Information and stories on middle east

Algbra is Bridging the Gap Algbra is a “global digital program” for the “unbanked and underserved.” Algbra is bridging the gap in financial inclusion by bringing financial security to developing countries. The emergence of cryptocurrency, artificial intelligence and blockchain technology has spawned endless opportunities within the financial industry. Although these accomplishments are impressive, a shocking 1.7 billion people worldwide are still without access to bank accounts. Banking services offer a convenient and secure money management method, a luxury unattainable for many of the world’s impoverished. Millions of people in developing markets are excluded from the financial system due to “insufficient income levels and market discrimination.” Exclusion from financial services prevents an accumulation of savings, investable funds and asset growth. New World Group vows to bridge the financial inclusion gap in developing countries with the innovative global digital platform, Algbra.

The Algbra Fintech Platform

Algbra is the new London-based fintech platform designed to create a multi-faceted, fair and viable banking experience that fulfills the needs of low-income consumers. The company raised £3.75 million in funds for the Algbra platform, with the aim of educating and uplifting underserved and minority populations so that people can move toward financial freedom.

Algbra is also the first platform of its kind to offer services in consideration of faith-based values. This is a more appealing option for those following the Islamic faith, an unbanked demographic of nearly 800 million people. Some of the products offered by Algbra include “current accounts, foreign exchange, remittances and rewards, with lending products to follow shortly thereafter.”

Algbra’s Impact on Global Poverty

In a study involving 35 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, researchers looked at the impact of financial inclusion on poverty levels among low-income households. Using data from 2011, it was concluded that financial inclusion significantly decreased poverty in sub-Saharan Africa by “providing net wealth and larger welfare benefits” for impoverished people.

On May 19, 2021, Algbra announced its partnership with the Patchwork Foundation, a British organization dedicated to advocating for underprivileged and minority communities to partake in issues of democracy and civil society. Through this partnership, Algbra and the Patchwork Foundation will empower promising young leaders with financial literacy skills and other essential skills. These skills will help the youth become informed policymakers capable of establishing practices that promote social and economic inclusion.

It is important for Muslim women to have a share in financial resources and the opportunity to participate in society’s advancement, all while adhering to Islamic teachings. This is instrumental to economic prosperity for developing countries with large Muslim populations.

However, the World Bank found that the Middle East and North Africa, which are predominantly Muslim regions, have the most significant gender gap in bank account ownership. In these regions, a whole 65% of women are without a bank account compared to 48% of men. Zeiad Idris, CEO of Algbra, believes empowering women by facilitating access to financial services is instrumental to increased economic growth.

How Algbra is Bridging the Gap

The financial industry lacks services that meet the faith-based needs of consumers. As a result, many Muslims limit their usage of financial services. A 2018 Thomson Reuters report indicates that religious considerations prohibited 34% of Afghan individuals and 27% of people in Iraq and Tunisia from utilizing financial services. However in Muslim-majority nations like Jordan, providing Shariah-compliant lending products (loans aligned with religious principles) raised application rates from 18% to 22%, according to a study by Professor Dean Karlan of Yale University.

Shariah compliance prohibits profiting from items or services with the potential to cause harm to people or the environment. Additionally, investors must avoid enterprises that deal with “weapons, alcohol and gambling.” Algbra provides solutions for Muslim consumers who seek Shariah-compliant banking services and solutions. The solutions are also beneficial for environmentally conscientious consumers who are mindful of financial imprints.

The Future of the Financial Industry

Adam Sadiq, CEO of New World Group, explains that a significant amount of people in impoverished nations “face financial exclusion because they cannot open an account at a traditional brick and mortar bank. As a result, they are unable to enjoy the opportunities made possible by economic growth, and in many cases, remain stuck in the poverty trap.” Algbra is bridging the gap in financial inclusion as the latest financial technology innovation aimed at resolving these difficulties through faith-based and inclusive banking services.

