Welcome to the Middle East Today

The Middle East has traditionally been important for the world economy. The Middle East situation today has an impact on all aspects of life in America and much of the world.

Only by understanding the motivations of the various factions in the Middle East can we hope to understand how to promote peace and national security for Middle Eastern nations, Europe, and the United States.

Oct 31, 2009

Decline of the Educational System in the Arab World -Egypt

Illiteracy in the Arab World exceeds one third of its population, and statistics on illiteracy vary from country to country in the region.

In a previous post (10/24/09), I have referred to the poor quality of education in the Arab world, in both higher academic institutions as well the lower levels. The Economist (10/17/09) referred to a comparative study conducted on the educational system in the Arab World. The study "Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, TIMSS," is issued every four years. The latest issue, 2007, states that "out of 48 countries tested all 12 participating Arab countries fell below the average. More disturbing, less than 1% of students aged 12-13 in ten Arab countries reached an advanced benchmark in science, compared with 32% in Singapore and 10% in the U.S., only Jordan scored above the average."

In Egypt, which used to carry the torch of education in the Arab World, the situation is deteriorating at a rapid rate.

The poor performance of students, especially in math and sciences, is attributed to several factors:

1. population growth is a big challenge to the Egyptian government. There are not enough schools build to meet the increasing number of students. Classes are over-crowded, which hinders the learning process.
2. government budget allocated for schools to meet their basic needs, is relatively small.
3. teachers are not properly trained. Hence, the quality of teaching is poor, a situation that is of concern to many parents. The number of private tutoring is on the increase, and only parents with certain means can afford to hire private tutors.
4. large number of schools are physically and structurally unfit to be used. Some structures are endangering the life of students due to their very poor conditions. Recently, it has been noticed in the Egyptian media that some schools do not have proper facilities to be used by students.

A quick survey of an Egyptian newspaper reflects the intensity of the problem. The followings are some specific points highlighting the decaying conditions of some schools:

1. In 1999 the Egyptian Governor of Buhayra ordered the partial demolition of EDCO (Secondary Agricultural School) for safety reasons. The school used to provide 25 class rooms serving 400 students. After the demolition 6 class rooms were left. Most of the classes are held in the open and chemical labs are unavailable for students. The Governor maintained that he has, since 1999, requested the Ministry of Education to rebuild what was demolished. His requests were never taken into consideration (Al Masry Al Yom,10/30/09)!
2. There are 450 students who are attending school in a barn due to the lack of facilities ( Al Masry Al Yom, 10/12/09)!
3. In Daqahliya, a condemned school liable to collapse, is attended by 770 students ( Al masry Al Yom, 10/31/09). According to this report, the Ministry of Education, for the past ten years, has turned down requests to build a new school!
4.In Al Muhandiseen, a middle class residential area in Cairo, garbage piles are blocking the entrance to an elementary school ( Al Masry Al Yom, 10/14/09)!
5. In the governorate of Ismailiyah, water services were cut off in Sarabiyum school because water bills were not paid (10/19/09)!
6. In Port-Said, 120 students are attending schools in shacks and use the street corners as their public facilities (Al Masry Al Yom 10/22/09)!
7. Garbage piles are surrounding Khalid Ibn al Walid school in Cairo, and students have to close windows to avoid foul smells( Al Masry Al Yom, 10,19/09)!

The above are only few examples listed in one newspaper in less than a month. The Ministry of Education in Egypt is failing on two accounts: to secure the safety of students in many schools, and to maintain a successful system of education. The results of bureaucratic obstacles are reflected in the high rates of students drop-out, and the rising rate of illiteracy. A large number of students graduate from schools with poor education in math, sciences and even the basic knowledge of standard Arabic.

It is a fact, that in any society the education of the younger generation is the most important investment for future development. Hence, it is of the utmost importance for the Egyptian government, specially the Ministry of Education, to seriously re-evaluate its educational programs. Will it be able to face such an important challenge?

