Category Archives: Politics

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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National Council on U.S. Arab Relations: Recapping the Arab & US Responses

HRH Prince Turki Al Sa'ud, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Addresses NCUSAR

By: Mehrunisa Qayyum

Washington, DC-On October 27th and 28th, the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations (NCUSAR) held its 20th Annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference, “Dynamics of Recent Events in the Arab World: Framing the Arab and U.S. Responses” at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center. NCUSAR’s CEO and Founding President, Dr. John Duke Anthony, inaugurated the event by congratulating Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya for its respective Arab Spring achievements. Notable guest speakers included: a) Ambassador Hussein Hassouna, League of Arab States; b) Prince Turki Al Faisal Al Sa’ud, Saudi Arabia; c) Ambassador Sameh Shoukry, Egypt: and d) Ambassador Ali Aujali, Libya.

The focus on investing in energy security and defense cooperation remained central to the U.S.-Arab relations strategy. Nonetheless, developments related to the Arab Spring interjected into panels related to the Magreb region. Bahrain was not highlighted in any context regarding their struggle for human dignity–the underlying motto in Egypt, Syria, Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen. In contrast to last year, the League of Arab States emerged as a key actor in various panel discussions. Prince Turki emphasized two issues: 1) he condemned Syria’s authoritarian ruler, Bashar al-Asad’s brutal crackdown on his own people; and 2) summarized that vetoing the statehood for Palestine, not only affects Saudi-US relations, but affects the rest of the world, not just the Muslim world.

(Note: PITAPOLICY Consulting’s complete analysis of the two-day conference, and specific panel commentary, are available for purchase by contacting:

Session 1: “Dynamics of Defense Cooperation”
-Ambassador James Larocco
-Dr. John Moynihan
-General Joseph Hoar (USMC, Ret.)
-Col. David Des Roches
-Mr. Bob Sharp

Session 2: “Energy Dynamics”
-Hon. Molly Williamson
-Dr. Herman T. Franssen
-Mr Jay Pryor
-Ms. Randa Fahmy Hudome

Keynote Address Delivered by Ambassador of Egypt to the U.S.: H.E. Sameh Shoukry

Session 3: “Geopolitical Dynamics (I): Iraq”
-Dr. Kenneth B. Katzman (Congressional Research Service)
-Dr. Eric Davis (Author of forthcoming book: Taking Democracy Seriously in Iraq)
-Dr. Juan Cole (Author of Engaging the Muslim World)
-Dr. Paul Sullivan (Industrial College of Armed Forces)
-Ms. Shameen Rassam (Al-Hurra Television, Iraq)

Session 4: “Geopolitical Dynamics of Maghreb (Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya), Syria, Yemen”
-Ms. Jennifer Salan (Senior Producer at Al-Jazeera English)
-Dr. Nejib Ayachi (Founder of Magreb Center)
-Dr. Michele Dunne (Director of Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East)
-Mr. Christopher Blanchard (Congressional Research Service)

Session 5: A View from the U.S. Department of State
-Dr. Tamara Wittes (Deputy Assistant Secretary for near Easter Affairs)

Session 6: Business Investment & Financial Development Dynamics & Prospects
-Mr. Michael Markland
-Ambassador Ford Fraker
-Ambassador Joseph LeBaron
-Mr. Danny E. Sebright
-Mr. Lionel Johanson

Session 7: Gulf Cooperation Council Dynamics (III)
-Dr. Abdulkhaleq Abdulla (lead author of 2008 Arab Knowledge Report)
-Dr. Abdulla AlShayji (Kuwait University)
-Mr. Jeremy Jones (Author of forthcoming book: Oman, Culture and Diplomacy)
-Mr. Robert Lacy (Historian)

Luncheon Address by HRH Prince Turki Al Faisal Al Sa’ud

Session 8: “Libya the Way Forward”
-H.E. Ambassador Ali Aujali of the National Transitional Council

Session 9: “Geopolitical Dynamics (IV): Palestine”
-Mr. Yousef Munayyer (Palestine Center)
-H.E. Ambassador Maen Areikat
-Ms. Michelle Steinberg (Executive Intelligence Review)
-Dr. Ghada Karmi (University of Exeter)
-Dr. Norton Mezvinksy (Connecticut State University)

Session 10: “Geopolitical Dynamics (V): Iran”
-Dr. John L. Iskander (Foreign Service Institute)
-Dr. Flynt Leverett (New America Foundation)
-Mr. Afshin Molavi (New America Foundation)
-Dr. Janne Nolan (American Security Project, University of Pittsburgh)
-Mr. Kenneth Katzman

