I’m a Palestinian from Gaza, not an alien

The people of Gaza don’t need the sympathy of the international community, they need to be treated like human beings.

By Abeer Ayyoub

I’m a Palestinian from Gaza, not simply “a Gazan.” I’m not exactly what you see in the mainstream media: I’m no expert in firing rockets, I don’t live under rubble and I don’t rely on humanitarian handouts.

Actually, I was never aware of how people outside of Gaza saw us until I was given the chance to leave the isolated enclave for the first time. The first time I left Gaza was in 2012, when I traveled to Jerusalem for some work meetings. It was strange to find out that even Palestinians who live only dozens of miles away are also mislead by the media about the truth of Palestinians in the strip.

I was extremely overwhelmed to see the other parts of my homeland for the first time. I wanted to tell everyone I met that I was from Gaza, since most people never get to meet us in real life. “I’m from Gaza,” I announced to the Palestinian receptionist at the fancy East Jerusalem hotel with a wide smile. He went speechless before mockingly asking whether I had any rockets in my pockets. I expected such comments from Israelis, but never from a Palestinians.

The next day, I traveled from Jerusalem to Ramallah on a bus near Damascus Gate. After finding a window seat, a handsome man came to sit beside me. We made some small talk – I could tell he was from Bethlehem, but he had no idea where I was from. “I’m from Gaza,” I said. “ No way, but you are cute and smart!” he said. Once again, I went speechless. Where on earth did he get the idea that people from Gaza are any less cute or smart than those in Bethlehem?

These incidents could not prepare me for the reactions I would receive when I traveled to the United States a few weeks later, where some people had no idea that Gaza even exists.

So, for all those who are misled by photos of bombings and bloodshed: yes, there is an ongoing conflict in Palestine, not only in Gaza. And yes, Gaza is not an independent region, it is a part of occupied Palestine. These facts don’t make me an alien.

It became tiresome and offensive to repeatedly hear people ask whether people in Gaza go shopping, receive an education, go to the gym or travel. Yes, the 1.8 million besieged people in Gaza who live under fire, totally isolated from the world, do go to schools and universities; find proper jobs; and travel (when Egypt opens the Rafah crossing).

The people of Gaza do not need the sympathy of the international community. Humanitarian handouts are not the only thing people in Gaza lack. Gaza is full oftalented and intellectual people. Palestinians in Gaza need only to be treated like normal humans who deserve respect for teaching the whole world how to live day by day.

(Source / 22.03.2014)

Abbas: Israel not freeing prisoners would be breach of deal

Abbas said Palestinians will not agree to extend peace talks with Israel unless it releases more prisoners beyond the final batch.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas warned Saturday of action if Israel failed to release the fourth and final batch of veteran prisoners as agreed under a U.S.-backed deal.

“We are awaiting the release of the fourth batch of prisoners, as agreed upon with the Israelis through the United States,” he told members of the central committee of his Fatah movement.

“We are saying, if they are not released, this is a violation of the agreement and allows us to act however we see fit within the norms of international agreements.”

Israel agreed to release a total of 104 long-term prisoners when talks kick-started by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry began in July.

It has freed 78 so far, nearly all of them who had been imprisoned for over 20 years.

But Israeli ministers have warned that should the Palestinians not agree to extend talks beyond their April 29 deadline, they will not release the remaining detainees as scheduled on March 29.

Earlier this month, Abbas said Palestinians will not agree to extend peace talks with Israel unless it releases more prisoners beyond the final batch.

The U.S. is fighting an uphill battle to get the two sides to agree to a framework proposal to extend the so far fruitless negotiations to the year’s end.

(Source / 22.03.2014)

Egypt excludes Qatar, Turkey from upcoming Islamic summit

Egypt’s Awqaf Minister Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa said this year’s iteration of the conference will deal with challenges that extremist ideologies impose on the region.
Turkish and Qatari delegates have been excluded from attending an upcoming Islamic affairs summit in Egypt, a minister said on Saturday, citing the two nations’ foreign policies towards some Arab states as the reason.

Egypt’s Awqaf (religious endowments) Minister Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa said invitations were not sent to the two countries to attend the two-day conference of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs starting on Monday.