Tiara Tyson
Photo: Flickr

Ahmed Helmy regional ambassador UNICEFAhmed Helmy is an Egyptian actor, comedian and TV personality. Best known for his work in films such as “Molasses,” “Zaki Chan” and “Scarecrow,” Helmy is famous throughout Egypt and the Middle East, with more than 15 million followers on Instagram. Furthermore, he has served as a popular judge on Arabs Got Talent and a Samsung ambassador. While he is beloved for his acting skills and charisma, Helmy’s work with UNICEF has also received positive attention from fans. In 2017, the actor was named an ambassador for the Egypt branch of the charity. In June 2021, Ahmed Helmy became the UNICEF regional ambassador for the Middle East and North Africa.

Social Media Campaigns on Childhood Development Issues

As UNICEF’s Egypt ambassador, Helmy participated in a number of social media projects, such as the #FightUnfair campaign. #FightUnfair sought to draw attention to issues impacting Egyptian youth, such as poverty and child labor. Another campaign that Helmy participated in was the #EarlyMomentsMatter movement, which highlighted the importance of early childhood development and establishing healthy parenting habits early in a child’s life. The campaign was widely successful and featured other famous UNICEF ambassadors, such as David Beckham.

Helmy’s work with UNICEF has often involved his own family, as his wife, actress Mona Zaki, is a UNICEF Egypt ambassador herself. Together, the couple made videos discouraging violent forms of disciplinary action toward children. A collaboration between UNICEF, The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM) and the European Union allowed the campaign to reach more than 80 million people.

Visiting Refugee Children

In addition to social media campaigns, Helmy’s humanitarian work included visits to communities served by UNICEF. For example, in November of 2018, the actor visited Syrian refugee children at Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan. At the camp, UNICEF supports the quality education of more than 19,000 children. Following the visit, Helmy reflected on the experience, saying, “By ensuring every child can receive an education, healthcare, clean water and access to spaces where they feel protected and nurtured, UNICEF is giving vulnerable children hope for a better future, one where they can truly fulfill their potential.”

Helmy’s New Role as Regional Ambassador

In his new role as the UNICEF regional ambassador for the Middle East and North Africa, Ahmed Helmy hopes to continue to help children reach their potential. Specifically, he plans to focus on standing up for children’s rights and promoting awareness of early childhood development issues. Helmy’s work with UNICEF is an example of a celebrity harnessing their social influence for good. In his new role, Helmy has the potential to promote even more positive social change for the many children impacted by UNICEF’s work.

– Nina Lehr
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Gender Wage Gap in Iran and COVID-19 Vaccines
Today, the gender wage gap in Iran is so large that, on average, a woman can expect to make just 18% of what a man does. To make matters worse, the COVID-19 pandemic has widened the already severe gender wage gap in Iran. According to the 2021 Global Gender Gap Report from the World Economic Forum, the pandemic has made a major impact on gender inequality, as “closing the global gender gap has increased by a generation from 99.5 years to 135.6 years.” This shift disproportionately targets countries with large pre-existing gender wage gaps, such as Iran. As a result, gender wage gaps will only continue to persist and worsen until the end of the global pandemic. While the outlook for closing the gender wage gap in Iran is currently grim, the advent of the COVID-19 vaccine offers a ray of hope for restarting the movement towards gender equality.

Gender Inequality in Iran

Many consider the Islamic Republic of Iran to be an authoritarian state and it has notably restricted the rights of women since undergoing an Islam-oriented Cultural Revolution in 1980. As a result, Iranian society has since relegated women to domestic roles. Women’s political power in Iran has severe limitations. According to the World Economic Forum, the number of women in Parliament is a paltry 5.6%. Additionally, the number of women participating in the labor force stands at a mere 18.9% in 2021, compared to 39% in 2006.

With restricted rights and limited representation in politics, intervention is critical in reducing the massive gender inequality that is present. A paper that the United Nations published on the subject argues just that, saying, “remedial policy is required if Iran is to pursue socio-economic development and redistributive justice.”

One organization fighting for gender equality in Iran and other Middle Eastern countries is the Women’s Initiative in Spirituality and Equality (WISE). This NGO fights against unjust interpretations of the Quran. This includes the idea that men should be above women in society and relationships in Islam. Through the promotion of a more just interpretation of the Quran, WISE helps nations create legislation that will open doors for women in the workforce, politics and society.

