Information and stories on middle east

Water Crisis in the Middle East
Syria, Egypt and Afghanistan are among the bottom 10 countries when talking about access to clean water. Water is a primary necessity for human life. Without food the body can survive for up to three weeks, however, without clean water, the body will perish within three to four days, but not before going into shock and fading in and out of delirium. The water crisis in the Middle East is a serious problem now that ongoing conflicts in the region have only worsened.

Afghanistan

Of the three countries listed above, the water crisis in the Middle East affects Afghanistan the least. Despite that, Afghanistan is in the middle of the worst drought it has seen in the past 10 years. In addition, it cannot effectively distribute resources since 40 years of armed conflict following Soviet intervention in Afghanistan has ruined the country’s infrastructure. As a result, about 260,000 Afghani civilians living in extremely dry areas have had to leave their homes, making them refugees.

The drought has drained natural water sources such as the Kabul River Basin, the primary source of water for the nation’s capital. The established system for distributing water is no longer applicable, so civilians must draw water from unofficial wells. In Afghanistan, a country with over 35 million people, 87 percent of accessible water is polluted. Fortunately, India is providing assistance with the Afghan-India Friendship Dam on the Hari River. With further plans to build another dam on the Kabul River, Afghanistan will have water for irrigation and will not have to live with the threat of flash floods.

Syria

In 2006, a massive drought began that would displace tens of thousands of Syrian farmers. By 2011, there were over a million angry, unemployed former farmers in the country ready to fight in a violent civil war that would go on for years. If one said that the water crisis in the Middle East was the proverbial lit match in the powder keg, it would be inaccurate. One cannot, however, deny that it did fan the flames.

Now that tensions are dying down, Syrian civilians have little infrastructure to help provide them with water. Militant groups that occupy water plants and reservoirs hold monopolies on the water for entire regions. Oftentimes, these groups distribute water selectively to blackmail their enemies. Prior to the civil war that started in 2011, water allocation was already inequitable. President Bashar al-Assad allocated more water to fellow members of his particular sect of Islam. Now that Syria is rebuilding its infrastructure, there exists an opportunity to distribute water equally across the country in order to help prevent humanitarian disasters like this in the future.

Egypt

Even in the time of the pharaohs, Egypt has owed its life to the Nile. The Nile is the primary source of water for a country with rice as its number one agricultural export. Rice requires a great deal of water for cultivation and harvest. One kilo of rice needs about 3,000 liters of water. The water in the Nile now contains dead fish due to heavy metals from industrial pollution. Using heavily polluted water diminishes crop yields leading to a further strain on resources.

Egypt faces more than just a drop in the quality of water. As a result of the Blue Nile dam that Ethiopia built, Egypt is also concerned about the quantity of water. By building a hydroelectric dam on the Nile upstream from Egypt, Ethiopia is developing a power grid to reach 86 million Ethiopians living without electricity. Consequently, this will divert about a quarter of the Nile’s water away from Egypt. The Nile supplies 85 percent of Egypt’s fresh water. Egypt has the most to lose in the event of armed conflict breaking out because of its water scarcity, so it is now pushing for diplomatic and scientific solutions to the problem. Negotiating with Ethiopia to share in the dam’s benefits and investments in desalination technology is helping to alleviate the water crisis.

The water crisis in the Middle East is serious and requires much work to alleviate the problem. Through the building of better infrastructure, however, Egypt, Syria and Afghanistan should be able to improve.

– Nicholas Smith
Photo: Flickr

How the Breakdown of the Nuclear Deal has Affected Poverty in IranAs the relationship between Iran and the U.S. deteriorates, Iran’s quality of living is plummeting, the cost of living is soaring and Iranian citizens are feeling the pressure.

Since the dissolution of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, more commonly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal, in May 2018, extreme hardship has hit the West Asian country. Economic sanctions that were thwarted by the nuclear agreement have been reimposed and are damaging Iran’s oil and precious metal sectors, handicapping the country’s export potential.

The primary component of the economic decline is the dent that sanctions are making in the oil sector–which, according to the World Bank, accounts for two-thirds of Iran’s economic growth.

Post-Breakdown Economic Turmoil

Iran’s oil production has already fallen steadily every month since the breakdown of the nuclear deal, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and the resulting impact on the economy is devastating. On April 2019 the World Bank reported that Iran’s economic growth slowed to 1.8 percent in the first quarter of 2018/2019–down by 4.6 percent from the previous year. Compounded with years of corruption and mishandling of public funds, the breakdown of the nuclear deal has positioned the Iranian economy in a state of stagflation (negative GDP growth) estimated to continue until April 2020.

