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OPEC March oil output sinks to 11-month low – Reuters survey

Comments (0) Actualites, Middle East, Oil

LONDON (Reuters) – OPEC oil output fell in March to an 11-month low due to declining Angolan exports, Libyan outages and a further slide in Venezuelan output, a Reuters survey found, sending compliance with a supply-cutting deal to another record.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries pumped 32.19 million barrels per day last month, the survey found, down 90,000 bpd from February. The March total is the lowest since April 2017, according to Reuters surveys.

OPEC is reducing output by about 1.2 million bpd as part of a deal with Russia and other non-OPEC producers to get rid of excess supply. The pact started in January 2017 and runs until the end of 2018.

Adherence by producers in the deal rose to 159 percent of agreed cuts from 154 percent in February, the survey found. There was no sign that other producers had boosted output to cash in on higher prices or to compensate for the Venezuelan decline.

Oil has topped $71 a barrel this year for the first time since 2014, and was trading above $67 on Wednesday. Still, OPEC says supply restraints should be maintained to ensure the end of a glut that had built up since 2014.

In March, the biggest decrease in supply came from Angola, which exported 48 cargoes, two fewer than in the same month of 2017. Natural declines at some fields are weighing on output.

Production in Libya, which remains unstable due to unrest, slipped because of stoppages at two fields, El Feel and El Sharara, setting back 2018’s partial recovery in output.

And production fell further in Venezuela, where the oil industry is starved of funds because of an economic crisis. Output dropped to 1.56 million bpd in March, the survey found, a new long-term low.

Output in OPEC’s largest producer, Saudi Arabia, dropped by 40,000 bpd from February’s revised level, even further below the kingdom’s target.

OPEC’s No. 2 producer, Iraq, pumped more. Exports from the south, the outlet for most of the country’s crude, rose despite maintenance at a loading terminal. Exports declined from the north but domestic crude use increased.

Among others with higher output, the biggest rise came from the United Arab Emirates, where production had dropped in February due to maintenance. Even so, the UAE is still pumping below its OPEC target and showing higher compliance than in 2017.

Output climbed in Qatar, after a dip in February that sources attributed to maintenance. Nigeria also pumped at a higher level, extending a run of more stable supply from Africa’s top exporter.

Nigeria and Libya were originally exempt from cutting supply because their output had been curbed by conflict and unrest. For 2018, both told OPEC that output would not exceed 2017 levels.

OPEC has an implied production target for 2018 of 32.73 million bpd, based on cutbacks detailed in late 2016 and taking into account changes of membership since, plus Nigeria and Libya’s expectations of 2018 output.

According to the survey, OPEC pumped about 540,000 bpd below this implied target in March, not least because of the involuntary decline in Venezuela.

The Reuters survey is based on shipping data provided by external sources, Thomson Reuters flows data and information provided by sources at oil companies, OPEC and consulting firms.

 

(By Alex Lawler; Additional reporting by Rania El Gamal in Dubai; Editing by Dale Hudson)

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DP World wins 30-year Congo port concession

Comments (0) Actualites, Africa, Infrastructure, Middle East

DUBAI (Reuters) – DP World said on Sunday it had won a 30-year management and development concession for a greenfield, multi-purpose port in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The Dubai-owned port operator will set up joint venture with the Central African country’s government to manage and invest in the Atlantic Coast’s Port of Banana, it said in a bourse statement.

An initial $350 million will be invested to construct a 600-metre quay and a 25-hectare yard extension with a container capacity of 350,000 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) and 1.5 million tons for general cargo.

Congo has long looked to develop a port along its less than 50 km (30 miles) of coastline to handle larger vessels than those that can reach its existing shallow ports up the Congo River.

Construction is expected to start this year and take two years to complete. A total project cost of over $1 billion, spread over four phases, will be dependent on market demand.

DP World will control 70 percent of the joint venture with the government of the DRC retaining the remaining 30 percent, the statement said.

The award includes an option to extend the concession for an additional 20 years.

 

 

 

(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell. Editing by Jane Merriman)

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11 Arab Companies Make Forbes Global 2000 Top Growth Champions List

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The world’s biggest and most powerful companies are ranked yearly by sales, profits, assets, and market value and ranked in the Forbes Global 2000. This year, Forbes worked with database company Statista to look at the compound annual growth rate of revenues, from 2013 to 2016, for all 2000 companies and converted figures into US dollars. The growth rates were then ranked, and the top 250 companies were listed as the Forbes Global 2000 Top Growth Champions.

