Silicon Wadi

16 Feb

Could a prototype Arabic Silicon Valley solve Amman's constant economic trouble?

Here’s my Welcome-Back-Post: A link to an interesting comment by William D. Cohan for the Washington Post addressing flourishing times for internet start-ups in Amman.

It’s no news really that Jordan lacks natural resources and is hugely dependent on foreign financial aid, and that Jordan’s economy is more volatile than, say, neighboring Saudi Arabia with an exuberant supply of oil.

Despite the changes in the region, King Abdullah II. has to worry less about abdicating than about improving his country’s economic outlook for the coming years: Amman’s prices and unemployment rates are rising, its economy is all but stable, and Amman is home to a huge number of excellently educated young people who aren’t able to score adequate jobs or salaries. A detailed look on the problematic Jordanian labor market can be found in February’s issue of Jordan Business Magazine.

Nonethless, Cohan’s article sheds a look on the growing number of young new internet start-ups emerging in the Jordanian capital, a lot of which are born out of necessity and with very little to no venture capital: Money’s tight, but there’s a lot of brains. I am therefore not surprised that Rachid Sifraoui, founder of the venture capital firm Finaventures, ranked Amman 10th among the best cities in the world for tech start-ups, according to Cohan’s article. While 10th place may be up for discussion, there’s no arguing the huge number of vibrant, young, hipster, quirky or insanely smart businesses you’ll stumble over when in Amman. Does Amman however have enough resources to keep up the development and become an Arabic “Silicon Wadi”? How is that going to work out alongside the strategy of marketing Jordan as an adventurous tourist destination? And where are the hip organic coffee shops going to open?

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Remarkable: Syria refuses to be intimidated

9 Jul

I took this picture in the summer of 2000, when I was in Syria and Bashar al-Assad had just succeeded his father as president. Sad memory somehow, as I remember the spirit of optimism, the zest and the high hopes. Picture: eastbymideast.

I have to be honest: A month ago, I was not sure whether the Syrians would be able to withstand Bashar’s massive intimidation campaign and killing spree over time.

Yes, Bashar al-Assad does rely on the same futile mechanisms and means to thrash his people off the streets as Mubarak, Saleh and al-Qadafi (which, as we remember, really did not get those guys anywhere except out the door). And yes, Bashar is going for an all-or-nothing strategy, which easily might leave him with „nothing“ rather than „all“. But to be left with „all“, he has to exert all force he can afford, and that’s why I had been fearing that in the end he would indeed win.

Nevertheless, looking at yesterday’s events I start to think that he is in line to drop out after all, because Syrians refuse to be intimidated: A stupendous number of 450’000 demonstrators were counted yesterday by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. An in Hama of all places; A city still traumatized by Hafiz al-Assad’s bloody massacre of 1982.

The country’s business elite so far still backs the regime, as the regime’s stability basically equals their income’s stability. But according to an article by Sami Moubayed, the business elite’s loyalty is restricted to profit only. As the big centers Aleppo and Damascus are facing rising unemployment, this loyalty might very well go down the tubes. Furthermore, the regime has diligently ensured over decades that be no leading voices, stakeholders or social representatives next to it, as it feared possible opposition. Ironically, this might now prove hurtful, as the regime might nowadays actually profit of a voice uniting the incomers’ communities of Aleppo’s and Damascus’ urban melting pots, urging them not to oppose the regime.

With Moubayed’s assumptions about upcoming urban developments, and about half a million people protesting in hama on Friday, I am hoping for the best. I have no idea how Bashar can spin or shoot his way out of this mess. 

The doctor is in

23 Jun

"You have myopic astigmatism, sir."

I found this on the Middle East Institute Editor’s Blog*. This is just too laconic to neglect, as Bashar of course is an ophtalmologist. What’s more, this cartoonist seems to be irritated by Bashar’s neck. I can relate.

By the way: German news magazine “Der Spiegel” ran an interesting article in this week’s issue highlighting the difficulties specific to Syria’s opposition. The regime employs an absurd amount of  intelligence services, making trust hard to be established among activists. Yet the sheer amount of intelligence personnel also leads to competition and stalking among the services until ultimately, no information seems reliable. The Assad regime has applied this method for decades. Since the Assad family’s power is not based on religious, democratic or royal legitimacy, maybe it is based on ensuring that just very few people know enough to put one and one together.

Anyhow, I remember well the stereotype of the “wary Syrian”.

* The Editor’s Blog didn’t know who to credit for this cartoon, so neither do I. Just like them, I’ll credit as soon as I know more and hope I’m not infringing.

“Fried eggs over easy or sunny side up?” “Ummm…..”

14 Jun

While Syria’s Bashar al-Assad has obviously opted for a gory turn of events, news on Jordan continue to remain rather sparse. As I’ve mentioned before, the struggle for reform is on in Jordan, just as it is on everywhere in the Middle East. Jordan’s King Abdullah II. is not one for blood and thunder, but he currently faces criticism and reform demands too, and he cannot risk a “sit it out” strategy.

Having remained rather calm during the past months, the King faced his people’s anger first-hand when his convoy was attacked by angry young Jordanians throwing stones while he was visiting the city of Tafilah in the south of the country on Monday. The incident was minor and no one was harmed, but it should not be underestimated: Tafilah is a region populated largely by native Jordanians, who are politically better represented than the Jordanian Palestinians. The Hashemites largely rely on keeping the native Jordanians happy, as political stability is said to depend on their loyalty. It thus seems rather alarming that this attack did not take place among the pro-reform, politically underrepresented Palestinian population of Amman, but within the loyal heartland.

Shortly before this incident, King Abdullah II. had announced the pardoning of some 8’000 prisoners. One of the official explanations was that releasing those prisoners would save the Jordanian government around 40 million Jordanian Dinar (39 million Euro) per year. The King also announced that in the future, he will cease to appoint his ministers and instead have parliament elect his cabinet. The pro-reform camp was unhappy about this, because it smells appeasement and wants more reforms. Apparently, the stone-throwing Tafilah youngsters were unhappy too, but I am not certain why:

They might oppose the king’s mass pardon, cutting back his own power and appeasing Palestinians. Or they might simply be annoyed with their stalling economic situation. Or they might demand democratic reforms too, which I think is least likely.

Whatever the reason, Abdullah is under pressure. Either both Jordanians and Palestinians pull at the same pro-reform string and Abdullah looks at fried eggs sunny side up. Or he is severely sandwiched between Jordanians’ and Palestinians’ demands, dishing him fried eggs over easy. Neither breakfast is particularly desirable.

By the way: The Jordanian government yesterday was quick to deny any such incident had taken place at all. And today, Abdullah II. announced to launch a fund to boost development and income in the economically stricken Tafilah district.

Interesting. Double-ended appeasement? Fried eggs sunny side up?

Link 14 Jun

This is such an insanely great idea!

If you should happen to go to Cairo, try catching on of the “Taxis of Knowledge”: An initiative that started in 2010 has equipped some 200 Cairene cabs with literature. So while weaving through Cairene traffic jams during rush hours, you can lean back and dive into, say, Alaa al-Aswani’s “Yacoubian Building”. So if you stay with your driver for all of your rides, you might even be able to get through your favorite book. The project is said to be hugely successful among Cairene taxi clients, and will therefore continue through 2011.

I say: Book your flight and make a reading list.

Taxi of Knowledge: Reading on the road