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Ed Webb

Tunisia preparing to join COMESA in October - Common Market for Eastern & Southern Africa - 1 views

  • Article 4 of the Treaty provides that the COMESA Authority may admit a country which is an immediate neighbour of a Member States upon fulfilling conditions set forth including acceptance of the COMESA aims and objectives, compliance with the general undertakings and fundamental principles and wishing to co-operate with COMESA
    • Ed Webb
       
      Libya is a COMESA member, making Tunisia eligible, despite not being Eastern or Southern Africa.
Ed Webb

Saudi Arabia, China Sign Deals Worth Up to $65 Billion | Foreign Policy - 2 views

  • Saudi Arabian King Salman traveled to China Thursday to deepen economic ties between the world’s biggest oil exporter and the world’s second-largest oil consumer. It’s a key stop in the king’s six-week trip to Asia that comes as Riyadh struggles with a slumping oil market and a desperate need to diversify its economy.
  • up to $65 billion worth of economic and trade deals, spanning sectors from energy to space
  • more than 20 agreements on oil investments and in renewable energy
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  • China even discussed taking a stake in Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil firm, which is preparing for a public listing
  • King Salman, and especially crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, have launched an ambitious campaign to shock the country out of oil-dependency and diversify the economy under the auspices of its Saudi Vision 2030 plan. It’s culminated in the unusual six-week trip to Asia that includes stops in Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, and the Maldives as Salman courts foreign investors
  • Xi couched China’s future role in the Middle East in purely economic terms, citing his country’s ambitious One Belt One Road initiative, China’s state-run Xinhua News reported. He stressed China would continue its longstanding policy of non-interference in the Middle East, in contrast to the United States and European counterparts
  • But China has steadily ramped up involvement in the region as its dependence on Middle Eastern oil grows. Beijing began building its first overseas military outpost, a naval base in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, in 2016. And it funneled thousands of peacekeepers to U.N. missions, including in oil-rich countries like South Sudan.
Ed Webb

Can Cairo stave off discontent over soaring prices? - 0 views

  • As pressure builds on Egyptian livelihoods following the devaluation of the pound and the slashing of fuel subsidies in November, some analysts are wondering if another uprising is looming on the horizon for Egypt. They warn that a new wave of unrest would be bloodier than the 2011 uprising and could spell disaster for the country, still reeling from the turbulent post-revolution transition.
  • Prices of basic food items, medicine, transport and housing have soared, prompting Egyptians to cut spending to make ends meet. The prices of some basic food items have shot up by up to 40%, according to CAPMAS, the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics
  • protests broke out in at least four Egyptian provinces March 7. The demonstrations were triggered by bread shortages in some bakeries after Supply Minister Aly Moselhy announced a new bread subsidies system that he defended as “necessary to curb waste and corruption.” Hundreds of demonstrators blocked roads and cut railways in Alexandria, Giza, Kafr El Sheikh and Minya in protest at the minister’s abrupt decision to reduce the share of bread allotted to holders of paper ration cards to 500 loaves per bakery a day from the original 1,000 and 4,000 loaves (depending on the number of consumers in the bakery’s vicinity.)
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  • The decision to implement the new system was quickly reversed, however, over fears that the simmering bread crisis could provoke wider tumult. Seeking to allay citizens’ concerns that the move was a prelude to a reduction in their quotas of subsidized bread, Moselhy held a televised press conference on the day of the protests, apologizing to “all citizens who had not received bread” and asserting that their quotas would remain untouched. Promising to resolve the crisis within 48 hours, he blamed bakery owners for the crisis, hinting they were making profits off the subsidized flour they received from the government.
  • In the last six years, government spending on food and fuel subsidies has represented more than a quarter of annual government expenditure (more than the country spends on education and health services combined)
  • a thriving black market for the subsidized wheat, which is often resold by the bakeries at a profit rather than turned into bread
  • “The patience of Egyptians is wearing thin,” Cairo University political scientist Hassan Nafaa told Al-Monitor. “Despite the economic pressures they are facing, citizens have so far restrained themselves from protesting because they are weary after two revolutions. They also fear further turmoil as they see the civil wars in some of the neighboring Arab countries. But if people are hungry and if their basic needs are not met, there is likely to be another rebellion,” he warned, adding that if that happens, “It would be messy and bloody.”
  • Tensions have been simmering since the pound’s depreciation — a key requirement by the International Monetary Fund for Egypt to secure a $12 billion loan needed to finance the country’s budget deficit and shore up dwindling foreign currency reserves. Economists and analysts have lauded the flotation as “a much-needed reform that would restore investors’ confidence in the economy, helping foster growth and job creation.”
  • shrinking middle class was already struggling with flat wages, high inflation and mounting unemployment
  • Sisi’s approval ratings, which according to a poll conducted in mid-December 2016 by Baseera (Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research) fell by 50% during his second year in office
  • the weak currency is helping the economy by boosting exports and luring back tourists. A 25% increase in non-petroleum exports in January (compared with the same month last year), along with new loans from the IMF and other sources, is beefing up foreign currency reserves, according to The Economist. The weaker currency is also proving to be a blessing in disguise for local manufacturers as more consumers are opting to purchase local products, which are more affordable than their imported alternatives
  • The real test will be the government’s ability to stave off unrest that could undermine the progress made so far. Nafaa said it is possible to quell the rising anger over soaring prices “through more equitable distribution of wealth, better communication of government policies, transparency and accountability.”
  • “The government must also ease the crackdown on dissent, release detainees who have not committed terror crimes and bring more youths on board,”
Ed Webb