While no Arab company made it into the top 250 companies that made the Best Employers, Top Regarded Companies, or Top Multinational Performers list, 11 Arab companies did leave their mark on the 250 Top Growth Champions list. Of the 11 companies, five are from Saudi Arabia, four are from the United Arab Emirates, two companies are from Qatar, and one is situated in Lebanon.

UAE Leads the Way

Heading the Top Growth Champions list is the UAE’s residential and commercial development company, Damac Properties. Situated in Dubai, the luxury real estate company delivers upscale properties across the Middle East and the United Kingdom. As of May 2017, Demac Properties had a market capitalization of $4.7 billion. It had total assets of $6.92 billion, and a gross debt of $1.36 billion. With 55 million square feet of property development in planning or progress, including more than 13,000 hotel rooms and more than 19,000 employees, Demac earned $1.63 billion at the end of Q3 2017, 13% higher than in 2016.

With Expo 2020 set to increase demand for real estate in the region, Demac’s performance was attributed to continued demand for its projects. Demac recently reported more than 80% of its hotel apartment projects in New Dubai and Dubai South have sold out. It runs the only Trump brand golf club in the Middle East, and the company has also been chosen by the Oman Government to develop its $1 billion Port Sultan Qaboos waterfront project. Although revenues fell slightly in 2016, the real estate market in the region has stabilized according to Demac’s CFO Adil Taqi, and sales for the first six months of 2017 are up 4% over the same period in 2016.

Top Growth Middle Eastern Companies

The other Middle Eastern companies that made the list included Saudi owned real estate firm Jabal Omar Development, which ranked number 7. Alinma Bank, also from Saudi Arabia ranked 167th, Alawwal Bank ranked 169th, Saudi Investment Bank ranked 210th, and Saudi Arabian Mining Company came in at 222nd. Other companies from the UAE included real estate and construction firm Emaar Properties, which ranked 208th, and Dubai Islamic Bank, which ranked 249th. Qatar National Bank ranked 96th and Qatari real estate and construction company Ezdan Holding Group ranked 157th. Bank Audi from Lebanon came in at number 155.  

Top Five Global Companies

Ranked second on the list is China’s largest auto distributor China Grand Automotive Services. The Shanghai based company sells more than 50 different brands of cars, including Chrysler and Mercedes-Benz. In 2016, the firm posted revenues of $20.6 billion, 45% higher than the previous year. Also from China is real estate development company, Greenland Holdings, which ranked 3rd, and Hong Kong gaming and real estate firm Melco International, which ranked 4th. Ranking 5th was Chinese delivery service company, S.F Holdings.

The top delivering US companies on the list were e-commerce company XPO Logistics, which was ranked 8th and New Residential Investment (13th), Cheniere Energy (21st), Vereit (34th) and Liberty Expeida Holdings, which ranked 34th.    

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Bringing tourism back to the Middle East

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Long heralded as the must-see tourist destinations of the Middle East, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Turkey are feeling the blow to their once prosperous tourism sector, as holidaymaker’s head to safer shores. Terrorist attacks, kidnapping and political unrest has seen a decline in tourism in the region, however, some countries are finding ways to bring the people back.

Saudi Arabian Islands Make-over

The recently announced Red Sea Project will see Virgin airlines founder and entrepreneur Richard Branson invest in turning 50 Saudi Arabian islands into luxury tourist destinations. This comes as Saudi Arabia announced its plans to turn 13,127 square miles of coastline into luxury resorts in early August. “This is an incredibly exciting time in the country’s history,” Branson said in a statement released by the Information Ministry. As one of the world’s most conservative countries, where alcohol is prohibited and women have only just been given permission to drive, Saudi Arabia is determined to change its image in the international community.

According to Arabian Business, since the appointment of Prince Mohammed bin Salman as successor to his father’s empire in June, the country has launched a media offensive aimed at pulling the country out of its dependence on oil and diversifying its revenue. The Saudi Public Investment Fund, which is headed by Prince Mohammed, will provide the initial investment to the Red Sea Project, with plans to start construction in 2019. Branson is the first international investor to commit to the project in what the ministry called “a clear sign that Saudi Arabia is opening its doors to international tourism.”