Session 11: Policy Implications from the League of Arab States
-Ambassador Hussein Hassouna
-Mr. Bill Corcoran
-Mr. John Moran

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Tunisia’s Election Results

Source: Al Jazeera English

Historic win for Al-Nahda, moderate Islamist party in Tunisia that was previously banned…

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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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FBI Arrested Syrian American Mohamed Anas Haithem Souied for Espionage

By: Mehrunisa Qayyum

On Tuesday, October 11th, the FBI arrested Syrian-American Mohamad Anas Haithem Souied, 47, in Leesburg, Virginia for conducting espionage in collaboration with the Syrian Intelligence.
~April-June 2011: Souied participated in a conspiracy to gather intelligence for a foreign country attending US rallies by sharing 20 recordings of protests in the US with Syria’s spy agency and disclosed the names and contacts of Syrian Americans.
~Oct. 5: Grand jury agreed to the five-count indictment against Souied, according to the Justice Department.

Mohamad Souied is among the list of co-defendants in the case filed the SETF: Abdul Aziz, et al. v. The Syrian Arab Republic United States Disttrict Court for the District of Columbia. The indictment alleges that Mr. Souied met with President Bashar and tried to recruit others. Souied is a naturalized American citizen born in Syria.

Syrian Emergency Task Force
The Syrian Emergency Task Force is a non-profit organization based in the United Sates. The SETF was created to support the Syrian people’s democratic aspirations and to provide a venue for them to convey those aspirations to the American people.

Charges Against Mohamad Souied
SETF supports the actions that the US Department of and the Commonwealth of Virginia have taken against Mr. Souied. The FBI arrest signifies the first of its kind in addressing the Syrian regime’s unethical tactics to intimidate Syrians through their American relatives. Such action marks the next step in SETF’s larger mission to uphold the civil rights of Syrian-Americans, like Ms. Hala Abudl Aziz. Specifically, SETF commends the following statements:
Assistant Attorney General for National Security Lisa Monaco said in a statement that Mr Soueid’s actions were intended to “silence, intimidate and potentially harm” the protesters.
Prosecutor Neil MacBride said: “The ability to assemble and protest is a cherished right in the United States, and it’s troubling that a US citizen from Leesburg is accused of working with the Syrian government to identify and intimidate those who exercise that right.”
Moreover, Mohamad Souied used other aliases, such as ‘Alex Soueid’ and ‘Anas Alswaid’ to report on Americans of Syrian descent to the Syrian embassy, based in Washington, DC.

In July, the US State Department said, “We received reports that Syrian mission personnel under Ambassador [Imad] Moustapha’s authority have been conducting video and photographic surveillance of people participating in peaceful demonstrations in the United States.” However, the Syrian Ambassador to the US continues to deny these allegations.

Ms. Abdul Aziz is not alone in her experience of the Syrian regime’s intimidation. World renown pianist , Malek Jandali, perfomred at a demonstration in Washington on July 23rd. Immediatately after, his parents were beaten and arrested in Damascus.

Note: Original SETF Press Release may be found on their website, which was issued by the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF) 10/13/11.
PO BOX #229, 6920B Braddock Rd. Annandale, VA 22003 (800) 385-6806 or contact us at

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NAAP-DC & Jerusalem Fund Gallery Co-Host Arab-American Art Exhibition in Washington, DC

NAAP-DC attendees

Artist: Manal Deeb

Work by Zohra Ben Hamida

Piece by Mona El-Bayoumi

Piece by Ammar Qusaibaty

By: Mehrunisa Qayyum Contributions by Samer Korkor and Fatima Ahmed

On Tuesday, October 11, 2011, The Network of Arab American Professionals, Washington, DC Chapter co-hosted nine local Arab American artists exhibit with The Jerusalem Fund Gallery. Dagmar Painter, the Jerusalem Fund Gallery’s art curator, coordinated over 50 art pieces from the Virginia, Maryland, and DC area at the Floridian, 919 Florida Avenue, NW. Over 130 attendees experienced 4 rooms of art.

Meanwhile, NAAP-DC continued its tradition of collaborating with local Middle Eastern businesses: Shawarma Spot, located in Adams Morgan on Eighteenth Street, donated the catering. The event would not have been possible without realtor, Diana Korkor, who arranged for the venue.

Since the Network of Arab American Professionals in DC (NAAP-DC), is the fastest-growing Middle Eastern organization in DC, we remain a volunteer based, energy-driven networking hub that has become recognized as a community builder for professional, cultural, and public service events.