Gomaa said Egypt had decided not to deal with any Turkish official until Turkey imposes a change on its foreign policy, reported al-Dostour newspaper, in an apparent reference to Ankara’s frosty relations with Cairo after the crackdown on Islamist protesters in the Egyptian capital in August last year.

The decision to exclude a Qatari delegation from the conference was made by Egypt after some Arab states curtailed ties with Doha last month, the minister said, adding that Qatar is involved in acts that “harm the security of Egypt,” local daily al-Masry al-Youm reported.

Diplomatic rift

The minister was likely referring to a surprise move by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates earlier this month to withdraw their ambassadors from Qatar over allegations of meddling in their internal affairs.

Meanwhile, Gomaa had stressed that this year’s iteration of the conference will deal with challenges that extremist ideologies impose on the region.

“This year’s conference aims at correcting concepts among many young people and extremist groups,” a statement said Friday.

The statement said the conference will work on “putting an end to takfiri (apostate) thoughts and fatwas” that can cause damage to “national interests and international relations.”

(Source / 22.03.2014)

Non-violent weekly anti-Wall protests in 5 West Bank villages attacked by Israeli troops

Eleven civilians were injured on Friday when Israeli soldiers attacked the nonviolent protests organized in 5 different West Bank villages.

Archive image of past protest in Bil'in village (image by mondoweiss.net)
Archive image of past protest in Bil’in village

Eight civilians were injured when Israeli troops attacked the weekly protest organized by the villagers of Kufr Kadum in northern West Bank. soldiers also invaded the village and fired tear gas into residents homes, as a result many civilians, including children, suffered effects of tear gas inhalation. Following the invasion of the village, some youth began throwing stones at the soldiers.

In central West Bank, at the villages of Bil’in and Ni’lin, Israeli soldiers attacked the protesters as soon as they reached the gate in the wall that separates local farmers from their lands. in Bil’in a 13 year old boy was injured in his foot and many other protesters suffered the effects of tear gas inhalation and were treated by field medics.

In the nearby al Nabi Saleh village, Israeli troops fired several rounds of rubber-coated steel bullets at the villagers as soon as they reached the village entrance. Moreover Israeli troops fired tear gas at residential areas causing damage to the houses as some of the tear gas canisters went through the windows inside the villagers’ homes.

In Al-Ma’asara village, Israeli troops stopped villagers and their supporters at the entrance of the village and forced them back, however, no injuries were reported.

(Source / 22.03.2014)

As Abbas Returns from US, Critics Say Talks Doomed to Fail

Upon returning to the West Bank Thursday after his latest visit to Washington, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas assured crowds he was holding fast to Palestinian ideals.

“It is impossible for the Palestinian leadership to abandon inalienable rights,” Abbas told thousands gathered near his office in Ramallah.

“We traveled and came back still holding fast to our promise. Be assured that we will triumph. We will never breach the trust.”

Analysts remain skeptical of the hopes for a lasting solution, however, nine months into the latest round of US-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

In a statement issued by the Institute for Middle East Understanding Monday, critics expressed pessimism over the chances for peace.

“Chances of success are as slim as predicted,” said Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the Jerusalem Fund and the Palestine Center in Washington.

“The best Washington seems to be hoping for now is an extension of talks. This serves nothing more than the Israeli interest of continuing to occupy and colonize Palestinian territory,” Munayyer said.

“The predictable failure is a product of an American policy that fails to hold Israel accountable and makes perpetual occupation a viable policy option in Israel. Until this changes, little else will.”

Director of Palestinian think tank Al-Shabaka Nadia Hijab questioned Abbas’ choice to participate in US-brokered peace talks while vowing not to make moves at the international level.

“As Mahmoud Abbas left his meeting with US president Barack Obama today, did he reflect on the lessons of seeking peace without power?” Hijab asked while Abbas was in Washington.

“Did he regret securing Palestine’s upgraded status as a non-member observer state of the United Nations but then freezing its moves to join other UN organizations or the International Criminal Court in favor of yet more US-mediated negotiations that only result in increased pressure for Palestinian concessions?”

Sam Bahour, a Palestinian-American business consultant in Ramallah, warned observers against misunderstanding the US role in the peace talks.

“President Obama’s meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House, which comes on the heels of a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, may give the impression that the US is an even-handed mediator in this never-ending Middle East peace process,” Bahour said.