Egypt Partners with CNN

Egypt is also set to launch a tourism media campaign with cable television channel CNN, after visitor numbers fell dramatically due to the Arab Spring uprising, which overthrew President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, and the Russian passenger jet which crashed in Sinai in 2015, killing all onboard. Russia, which was the number one source of tourists to Egypt, suspended flights to the country pending tighter security measures at Egyptian airports. In order to lessen the impact of these reports, Egypt will launch an advertisement to be aired on CNN’s weather forecasts in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa to attract tourists during the winter season. International advertising and marketing agency J. Walter Thompson, said the aim of the campaign was to attract tourists in winter to Egypt’s consistently warm weather.

According to Egyptian news site Ahram Online, Egypt was receiving as many as 14.7 million visitors back in 2010. Before the Arab Spring, tourism represented 13% of the country’s gross national product, bringing in some $20 billion a year in revenue, according to government figures. In contrast, the first seven months of 2017 have seen just 4.3 million tourists visit the country’s historic sites and arid landscape. Although tourism revenue has increased in Egypt, for the same period, by 170%, reaching $3.5 billion, it is still nowhere near the pre-2011 figures.

Future of Middle Eastern Tourism

While travel and tourism sectors of the regions usually popular destinations have suffered, not all the Middle East has been badly affected. Certain ‘safe haven’ destinations have actually profited in recent years. According to figures from the UN World Tourism Organization, visitors from the UK have increased in the UAE. Dubai saw a 5% increase in UK tourists in 2016, and Abu Dhabi was up 3%. Russian tourists have also flocked to the country after visa-on-arrival was implemented, which saw a rise of 14%. Oman has also seen a steady growth in numbers from Europe, with Britain and Germany among the top five tourism generating source markets, followed closely by India.

According to Trade Arabia, London’s World Travel Market event, to be held in November, will expect to see a strong contingent of exhibitors from the Middle East. WTM Senior Director Simon Press said according to figures from the World Travel and Tourism Council, in 2016 the total contribution to GDP from travel and tourism in the Middle East was $227.1 billion. This figure is forecast to rise by 5.2% in 2017, and 4.8% per annum to make $381.9 billion by the year 2027. “There are exciting times ahead for the Middle East,” Press said.    

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Abu Dhabi’s Mega Projects Continue Despite Oil Slump

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Sitting on 6% of the world’s oil reserves, Abu Dhabi has pushed forward with a construction program that has seen a combined USD $37 billion poured into several mega building projects in the region, despite 2014’s slumping crude oil prices. Expected to be completed by 2020, the ten biggest projects under construction include Abu Dhabi’s own Louvre art museum, a nuclear power plant, sewerage tunnel, hospital, special burns clinic, highway, housing development, residential area and a new air terminal, among others.

Construction on the projects began before the global economic downturn and Abu Dhabi has had to make sharp cuts to spending over the past few years. According to credit-rating company Fitch, spending was cut by a 20% in 2015, after falling oil prices led Abu Dhabi to run a fiscal deficit of 13.2% of GDP that year. However, the recovery of oil prices in 2016 has eased some of the pressure from government finances and several construction projects are about to be unveiled.

Under Construction

 The Louvre, Abu Dhabi, is among the most anticipated construction projects set to be finished by the end of May. The white dome-covered building is surrounded by water and was designed by French architect, Jean Nouvel. Costing $1.14 billion, it includes a 280-seat theater and a children’s museum. Also, to be completed later in the year is a $1.5 billion housing development, Jabel Hafeet, which will provide homes for 3,000 people, including a school, a clinic and other facilities; $1.14 billion residential development, Ain Al Faida, which will house 2,000; the $1.1 billion, Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City, which specializes in treatment for burns and has 739 beds; and a new sewerage tunnel, which is said to be among the world’s longest at 25 miles in length and at a cost of $1.5 billion.

Projects to be completed in the following years include, the first nuclear power plant in the United Arab Emirates, Barakah Nuclear Plant, which will supply 25% of the country’s electricity by May 2020, according to the Emirates Nuclear Energy Co-operation. The $23 billion plant includes four reactors, which will produce a combined 5,600 megawatts. Abu Dhabi’s newest air terminal, the $3.5 billion, Midfield Airport Terminal, which will have 49 gates, shops, restaurants and a hotel. The terminal was built over six levels and will double the airports capacity to 30 million passengers a year. It is expected to be finished in January 2019.