Sovereignty for cash? The Saudi-Maldives island deal making waves | Middle East Eye - 0 views

  • It’s one of the world’s top tourist destinations, with more than a million scantily clad foreigners enjoying its glistening white beaches and crystal clear waters each year.

    Later this month, the Indian Ocean state of the Maldives – particularly popular with honeymooners – is scheduled to play host to a very different kind of visitor when King Salman bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia arrives for official talks and a holiday. 

    Top of the agenda in talks with the government in Male, the Maldives small, cramped capital, is likely to be a $10bn Saudi investment project, believed to include the Saudi purchase or long-term lease of a string of 19 of the island state’s coral atolls.

  • “international sea sports, mixed development, residential high-class development, many tourist resorts, many airports and other industries"
  • “The plans would allow a foreign power control of one of the country’s 26 atolls. It amounts to creeping colonialism.”
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  • The opposition says part of the rational behind the multi-billion dollar Saudi development could be a plan by Riyadh to establish a staging post and special economic zone, complete with port facilities, for oil and gas exports to Asia, particularly to China.
  • with climate change and rising sea levels, there is a very real possibility that the majority of the island nation’s land area will be underwater by the end of the century
  • Abdulla Yameen, the current president – who has strongly denied allegations about government corruption made recently by the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera network - has stressed the need for economic growth and sees the giant Saudi investment as key to future prosperity.

    “We do not need cabinet meetings under water,” says the government. “We need development.”

  • There are also fears that the development, with its large-scale building work and dredging activities, will threaten irreparable damage to what is one of the world’s most pristine but vulnerable ecological regions.
  • Islam in the Maldives has traditionally blended elements of Sufism and other religions; in recent years, a stricter form of Saudi-style "Wahhabism" has predominated. There are concerns that a number of people from the Maldives are believed to have joined the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria and Iraq.
  • The Saudis have pledged to build what they describe as 10 "world class" mosques in the archipelago and have donated $100,000 for scholarships to study in Saudi Arabia. 
  • In early 2016, the government in Male cut diplomat ties with Iran
  • The growing ties between Riyadh and Male have been causing some concern in the region, particularly in India.