Oct 28, 2009

Israel Water Strategy

Recently, I referred to Israel ruthless policy of controlling water from Jordan and the West Bank, and manipulating southern Lebanon and Syrian natural water supplies.

This post consists mainly of quotations reflecting Israel water strategy, and supporting my earlier post on the same topic.

Amnesty International Human Rights issued a report (BBC news, 10/27/09) stating that "Israel is denying Palestinians access to even the basic minimum of clean, safe water, and it must ends its discriminatory policies, immediately, lift all the restrictions it imposes on Palestinians' access to water."

The report consists of 112 pages, the followings are the highlight points:

1 - "Israel has "entirely appropriated the Palestinians' share of the Jordan river and uses 80% of a key shared aquifer."
2 - "West Bank Palestinians are not allowed to drill wells without Israeli permits, which are 'often impossible' to obtain."
3 - Rainwater harvesting cisterns are 'often destroyed by the Israeli army'."
4 - "Israel soldiers confiscated a water tanker from villagers who were trying to remain in land Israel had declared a 'closed military area'."
5 - An unnamed Israeli soldier says rooftop Palestinian household water tanks are 'good for target practice'."
6 -Much of the land cut off by the West Bank barrier is land with good access to a major aquifer."
7 - Israeli military operations have damaged Palestinian water infrastructure, including $6 m. worth during the Cast Lead operation in Gaza last winter."
8 - The Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza has exacerbated what was already dire situation by denying many building materials needed for water and sewage projects."

The report, however, also criticizes the Palestinian water authorities for bad management.

There is no doubt that the Israeli government policy is a strategy to make life unbearable for the Palestinians. It is a policy reflecting the Israeli intention of ethnic cleansing.

Furthermore, Amnesty International maintains that "on average Palestinians daily water consumption reaches 70 litres a day , compared with 300 litres for the Israelis." Actually, "some Palestinians barely get 20 litres of water a day - the minimum recommended even in humanitarian emergencies."

I would like to add that are many Israeli human right organizations that have condemned Israel's policy towards the Palestinians. Such views are also shared , world wide, by people concerned with basic human right needs.

Oct 24, 2009

Demise of Education in the Arab World

Arab media as well as Western media have recently reported that the quality of education is regressing in the Arab World. This regression is widening the gap between the Arab World and the developed world.

The Economist (10/17/09) mentioned the listing of the world top 500 universities, none of the Arab universities were included. However, six Israeli universities were listed.

The lack of progress in the Arab World is due to more than one factor:
1. Arab academic institutions lack the autonomy that prevails in the developed world. Academic institutions are under the tutelage of the Minister of Higher Education. Political interference, which is suppressing freedom of expression and innovation, restrains creativity and progress.
2. The educational budget allocated to universities and other higher institutions, is small and does not meet the basic needs such institutions require.
3. Financial support for scientific research is meager and does not support innovative research.

The Egyptian newspaper, Al Masry Al Yom (10/20/09), mentioned the UNESCO report that dealt with monies spend on research in the world. Egypt was at the bottom of the list by comparison to India, Brazil and Argentina. It has, since 2002, allocated only 0,2% of its gross domestic products (GDP) for scientific research.

I was not surprised that the Arab Gulf countries ranked below Egypt, since they are busy building 'sky scrapers'!!

The report further stated that Israel was ranked number one country in the world to spend 4.7% of its (GDP) on research, followed by Japan, which spends 3.4%. The United States ranked third in spending 2.7% of its (GDP) for scientific research.

Other factors affecting the educational system in the Arab world are:
1. Lack of well equipped libraries with recent publications.
2. Hardship students face when searching for references.
3. Absence of advanced computer centers considering the large number of students attending universities.

According to an article in Al Masry Al Yom (10/15/09), Egyptian universities are graduating ignorant students by the thousands.

Such criticism does not reflect students' ability or willingness to learn. But, it is the lack of a sound educational system which in itself does not encourage learning, does not stimulate students, and does not promote creativity.