Compounding the decline in GDP, the national currency has depreciated by around 60 percent on the U.S. dollar. An IMF senior official revealed that the inflation rate could reach 40 percent by the end of 2019. This economic turmoil has reduced accessibility to living essentials, increased societal instability and swelled poverty rates.

Increased Poverty

The World Bank reports that the upper-middle class poverty rate, which is classified as at or under $5.50 PPP (Purchasing Power Parity), is at an estimated 11.6 percent for 2018/2019 and forecasted to grow to 12.6 percent in 2019/2020.

It is essential to note that $5.50 PPP is not daily income–that figure is usually much lower. According to the Global Basic Income Foundation, PPP is defined as the amount a person can afford to spend on any given day, taking into account both earnings and savings. To put this into perspective, 11.6 percent of people in Iran could not afford to buy something today that costs $5.51.

Higher Prices

With the reimposed sanctions resulting from the breakdown of the nuclear deal, accessibility to living essentials is rapidly shrinking. Even humanitarian organizations struggle to acquire adequate supplies to carry out their work due to soaring prices.

A recent report from the Statistical Centre of Iran reveals eye-opening inflation statistics. Between 2018 and 2019, the price of food and drink increased by 43.5 percent,  clothing and footwear by 33.9 percent, housing and utilities by 18.2 percent and health and medical services by 18.8 percent. The overall Consumer Price Index is up by 30.6 percent.

The amalgam of decreasing wages and currency devaluation is restricting Iranian citizens’ ability to acquire necessities. The World Bank expects Iran’s poverty rate to rise to 12.8 percent by 2021.

Humanitarian Response

With poverty levels rising in Iran, humanitarian agencies are stepping up to meet the need. Moms Against Poverty is a nonprofit organization that is working to alleviate poverty in Iran through hunger relief, education and orphan care. Since the breakdown of the nuclear deal, Iran has had a 6.3 magnitude earthquake and major flooding. Moms Against Poverty provided natural disaster victims with food, water and blankets, distributed safe heaters and helped rebuild and furnish health clinics and pre-schools in the flooded areas. The organization also funded 2,000 food baskets for the Persian New Year across three Iranian provinces.

The breakdown of the nuclear deal has been economically painful for Iran. Tensions have only risen since the reimposition of sanctions and, as of now, show no signs of alleviating. There have already been multiple conflicts between the U.S. and Iran in the Strait of Hormuz, Iran’s main shipping route, since the breakdown.

Organizations like Moms Against Poverty provide some poverty relief and help the quality of life for many citizens. However, relief on a nationwide scale could be achieved if U.S.-Iran relations are restored or if Iran can boost its economic growth and halts the devaluation of the national currency. For now, the citizens of Iran are feeling the pressure.

– Zach Brown
Photo: Flickr

Guest workers
The exploitation of guest workers in Saudi Arabia has been a common occurrence for many years. Eleven million guest workers have come to the Middle Eastern nation in order to find an opportunity to support their families back home. What some meet with is abuse and hardship from their employers for a variety of reasons. These workers are not citizens and they have a limited number of rights to protect them.

Discovery of Oil and the Demand for Workers

When people discovered oil in Saudi Arabia in the 1930s, it was still a very young country having only established in 1932. The country was one of the most underdeveloped and poorest in the world and did not have the means to extract this oil.

To profit from its discovery, the Saudi government brought in guest workers from the West after World War II and they were mostly professionals in the oil industry. After its success,  it eventually required workers from neighboring Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt, Yemen and Palestine as well, especially as the gas crisis in 1973 raised the demand for oil.

As the economy of Saudi Arabia grew, there came a need for more workers in other industries of the country besides oil. As a result, guest workers from other Asian nations such as Pakistan, India, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Sri Lanka went to Saudi Arabia for work.

Guest Worker Abuses

Human Rights Watch, an international organization, describes the conditions of the guest workers in Saudi Arabia as being similar to slavery. These workers are beaten, exploited, overworked, underpaid and sometimes not even paid at all. The abuse of these workers is deep-seated in race, gender and religious discriminations.