“Such a reading would be a strategic misunderstanding. There is not an iota of symmetry between a military occupying power and a supposedly protected occupied people. When the US stops putting Israel’s interests before its own and starts holding it accountable in proportion to the severity of its violations of international law, then maybe peace will have a chance.”

Peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians were relaunched in July under the auspices of the US after nearly three years of impasse.

Israel’s government has announced the construction of thousands of settler housing units since the talks began, and its army has killed 60 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza since talks began.

(Source / 22.03.2014)

Syrian Coalition Sends Greetings to Syrian Kurds on The Occasion Of Nowruz

Nora Al Ameer, vice president of the Syrian Coalition, criticizes statements by the former U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, who said that “Syria would probably be “more and more cantonized and a patchwork controlled by competing factions.” Al Ameer stresses that Mr. Ford should realize that the Syrian people revolted to change the status quo. It is the people who create reality through the sacrifices they make.” Al Ameer also showed surprise at Mr. Ford’s remarks that “the Syrian opposition has been very unsuccessful at explaining an agenda that would not threaten the communities that are the pillars of support for the regime, first and foremost the Alawite community.” She said that “There are no minorities in Syria, but it is a crisis caused by the Assad regime to use it as a card to hammer home its political agenda. We are all one people that the Assad during sought to divide along racial or sectarian lines. Everyone knows the injustice suffered by the Kurds during the reign of the Assad regime, which deprived them of their culture or speak their language, and it even banned Kurdish names in an effort to eradicate this basic component out of the Syrian society. However, the Syrians have proven they are one people whose unity and identity cannot be undermined by political maneuvers.” On the occasion of Nowruz, Al Ameer sends her warmest wishes to the Syrian people, in particular Syrian Kurds who have been denied the right to celebrate this festival since the Assad family came to power more than 40 years ago. During this “new day,” which marks the start of spring, the Syrian people reflect on more than three years of destruction and terror caused by a despotic regime. They look forward to erasing Syria of the Assad family’s tyranny so that they can work together, Syrians from all different political, ethnic, and religious backgrounds, to build a free, democratic and pluralistic Syria.” Al Ameer went on: “The Assad regime simply cannot satisfy neither the majority nor the minority because it is an internal occupation that tries to legitimize the occupation, terrorism and humilitation of the Syrian people. On Mother’s Day, Al Ameer said that “I would like to wish all mothers around the world a happy and peaceful Mother’s Day. I would also like to express my unwavering solidarity with Syrian mothers as they face the daily horrors of a conflict triggered by the intransigence of a despotic tyrant. Assad refused to realize the legitimate demands of the Syrian people, and in his attempts to silence them, led Syria to destruction and chaos. Like all Syrians, women have to face all kinds of atrocities including, rape, torture, starvation, and death. Women in Syria joined the uprising since its early days. They were among the first to take to the streets and call for freedom. They rushed to tend to the injured civilians when the Assad regime decided to crush the uprising by indiscriminately shelling towns and cities across Syria. Syrian Mothers taught their sons and daughters they were born free, and that no matter how violent the regime becomes they must not give up their rightful demands of a free and democratic Syria. “I urge Syrian women to increase their active engagement in the political process, as well as the civil movement against the Assad regime. Syria needs all of its citizens, including women who after the removal of the Assad regime will be equal partners in building a new, free, pluralistic and democratic Syria.”
(Source: Syrian Coalition / 22.03.2014)

Israeli soldiers tried to use journalists as ‘human shields’ in Aida clashes

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — A journalist said that by Israeli soldiers tried to use him and two colleagues as “human shields” while they were covering clashes in Aida refugee camp north of Bethlehem on Saturday afternoon.

Journalist Musa al-Shaer said that soldiers detained him and his colleague Abd al-Rahman Yunus, as well as an American journalist, while they were covering clashes in the camp between local youths and Israeli forces.

Additionally, al-Shaer told Ma’an that Israeli soldiers had prevented them from doing their work and tried to use them as “human shields” against local youths who were throwing rocks.

Al-Shaer said that the soldiers released them and returned their press cards, but refused to give any reason for their detention.

During the clashes, Israeli forces fired stun grenades and tear gas grenades into the camp, injuring several residents by excessive tear gas inhalation.