Also under construction is a new highway, the E11, which will link Abu Dhabi with the Saudi border at a cost of $1.5 billion. The $1.2 billion, Al Ain Hospital to be completed by December 2018 and a new district in Abu Dhabi called Zayed City. Currently the road network, sewerage, electricity, lighting and water infrastructure is only 19% complete. The $909 million project is expected to be finished by 2020.

Positive Outlook for 2017

Despite the cut-backs, the outlook for construction companies across the Middle East is set to improve in 2017. According to a report from Middle East Business intelligence service MEED, the region still offers significant opportunities for construction companies, despite the slowdown in spending. ‘There is no doubt that the worst is behind us,’ said MEED editorial director, Richard Thompson. ‘The recovery in oil prices and the implementation of reforms means things will improve for the region’s construction market in 2017,’ he said. Although the future for construction companies looks brighter in Abu Dhabi, increased competition is expected due to the lower volume of construction projects, warns MEED.

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Alabbar’s plan to conquer e-commerce

Comments (0) Featured, Middle East

A new online shopping platform created in the United Arab Emirates is set to dominate the industry in the Middle East and possibly the world. Noon.com, which was announced early November, is an online retailer boasting over 20 million products and same-day delivery. Created by Emirati billionaire and businessman Mohamed Alabbar, the site will be launched worldwide in January, 2017.

Stocking millions of products ranging from fashion to electronics, food to cars, the site will be ten times bigger than the region’s current ecommerce site, Souq.com and will stock over 5 million more products than Dubai’s biggest malls. Starting with 20 million products, the plan is to get to 100 million, Alabbar explained in an interview with Arabian Business. Initially the site will sell popular consumer items, he explained, but will eventually expand to sell niche items too.

The region is ripe for an ecommerce revolution: Alabbar

With $1 billion in financial backing, half from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and half from Alabbar himself and a group of Gulf Cooperation Council investors, the ecommerce site will operate from and focus on the UAE and Saudi Arabia before branching out. Noon’s head office will be located in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

As a region with 50 percent of people under the age of 25, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have extremely high internet and smartphone usage as well as high per capita income Alabbar explained. However, ecommerce accounts for only 2 percent of total retail sales in the region, a total of $3 billion a year.

People in the Gulf nations are still buying online from Amazon US and Amazon UK even though they have to wait a long time for delivery, Alabbar said. Countries like the USA, China and the UK have an ecommerce penetration of 15 to 18 percent of retail, but it is negligible in the Middle East. “The region is all but ripe for an e-commerce revolution,” Alibbar said. “Local giants have emerged in ecommerce around the world, like Alibaba in China. Why should it be any different in the Middle East?”

Ecommerce market to be worth $70 billion by 2025

By 2025 the ecommerce market is expected to be worth a whopping $70 billion a year, and Alabbar aims to take a sizeable chunk of it. Noon is being built with an eventual goal of an initial public offering in five to seven years Alabbar said. Immediate goals, however, include growing online sales in the region from 2 percent to 15 percent. A financial goal from $3 billion to $70 billion within a decade, taking up much of the ecommerce market.

“Any vision to change the world necessarily has to be big. A quantum leap cannot be small,” Alabbar said. An obvious comparison to Noon is Alibaba. When Alibaba was launched, Amazon was already a large public company, Alabbar explained. But that didn’t stop CEO Jack Ma from dreaming big. Today they are the largest ecommerce company in the world, and Amazon is almost non-existent in China, Alabbar said.

End to End Ecommerce Retailer

Noon plans on being an all-encompassing retail experience. From its website to an app, to delivery system and pay platform, it is all the same company from start to finish. Noon’s CEO and former country manager for Souq, Fodhil Benturquia said Noon’s edge over competition lay in its technological advances. “Our customer experience will be driven by state-of-the-art technology that will power everything from product discovery to purchase and delivery,” Benturquia said.

As well as creating its very own paying platform, Noon Pay, the company is also currently building the world’s largest warehouse adjacent to Dubai’s Al Maktoum International airport to store its products. The warehouse, which will be the size of 60 football fields will be one of many similar centers across Saudi Arabia and later across the entire region. Large storage centers mean same-day delivery is possible and this will be achieved via an in-house system called Noon Transportation and part-owned delivery service, Aramex. Noon is going to change the online shopping landscape for the Middle East customer, Benturquia said.

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The collapse of oil prices is forcing the UAE to reconsider a long-standing taboo on taxation

Comments (0) Featured, Middle East

The past seven months have seen global oil prices drop sharply leading to significant revenue shortfalls in many energy exporting nations in the Middle East. Desperate to diversify revenue, the Gulf states will introduce direct taxation on its citizens for the first time.