    Last year the Binladin Group, the troubled Saudi construction conglomerate, was awarded – for an undisclosed sum – a contract to build a new international airport in the Maldives. 

    A previous agreement with an Indian company to build the airport was terminated; it is likely the Maldives will have to pay millions of dollars in compensation. 

  • Analysts say the Asia trip is about extending Saudi influence and diversifying the Kingdom’s economy away from oil and gas and investing in the region.
Ed Webb

UAE to open second military base in east Africa | Middle East Eye - 0 views

  • The United Arab Emirates is going to set up a second military base in the Horn of Africa, sparking concern among some governments in the region.

    The Somaliland parliament approved the deal for the northern port of Berbera on Sunday

  • Under the 30-year deal, the Emirati government will have exclusive rights to Somaliland’s largest port and manage and oversee operational activities.
  • DP World, the UAE’s ports operator company, will supervise the port, which will gain a naval base as well as an air base. The lease of the port is contingent on the $442 million deal with DP World.
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  • Somaliland will get investment as well as international recognition: no other country has yet recognised the breakaway territory – which separated itself from the rest of Somalia in 1993 - as an "independent state"
  • The Eritrean base has been used by the UAE in the Yemen war against the Houthis. It is not known whether the facility at Berbera will have a similar purpose
  • Abu Dhabi is reaching out to countries in and around the Horn of Africa, as it looks to increase its non-oil revenue through other avenues including real estate, trade and financial services.
  • the UAE will be engaging in trade across the port, and for this, it would require a sustainable road network across Berbera. Hence, as the minister said, it will create opportunities for the local people on infrastructure development.
  • the Somaliland deal has angered Ethiopia, one of the regional powers in the Horn of Africa, which itself has economic ties with the UAE.

    As recently as last year, the UAE and Ethiopia signed several investment deals, under the terms of which the UAE is legally bound to protect the economic interests of Ethiopia

Ed Webb

Jordan's worst nightmare could be yet to come if US embassy moves to Jerusalem | Middle... - 1 views

  • Trump’s repeated vows to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has disproportionately upset the Jordanian government which, at the moment, has no shortage of crises.
  • Key to understanding Jordan’s anxiety is the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty - sometimes called the Wadi Araba Treaty because of where it was signed – signed in October 1994 which stated that Israel would respect the special role that Jordan had historically played in Jerusalem’s holy places and, further, would give priority to the kingdom’s role during final status negotiations.
  • Israel also agreed at the time to refrain from changing – either geographically or demographically - the status of the holy city before reaching at a final agreement to which Jordan was a party.
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  • When Jordan annexed the West Bank in April 1950, Jerusalem became an integral part of the country whose constitution prohibits relinquishing or ceding any part of its territories.

    And even after Israel’s occupation of Jerusalem in 1967, Jordan maintained the right to oversee the city’s holy Islamic and Christian places. To this very day, the Jordanian Ministry of Awqaf (Endowments) continues to provide custodianship and services at Al-Aqsa Mosque and other religious places in Jerusalem.

  • Jerusalem’s legal and political status constitutes an important strategic file as far as the Jordanian regime is concerned. If the US changes the city’s status, from a Jordanian perspective, that would mean that the very mediator and guarantor of the Wadi Araba agreement is taking unilateral measures to change the status of a disputed territory over which negotiations have not yet been finalised
  • Jordan is the most anxious party in the region as a result of Trump’s pledges with regard to move the US embassy, a measure which would imply US acknowledgment that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel
  • recognition like this of Jerusalem as the Israel capital would breach the 1994 peace agreement, destroy all peace efforts and fatally end the final status negotiations in which the city is one of the most prominent and most crucial issues
  • the Al-Aqsa intifada in 2000 erupted and raged on for several years because of the holy city. The uprising saw the collapse of the Oslo agreement with the termination of the geographical designation of the West Bank territories into A, B and C as well as the unilateral decision to withdraw Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip without negotiations
  • Jordan is keen to avoid more chaos in the region, but especially because a large proportion of Jordanian citizens have Palestinian roots and are linked, through family and tribal ties, to Palestinians living in the West Bank
  • moving the embassy would breach the Jordanian-Israeli agreement that was signed thanks to US mediation and sponsorship. It would render final status negotiations into absurdity because the most important issue – Jerusalem - would have been settled as a fait accompli by the Israelis and the Americans
Ed Webb

