Archive of ‘Middle East’ category

The EEDC and Obstructionism

EEDC_Youm7_Cairo_Egypt_Mar-2015

As the events of the Egyptian Economic Development Conference have come to a close, with over 1700 investors’ attending and $50 billion dollars of aid, investments and pledges made to Egypt, it’s time to take stock of what it all means to Egypt, both domestically and internationally. While many of you outside of Egypt might not have heard of the conference or even wonder about the significance of an economic conference to begin with, the view from inside Egypt could not be more different. For the majority of the Egyptian public, this was the most important event of 2015: It was Egypt’s coming out party; the social ball of the season, with the Egyptian government playing the role of the sole debutante.

The reception of the conference by the Egyptian public has been nothing short of positive, with the local media covering every detail and social media timelines positively buzzing with conversations on its organization, execution and the positive sentiments its attendees expressed regarding the future of the country. The amount of goodwill it generated towards the Sisi government could not be overstated, especially in contrast to the litany of news about daily bombings, austerity measures- both enacted and proposed- and horrifying deaths caused by ISIS or ISIS affiliates, the notorious Egyptian ministry of Interior, or incompetency and pure negligence. With the government hyping up the conference for the past few months as Egypt’s main chance of survival amidst a regional sea of chaos, its success in terms of drawing international figures, lack of organizational hick-ups and the absence of “security incidences” has made it nothing short of a triumph in the eyes of the Egyptian middle-class. For the first time in ages, Egypt looked- for a lack of a better word- shiny.

As far as Sisi and his government are concerned, this conference was a much-needed kiss of life. After a year filled with subsidy cuts, rising prices, embarrassing security leaks, and well-documented horrifying cases of human rights abuses both on the hands of the police and the judiciary, the government’s desperately needed an “achievement” to show the people. Sisi, on the other hand, needed to showcase that he had the international legitimacy that all of his previous predecessors’ – including Morsi and Mubarak-enjoyed. This event’s success would mark the end of Egypt’s international isolation since June 30, one that his critics attribute solely to his decision to run for office after deposing previous Islamist President Mohamed Morsi. By drawing in Western diplomats, MNC’s and heads of state, Sisi can finally silence his critics and showcase his ability to bring Egypt back into the international fold and bring in much needed foreign investments. It doesn’t matter that none of this would’ve happened if his regime wasn’t backed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, who have certainly helped bring in the international business community; in the end, it’s Sisi who ended up getting all the credit. The Irony here is that, if you speak to the people involved in organizing the conference, it all almost fell apart thanks to Sisi’s government, specifically the Ministry of International Cooperation.

The story goes as follows: The EECD is officially the show of the Egyptian ministry of Investments, who worked closely with many in the Egyptian private sector and international consultants, to ensure that it all came out perfect, with the Emiratis footing the bill. However, in compliance to Egyptian bureaucracy, the UAE couldn’t pay them directly, so they have to send the money through the ministry of International cooperation, which is responsible for receiving all international aid and is supposed to act as a funnel for the money, and nothing more. However, anyone who works in civil society in Egypt knows that the MIC resents being simply a conduit between foreign donors and local partners, especially those who they had no influence in choosing or approving. So in order to gain influence, the Ministry of International cooperation end up doing the one thing they are not supposed to do: they obstruct.

The MIC either outright refuses to release the money, or delays it as much as humanely possible. Why? Some claim that they do so to earn as many interest points as they can on the money going through their bank-accounts, but the reality is that they do this because it gives them leverage and importance, a role if you will. This is their M.O. with all the local NGO’s for the past decade, and they didn’t change it when it came to the EECD’s money. They delayed the payment of the international organizers to the point that they- much to the chagrin of the UAE who had sent the money long ago- threatened to pull the plug on the conference mere weeks of its launch if they don’t get paid. It was then and only then that the MIC finally released the money, preventing the EEDC from becoming an international fiasco and ruining the hard work of everybody involved. To be fair though, the MIC isn’t the only government institution that used obstructionism as method for leverage and power when it came to this conference; the entire Egyptian state – with the exception of the ministry of investment- did in fact.

