Archive for the ‘Regions’ Category

11
Apr

 

The self-immolation of a Syrian refugee in Lebanon last month is a harrowing reminder of the desperate circumstances of those who have fled the war. But the hardship extends beyond just Syrians. Today, Lebanon and Jordan provide sanctuary to one million and some 600,000 Syrian refugees, respectively – about 20 and 10 percent of their respective populations – and the social and economic stresses are taking a heavy toll. Worse, the prospect that many of these refugees might never return home threatens the long-term stability of these states.

 

Demography is a central problem for Lebanon. Syrian exiles are overwhelmingly Sunni Muslims, and the influx has skewed Lebanon’s delicate sectarian balance of Sunnis, Shiites, and Christians. Adding to the religious strains are the ubiquitous complaints about Syrian workers driving down wages, and the burden refugees place on Lebanon’s already overtaxed and underfunded infrastructure. According to a recent World Bank report, over the next three years, Lebanon – which had a $4 billion budget deficit in 2013 – will require an additional $2 billion just to provide basic services to its new residents and to “address the expected additional impoverishment of the Lebanese people generated from the Syrian crisis.”

 

Absorbing refugees is also a burden for Jordan. While a fifth of Syrian expatriates currently reside in refugee camps, most live in the kingdom’s cities, where they are driving up rents – by up to 25 percent, the United Nations says – and taking scarce jobs from Jordanians who are already enduring an unofficial unemployment rate estimated at 30 percent. At the same time, despite a substantial budget deficit, Amman is providing free healthcare and education to these Syrians, 63 percent of whom receive monetary assistance from the United Nations.

 

Not surprisingly, the kingdom’s generosity toward its Syrian guests is starting to fuel resentment among the locals. As one Jordanian tribesman complained to me a few months ago, “They are taking the food out of our mouths.”

 

As refugees continue to flow into Lebanon and Jordan, tensions are mounting. Until now, incidents of violence between Syrians and host country nationals have been relatively limited. The worst attack occurred in December, when residents of a Lebanese village in the Beqa Valley reportedly torched a makeshift refugee encampment, leaving hundreds without shelter. To date, the incidents have been isolated, but a more concerted and sustained popular backlash is likely to materialize if the Syrian refugee crisis persists.

 

Alas, there is good reason to believe the problem will endure for some time. Syria’s nominally Shiite al-Assad regime is currently in no danger of imminent collapse. Meanwhile, the largely Sunni Muslim opposition is divided as secular fighters battle not only the regime, but rival Islamist militias, many of which are affiliated with al Qaeda. And even if al-Assad falls, Syria seems destined to face a lengthy and bloody struggle between ideologically opposed Sunni militias for the future of the state. At any rate, with an estimated one-third of all Syrian housing destroyed, there is little to which the refugees can return. Read more…

David Schenker is the Aufzien Fellow and director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.   Published on April 10 in http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com

 

10
Apr

Afghanistan Votes Against the Taliban

Written on April 10, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Asia, Democracy & Human Rights, News, Op Ed

thediplomat_2014-04-08_16-29-55-386x257

Afghanistan’s election results aren’t out yet but we know who certainly lost the election: the Taliban.

Six women were arguing with the security guards of Zarghuna High School in central Kabul to let them enter the compound for voting. The guards argued that it was already 5 p.m. and the women could not be let in as voting had closed. Still, the women insisted. The head of security came in and he too tried to drive in the point that the p.m. deadline had passed but the women contended that a few minutes here and there did not make much of a difference and if they missed the chance this time they would have a long wait ahead of them to vote, which they said they did not want to do. Seeing  their determination, the chief relented and allowed them to enter the school and they were ushered into the last classroom where the ballot box was just about to be sealed. The women voted and left the school flashing their inked fingers.

This was the mood in Afghanistan on Saturday when the country voted for in its first democratic transition of government; the country had never seen this kind of zeal to vote. According to initial estimates given by the Independent Election Commission, 7 out of twelve million registered voters cast their vote on April 5th, meaning close to 60 percent of eligible voters came out to exercise their democratic rights. The turnout is double what it was in the 2009 elections. It was higher than the first elections in 2004 as well.