An Israeli army spokeswoman did not return calls seeking comment.

The clashes come after Israeli forces killed three Palestinians during a raid in the northern West Bank city of Jenin.

Aida camp is a frequent site of clashes because it is located beside Rachel’s Tomb, which is surrounded on three sides by the Israeli separation wall despite being in the middle of the Palestinian city of Bethlehem.

Israeli forces shot more than 20 youths with rubber-coated steel bullets and live bullets during clashes that occurred almost daily in December and January, and clashes continue to break out occasionally in the area.

There are 19 refugee camps in the occupied West Bank, within which live about a quarter of the 771,000 registered refugees in the territory.

More than 760,000 Palestinians — estimated today to number 4.8 million with their descendants — were pushed into exile or driven out of their homes in the conflict surrounding Israel’s creation in 1948.

Ma'an ImagesMa'an Images

(Source / 22.03.2014)

Water apartheid in Palestine – a crime against humanity?

Systematic, acute, malicious discrimination in access to water in the West Bank and Gaza, combined with massive resource theft, is operated by the occupation authorities and the private water company Mekorot, writes Ayman Rabi on UN World Water Day.

Farmer Fadel Jaber is arrested for 'stealing water' in  the Palestinian village of Sussia, on South Mt. Hebron.  Israel has constructed water pipes in the area, but they only serve the army and the settlers. The Palestinians are forced to drive to the clo

Farmer Fadel Jaber is arrested for ‘stealing water’ in the Palestinian village of Sussia, on South Mt. Hebron. Israel has constructed water pipes in the area, but they only serve the army and the settlers. The Palestinians are forced to drive to the closest town, and buy their water in tanks over there.

Settlements benefit from enough water to run farms and orchards, and for swimming pools and spas, while Palestinians often struggle to access the minimum water requirements.

Today is UN World Water Day – a day to remember the billion people who are unable to meet their needs for safe, clean water due to drought, poverty and official neglect.

But it’s also a day to remember, and fight for, 2.1 million Palestinians who suffer something different – an artificial water scarcity deliberately created and sustained by Israel’s military occupation, and the private Israeli water company Mekorot.

Increased international pressure brings hope that the tide may be finally turning for Palestinians striving for water justice in the West Bank and Gaza – in particular, recent investment and partnership decisons against Mekarot, which runs Israel’s discriminatory water policy in the West Bank.

Waterless in Gaza and East Jerusalem

The situation in Gaza is especially dire. The tiny, densely populated territory relies entirely on its depleted, saltwater-contaminated and sewage-polluted aquifer, and the water it produces is unfit for consumption. Water has to be bought, expensively, in bottles or from mobile tanks.

Moreover restrictions on fuel imports mean that Gaza’s single power station spends most of its time idle – and so long as it’s not running water and sewage cannot be pumped. So the taps are dry, toilets are blocked, and sewage pollution gets worse.

Not that Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem have it a lot better. As reported on 17th March, the city suffered a long water cut beginning on 4th March leaving Ras Shehada, Ras Khamis, Dahyat A’salam and the Shuafat refugee camp – cut off from the rest of the city by the separation wall – with no running water.

The reason is simple – old and inadequate water infrastructure, which there are no plans to improve or renew.

Oslo II Accords – the Palestinians were shafted

For West Bank as a whole the facts speak for themselves. The Oslo II Accords dealt Palestinians a singularly poor hand – limiting the volume of water it could produce, as well as imposing severe restrictions on the development and maintenance of Palestinian water infrastructure.

The Accords allow Palestinans to abstract only 118 million cubic meters (mcm) per year from boreholes, wells, springs and precipitation in the West Bank. But Israel is allowed to take four times as much – 483 mcm per year – from the same Palestinian resources.

So not only does Israel now occupy 80% of the area of historic Palestine, but it – via the water company Mekarot – also takes 80% of the water resources from the 20% of the land that is left to the Palestinians.

Sold down the river

But it gets worse. Oslo II’s draconian restrictions on water development imposed by Israel mean that Palestinians can only actually abstract 87 mcm in the West Bank, of the 118 mcm they are allowed.

The acute water deficit is made up by the supply of piped water from Israel. Mekarot currently sells the Palestinian Water Authority some 60 mcm per year – at full price.

