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Europe

Moroccan youths living in Europe complain of difficulties finding employment, housing and in practising their religion, according to the Council of the Moroccan Communities Abroad.

The survey titled ‘Moroccan youths across Europe: equality and discrimination’ revealed that the majority of young Moroccans (ages 18-35) experienced discrimination in Europe.

The poll surveyed 1,433 Moroccans living in France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands – the six main European countries where Moroccans reside. Sixty-four per cent of respondents said they experienced difficulties finding work, 57 per cent finding housing and 42 per cent practising their religion.

The survey conducted in collaboration with the Paris-based International Institute for Opinion Studies exposed ‘the invisible difficulties that young Moroccans, living in Europe, are facing in Europe, especially regarding access to the job market and finding housing or requesting a bank loan.’

In Germany, 69 per cent of young Moroccans said they had trouble finding housing, compared to 50 per cent in Belgium, 50 per cent in Spain, 69 per cent in France, 57 per cent in Italy and 35 per cent in the Netherlands.

The Council of the Moroccan Communities Abroad Secretary General, Abdellah Boussouf, believes its findings ‘highlights figures and realities useful in guiding Moroccan public policies towards Moroccans living abroad’.

The Council of the Moroccan Communities Abroad called on the Moroccan Government to, ‘draw the attention of European countries to the different forms of discrimination against young people of Moroccan origin during exchanges and negotiations with these countries’ and ‘to strengthen cultural diplomacy’.

It also advocates for the restructuring of the associations created by Moroccans living abroad and the strengthening of their presence within Non-Governmental Organizations established in host countries.

The Council of the Moroccan Communities Abroad called on the host countries to ‘protect minorities and respect the principle of equal opportunities’, while responding to the political and media discourse which fuels feelings of fear and enhances stigmas.’

It also highlighted the importance of Moroccans of being active in political life to influence public opinion.

The council also called on European countries to ensure laws are implemented to preserve equal rights, protect minorities, uphold the principle of equal opportunity for all segments of society and strengthen the educational sector’s role in promoting the values of diversity and coexistence.

 

By Lord Howell of Guilford, Global Strategy Forum, Edition No 28, September 2020


The 28th in the series of expert comment and analysis, by the Rt Hon the Lord Howell of Guildford, Minister of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (2010-2012), Chairman of the House of Lords International Relations and Defence Committee (2016-2019) and GSF Advisory Board member. As always, the views expressed are those of the author and not of Global Strategy Forum unless otherwise stated.

 


There is now quite a strong possibility that Britain will finally end ties with the European Union on 31st December without a final and settled deal.

But the qualifying adjectives ‘final’ and ‘settled’ are very important. There will indeed be some kind of broad agreement marking the end of the agreed transition period - a sort of agreement to disagree, to postpone issues for ‘further consideration’ and to delegate certain matters to technocrats to sort out.

Although the transition period cannot now be extended there could even be a device for stopping the clock - a favourite EU method - to roll over complex problems to a later date.Whatever is signed at the year’s end will probably be presented as a ‘deal’ of sorts. But in reality there can be no final arrangement, tying everything up neatly between the EU and its departing major member, no ‘finalité’ and no comprehensive EU ‘solution.’ This is so for deep reasons that many find difficult to grasp, but will be explained in a moment.But meanwhile, on the surface, the key Brexit disagreement areas are plain enough.

They involve fishery rights - a lesser issue and one that obviously can be resolved by compromise - and a much greater issue, namely the matter of the ‘level playing field’ for all industrial and business policies.The nightmare for EU officials in Brussels is that the wayward British will deploy all sorts of hidden subsidies to companies, enabling them to undercut mainland European costs, and then flood the continent with cheaper goods.

Their central demand is that if Britain is to have good and mostly tariff-free access to the rest of the European market it must conform to all the standards and regulations governing EU industry, especially the conditions under which support for various industries and sectors is allowed.

This only needs stating to see that the demand is impossible. A central reason for British departure - from both the customs union and the European single market - was precisely to allow it to be free to vary its industrial and employment policies to allow for maximum innovation and competition. The call for a level and uniform pattern of policies with the EU, only being adjusted when the EU allowed, or the European Court of Justice judged appropriate, would strike at the very heart of British purposes.

But there is a far deeper reason why agreement here is so unlikely. This is simply that the ‘level’ playing field is neither level nor stable, nor is it being played on fairly. We live in an age of constantly and radically shifting industrial and business patterns and conditions. In practice, every European Union government is having to adapt and adjust its support and industrial policies all the time.

The current pandemic has merely accelerated the process.One only has to pick up the long list of French governmental grants, loans and concessions to see this in its true light. Numerous major sectors of the French economy are regularly propped up, like nuclear power, railways, steel and aerospace, along with the French car industry, which has just received a massive €80 billion handout.

Likewise, throughout most of Europe. Travel to Central Europe and you will find no playing field at all, just a mass of government grants and subsidies necessary for local conditions - and of course local politics.

In short, the concept of a tidily level set of rules exists only in the files of the EU bureaucracy and its negotiators in the Brussels EU headquarters. Out in the real world, everything is on the move and far from level.

The prospect is therefore not of a firm settlement of these matters but of a Europe of constant bargaining and dispute, stretching into the indefinite future. Some wiser EU officials are just beginning to accept that fact and the phrase is beginning to pop up in their public comments.

Or ask the Swiss about living surrounded by EU member states. Their bargaining and negotiation never ceases. There is always some new pressure to be addressed, or some new interest to be protected. This was always the case, but in the digital age, with headlong technological change generating

completely new products and services all the time, the pressure is 10 times greater.Are we then condemned to endless new barriers and delays at the frontiers between Britain and rest of Europe, while these debates continue interminably?Probably not, for the good reason that these lurid scenes barely ever existed. For example, take Japan’s considerable trade with the EU.

Even before the recent remarkable EU-Japan trade deal, delays were minimal and will now be almost non-existent. Whatever the origin, from anywhere in the world, but especially Asia, imports were, and are, being handled with a minimum of delays, usually allowing even time-sensitive just-in-time components to flow in and out smoothly.Nowadays tracing and checking technology has taken several further leaps forward. Customs paperwork is vanishing, and checks will be mostly just for drugs and trafficking horrors.

The whole picture of frontiers being queuing and obstructing points for the flow of goods, services or personnel, is dissolving — at least between industrialised nations and economies.The negotiations between Britain and the EU, as between other major economies and the EU, will rumble on, constantly confronting new situations and challenges. But the bigger picture of international trade and travel will evolve and expand on and up.

In the words of the old Eddie Fisher song, ‘What fools are we, who cannot see, the forest for the trees.’Ceaseless ingenuity and ceaseless innovation will get around any barriers and borders, as most of world pushes ahead with its business, and as the politicians and their officials go on arguing - forever,

 

 

 

By Keir Giles, Chatham House, 20 August 2020


In a bid to reassert control in Belarus, Aliaksandr Lukashenka is trying to stir the worst fears of his supporters by playing the war card. But overplaying his hand could prove disastrous if it leads to confrontation with either Russia or NATO.

 

Having failed to swiftly translate popular support into tangible political achievements, there are signs the protests against the fraudulent presidential election in Belarus may be losing momentum in the face of the state’s resilience and still-confident security and enforcement apparatus.

Attempts to blame the unrest on the West have focused on groups Lukashenka and Russia can both call enemies. And now Aliaksandr Lukashenka is not only inventing anti-Russian policies supposedly held by the opposition, such as suppressing the Russian language and closing the border with Russia, but also a supposed military threat from NATO.


Border movements


Increased military activity inside Belarus does give Lukashenka a wider range of options. Unscheduled activation of military units includes airspace defence practice with missiles and aircraft, electronic warfare (EW) units put on round-the-clock alert, and a number of infantry brigades preparing for live firing exercises.

Lukashenka is drawing attention to the north-west corner of Belarus, singling out the city of Grodno near the border with Poland and Lithuania as a supposed target for Western efforts at destabilization. Grodno is also the destination for an airborne brigade moving from the east to the west of the country and the focus of military exercises under way on the country’s western borders.

All this feeds Lukashenka’s narrative that Belarus is in danger from NATO and the West who are supposedly both stirring up the protests and seeking to exploit disorder - and that this danger extends to possible military clashes.

The Belarusian exercises are over the border from where NATO troops - including elements of the Light Dragoons, a British reconnaissance unit - have been in place in Poland as part of NATO's enhanced forward presence (eFP) since 2017. Pointing to NATO activity in Poland and Lithuania, Lukashenka said on Wednesday ‘we have to follow their movements and plans’ and that ‘they will answer for it if something happens’.

The danger is that having invented a tense situation in Grodno, Lukashenka may now need to be proved right. There may be staged incidents or ‘provocations’ against Belarus military forces, either supposedly instigated by protesters or even by NATO forces on the border - all aimed at bolstering the narrative that NATO, the EU, and the West in general are hostile to Belarus and that more drastic measures are necessary for protection.


Russia’s options still open


Although initial fears of a Russian move into Belarus have receded, Lukashenka’s complaints about NATO also bolster the case for Moscow to intervene. The military exercises fit the narrative that Belarus is under threat from the West - which is exactly the pretext Russia would need.

If this is believed in Moscow, where foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has already described events in Belarus as part of a ‘struggle for the post-Soviet space’, this makes a Russian intervention more likely. Moving forces away from their base near the border with Russia to the other end of the country near Poland and Lithuania also means any Russian entry into Belarus could go more smoothly, with fewer wild cards of possible Belarusian opposition to consider.

There are plenty of sensible, rational, logical reasons why a Russian military intervention in Belarus would be disastrous and counter-productive. But what seems sensible and rational in Europe and North America does not always carry weight in Moscow, which may see the situation completely differently and measure options by completely different standards.

One key area of doubt is the sympathies of the Belarus armed forces. Although some elements of the Belarusian army - particularly airborne and special forces - work closely with their Russian counterparts, more general suggestions that the Belarusian military is merely an extension of Russia’s and is not capable of taking decisions for itself are an over-simplification.

The Belarus armed forces do know that hosting Russian ground troops, airbases or air defence systems would fatally undermine the country’s hopes of avoiding being caught up in any confrontation between Russia and NATO.

And although the great majority of Belarusian officers are Russian-speaking and many have been trained and educated in Russia, there may be sufficient pride in national identity and resentment at heavy-handed treatment by Russia to lead to substantial obstruction of Russian initiatives.

The Belarus General Staff has already refused permission for a Russian aircraft carrying 155 personnel from the Rosgvardiya militarized security force and three tonnes of cargo ‘for the Belarusian interior ministry’ to land in Belarus. This could indicate not only tension between Russia and Belarus, but even between ministries within Belarus itself.

Like Russia, Lukashenka has plenty of options in reserve if his situation deteriorates further. Announcing a state of emergency would allow the Belarusian army to support the security forces in dealing with protests. If the army is on the move with their equipment they are better prepared to be brought into action if needed, but testing the loyalty of the armed forces could prove dangerous if the sympathies of army units turn out to lie more with civilians than with their oppressors from the interior ministry.

The military preparations against fictitious threats and a patiently-waiting Russia is a toxic mix and Belarus’s friends abroad must tread carefully. A key task for the European Union (EU) is to help the Belarusian people without providing a pretext for further violence and Russian intervention.

The right level of engagement needs to be carefully calibrated, avoiding disasters of strategic communication such as European Commissioner Thierry Breton being translated into English as saying Belarus is not part of Europe – with the lack of EU interest that that implies. Although the EU statement promising sanctions and offering funds received a mixed reception, at least it cannot be used by Lukashenka and Vladimir Putin as evidence that their warnings of a Western military threat are genuine.

 

PARIS - The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the many inadequacies and inequities in education systems around the world. As governments start rebuilding their economies and people’s livelihoods, it is critical that long-term public spending on education remain a priority to ensure that every young person has the same opportunity to continue education, succeed at school and develop the skills they need to contribute to society, according to a new OECD report.

Education at a Glance 2020, together with an accompanying brochure analysing the impact of the crisis, warns that, while there is uncertainty about the overall impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education expenditure, governments may face difficult decisions on the allocation of public funds as economic growth slows, tax incomes decline and healthcare and welfare costs rise. In 2017, total public expenditure on primary to tertiary education as a percentage of total government expenditure was 11% on average across OECD countries, with the share ranging from around 7% in Greece to around 17% in Chile.

“Strengthening education systems needs to be at the heart of government planning to recover from this crisis and give young people the skills and competencies they need to succeed,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, launching the report in Paris. “It’s critical that every effort be made to ensure that the crisis does not exacerbate the inequalities in education that have been revealed in many countries. The current crisis has tested our ability to deal with large-scale disruptions. It is now up to us to build as its legacy a more resilient society.”

The crisis has hit the vocational and education training (VET) sector particularly hard. This is a major concern, according to the report, as many of the professions that formed the backbone of economic and social life during the lockdown hinge on vocational qualifications.

On average across OECD countries, young adults today are less likely to attain an upper secondary vocational path than their parents were and more likely to pursue an academic university degree. Earnings are also lower: adults with an upper secondary vocational qualification have similar earnings to those with an upper secondary general qualification, but they earn 34% less than tertiary-educated adults on average across OECD countries.

Governments should step up their efforts to make vocational education and vocational qualifications more attractive to young people. This should include enhancing work-based learning and strengthening ties with the private sector. Currently, only one third of upper secondary vocational students take part in combined school and work-based programmes on average across OECD countries.

Making it easier for students to move from vocational to higher education is also key and can improve learning outcomes. Upper secondary vocational students are more likely to complete their qualification when the programme provides access to tertiary education than when it does not. Today, almost seven in ten students are enrolled in programmes that, in theory, enable them to progress to higher degrees.

The crisis has also raised concerns around the value proposition of higher education institutions, with students reluctant to commit large amounts of time and money when much of the course work is only available online. This may affect international student mobility as students question the very value of obtaining a degree abroad.

Any decline in enrolment of international students for the next academic year will hit the core education services universities offer, but also will indirectly affect the financial support they provide to domestic students, as well as research and development activities. While international students represent 6% of tertiary students on average across OECD countries, they represent 20% or more in Australia, Luxembourg and New Zealand. International student mobility is particularly high at doctoral level, where one out of five students on average travels abroad to earn their degree. To remain relevant, universities will need to reinvent learning environments so that digitalisation expands and complements, but does not replace, student-teacher and student-student relationships.