Foreign Investors have two main problems when it comes to investing in Egypt, and both were not addressed in the new Investment law: 1) The State’s land zoning and allocation: knowing which land in Egypt is allocated to which government body to facilitate the process of buying it, and 2) Being able to get their money or profits out when they chose to. The first problem exists because it would require the military to clearly state which land belongs to them and to allocate the rest to the different ministries and municipalities, which means that the military would have to publically state which land belongs to them, and to give up land under their control, neither of which they want to do. This leaves any potential investor without the proper information necessary to 1) plan his/her investment, whether it was industrial, real estate, touristic, agricultural, mining, i.e. any investment that requires land purchase, and 2) know which governmental body to go to in order to purchase that land they wish to acquire. This naturally limits potential foreign investors from investing in Egypt, which limits the FDI dollars sorely needed in the country to solve problem #2, being able to transfer foreign currency out. Both problems would be resolved if the military cooperated and the state created a clear land allocation map for Egypt, but the military obstructed for the aforementioned reasons, and the country ends up with only a fraction of the investments it sorely needs to jumpstart the economy.

The good news is, much like the MIC and the conference money, the military will eventually be forced to stop its obstructionism and work with the rest of the state to create that map, which would not only benefit foreign investors, but local ones as well. They will do so because they have no choice, and because goodwill and PR can only take you so far before economic realities slap you in the face, and they will sooner than later. The old state needs to learn that having their cake and eating it too will not work for long in a country this hungry, and that instead of using obstructionism to gain influence or retain interests, they might have to also work and compromise in order to get Egypt back on its feet. Egyptians have patiently accommodated painful austerity measures and higher taxes as part of the price to pay to get the country moving; its high-time for the government to do the same.

The Arab Media Response to the Wikileaks

I joked today on Twitter that I believe the world will probably deal with this the same way regular people deal with post-one-night-stand-hook-up awkwardness: Everyone had their fun but seen each other naked and now they just wanna do their walk of shame and pretend it never happened.I have been monitoring media websites the entire day waiting to see how the different arab medias will cover the subject , betting that they will either ignore it completely or focus on what was said in the name of the leaders of the other arab countries instead of their own. It seems that the media honchos decided that they couldn't ignore the news completely, so they went with option #2. Here is the breakdown:

In Egypt I focused on two "independent" media outlets, Masrway and shorouk news . Here is what they said respectively:

Masrawy mainly focused on two aspects: The awkwardness that has befallen the US gulf allies from the leak , and everything that had to do with Iran on them, fromthe US closely inspecting Iranian diplomats who went to Iraq, to the report that Iran used the Red Crescent to send weapons to Hezbollah during the Lebanon war, to how the wikileaks won't affect Iran's diplomatic relations with its neighbours . There was one mention about how Turkey's Erdogan simply hates Israel. No mention of Egypt at all.

Shorouk , on the other hand, went all over the place with their coverage, from focusing on Qhathafi's suspect relationship with his nurse , to Burlesconi's jovial reaction to what was written , and ending it with an article on how Israel sees great benefit in the Iran wikileaks and how Erdogan doesn't believe the website to be credible . No mention of Egypt, plus subtley making it look like it was all an israeli plot. Bravo Shorouk, you get bonus points for a job well done.

AlJazeera:

As expected, AlJazeera ignored everything said about Qatar, and instead had one article about how the arabs (sans qatar, duhh) have tired to goad the US to attack Iran , and then two articles on how wikileaks embaresses US foriegn policy and whether or not those documents should be published in the first place.