Over 900,000 Filipinos are working in Saudi Arabia and many of them work in the service industries including hotels. There was an instance where 15 Filipino hotel guest workers had to work more than their scheduled 40 hours a week. When they did not receive overtime pay their employers owed them, they complained to the hotel manager who told them to be quiet or they would have them deported.

Guest workers do not have the convenience of collective bargains or unions to protect them from this type of abuse. Saudi employers can dismiss their guest workers at any time regardless of what employment contracts. An employer dismissed a 26-year-old Bangladesh guest worker named Bachu after only seven months because they did not need him anymore. The unexpected termination forced the now jobless worker to attempt to obtain a job illegally, which resulted in his arrest and deportation back to Bangladesh.

There are very few laws that protect guest workers from abuses in regard to the law. There are instances of workers receiving false accusations of crimes, harsh penalties, unfair trials and random arrests. One such incident occurred in 2005 with the arrest and execution of a Sri Lankan maid named Rizana Nafeek. The 24-year-old housemaid suffered the accusation of murdering the baby that she was in charge of taking care of, but she claimed it died from choking. She did not have a translator during her interrogation and the authorities beat her into signing a confession. She was only one of the 100,000 Sri Lankan maids that are guest workers in Saudi Arabia. Over 100 guest workers are sitting on death row in the country.

Changes for the Workers

Recently, the Saudi Arabian government has taken steps towards protecting its guest workers through a series of legislations. In 2015, the government voted on these laws and will impose hefty fines on businesses that it finds guilty of abuses such as not paying employees on time, violating health and safety and employing children under 15.

The U.N. has adopted resolutions that would protect guest workers in not only Saudi Arabia but around the world. The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families emerged to protect the human rights of the 164 million guest workers throughout the world.

Saudi Arabia is a young and growing nation. The use of guest workers has helped its economy expand and thrive as a nation. The treatment of these workers has brought much negative attention to the country, though. It is taking steps, however, to ensure that the abuse and exploitation of these workers come to an end.

– Sam Bostwick
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Making of a Child SoldierAlthough using children as soldiers is horrifying and illegal, recruiters are employing children every day. In fact, as the war in the Middle East spreads, these recruiters are enlisting children more frequently than before. The extremist groups in Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia, to name a few, are breaking international war laws on a daily basis in using child soldiers. It is a constant battle for these children as they often have to choose between becoming a soldier and living or becoming another victim of the war.

The Making of a Child Soldier

In recent years, the number of children recruited to fight in the Middle East has doubled, which means more children are becoming being put in danger. Not only is there an emotional and physical battle for these children but also for the soldiers that are fighting against the extremist groups. With the war continuing in Iran, nearly 200 child soldiers have been killed in the last couple of years. In October 2018, there were still 19,000 children who were laying their lives on the line in South Sudan. Many of these children are in poverty and do not know where to turn next.

The making of a child soldier is complicated and influenced by the child’s circumstances. Since several African and Middle Eastern countries are in the middle of a war crisis, families are more likely to become displaced and slide deeper into poverty. Sudanese soldiers are offering families up to $10,000 to send their children to fight the war in Yemen although Saudi Arabia has denied their recruitment. That amount of money is huge to families that have been living on the streets. Several reports state that these Sudanese children fighters make 20 cents a day in the war.

Being poor, separated from their families and without access to education can all contribute to making a child soldier. Often, recruiters are more likely to employ children as soldiers due to the fact that they are more manageable, more obedient and easier manipulate than adults. Children who are forced to be soldiers are given jobs like spying, guarding low-security sites and detecting mines. People do not often see these children on the front line although they can be involved in attacks. In the first months of 2015, 21 children died in suicide attacks using explosive-packed vehicles.

The Syrian Democratic Forces and the Iran Government

Although these crimes are affecting the world’s most innocent and vulnerable population, several organizations are bringing hope to the children of the Middle East. Recently, the Syrian Democratic Forces have enforced a ban on using child soldiers in the war against the increasing extremist groups. The U.S. backed them on this movement. Additionally, the Treasury Department targeted ad networks of banks and businesses that have been supporting the funding of child soldiers.

Wars in the Middle East have raged for several years, and recruiters are taking advantage of the vulnerable population, but some are fighting back. Governments are undergoing initiatives and uniting together to help enforce protection for vulnerable children recruiters are most likely single out as child soldiers.