As reported by Amira Hass in Ha’aretz“in that agreement Israel imposed a scandalously uneven, humiliating and infuriating division of the water resources”.

While Palestinian water is piped into Israel at no cost, a fraction of it is then piped back again, and paid for. In this way Israel is extracting from Palestinians both their water, and their money.

In some cases Palestinians are forced to pay ten times more for their water than the price in Tel Aviv – as in the village of Sussia on South Mount Hebron, where they have to drive to the nearby town to buy over-priced water (see photo).

Water plenty, and water famine

According to the UN Human Rights Council, this all translates into a wide disparity between water use by Palestinians and by settlers in the West Bank. Settlers enjoy 400 litres per capita per day (l/c/d) while some Palestinians surive on a little as 10 l/c/d.

All Palestinian populations receive water volumes far below the level recommended by the World Health Organization of 100 – 250 l/c/d. According to the UNHRC:

“Settlements benefit from enough water to run farms and orchards, and for swimming pools and spas, while Palestinians often struggle to access the minimum water requirements.

“Some settlements consume around 400 l/c/d, whereas Palestinian consumption is 73 l/c/d, and as little as 10-20 l/c/d for Bedouin communities which depend on expensive and low quality tanker water.”

These very low levels of water provision fail to meet the water needs of many Palestinian communities – leaving them with often contaminated water, and not enough of it.

While Palestinian water use may just exceed 70 l/c/d in the relatively well served urban centers of the West Bank, it drops much lower in rural areas that have no access to piped water and depend on wells and rainwater collection.

An estimated 113,000 Palestinians in the West Bank have no piped water supply, while hundreds of thousands more have only intermittent supply, especially in the summer.

Additional restrictions

The restrictions and limitations imposed on Palestinians to access their own resources and develop them have exacerbated the already severe water shortages among Palestinian communities.

Among the restrictions are limits on the size of supply pipe, intended to limit flows as a form of rationing. Typically 30% of the water leaks from Palestinian supply pipes – because Israel refuses to allow their renewal

In ‘Area C’, which covers 60% of the area of the West Bank, Palestinian farmers and communities are not allowed to connect to the water network that serves the growing settlements – and are forbidden even to dig out cisterns.

The international community considers the establishment of Israeli settlements in the Israeli-occupied territories illegal under international law, as set out in the report of the fact finding mission of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Yet the construction of new illegal Israeli settlements and ‘outposts’, and the expansion of existing ones, is proceeding apace – and further reducing the quantity of water allocated to Palestinians.

Your water or your life

As reported by the UN in March 2012, another threat arises from settlers seizing springs by force: “Palestinians have increasingly lost access to water sources in the West Bank as a result of the takeover of springs by Israeli settlers, who have used threats, intimidation and fences to ensure control of water points close to the settlements.”

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) examined 60 springs on Palestinian land close to Israeli settlements. They found that:

“In 22 of the water sources, Palestinians have been deterred from accessing the springs by acts of intimidation, threats and violence perpetrated by Israeli settlers, while in the eight springs under full settler control, Palestinian access has been prevented by physical obstacles, including the fencing of the spring area, and its ‘de facto annexation’ to the settlement.”

Violence and destruction may also come directly from the occupation authorities. “Destruction of water infrastructure, including rainwater cisterns, by Israeli authorities has increased since the beginning of 2010; double in 2012 compared to 2011.

“The denial of water is used to trigger displacement, particularly in areas slated for settlement expansion, especially since these communities are mostly farmers and herders who depend on water for their livelihoods.

“A number of testimonies highlighted that the cutting off from water resources often precedes dispossession of lands for new settlement projects.”

Mekorot – at the heart of Israel’s water apartheid

All Israeli settlements in the West Bank are connected to piped water supplied by Israeli water company Mekorot, which took over responsibility for the water resources of the West Bank from the occupying forces in 1982.

Thus it Mekarot which is both the on-the-ground enforcer, and the economic beneficiary, of the West Bank’s ‘water apartheid’.

As the UN Human Rights Council reports: “In the Jordan Valley, deep water drillings by the Israeli national water company Mekorot and the agro-industrial company Mehadrin have caused Palestinian wells and springs to dry up. Eighty per cent of the total water resources drilled in the area is consumed by Israel and the settlements.”