In many countries, Millennials more inclusive than elders in views of national identity... - 0 views

  • Across a number of countries that are wrestling with the politics of national identity, younger people are far more likely than their elders to take an inclusive view of what it takes for people to be truly considered “one of us” – whether the measure is being born in their country, sharing local customs and traditions or being Christian.
  • The divide between the young and the old over birthright nationality is quite wide in certain European countries: 21 percentage points in the United Kingdom and 16 points each in Greece and Spain
  • Views on the importance of culture to national identity also split along generational lines. A majority (55%) of older Americans but only 28% of younger adults believe it is very important that a person share U.S. national customs and traditions to be truly American. There is a similar 20-point generation gap in Australia, Canada and Japan.
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  • In these predominantly Christian countries, older people are generally much more likely than younger ones to link national identity to being Christian.
  • only in Greece (65% of those ages 50 and older) does a majority of any age group believe it is very important for one to be Christian to be a true national
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    Important data for thinking comparatively about the relationship between certain aspects of identity and perceptions about national belonging.
Ed Webb

Could hydroponics save Yemen from starving? | Green Prophet - 0 views

  • The number of food insecure people in Yemen has risen by 3 million in seven months, with an estimated 17.1 million people now struggling to feed themselves
  • More than two-thirds of Yemen’s population of 27.4 million people now lack access to food and consume an inadequate diet. Another Syria-style crisis may be on our way, and climate change and lack of water is making it worse.
  • “We are witnessing some of the highest numbers of malnutrition amongst children in Yemen in recent times. Children who are severely and acutely malnourished are 11 times more at risk of death as compared to their healthy peers, if not treated on time. Even if they survive, these children risk not fulfilling their developmental potentials, posing a serious threat to an entire generation in Yemen and keeping the country mired in the vicious cycle of poverty and under development,”
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  • 80 percent of Yemenis are in now in debt, and more than half of all households have had to buy food on credit.
  • Up to 1.5 million households engaged in agriculture now lack access to critical agricultural inputs (including seeds, fertiliser, fuel for irrigation) and are in urgent need of emergency agricultural support. Of these, 860 000 households engaged in livestock production lack access to animal feed (fodder, concentrate, mineral blocks) and many livestock-dependent households have been forced to sell their herds to cater for other household needs
Ed Webb

Persepolis: Iran tourism gateway faces climate threats | | Al Jazeera - 0 views

  • While political tensions between the West and Tehran continue, one of the industries that has benefited most from the thawing of relations is tourism, with the country reporting 18 percent growth in international arrivals last year. Visitors from North America, Europe and the Middle East represented more than a quarter of the total number of arrivals from January to December 2016
  • agricultural activities have caused the soil around Persepolis to collapse owing to the depletion of groundwater and drought. Growth of algae and bacteria in the ruins have also threatened the many archaeological objects at the site, which was carved on the side of the Rahmet Mountain.

    But with the reopening of the country, experts from Japan and Italy are lending their hands to preserve the site for the many visitors expected in the years to come.