How the Gender Wage Gap in Iran has Changed Over Time

While the situation in Iran is far from ideal, some societal improvements lend hope for a better future. Particularly, the increases in education. Education lays the foundation for an elevation of the role of women in society. In the past 15 years, literacy rates for women have increased from 70% to 80.8%. This is due to increased educational resources for women in the country. Women have also increased their presence in parliament, which increased from 4% to 5.6%.

The movement towards gender equality is making modest headway in some regards, despite the widening gender wage gap in Iran in that same timeframe. However, the ongoing pandemic is stalling much of this progress. The World Economic Forum estimates that since 2018, Iran’s Gender Gap Index, a scale of one to seven showing how severe the gender gap in a country is, has fallen from .589 to .582. This is mostly due to the impact of COVID-19. It shows how the pandemic is turning the tides away from gender equality.

Despite some success in recent years, COVID-19 has undone much of this positive change. The impact of COVID-19 is especially harmful to women in the workforce. Solving the issues presented by the pandemic is key for closing the gender wage gap in Iran. Since the gap is actively widening, it is crucial to stop the spread of COVID-19 as soon as possible.

How COVID-19 Vaccines Can Help Close the Gender Wage Gap in Iran

It is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic is pushing open the gender gap in Iran rather than closing it. The good news is that vaccines present a route out of the pandemic for the country. If Iran can vaccinate according to WHO’s critical mass figure of 80% of the population, the country can achieve herd immunity and return to functioning as normal.

In fact, the devastation of the pandemic has left a greater demand for labor. The roughly 34 million unemployed women in Iran could meet this demand. The sheer volume of unemployed women demonstrates the overwhelming disadvantage women are at in Iran’s workforce. However, the need for mass vaccinations to allow for more women to work is clear as well.

As of May 20, 2021, only 2.4% of the population has received a dose and only 0.4% of the population is fully vaccinated. Iran has a long way to go to vaccinate enough people to return to normal and increase the chances of women in the workforce. It is important for world leaders to prioritize the distribution of vaccines worldwide. This will not only help to end the pandemic but help stop the rising gender inequality that has stemmed from it.

Looking Ahead

Data from the World Economic Forum proves that the pandemic has created a devastating impact on the gender wage gap in Iran. The data shows why vaccinations must experience as much promotion as possible to stop the spread. Without swift action, the gap will only widen. Change in legislation can help bring gender equality in Iran. As of now, though, the next step in working toward that goal is to end the pandemic.

– Jeremy Long
Photo: Flickr

soap operas fight povertySoap operas are a staple not only in U.S. television but abroad as well. Soap operas in several countries are going beyond entertainment by focusing on critical social issues in a particular country. The popularity of these television dramas has raised the possibility that soap operas can fight global poverty. Furthermore, “edutainment soaps” have often triggered important behavioral changes in the people who watch them.

Television’s Role

Television has become an integral part of people’s daily lives and an everyday accessory for every household. Televisions provide access to entertainment, but they also keep societies informed about events in other parts of the world. Additionally, technology allows people around the world to support one another and celebrate historical moments. Television programs, such as documentaries, provide information and education. Specific programs aim to promote intellectual growth in children. These shows also teach children moral values and social skills. Through movies and TV shows, people spark new conversations and begin to form new communities. Television creates a safe way to introduce different values into foreign countries. Storytelling is the easiest way to challenge social norms, which makes soap operas valuable tools.

Soap Opera’s Rising Influence

In the United States, soap operas may have lost their place as a popular type of television program. However, soap operas are a viable option in other countries, drawing in most of the community. Soap operas can attract a broad range of people, from those with high to little education. From Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to Casablanca, Morocco, 80 million people regularly watch at least one soap opera episode. The number of people viewing increases during Ramadan, a time of fasting. In the past, after the fast, people would traditionally listen to a “hakawti,” or storyteller, who recounts old tales. Soap operas have now taken the place of these storytellers.

These soap operas follow the same ideas as U.S. soap operas, with intricate plot lines and dramatization. Moreover, people can relate to the main characters because the characters battle adversities people see in their current societies. Topics that are considered too taboo or sensitive are often turned into storylines. The dramas have taken the place of fables by providing entertainment and education. These types of shows can bring about behavioral change within a culture and break stereotypes.