Education at a Glance provides comparable national statistics measuring the state of education worldwide. The report analyses the education systems of the OECD’s 37 member countries, as well as of Argentina, Brazil, China, Costa Rica, India, Indonesia, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.

 

Further information on Education at a Glance, including country notes, multilingual summaries and key data, is available at: http://www.oecd.org/education/education-at-a-glance/

 

Mediterranean

Syria: Report reveals ‘no clean hands’ as horrific rights violations continue

GENEVA - Despite a reduction in largescale hostilities since a ceasefire in March, the UN Syrian Commission of Inquiry reported on Monday that armed actors continue to subject civilians to horrific and increasingly targeted abuse.

The Commission’s 25-page report documented continuing violations by nearly every fighting force controlling territory across the country.
It also highlighted an increase in patterns of targeted abuse, such as assassinations, sexual and gender-based violence, and looting or appropriation of private property.


And civilian suffering has remained a constant feature of the crisis.

“For nearly a decade all calls to protect women, men, boys and girls have been ignored”, said Commission of Inquiry Chair Paulo Pinheiro. “There are no clean hands in this conflict but the status quo cannot endure”.


No ‘scintilla of evidence’


With a focus on violations taking place away from large-scale hostilities, the report found that enforced disappearances and deprivation of civil liberties continued throughout the first half of the year, to instill fear and suppress dissent among civilians or for financial extortion.
It documented a multitude of detention-related violations by Government forces, the Syrian National Army (SNA), Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), extremist group Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, and other parties to the conflict.

“All parties in Syria detain civilians without a scintilla of evidence or due process”, Commissioner Hanny Megally declared.

The report concluded that not only do recent cases of enforced disappearances, torture, sexual violence and deaths in the custody of Government forces, amount to crimes against humanity, but they also serve to exacerbate tensions with southern governorates – leading to further clashes.

“All those arbitrarily deprived of their liberty must be released”, he continued, adding, “the international community can and must do more, particularly regarding the camps in the northeast where they can have immediate impact if they have the political will to act”.


Army transgressions


The SNA may have committed war crimes in Afrin and surrounding areas in the north – including hostage-taking, torture and rape – along with killing and maiming scores of civilians through the use of improvised explosive devices, as well as during shelling and rocket attacks, according to the report.

Additionally, army pillaging and appropriation of private land was rife, particularly in Kurdish areas, and satellite imagery revealed the looting and destruction of priceless UNESCO heritage sites.


Relentless suffering


Nearly a decade into the conflict, the deepening economic crisis, impact of sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic, have further diminished prospects of Syrians attainting an adequate standard of living, the report notes.

Moreover, living conditions across the country remain deplorable and barriers are omnipresent in large swathes of Government-controlled areas.

“The dramatic increase in those suffering from food insecurity in Syria in the first half of 2020 is deeply concerning”, said Commissioner Karen Koning AbuZayd. “All barriers to the provision of humanitarian aid must be removed”.


Repatriation required


While recognizing the complexities of the situation, the Commission found that the SDF’s long-term internment of allegedly ISIL-associates in the northeast, amounts to unlawful deprivation of liberty in inhumane conditions, that cannot continue in perpetuity.

The Commission called upon Member States to take back from Syria their nationals who are allegedly associated with ISIL, particularly children and their mothers.


Going forward


The report concluded with several recommendations, chiefly a call for all parties to pursue a long-lasting, nationwide ceasefire – in line with Security Council resolution 2254 (2015).

To save lives, the Commission called for immediate and large-scale prisoner releases, given that overcrowded prisons across the world, have proved to be breeding grounds for COVID-19.

The Commission also urged the Government to take urgent, comprehensive steps to reveal the fates of those detained or disappeared.
“I urge all parties to the conflict to heed these recommendations, in particularly regarding achieving a sustainable peace”, upheld Commission of Inquiry Chair.


The penholders


The UN Human Rights Council has mandated the Independent International Commission of Inquiry – Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, Karen Koning AbuZayd and Hanny Megally – to investigate and record violations of international law in Syria since March 2011.

 

 

BY BADIA FAHS, Carnegie Middle East Center, 02 September 2020

 

The Nabatieh protestors smashed the notion of a Shi‘a community solidly behind Hezbollah and Amal.


We are happy to introduce a new section in Diwan that includes authors from outside Carnegie. While the blog has been and will remain primarily an in-house platform, two of our features have involved introducing views from outside the institution—interviews, naturally, and Inquiring Minds. In order to vary our content, we have decided to alternate our new feature, Dispatches, with Inquiring Minds, which has been on hiatus in recent weeks until it resumes in the fall. As the name suggests, Dispatches will generally take the form of reports or postcards from locations or situations that are in the news. As Lebanon nears the first anniversary of the uprising against the political elite in October 2019, this dispatch is the first in a series, published in the context of our Decoding Lebanon project, examining how the different Lebanese regions responded to that event and how things have played out since then.

 

The protests that rocked the town of Nabatieh in south Lebanon beginning on October 17, 2019, changed the life and history of an entire community. Their impact was so profound that the term “movement” barely suffices to describe the protests. What took place was a revolution, with its political, cultural, and social implications.

The Nabatieh protests sparked a string of changes, breaking with stereotypes and modes of operation that have hung over the region for decades. First, and most importantly, it smashed the narrative, promoted by the two major Shi‘a parties, Hezbollah and Amal, that Lebanon’s Shi‘a community was a single, coordinated bloc united behind them. The protests augured the birth of a third bloc, both dynamic and cohesive, that had a loud voice, social depth, a solid popular base, a nationalist outlook, and political demands that differed from those currently dominating Lebanon.

Second, the protests sparked a discovery and recognition of the “other” by many Lebanese—both other citizens and other geographical spaces. Lebanese Shi‘a had long been reticent about such mixing, fearful of differences and suspicious of strangers. This was a trap deliberately set by the elites of Hezbollah and Amal to impose their authority over the community. The relationship between sect as representing an obligation to Hezbollah or Amal on the one hand, and the deterioration of public awareness of the concept of citizenship on the other, had given rise to the phenomenon of political and religious belonging through a single prism. This prism held that the force of arms dominated any partnership and intolerance trumped the right to disagree.

Another shift was that, for the first time, the Shi‘a community that had long been a recruiting ground for the resistance and had guaranteed Hezbollah’s geopolitical clout, dared to challenge the party’s chief, Hassan Nasrallah, rejecting his orders to leave the streets. This was unprecedented among the Shi‘a since Nasrallah took over leadership of the party in 1992.

Furthermore, the “revolutionaries” of Nabatieh adopted the slogan “All of them means all of them!” In that way they repeated what Lebanese everywhere were saying, namely that the country’s political leadership in in its entirety was corrupt. For the first time, even the most senior Hezbollah and Amal officials were not spared the criticism aimed at the political class. This challenged Hezbollah’s claim to virtue and Amal’s narrative of tackling poverty. It also provoked the two parties’ core supporters across the country, not just in Nabatieh—especially backers of Hezbollah. These supporters distinguish between Hezbollah officials and those of Amal and other ruling parties, and consider the work of the party’s ministers and parliamentarians to be an extension of the struggle waged by its fighters, which honors the blood of its martyrs. The Nabatieh protestors have paid a high social and economic price for their blanket criticism of the political class.

In another major change, the uprising in Nabatieh shone a light on graft and theft in the south. Protestors identified corrupt officials by name, including a senior politician and his wife. They also targeted Hezbollah ministers and parliamentarians, as well as party cadres who occupy official positions and dominate the town’s municipal council. This was a break with the notion of ignoring corruption to “protect the resistance,” and reflected an attitude in which Hezbollah and its allies were viewed as part of a single group that dominates the country, ignores official theft, and makes corrupt deals, while riding roughshod over people’s rights.

A further achievement of the Nabatieh “revolutionaries” was to carve out an official, fixed protest space for protests, despite playing a cat and mouse game with Hezbollah and Amal supporters. The protestors established a solid claim to the square next to the municipal headquarters as a permanent protest arena, complete with a protest tent. Though the tent was burned or destroyed on more than one occasion, this was a historic achievement in an area that does not recognize any political faction other than the two main parties—where indeed no political or opposition faction that is not allied with Hezbollah and Amal can gain a foothold.

Another key shift was the participation of women in the protest movement, breaking a stereotype that had long dominated the region’s identity. For decades, the only women able to play an active role in the political, cultural, and social life of the south had been those who wore a hijab, and specifically the “ideologically veiled”—those who walk behind men, the mothers, wives, sisters, or daughters of martyrs or fighters.

But in the demonstrations of October 17 and the weeks that followed, women far outnumbered men. They were the effective leaders of the revolution, enthusiastically demanding change, leading the protests with their faces uncovered, singing and dancing to nationalistic music, chanting loudly, despite religious traditions that regard women’s voices as shameful. With their determination and stubbornness, combined with being women and mothers, they were able to calm tensions when demonstrators were attacked by Hezbollah and Amal supporters.

The protests also saw Lebanon, the nation, returning to Nabatieh, complete with its flag and national anthem. Throughout decades of domination by the two parties, the Lebanese flag had largely disappeared from the south, replaced by the yellow Hezbollah flag and the green one of Amal. October 17 brought back the national flag, which Hezbollah and Amal loyalists even began calling the “flag of the revolution.” For years the national anthem had only been heard behind the walls of certain schools during national holidays. It had been replaced by the Hezbollah anthem “The Party of God is Victorious” and that of Amal (Arabic for hope), “Onwards to Glory, Hope!” Suddenly, the national anthem was heard again in the streets, in the squares, and during protest marches.

Finally, music was also heard in the streets of Nabatieh, the city of pious Shi‘a, the city of mourning and self-flagellation (during the commemoration of ‘Ashoura), the city of religious songs and party anthems. It was possible to see young men and women holding hands, performing the traditional Dabkeh dance in the streets, women walking alongside men throughout the city, ignoring gender segregation. This was all due to the October 17 uprising, which turned Nabatieh, long dominated by party militarism and ritual escalation, into a civil space again.

The Nabatieh uprising was a moment of profound change for Lebanese Shi‘a. It was a moment of major, open opposition to the religious and political establishment, closely resembling the Antelias uprising during the 19th century that sparked the first popular movement against the Maronite religious establishment. While the uprising of last October has since waned, it has created the nucleus of a future opposition movement. It has smashed barriers, ruptured the prestige of the leading Shi‘a parties, destroyed idols, challenged the sacred, broken the siege, and done away with the myth that Hezbollah and Amal ruled over their community with its absolute agreement and represented the Shi‘a without question. For the first time, besieged Shi‘a, who had been enlisted as part of a vast ideological map spreading from Yemen to Bosnia, chose to take part in national events within their own country.

The protests in Nabatieh made it clear that there is a public desire for change and openness, and that their allegedly “unified” identity was a delusion. Such an identity was part of a conspiracy that sectarian and local leaders in the south had become expert at weaving in order to maintain their privileges, with no concern for their people’s needs.

 

Brookings Doha Center, 17 August 2020

 

The Brookings Doha Center (BDC) hosted a webinar discussion on August 17, 2020 on the concerning political and economic situation in Lebanon, which considered the short and long term impact of the blast in Beirut’s port, and reforms needed to move the country forward. The panel consisted of a group of distinguished scholars and experts, including: Joseph Bahout, non-resident scholar in the Middle East Program at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Nasser Saidi, former minister of economy in Lebanon; and Rami Khouri, professor of journalism at the American University of Beirut. Nader Kabbani, director of research at the BDC, moderated the event.

Joseph Bahout opened the discussion, stating that the Beirut blast has destroyed the city morally and psychologically. Civilians feel as though they have been abandoned by their government and this has engendered a feeling of solidarity amongst them. Moreover, Bahout stated that this catastrophe has taken place in three different contexts. Firstly, it has taken place against the backdrop of enduring public revolt against the political elite, and confusion regarding the blast’s source has only widened the gap between state and society. The second context is the country’s grave economic crisis. On this note, Bahout contended that economic collapse began in January and that the blast has only exacerbated the situation.

Finally, the explosion occurred at a time when the government remains impotent and lacking in terms of legitimacy. Unfortunately, civil society appears unable to fill this vacuum as the protest movement is disorganized and has not proposed solutions to Lebanon’s pressing problems. In moving forward, Bahout stated that forming a kamikaze government will not be a realistic solution because the country’s balance of power remains the same and the elite do not feel pressure to change their ways.

Finally, he stated that the French initiative in Lebanon has three separate levels, which first involves unconditional humanitarian aid. Not to mention, asserting the need for serious inquiry into the cause of the explosion and macroeconomic structural reforms.

Nasser Saidi continued the discussion, stating that the blast marks a watershed moment in Lebanese history. He said that the explosion not only leveled the Beirut port, responsible for 80 percent of the country’s imports, but also destroyed Lebanon’s cultural center and highlighted the government’s incompetence. This has been reflected in protests that erupted after the catastrophe, which have been faced with state repression. Additionally, Saidi stated that prior to the blast Lebanon had already been undergoing humanitarian, economic, and financial crises, and this disaster has only made matters worse.

Commenting on the country’s future, the former minister contended that political elite have two possible choices in moving forward. Firstly, they can continue to refuse imposing reforms and so destroy the possibility of reaching an aid agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), thus creating further economic, social, and political ruin. Or, they can help to create a kamikaze government and emergency cabinet. If those in power decided to take this route, they could enlist the help of international actors and use legislative power to impose economic, social, and humanitarian reforms.

Rami Khouri was posed the question of whether Lebanon is becoming a failed state. He stated that it is difficult to tell, though one thing for sure is that the citizenry has demonstrated incredible human vitality throughout the years and continues to do so now. Khouri contended that Lebanon may no longer be classified as unique and has transformed into a typical Arab state with mass uprisings, widespread socio-economic hardship, and a militarized state. Indeed, at this stage, the government is impotent, citizens do not have rights, and sovereignty has been breached by a multitude of forces. Moreover, the presence of Hezbollah adds a layer of complexity.