According to Younis Haji Al Khouri, the United Arab Emirates Finance Minister Undersecretary, taxation could generate billions of dollars in revenue for the oil-dependent nation. A draft law for corporate taxation was approved by the UAE cabinet at the start of the year and plans to introduce value-added tax (VAT) by 2018 are underway. VAT would include heavy fees on luxury items such as cigarettes and alcohol, Al Khouri explained, but certain sectors such as healthcare, education, social services and 94 different food items would be exempt.

“There was a study conducted in 2014 that showed that the [revenues] collected from the implementation of value-added tax for the UAE are between AED10 billion (USD$27 billion) to AED12 billion (USD$32 billion)” Al Khouri said.

Falling oil prices

Oil prices reached an all-time low at the start of the year with benchmark Brent crude oil prices as low as just $28 per barrel and up to only $45.4 per barrel half way through November. In comparison, Brent crude went for more than $115, per barrel in June of 2014, reported Gulf News.

Largely to blame for the decrease in oil prices are surging oil production in the United States, a higher US dollar, and weak economic growth in energy importing countries, reports the BBC. However, the war in Syria and Iraq has also had a part to play. Militant group ISIS has been capturing oil wells and purportedly undercutting market prices by selling oil on the black market at a significant discount. According to the BBC, ISIS is making around $3 million a day selling oil for around $30 – $60 per barrel.

This has left the UAE and other oil-producing countries to deal with lower prices for their output. While the UAE government has taken some steps to remedy the situation, such as cutting billions of dollars’ worth of petrol subsidies, according to Deutsche Bank and IMF, the nation would still need the price of oil barrels to rise to at least $81 per barrel to balance its budget.

Introducing Tax in the Gulf nations

Introducing tax may be the answer to the UAE’s revenue woes. Although taxation has long been a taboo subject in the Gulf states, the current price of oil has caused many countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to rethink their stance. Taxation could be an alternative source of income for countries hoping to move their economies away from a dependence on oil and gas.

A research and risk analyst at Moody’s Investor’s Service Mathias Angonin, said the UAE has a limited amount of ways to improve revenue. “The UAE introduced tough measures quickly, including the fuel subsidy reform and the reduction in capital expenditures,” Angonin said. “But the list of low-hanging fruits to raise revenue or reduce expenditures is getting shorter and shorter. The authorities are focusing on medium-term measures such as the VAT introduction in 2018 and 2019 and new forms of taxation.”

Moving Economies Away from a Dependence on Oil

Although it has long been a steady source of income, the UAE is not entirely dependent on oil and gas. The country has a thriving maritime port and is a global aviation hub. According to Gulf News, UAE is one of the most diversified economies in the region. Trade and logistics, services, retail, tourism and aviation are among the key drivers of non-oil growth, explains Shady Shaher Al Borno, Head of Macro Strategy Research, Global Markets and Treasury, Emirates NBD.

“We expect the UAE economy to grow by 3.4 per cent in 2017,” says Al Borno. “In the medium run, we expect Expo 2020 to have a positive impact on growth dynamics of the UAE as a whole as the non-oil sector will benefit from the flow of projects for the construction of facilities to host the 2020 event.”

Dubai’s staging of the next universal technological exposition, entitled ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’ and based on themes such as sustainability, mobility and opportunity, is expected to add an estimated 4.5 percentage points to GDP growth in the UAE and an extra $10 billion of private sector cash injected into the GCC, according to a report by Qatar National Bank. The event will also create thousands of jobs in construction, planning and tourism.

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Shuffling the Deck: Saudi Arabia favors new minds over lifetime politicians

Comments (0) Featured, Middle East, Politics

Amidst a global re-shuffling of political office and norms, Saudi Arabia has appointed a new Minister of Finance. Mohammed Al-Jadaan has replaced Ibrahim Al-Assaf, who worked within the ministry for the previous two decades before being appointed its top position. Al-Jadaan is seen as a breath of fresh air for the Saudi Arabian economy, bringing with him an outsider’s view, free from the restrainst associated with career politicians. While Al-Jadaan has vast experience with trade policies and restrictions from his time at Capital Markets Authority, this will be his first governmental ministry post.