How Dramas Raise Awareness

Several television dramas have affected various issues using characters and plotlines to raise awareness. For example, one drama increased the use of condoms in South Africa after highlighting sexual practices and risks. Viewers of the program were four times more likely to use condoms to protect themselves. Another soap opera expanded involvement in literacy classes in Mexico City by nine times because the storyline involved a relatable character who was learning how to read. Additionally, a soap opera discussed the importance of children’s health insurance for low-income households and how to go about accessing it, which then increased applications for the specific insurance in the U.S. state of Colorado.

Soap operas have an important place in the Middle East. One can tackle a range of issues through television dramas, and in Arab societies, poverty is an important issue. The World Bank reported that more than 25% of children in poverty in Syria, Egypt and Morocco suffer from malnutrition. Unfortunately, the subsidies used to protect impoverished people end up in the hands of those that do not need them. Although the effectiveness of subsidies has shown itself in other countries, people in these areas resist subsidy reform. Introducing poverty reform education into soap operas could help the government educate people about how society can better fight poverty.

By introducing poverty-related reforms within television dramas, soap operas can fight global poverty. Employing these ideas in television dramas can break down the walls between different classes and introduce new ways to improve society.

Solomon Simpson
Photo: Flickr

Sustainability in the MENAThe Middle East and North Africa, or MENA region, is best known for its strategic location in relation to the lucrative fossil fuel market. Oil and gas have given many developing countries a fast track into wealth, causing rapid urbanization and social stratification. This is especially noticeable around the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, in places such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Iran and Egypt. Now, more than 60% of the population lives in cities, but poverty is heavily concentrated in rural areas. Given the push to transition to renewable energy and the disaster potential posed by sea-level rise and other climate changes, sustainability in the MENA region is critical.

Recovery from Economic Crisis

Unfortunately, COVID-19 has started a significant economic downturn in this region. During the start of the pandemic and resulting financial crisis, the price of oil dropped sharply, even falling below $0 per barrel. This had a dramatic, negative effect on the overall economy and hinders the region’s ability to recover effectively.

In past financial crises like this one, carbon emissions routinely decreased, especially in 2009 by approximately 1.4%. In 2010, the decreases were more than offset, with emissions showing a growth of around 5.4%. An article published in Nature noted that during the COVID-19 lockdown measures global CO2 emissions decreased by 17%.

Programs for Sustainability in the MENA Region

This large decrease in emissions presents an opportunity to work toward sustainability in the Middle East and North Africa. One way is by designating the financial relief and stimulus money to restart the economy to projects such as the Egyptian Pollution Abatement Programme (EPAP) which funds environmentally friendly services and projects. They are currently developing more sustainable fuel, funding hazardous waste management efforts and supporting various other technological innovations to reduce pollution. Similar programs exist in Lebanon and several other nations.

Ideally, these programs and other emerging jobs in green technology will more than replace any jobs lost from the oil and gas industry and increase opportunities for employment outside the agricultural sector. Non-farming activities in the water-constrained MENA region, reduce poverty, according to a study conducted by senior economists at the World Bank Group.

Alternatively, there are other initiatives to invest in sustainable land management practices. These could increase the profitability of work in the agricultural sector and lower the risk of poor weather leading to extreme poverty. For example, the Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) program in Morocco aimed to diversify coastal economic activities in low-income areas. They encouraged algae cultivation and ecotourism in addition to normal fishing and farming. This made the community more resilient to potential unforeseen circumstances.

Looking Forward

In recovery from a crisis, the priority is usually to return to normal, but that kind of thinking sets back long-term goals that could greatly improve the quality of life and technological sustainability in the Middle East and North Africa. As another World Bank Blog article says: “Thinking ahead, therefore, the urgent focus on short-term needs should not overlook opportunities to achieve other longer-term goals (and avoid making longer-term goals even more challenging).”

– Anika Ledina
Photo: Flickr

Education in MENA
MENA, which refers to Middle Eastern and North African countries, has long struggled with promoting the value of education. Many children begin their lives with an intellectual disadvantage. This creates difficulties compounded by a drop in oil prices and the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, many depend on education reforms, particularly in developing technology, to increase employment rates and stabilize the economy.

