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Worker Remittances and Poverty in the Arab World
The Arab world has one of the highest proportions of migrant to local workers in the world, with over 32 million migrant workers in the Arab states in 2015 alone. In addition, the region has one of the largest diasporas in the world. This means that many skilled workers are emigrating to wealthier countries and sending money home via remittances. But what do remittances in the Arab World mean for the region and its inhabitants?

Brain Drain vs. Gain

In Lebanon and Jordan, unskilled labor is provided by growing numbers of refugees and foreign workers, totaling over five million in 2015. However, as more foreign workers enter the country, growing numbers of high-skilled Lebanese and Jordanian nationals are emigrating. This often occurs when opportunities are limited, when unemployment is high and economic growth slows. The phenomenon is dubbed ‘brain drain’ as opposed to ‘brain gain’, whereby an increasing stock of human capital boosts economies. A drain occurs while poor countries lose their most high-skilled workers and wealthier countries in turn gain these educated professionals.

Remittances in the Arab World

These expatriates commonly work to improve their own living situations while also helping to support their friends and families. This is where remittances come into play. As defined by the Migration Data Portal, remittances are financial or in-kind transfers made by migrants to friends and relatives in their communities of origin. Remittances often exceed official development aid.  They are also frequently more effective in alleviating poverty. In 2014 alone, the Arab states remitted more than $109 billion, largely from the United States followed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

There is no denying that remittances can be a strong driving force for the socioeconomic stability of many Arab countries. But not all the influences are positive. Some experts argue that remittances can actually hurt the development of recipient countries. Their arguments cite potential negative effects of labor mobility and over-reliance on remittances. They emphasize that this can create dependency which undermines recipients’ incentive to find work. All this means an overall slowing of economic growth and a perpetuation of current socioeconomic status.

The Force of the Diaspora

The link between remittances in the Arab world and poverty is clear. Brain drain perpetuates and high amounts of remittance inflow and outflow persist if living conditions remain unchanged. Policymakers are therefore focusing efforts on enticing emigrants to return to their countries of origin. By strengthening ties with migrant networks, and implementing strategies like entrepreneurial start-up incentives and talent plans, the initial negative effects of brain drain could be curbed.

Overall, though brain drain and remittances can seem to hurt development in the short-term, if policies can draw high-skilled workers back, contributions to long-term economic development can erase these negative aspects altogether. Young populations that have emigrated to more developed countries acquire education and valuable experience that is essential to promote entrepreneurship in their home countries. Moreover, their experiences in advanced democracies can bolster their contribution to improved governance in their countries of origin. The Arab world’s greatest untapped potential is its diaspora, and it could be the key to a more prosperous future, if only it can be harnessed.

Natalie Marie Abdou
Photo: Flickr

Women's RightsTunisia has long been recognized for its progressive attitude toward women. The country is seen as a pioneer for women’s rights in the Arab world; however, most Tunisian women still lead a life of much abuse and harassment.

Strides were made last week when Parliament passed a measure barring violence against women in Tunisia. This makes such violence easier to prosecute and penalizes sexual harassment in public spaces. In addition, it calls for the training of police and judges on how to handle such domestic abuse.

Tunisia has already pioneered legal action against this harassment, and this new measure demonstrates that the country is continuing to make progress. Tunisia is addressing not only the physical violence but also the psychological distress and economic discrimination that comes with domestic abuse.

These laws provide women with the tools for protection. With this landmark step for women’s rights in the Arab world, it becomes up to Tunisian authorities to gather adequate funding and political action to translate legislation into genuine protection.

Tunisia paints a picture of progress for women’s rights that all countries should replicate. By extending to more indirect forms of harassment, such as psychological and economic abuse, Tunisia is bringing awareness to less explicit but key elements of domestic violence.

The law also addresses preventative measures and survivor assistance. It directs the Health Ministry to provide training for medical staff on how to identify and prevent domestic abuse as well as requires the assistance of domestic abuse survivors through legal, medical and mental health support.

These measures portray an effort for development and sustainability by Tunisia, as they look beyond just the violence and extend to prevention and assistance. Tunisia presents an opportunity for major progress not only in its own culture but also across the globe.

By taking action against this cultural issue, Tunisia proves its commitment to the progression of women’s rights and sets a standard for other nations to follow.

Tucker Hallowell

Photo: Flickr

Largest Library in Arab World
Dubai has announced plans to open what will become the largest library in the Arab World in 2017.

At least 4.5 million books will be housed by the library, which is designed in the shape of an open book placed on an Arabic lectern.

The Mohammed Bin Rashid Library expects a crowd of nine million people from across the world to arrive each year.

In addition to traditional print books, the library will be stocked with two million electronic books and one million audiobooks. Visitors can also expect to see a cinema and a gallery within the library, where lectures, presentations and documentary screenings will be held. The library is expected to host 100 cultural events, Gulf Business reports.

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai, who announced the launch, said, “We are the leaders of civilization, duty and culture, and so we need to revive the spirit of learning and curiosity within our culture through innovative initiatives that push our boundaries.” Trade Arabia reports the launch came during the United Arab Emirates’ Year of Reading.

Sheikh Mohammed launched the Arab Reading Challenge in September 2015 to encourage 2.5 million students from 20,000 schools in Arab countries to read more. This library will promote that initiative with the aim of encouraging reading, supporting translation and documentation and preserving Arabic heritage and language.

This follows a 2012 report from the Arab Thought Foundation stating that Arab children read only “six minutes a year.”

A museum section housing various artifacts from the royal Al Maktoum family will be on display. It will also have Internet services and open reading spaces.

The library will include eight sections: children, youth, family, business, Arabic, international, popular and multimedia.

Gulf Business reports that the library hopes to translate 25,000 books into Arabic and print an additional one million books for schools and universities.

Construction work has begun on the seven-story tall building, which will be built with enough room for 2,600 visitors, reported The National.

Kaitlyn Arford

Sources: The National, Trade Arabia, Arabian Business, Gulf Business, 7 Days, Al Arabia News
Photo: Trade Arabia