition and U.N. membership will not end the occupation anymore than some flash mob to boycott products made in some settlement will end the suffering of Palestinian refugees. But these efforts are first and foremost about reshaping the public discourse in order to lay the groundwork for the restoration of Palestinian rights.

After 2000, pro-Israel propagandists repeated the mantra that Israel offered the Palestinians a viable state at Camp David II which was turned down in favor of violence by the Palestinians. The burden was on us to get into the weeds of the issue about settlements, military zones and Jerusalem to explain that what was offered to the Palestinians was not viable. After this U.N. bid, whatever happens to it (including a U.S. veto), it will finally be obvious to all observers (including the least informed) that the Palestinians sought a state on the occupied territories and that Israel denied them that state. Understanding who constitutes the real obstacle to the two-state solution will no longer be a privilege restricted to the informed, it will be common knowledge. This is a low-hanging PR opportunity that we must capitalize on regardless of whether we believe in a one-state or a two-state solution (or a 15-state solution for all I care). Whether the outcome of the U.N. bid will translate into an immediate turning point on the diplomatic front or on the ground is far from certain, but what is certain is that we will be entering a whole new phase in the public discourse battle to elucidate the reality of the situation while the other side tries to divert attention from the core issues. The Israeli government is literally readying its twitter army for this battle. What are you doing to wage it?

Omar Baddar is a political analyst, human rights activist, and Huffington Post blogger. You can follow him on Twitter @omarbaddar.

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Part 1~MENA Region’s Human Trafficking: Labor, Migration & Demand

By: Melina Olmo
Edited by: Mehrunisa Qayyum

On September 23rd, The Woodrow Wilson Center, based in Washington, DC, hosted an event reviewing human trafficking trends in Dubai. Ethnographer, Pardis Mahdavi, described the Middle East & North Africa region’s human trafficking patterns by way of Dubai in Gridlock: Labor, Migration, and Human Trafficking in Dubai. Mahdavi is a former Fellow of Woodrow Wilson Center and Associate Professor at Pomona College. Although Dubai serves as one case study, the larger issue relates to supply and demand. PITAPOLICY Contributor, Melina Olmo, explores the dilemma of human trafficking in the MENA region in three parts. Part one describes the nuances of human trafficking through gender, labor, and touches upon “supply” issues, which will be explored more in the second part.

Part 1

“When a poor person dies of hunger, it has not happened because God did not take care of him or her. It has happened because neither you nor I wanted to give that person what he or she needed.” ~Mother Teresa

These famous words spoken by Mother Theresa, continue to echo in the 21st century as we address the modern day version of slavery: human trafficking. Human trafficking is the illegal trade of human beings for the purpose of a) reproductive slavery, b) commercial sexual exploitation, or c) forced labor. Since human trafficking manifests in different forms depending on the socio-economic and socio-cultural trends in various countries, this three part article will utilize a framework that reviews the “supply” and the “demand” side of the illegal trading of human capital. Overall, how have existing trafficking practices and regulations taxed society to produce other externalities?

In recent years, pop culture has tackled the subject of human trafficking through films like Dirty Pretty Things, Taken, Biutiful and CNN’s Freedom Project. When we hear about human trafficking, our minds immediately visualize images of sex trade and prostitutes—images that seem far from our homes and lives. Nonetheless, human trafficking comprises a large industry in the global black market, or “informal economy” and extends beyond urban environments. Specifically, human trafficking represents an industry that has profited more than $30 billion USD (International Labor Organization 2005). Human trafficking “services” expand throughout more than 127 countries.

As global citizens, and consumers, we cannot deny a direct correlation with the industry. If we are to combat and abolish modern day slavery, we must step away from the philosophical moralistic debates; we must look at this for what it is: a business. All the controversy, international policy and regulations can be reduced to the most basic economic formula for markets: supply and demand. The more we, as individuals and society demand the goods and services provided by the traffickers, the higher the demand of people. In terms of human capital, we have divested potential labor from the formal economy into the informal economy. At the same time, this “divestment’ translates into social costs: more victims—most of whom are young women and children. Thus, in terms of human development, we are facilitating stunted growth.

The questions I continue to explore in the next parts include the following: Where we do as individuals stand within this industry? Are we more focused on regulating the demand side, or the supply side: protecting people from becoming the raw material for the trafficking industry? Or are we increasing the demand for services brought by human trafficking? What are we doing unconsciously to directly increase the demand for human trafficking around the world?

Listed below are some categories of human trafficking.
Sex Trafficking: when a person is made to perform commercial sexual acts through force, fraud, and/or coercion

Debt Bondage: when a person provides a loan to another and uses his or her labor or services to repay the debt; the services are not usually enough to repay the debt and the bondage is passed on to other generations.

Labor Trafficking: the purchase of a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion.

Child Soldiers: children under the age of 18 are forced to join in a national army or rebel militia.