Yet, despite this, Khouri highlighted that the Lebanese people remain protesting on the streets with the hopes of impacting change. Regarding the political implications of the blast, he emphasized that the government should stop relying on its old problem-solving mechanisms and depending on foreign actors. Indeed, this will prove insufficient in rescuing the country as the scale of economic need is too large as well as the loss of confidence between the people and government.

In the subsequent question and answer session, panelists focused on addressing the steps needed to stabilize Lebanon and the political incentives that will encourage different parties to do so. Saidi emphasized that the economic situation is so dire that it will impact all political parties and impoverish them if they do not make necessary reforms.

The banks are losing most of their equity, which means they cannot generate income and soon the government will realize that the only solution is to make an agreement with the IMF and restore the economy. Khouri supported this by mentioning that those in power should learn from the mistakes of their counterparts in Somalia. He explained that like Somalia, Lebanon too has the potential to become a dispensable state that is forgotten by foreign powers. Finally, he suggested that Lebanon seek to emulate the model that has been put in place by Sudan where the country has a transitional government composed of both members of the military and civilians.

 

BEIRUT - Almost two weeks after the Beirut Port explosions, the Caretaker Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) reported that the number of people killed has reached 180 people; over 6,000 people are estimated to be injured, and at least a dozen people remain missing. On 16 August, the Head of the Beirut Doctors Syndicate stated that “at least 2,000 doctors in Beirut were affected by the explosion”, adding that doctors were either “injured physically or had their clinics destroyed”.

The Assessment & Analysis Cell (AAC) continues to gather information on ongoing assessments, including maintaining an assessment registry. Engagement also continues with the municipality of Beirut, the Lebanese Red Cross (LRC) and UN-HABITAT to develop a system that visualizes ongoing response activities. Information collected so far through the assessment registry show both the partners’ and the assessments’ geographic coverage. The AAC also supports the LRC-led multi-sectoral needs assessment.

Rapid environmental assessments findings are feeding into a comprehensive disaster waste management plan, including hazardous waste which is being developed for Beirut. The European Union allocated 15 million Euros to fund emergency waste management activities throughout Beirut – the work will be carried out by the Ministry of Environment, in collaboration with UNDP and national partners. Guidance is also being provided to NGOs to ensure that adequate personal protective measures are in place during debris clearance. Maps on the work carried out thus far are publicly available on https://www.humanitarianresponse.info.

Following assessments, Dorcas/Tabitha, MSD, HelpAge International, Makassad and Amel, targeted over 800 people in the affected neighborhoods of Baddawi, Bourj Hammoud, Gemmayzeh, Geitawi and Quarantina with assistance. In addition to basic needs for food, cash and in-kind assistance, 26 per cent of respondents expressed concerns about their mental health. This was of particular concern to older people (25 per cent of respondents) and among Syrian refugees (32 per cent of respondents). Almost all respondents (98 per cent) reported housing unit damage, with damages to electricity, sewage and water networks especially concerning in the Quarantina and Bourj Hammoud areas. Also, some 34 per cent of respondents reported having difficulties accessing health services, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, it is expected the explosions will have a long-term impact on the lives of people, especially for those in already highly vulnerable situations.

According to a UNDP economic brief, a total of 200,000 housing units were affected in Beirut; 40,000 buildings were damaged; and 3,000 housing structures received serious damage as a result of the explosions. Over 15,000 establishments – some 50 per cent of Beirut establishments – are estimated to be damaged, the majority in the wholesale, retail and hospitality sectors. Over 70,000 workers have reportedly been made unemployed due to the explosions, with direct implications for over 12,000 households.

On 17 August 456 new COVID-19 cases – a new record – were reported, bringing the number of confirmed cases to 9,336, including 105 deaths and 2,809 recoveries. UNRWA reported four deaths due to COVID-19 among Palestine refugees in Lebanon over the past weekend, bringing the total to eight. COVID-19 community transmission is being observed, with some 30 per cent of cases not having a clear source of infection. As the country’s healthcare system grows reportedly overwhelmed, the Caretaker Minister of Public Health called for a two-week lockdown on 17 August. The UN and partners continue to support the national COVID-19 response, focusing on both mitigation measures and the continuation of the “Test, Trace, Treat” strategy. While COVID-19 cases have been recorded across Lebanon, the largest numbers have been reported in Saida city, in the south, and its environs.


HIGHLIGHTS


• 180 people were killed, over 6,000 people are estimated to be injured, and at least a dozen people remain missing following the Beirut Port explosions of 4 August 2020.

• Some 40,000 buildings were damaged, with 3,000 residential structures seriously damaged.

• Over 70,000 workers are estimated to have lost their jobs as a result of the explosions, with direct implications for over 12,000 households.

• A new record with regards to new COVID-19 cases in one day was set on 17 August – 456 new cases were registered, bringing the tally of confirmed cases to 9,336 including 105 deaths and 2,809 recoveries.

• The humanitarian community seeks $565 million to respond to port explosions.

 

North Africa

Algeria: France urged to reveal truth about past nuclear tests

By Farid Alilat, The Africa Report, 10 September 2020

 


A study released shows the presence of waste tied to French nuclear tests in Algeria done during the 1960s. Jeune Afrique/The Africa Report had a chance to consult the report.

 


On 13 February 1960 at 7:04 a.m., France tested its first nuclear bomb, named Gerboise bleue, over Reggane. At the time, the French authorities explained that the tests were being conducted in uninhabited and deserted areas.

However, at least 20,000 people were living at the sites, which still to this day have yet to be fully decontaminated.

What waste remains of the 17 nuclear tests France carried out in Algeria between 1960 and 1967? What kind of condition is it in, and what repercussions does it have on the health of residents and the environment?

Is France ready to assist Algerians in locating this waste and decontaminating sites, at a time when both countries show a willingness to work together on a memorial initiative regarding the colonial past?

More than 60 years after Gerboise bleue, was conducted, a report from the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) recommends that France answer these questions and provide Algeria with assistance in cleaning up the relevant sites.

‘Radioactivity Under the Sand’, a study led by Patrice Bouveret, director of the French Centre for Documentation and Research on Peace and Conflicts (Observatoire des armements), and Jean-Marie Collin, co-spokesperson for ICAN France, provides a comprehensive review of the presence of French nuclear waste in Algeria.

Between February 1960 and February 1967, France carried out 17 atmospheric and underground nuclear tests in the Reggane and Hoggar regions, not far from a natural museum housing cave paintings which date back to the Neolithic period. Nine of these tests were conducted after Algeria gained independence in July 1962.

In accordance with a clause contained in the Evian Agreements of March 1962, France was permitted to continue its testing programme until 1967. On paper, the testing came to an end that year. However, the Algerian government under Chadli Bendjedid’s presidency secretly granted the French permission to continue carrying out tests at the B2-Namous site in Reggane until 1986.


Radioactive materials left out in the open


Although some of the facilities used for the tests were dismantled prior to and after the programme’s shutdown, waste is still present both above and below ground. At the end of the Algerian War, the two parties failed to negotiate a clause which would have forced France to decontaminate the sites or provide Algerians with archives and documentation related to the nuclear tests.

“After seven years [from 1960 to 1967] of conducting a range of tests, the two sites at Reggane and In Ekker were handed over to Algeria without providing for any procedures to control and monitor radioactivity,” reads a December 1997 report from the French Senate. The institution acknowledged that the French authorities displayed “a certain lack of concern”, noting that local residents “could have been treated with at least a little consideration”.

According to the authors of the ICAN report: “From the beginning of nuclear tests, France set up a policy of burying all waste in the sand. Everything that may have been contaminated by radioactivity had to be buried.” This included planes, tanks and other equipment. Worse still, radioactive materials (vitrified sand and contaminated rocks and lava) were left out in the open, thereby exposing the population and the environment to assured danger.

The report also mentions that since France is not subject to any obligation under agreements it has established with Algeria, it has never revealed the location or quantity of the buried waste. The authors add: “The nuclear past should no longer remain buried deep in the sand.”
Lack of transparency

In a 1996 ‘classified defence’-level report held in the archives of the French Ministry of Defence and which remains classified, the French authorities indicate that the tests had been halted without taking any initiative to provide documentation to their Algerian counterparts.

“No memorandum and no report have been found that provide information about the radiological condition of the launch bases when they were returned to the Algerian authorities [in 1967],” the report reads. Not only does waste remain under the sand, but “the sites are not subject to checks for radioactivity and are even less the subject of campaigns to raise awareness among local residents about the health risks”.

Although the Morin Law of 2010 (of which France recognised victims through its nuclear testing ) opened the doors to granting compensation to nuclear test victims in French Polynesia and Algeria, it failed to take environmental consequences into account.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), adopted in July 2017 and signed by Algeria, requires State Parties to take measures to assist the residents and areas contaminated by the tests. In addition, the treaty stipulates that “a State Party that has used or tested nuclear weapons or any other nuclear explosive devices shall have a responsibility to provide adequate assistance to affected States Parties, for the purpose of victim assistance and environmental remediation”.

The issue is that, thus far, France has declined to sign the TPNW. What’s more, a lack of transparency still dominates. For example, ICAN’s report cites a secret agreement between France and Algeria regarding nuclear decontamination which was reportedly signed during former French President François Hollande’s visit with his Algerian counterpart, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in Algiers in December 2012. The agreement concerned the notorious B2-Namous site in Reggane.


A set of recommendations


Will the memorial initiatives recently undertaken by both countries – with the appointment of two experts, Benjamin Stora for France and Abdelmadjid Chikhi for Algeria – be a game changer for this chapter of history which continues to put a strain on relations between France and Algeria? According to Algeria’s veterans affairs minister, the memorial initiatives integrate the nuclear waste question.

In keeping with these efforts, ICAN’s report recommends that the two parties hold discussions and that France improve Algerian citizens’ access to French medical archives, as well as that French legislation from 2010 “delineating the affected areas in the Sahara” be amended “so that they can be expanded, as was done for French Polynesia”.

Other recommendations concern nuclear waste, with the report suggesting that “France should provide the Algerian authorities with a full list of sites where contaminated waste was buried, in addition to the precise location of each of these sites (latitude and longitude), a description of this material, as well as the type and thickness of the materials used to cover them”.

The report also proposes that France “provide Algeria with the plans of the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission’s [CEA] underground installations under the Reggane plateau military base, as well as the plans of the various galleries excavated in the Tan Afella mountain”.

On 13 February 1960 at 7:04 a.m., France tested its first nuclear bomb, named Gerboise bleue, over Reggane. At the time, the French authorities explained that the tests were being conducted in uninhabited and deserted areas. However, at least 20,000 people were living at the sites, which still to this day have yet to be fully decontaminated.

 

GENEVA - War-torn Libya’s COVID-19 cases have increased more than 15-fold in less than two months, spiking from 571 in June to more than 9,000 today. More than half a million people need health care assistance as conflict, COVID-19 and economic collapse threaten to plunge hundreds of thousands of civilians deeper into chaos.

Libyans are already reeling from nine years of conflict in which families have been bombed out of their homes, health care facilities have been destroyed, infrastructure has crumbled, and the economy has collapsed, Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said at the end of a visit to the country this week.

“In Benghazi and Tripoli, I saw first-hand how civilians are suffering because of the catastrophic consequences of this conflict,” said Mr Maurer. “Neighbourhoods on the former frontlines in Tripoli are badly scarred and families have little if anything to return to. People are also at risk of being killed or injured by dangerous unexploded munitions. At the same time, infrastructure all over the country is falling apart. People have little electricity, drinking water, sanitation, or medical care in the middle of a growing pandemic.”

In Benghazi, Mr Maurer met with Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA), followed by a meeting in Tripoli with Fayez Al-Sarraj, head of the Presidential Council and Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord (GNA) of Libya. In Benghazi, he also met leadership of the Libyan Red Crescent, which has been playing a role in stopping the spread of COVID-19.

The conflict has battered Libya’s health system. Hospitals and clinics have been damaged in the fighting, while others were forced to shut their doors because they were close to the frontlines. Other facilities are decaying from underinvestment.

The economic impact of conflict and COVID-19 is also hard-felt. Most people surveyed by the ICRC said that their livelihoods have suffered because of COVID-19. Daily wage earners and migrants are the hardest-hit as income opportunities have evaporated as prices of staple foods have increased by about 20% on average but doubled in some areas. Prices are expected to climb further since Libya imports most of its food and oil production has ground to a halt. Milk, vegetables, bread, and fuel are already in short supply.

The ICRC is closely following the military build-up around Sirte and remains committed to its role of neutral intermediary between the Government of National Accord (GNA) and the Libyan National Army (LNA) to address humanitarian needs and calls for safe and unimpeded access to people in need on all sides of the conflict.

“We urge all parties to the conflict, including their international supporters, to respect international humanitarian law,” said Mr Maurer. “Civilians must be spared in hostilities and should never be the target of attack, nor should the infrastructure they rely on for their survival, like hospitals, schools, and water and electricity plants. Their right to humanitarian assistance must also be respected.”

The ICRC, together with the Libyan Red Crescent, has continued to respond to the needs of Libyans created by the conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, this has included food parcels to nearly 93,000 people and cash transfers benefitting 35,000 internally displaced Libyans, including households led by women, as well as infrastructure repairs of water and sanitation facilities for 570,000 people and three medical care facilities for 57,000 people. Around 100 hospitals and primary health care facilities have received medical supplies and nearly 300 health care workers have been trained in COVID-19 infection prevention and control. More than 1,000 people living with disabilities have received physical rehabilitation services including prosthetics.

What happens to migrants forcibly returned to Libya?
‘These are people going missing by the hundreds.’

By Mat Nashed, The New Humanitarian, 05 August 2020

Freelance journalist specialising on geo-politics in the Middle East. He has reported from Egypt, Tunis, Turkey, and Lebanon with a focus on human rights, state repression, and migration


ATHENS


The killing last week of three young men after they were intercepted at sea by the EU-funded Libyan Coast Guard has thrown the spotlight on the fate of tens of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers returned to Libya to face detention, abuse and torture by traffickers, or worse.