“The lack of availability of Palestinian water resources has led to chronic shortages among Palestinian communities in Area C and a dependence on Mekorot … Mekorot supplies almost half the water consumed by Palestinian communities.

Restricted access

The UNHRC also reported that Palestinians do not have access to the cheaper ‘recycled water’ available to Israeli settlements, and have to buy more expensive drinking water even for irrigation purposes.

This injustice and inequity of access to water supply has always been a source of tension, especially when Palestinian villagers see water pipes leading to Israeli colonies passing through their land without supplying their village with water – as reported above at Sussia.

“The Mission heard of situations where villagers must travel several kilometres to get water when closer water resources serve neighbouring settlements”, reported UNHRC.


And even when they do get water, they receive second class treatment. “In the event of a water shortage, valves supplying Palestinian communities are turned off; this does not happen for settlements.

‘Week of Action Against Mekorot’

Mekorot violates international law and colludes in resource grabbing -including pillaging water resources in Palestine. It supplies this pillaged water to illegal Israeli settlements, and engages in systematic discrimination and denial of water to the Palestinian population.

For this reason Palestinian organizations including PENGON / Friends of the Earth Palestine have co-organised a ‘Stop Mekorot‘ week of action starting today, on World Water Day.

The campaign aims to intensify pressure on governments and companies to boycott Mekorot and hold the company accountable for its discriminatory water policies and practices in Palestine.

On March 20, the environmental federation Friends of the Earth International announced its support for the campaign against the discriminatory practices of Mekorot – joining the global call on governments, public and private utility companies and investors worldwide to avoid or terminate all contracts and cooperation agreements with Mekorot.

Campaign successes

In December 2013 the largest drinking water supplier in the Netherlands, Vitens, set a precedent when it decided that its commitment to international law meant it had to withdraw from a cooperation agreement with Mekorot. According to the company:

“Vitens attaches great importance to integrity and adhering to international laws and regulations. Following consultation with stakeholders, the company came to the realization that it is extremely difficult to continue joint work on projects, as they cannot be separated from the political environment.”

Mekorot suffered another blow this week when authorities in Buenos Aires, Argentina, suspended a proposed $170m water treatment plant deal.

The decision followed a campaign by local trade unions and human rights groups which highlighted Mekorot’s role in Israel’s theft of Palestinian water resources – and raised the prospect that Mekorot might export its discriminatory water policies to Argentina.

Palestinians must have their rightful share of available resources and be granted full authority to manage them properly. Equitable and wise use of available resources among all people is the only basis for lasting peace in the region.

And until then the deliberate, systematic, purposeful water discrimination and resource theft carried out in Occupied Palestine by the Occupation and Mekorot must be recognised for what they are – crimes against humanity. The perpetrators must be punished accordingly.

(Source / 22.03.2014)

Egypt-GCC business ties grow as political bonds flourish

Egypt’s economy has benefited from a warming of relations with the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, but Cairo still faces difficult decision to ensure a long-term recovery, officials and economists say.

Visits between government officials from Egypt and the three GCC nations have grown steadily since they extended billions of dollars of support to prop up Egypt’s ailing economy during a time of political upheaval.

The aid has helped Cairo to stabilise reserves and cut foreign-currency shortages, and in turn helped to boost the flagging Egyptian pound.

The government assistance is also starting to be bolstered by business investment.

This month, the UAE construction company Arabtec won a Dh147 billion contract to build homes in Egypt over the next five years. Emaar Misr, the Egyptian unit of the Dubai developer Emaar Properties, announced last month it would spend more than Dh3bn on a residential and commercial scheme in Cairo. The Dubai-based retail group Majid Al Futtaim plans to establish several shopping malls in the Egypt.

“Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait seem to be very positive on Egypt and have already transferred large amounts of money,” said George Abed, the director and senior counsellor for Africa and the Middle East at the Institute of International Finance, a global organisation representing financial services companies.

“The private sector in these three GCC countries is following the official transfers to begin to look at opportunities for investment, and Egypt has enormous opportunities for investment once it maintains stability.”

But the political and business capital also carries risk. Some observers question whether the GCC’s money is a temporary bandage across wider wounds in the Egyptian economy.