NAAP-DC is run by a diverse group of individuals of Middle Eastern decent, from Algeria to Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Iran, Pakistan, etc. We are each from different religious backgrounds from the region and we gather in a horizontal structure where we work together putting aside any drama that might exist in or emanate from our countries of origin. And we are not non-religious, but rather encompassing of all our religions. The same goes with politics, diverging views mix with mutual respect and understanding of narrative. This is what we are building and we will celebrate with art and support professionals of all kinds, artists, lawyers, engineers, economists, health care professionals, comedians, etc.

Arab American Artist Listing:
~Zohra Ben Hamida is influenced by her Tunisian, American, and Saudi Arabian experiences. Earlier she showcased her textured paintings at the Jerusalem Fund Gallery in early 2011.

~Adam Chamy, who in inspired by discarded items like license plates and other unusual materials to explore the politics of identity. Chamy received his BA from George Washington University.

~Manal Deeb was born in Ramallah and studied both art and psychology. She incorporates organic material, like tree bark, to represent the layered life. Deeb’s goal is “to bring Palestinian heritage to speak across time and place to convey memory’s persistence.”

~Mona El-Bayoumi hails from Alexandria, Egypt and is largely influence by social justice causes in Iran, Central America, South Africa, and Eritrea–not just the Arab world.
Dina Karkar showcased oil paintings of vibrant colors to highlight the numerous exotic locales she has visited.

~Leila Khoury was born and raised in Cleveland and is of Syrian descent. Leila is studying at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

~Ammar Qusaibaty is both an artist and mathmetician and combines left and right-brained talents to produce double sided paintings on “mylar” sheets and fluorescent acrylic paints. His pieces include Arabesque and Night Dance.

~Vian Shmounki Borchert has presented expressionist art at The National Gallery of Art in Amman, Jordan; The Contemporary Museum of Art in Georgetown; The Jerusalem Fund; The International Trade Center, The Black Rock Center of The Arts, Gaithersburg City Hall Art Gallery, among others.

~Helen Zughaib, who has lived in Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine and focuses on “the strength and beauty of women” in her Changing Perceptions series. Her studio is in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood.

NAAP-DC Board Member, Fatima Ahmed, interviewed each artist and graciously photographed attendees with their favorite artists. Notable guests included: Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) National President, David Warren, and wife Amal Warren; Mr. & Mrs. Sam A. Kubba, of Kubba Design; and Mr. Saed Rahwanji from the Maryland Department of Transportation.

NAAP-DC Chair, Samer Korkor, the visionary of the event explained that,”It is simply the first time in anyone’s memory that a group of 8-10 significant Arab American artists in the DC area with talent…at one of the trendiest parts of DC (U Street) and in the penthouse of the most artistic new condo building, The Floridian.”

Mona El-Bayoumi shared how her art will always present an opportunity of political expression for her since “identity with symbols” plays a role as an Arab-American artist. She added that art in both the Arab world and in the US are both full of contemporary pieces, but perhaps the second and third generation of Arab-Americans might gear more towards the symbols, as seen in some of her pieces that are very reminiscent of her native Egypt. Her next showing will appear at The Jerusalem Fund Gallery in May 2012.

Ammar Qusaibaty broke the stereotype of successful artists only representing the humanities. Ammar is a practicing mathematician with a doctorate from Sorbonne. He explains how his pieces focus on the fluidity of linking the “right-brain” with the “left-brain” and pushes the viewer into a “cognitive trick that’s always trying to find order–especially as the transparent canvas changes with a new background. “Newer media presented by Ammar is not typical and presents a great contemporary addition to both Arab culture and art in of itself,” remarks Amany, who was visiting from Palestine.

Manal Deeb’s pieces include many favorites. However, my favorite was the piece representing three generations of grief as a child, a mother, and elderly woman’s faces are hidden within the tree bark and layers of paint. When asked about why incorporating tree bark and pieces, Deeb shares,”my favorite memory was playing under the fig trees in Palestine…art is a therapy for me” so the vivid imagery lives on in her haunting pieces.

As such, Helen Zughaib remarks how her work focuses on a cultural dialogue. Recently, the University of Maryland invited Zughaib to show her artwork, like the piece on Saudi women. Ironically, the same piece she selected to represent the struggle of Saudi women to drive, came to life again. With her art studio outside of the Saudi Arabian US embassy in Foggy Bottom, she retells how she felt like holding one of her pieces outside the window as women protested the Saudi driving ban.

Sarah Weatherbee, ADC-DC, commented that the event,”provides an excellent showcase of art–it’s important to preserve both the classical and contemporary Arab culture in this way.”