Ed Webb

From SEALs to All-Out War: Why Rushing Into Yemen Is a Dangerous Idea | Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • As is often the case with Trump’s comments on policy, they quickly become the focus of media attention, rather than what the administration is actually doing — or what the facts are on the ground.
  • two separate but overlapping conflicts
  • a counterterrorism fight waged by Yemeni government, with U.S. support, against AQAP, al Qaeda’s most virulent franchise
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  • The second, and more damaging conflict, is a civil war between the government of Yemen and the Houthi minority, which was expected to last a matter of weeks, and maybe months, but is now well into its third year. It began when Houthi militia fighters descended on the capital Sanaa in late 2014 and soon evicted the government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, a close partner of the United States.
  • if new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wants to make an early diplomatic contribution, then there is a confounding but vital mission with his name on it: de-escalating a Yemen civil war that is damaging U.S. interests and should have stopped a long time ago
  • The civil war escalated dramatically in March 2015, with the intervention of a coalition led by Saudi Arabia, which understandably felt threatened by the turmoil on its border and by ties between the Houthis and Riyadh’s arch-rival Iran. The United States, which had long been urging Saudi Arabia to take greater responsibility for security challenges in its region, offered a range of support, including with intelligence, weapons sales, aerial refueling for Saudi planes, and various measures to help secure the Saudi border
  • According to the United Nations, 16,200 people have been killed in Yemen since the intervention, including 10,000 civilians. The humanitarian situation in what was already one of the world’s poorest countries, is now, after Syria, the most dire on the planet, with one in five Yemenis severely food insecure
  • The war has preoccupied key partners with an enemy that does not directly threaten the United States. Indiscriminate air strikes, conducted with American weapons and in the context of American assistance, have killed scores of non-combatants (such incidents eventually compelled the Obama administration to review and adjust our assistance to the coalition). And while Iran and the Houthis have historically maintained an arms-length relationship, the long conflict has brought them closer and led to the introduction of more advanced weapons, such as missiles capable of striking deep into Saudi territory or of threatening the Bab al-Mandeb Strait, a critical channel for maritime traffic.
  • Saudi officials and their Emirati coalition partners have been signaling for months that they are eager to end the conflict, which they did not expect to last nearly this long
  • after years of U.N.-led negotiations that sought to sell a relatively one-sided peace to the Houthis (despite what was, at best, a stalemate on the ground), the Obama administration developed and bequeathed to its successors a more balanced roadmap to which all key parties (the Saudis, the Houthis, and the Yemeni government — as well as the United States, U.N., and U.K.) grudgingly agreed
  • the Houthis are infamously difficult to work with. When Secretary of State John Kerry met for several hours with their representatives in Oman last November, he was forced to endure a lengthy airing of historical grievances before embarking on the topic at hand. They also have a long history of violating dozens of agreements, which every Saudi diplomat can recount, chapter and verse.

    Negotiating peace will also inevitably involve straining relationships with our key partners, who will need to be pushed in the right direction

  • Hadi, who all relevant players acknowledge cannot govern a reconciled Yemeni state, has consistently scuttled deals that would require him leave office. His Saudi patrons have proven either unwilling, or unable, to compel better behavior and are themselves too are quick to revert to unreasonable demands — a tendency that would be reinforced if the Trump administration signals it unconditionally has Riyadh’s back
  • the Emiratis, who maintain a heavy troop presence in southern Yemen but have, wisely, been more focused on AQAP (the first war) than the Houthis (second), have for many months been threatening to attack the Houthi-held port of Hudeidah, a provocative step that would almost certain set back any peacemaking efforts indefinitely
  • an expanded presence of U.S. forces — while Yemeni and Saudi governments are still at war with the Houthis — could bring U.S. troops into close quarters with Iran and its proxies, with all of the escalatory potential that entails
  • While the Houthis fired on a U.S. ship late last year, they have not repeated that mistake since the Obama administration retaliated by destroying radars located along the coast. If President Trump chooses to put U.S. forces into the middle of a civil war, it should explain a purpose and objective more concretely than simply “pushing back” on Iran. Moreover, it must do so with its eyes open to the risks those forces would be assuming and the reality that a limited special forces mission is unlikely to turn the tide on the ground
  • the longer the conflict with the Houthis continues, the more AQAP will continue to benefit from our, and our partners’, divided focus, as it strengthens its hold on ungoverned territory
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