Re-gilding of the government

A royal decree announcing the appointment of Al-Jadaan was issued earlier this month by King Salman, the leader of Saudia Arabia. Al-Assaf has been appointed Minister of State and has been made a Member of the Cabinet, moving his expertise from finance to a broader scope of affairs. Al-Jadaan was integrated in the 2015 opening of the Saudi market to foreign investments and is expected to ease existing barriers in an effort to attract more overseas capital. According to Jason Tuvey, Middle East economist at Capital Economics, Al-Jadaan “already has policymaking experience having overseen the opening up of the Saudi Tadawul to foreign investors over the past couple of years,” which is expected to positively influence his role as Minister of Finance.

Al-Jadaan studied both Islamic law and Islamic economy at Imam Mohammed Ibn Saud Islamic University in Riyadh. Before his appointment as the chairman of Capital Markets Authority, Al-Jadaan was a founding partner of the Al-Jadaan and Partners Law Firm. He was listed in Chambers and Partners as a leading lawyer in corporate/commercial law and banking/finance practice for a decade and is expected to bring this wealth of real-world experience into the Ministry of Finance.

Right Hand Man

King Salman has already been seen as a mover and a shaker, mixing up the tenured ministry heads with younger men from a variety of backgrounds. He has notably centralised power, and is making an effort to ensure those around him will remain loyal and share his vision for Saudia Arabia. Al-Jadaan is expected to assist the new King in his desire to diversify the Kingdom’s economy from largely hydrocarbon based to other industries such as financial services. His appointment coincides with first ever sovereign bond sale, an order reaching $67billion. Many are lauding this as a sign of the freer economy to come, but experts caution against overexuberance, pointing to the Kingdom’s recent history of austerity as a better indicator of what lies ahead.

A diversified economy is, of course, the long term goal, but Al-Jadaan has inherited more immediately pressing matters, chiefly alleviating current market conditions. Saudi Arabia has been running a deficit due to the low price of oil. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts that without a significant increase in the price of oil matched with level demand, the current budget deficit will continue to grow and will exhaust foreign exchange reserves as early as 2020. This would be disastrous for Saudi Arabia.

The oil price crisis is the umbrella underwhich Al-Jadaan will operate. He will be a key player in on-going discussion with Iran as other OPEC members continue to lobby for a reduction in oil exports from the Kingdom. Iran and Saudi Arabia do not currently have private negotiations on this or any other topic, but if Al-Jadaan is able to reopen such talks, his aim will be to get as many concessions from Iran as possible.

Another piece in the puzzle of 2016

Al-Jadaan’s appointment is but one among many injections of new men into global governments. As the world shifts away from the previous decades of western democratic hegemony into uncharted territory, it will fall upon men like Al-Jadaan to find a new balance.

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Amman Design Week: Arab talent on display

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Jordan’s inaugural Amman Design Week showed that creativity could flourish even in times of change and challenges that include rapid urbanization and the influx of more than 600,000 Syrian refugees. Organizers said the design festival in the Jordanian capital of Amman drew about 30,000 visitors during a nine-day run that ended Sept. 9. It had the support of Jordanian Queen Rania Al Abdullah.

More than 100 designers, architects and artists displayed their work at the event, which also included a MakerSpace that offered classes in 3D printing. The event showcased creativity in a variety of artistic fields, including design, architecture, furniture, fashion, crafts, and digital media. In addition to exhibits, it included lectures, workshops, and tours. Sahel Al Hiyari, an architect who helped curate the exhibits, said design is a way to cross boundaries, whether mental or geographic. “When these boundaries are transcended, we get something more unified.”

Everyday objects provide highlights

The festival spread across three major locations with three dozen smaller exhibits, many of which reflected everyday life in Amman. For example, Sissel Tolaas, a scientist and artist, potted the city’s smells –everything from jasmine blooms to trash – and built a scent map. Another artist, Dina Haddadin, created displays using scaffolding and tarps used in construction.

The Hangar, one of the event’s main locations, draws visitors into a webbed textile funnel made from large knitted tubes that visitors can peek through. A collaboration between a local fashion designer, Raya Kassisieh, and an architect, Nader Tehrani, the funnel was knit by women in small communities all over Jordan. After the festival, the knitted wool was to be refashioned into blankets for refugees. Other noteworthy works include The Glass Shaper, a collage of glass stacked in front of a mirror that refracts light. Ahmad Jallouk, who runs a small underwear ship in Amman and spends his spare time turning glassware into art, created the display.