And finally, we have Alarabiya:

Saudi owned AlArabiya went with the weirdest option of them all. They published one article , titled how Saudi and Iran asked the US to be firmer on the US (mentioned in passing in one paragraph) and then went into lengthy detail on how Qatar said they lie to the Iranians who lie back, Israeli diplomacy and the role of Egypt in the 2009 Ghaza War.That is all.

So, in conclusion, the arab media oultlets are sticking to their guns, ignoring or glossing over news that deal with their leaders, and focusing instead of the regional enemies or making the whole thing look like a farce. Given how very few options they actually have (god forbid they actually cover the news accurately), I think they did a very fine Job in reporting on this, without looking the bottom-feeding biased hacks that they are.

God bless you Julian Assenge. We wouldn't be having so much fun if it wasn't for your geeky ass.

Qhaddafi the libertarian

The man is brilliant.

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi urged a sweeping reform of government
on Sunday, saying most of the cabinet system should be dismantled as it
had failed to manage the north Africa's country's windfall oil earnings.

Gaddafi told the General People's Congress or parliament that big
projects were behind schedule and so ordinary people should themselves
devise a new way of sharing out oil revenues.

"All citizens have the right to benefit from the oil funds. They
should take the money and do whatever they want with it," he said in a
speech in his home town of Sirte.

His call for the dismantling of most cabinet committees, key cogs
in Libya's unique Jamahiriyah or "state of the masses" system, is
expected to be debated by parliament in coming days.

What would the middle-east be like without him? Seriously.. 