– Emme Chadwick
Photo: Flickr

Diplomacy in the Middle East
In a time clouded by violent Middle Eastern conflicts, the spotlight is focusing on how quickly the U.S. can militarize these regions. However, it is important to take note of diplomacy in the Middle East. The following is a list of the U.S.’s current diplomatic efforts in the Middle East and the ones it could potentially make in the future.

The Iraq-U.S. Alliance

Iraq is proving itself to be a key alliance for the U.S., as America seeks to put an end to the Islamic State of Iraq. The importance of preserving this alliance is more vital now than ever. To nurture this alliance, U.S. aid goes to the government of Iraq in the hopes of helping the country attain its domestic goals. This aid will hopefully allow Iraq to respond to pressing matters such as finding living quarters for the displaced and putting reforms in place to meet the needs of its people. As Iraq continues to stabilize domestically, it will help both the U.S. and Iraq militarily by giving them the ability to build up their security forces.

Natural Disasters in Iran

In 2019, a flood struck Iran which resulted in over 60 deaths and only succeeded to add on to the country’s existing troubles. The country was already in an economic crisis as a result of President Trump’s decision to impose secondary sanctions. While the Trump administration has been harsh in its stance toward Iran, there are steps the U.S. can take to aid Iran in its recovery.

Many developing countries, like Iran, constantly face under-preparedness for natural disasters which then adds to its existing financial pains. If the U.S. were to aid Iran in preparedness by providing access to better weather monitoring technologies, the country would be better equipped to handle natural disasters. To help Iran accomplish this and save lives, the U.S. government could consider creating a new general license to allow for access to this technology.

Military and Economic Aid to Israel

Israel has been a longstanding ally of the U.S. In fact, America sends Israel over $3 billion in military and economic aid each year. Through strong diplomatic relations with Israel, the U.S. prevented radicalism movements in the Middle East. Israel also provided the U.S. with valuable military intelligence. The U.S. remains committed to this alliance, and as of August 21, 2019, the U.S. Agency for International Development released a statement indicating that it would be increasing efforts to create employment opportunities and stable communities in Israel. The U.S. also committed to continuing to provide “water, education, technology, science, agriculture, cyber-security and humanitarian assistance.”

Humanitarian Efforts in Syria

After President Trump’s targeted airstrike, humanitarian efforts in Syria have begun to garner interests again. The airstrike was in response to Bashar Al-Assad’s usage of chemical weapons on his people. Since the airstrike, the U.S. discussed different ways to aid Syria through helping displaced refugees, coordinating with other countries and giving more aid. People consider the crisis in Syria to be one of the worst humanitarian crises in modern times.

If America wishes to aid Syrians in this humanitarian crisis, the U.S. could make it easier for Syrian refugees to enter the country. Since the beginning of the Syrian refugee crisis, the U.S. has only accepted 20,000 refugees. There are still millions of Syrians in need of resettlement. The U.S. could also provide insight and intelligence to countries that are dealing with refugees on the frontlines. Countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan need help learning how to deal with a mass influx of refugees.

While the world has shown more interest in U.S. militarization, the U.S. government demonstrated its interest in facilitating diplomacy in the Middle East, indicating that diplomacy in the region is never off the table.

– Gabriella Gonzalez
Photo: Flickr

Rape Cases has Decreased in Jordan

In 1960, the country of Jordan adopted Article 308, a law allowing rapists to escape punishment if they married their victim. After years of persistent campaigning, women’s rights groups across Northern Africa and Western Asia influenced countries throughout the Middle East, including Jordan, to abolish such laws. After an annual increase in rape cases since 2015, the number of rape cases in Jordan has decreased. Here is a guide to why the number of rape cases has decreased in Jordan, a description of the positive impact of Article 308’s abolishment and what obstacles women’s rights groups still need to overcome.

Article 308

Elspeth Dehnert, a journalist from Huffpost, recounts the story of a Jordanian woman named Aya whose family arranged her to marry her rapist. They did this to protect the rapist from jail time and avoid a “scandal” they believed would ensue if Aya and her attacker were not married. Yet after months of suffering more abuse from her husband, Aya decided to file for divorce and publicize her situation. In a letter she wrote to the Jordanian Parliament and local media, she declared how she knew her husband only married her to escape imprisonment.