The three Sudanese nationals aged between 15 and 18 were shot dead on 28 July, reportedly by members of a militia linked to the Coast Guard as they tried to avoid being detained. They are among more than 6,200 men, women, and children intercepted on the central Mediterranean and returned to Libya this year. Since 2017, that figure is around 40,000.


At a glance: Libya’s detention black hole


More than half of the 6,200 people intercepted at sea and returned to Libya this year by the EU-supported Libyan Coast Guard are unaccounted for.
UN agencies are unable to track where people go after they are returned because Libyan authorities do not keep an official database.
Instead of being taken to “official” detention centres, many are likely disappearing into shadowy “unofficial” facilities operated by militias affiliated with the Libyan interior ministry.
UN agencies have no access to “unofficial” detention sites.
People held in detention centres face systematic extortion and abuse.
The system of sea interception and detention is funded and supported by the EU and EU member states.
Over the last three months, The New Humanitarian has spoken to migrants and Libyan officials, as well as to UN agencies and other aid groups and actors involved, to piece together what is happening to the returnees after they are brought back to shore.

It has long been difficult to track the whereabouts of migrants and asylum seekers after they are returned to Libya, and for years there have been reports of people going missing or disappearing into unofficial detention centres after disembarking.

But the UN’s migration agency, IOM, told TNH there has been an uptick in people vanishing off its radar since around December, and it suspects that at least some returnees are being taken to so-called “data-collection and investigation facilities” under the direct control of the Ministry of Interior for the Government of National Accord.

The GNA, the internationally recognised authority in Libya, is based in the capital, Tripoli, and has been fighting eastern forces commanded by general Khalifa Haftar for 16 months in a series of battles that has developed into a regional proxy war.

Unlike official detention centres run by the GNA’s Directorate for Combating Illegal Migration (DCIM) – also under the Ministry of the Interior – and its affiliated militias, neither IOM nor the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, has access to these data-collection facilities, which are intended for the investigation of smugglers and not for detaining migrants.

“We have been told that migrants are no longer in these [data-collection] facilities and we wonder if they have been transferred,” Safa Msehli, spokesperson for IOM in Libya, told TNH.

“These are people going missing by the hundreds. We have also been told – and are hearing reports from community leaders – that people are going missing,” she said. “We feel the worst has happened, and that these locations [data-collection facilities] are being used to smuggle or traffic people.”

According to IOM, more than half of the over 6,200 people returned to Libya this year – which includes at least 264 women and 202 children – remain unaccounted for after being loaded onto buses and driven away from the disembarkation points on the coast.

Msheli said some people had been released after they are returned, but that their number was “200 maximum”, and that if others had simply escaped she would have expected them to show up at community centres run by IOM and its local partners – which most haven’t.

Masoud Abdal Samad, a commander in the Libyan Coast Guard, denied all accusations of trafficking to TNH, even though the UN has sanctioned individuals in the Coast Guard for their involvement in people smuggling and trafficking. He also said he didn't know where asylum seekers and migrants end up after they are returned to shore. “It’s not my responsibility. It’s DCIM that determines where the migrants go,” he said.

Neither the head of the DCIM, Al Mabrouk Abdel-Hafez, nor the media officer for the interior ministry, Mohammad Abu Abdallah, responded to requests for comment from TNH. But the Libyan government recently told the Wall Street Journal that all asylum seekers and migrants returned by the Coast Guard are taken to official detention centres.


‘I can’t tell you where we take them’


TNH spoke to four migrants – three of whom were returned by the Libyan Coast Guard and placed in detention, one of them twice. All described a system whereby returned migrants and asylum seekers are being routinely extorted and passed between different militias.

Contacted via WhatsApp, Yasser, who only gave his first name for fear of retribution for exposing the abuse he suffered, recounted his ordeal in a series of conversations between May and June.

The final stage of his journey to start a new life in Europe began on a warm September morning in 2019 when he squeezed onto a rubber dinghy along with 120 other people in al-Garabulli, a coastal town near Tripoli. The year before, the 33-year-old Sudanese asylum seeker had escaped from conflict in his village in the Nuba Mountains to search for safety and opportunity.

By nightfall, those on board the small boat spotted a reconnaissance aircraft, likely dispatched as part of an EU or Italian aerial surveillance mission. It appears the aircraft alerted the Libyan Coast Guard, which soon arrived to drag them onto their boat and back to war-torn Libya.

Later that day, as the boat approached the port, Yasser overheard a uniformed member of the Coast Guard speaking on the phone. The man said he had around 100 migrants and was willing to sell each one for 500 Libyan dinars ($83).

“Militias buy and sell us to make a profit in this country,” Yasser told TNH months later, after he escaped. “In their eyes, refugees are just an investment.”

When Yasser stepped off the Coast Guard boat in Tripoli’s port, he saw dozens of people he presumed were aid workers tending to the injured. He tried to tell them that he and the others were going to be sold to a militia, but the scene was frantic and he said they didn’t listen.

Yasser couldn’t recall which organisation the aid workers were from. Whoever was there, they watched Libyan authorities herd Yasser and the other migrants onto a handful of buses and drive them away.

IOM, or UNHCR, or one of their local partners are usually present at disembarkation points when migrants are returned to shore. The two UN agencies, which receive significant EU funding for their operations in Libya and have been criticised for participating in the system of interception and detention, say they tend to the injured and register asylum seekers. They also said they count the number of people returned from sea and jot down their nationalities and gender.

But both agencies told TNH they are unable to track where people go next because Libyan authorities do not keep an official database of asylum seekers and migrants intercepted at sea or held in detention centres.

News footage – and testimonies from migrants and aid workers – shows white buses with DCIM logos frequently pick up those disembarking. TNH also identified a private bus company that DCIM contracts for transportation. The company, called Essahim, imported 130 vehicles from China before beginning operations in September 2019.

On its Facebook page, Essahim only advertises its shuttle bus services to Misrata airport, in northwest Libya. But a high-level employee, who asked TNH not to disclose his name for fear of reprisal from Libyan authorities, confirmed that the company picks up asylum seekers and migrants from disembarkation points on the shore.

He said all of Essahim’s buses are equipped with a GPS tracking system to ensure drivers don’t deviate from their route. He also emphasised that the company takes people to “legitimate centres”, but he refused to disclose the locations.

“You have to ask the government,” he told TNH. “I can’t tell you where we take them. It’s one of the conditions in the contract.”


Off the radar


Since Libya’s 2011 revolution, state security forces – such as the Coast Guard and interior ministry units – have mostly consisted of a collection of militias vying for legitimacy and access to sources of revenue.

Migrant detention centres have been particularly lucrative to control, and even the official ones can be run by whichever local militia or armed group holds sway at a particular time. Those detained are not granted rights or legal processes, and there have been numerous reports of horrific abuse, and deaths from treatable diseases like tuberculosis.

Facts regarding the number of different detention centres and who controls them are sketchy, especially as they often close and re-open or come under new management, and as territory can change hands between the GNA and forces aligned with Haftar. Both sides have a variety of militias fighting alongside them, and there are splits within the alliances.

But IOM’s Msehli told TNH that as of 1 August that there are 11 official detention centres run by DCIM, and that she was aware of returned migrants also being taken to what she believes are four different data-collection and investigation facilities – three in Tripoli and one in Zuwara, a coastal city about 100 kilometres west of the capital. The government has not disclosed how many data-collection centres there are or where they are located.

Beyond the official facilities, there are also numerous makeshift compounds used by smugglers and militias – especially in the south and in the former Muammar Gaddafi stronghold of Bani Walid – for which there is no data, according to a report by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime (GI).


Timeline: The changing trends of Libyan migration


Yasser told TNH he had no idea if he was in an official DCIM-run detention centre or an unofficial site after he was pulled off the bus that took him to a makeshift prison from the port of Tripoli. Unless UN agencies show up, it is hard for detainees to tell the difference. Conditions are dismal and abuses occur in both locations: In unofficial facilities the extortion of detainees is systematic, while in official centres it tends to be carried out by individual staff members, according to the GI report.

Between Yasser’s description and information from an aid group that gained access to the facility – but declined to be identified for fear of jeopardising its work – TNH believes Yasser was taken to an informal centre in Tripoli called Shaaria Zawiya, outside the reach of UN agencies. Msehli said IOM believes it is a data-collection and investigation facility.

During the time Yasser was there, the facility was under the control of a militia commander with a brutal reputation, according to a high-level source from the aid group. The commander was eventually replaced in late 2019, but not before trying to extort hundreds of people, including Yasser.

Several nights after he arrived at the centre, everyone being held there was ordered to pay a 3,000 Libyan dinar ransom – about $500 on the Libyan black market. The militia separated detainees by nationality and tossed each group a cell phone. They gave one to the Eritreans, one to the Somalis, and one to the Sudanese. The detainees were told to call their families and beg, Yasser recalled.

Those who couldn’t pay languished in the centre until they were sold for a lower sum to another militia, which would try to extort them for a smaller ransom to earn a profit. This is a widely reported trend all across Libya: Militias sell migrants they can’t extort to make space for new hostages.

Yasser’s friends and family were too poor to pay for his release, yet he clung to hope that he would somehow escape. He watched as the militia commander beat and intimidated other asylum seekers and migrants in the centre, but he was too scared to intervene. As the weeks passed, he started to believe nobody would find him.

Then, one day, he saw a couple of aid workers. They came to document the situation and treat the wounded. “The migrants who spoke English whispered for help, but [the aid workers] just kept silent and nodded,” Yasser said.

The aid workers were from the same NGO that identified the data-collection facility to TNH. The aid group said it suspects that Libyan authorities are taking migrants to two other locations in Tripoli after disembarkation: a data-collection and investigation facility in a neighbourhood called Hay al-Andulus, and an abandoned tobacco factory in another Tripoli suburb. “I know the factory exists, but I have no idea how many people are inside,” the source said, adding that the aid group had been unable to negotiate access to either location.

Msehli confirmed that IOM believes migrants have been taken to both compounds, neither of which are under DCIM control. She added that more migrants are ending up in what she believes is a fourth data-collection and investigation centre, called Mabani and located in Tripoli’s Ghout al-Chaal neighbourhood.

After languishing for two months, until November, in Shaaria Zawiya, Yasser said he was sold to a militia manning what he thinks was an official detention centre. He assumed the location was official because uniformed UNHCR employees frequently showed up with aid. When UNHCR wasn’t there, the militia still demanded ransoms from the people inside.

“We were treated like animals,” Yasser said. “But at least when UNHCR visited, the militia fed us more food than usual.”

Tariq Argaz, the spokesperson for UNHCR in Libya, defended the agency’s aid provision to official facilities like this one, saying: “We are against the detention of refugees, but we have a humanitarian imperative to assist refugees wherever they are, even if it is a detention centre.”


Growing pressure on EU to change tack

 

The surge in disappearances raises further concerns about criminality and human rights abuses occurring within a system of interception and detention by Libyan authorities that the EU and EU member states have funded and supported since 2017.

The aim of the support is to crack down on smuggling networks, reduce the number of asylum seekers and migrants arriving in Europe, and improve detention conditions in Libya, but critics say it has resulted in tens of thousands of people being returned to indefinite detention and abuse in Libya. There is even less oversight now that asylum seekers and migrants are ending up in data-collection and investigation facilities, beyond the reach of UN agencies.

The escalating conflict in Libya and the coronavirus crisis have made the humanitarian situation for asylum seekers and migrants in the country “worse than ever”, according to IOM. At the same time, Italy and Malta have further turned their backs on rescuing people at sea. Italy has impounded NGO search and rescue ships, while both countries have repeatedly failed to respond, or responded slowly, to distress calls, and Malta even hired a private fishing vessel to return people rescued at sea to Libya.

“We believe that people shouldn’t be returned to Libya,” Msehli told TNH. “This is due to the lack of any protection mechanism that the Libyan state takes or is able to take.”

There are currently estimated to be at least 625,000 migrants in Libya and 47,859 registered asylum seekers and refugees. Of this number, around 1,760 migrants – including 760 registered asylum seekers and refugees – are in the DCIM-run detention centres, according to data from IOM and UNHCR, although IOM’s data only covers eight out of the 11 DCIM facilities.

The number of detainees in unofficial centres and makeshift compounds is unknown but, based on those unaccounted for and the reported experiences of migrants, could be many times higher. A recent estimate from Liam Kelly, director of the Danish Refugee Council in Libya, suggests as many as 80,000 people have been in them at some point in recent years.

There remains no clear explanation why some people intercepted attempting the sea journey appear to be being taken to data-collection and investigation facilities, while others end up in official centres. But researchers believe migrants are typically taken to facilities that have space to house new detainees, or other militias may strike a deal to purchase a new group to extort them.

In a leaked report from last year, the EU acknowledged that the GNA “has not taken steps to improve the situation in the centres”, and that “the government’s reluctance to address the problems raises questions of its own involvement”.

The UN, human rights groups, researchers, journalists and TNH have noted that there is little distinction between criminal groups, militias, and other entities involved in EU-supported migration control activities under the GNA.

A report released last week by UNHCR and the Mixed Migration Centre (MMC) at the Danish Refugee Council said that migrants being smuggled and trafficked to the Mediterranean coast had identified the primary perpetrators of abuses as state officials and law enforcement.

Pressure on the EU over its proximity to abuses resulting from the interception and detention of asylum seekers and migrants in Libya is mounting. International human rights lawyers have filed lawsuits to the International Criminal Court (ICC), the UN human rights committee, and the European Court of Human Rights to attempt to hold the EU accountable.

Peter Stano, the EU Commission’s official spokesperson for External Affairs, told TNH that the EU doesn’t consider Libya a safe country, but that its priority has always been to stop irregular migration to keep migrants from risking their lives, while protecting the most vulnerable.

“We have repeated again and again, together with our international partners in the UN and African Union, that arbitrary detention of migrants and refugees in Libya must end, including to Libyan authorities,” he said. “The situation in these centres is unacceptable, and arbitrary detention of migrants and refugees upon disembarkation must stop.”

For Yasser, it took a war for him to have the opportunity to escape from detention. In January this year, the facility he was in came under heavy fire during a battle in the war for Tripoli. Dozens of migrants, including Yasser, made a run for it.