But elections cannot be confined to numbers only. One has to fathom the enthusiasm and excitement of the voters to quantify the electoral exercise in a country which is making a history by transferring power through democratic means, a feat Afghanistan has never accomplished in its history so far.

“I was really keen to vote in these elections. I cannot pick up guns, but I have my vote to defeat the forces which have made our life hell and which have reduced such a great country to the margins of all parameters of social and economic development,” says  Tahira, one of the six women who were the last ones to vote in Zarghuna elections. Read more…

Sanjay Kumar is a New Delhi-based journalist and correspondent for The Diplomat. As published on April 9 April in http://thediplomat.com

8
Apr

KIGALI, Rwanda—A jet roared overhead as we approached the crash site, strolling through a garden of fruit trees at the home of the late Rwandan president, Juvénal Habyarimana. In front of us, a guard manned a small concrete tower perched atop a red brick wall that obscured our view of the wreckage.

Walking under a massive ficus tree, past a pond that once housed Habyarimana’s python, my guide Christine motioned me toward a ladder that led to a small viewing platform. Minutes earlier I’d stood inside Habyarimana’s bedroom, explored his secret weapons closet, and the chamber where he’d practiced witchcraft. Now, I was about to see the remains of the plane in which Rwanda’s longest-serving president was assassinated—the event that ignited the Rwandan genocide.

It’s been 20 years since Habyarimana’s Falcon 50 aircraft was shot down on the outskirts of Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, and the country has come a long way from the 100 days of mass murder that followed. Although political tensions still simmer and current President Paul Kagame has been accused of suppressing dissent, Rwanda is now one of Africa’s safest nations and its economy is among the fastest growing on the continent. The country that in the spring of 1994 witnessed the worst genocide since the Holocaust is now defined by a lack of crime, spotless public areas, and officials who are harshly punished if caught soliciting bribes or skimming off of public contracts. Today, aside from a handful of memorials filled with skulls, photos of the dead, and displays of the instruments of death—spiked clubs, hoes, machetes—there’s little visible evidence of the nightmare that saw the deaths of up to 1 million Rwandans, mostly members of the Tutsi minority.

The 20th anniversary of the genocide will be commemorated on April 7, and I decided to visit the scene that triggered the bloodshed. On an afternoon in March, I made my way to Habyarimana’s residence: a three-story brick and concrete structure located a mile from Kigali International Airport’s runway. Built in 1976, three years after Habyarimana seized power, the mansion has been open to the public since 2008, when it was reborn as the State House Museum. An hourlong tour includes a walk through the house and gardens and a visit to the Falcon 50 wreckage, which sits just beyond the edge of the compound. Read more…

 

By Jon Rosen. Jon Rosen is a freelance journalist focusing on East Africa and Africa’s Great Lakes region. He is a two-time finalist, and one-time winner, at the Diageo Africa Business Reporting Awards in London.

Published on April 4 in http://www.slate.com

 

7
Apr

seminar 4

On Friday 4 April, the IE School of International Relations in cooperation with the LSE enterprise and Citpax,  hosted  Dr. Fawaz Gerges , Professor of International Relations at the Middle East  Centre of the London School of Economics and Dr. Peter Jones, Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa. In this very interesting seminar both academics addressed the complicated issue of Iran’s relations with Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.

According to the Dr. Gerges, in order to understand these complex relationships, one has to acknowledge the deep rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the region. This rivalry is considered to be “the Cold War in the Middle East” and has been ongoing for decades. The sectarian divide between Sunnis and Shiites is central but it is not the only cause of the rift between the two countries. According to Dr. Gerges the geostrategic struggle between the two nations is even more important. This would explain Iran’s current role in the Syrian conflict. In order to consolidate and deepen its influence in the region, Iran has made a critical commitment to prop up the Assad regime in Syria at any cost. They have been sending weapons and combatants from Hezbollah in order to uphold the regime. It is in large part because of the Hezbollah forces fighting on his side that Assad is still in power almost three years into the conflict. This investment in Syria comes at great cost for Iran but for them the cost is offset by the benefits of influence in Syria and the direct access it gives the country to Israel.