Ever since Jordan adopted Article 308, Jordanian men have used this law to escape punishment for rape. Those who supported the law claimed it protected the victim and her family from the shame of rape. Yet women’s rights organizations, like the Sisterhood is Global Institute (SIGI), and many Jordanians disagreed. The SIGI asked Jordanians what they thought motivates rapists to offer marriage to their victims. An estimated 62.5 percent of respondents said the offender wants to escape prosecution, trial or execution of the penalty. Similarly, about 15 percent of respondents said the rapist wants to avoid social stigma against him. According to Jordan’s Ministry of Justice, 159 rapists had used Article 308 between 2010 and 2013 to evade punishment.

The Abolition of Article 308

In October 2016, Jordan’s King Abdullah II ordered the creation of a royal committee to reform the judiciary and review Jordan’s entire penal code. Three years before this review, the women’s rights movement worked to gain broad support. Activists from organizations like the SIGI created a base of evidence to defeat arguments made by Article 308’s proponents. These proponents argued Article 308 keeps families together and protects women from the stigma of extramarital sex.

In doing so, activists based their stance in the horrific stories of local women and girls forced to marry their rapists. This strategy helped combat accusations from opponents claiming their campaign was being led by feminists with a Western agenda who had no right to be interfering in family law. Fortunately, the campaign of the women’s rights movement was so successful in Jordan that the Jordanian Parliament removed all the legal loopholes letting rapists evade punishment for their crimes and abolished Article 308 altogether, rather than repeal or amend it.

The Impact of Article 308’s Abolishment

Because of this abolishment, the Annual Statistical Report 2018 issued by Jordan’s Department of Statistics says the number of rape cases has decreased in Jordan. Complaints of rape in 2018 declined from 145 complaints in 2017 to 140 complaints in 2018. The SIGI issued a press release stating this is the first year Jordan has seen a decrease in annual rape cases since 2015. The SIGI also said these figures represent cases filed at police stations, some of which resulted in suspects being tried and convicted. Other cases were classified as something other than rape.

The Culture of Shame

Even though the number of rape cases has decreased in Jordan, experts say that even in countries where legal loopholes were abolished or never existed at all, the custom of allowing rapists to avoid imprisonment by marrying their victims is still widespread. Many families throughout the Arab world believe that when they expose their daughter’s rape to the public, they risk social shame. This has lead, in some cases, to a family killing their own daughter to preserve the family’s honor. From their perspective, marriage is an easier, more private solution.

The number of rape cases has decreased in Jordan, yet the culture of shame that protects rapists from punishment is still alive and well. In response to statements made by Equality Now’s legal equality program manager Antonia Kirkland, Dehnert says more effort needs to be made by judges, law enforcement and medical workers. She also states these same people need to make sure women and girls know their legal rights. If these efforts are made, women in Jordan and throughout the Middle East will experience a safer and liberated future.

– Jacob Stubbs
Photo: Flickr

This is where the financial technology sectors (Fintech for short) come in. The financial technology sector is comprised of tech startups that exist in the financial services industry. These startups are disrupting the private sector ecosystem in The Middle East. In just the past five years, fintech startups have raised over $100 million.

Fintech and The Middle East

Fintech startups aim to provide a large range of financial solutions using technology. Therefore, financial technology does not aim to replace banking systems; rather, financial technology startups aim to improve the customer experience surrounding banking and other financial services.

Often times, fintech startups address a diverse range of customer needs, whether it be educating them on the process of setting up a bank account or making investing easier to handle. While fintech startups provide differing services, one thing remains the same: fintech is using technology to make financial services more accessible to the general public.

In The Middle East, fintech startups are a new driving force to increase accessibility to the general public. With over fifty startups, fintech companies aim to foster greater financial inclusion. For example, one of the main obstacles for small business owners in The Middle East is gaining financial inclusion.

Startups, such as Ambareen Musa’s Souqalmal.com, address this need by connecting investors with small business owners. This refined database and algorithm allow small business owners to raise capital for a cheaper price while also allowing investors to gain better returns on their deals. Another fintech startup that has raised 20 million dollars in funding is PayTabs, which is an online payment processing solution that allows small businesses to add payment services to their sites.

Funding for Fintech

Funding for fintech startups is done through a combination of crowdsourcing (84 percent), allowing people with startup ideas to get funding from anywhere around the world, and government and industry support. Through crowdsourcing, startup founders can receive money faster than they would be able to from investors; as a result, their businesses can grow faster and have an impact on the public faster.

There is a 380 billion dollar market that is comprised of the world’s financially underserved consumers and businesses. Not only are there economic gains to be made through the rise of fintech but there are also large social gains. Furthermore, governments in The Middle East are contributing to the thriving fintech ecosystem by supporting regulations and initiatives such as accelerator programs.