Egypt is a poor country and its resources are limited. However, enhancing the quality of education is fundamental. Education is the foundation for progress, and human development in any society.

One solution would be for Egypt to pass a new educational tax law of 1% to 2% on all commercial transactions. The revenue collected would be used to supplement the government educational budget for scientific research, high tech-equipments, and library resources . The implementation of such proposal would require politicians with a vision, who are aware, and who are interested in Egypt's future needs.

Oct 23, 2009

Egypt's relation with the Nile River Basin Countries

In a previous post (8/28/09), I referred to the conflict between Egypt and the countries of the Nile River Basin, who want to re-consider the 1929 agreement with Egypt whereby Egypt's share of the Nile River water was stated as 84 billion cu.met per year.This treaty stipulates that the Nile River Basin countries cannot develop projects that might affect Egypt's share.

Lately, Israel has been playing an influential role in these countries especially in the area of agricultural development, water projects and other economic related activities. The Israeli's role is viewed by Egypt as a threat to its national security.

I am of the opinion that the cause behind this rapprochement between Israel and the Nile River Basin countries, is to create pressure on Egypt to allow Israel to obtain a share of the Nile River water.

The late Prime Minister of Israel, M.Begin, had once asked the late President Sadat to divert some of the Nile River to Israel. President Sadat turned the request down.

I was watching a program ('Halit Hiwar' or 'case of discussion') on the Egyptian channel Al Masriyyah (10/17/09). The discussion that evening focused on Israeli's role in the countries of the Nile River Basin, and its cooperation with these countries in agricultural developments, and water projects. The discussion was led by nine guest speakers, specialists in various fields. They were all aware of Israel's active role in the Nile River Basin countries, and the significant absence role of Egypt in the same countries.

The discussants suggested that Egypt ought to help the governments of the Nile River Basin countries to start constructive projects such as: agricultural, infrastructural (building of roads and bridges), and medical (establishing clinics to treat the natives freely).

However, I was disappointed that the discussants did not refer to education. It would be of great help if Egypt could offer scholarships to students in the countries of the Nile River Basin. These scholarships will help in the education of young students who might become the future leaders in these countries. Such programs will in the future strengthen relations between Egypt and the receiving countries.

The Egyptian newspaper, Al Ahram, reported (10/19/09) that a large Egyptian government delegation led by the Minister of International Co-operation(F. Abu Al Naga) accompanied by engineers in various fields, were visiting Ethiopia with the hope of starting joint projects in the fields of agriculture, irrigation and electrical power. Such cooperation will be of benefit to both countries, and will ultimately protect Egypt's share of the Nile River water.

Oct 18, 2009

Sequel - Yemeni Water Crisis

Yemen is the poorest Arab country, 42% of the population live below the poverty line which consists of $2 per day, per person.

I have previously written about the Yemeni civil war which has been intermittent since the mid 1960s. It is a senseless war causing an economic burden and human sufferings. Official reports maintain that between 150,000 to 200,000 people have fled the war zone to Sana, the capital, a situation that has caused major economic hardship in the city. Furthermore, Yemen is facing a major water crisis. According the the UN Arab Human Development Report (2007-2008), 32% of the population are deprived of drinking water.

In an article in the LA Times (10/11/09), Haley Sweetland Edwards stated that "Sana's populations of 2 million is growing at the rate of 8% year - overwhelmed job markets and overstretched services. The unrelenting pressure is likely to make Sana the first capital in the world to run out of drinking water--as early as 2025, according to a recent projection by Sana Water Basin Management Project, which is funded by the World Bank." The article further states that "the average person in Yemen survives on one-fifth of what the World Health Organization considers to be an adequate amount of water."

In the same article Edwards states that the majority of people in Sana depend on water extracted from wells, transported by tanker trucks, distributed and sold to residents at a cost of 20 to 60 cents a gallon. Although this seems to be a meager amount of money, nonetheless many Yemeni cannot afford to pay for their water supply.

