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Thursday in the Middle East

Its Thursday in Cairo, so the end of the week.

– CSM has a blog post on land scarcity causing violence in Ethiopia/Kenya border region. The details are scanty, I’d be curious to know more about the relationships between the groups and people involved and why the violence seemed to get so out of control so quickly.

Another CSM blog post (two really interesting ones in a row) chronicles the opening of a new factory for mango juice concentrate in Sierra Leone. They set up a special economic zone (SEZ) where the factory can operate tax free. I wonder about the size of the benefit from operating out of the SEZ. In Egypt, one of the reasons they have stayed competitive with certain exports, especially textiles, is the proliferation of these zones, the “Free Zones” as the are known. Given the mess that Egyptian industry is in right now, there may be some negative externalities… Also, the article notes that the company buys mangos at 8 times the local price during the high (dry) season. What happens during wet season when the plums aren’t ripe? Does all that buying support local prices?

Here is fun little experiment on using the internet and demography. Internet users in Tanzania were more likely to be aware and critical of political developments before the election if they received a 75 hour free internet voucher. However, they were less likely to vote. I wonder how many of them were online on election day…

-A pet preoccupation of mine is the Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement (NBCFA) which aims to reaportion the waters of the river Nile. Prior to the drafting of this agreement, Egypt, and to a lesser extent, Sudan, legitimized their almost exclusive use of the Nile’s water from agreements entered into on their behalf by the British, in 1929, and again when Sudan became independent in 1956. Needless to say, the upstream countries, DRC, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Brundi, Rwanda, Uganda, and the new South Sudan didn’t get much out of these agreements. This new post on Jadaliyya (one of my favorite sources!) details prospects for a deal on the use of the Nile’s waters. Water resource management and the use of the Nile are going to be huge issues for Egypt in the near future and will force the country to deal with its economic co-dependence and its shared history with its Southern African neighbors. Its not coincidence that a large government delegation went to Ethiopia earlier this month. In my next lifetime, I would write my dissertation about this…

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Land Grabs are Bad

It doesn’t seem that surprising to me that land grabs are bad. But if the economist condemns it, it must be wrong!

The article in full here and a great discussion about the challenges of doing anything about it here.

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Property Rights in Revolutionary Egypt, Part I

As the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces cleans house, it has come out that HSBC’s investment bank was behind nearly all the dirty land deals that went down in the last years of Mubarak’s rule. From the Guardian:

Research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a not-for-profit body based at London’s City University, has concluded that HSBC:

■ raised more than £450m for two of Egypt’s biggest and most controversial property developers now embroiled in corruption court cases (shares in those companies have subsequently dived);

■ was the most active European investment bank in Egypt;

■ had on its Egyptian board two directors who in 2004 went on to become ministers of state overseeing land sales and privatisations under Mubarak.

My guess is a lot is going to come out about big crooked land deals in the next months. The cases are complicated and even lurid, such as the one involving the biggest real estate developer in Egypt, the Talat Mustafa Group (TMG). An Egyptian court sentenced the former chairman, Hisam Talat Mustafa, to death in the murder of a Lebanese pop star, a charge they later overturned.

I also have been hearing lots of rumors of land grabbing at the local level during the revolution (taking the opportunity to throw up a building on that abandoned lot while the permits office was on fire kind of thing). Specifically in Luxor, but also in Cairo. The army put in place a moratorium on any real estate transactions after they took control of the government, but there hasn’t been much about what has been going on in the property rights space. Stay tuned.

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Mbeki speaks out

Mbeki has a piece in Foreign Policy on what happend in Cote D’Ivoire. In it, he accuses France, the international community, and UN of making a huge mess of the whole situation from holding the elections until French special forces arrested Gbagbo. He comes out pretty heavily for Gbagbo, arguing that a lot of funky things went on in Northern Cote D’Ivoire during the second round of the election, which legitimize Gbagbo’s refusal to recognize the results.

Speaking with Ivorian refugees in Liberia, I heard a lot of stories of intimidation and in some cases outright violence that prevented people from voting their conscience in Northern Cote D’Ivoire. A diplomat in Monrovia assured me that it wasn’t enough to actually sway the results of the election.

Its pretty hard to make Gbagbo looks like the good guy in this conflict. However, taking into account the human rights violations that the FRCI and other pro-Ouattara forces at least took part in and perhaps led during their military campaign and in its aftermath, this article paints a very different picture of what happened in Cote D’Ivoire than most analyses.

I wonder why Mbeki waited until now to make this case in a western news outlet?

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As the Middle East continues to burn

Even though events in Yemen and Syria make me hopeful that maybe both Saleh and Assad are on their last legs, a lot of people have been getting killed lately. I have been reading and re-reading this poem by my new favorite poet, Wislawa Szymborska.

(translated from the polish)

It could have happened.
It had to happen.
It happened earlier. Later.
Nearer. Farther off.
It happened, but not to you.

You were saved because you were the first.
You were saved because you were the last.
Alone. With others.
On the right. The left.
Because it was raining. Because of the shade.
Because the day was sunny.

You were in luck — there was a forest.
You were in luck — there were no trees.
You were in luck — a rake, a hook, a beam, a brake,
A jamb, a turn, a quarter-inch, an instant …

So you’re here? Still dizzy from
another dodge, close shave, reprieve?
One hole in the net and you slipped through?
I couldn’t be more shocked or
how your heart pounds inside me.

via CJ Chivers.

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