For instance, The Bahrain Economic Development Board launched Fintech Hive in 2017, a fintech startup accelerator that funds and provides instrumental resources for fintech startups. Banks in The Middle East, particularly the UAE, have also started to adopt some of the digital solutions put forth by fintech startups.

With the public sectors of the government working together with the private sectors in the fintech industry, there is a powerful combination of forces working together to foster greater financial inclusion to those in The Middle East.

– Shefali Kumar

Photo: Flickr

Income Inequality in the Middle East
Since 1980, the high growth rates in Asia, particularly in China and India, have led to a significant increase in income for the bottom 50 percent of the global population. While this signifies growth and a reduction of poverty levels, it does not signify a decrease in global inequality or in the income inequality in the Middle East.

Income Inequality in the Middle East

There are two types of income inequality: between-country income inequality and within-country inequality. Although the high growth rates of India and China have led to a decrease in between-country average inequality, within-country inequality has only increased. Simply stated, a look into individual countries will show that the rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer.

The World Inequality Lab, composed of over 100 researchers and economists, recently published the “World Inequality Report 2018.” The report underscores that collecting macro and microeconomic data on inequality is difficult, especially since many countries do not release or even produce income and inequality data and statistics.

Despite these limitations, the researcher and scientists found a new methodology to source the necessary data. One of the key findings of the report was that income inequality in the Middle East is the highest, while the lowest in Europe. In the Middle East, the top 10 percent take 61 percent of national income.

Causes of the Fiscal Inequalities

Income inequality in the Middle East is a result of multiple factors. On one hand, the disparate urban-rural income gap plays a large role in skewed income distribution, especially in countries like Egypt, Yemen and Tunisia. Because rural communities are further away from commercial ports and main markets, they have less access to imported commodities, such as rice and wheat.

This limited access to basic needs increases malnutrition and poverty rates in these countries, thereby furthering the economic divide. This economic inequality has played a role in the Arab Spring uprisings and demonstrations, polarizing these countries not just economically, but also politically.

The World Inequality Report predicts that if countries continue to operate “business as usual,” then global, within-country inequality will only increase. However, the report suggests that if countries follow the trajectory of Europe over the past decades, then global income inequality can be reduced.

Attainable Solutions

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia advocates for the following proven tools to combat income inequality in the Middle East:

  • Tax progressivity
  • Increased equal access to education
  • Increased fiscal transparency
  • Investment in reducing public debt

The World Inequality Lab has already made attempts to increase fiscal transparency, using national income, wealth accounts, household income and wealth surveys, tax income and inheritance data to estimate figure on inequality and wealth in the Middle East.

International Support

Additionally, UNICEF is working to strengthen the education systems in the Middle East by working closely with both federal and local governments. The Life Skills and Citizenship Education Initiative under UNICEF aims to integrate core life skills, such as critical thinking and problem-solving, into the current education systems.

And finally, having a sense of awareness about global income inequality can also play a role in combating income inequality. Simply knowing that within-country income inequality is increasing despite the reduction in global inequality is important in addressing the issue.

Shefali Kumar
Photo: Flickr

women’s rights in the Middle East
When discussing women’s rights and equalities in the world, many people will point towards the Middle East as a place behind in the fight.
However, while the fight for equality is nowhere near finished in the region, there have been multitudes of improvements via acts and laws that better protect women.

Unfortunately, much of the world seems to forget about these developments and sees the region as still behind, even with hundreds of people currently fight to increase their rights. As misconception runs rampant, it’s more important than ever to highlight the progress made for women’s rights in the Middle East, and to see that such hard work accomplished by many passionate and brave women.

Tunisia

One law passed just last year in 2017 was the “Law on Eliminating Violence Against Women” in Tunisia. The law abolished the clause that allowed rapists to escape punishments if they married their victims. With Tunisia having one of the highest domestic violence rates in the world — 47 percent of women experiencing domestic abuse in their lifetimes — this was a huge win for the country.

Along with this, Tunisia passed a law later in the year to allow Muslim women to marry men belonging to any faith. Before, Muslim women in the country were not allowed to marry non-Muslim men unless the men converted their faith. These are just some of the progress made for women’s rights in the Middle East.