Organ Trafficking: forced removal of organs for sale on the black market.

Involuntary Domestic Servitude: forced domestic labor connected to victim’s off-duty living quarters. Usually this kind of trafficking is difficult to be investigated because victims are in private homes, isolated from the world, including other workers.

The International Labor Organization has estimated profits of US$ 31.5 billion from people trafficked, inclusive of US$1.5 billion in the MENA region with the majority of victims falling into labor and sexual trafficking. The United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking reports that MENA is accountable for 9.2% of the 2.5 million victims trafficked. Countries like Morocco, Oman, Qatar, and United Arab Emirates, have passed laws to fight this criminal industry, but that is not enough to end the practice of modern day slavery. Are these laws being enforced by the government? By society? Given that human trafficking is a business, we as individuals/consumers have a direct impact on promoting or condemning this industry.

In part two of this article, I will use the MENA region as a case study to explore the interaction between the economy, policies and culture that allow human trafficking to continue.

For more updates and commentary on this issue, follow Melina Olmo on Twitter @mundorerum …

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9/20 Event Report: Women & Democratic Transition in the Middle East

Women and the Democratic Transition in the Middle East

Photo by Mehrunisa Qayyum

By: Mehrunisa Qayyum

Not all the political and economic policy action on gender has completely escaped to New York for this week’s United Nation’s General Assembly meetings. Yesterday in Washington, DC, September 20, 2011, the Women’s Learning Partnership (WLP) collaborated with The Middle East Program at The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars to concentrate on “Women & Democratic Transition in the Middle East.” The Middle East Program’s Director, Haleh Esfandiari, journalist and Irani cultural intellectual, opened the program by welcoming WLP’s founder, Mahnaz Afkhami, who served as Minister for Women’s Affairs in Iran. Esfandiari and Afkhami facilitated the larger Middle East & North Africa dialogue by focusing the discussion on issues, rather than ideologies, to address two themes: (1) perspectives from the region; and (2) Arab Spring’s influences and outcomes. (Follow WLP’s ongoing work to leverage women’s social capital @WLP1.)

WLP and WWICS invited representatives from Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, and Turkey. Leading women in journalism, grassroots activism, and government, represented the women’s movement in the larger scope of improving socio-economic and socio-political opportunities for both genders—a more encompassing and inclusive approach. National Public Radio veteran, Jacki Lyden, moderated the first panel; Jacqueline Pitanguy, Brazilian founder and director of CEPIA (NGO focusing on public policy research and development in Brazil), facilitated the public policy discussion for the second panel, which contrasted the Arab Spring experiences with non-Arab countries comprising the MENA region.

The following representatives presented at the two panels:
• Yakin Erturk commented on democracy and gender as a leading Turkish scholar and as the UN Rapporteur on Violence Against Women. Erturk also served as the director of the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women. She conducted research in Saudi Arabia.

• Farida Naqash serves as the Chairperson of Forum for Women in Development and is the first female Egyptian Editor-in-Chief of a political newspaper. As such Naqash provided both political and media analysis regarding Egypt’s revolution/evolution before and after Mubarak’s demise.

• Asma Khader represented Jordan in her work as a human rights activist. Recently, she served on the UN Human Rights Council’s inquiry into human rights abuses in Libya as well as served as the Minister of Culture in Jordan. Also, she is the Secretary General for the Jordanian national Commission for Women. Asma Khader highlighted how the women in the MENA region are succeeding in obtaining higher levels of education and literacy rates but the pace of employment opportunities does not match. National Public Radio interviewed Asma Khader regarding the Arab Spring and its potential impact to improve women’s lives.

• Rabea Naciri exemplified the regional NGO perspective since she is a founding member of the Association Democratique des Femmes du Maroc, which is a leading Moroccan NGO advocating for women’s rights. Her work extends further into the Maghreb region in dealing with poverty reduction strategies by partnering with researchers from Algeria and Tunisia.

• Massouma Hassan represented Pakistan as a former Cabinet level leader who specified that Pakistan has made progress as women hold positions in the army, law enforcement and government. This is crucial since Pakistan faces both economic and security crises.

(The webcast maybe viewed here:

Also, discussion tackled controversial solutions, such as implementing quotas for women in the political realm. Keen observers pointed out how quotas sometimes limit the “glass-ceiling” for women. Gender equality does not mean women simply focus on women’s issues. As Erturk stated, women may partner with others on “all issues rather than binary ideologies” to more successfully build civil society coalitions. Moreover, WLP and WWICS designed the forum to showcase best practices and “South-South” experiences, the exchange of resources, technology, and knowledge between developing countries.

In a related note, Monday night showcased an exciting moment for the Woodrow Wilson Center because they will now house the esteemed Council of Women World Leaders, a global network of 46 female political leaders. The Council of Women Leaders used to be housed at the Aspen Institute. MENA is represented in this elite group by Reem Al-Hashimy, Minister of State in the United Arab Emirates.

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