On a chilly October day in 2015, 24-year-old Rami Anis boarded a rubber boat in the Aegean Sea in Turkey. His destination was Europe and his goal was a better life away from war and hardship.
Looking at the people around him on the boat, he was horrified. They were children, men, and women. The fact that they might not make it never escaped his mind, even though he is a professional swimmer.
“Because with the sea, you can’t joke,” said the Syrian refugee.
But on Aug. 11, Rami will not be worried about swimming in the sea. He, instead, will be swimming at the Olympics. He made it safely to Belgium after days of heart-wrenching journey, from Istanbul to Izmir to Greece before setting off a trek through Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Austria, Germany and eventually Belgium.
Rami will be competing at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro as a member of the Refugee Olympic Team — the first of its kind — and march with the Olympic flag immediately before host nation Brazil at the opening ceremony.
Middle East and North Africa
Gulf banking markets may have entered an important phase of consolidation, with the potential to dramatically reshape both the role and the intermediation capacity of the industry. A few days ago, two large banks in the UAE, National Bank of Abu Dhabi and First Gulf Bank, agreed on a tie-up to create a national champion and regional powerhouse with $170 billion in total assets. In Oman, Bank Sohar and Bank Dhofar are in advanced merger talks. Bank mergers are expected to take place in Bahrain and Qatar as well.
The protracted downward trend in oil prices is threatening economic growth and fiscal sustainability in the region. This is having an impact on the banking systems. Banks are increasingly facing pressure on liquidity in the face of both private and public deposit outflows. This coupled with a low interest rate environment in the context of pegged currencies is eroding margins. Capital buffers are strong yet asset quality may deteriorate if oil prices remain low for a prolonged period and economic growth decelerates further. Therefore, in a context largely characterized by fragmented markets, consolidation may help achieve efficiency gains and ultimately preserve financial stability.
However, it is important that banking consolidation in the Gulf does not come at the detriment of competition. International experience shows that healthy bank competition generally promotes access to finance and improves the efficiency of financial intermediation, without necessarily eroding the stability of the banking system. Bank competition in the region is traditionally weak largely due to strict entry requirements, restrictions to bank activities, relatively weak credit information systems, and lack of competition from foreign banks and nonbank financial institutions. While increased market concentration does not necessarily imply greater market power, there is a risk that the current and prospective wave of industry consolidation may have long-lasting negative effects on competition if left unchecked.
Tunisia is one of the most secular countries in the Arab region, and it has one of the most developed education systems. Yet, young people from there are attracted in their thousands—like in no other country—to jihadism. The answer to “why?” may lie in the classroom, where radical movements prey on children in elementary and high school, and most especially on vulnerable children who feel marginalized from mainstream society.
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) was the cradle of higher education. The three oldest, still-functioning universities in the world are in Iran, Morocco, and Egypt. The University of Al-Karaouine in Fes has been granting degrees since 859 A.D. The Ancient Library of Alexandria, in addition to being repository of books and manuscripts, was a center of learning during the Ptolemaic dynasty, with scholars traveling to there from all around the Mediterranean and beyond. And scholars such as Ibn Khaldoun discovered fundamental economics four centuries before Adam Smith and others. In short, all of us who have benefited from a university education owe a debt to the MENA region.
The world's greatest risks can't be confined within borders. This is clearly the case with the ongoing refugee crisis, which is unprecedented in scale and affecting people and places far from the scene of civil war, fragility and conflict. The UK vote to leave the European Union showed, in part, the volatility and reach of the impact of forced displacement.
What are the common characteristics among people who justify attacks targeting civilians? In a new paper, we address this question by focusing on attitudes toward violent extremism. We do not study the process of becoming radicalized — or the characteristics of known perpetrators of terrorist attacks—but the characteristics of people surveyed in opinion polls who said they believed terrorist attacks on civilians were justified. People with such an extremist belief may not commit terrorist acts themselves, but they may be at high risk of being recruited by terrorist organizations, or may sympathize with terrorist organizations and be prepared to help them.
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.
In terms of forced displacement relative to a country’s population, Syria is among the worst tragedies since World War II. Nearly half of the country’s population has been forcibly displaced. There are 4.8 million refugees, largely in neighboring Turkey (2.7 million), Lebanon (1.05 million) and Jordan (640,000). Over 1 million Syrians that have applied for asylum in Europe since 2011, with 900,000 applying in 2015. In addition there are nearly 7 million internally displaced Syrians, accounting for 40% of the population still in Syria.
On May 6th, a father left to get food for his family but never imagined the horror he would face when he returned. Like any other day, and any other house in their neighborhood, his children lit candles to be able to study as there was no electricity from the national grid. However this time, fire from the candles ripped through the house killing three of his children, all under six, and leaving one critically injured. The tragedy has led to harsh accusation between the rival Palestinian factions governing Gaza and the West Bank over who is responsible for power cuts.
Translations available in Chinese and Spanish.
Many of you are already familiar with the PPP (Public-Private Partnerships) Group’s Private Participation in Infrastructure (PPI) Database. As a reminder for those who aren’t, the PPI Database is a comprehensive resource of over 8,000 projects with private participation across 139 low- and middle-income economies from the period of 1990-2015, in the water, energy, transport and telecoms sectors.
We recently released the 2015 full year data showing that global private infrastructure investment remains steady when compared to the previous year (US$111.6 billion compared with US$111.7 the previous year), largely due to a couple of mega-deals in Turkey (including Istanbul’s $35.6 billion IGA Airport (which includes a $29.1 billion concession fee to the government). When compared to the previous five-year average, however, global private infrastructure investment in 2015 was 10 percent lower, mainly due to dwindling commitments in China, Brazil, and India. Brazil in particular saw only $4.5 billion in investments, sharply declining from $47.2 billion in 2014 and reversing a trend of growing investments over the last five years.
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