Abdul Rahman Fadhl Iryani , Yemeni minister of water resources, said to Edwards that "the nationwide crisis would require that the government implement a comprehensive plan to oversee water extraction, build additional wells and water mains to serve the growing capital, and reform water use in the agricultural sector."

I would like to stress here that a large quantity of water is used to irrigate the popular Khat* plant. The plant 's leaves, considered as narcotic, are chewed by many men in Yemen. Several attempts on the part of the government to prohibit the cultivation of Khat have failed.


*NB: Khat, Qat, or Ghat has been grown for use as a stimulant for centuries in Yemen. Its leaves are chewed or dried to be consumed as tea in order to achieve a state of euphoria and stimulation (Wikipedia).




quotes the Yemini minister of water resources

Oct 14, 2009

Sequel - Water Crisis in The Arab World

The BBC News (10/13/09) reported that "for the last two years Iraq, Syria, Jordan and parts of Turkey and Lebanon, have suffered from the devastating effects for the worst drought that the Middle East has experienced in decades."

At a recent meeting of the Arab League, the Chairman Amr Moussa stated that the Arab World is facing critical water shortage and unless some drastic measures are taken, it will be classified among the most impoverished water region. He, further, maintained that the Arab World needs to challenge the "Israeli water theft in Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon" (Al Masry Al Youm, 10/13/09).

According to the UN Arab Human Development Report (2007-2008), 15% of the total population is unable to obtain clean, fresh water for drinking. The percentage fluctuates from 2% in Egypt to 32% in Yemen. Moreover, sewage system lacks among 30% of the population in the Arab World. The percentage fluctuates from 2% in Lebanon and the Emirates to 70% in the Sudan. It should be stressed here that the Arab World is inhabited by 5% of the world population and have only 1% of the fresh water in the world.

In some countries of the Arab World drought has lasted longer than others. For instance, the UNESCO reported that "drought in Iraq has forced more than 100,000 people in Northern Iraq to abandon their homes since 2005, with 36,000 more on the verge of leaving.The four-year drought and excessive well pumping have led to the collapse of an ancient system of underground aqueducts, or karez.* Only 116 of 683 karez systems are currently operational, according to a study of the United Nations Agency. The study says 70 percent of active karez have dried up." (New York Times, 10/14/09)

The drought and the construction of dams in Turkey and Syria decreased the flows of the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers by more than 50%. "Southern Iraq river flow is so sluggish that salt water from the Gulf has reached further upstream, making it hard to supply safe drinking water to Basra."( BBC News, 10/1/09)

The recent Iranian action to divert the flow of the Karoon river water away from Shatt Al Arab increased the salinity of water in the area.

The impact of the drought could also be seen all over Syria. "Roads around the capital Damascus are lined with makeshift camps. An estimated 300,000 people have already fled the north east and officials say that every day brings more refugees. With hundreds of thousands of people coming towards the cities, drought is changing the demographics of the Middle East. It is spreading poverty and social discontent and putting an addition pressure on already vulnerable societies." (BBC News, 10/13/09)

There is no doubt that scarcity and shortage of fresh drinking water is causing anguish, and leading to the destabilization of societies in the Arab World.

*NB: karez is an irrigation water system that originated 3000 years ago in Western Iran and Northern Iraq.

Oct 12, 2009

More on the Water Crisis

Juliette Jowit (The Guardian 11/2/08) stated that "population keeps growing and getting richer, and global warming changes the climate. Experts are warning that unless something is done, billions more will suffer lack of water - precipitating hunger, disease, migration and ultimate conflict."

She further points out that the Stockholm International Water Institute "talks about an 'acute and devastating humanitarian crisis'; which might result in water wars as Banki Moon, UN Secretary General has stated.