Low Education Rates in MENA

While the average adult literacy rate is 86% globally, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) identified that only 75% of the population in Arabic regions can read and write. This is a 30% increase from the 1970s. However, when considering elderly individuals above the age of 65, UNESCO found that the global average literacy rate is 78%, but a mere 38% in Arabic regions.

There is a rising concern about the literacy rates of young children and their education in MENA. The onset of COVID-19 closed schools as a safety precaution. An estimated 100 million students between the age of five and 17 stopped attending school. Additionally, around 14.3 million children do not attend school due to conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen after the destruction of 8,850 of their institutions.

Girls’ Education in MENA

Around 67% of the Levant’s younger population think that they are not being taught enough. However, it is much worse for adolescent girls. Blatant gender discrimination controls the lives of many women, leading them to have an illiteracy rate of 42%, compared to 22% for their male counterparts.

Rates of women and girls acquiring education in MENA increased over the past half-century. The largest jump in registration was 7 million between 1950 and 1975. Nonetheless, a report published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) stated that women in Egypt, Jordan and Libya must still obtain permission from the dominant male figures in their life to work independently. With the help of the United States’ Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), programs to fund literacy campaigns, conferences and business training sessions have also expanded the support women and girls receive in relation to their education.

Education in MENA During COVID-19

To date, the pandemic closures affected more than 100 million tertiary school students and around 830,000 school staff. These students lack access to WIFI, computers, online courses and direct contact with teachers. There are increasing probabilities that less than half of students will meet the bare minimum requirements for math and language skills.

Luckily, some tertiary schools have reformed the education system. Through the Virtual University of Tunis (VUT) in Tunisia, nearly 110,000 students have started taking classes with the 18,000 professors that are aiding the initiative. In Morocco, 12 hours of daily lectures were also agreed to be broadcasted on sports channels that regularly play on television.

UNICEF updated its 2015 MENA Life Skills and Citizenship Education (LSCE) Initiative to match these unprecedented times. The organization strives to change the teaching methods presented through in-person and remote learning. Its methodology focuses on learning and teaching, promoting multiple pathways and enabling the environment. UNICEF wants to connect education to the labor market by becoming more skills-oriented. This initiative will also address the issue that the youth unemployment rate in MENA is 25%, the highest in the world.

These approaches and more can develop the future of children in MENA. Fostering a curiosity-filled environment will stimulate a productive generation and revolutionize the working sectors in the region. Transitioning to online courses and being more inclusive of gender and financial backgrounds will increase employment rates. With governments allocating 15% to 20% of total public funds on education, MENA can prosper.

– Sylvia Vivian Boguniecki
Photo: Flickr

Child Marriages in the Middle East
Globally, more than 700 million females living today were child brides. Annually, the Middle East contributes 700,000 child brides to its total of 40 million child brides. Although the number of Syrian child brides has decreased, there has been an increase in the number of child brides in all Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) communities that have seen internal displacement and are otherwise facing conflict. In Iraq, 15% of marriages were child marriages in 1997, but this rose to 24% in 2016. About 5% of those in child marriages in Iraq were younger than 15. In Yemen, which does not have a minimum legal age for marriage, two-thirds of marriages involve child brides, including 44% under the age of 15. Here is some information about child marriages in the Middle East.

Reasons for Child Marriages in the Middle East

In pre-war Syria, 15% of women between the ages of 20 and 25 were wed before they were 18. The number of child brides in all Syrian communities has risen nowadays, even among those not displaced. Among the internally displaced, including migrants whose limitations are conspicuous as opposed to hosting communities, the figures have also increased drastically.

Through forced migration and war, child marriages represent negative coping factors, reinforcing tradition. Families worry about the safety of girls and their “honor” and see marriage as a means of care and protection for their daughters. The girls’ families often desire that they enter marriages with local men in order to gain host community recognition and dowries.