He is now living in a crowded house with other Sudanese asylum seekers in the coastal town of Zawiya, and says that returning to the poverty and instability in Sudan is out of the question. With his sights set on Europe, he still intends to cross the Mediterranean, but he’s afraid of being intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard, trafficked, and extorted all over again.

“It’s a business,” said Yasser. “Militias pay for your head and then they force you to pay for your freedom.”

Ghady Kafala contributed reporting from Tunisia.

Mat Nashed is a freelance journalist specialising on geo-politics in the Middle East. He has reported from Egypt, Tunis, Turkey, and Lebanon with a focus on human rights, state repression, and migration.

 

 

 

Averting an Egyptian Military Intervention in Libya

International Crisis Group, 27 July 2020


On 20 July, Egyptian legislators authorised sending combat troops to Libya, where Cairo’s ally Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar is on the defensive. Following Turkey’s intervention on the Tripoli government’s behalf, Egypt’s involvement could escalate the war dramatically. All parties should seek a compromise.

 

Egypt’s threat to send its army into neighbouring Libya is a predictable and understandable but dangerous response to Turkey’s deepening military involvement that risks embroiling both countries in a costly war. Cairo has warned that it will intervene directly should Turkish-backed forces loyal to the Tripoli-based government try to retake key locations in central Libya and nearby oil installations now under the control of an Egyptian-backed rival coalition led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. As Egypt sees it, a Turkish-backed advance into central Libya would cross a red line, endangering its border and national security. Both Ankara and Cairo should take a step back and seek a settlement on the status of central Libya’s strategic sites, including its prized oil assets. Foreign capitals with close ties to both countries should help them de-escalate tensions and reach such an accommodation. The alternative is to further regionalise what has become an unwinnable war.

The latest tipping point in the six-year Libyan conflict came on the heels of the pro-Tripoli coalition’s successful counteroffensive in western Libya, made possible by support from the Turkish army and the Syrian fighters on its payroll. Ankara’s deployment came in response to a request for help from the government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj in Tripoli in early 2020. The overt nature of its intervention, sanctioned by a Turkish parliamentary vote, enabled Turkey to dispatch military assets more rapidly and with greater freedom than its regional adversaries.

Fresh from its military win, the Tripoli government is now insisting that Haftar’s troops pull back from the former Qadhafist stronghold of Sirte and the Jufra air base in central Libya, both used by Haftar’s foreign backers as operational hubs. In addition, Tripoli wants Haftar’s forces to withdraw from the nearby “oil crescent” as a precondition for a ceasefire. These requests mark a shift from the Serraj government’s previous demand that Haftar move his troops back to their pre-April 2019 positions, before the Tripoli offensive, when both the oil crescent and Jufra were still under his coalition’s control.

The explanation for this change is not hard to discern: Ankara and Tripoli now believe they can not only beat back but defeat Haftar, despite the support he enjoys from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Russia and France. Although Tripoli has nominally laid out its conditions for a ceasefire, it continues to reject political negotiations with the Haftar camp, blaming it for waging a year-long offensive that killed at least 3,000 people, both civilians and combatants. By imposing new ceasefire terms that it knows will be hard for the Haftar camp to accept, Tripoli is hoping to legitimise its refusal to negotiate.

A major driver behind a new flare-up in fighting would be the desire to control oil facilities and revenues. Haftar’s withdrawal from the oil crescent would amount to handing over the country’s main oil facilities to Tripoli. Haftar’s forces imposed a blockade on oil exports in January to protest Tripoli’s alleged misuse of oil revenues, including purportedly to fund Turkish military efforts in Libya. The blockade has almost completely halted oil exports, bringing down daily production from around one million barrels to just 100,000 barrels, and causing revenues (already affected by low international oil prices) to plummet.

For regional actors, Egypt in particular, the stakes transcend Libya and its oil sector. Their main concern is defending their vision of the regional order. Egypt and its Arab allies – Saudi Arabia (which has provided political and financial support), Jordan (under-the-radar military support) and the UAE (financial and military assistance) – oppose the presence of Turkish forces and pro-Ankara Syrian fighters in Libya and see the Syrians, in particular, as militant Islamists. Egypt considers an expanded Turkish military presence in central Libya to be a potential threat to its own national security. It fears that a Turkish-backed offensive could alter the power balance in eastern Libya, allowing pro-Tripoli forces to use this area as a staging ground for attacks inside Egypt. Egypt’s Arab allies share these views, while France is especially concerned with the conflict’s ripple effects in southern Libya, which borders Chad, an important ally.

These preoccupations have pushed Cairo to take the unprecedented step of preparing for an openly declared military intervention, rather than continuing to back Haftar’s forces covertly. Egypt did not consider taking this step even in 2015, when the Islamic State took over Sirte and established a presence in Benghazi. Cairo is now trying to match and counter Ankara, which it sees as a regional sponsor of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian government’s mortal enemy.

Egypt is relying on eastern Libya’s parallel governing institutions to provide a veneer of legitimacy for its intervention. On 13 July, the Tobruk-based House of Representatives officially asked Cairo to intervene. A few days later, President Abdelfattah al-Sisi met with a delegation of tribal leaders from eastern Libya in Cairo, who likewise called on Egypt to step in.

Tripoli slammed both appeals as illegal, pointing out that tribal leaders have no official authority and that the east-based parliament, whose active members number no more than 40 of the 200 nominal parliamentarians, held no vote on its request. Regardless, on 20 July, the Egyptian parliament responded by authorising the deployment of Egyptian troops for combat missions outside the country to defend its national security against “criminal armed militias and foreign terrorist elements”. In escalating rhetoric, the Tripoli government condemned this decision as “a hostile act and direct interference, amounting to a declaration of war”.

Military experts believe that Cairo is likely to limit its intervention to securing the border area inside Libya. It could back up such an operation with airstrikes upon pro-Tripoli forces, should they seek to advance. With Sirte located 1,000km from the Egyptian border, deploying troops to central Libya would pose significant logistical challenges for the Egyptian army, lengthening supply lines and promising only inconsistent air cover to ground troops.

A more expansive intervention should not be excluded, however, one that could expose Egyptian troops to a direct confrontation with the Turkish military and affiliated Syrian fighters in central Libya. Private military contractors of the Russian-owned Wagner company are also consolidating a presence in central Libya, reportedly operating fighter jets in Jufra and bringing in reinforcements to Sirte and the oil terminal areas in a bid to bolster the Haftar forces’ positions there.

The repercussions of a resumption of hostilities for the local civilian population would be catastrophic. The growing involvement of conventional armies raises the spectre of intensified violence, particularly in the residential areas of Sirte. Likewise, Egypt’s rumoured plan to transfer weapons to eastern Libyan tribal groups risks unleashing even more local violence and retaliatory measures against civilians. Renewed fighting in the oil crescent could also result in hard-to-reverse damage to hydrocarbon facilities; while secondary to humanitarian concerns, such damage would be worrying, as it could stanch the flow of financing critical for Libya’s long-term economic viability and standing. Finally, with Turkish and Egyptian troops potentially coming into close contact and pro-Russia private military fighters also in the fray, the risk of a wider regional confrontation looms.

All sides ought to take immediate de-escalatory steps to minimise these risks and save civilian lives. Tripoli should freeze its military advance in central Libya and pursue a negotiated agreement on Sirte and Jufra, both now under the control of pro-Haftar forces aided by Wagner fighters. In Sirte, such an accord could entail Haftar and the forces backing him withdrawing from the area, to be replaced by a limited pro-Tripoli military presence that would leave out Turkish-backed forces and hardware; in Jufra, an agreement could allow for a symbolic presence of Haftar-aligned fighters with guarantees that foreign forces currently operating there move out. This would be one step toward a partial demilitarisation of central Libya rather than the full demilitarisation that Berlin and Washington have advocated but which would be difficult to achieve.

At the same time, the sides should come to a resolution to the oil sector standoff. Egypt should seek to convince Haftar and its other regional allies to drop their demand to see profits redistributed between western, eastern and southern Libya (in the absence of a legal framework that would regulate this arrangement), and instead accept a compromise agreement put forward by the U.S., UN and Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC).

This proposal envisages reopening oil production and exports in exchange for placing future oil revenues in a NOC-held account for 120 days rather than in the Tripoli-based central bank, as a means of reassuring Haftar as to how such funds would be used. Supporters of this plan believe that the timeframe would allow for negotiating a new line-up of the central bank’s top management as a possible precursor to reunification of the bank, which split into two parallel and competing institutions after 2014. This deal would also mean that, for now, Haftar-led forces remain in charge of the sites.

Such arrangements would fall short of what each side wants, but they could pave the way for a negotiated way forward. Moreover, acceptance of these arrangements would help build much-needed confidence between the two coalitions and their respective backers. From Cairo’s perspective, conceding on Sirte and Jufra and persuading the Haftar camp to accept an oil deal would also spare Egypt and its Libyan allies from the many unknowns that a military adventure would entail. For Ankara and Tripoli, a symbolic return to Sirte and acceptance of a semi-demilitarised Jufra would guarantee that these sites would not be used for military offensives aimed at taking Tripoli or Misrata, while an oil deal would provide much-needed revenues to sustain public-sector salary payments.

As for Turkey, it should be wary of overreach. Its authorities have made clear that they will not consider Haftar, or anybody else in his camp, as negotiating partners. Instead, they say they want to restore the Tripoli government’s control over all of Libyan territory. Their strategy is wearily familiar: reestablishing their proxy’s military superiority with the aim of going back to the negotiating table from a position of strength. The problem with this approach is that the other side and its foreign backers are unlikely to accept a lopsided negotiation, as the past years of conflict and diplomacy in Libya have shown.

Eventually, a new cycle of violence almost certainly will emerge, as the opposing side tries to level the playing field by counter-escalating. Turkey should avoid falling into this trap and instead push its allies in Tripoli to accept a compromise solution on central Libya’s security arrangements and oil revenues that could lead, at a later stage, to a comprehensive military and political agreement to reunify the country.

With each new intensification of the conflict, the opportunity for compromise seems ever more remote, while the risk of a larger regional war looks ever greater. If there still is a chance to reverse course, regional actors should jointly take it – now – or find themselves mired in an endless regional confrontation.

 

 

 

Research Papers & Reports

A Coming Decade of Arab Decisions

By Marwan Muasher and Maha Yahya, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, September 2020.


As the old order in the Arab world collapses, the region needs governance that can resolve its crises and harness its potential.

 

The coronavirus pandemic is the fourth major crisis to hit the Arab region in a decade. The first three—the 2011 Arab uprisings, the 2014–2016 decline in oil prices, and the 2019 protests in Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Sudan—shook the foundations of the old Arab order. This latest crisis may yet put the final nail in the old order’s coffin.

The pandemic has brought into sharp focus the structural inequalities afflicting the rentier economies of the Middle East and North Africa. It is also compounding problems in conflict-affected countries, where political and military actors are weaponizing the public health emergency. Amid the global economic downturn, inequalities in health, education, and economic opportunity will pose even greater difficulties for Arab states and may trigger significant upheavals. A transition to stability and prosperity requires the region’s leaders to respond to the pandemic’s fallout, as well as future economic shocks, through inclusive policies that ensure equity and equality among citizens.

The central question is not whether the old Arab order, based largely on authoritarian governments and rentier economies, can survive the pandemic. It’s whether Arab leaders will finally make the policy decisions necessary to get ahead of an inevitable wave of change or, once again, allow it to swallow up their governments and their people.


THE OLD ARAB ORDER IS DEAD


The coronavirus has further accentuated fundamental weaknesses of the old Arab order and with it the region’s once dominant authoritarian bargain. In the quid pro quo that underpinned the bargain, governments engaged in lavish social spending, fueled directly or indirectly by oil revenues, and in exchange, societies acquiesced to authoritarian rule and a sense of stability and order. With no stability, no order, and no money, that bargain is collapsing.

Rather than engage with the legitimate demands of their citizens . . . many Arab governments have opted to clamp down harshly on dissent.


Rather than engage with the legitimate demands of their citizens—for accountability, justice, socioeconomic equality, and a greater voice in governance—many Arab governments have opted to clamp down harshly on dissent. Yet in clinging to an order whose foundations are no more, many are only hastening their demise while heaping even greater misery on their populations.

The pandemic’s economic impact will be seismic. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that gross domestic product (GDP) in the Middle East will shrink 4.7 percent. Fragile countries or those in conflict will likely face an even greater decline. Remittances, on which most fragile countries in the region rely, are expected to tumble by at least 20 percent due to a decline in global growth. Given falling prices and demand for oil, oil-exporting countries are likely to see especially large negative fiscal balances. Prospects for a quick recovery are slim.

The social impact of the pandemic has also been catastrophic. It will now be even harder for Arab governments to address perennially high unemployment in the region, where almost half the population is under the age of twenty-five and average unemployment was already nearly twice the global average. Massive job losses have pushed many workers below the poverty line, particularly those in the informal sector.

Healthcare systems are overloaded, while distance learning has often proven unworkable, especially in underprivileged areas. Inadequate social protection mechanisms make few allowances for unemployment benefits and health coverage. As citizens express greater demands for social services, the necessary increases in taxation may drive demands for better governance and representation.

The ravages of war on countries such as Libya, Syria, and Yemen have left them dangerously exposed to the aftershocks of the pandemic. They are in economic freefall, while medical shortages and lawlessness amplify their fragmentation and trigger humanitarian crises.


A NEW WAY FORWARD


Arab governments must invest in their people before it is too late. Social peace cannot be achieved by force or through financial incentives, and reform will ultimately exact a lower cost than trying to maintain the status quo. Building the new and stronger institutions and social contracts necessary for prosperity will entail five key strategic shifts across the Arab world.


INCLUSIVE DECISIONMAKING


If Arab states are to become self-reliant and survive the difficult interim period of greater economic sacrifice and potential political turbulence, they will have to adopt an inclusive approach to the governance of their societies.

In most Arab states, citizens have little trust in government and perceive high levels of corruption and inequality. To ensure that citizens accept the pain associated with post-pandemic austerity, Arab states must provide venues for them to voice their concerns and participate in decision-making. Even well-considered plans will provoke civil unrest if citizens are asked to sacrifice more without being treated as partners in shaping their future. Such a process will require negotiating new social contracts and developing systems of checks and balances that strengthen the legislative and judicial branches of government at the expense of the executive.


