It’s Ramadan and the Arabic TV channels are festooned with shows that vary from recurring popular soap operas, cooking and competition shows — but one has become the talk of the town.
Al Sadma, or The Shock, the Arabic version of the popular American show What Would You Do, is a reality TV prank show. But it’s not like many other tasteless reality shows that invoke fright and even terror, it is a show that invokes morality and examines humanity.
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What do middle-class dynamics in the 2000s tell us about the Arab Spring events? In modern economies, the middle class not only bolsters demand for private goods and services, but also insists on good governance and public services, such as education, health, and infrastructure. Investments in these areas improve the capacity of the economy to grow not only more rapidly, but also sustainably and inclusively. Therefore, understanding how the middle class fares in the Arab world is of crucial importance.
Two recently released World Bank reports — one on commodities and the other on remittances — lend insight into an unfolding dynamic in the world today. As oil prices dropped from more than $100 per barrel in June 2014 to as low as $27 in the last few months, the money sent home from people working abroad in oil-producing countries also fell. This drop is a major reason remittances to developing countries declined in 2015 to their lowest growth rate since the 2008-2009 financial crisis.
Young Arabs express the same concern over the rise of the Islamic State (IS) as young people do elsewhere, the annual Arab Youth Survey reveals. For the second year in a row, the “rise of” IS militants is perceived as the main problem facing the region, with four in every five young people interviewed saying they were more concerned about it than other problems. Its public appeal may have also decreased slightly, findings in the survey suggest.
It was December 8, 2010, when I boarded a plane after a routine trip to Tunisia. There was nothing out of the ordinary that would have provided a clue as to the dramatic upheaval to come. The taxi drivers rarely spoke of politics, poverty was an untouchable topic of conversation, and YouTube was blocked. However, over the course of that winter, uprisings erupted throughout Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and beyond that called for greater social justice. Investment policies had privileged elites for too long. Social and labor policies had not been that effective at promoting inclusiveness. Each country has since struggled to maintain political stability while addressing demands for improving work and welfare, with mixed results.
The Middle East and North Africa region has never faced such significant stress on its ageing infrastructure like it does today, with one of the most telling being the substantial increase in the need for electricity. It is estimated that electricity demand in the MENA region will increase by 84% by 2020, requiring an additional 135 GW of generation capacity and an investment of US$450 billion. The quest for new approaches to ensure adequate and reliable supply of electricity in the region is more urgent than ever before.
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is a region of extremes. It has the highest unemployment rate in the developing world, with the rate for women and young people double the average. MENA economies are among the least diversified, with the Herfindahl index—a measure of the concentration of exports in a few commodities—ranging between 0.6 and 1 for most countries. The region had the highest number of electricity cuts per month. The ratio of public- to private-sector workers is the highest in the world. While, until recently, the region had been averaging 4-5 percent GDP growth, that average masked a highly volatile growth path.
The political participation of Arab women in post-revolutionary Arab countries has been the subject of various studies and academic research. The 2011 revolutions marked a significant shift in the female political role in the region because women were involved at the head of the Arab uprisings. The revolutions, which were initially secular and egalitarian, also unleashed long-repressed conservative forces, which have been eating in to the gains made by Arab feminists over the past decades.
Thirteen of the 15 countries with the lowest rates of women participating in their labor force are in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), according to the 2015 Global Gender Gap Report (2015). Yemen has the lowest rate of working women of all, followed by Syria, Jordan, Iran, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Lebanon, Egypt, Oman, Tunisia, Mauritania, and Turkey.
There were over 1,000 Lebanese youths together in one large auditorium, all from different communities, confessions and party affiliations. Some were chanting the Lebanese national anthem, waving the country’s flag. Others were holding hands, and screaming every time their pictures or that of their new friends appeared on a large screen. These young men and women all had one thing in common: they put aside their different socio-economic, religious, and political backgrounds and gave up their spare time to jointly identify and implement community projects across Lebanon.