Dangers of Child Marriages

Child marriages affect the development of young girls, which frequently results in childbirth and subsequent emotional withdrawal of the young mother. Early marriages often lead to limited schooling, increased fertility rate and poverty. The development and implementation of the legal minimum age for marriage are necessary to protect girls, who the culture of child marriage influences more than boys. Many countries in the MENA region have minimum marriage age laws, ranging from 13 years of age in Iran to 20 years of age in Tunisia for women and from 15 years of age in Yemen to 21 years of age in Algeria for men.

Plans to End Child Marriages in the Middle East

The Regional Accountability Framework to End Child Marriage in the Arab States/Mena (RAF), a partnership between UNICEF and UNFPA, promotes encouraging women through schooling, health services, character building and employment prosperity through improving their rights and services. Community commitments alter social norms and actions by improving public policy structures and encouraging cross-sectoral efforts to gain skills through collaborative initiatives on health, education, child security and social security. Further approaches include more years of mandatory education, establishing and implementing the legal minimum age of marriage and growing awareness in the community about the damage that early marriage causes. Engaging families in finding ways to avoid child marriage is another solution to ending child marriage that some government officials are discussing.

Overall, awareness of child marriage could save many children. It is a problem that is getting out of hand that has been taking away from girls’ childhoods and leaving them in miserable situations for the rest of their lives. The help of organizations all over the world can make a significant change in the lives of these victims.

– Rand Lateef
Photo: Flickr

Two young women in the Middle East2020 has taught the world a series of valuable lessons. Still, one that strikes most potent is the importance of women’s presence in critical fields, such as conflict resolution. For years this issue has received a poor reputation for ineffectiveness and persistent recidivism, specifically due to continued violence. However, the recent inclusion of women has changed this and transformed the field as we know it. Since 2016, women’s inclusion in conflict resolution has shown a 64% prevention rate for failed peace negotiations and a 35% increase in likeability for long-term peace.

While women are beginning to shine on the world stage, there are still conflict-ridden regions where they are kept away from the negotiating table. One of these regions is the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Conflict in MENA

In addition to the US’ recent departure under the Trump Administration, the MENA has been riddled with conflict. There are longstanding ideological tensions between Saudi-Arabia and Iran. A bloody civil war in Yemen and the recent Assad-Putin take over of Syria. Libya is becoming a failed state and more terrorist organizations are rising to power.

This is an integral time for women to be included in conflict resolution, as said previous conflicts will require new models of engagement and unique perspectives. If women are to achieve an equal socioeconomic standing to men in the MENA, now is the time for action.

Overview of Progress

Since the early 2000s, women have begun playing an active role in conflict resolution. A prominent example is the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace Movement. In both the first and second Liberian Civil Wars, the movement’s women hosted communal activities, such as prayer gatherings, to unite the warring Christian and Muslim populations. Eventually, they gained so much momentum that they advanced their organization to more direct advocacy and activism. This was during a time of rampant sexual violence and the murders of child soldiers. In 2005, the women helped ensure one of the nation’s first free and fair elections, which resulted in the first female African president.

Another way in which women have fought for change in the MENA is through women-led nonprofits. Take, for instance, the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assitance (CEWLA). Under current dictator Abdel Al-Sissi, Egypt has faced a series of religious violence, economic corruption, and denial of fundamental human rights. Nevertheless, since 2013, CEWLA has worked with local grassroots organizations in Egypt to promote female rights. It has fought several legal battles to improve ongoing “legal, social, economic and cultural rights.”

In addition to inter-regional violence, mass immigration and displacement in MENA has resulted in severe economic losses. In response to such conflict, female entrepreneurs in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and Palestine banded together to form Ruwwad. Ruwwad is a community engagement organization that focuses on providing women with education, income generation methods, and social justice.

Nonetheless, even when it comes to complex matters such as Intra-State Conflict, women have shown up to unite deeply divided communities, often struggling with severe poverty. The Wajir Association for Women’s Peace embodies the said fight for justice. The Association is a group of local women in Wajir, Kenya. They lead conflict resolution initiatives between the clans’ Elders and the at-risk youth. Wajir’s women’s power has even reached the desks of local parliamentary offices. Nationwide reforms have begun to take aim at resolving much of the turmoil occurring in this region as a result of these efforts.