Gaza lessons and facts

  1. Rules of modern Invasion: In order to effectively invade a country (what do you call the blowing up of borders and the forced entry of hundreds of thousands of foreigners if not an invasion), what you need to do is put the women and children in the front. This way, the people on the border you are trying to get over would be forced to shoot at women and children in order to stop you. And if you are Egyptian considering this as some sort of exaggeration of the situation, one has to wonder what your reaction would've been if the people blowing up our borders and storming in were Israelis: would it still be ok in your books? There is a silver-lining to all of this though: it gives us the blueprint to do what we want and get away with murder. I say we should gather up all of Egypt's poor and march them towards the Saudi borders, cause, u know, they are our arab borthers and their living conditions are better than ours. We will send women and children first, and have them swim over, which the media will give some fancy name for, some Red Sea-Moses-let-my-people-go analogy, "crossing the divide" or " Channeling People Power" or some bullshit like that, and then we can effectively take over Saudi, or at least Jeddah. Yeah, that should work. LIBERATE MECCA!
  2. This was all premeditated: Hamas has been cutting the wall for a month now, preparing for it to come down on the eve of the Palestinian factions conference hosted by Hamas in Syria. This was done in order to maximize the media attention to Khaled Mesh3el and his gang of Syrian-Iranian-backed cronies, thus giving them more of the spotlight than they would've ever received. This is a PR stunt, a Hamas PR stunt to be exact, and as always, the Palestinian people are being used as props and tools, but not only them. The Egyptian Left was used as well. The Muslim Brotherhood had arranged far too quickly a demonstration in downtown Cairo, which they of course invited the leftists over, because, you know, Islamists and socialist Marxists are like two peas in the same ideological pod, right? Right. The MB knew about this, and they were very quick to support Hamas, not because the Palestinians are suffering, but because they really want the Hamas project to work out, you know, them being the first Muslim Brotherhood government in the region. Good on you leftists, you are being used, once again, for the advancements of the goals of the Muslim Brotherhood. Were you always such stupid political whores, or is this just the case of really wanting to matter once again? I am curious. Let me know.
  3. The Palestinians are the Gods of the PR game: No one, and I mean no one, have the ability to manipulate the media like the Palestinian authorities. I mean seriously, mucho respect to y'all. I mean, did you see that picture of Haneiyah having a cabinet meeting lit by candle-light? Or the way the women and children looked like, as they crossed the border as the wall fell down? Or the "People Power" branding they gave the entire thing? Yes, cause I am sure the Palestinian government did not store enough fuel for itself in cases of emergency, or that the fact that the words "People Power" showed up in every fuckin
    blog post and news item covering this debacle was merely a telepathic coincidence amongst all the writers the world over. I love it. Gives me the warm fuzzies all over, you know?
  4. The people aren't as hungry or suffering as you all claim: A Palestinian-american friend of mine just came back from visiting his grandparents in Gaza ( just jumped over the fence and back he said, no one is controlling the borders apparently), and he was telling me how the entire "they are hungry people looking for food" headline story is a crock of shit. He laughingly told me that they are buying motorcycles, mattresses and TV's and other such basic survival needs (the media is confirming it if you think I am lying you big morons), and how some of his family members after going to Al Areesh-on the first day of the "people power" event-for vacation mind you, were like "This is Areesh? This sucks! Gaza is better!" and then went back the next day. He also told me that the price of the AK 47 in Gaza has now dropped to a measly 400 JD's. There is apparently too much supply to the demand. Yay for Open Borders!
  5. Israel's plan is now clear: The Israelis want to throw Gaza on Egypt, and Hamas is playing into their hand. The moment Mubarak, in order to save face of not being able to secure the country's borders, said that he is letting people in cause "they are hungry" (wink wink, nudge nudge), the Israelis were like "well, if you are gonna do that, you get to keep them. They are your responsibility now" and then probably danced in glee. Not gonna happen cousins, they are not yours to give or ours to keep. This is your and their's problem, not ours, and they are still your responsibility. Sorry kids, but we are not going back to the days of Pre-1967. You took over those areas, you can't give them back to us 40 years later after its run by Iranian-backed- Muslim Brotherhood Islamists who are armed to the teeth. Pottery Barn rules apply here too Israelis: You broke it, you are just gonna have to buy it.
  6. The world is still filled with useful idiots: Nothing makes my heart warmer than American leftist hippies chanting slogans in 4X4 beat or declaring Support for Hamas. Yes, yes, Viva Viva Intifada, indeed.
  7. Egypt is planning its own disengagement: File this under fantastic unconfirmed rumors my friend. A good source of mine informed me that he was just in a meeting where an agreement for a second Sinai canal was made, one that would separate Sinai from Asia (and thus Gaza) permanently. The proposed Canal will benefit both Egypt, Jordan and Israel financially, and will provide a water replenishing source for the Jordanian Dead Sea, which ahs been losing water for quite some time now. It's initial phase will cost 15 Billion US dollars, and according to the source 12 Billion of which are coming from Qatar. This should give Gaza a second beach and a second port away from the Israeli navy, which should enable them to get all the goods they ever need through ships and not resort to blowing walls. I do propose giving the Palestinians a piece of the action though, cause otherwise they will start shooting at commerce ships passing through until they do get some money out of it. Their apologist then will claim such actions as being done "out of the desperation caused by the humanitarian crisis", so I am sure y'all would understand.

Yesterday

I was at a Christmas party yesterday, hosted by a muslim friend of mine. The party's invitees were mostly christians, a couple of which are Christmas orphans (foreigners studying in egypt with nowhere to go on christmas eve), and we had a tree to decorate and everything. The boss of one of our christian female friends and attendees apparently just got back from Hajj, and got her a gift: a full islamic Abayah and head covering (hint hint). So our friend came over, wearing the abayah, the hijab, and big ass cross on her chest, clearly visible. Everybody thought it was hilarious and they started to take pictures of her and asking her to pose for them, going all " But make the cross visible. Can you make it more visible? Can you hold it? Can I take another picture?" for a good five minutes. Me and the other muslim friend are just sitting there next to each other, watching all of this taking place. Then, without even looking at him, I say:

"You ever get the feeling that we are hanging out with a persecuted minority?"

"Uh-hum", he smilingly replies, nodding his head. 

I take a sip of my glass of wine and say: "Yeah, me too!" 

Merry Christmas everybody!

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