Unless citizens are given a credible voice, their distrust of institutions will continue to grow


Change will not happen on its own. Unless citizens are given a credible voice, their distrust of institutions will continue to grow. With most of the region’s political elite reluctant to implement more inclusive governance, Arab citizens will continue their collective bottom-up push for reforms. These reforms include revising election laws, where they exist, to ensure proper participation and representation; creating councils that allow citizens to participate in political decision-making and social and economic recovery plans; and recognizing and upholding freedom of the press and the right to information.


EDUCATION FOR ACTIVE CITIZENS


Preparing citizens to function in the twenty-first century is fundamental for the long-term prosperity of Arab states. Decades of emphasis on rote learning have denied countries innovation opportunities and a chance to build knowledge societies and thriving economies. Rote learning was believed to result in passive citizens; instead, it produced frustrated generations that ended up in the streets.

Arab education systems need to broaden their focus from acquiring “defined and approved bodies of knowledge” to fostering the skills of analysis and synthesis that support engaged citizenship. Such a citizenry would be more capable of meeting the challenges of living and working in the twenty-first century, amid dramatic shifts in social and political engagement, economic opportunities, and employment patterns.

These systems will also have to address the inequalities highlighted by the pandemic, such as the digital skills gap and disparities between public and private schools. Without these changes, Arab countries will lose more ground, as their region remains mired in conflict and misery.

To make progress, Arab societies need to shed their fears that proposed revisions of their educational systems represent attacks on their culture and religion. Knowledge and critical thinking increasingly define global lines between power and impotence, success and failure.


FROM PATRONAGE TO PRODUCTIVITY


The end of the oil era in the Arab world means that oil-producing countries can no longer sustain a welfare state model. Oil killed productivity and merit. It allowed for the establishment of inflated public sectors that were often used as instruments of patronage and clientelism. It also hindered much-needed processes of political and economic reform by promoting a culture of no taxation and no representation. Oil-importing countries, in turn, can no longer rely on Gulf largesse to sustain their inefficient economic systems.

Arab governments will have to build more inclusive economies while operating under greater fiscal constraints. Recent studies indicate that Arab countries are the most unequal in the world with regard to income and opportunity. Accordingly, Arab governments need to rethink their economic models and the role of the state in economic activity.


Arab governments need to rethink their economic models and the role of the state in economic activity


An inclusive approach means providing essential health, education, and transportation services at reasonable costs to citizens, while withdrawing states from their traditional roles of providing jobs and subsidizing commodities. Other policies associated with such an approach include providing macroeconomic stability, diversifying economic activity away from oil and services, building human capital through education and training, encouraging international trade, and relying on merit to raise productivity. To do so, governments must facilitate the establishment of small and medium enterprises and allow the private sector to become the main provider of jobs and the key engine of economic growth.

Governments also need to promote transparency, including easy access to information about laws and regulatory requirements for government contracting, subsidies, privatizations, and public land transactions. Outside donors—including the United States, the European Union, the IMF, and the World Bank—should prioritize transparency and anticorruption measures when deciding on the form and function of aid and loans to Arab states.


NURTURING PLURALISM


In the twenty-first century, the wealth of nations will be measured by their human capital. The Arab world is populated by myriad ethnicities and religious communities, a diversity that should be a source of strength. Yet not all communities enjoy the same rights, and those disparities have kept the region from realizing its full potential.

Wars, too, have undermined social diversity in the Arab world. Conflict has driven millions of people to seek refuge away from their homes and often outside of their countries. Today, the greatest share of the world’s refugees and internally displaced people are from the Middle East and North Africa, even though the region accounts for only 6 percent of the global population. As a result, it is losing decades of development gains, especially as health and education continue to lag.


Changing demographics offer some hope for breaking old barriers and bringing new dynamism


Changing demographics offer some hope for breaking old barriers and bringing new dynamism. But this will require governments to treat citizens as integral partners in rebuilding their societies, not as potential threats who need to be coerced. The rights of citizens from all religious and ethnic groups, and those of refugees, must be recognized equally.

New arrangements are also necessary to revise constitutions, create more independent judiciaries, and allow local governments greater latitude in managing their own affairs. Such measures would accord the equal rights of citizenship to different communities, protected by the full letter of the law, and allow citizens to be involved in local decisionmaking. Meanwhile, measures to ensure the human and civil rights of refugees and displaced communities, as well as their right to safely return to their homes, must also be upheld.


EMBRACING REGIONAL COOPERATION


Since 2011, respect for state sovereignty has eroded in the absence of an effective regional stabilizer. The conflicts in Libya, Syria, and Yemen are all cases in point. The dearth of regional dispute mechanisms and diplomatic protocols has led to catastrophic levels of conflict, devastation, and human suffering.


Arab governments need to revive plans for political and economic cooperation


To overcome a legacy of fragmentation, end conflicts, and ensure sustainable development, Arab governments need to revive plans for political and economic cooperation. As the uprisings showed, events in one Arab country often ripple across the region. On the political front, an agreed-upon framework for regional cooperation would allow Arab countries to work together more effectively, especially when addressing transnational political, security, and socioeconomic challenges. Paramount among these are the myriad conflicts, the question of Palestine, and the refugee and migration crises. A cooperation framework would also allow for a stronger positioning in international forums.

Arab economic integration would also have a demonstrably positive effect on economic productivity, while reducing unemployment and poverty. By one estimate, an Arab customs union could raise GDP by roughly 1.5 percent.


FIRST STEPS


The Arab uprisings voiced a clear demand for political freedoms and social justice. But they were unable to articulate a coherent vision for achieving them. In the post-pandemic world, reconciling those demands through collective effort has become imperative. Bold changes will require fundamental shifts in the way the region is governed. As difficult as such changes might be, without them the region will simply be unable to function properly in the global order while maintaining stability at home.

Past experience has shown that Arab governments are unlikely to take the necessary measures, which will encourage potentially destabilizing demands for bottom-up change. The central question of the moment will be whether Arab states and the international community can channel those demands into constructive change that preserves order and expands prosperity. A more inclusive Arab region would make for a more prosperous and stable global community.

 

 

What Do We Do About Russia?

Sir Tony Brenton KCMG, British, Ambassador to Russia (2004-2008), Global Strategy Forum, September 2020.


The Problem


Things have gone badly wrong between Russia and the West over the past thirty years. The expectation when Communism fell was that Russia would become a normal
European nation, a market economy, a democracy, and a constructive contributor to the international order. As Russia diverged from this path so Western hostility
grew; initially through political coldness, then through several rounds of economic sanctions, and, most recently, a couple of proxy wars in Ukraine and Syria (the latter of which prompted Russia to remind the West that it has a nuclear option).

As things stand there is zero trust and minimal communication between the two sides; and no real sign – at least between the principal players, the US and Russia – that anyone is looking for a way out. UK exasperation at the failure of the early hopes was rather superbly summed up in the operational conclusion of the recent House of Commons Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) report on Russia – “The UK as a Western Democracy cannot allow Russia to flout the Rules-Based International Order without commensurate
consequences”.


Two Narratives


How have we got here? The Western narrative is clear. Russia did indeed start hopefully as it emerged from the rubble of the USSR.

But through a sort of historical recidivism it abandoned democracy in favour of increasingly oppressive autocracy; diverged from a market economy to a much more state dominated, hydrocarbon dependent, and corrupt model; and turned into a serial bully of its neighbours and breaker of international norms.

Important milestones have been the 2006 murder of Alexander Litvinenko, the 2008 Georgia war, the 2014 seizure of the Crimea and war in the Donbass, the intervention in 2015 to support the appalling Assad regime in Syria, and a growing wave of cyber intrusions and assaults – notably in the 2016 US Presidential election (whose unforgivable consequence in the eyes of many Americans was the election of
Donald Trump). Most recently we have seen the poisoning this August of Russia’s most
effective opposition politician, Alexei Navalny, which, even if Putin didn’t directly order it, certainly came out of the darker recesses of the Russian State.

The Russians of course see things differently. In their view Russia, largely as the result of Western economic advice, collapsed in the 1990s into penury, international humiliation and near anarchy. They needed, and found, a strong leader to pull them out of the mire and re-establish international respect. He, Putin, essentially succeeded in this task, however unpleasant his political techniques, and has
enjoyed the gratitude of most Russians since.

Meanwhile the West took full advantage of Russian weakness. The charge list is long: the illegal Kosovo war, the expansion of NATO (having promised not to), moral support for the brutal and violent Chechen insurrection, a further illegal war in Iraq, support for the Georgian attack on Russian peacekeepers which provoked the 2008 war there, overt and explicit support for large popular demonstrations in 2011/12 demanding Putin’s departure, support for the overthrow in 2014 of the democratically elected President of Ukraine (forcing the Russians to intervene to protect their interests in Crimea and the Donbass), and a series of inept and illegal interventions in the Middle East which simply boosted Islamism – notably in Syria where a fundamentalist outcome was only stopped by the Russian intervention to save Assad.

All of this has left a massively outgunned and out-dollared Russia (with GDP and defence spending about one twentieth of those in the West) convinced that the West’s ostensible commitment to democracy and human rights is in fact cover for a determined effort to bring down Putin and weaken the Russian state. As they search for affordable means to show that there is still a cost to taking them on they have increasingly turned to cyberattacks, overseas murder and electoral interference.

The point about these rival narratives is not which one is true. Both in fact have glaring weaknesses. Russian paranoia about Western aims, and readiness to engage in almost nihilistic international hooliganism in order to be taken seriously, is one example. And the Western habit of regularly breaching the international order while expecting lesser nations such as Russia to be firmly bound by it is another. No, the point is that each narrative is seriously believed by its proponents. The result, as noted above, is that trust and indeed communication between the two sides is now at least as bad as at the worst moments of the Cold War.

We have found our way to a quite dangerous escalatory spiral; accumulating Western sanctions on one side are met by a rising tide of Russian provocations on the other.


Russia’s Putin: Putin’s Russia


Western policy towards Russia is obviously not improving Russian behaviour. When I ask friends in London and Washington what we are actually achieving I am regularly enjoined to ‘strategic patience’. This seems to mean two things. Firstly, a realistic acceptance that it is now politically impossible for Putin and his regime, even if they wished to, to retreat under Western pressure. And secondly the confident expectation, implicit in virtually every Western political commentary on Russia I read, that Putin’s style of government cannot last much longer, and will be replaced by something much easier for the West to live with.

There are some grounds for this expectation. The ordinary Russian has seen his living standards stagnate for a decade (partly because oil prices are low; but official
rapacity, corruption and lack of rule of law all also play a part) and is about to take a big further hit from the pandemic. Putin’s leap in popularity from seizing Crimea has
faded. He has now been in charge for twenty years; young Russians know no other ruler, and have no memory of the chaos which preceded him. The young, the liberal and the urban are increasingly ready to demonstrate against the regime and have on a growing number of occasions forced official retreats on local acts of injustice or maladministration (long running demonstrations on behalf of the local governor in Khabarovsk, which the government can’t contain and doesn’t want to repress, are a good current example).

Putin’s political party has become unresponsive and corrupt (and has been enduringly dubbed the ‘Party of Thieves and Swindlers’ by Navalny). It now faces sharp
losses and maybe (despite the inevitable ballot fixing) even defeat in next year’s elections. If, as at the time of writing looks possible, Belarus succumbs to democratic
revolution that will add to pressures for the same in Russia. And finally Putin himself is visibly bored with most aspects of his job, seems increasingly disengaged (notably with regard to dealing with the virus) and has allowed an entirely uncharacteristic feeling of slackness to appear in some of the ways Russia is currently run.

But there are good reasons why regular bursts of Western optimism about Putin’s political demise have so far not come to fruition. The evidence is that even with the depressed economy, the coronavirus, and the fading of the Crimea effect, a significant majority of Russians continue to back him. He after all is still the man who on coming to power stood Russia back on its feet, tamed the oligarchs, defeated the Chechens, brought order back to the streets and saw off humiliation by the West.

The impression that even the most effective of his opponents lacks national resonance has been rather reinforced by the absence (so far) of any mass reaction to Navalny’s poisoning. Putin’s polled popularity rating has never fallen far below 60% (and has recently risen as the virus seems to be receding). Two recent electoral tests - the 2018 Presidential election, and a constitutional plebiscite in July this year potentially extending his rule until 2036 – both gave him majorities of close to 80%.

You have to aim off for the ballot rigging, but few believe the fraud can be so extensive as to invalidate these results entirely. And what the results point to is a Russian people, driven by restored national pride, memories of state collapse and fears of a hostile world, who support the President they have got.

The other key source of Putin’s power is his domination over Russia’s ruling elite. He is not a dictator (and sometimes loses policy arguments) but presides as umpire over a bunch of squabbling clans (security agencies, liberal economists, state enterprises etc). This is a crucial role and requires real political skill if the balance between rival forces is to be maintained. When it was thought in 2008 that Putin was leaving, the whole system nearly imploded. So, barring a sharp deterioration in political circumstances, the elite is solidly behind him – not because they all endorse everything he does but because they fear what would happen if he went.

Putin’s long term survival is not guaranteed. All autocratic regimes are to some extent brittle. Some unexpected spark (Belarus? A fatal long term collapse in oil prices?) could provoke the outburst of mass protest which could bring him down. The regime is very aware of this possibility, is constantly on the lookout for foreign interference which might fan the flames (to which it views its own external electoral interference as a legitimate response), and has set up domestic forces to contest the streets on its behalf if needed.

That’s the emergency brake, but even without it the central realistic expectation has to be that, unless he decides to go voluntarily, Putin will be around for the duration, and will be able to pass on the succession to someone in his own image. We in the West may like to think we merely have a Putin problem. In fact what we have is a Russia problem. And it would be prudent to expect that problem to be with us for the foreseeable future.


Russia In The World


Western outrage at Russian breaches of the ‘Rules Based International Order’ (otherwise known as the ‘Liberal World Order’, or, by some, ‘US unipolarity’) enjoys very
incomplete support in the international community. Even in 2014, when Western normative and political power were still close to their peak and Russia committed its most blatant assault on the international order - the annexation of Crimea - the West was only able to assemble 100 (out of a possible 193) UN General Assembly votes for
condemnation. Such key international players as China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Israel did not join the Western camp. And while the West had no problem throwing Russia out of the (Western dominated) G8, it did not even try in the much more significant G20, where the key non-Western powers would simply not have let it happen.