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Technology Series Part 1: Is There Anyone Talking about Technology in the Middle East?

Investigating the evolution of ‘technology ecosystem’ in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)

By: Ramy Ghaly
Edited by: Mehrunisa Qayyum

The ongoing debate on the extent to which social media catalyzed the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, and Syria, another ‘technology’ subsector is taking off in MENA that is worth noting to help understand the current sector’s “ecosystem.” Moreover, this 3 part series will examine how technology is moving forward within the current political transformation in pursuing more democratic representation within MENA region.

The Middle East is home to more than 60 percent of its population is under 30 years old. Specifically, the 30 years and under happens to represent the group facilitating change in the political and economic sectors. We have seen examples of them playing a vital and influential part in the decision making process to increase democratic freedom and transform economies to accommodate their needs–thereby making MENA a competitive place in the digital economy market. Needless to say, the MENA region continues to be featured prominently in the ranking, with some notable observations. According to the Global Information Technology Report 2010-2011 produced by the World Economic Forum, there are four MENA countries scored in the top 30 countries out of 138, namely:
• Israel-22nd
• United Arab Emirates (UAE)-24th
• Qatar-25th
• Bahrain-30th

MENA Country Ranking Across Technology Factors

Also, for example, Lebanon entered at 95th place on the list for the first time since the report began analysis ten years ago. There is no doubt that the region is finding its way into the technology ecosystem. measuring and examining key components that is worth highlighting in the tables referenced in the report.

Middle East and North Africa (MENA)
For many young adults, the internet operates as a way of life that no one is willing to return to a twentieth century MENA. In particular, a McKinsey poll ranks communications technology in fourth place, which transformed the world. making as it ranks fourth most important sector according to a poll by Mckinsey. (The McKinsey poll surveyed 4,787 consumers around the world: INSEAD, Global Information Technology Report 2009-2010.)

McKinsey Survey

The region continues to prioritize development in ICT by economic diversification, enhance efficiency, and modernization pushing forward to advance ICT’s R&D in the region like Qatar’s 30 years plan focusing on transforming its economy into more knowledge based. Qatar exemplifies the sector impact:

“Qatar is devoted to develop its economy towards a knowledge-based economy enriching its level of human capital and improving its competitiveness. Knowledge, as it is applied in innovation and entrepreneurship, research and development, product design and Software, and in how people use their education and skills, is now considered to be one of the key sources of sustained growth in the global economy. In this context, the Planning Council of Qatar and the Qatar Foundation have in this context asked the World Bank to help them in carrying out a knowledge economy assessment of Qatar as well as in formulating a knowledge-based economy vision as part of Qatar’s National Vision 2025.”

Readiness Index

Moreover, 7 out of 15 MENA economies evaluated are considered in the high income levels have a cumulative average score below the world average in the same income category as per the table below; however, it is moving forward higher compared to the average of 138 economies evaluated. (Source: The Global Information Technology Report 2010-2011 produced by the World Economic Forum)

Looking at the region from a different perspective, one can determine the impact of ICT is widespread and will affect all key stakeholders: individuals, business, and government.) Evolving technology trends are pointing to the most likely directions they will take over the next few years as per these pillars: social, local, intelligence, and mobile (SLIM).

Social Impact:
ICT is becoming more interlinked to people’s behaviors and social networks. One can notice the future of ICT is expanding from traditional processes and automation themes to include a human and social focus. The popularity of social networks in MENA has grown tremendously in 1st quarter of 2011 driven mainly by the Arab uprising according to a study made by the Dubai school of Government; needless to say, MENA achieved the highest number new users’ in terms of percentage of country’s population compared to other markets as seen below.

Interestingly enough, this phenomenon has its impact on how the region utilizes social networks engaging with their audience and highlights an ongoing trend for business to leverage social networks and transforms information consumers into product consumers. For example, one startup, a pizza parlor in Lebanon has turned to inbound marketing techniques to launch their business opposed to traditional media. Through local bloggers, they made the place a popular one driving new customers to try out their pizza and talk about it freely in social networks creating a buzz and trend to see growing in popularity with small and medium size businesses in MENA Region. Here is a snapshot of what people are saying.
(Image Source: Moritz Stafner – a real time visualization of current tweets on twitter.)

Twitter Graphic

Stay tuned next Sunday for Part 2, the author’s conclusion, but the setup for the follow-up piece that will reflect on these trends regarding the impact on other developmental issues in MENA. PITAPOLICY invites readers to comment, or submit a piece for this Technology series.
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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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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