Jordan

In line with Tunisia, Jordan also called to repel their “Marry the Victim” laws, which also allow rapists to escape punishment if they marry their victims. While the law still needs to go through parliament, the talk of repelling it in court last year lead to thunderous cheers from the spectator’s gallery — an action that illustrates how bringing the issue to attention was a large and important step in the right direction.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has also made progress in women’s rights in the Middle East. In 2017, the country announced that women would be allowed to have physical education in state schools; in addition, the ban on women not being able to drive will be lifted summer of 2018.

While these laws are huge steps in gender equality, there still lies deeply rooted stigma against women.

Saudi Arabia promised to abolish laws regarding its male guardianship system, where state agencies are prohibited from requiring male guardian permission from women (if not required). However, many employers still still ask for these permission slips before hiring women, even when such actions are unnecessary. Along with this, women still need male guardian permission when applying for higher education, marriage and traveling abroad.

Progress With Room to Grow

From equal marriage laws, to protecting sexual assault and domestic abuse victims and overall freedom for women, these laws can play a huge part in ensuring more equality for women in the Middle East.

While work is not finished and women are still persecuted, arrested, harassed and murdered, the women of the Middle East are fighting together to create change. Just like the countless women walking together hand-in-hand across the world, all of these changes will come together to create a stronger and safer world for women.

– Marissa Wandzel
Photo: Flickr

Solar Power in the Middle EastFor the past 50 years, oil has been a defining characteristic of the Middle East. Energy production continues to be a mainstay for the economy in the region, but in the future, it will come from a different source; since 2013, governments and private industries have invested over $1 trillion in solar power in the Middle East.

Rationale for Solar Power in the Middle East

The reasons behind the boom in solar power in the Middle East stems from a few causes. Consulting firm Ernst & Young recently declared Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and the UAE as having the greatest potential for renewable energy investment. With the cost of oil shrinking, the IMF has stated that the region, specifically the Gulf nations, needs to diversify its economies and end dependence on fossil fuels.

In addition, political pressure also plays a crucial cause in the spike in solar power. UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed sees the push as a means to stave off tension with environmental activists and “green” governments looking for sources of energy outside the fossil fuel realm.

World’s Largest Solar Farm, For Now

However, oil-dependent countries in the region aren’t the only ones investing; Egypt, a nation plagued with inflation since the Arab Spring, has also looked at new ways to jumpstart its economy.

As a result, Egypt announced in February the construction of the Benban Solar Park, a public/private venture to open in 2019 with an output of up 2.0 GW. For comparison, the most extensive solar plant in operation emits a mere 550 megawatts. Benban Solar Park is the crown jewel of the 29 solar power projects in Egypt ($1.8 billion cost so far) and would act as the largest producer of solar power in the Middle East.

Gamesmanship in the Middle East

Egypt held this title for solar power in the Middle East for around two months before Saudi Arabia announced its joint venture with the Japanese SoftBank to create the world’s largest solar power plant. With an expected output of over 200 GW, the expected completion date of their project is 2030.

While both projects are a long time from realization, it comes as a major signifier of the Saudi political and economic plan for the future.

The kingdom currently holds a budget deficit of 9.3 percent and an unemployment rate around of 13 percent. And, even though the KSA significantly lags behind other nations in regard to social tolerance, reforms are being made, even in the face of a lagging economy and social upheaval that could prove costly to stability in the kingdom.

Ayham Kamel, head of Middle East and North Africa research at the Eurasia Group, stated that solar energy is “a vision; it’s aspirational more than anything. They’re trying to implement key parts of it. It’s fundamentally changing the Kingdom’s political and social structure in a movement that’s much more viable – fiscally and regionally.”

The SoftBank solar farm is one of many infrastructure projects Saudi Arabia has planned. One of the most ambitious being a $500 billion entertainment city on the Red Sea that will be built with the hopes of drawing more tourism to the nation.

Rest of the Region

Egypt and Saudi Arabia are far from the only nations with plans for more solar power in the Middle East — Dubai hopes to power 75 percent of the city using solar energy by 2050, and Morocco is in the middle of the production of a 2,000 MW solar farm to lessen its reliance on expensive imports.

Whether it’s political, environmental or economic, countries all across the region are looking towards solar energy to address problems within their borders. Some of the projects will trade at record low prices and the largest plant projects adding 100,000 jobs.

Plans for solar power in the Middle East are ambitious if nothing else. Now, it’s time to see these plans come to fruition.   

– David Jaques
Photo: Flickr