Since then the rules-based order has visibly eroded. Protectionism has been on the rise, democracy and human rights in retreat, nationalist ‘strong man’ regimes (with which Putin has an obvious affinity) have proliferated, and international law and institutions have been increasingly at a discount. The global spate of beggar-my-neighbour nationalism prompted by the virus is further evidence of the way things seem to be going. Above all, the erstwhile key prop and enforcer of the rules based order, the United States, has found itself for the first time since the Cold War facing a serious geopolitical challenger, China. The US has accordingly not only abandoned its role as ‘Global Sheriff’ but increasingly turned into just another state pursuing national advantage whatever the international rules may say (and it is worth noting that this trend, while given a big boost by Trump, both preceded him and is likely to succeed him, whoever wins the Presidential election).

In these circumstances the West’s efforts at isolating and sanctioning Russia look less and less like the application of universally accepted rules and more and more like the
use of naked power against a geopolitical opponent. For states bruised by the behaviour of the ‘rogue superpower’ and looking around for other influential players with whom they can do business, Russia is a natural port of call. Indeed this is already happening. In the Middle East, where Western exceptionalism has been particularly on display, Russia has emerged after a decades-long absence as a key broker with whom all local powers are keen to stay in touch.

But far more significant, and pregnant with consequence for the future, has been the evolution of the Russia/China relationship. The rise of China is in any case a key
challenge to the existing world order. The past few months have seen already deep tensions between China and the West sharply intensified by a series of clashes; over
coronavirus, over technology, over Taiwan, over Hong Kong and over the South China Sea. It is now very clear that, whether you call it a ‘New Cold War’ or not, the key global confrontation in the period to come will be between China and the US-led West.

Where does this leave Russia? Despite its vast Asian hinterland, Russia has throughout its history seen itself as a European state. The huge majority of its population and economy lie to the west of the Urals. Its economic links, social bonds, key historical memories, and cultural reference points have all pointed west. Meanwhile, its relations with China since the 1960s have been frankly confrontational with disagreed borders, ideological conflicts and serious military tensions, occasionally verging on war.

Nevertheless since the end of the Cold War as Russia’s relations with the West have deteriorated, those with China have prospered. The border disputes have been
settled. A natural economic complementarity – Russian raw materials for Chinese manufactured goods – has asserted itself. The new gas and oil pipelines go east, not west.

China is now Russia’s largest trading partner. The two current leaders are each other’s most frequent interlocutors. Their militaries exercise together. They vote together in
the UN. The language they use about their relationship avoids the word ‘alliance’, but only just. Western commentators have watched this love affair with some scepticism. They point out that here are inhibitions on both sides.

China’s economic links with the West vastly exceed those with Russia. The Russians are nervous about becoming a mere economic satellite to their booming southern neighbour. They fear that China might reabsorb their huge, empty, far east (seized during China’s ‘century of humiliation’). And there is also a clear Chinese threat to Russia’s dominance in its Central Asian backyard. Why have these concerns not impeded the thirty year growth of the relationship? The real glue pretty clearly lies in the fact that both Russia and China increasingly see the antagonistic West as the core threat to their domestic political arrangements and overseas interests.

Each provides the other with a strategically significant, economically useful, quasially as they face that threat. Given current Western attitudes, this bond seems bound to grow stronger. Or, to put it another way, in the upcoming global competition between China and the West the Russians, however European they may feel, will fall on China’s side.

One other point on China. President Trump, invited recently to criticise the poisoning of Navalny, responded that it is China, not Russia, that is the real challenge. The US defence and economic establishments (and probably Biden as well) all agree. US geopolitical attention, whoever wins the Presidential election, is fast moving to Asia. This leaves Europe (including the UK) uncomfortably placed; confrontational relations with the local military superpower, and diminishing assurance of support when needed from across the Atlantic.


Where Do We Go From Here?


Relations between Russia and the West are at a dangerous impasse. The West’s view is that Russia’s repeated breaches of the international order require punishment in
the form of isolation and sanctions. Russia’s view is that we are predatory hypocrites; we regularly breach the international rules we are so keen to impose on them, and our real aim is to bring Putin down. The upshot is that the Russian people (as they always do in times of stress) unite behind their President; communication with a nuclear armed Russia, even as our armed forces are engaged in rival missions in Syria and elsewhere, are virtually at a standstill; the sanctions don’t work; and Russia is increasingly tied to our fast upcoming key geopolitical competitor – China.

This makes no sense, and a growing number of people are beginning to understand this. An open letter appeared in August signed by many of the good and the great of the US foreign policy establishment entitled ‘It’s time to rethink our Russia policy’. More practically, both France and Germany have seriously engaged with the Russians on
managing the Minsk process in Ukraine and the demonstrations in Belarus (the UK being conspicuously absent on both issues). And even the Trump administration seems to have woken up to the need to talk to the Russians to prevent the collapse of the world’s regime for the control of strategic nuclear weapons.

Nothing very much is now going to move until the US Presidential election is out of the way in November. But here are a few suggested principles as the UK plans for its
own approach thereafter.

- Firstly, we should do everything we can to bolster the unity and robustness of  NATO. While assertions of the ‘revanchism’ of Russia are plainly exaggerated (their
actions in both Ukraine and Georgia were responses to what they saw as external interventions) Russia is only too ready to exploit weakness. NATO faces two serious
problems – the unwillingness of most European allies to devote the resources they have promised for their own defence, and a US whose attention will be
increasingly on China, not Russia. The UK, with its strong links both in Europe and across the Atlantic has a lot to contribute to keeping the show on the road. At the
same time the more we can do to overcome the absurd self-imposed constraints which prevent NATO itself getting into a dialogue with Russia, and to demonstrate that NATO is not a threat to them or their interests, the better.

- We need to get real about the extent to which we can influence Russia’s human rights and democratic performance. I say this with regret as Russia’s human rights
campaigners are among the bravest people I have met. But Western interventions on these matters are received with acute suspicion, expose us to
charges of hypocrisy (what about our friend Saudi Arabia?) and have often proved totally counterproductive – Putin’s relationship with Clinton was reportedly
poisoned at the start by Clinton demanding humane treatment for Chechen terrorists.
The occasional very precise intervention can work, as with the Germans taking in the poisoned Navalny. But, finally, Russia’s performance on this front will evolve
according to Russian rhythms, not in response to Western pressure.

- We should do all we can to foster civil society, including business links, in Russia.
There is a disturbing undertone to the ISC report implying that anyone who does business with Russia or the Russians is an ‘enabler’, facilitating deep criminality. This is absurd. Plainly where there is criminality we should deal firmly with it. But it is by building up honest and open links between businesses, students, academic institutions, professions and so on that we open the way for Russians to understand and appreciate our values and way of life. They like coming here and dealing with us, and
should be encouraged, not given the cold shoulder.

- We should look for a way of getting off the sanctions treadmill. As noted above, they don’t work (other than allowing Ministers to claim they are ‘doing
something’) and once imposed are politically very difficult to lift. An obvious first step is to swear off imposing any new ones (which would have an impact as the
UK is seen both by Russia and in the West as a leading sanctions hawk) and then, if a thaw ever does come, trade off existing sanctions against improvements in Russian
behaviour (essentially the approach used with Iran until the US blew up the whole process).

- We should look for a positive agenda with Russia. There is plenty that we should, and could, be talking about; our shared problems with Islamic fundamentalism,
some ‘rules of the road’ for cyber, better military communications to damp down potential crises, and so on. The point here is that once you establish a dialogue you
open the possibility of extending it over time to more difficult issues like Syria or Ukraine.

Engaging in all this would be a useful step towards unwinding our currently almost unrelievedly negative relationship with Russia. It would also have some impact
on our Western partners, who see us as hardliners on the Russia dossier. I have no illusions. I have negotiated too long with Russia to imagine that turning things round
will in any way be easy or certain. But the prize of reducing the dangerous tensions in the present relationship, opening up channels which may enable us to forestall
future crises rather than plunge into them, and maybe show the Russians that they have geopolitical possibilities other than tying themselves to China’s apron strings, has to be worth the effort.

 

PARIS - With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to threaten jobs, businesses and the health and well-being of millions amid exceptional uncertainty, building confidence will be crucial to ensure that economies recover and adapt, says the OECD’s Interim Economic Outlook.

After an unprecedented collapse in the first half of the year, economic output recovered swiftly following the easing of containment measures and the initial re-opening of businesses, but the pace of recovery has lost some momentum more recently. New restrictions being imposed in some countries to tackle the resurgence of the virus are likely to have slowed growth, the report says.

Uncertainty remains high and the strength of the recovery varies markedly between countries and between business sectors. Prospects for an inclusive, resilient and sustainable economic growth will depend on a range of factors including the likelihood of new outbreaks of the virus, how well individuals observe health measures and restrictions, consumer and business confidence, and the extent to which government support to maintain jobs and help businesses succeeds in boosting demand.

The Interim Economic Outlook projects global GDP to fall by 4½ per cent this year, before growing by 5% in 2021. The forecasts are less negative than those in OECD’s June Economic Outlook, due primarily to better than expected outcomes for China and the United States in the first half of this year and a response by governments on a massive scale. However, output in many countries at the end of 2021 will still be below the levels at the end of 2019, and well below what was projected prior to the pandemic.

If the threat from COVID-19 fades more quickly than expected, improved business and consumer confidence could boost global activity sharply in 2021. But a stronger resurgence of the virus, or more stringent lockdowns could cut 2-3 percentage points from global growth in 2021, with even higher unemployment and a prolonged period of weak investment.

Presenting the Interim Economic Outlook, covering G20 economies, OECD Chief Economist Laurence Boone said: “The world is facing an acute health crisis and the most dramatic economic slowdown since the Second World War. The end is not yet in sight, but there is still much policymakers can do to help build confidence.”

She added: “It is important that governments avoid the mistake of tightening fiscal policy too quickly, as happened after the last financial crisis. Without continued government support, bankruptcies and unemployment could rise faster than warranted and take a toll on people’s livelihoods for years to come. Policymakers have the opportunity of a lifetime to implement truly sustainable recovery plans that reboot the economy and generate investment in the digital upgrades much needed by small and medium-sized companies, as well as in green infrastructure, transport and housing to build back a better and greener economy. ”

The report warns that many businesses in the service sectors most affected by shutdowns, such as transport, entertainment and leisure, could become insolvent if demand does not recover, triggering large-scale job losses. Rising unemployment is also likely to worsen the risk of poverty and deprivation for millions of informal workers, particularly in emerging-market economies.

The rapid reaction of policymakers in many countries to buffer the initial blow to incomes and jobs prevented an even larger drop in output. The Interim Outlook says it is essential for governments not to repeat mistakes of past recessions but to continue to provide fiscal, financial and other policy support at the current stage of the recovery and for 2021. Such measures should be flexible enough to adapt to changing conditions and become more targeted.

Continued state support needs to be increasingly conditioned on broader environmental, economic and social objectives. Better targeting of support to where it is needed most will improve prospects, particularly for the unemployed and the low skilled – groups who too often miss out on training – and for youths. The report acknowledges that a balance needs to be struck between providing immediate support to strengthen the recovery while encouraging workers and businesses in hard-hit sectors to move into more promising activities.

Support also needs to be focussed on viable businesses, moving away from debt into equity, to help them to invest in digitalisation, and in the products and services our society will need in the decades ahead. Far stronger commitment needs to be devoted to address climate change in recovery plans, in particular conditioning support on greater investment in green energy, infrastructure, transport and housing.

At the same time, and with the virus continuing to spread, investing in health professionals and systems must remain a priority. The OECD says global co-operation and co-ordination are essential, as greater funding and multilateral efforts will be needed to ensure that affordable vaccines and treatments will be deployed rapidly in all countries when available.

The release of the Interim Economic Outlook follows an OECD Ministerial Round-table at which Secretary-General Angel Gurría called for countries to go further in greening the stimulus packages they have announced to tackle the impact of the COVID-19 crisis in order to drive sustainable, inclusive, resilient economic growth and improve well-being.

“Climate change and biodiversity loss are the next crises around the corner and we are running out of time to tackle them,“ he said. “Green recovery measures are a win-win option as they can improve environmental outcomes while boosting economic activity and enhancing well-being for all.”

For the full report and more information, visit the Interim Economic Outlook online:

http://www.oecd.org/economic-outlook/

 

 

In 2015, world leaders agreed to 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development to achieve a better world by 2030. Led by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Goalkeepers is dedicated to accelerating progress towards the Global Goals: using powerful stories, data, and partnerships to highlight progress achieved, hold governments accountable and bring together a new generation of leaders to address the world’s major challenges, says the Bill and Belinda Gates Foundation 2020 report.

As governments implemented necessary policies to slow the spread of the virus and people changed their behaviour to limit their exposure, global supply chains started to shut down, contributing to an economic catastrophe. Schools closed, and hundreds of millions of students are still trying to learn on their own at home, an educational catastrophe. (Data from the Ebola epidemic in West Africa suggests that, when schools open again, girls are less likely to return, thereby closing off opportunities for themselves and for their future children.) People in high- and low-income countries alike report skipping meals, a nutritional catastrophe that will make the others worse.

All these catastrophes are undermining the progress we’ve made—and still need to make—toward equality. At the same time, they have made it crystal clear how much progress we still need to make. In our country, for example, the pandemic is hurting people of colour the most: They are getting sick and dying from COVID-19 and suffering its economic consequences at much higher rates than white people. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 23 percent of white Americans said they were not confident they could make rent in August, a frightening enough statistic. Among Black and Latin Americans, though, the number was double that: 46 percent didn’t think they could pay for the roof over their head.

The widest-ranging catastrophe—the one that has spread to every country regardless of the actual spread of the disease—is economic. The International Monetary Fund projects that, even with the US$18 trillion that has already been spent to stimulate economies around the world, the global economy will lose US$12 trillion, or more, by the end of 2021.