A Plan for the Future

While women’s leadership in the MENA is far from perfect, there have been massive improvements over the years. This provides an ample opportunity to transform the region. Analysts have found that Women need political and economic backing from international organizations in order to help promote their localized mediation initiatives and garner stronger support for future peacebuilding. Bills such as the Girls Lead Act, currently being negotiated in Congress, is a step in the right direction and will help develop future female leaders in at-risk developing countries. The MENA region has seen conflict and ethnic violence for decades, but when we empower women, we empower change.

Juliette Reyes
Photo: Flickr

Israeli-UAE Peace AgreementIn recent decades, viewers have been bombarded by news of violence and dysfunction in the Middle East; however, on August 13, 2020, a different sort of headline broke. Instead of another bombing or raid, Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) reached a peace agreement brokered by the United States. Although fighting over this area is nothing new, the Israel-UAE peace agreement may be a positive step in the right direction. In light of this momentous occasion, here are the top four things to know about the deal.

5 Facts About the Israel-UAE Peace Agreement

  1. What is the Israel-UAE Peace Agreement? In August 2020, the leader of Israel, the UAE and the United States met to discuss and break ground on initiatives to achieve stability in the Middle East region for the sake of each nation’s citizens and those of neighboring countries. The grit of this deal lies in its ability to prevent Israel’s annexation of the West Bank region, which the nation announced its intention to do earlier in the summer of 2020.
  2. What is the West Bank and why is it home to so much conflict. Tension in the region dates back to the early 20th century after Britain took control of the region. During this time, both Jewish and Palestinian groups were claiming the region as their home. After world war II, many Jewish people began flooding the region to escape from persecution in Europe. This influx would only increase the amount of violence between the two groups as well as British control. The British government continually attempted to draw a plan to please all sides of the conflict but were ultimately unable to do so. This led to the British authorities pulling out of the area in 1948, which then allowed Jewish leaders to declare the state of Israel. Following the creation of the new state, wars broke out. Jerusalem was divided between the area known as the West Bank, which was held by Palestinian forces, and Israeli forces to the East. No peace agreements were drawn up until recently, so the conflict has remained steady regardless of shifting forces.
  3. What implications could this have on the larger area? According to NPR, the only two nations in the Middle East with a diplomatic relationship with Israel are Jordan and Egypt. Given the lack of diplomatic connections holding the region together, violence has been a lasting component of the region. Though this agreement is between the UAE and Israel, Saudi Arabia is directly implicated in the deal as well. Altogether, this deal will draw at least three nations into a deal with one another that will hopefully de-escalate tensions and incentivize cooperation from other nations as well.
  4. What have organizations been doing? The Latet organization has been working in Israel to help mitigate the effects of poverty. According to a study the National Insurance Institute conducted in 2018, about 21.1% of the Israeli population lived below the poverty line. Moreover, almost 30% of those people are children. However, those in impoverished conditions reported to previously have been in the middle class. This indicates that previous socio-economic status has little to do with current placement. The amount of violence occurring between the two sides of this fight is destabilizing the region from a security standpoint. In the midst of this chaos, the Latet organization works to distribute food and other supplies in order to counteract the effects of poverty on individuals. It partners with different groups in order to distribute approximately $25-30 million worth of food to individuals throughout Israel.

The Middle East has been home to a lot of conflicts. However, the new Israel-UAE Peace Agreement gives many a reason to hope for a more peaceful future. The deal itself is only the first step in the right direction, which should help to promote a more peaceful world.

Allison Moss
Photo: Flickr

Wayback Burgers in the Middle East
From a simple start in Delaware to the far ends of the Earth in Pakistan, Jake’s Wayback Burgers, now known simply as Wayback Burgers, has introduced many jobs for the informal population. The idea of diving into foreign markets first emerged in June 2012 when Wayback Burgers first came to the attention of the Franchizery, a franchise consulting firm in the United Arab Emirates. Soon after, Abdulrahman Alieedan, Vice Chairman of Topaz MENA LLC, agreed to support the franchise expansion. Here is some information about Wayback Burgers in the Middle East and Africa.

