Driving through the Wall that hems in the Palestinian city of Ramallah I am always struck by the number of high-rise buildings under construction, the numerous expensive cars and latest cafes. To the eye it appears that Ramallah is a rapidly growing capital of a booming middle-income country. However, I know that this is a mirage. It masks the dire poverty in Gaza, in the rural areas of the West Bank and in the refugee camps that dot the countryside. The minute one passes through the checkpoint into Gaza – something few people get to do – the expensive cars are gone, replaced by donkey carts, piles of trash and the misery of a captive population.
Imagine climbing into the cockpit of an airplane the weight of a medium-sized car and the wingspan of an Airbus 340. And then imagine taking off without a drop of fuel on board. Sam Shepard can, unless my eyes deceive me. They do indeed deceive (sadly) but Andre Borschberg is a dead ringer for the star of The Right Stuff, that famous movie about test pilots pushing back the limits of the impossible. Andre is also a test pilot and also pushing hard against those limits flying Solar Impulse, the first experimental solar-powered plane. I was there to watch Andre bring it into Rabat, Morocco on its first intercontinental flight from Switzerland recently.
A recent poll from Gallup (Summer 2012) entitled “After the Arab Uprisings: Women on Rights, Religion, and Rebuilding" makes for interesting reading and provides surprising results. While there are many commonalities among the Arab countries surveyed (Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen), some of the findings also underline significant differences. This leads to some surprising poll results as the questions address broader terms like religion, the Sharia, gender equity, etc.
The Financial Times issued its ranking of the world’s top 70 executive business programs. Nearly all successful emerging economies are on the list, as are advanced economies, but no program in MENA has made the list. Several countries have multiple programs represented in their domain, such as Chile, Brazil, Mexico, South Korea, Singapore, to name a few. Executive programs are an important indicator for future top management and leadership role jobs.
Remember this acronym TAP. It is short for transparency, accountability and participation and is here to stay for a long, long time. It is a simple euphemism for a very complicated roadmap for Arab transition to “dignity, freedom and social justice.” But is TAP really a remedy for the chaos gripping the Middle East? Even if it is not, it certainly was the resounding buzz word at a World Bank regional seminar “Transitions and Governance Reforms in MENA,” convened in Rabat, Morocco, recently.
Regardless of their original circumstances, successful economic and political transitions have a single, unifying characteristic. They may be motivated by crisis, but their successful implementation requires a broad consensus on the need for change, a shared vision of its goals and a common agreement on how to reach them. The need for this critical consensus emerged over the course of a seminar on the role of governance reform in the current transitions in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Hosted by the World Bank in the Moroccan capital, Rabat, the Transitions and Governance Reforms in MENA seminar brought together a diverse range of government, civil society and media representatives to discuss the region’s challenges with former world leaders and members of the international development community who had undergone similar transitions.
After 2 years of continuous work, 10 missions to Rabat, 6 steering committee meetings, 1050 emails, the Arab Spring, and the historic changes with a new Moroccan Constitution and Government; we finally arrived at D-Day: the official launch of our "Promoting Opportunities and Youth Participation" report on May 14, at the Hay Nahda Conference Center, Rabat. This invaluable validation is the outcome of an extensive process and the report, much awaited by all youth stakeholders, is finally seeing light.
The last few years have been sobering for the Maghreb. The sudden drop off in demand from the European Union, as a result of the financial crisis, was a stark lesson in the perils of over reliance on a single trading partner, no matter how large. It also revealed how the lack of integration left the region fully exposed to external shocks. The rise of youth unemployment, and the manifestation of popular discontent in the ‘Arab Spring,’ has also made economic growth a priority, as the only way to satisfy the demand for more and better opportunities.
On a recent layover in Frankfurt airport, the Harvard Business Review (HBR) magazine caught my eye. On the cover is a ball of tangled wires in red, yellow, green and purple under the words “Managing Uncertainty” in large bold print. The magazine was positioned strategically behind a counter of recent nonfiction, prominently displaying the book: Europa Braucht den Euro Nicht (Europe doesn’t need the Euro). My trip was during the week when results from Egypt’s Presidential election were hanging in the balance.