That amount of money is impossible to fathom. Historical comparisons help: For example, in terms of global gross domestic product (GDP) loss, this is the worst recession since the end of World War II, when war production stopped in an instant, one entire continent and parts of another were destroyed, and 3 percent of the world’s pre-war population was dead. In those same terms, the COVID-19 financial loss is twice as great as the “Great Recession” of 2008. The last time this many countries were in recession at once was in 1870, literally two lifetimes ago.

In some countries, spending on emergency stimulus and social protection has kept the absolute worst from happening. But these countries are not randomly determined. They are countries wealthy enough to raise billions and trillions by borrowing huge amounts and expanding the money supply.

By contrast, there are inherent limits to what lower-income countries are able to do to backstop their economies, regardless of how effectively those economies have been managed. On average, the economies of sub-Saharan African countries grew faster than the rest of the world every single year between 2000 and 2015, but sub-Saharan Africa is still the lowest-income region in the world. Most countries there can’t borrow the money they need to minimize the damage, and their central banks don’t have the range of options available to the European Central Bank and the U.S. Federal Reserve.

Among G20 countries, stimulus funding averages about 22 percent of GDP. Among sub-Saharan African countries, that average is just 3 percent—and of course their GDPs are much less. In short, theirs is a much smaller slice of a much smaller pie, and it’s not enough.

Under these constraints, many low- and middle-income countries are innovating to meet the challenges they face. Vietnam’s contact-tracing system is a global model: With a population of more than 100 million, the country has seen just 1,044 confirmed cases and 34 deaths from COVID. Ghana started pooling tests, instead of testing people individually, to conserve scarce resources while still tracking the spread of the disease.

In Nigeria, more than 100 private-sector partners, including corporations and individuals, created the Coalition Against COVID and have raised $80 million (so far) to bolster the government’s response. The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the UN Economic Commission for Africa, the African Export-Import Bank, and dozens of other partners launched the African Medical Supplies Platform to ensure that countries on the continent have access to affordable, high-quality, lifesaving equipment and supplies, many of which are manufactured in Africa.

Many developing countries are doing especially impressive work on digital cash transfers that put money directly in people’s hands.

According to the World Bank, 131 countries have either implemented new programs or expanded existing ones since February, reaching 1.1 billion people. India, which had already invested in a world-class digital identity and payment system, was able to transfer cash to 200 million women almost immediately once the crisis hit. This not only reduced COVID-19’s impact on hunger and poverty but also advanced India’s long-term goal of empowering women by including them in the economy.

Other countries facilitated new cash transfer systems with nimble policy changes. The eight members of the West African Economic and Monetary Union, for example, allowed people to open accounts by text message or telephone and follow up later to verify their identity in person. More than 8 million West Africans signed up for accounts while their countries were in lockdown.

Even so, there is a cap on how much money many governments are able to spend on the safety net, and people are suffering. IHME estimates that extreme poverty has gone up by 7 percent in just a few months because of COVID-19, ending a 20-year streak of progress. Already in 2020, the pandemic has pushed almost 37 million people below the US$1.90 a day extreme poverty line.

The poverty line for lower-middle-income countries is US$3.20 a day, and 68 million people have fallen below that one since last year. “Falling below the poverty line” is a euphemism, though; what it means is having to scratch and claw every single moment just to keep your family alive.

These newly impoverished people are more likely to be women than men. One reason is that women in low- and middle-income countries work overwhelmingly in the informal sector, which tends to operate in now-inaccessible spaces (like people’s homes and public markets) and provides less access to government support. In Africa, the earnings of informal workers declined more than 80 percent in the first month of the pandemic.

Another reason is the avalanche of unpaid care work—like cooking, cleaning, caring for children and sick relatives—women are expected to do. Women already did most of it; now, with children at home instead of school, many men at home instead of at work, and many sick people at home instead of at health clinics, there is much more unpaid care work to be done, and the early evidence suggests that the distribution is growing more lopsided, not less.


UNDERSTANDING WOMEN’S LIVES


We support a multidisciplinary design-anthropology project called Pathways, in which locally embedded researchers observe and participate in the lives of women in Kenya and other countries, getting to know them over the span of two years. This deep knowledge can provide the context that is sometimes missing from the design of health and development programs. When COVID-19 struck, Pathways researchers spoke to women they had come to know well to learn about the mutually exacerbating impacts of the pandemic in their lives. Sylvia, Faith, and Agnes shared details of their lives with us. Out of respect for their privacy, we don’t show their faces or other identifying details, but we use photographs and their words to welcome you into their homes, just as they welcomed us.

THE US$18 TRILLION in economic stimulus proves that the world understands how massive the COVID-19 crisis is. But it’s not just different in degree; it’s also different in kind. Every person on the planet shares this crisis. We need to share solutions, too.


For the full report, visit: https://www.gatesfoundation.org/goalkeepers/report/2020-report/#GlobalPerspective

 

 

Africa

KAMPALA - The suspension of more than 200 organisations assisting 1.4 million refugees in Uganda remains in force – four weeks after the government imposed the ban. Patrick Onen Esaga, spokesman for the National Bureau for NGOs, told The New Humanitarian, along with the Office of the Prime Minister, was still “cleaning” the list of NGOs and international agencies Kampala has accused of operating illegally and without government approval in the camps.

Among them are 85 international agencies, including the International Rescue Committee, Catholic Relief Services, Plan International, and the Lutheran World Federation. The move affects three quarters of the refugee aid groups in the country.

Although Uganda’s COVID-19 lockdown has shut its borders to fresh arrivals, there is concern the suspension will harm the level of assistance provided to existing refugees, mostly from South Sudan. Leslie Vélez, spokesperson for the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, told TNH: “NGOs are critical partners for the UN and the government as together we continue to ensure that refugees and the host community have access to basic services.” She said UNHCR was “monitoring” the situation.

BAMAKO - A month ago, a group of soldiers ousted Mali’s unpopular president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, and were welcomed as heroes in the streets of the capital, Bamako.

Now, faith is fading as many accuse their new rulers of trying to consolidate power. On Sunday, the opposition coalition behind anti-government protests that preceded the coup rejected the junta’s plan to hold elections in 18 months – arguing that it fails to ensure a civilian will lead the transitional government.

West African presidents from the regional ECOWAS bloc also vowed to maintain economic sanctions until the military stands aside. After a previous coup in Mali in 2012, ECOWAS and other organisations quickly pressured the military to put civilians in charge.

But the current coup leaders are more senior – and seemingly shrewder – than the last crop. And the regional body’s failure to condemn power grabs by sitting presidents – from Ivory Coast to Guinea – has put its credibility as an enforcer of democracy on the line.

 

 

ABUJA - The single currency of ECOWAS will ultimately not be born in the near future. After some strong tensions observed on the issue, the States ended up delaying the launch of the ECO and agreeing on a gradual approach based on a new roadmap.

The single currency of ECOWAS, the ECO, will not finally see the light of day in 2020, or at least in the near future. The 57th summit of the Conference of Heads of State and Government of the institution held on September 7 in Niamey clarified the situation concerning the timetable for the adoption of this common currency.

Indeed, the announcement made by the UEMOA zone to unilaterally adopt the CEE to replace the CFA franc currently used by the 8 member countries of this space in 2020 had created tensions with the member states of the WAMZ, with in mind Nigeria. Without forgetting that the covid-19 crisis went through this with its economic consequences.

Noting that "the reform of the UMOA monetary zone is part of the actions to be carried out to transform the FCFA, as well as other currencies into ECO, in accordance with the revised roadmap of ECOWAS" , the summit decided to "postpone, to a later date, the launch of the single currency" .

This decision was taken after presentations by the Ivorian President, Alassane Ouattara, current President of the WAEMU, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sierra Leone, Nabeela Tunis, representing Julius Maada Bio, current President of the WAMZ. .

In addition, the Heads of State underlined "their determination to respect the convergence criteria before the creation of the single currency" . A relatively wise decision, especially since according to the most recent studies on the issue, only Togo met these criteria. Their respect is also the position defended since then by the WAMZ.

Also, faced with the economic and financial difficulties created by the covid-19 pandemic, it was decided to exempt Member States from respecting the macroeconomic convergence criteria in 2020.

While maintaining the "gradual approach to launching the ECO" , ECOWAS member states have therefore agreed to develop a new roadmap for the single currency program. In this sense, a new pact of convergence and macroeconomic stability will be concluded between the States.

The Niamey summit thus puts an end to the debate concerning a separate adoption of the ECO by the member states. So as to allay the tensions clearly visible since the warning shot given by the president of Nigeria, the heavyweight of the sub-region, against the urge of the WAEMU countries to unilaterally adopt the new currency.

An action through which many observers saw more an attempt to "make up" the FCFA strongly criticized by the public, than a desire to truly adopt a new currency independently and autonomously.

 

By Louis-Nino Kansoun

LONDON - Since August, the Russian company Alrosa and its South African counterpart De Beers have been making significant discounts on the prices of stones offered for sale. This decision is one of the latest taken by these two world leaders in diamond production to give new impetus to the market severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Big victim of the current health crisis, the diamond industry, long confined to its traditions, is now forced to reinvent itself in order to survive. Will the means implemented by the actors be enough to revive a seized machine?


An unprecedented crisis


To understand Alrosa and De Beers' decision, we have to go back to the end of the first quarter of 2020. In March, the wave of Covid-19 contamination around the world forced several countries to put in place restrictions. Flights have been suspended and borders closed. However, one of the major characteristics of the diamond industry today resides in the sales sessions organized by the companies. Each bimonthly or quarter, the latter invite their customers to meetings where the precious stones offered for sale are exhibited. Customers can then choose the lots that interest them and pay the set price. As the various restrictions made it impossible for customers to travel, De Beers,

As the various restrictions made it impossible for customers to travel, De Beers, Lucara, Gem Diamonds and Lucapa had to cancel several traditional sales sessions at the end of April and throughout the second quarter of the year.

“What happened in the second trimester, I've never seen in my life. There really wasn't a properly functioning rough diamond market, ” Bruce Cleaver, CEO of De Beers, told Reuters.

India's imports of rough diamonds plunged from $ 1.5 billion in February to just $ 1 million in April, according to data from the Gem & Jewelery Export Promotion Council. Antwerp, another diamond hub, saw its rough diamond imports drop 20% year-on-year in the first half of the year, according to data from the Antwerp World Diamond Center. The city's polished diamond exports fell 46 percent.

With regard to mining operations, the restrictions have also resulted in temporary mine closures in South Africa, Tanzania, and Lesotho, which are among the main producing countries in Africa. All this called into question a number of annual forecasts, all the more so as the interest of buyers declined. Indeed, jewelry shops have been deserted by consumers, forcing most retailers to cut off their supplies.


Adapt or succumb ...


Before resolving to reduce the prices of precious stones, diamond producers first took several measures to resist the pandemic as best they could. De Beers, which operates on several projects in Africa, for example proposed to bring its gems closer to potential customers. While the company has been organizing its sales in Gaborone in Botswana for several years, the relocation to large stone purchasing centers such as Antwerp (Belgium) or Mumbai (India) was supposed to limit the impact of the restrictions on its income.

The Canadian Lucara Diamond, active on the large Karowe mine in Botswana, has for its part gone further, concluding a cooperation agreement with the Antwerp company HB in mid-July. The latter, specializing in the size of precious stones, will take charge of the polishing of all diamonds over 10.8 carats extracted by the company in Karowe. Lucara will then be paid, according to the price collected, after the sales of the jewelry, instead of submitting to market fluctuations by maintaining tenders in this very uncertain period.

" This agreement will generate regular income at higher price conditions than those practiced in the context of the call for tenders, " explained Eira Thomas, CEO of the company, specifying that the resilience of the industry would depend on this type of cooperation " between producers, manufacturers and retailers to establish a healthier and more efficient global supply chain for diamonds ". She goes further by stating that this pandemic shows that there is a "real possibility of modernizing the sales system in the whole diamond sector" .

She goes further by stating that this pandemic shows that there is a "real possibility of modernizing the sales system in the whole diamond sector" .

Still with the aim of supporting demand, several small diamond companies have gone so far as to offer discounts of 25% on the price of stones. This may have finally convinced De Beers and his great Russian rival Alrosa to agree to give way on prices. The information relayed by Bloomberg and indicating a reduction of approximately 10% on the prices of certain diamonds at De Beers, but also of a significant reduction granted by Alrosa for the sales sessions of the month of August rings in effect as an admission of surrender. Cornered by disappointing results for months and a declining market share due to aggressive competition from small companies, the two giants have finally reversed their positions.


First encouraging results ...


Has the reduction in diamond prices offered or the intended decline in mine production volumes had a significant impact or is this a normal resurgence of buyers' interest in stones?

Cornered by disappointing results for months and a declining market share due to aggressive competition from small companies, the two giants have finally reversed their positions.

Regardless, the companies' sales at the end of August were the best in months. Buyers have spent, we learn from sources cited by Bloomberg , nearly half a billion $ in rough diamonds. De Beers would have achieved a turnover of 300 million against $ 200 million for Alrosa. If this figure, unconfirmed until then, represents for the South African group almost half of the standards before the pandemic ($ 545 million for the first sales cycle in 2020), it is still better, in comparison with the slump in recent months.

“ I think the worst is over and that there are reasons to be optimistic […] There are real consumer signals that reinforce the community's conviction that business is picking up. The industry is in better health than it has been for some time, ”said Stephen Lussier, head of consumers and brands at De Beers.

However, fears remain among some analysts. Wholesalers have certainly resumed purchasing in anticipation of stronger demand from consumers for jewelry, but we are not immune to a new wave of restrictions. Moreover, demand is more or less unevenly distributed.

“ I think the worst is over and that there are reasons to be optimistic […] There are real consumer signals that reinforce the community's conviction that business is picking up. "

One of the biggest jewelry companies, Tiffany, illustrated this situation well last week. While its activities are doing better in Asia (China and India in particular), it is quite the opposite in the United States where most stores are still closed because of the maintenance of certain measures. The country is indeed one of the world's largest hotbeds of the coronavirus.

For now, the resumption of sales is already a satisfying breath of fresh air for the companies and by extension for the producing countries. We will now have to hope for the rapid discovery of a vaccine to definitively restart the machine.