Watermelon hills in courtyard

One of the most visible displays sat outside in a courtyard, a pile of curving watermelons that invited visitors to pose for photos while children ran through the stacks. Designed by Lebanese architect Hashim Sarkis and assembled to his specifications by two longtime Jordanian fruit sellers, the exhibit punctuated an important theme of Amman Design Week – finding surprise in everyday items.

The displays featured works from a number of other Arab countries including Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Syria, Bahrain, Iraq and Morocco. The event was a positive development at a challenging time for Jordan, which has seen a huge influx of refugees from the five-year conflict in neighboring Syria. Imad Fakhoury, Jordan’s minister of planning and international cooperation, said recently that the refugee population has put significant pressure on the country’s resources, particularly water, social assistance and finance, while curtailing tourism and foreign investment. The minister said the nation faces a shortfall of $2.8 billion in 2016-18.

Connecting talent is one goal

In addition to displaying deep and diverse creative talent to the public, Amman Design Week sought to raise the profile of designers and foster collaboration among them. Rana Beiruti, co-director of the festival, said she hoped the event would expose her fellow Jordanians to the tremendous talent of the country’s young designers and enable them to exchange expertise and ideas with regional peers.

Raya Kassisieh, a designer, saw an opportunity to raise the visibility of talent in the region. “Amman Design Week is an extremely important step to get the Levant area and Jordan specifically on the map of the design world. We are joining a really big movement and making a name for ourselves in the design industry internationally,” Kassisieh said. “I hope visitors from Design Week will help us spread the word about how much talent is at work in our region.”

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Iqbal Al Assaad: Palestinian prodigy, doctor

Comments (0) Education, Featured, Middle East

As a high school graduate at age 12 and a medical school graduate at 20, Palestinian Iqbal Al Assaad is in every sense a prodigy despite many challenges. But her childhood dream to become a doctor and help Palestinian refugees is only partly realized. With limited opportunities for professional work in Lebanon, where she grew up, El Assaad instead practices medicine in Ohio – for now. El Assaad graduated from high school four years ahead of schedule at the top of her class including studies in biochemistry and mathematics she would need for medical school. At age 13, she caught the attention of the education minister of Lebanon, who helped her win a scholarship to study medicine in Qatar. In 2013, still only 20 years old, she became the youngest student ever to graduate from Cornell University medical school’s Qatar branch and possibly the youngest Arab doctor ever.

Opportunities for Palestinians limited

But since then, she has been unable to use her skills to help Palestinian refugees and offer them services by opening a free clinic for them in Lebanon. Medicine is one of several dozen professions from which Palestinian refugees are barred. Palestinians in Lebanon were allowed to take clerical and lower-level jobs starting in 2005 and allowed to work in some professions in 2010. But highly skilled fields including medicine are regulated by professional associations that impose strict membership restrictions in order to protect jobs for Lebanese nationals. These associations are concerned that Palestinians might overwhelm the labor market, “so they feel it’s about job opportunities for Lebanese nationals”, said Lina Hamdan, a spokeswoman for the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee.

Refugee population swells with Syrian conflict

As the ranks of refugees grow in the Middle East, Al Assaad’s situation is increasingly common. The United Nations Relief Works Agency, estimates there are about 450,000 Palestinians in Lebanon and more than 90,000 have arrived from Syria since that country’s conflict began five years ago. While the UN agency provides primary medical care, it does not pay for more serious medical conditions, often forcing refugees to chose between forgoing treatment or going heavily into debt to pay for care. Growing up in Bar Elias, a rural village in the Bekaa valley, after her parents arrived in Lebanon, Al Assaad visited relatives in refugee camps and was struck at an early age by the poverty and lack of access to medical care.

Inspired to help refugees

Inspired to help, she pursued an education in math and science, which led to help from Lebanon’s education minister Khaled Qabbani in winning a full scholarship from the Qatar Foundation to attend Weill Cornell Medical College. Recognizing her accomplishment in graduating medical school and obtaining a prestigious residency in the United States, Arabian Business named her one of the 100 most powerful people under 40 in the Middle East in 2015.

Inspired to help refugees

Inspired to help, she pursued an education in maths and science, which led to help from Lebanon’s education minister Khaled Qabbani in winning a full scholarship from the Qatar Foundation to attend Weill Cornell Medical College. Recognizing her accomplishment in graduating medical school and obtaining a prestigious residency in the United States, Arabian Business named her one of the 100 most powerful people under 40 in the Middle East in 2015.

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