Subsidies on food and energy remain one of the biggest drains on public funds. Energy subsidies cost the government US$17bn a year (Dh62.4bn), taking up 20 per cent of the budget.

Neveen El Shafei, Egypt’s assistant minister of investment, said there was an “urgent” need to reform subsidies.

“As I see from some of the issues being put on the priority list at cabinet meetings, these issues will be dealt with in a more direct way,” she said during a visit to Dubai this month. “For the economy to continue on an upturn we have to deal with a number of issues, not just short-term temporary measures.”

Reform to subsidies as well as increasing some taxes were key conditions laid down by the IMF for a $4.8bn loan under discussion until last year. But such reforms have become less pressing as the GCC money has flowed in, including $6bn from the UAE. Officials are also well aware that raising energy prices could provoke unrest in a country where street protests have helped to remove two presidents in three years.

“Even if a slow pick-up in growth is possible in 2014, we still think that a new government will have to think more comprehensively about economic policy at some point,” wrote Farouk Soussa, Citigroup’s chief economist in the Middle East, in a recent report. “In particular, the root cause of many economic problems remains the fiscal deficit, which has been widening steadily since 2008 and looks set to remain firmly in double digits in 2014.”

For GCC companies investing in Egypt, there are also risks. The UAE-based developer Damac Properties was among several foreign investors ensnared in 2011 in a dispute over a land contract reached when Egypt’s long-time president Hosni Mubarak was in power. Such cases have been settled but the government is seeking to strengthen investment laws to help protect investors’ rights and make land more easily available for business projects.

“What we need is to restore confidence among Egyptian investors and then everything will come back, including FDI,” said Mona Zulficar, the chairwoman of the Egyptian investment bank EFG-Hermes. “Restoring confidence is extremely important so we do not allow litigation to stand in the way.”

(Source / 23.02.2014)

It’s Erdogan vs. Twitter

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

“I don’t care what the international community will say,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said to his opponents over his decision to block Twitter.

No leader has done it since former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak blocked the internet in Egypt in the last days of his rule when millions of demonstrators filled Tahrir Square demanding his ouster. Even Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad hasn’t done this.

Even his friend and comrade in the same party, the Turkish president Abdullah Gul, had to declare he did not approve of blocking the social media service.

A temporary solution

But Erdogan did it. Just one week before the municipal elections in Turkey he blocked the site, depriving 10 million Twitter users in the hope of covering up scandals against him and his party. But why Twitter? The answer is this: Erdogan is currently controlling more than half of the public and private mass media, TV, radio and newspapers.

I don’t believe that Erdogan fears losing his position, glamour and popularity, or even his potentially brutal descent, as much as he fears being brought to trial if the evidence proves his personal involvement in his son’s illegal trade with Iranians.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

He even forced judges to retire and cracked down on police investigators who dared to investigate accusations against his son and the children of two other ministers over large profits made from trading in Iranian gold.

Even if Erdogan succeeds with a news blackout on his citizens and wins the municipal elections, he still has to face the upcoming presidential elections and his situation will become more and more difficult.

Covering up the trail

I don’t believe that Erdogan fears losing his position, glamour and popularity, or even his potentially brutal descent, as much as he fears being brought to trial if the evidence proves his personal involvement in his son’s illegal trade with Iranians.

The leaked audio recordings make it appear that he’s the one who brought his son into this, advising him on financial negotiations with the Iranians in a secret deal, and asking him in a taped phone call on Dec. 17 to dispose of the cash he has after police investigators raided the houses of the ministers’ children. Erdogan says the phone call was fabricated and was an attempt to defame him. That is why if he loses, he will face a decisive challenge that may put his political future at stake and defame his brilliant career.

In fact, blocking Twitter is an indicator of Erdogan’s confusion. This is another flop that will increase oppositional voices, especially among the young people who rallied against his decision to eliminate a public park one year ago, an issue he stubbornly defended before ceding later.

A scary precedent

Blocking Twitter means that the besieged government is going bust and it will only harvest additional anger. We all remember that the former Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Bin Ali blocked Twitter and Facebook in 2009 and he was ousted two years later through opposition messages on the social media site which became out of his control.

Former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi did the same in 2011 when the Libyans revolted against him, but he didn’t benefit much from this as the rebels were already carrying their arms in the streets.

(Source / 22.03.2014)