The International Reach of Wayback Burgers

In 2013, Jake’s Wayback Burgers propelled itself into the international marketplace by partnering with Topaz MENA LLC. As a result, it has added franchises in 28 different countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa as well as the small island country of Cyprus and the country of Iran.

Poverty in MENA/Middle East and Northern Africa

In a 2017 analysis, UNICEF reported that in 11 countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa, poverty continues to impact at least 29 million children. These children and their families do not always have access to education, water, sanitation, proper housing, quality of life, health care and information. Of course, poverty is much more than finances. Poverty harms basic mental, emotional and physical development. It creates and widens achievement gaps between their peers. In essence, children in poverty are most vulnerable to stay in poverty.

 In 2018, the World Bank released the Poverty and Shared Prosperity Report; Piecing Together the Poverty Puzzle. In this report, MENA stood out since it was the only region that saw significant increases in extreme poverty, the act of a person living on less than $1.90 a day. Unfortunately, the main push for this surge was conflict-affected Syria and Yemen. In other developing MENA countries, extreme poverty remained low or declined.

The Importance of US Business in Foreign Markets

The United States possesses 38.2 million people, whereas approximately 7 billion people live in the world. Therefore, millions of markets exist outside U.S. soil but are entirely available for the U.S. to access. Approximately 95% of the world’s consumers are from outside the United States.

The MENA region ranked fourth in the world in exports in 2008. Not only does the U.S.’s involvement in foreign markets help support U.S. jobs (39 million American jobs depended on trade pre-COVID-19) but through business relationships, many other benefits can emerge including national security and global economic growth. Massive corporations like Wayback Burgers or small businesses can be the catalyst to give jobs and improve the lives of the people in MENA.

How Wayback Burgers is Helping

While MENA’s economy appears to be in a stable state, a major problem is that that percentage only includes the formal economy. A select number of countries in MENA are among the most informal economies in the world. Hundreds of citizens work behind the scenes in informal jobs where the pay is little to none. However, when businesses such as Burger King, McDonald’s and Wayback Burgers enter foreign countries, formal jobs emerge. As a result, hundreds of previous informal workers can now suddenly join the formal economy, thus slowly improving the country’s economy. Wayback Burgers in the Middle East could have a significant impact on employment and subsequently reduce poverty.

Informal jobs are most popular with youngsters between the ages of 15-24 in the Middle East and Africa. This number decreases as the children age and enter the formal workforce. 

As MENA and other foreign regions become more lenient towards the U.S., it creates more opportunities for companies to enter the fray and offer what they have. In this case, it is a chance for formal-informal workers to become part of the workforce.

WIEGO

Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO) is an NGO that started in 1997. Its mission is to increase the voice, visibility and validity of the poor, especially women. Building and strengthening informal worker organizations, especially internal sector networks, has remained a central objective of the program for years.

WIEGO helped facilitate the formation of the National Association of Street Vendors in India (NASVI) in 1998. It also helped found the Kenya Association of Street Vendors and Informal Traders. Moreover, it has also formed many joint programs that deal with waste pickers, domestic workers and agriculture work.

In 2019, WIEGO composed a Halftime Report (a summary of its 12 years of action). This assessment came from information from 15 people who have directly involved themselves with WIEGO, key websites, a collection of statistics and analytical documents the WIEGO and other partner organizations produced. The report stated that since WIEGO’s formation 12 years ago, it has supported dozens of programs that deal with informal workers, promoted administrative justice, helped home-based workers’ rights and promoted street vendors’ rights.

Conclusion

Wayback Burgers is one of many U.S. businesses entering foreign soil. With Wayback Burgers in the Middle East and more U.S businesses entering foreign lands, the informal economy should be able to improve. With more jobs available, adults will be able to feed their families, get their children an education and begin to shatter the chains of poverty.

Of course, U.S. businesses are not the only way to help MENA or any other economy fight against poverty. NGOs all across the world are attacking many problems. In MENA, WIEGO primarily fights for women’s rights in the informal sector, but, of course, it is working for everybody else as well. Finally, Wayback Burgers, a business that started in Delaware, has entered foreign markets.

– Aaron Samperio
Photo: Flickr