Africa and the Middle East have the highest rate of population growth. Both regions are experiencing water shortage due to climatic changes and meager rainfall. The declining of rainfall impacted agricultural productivity which led to starvation in certain areas of Africa. Millions of children died prematurely as a result of malnutrition.

The drought in certain parts of Africa resulted in the migration of people in search of water and graze lands for animals. This is the major cause for the Darfur conflict.

Other factors contributing to the water crisis, is the absence of water management programs that deals with water needs and its distribution, and the lack of experts and funds needed for the success of such programs.

Jowit further says that the "UN maintains individuals need five litres of water a day simply to survive in a moderate climate, and at least 50 litres a day for drinking and cooking, bathing and sanitation. Industry account for about double the average domestic use - but agriculture needs much more - in fact, 90% of all water use by humans."

Marq de Villiers says Jowit stated that "there's certainly enough water for every person on the planet, but too often it's in the wrong places at the wrong times in the wrong amounts."

It is ironic that while writing this post stressing the scarcity of water where it is mostly needed, Africa and the Middle East, the weather channel on TV reported heavy rainfall causing serious floods in the Philippines, South East Asia, China and India!

Indeed, future war will be 'water wars' as Banki Moon stated.

Oct 10, 2009

Human Exploitation and Water Crisis

In an excellent article "is Water the New Oil" published by The Guardian (11/2/2008), Juliette Jowitt discusses early human exploitation of water by referring to the work of archeologist Steven Mithen, professor of early prehistoric at the University of Reading and archeologist Bill Finlayson.

Their studies dealt with an ancient site where "humans made a permanent settlement, " Wadi Faynan in Jordan.

Jowitt stated in her article that according to archeologist Mithen, water was the reason for the settlement in Wadi Faynan 11,500 year ago.

The early wave of settlement was "drawn to water." It "attracted successive wave of settlements...which would eventually all but destroy the resource which made life possible."

History is definitely repeating itself. In modern time, water crisis is caused by human exploitation, or as Jowitt wrote "human over-exploitation" of the environment. "It is a pattern that's been repeated for millenia, around the world and it now threatens us on a global scale."

As the livelihood of the ancient Bedouins of Wadi Faynan in Jordan was inextricably tied to water, so is the livelihood of modern man.

Water "is the world's most precious commodity, yet many of us take it for granted. But, that's all about to change." Juliette Jowitt

More to come on the future water crisis faced by the Middle East.

Oct 2, 2009

Israel Nuclear Hegemony in the Middle East

Western powers led by the USA began talking to Iran regarding its nuclear program hoping to convince Iran to open its nuclear facilities for international inspections.

The rational behind this approach is to prevent nuclear proliferation, and to discourage the Israeli government from attacking Iran's nuclear facilities. Such an attempt will totally destabilize the Middle East region.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chief of staff said "an Israeli strike would be profoundly destabilizing." and have "unintended consequences" (Washington Report, September-October, 2009).

However, if Iran succeeds in having nuclear weapons, it will challenge Israeli hegemony in the Middle East region.

Recently, Israel has been pressing Western powers to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
During the past 20 to 30 years, Israel has always tried to prevent any country in the Middle East
to conduct research to enrich uranium that might lead to the production of nuclear weapons. For instance, it bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1987, as well as the Syrian suspected nuclear facilities in 2007. Moreover, the Israeli Mossad was accused of the assassination of Arab and Iranian nuclear scientists.

It should be stressed here that Britain, France and indirectly the USA provided Israel with technical equipments and materials to start its nuclear research. This help, led to the Israeli production of weapons of mass destruction. The CIA reported that Israel possesses between 200 to 300 nuclear bombs!

Israel should not dictate who should or should not acquire nuclear weapons. Since 1974, Egypt has been calling on Israel to give up its nuclear weapons, and turn the Middle East region into a free zone from weapons of mass destruction. Otherwise, nuclear proliferation will occur in other Middle Eastern countries such as: Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

I am of the opinion that the whole Middle East should be free of all nuclear weapons, and hopefully the whole world!!