One of the clear costs of Hezbollah’s role in Syria is reflected in its diminished influence in Lebanon. Until now Hezbollah represented a movement that was even more important and influential than the formal state in Lebanon. Their role propping up a dictatorship that is killing civilians has greatly undermined Hezbollah’s legitimacy (and hence Iran’s standing) in Lebanon. The sectarian fault line between Sunnis and Shiites that we see in Syria is spreading to Lebanon and to Iraq and could polarize the entire region. Saudi Arabia is adding fuel to the sectarian divide.

Finally, according to Dr. Gerges, Iran also plays an instrumental role in Iraq today and assists the government in battling Sunni minorities and in controlling the Shiite majority. Iran funnels its weapons and assistance to Syria through Iraq. It could not do so without the approval of the Iraqi government.

To Dr. Gerges, Iran’s strategy is one of defensive realism. It does not want to invade or attack its neighbors but it does wish to consolidate its influence. Dr. Peter Jones in his comments agreed with almost all of Dr. Gerges’ remarks but did disagree in one thing. According to him, Iran does not have a clear strategy. It has a defensive set of activities. It is only reacting to events, such as the Arab Spring, as they unfold, always two steps behind.

The audience had many questions for both speakers, but perhaps the most heartfelt one came from one of the IE students who asked: what about the humanitarian catastrophe that is currently occurring in Syria? What can we do to stop it? Both speakers were very pessimistic about the prospects of the Syrian conflict ending any time soon. For Dr. Peter Jones, the only glimmer of hope came from the possibility of a nuclear agreement between the US and Iran. Only then would Iran lose interest in having access to Israel and hence might no longer prop up Assad. But the possibility is quite low indeed.

4
Apr

If the bookies are to be believed, Chelsea Clinton could turn out to be luckiest US president in history.

The holy grail of American leaders over the past four decades, from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama, has been energy independence, and thanks to shale oil and gas, the dream could soon become reality.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) and oil giant BP certainly think so – they believe the US will be energy independent by 2035.

As Mr Obama said in his State of the Union address last year: “After years of talking about it, we are finally poised to control our own energy future.”

No-one is suggesting America will stop importing power overnight, but being largely self-sufficient in energy could have widespread implications not just for the US, but for the rest of the world.

US economy

Last year, the United States spent about $300bn (£180bn) on importing oil. This represented almost two-thirds of the country’s entire annual trade deficit. Oil imports are, therefore, sucking hundreds of billions of dollars a year out of the US economy.

As the IEA says, a persistent trade deficit can act as a drag on economic growth, manufacturing and employment.

If the US achieved energy independence, not only would the country spend far less on cheaper, domestically generated power, but the money would be going primarily to US-owned energy producers.

The US’s oil import bill also constitutes about 2% of the country’s annual economic growth. As the US economy averages about 2% growth a year, the country would, in effect, be getting a year’s growth for free.

Paul Dales, at Capital Economics, argues that as this would be spread out over the next 10-20 years, the annual benefits would be much smaller – in this instance, 0.2%-0.1%.

True, but comparing now with energy independence, the boost to the US economy of ending oil imports would be significant.

US energy imports

US manufacturing

Energy independence will come about only through cheap and abundant shale oil and gas, which could help spark a golden age for US manufacturing.

US energy prices are far lower than those in Europe and Japan, and this fact – together with rising wages in China and the increasing productivity of US factories – means a number of US firms are looking to bring production back home – a process known as reshoring.

Several companies, including Dow Chemical, General Electric, Ford, BASF and Caterpillar, have announced hundreds of millions of dollars of investment, either in new plants or in re-opening shutdown facilities. Even Apple has announced a new factory in Arizona more than a decade after closing its last US plant.

In fact, between 2010 and the end of March 2013, almost 100 chemical industry projects valued at around $72bn were announced, according to the American Chemistry Council.

Indeed a study by accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that one million manufacturing jobs could be created by 2025 thanks to low energy prices and demand from the shale gas industry. Further analysis by the Boston Consulting Group points to a surge in US exports of manufactured goods.

An Uncle Sam balloon
Many economists believe shale will spark a renaissance in US manufacturing

Any boost in production to US manufacturing would obviously lift overall economic growth even further. In fact, the benefits are already being felt – many economists point to cheaper energy as one reason why the US has outperformed in recent years. Read more…

By Richard Anderson, Business reporter, BBC News

Published on April 2nd, 2014 in http://www.bbc.com/