Podcast 4 – The Economy of North America

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With the markets constantly changing, they often affect political decisions taken by today’s leaders. Join Rizk Assessment researcher Meena Abanoub Saad as he breaks down the latest economic developments, and how they might affect politicians’ decisions.

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The New Cairo: The Egyptian Renaissance

In the news, whenever the country Egypt arises, we are greeted with very bad news of the state of the country. Whether it be a revolution, an economic struggle, or simply a dissatisfied country. Moreover, because of the negative media, Egypt has suffered in the tourism industry, which is a major component of its economy. However, President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi hopes to change this through plans of constructing a mega-project on a yet to be named city.

Over the weekend, Egypt held an Egyptian Economic Development Conference “in the seaside resort of Sharm El-Sheikh aimed at boosting the country’s flagging economy”[1]. The plan is to build a new capital city to the east of Cairo, close to the Red Sea, and span 150 square miles and home close to 7 million people, for a projected cost of $45 billion, an ambitious project. Thanks to this summit, Egypt pocketed “$12 billion in investment pledges from an array of wealthy Gulf states”[2]. This new city would be built in partnership with a well-known private developer from the United Arab Emirates Muhammad Al-Abbar, known for the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world), and “would take only five to seven years to complete, according to Egyptian Housing Minister Mostafa Madbouly”[3]. Additionally, “the summit delivered a message that Egypt is safe and is able to protect tourists and tourism investments. It further presented a future vision for projects, to be implemented by international companies”[4].

A delegation looks at a scale model of the new Egyptian capital displayed at the congress hall in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on March 14, 2015. Egypt plans to build a new administrative and business capital east of Cairo that will house five million people and feature a theme park "four times bigger than Disneyland", a minister announced at a global investor conference. AFP PHOTO / KHALED DESOUKI        (Photo credit should read KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)

A delegation looks at a scale model of the new Egyptian capital displayed at the congress hall in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on March 14, 2015. Egypt plans to build a new administrative and business capital east of Cairo that will house five million people and feature a theme park “four times bigger than Disneyland”, a minister announced at a global investor conference. AFP PHOTO / KHALED DESOUKI (Photo credit should read KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Capital Cairo 2

The project is meant to make Egypt an attractive investment by demonstrating stability, reinvigorate the collective national spirit, and allow for sustainable long-term growth. This ambitious project is to build “660 hospitals, 1,250 mosques and churches, and a theme park four times the size of Disneyland”[5]. Other extravagant ideas include a “green space twice the size of Central Park in New York… the centre will feature soaring skyscrapers and a structure best described as the metallic offspring of the Eiffel Tower and Washington Monument”[6]. Even far reaching is that a 200-metre-high skyscraper modelled after the famous Pyramids in Cairo is to be built that would be “composed of two pyramids – one tall and slim, and the other broad and short”[7] and would be the country’s tallest building. The cost of this part of the project has not been disclosed yet, only that it will be completed in conjunction with real estate developers and Egypt’s New Urban Communities Authority. The developer SOM says, “The Capital Cairo complements the national vision for an Egyptian renaissance”[8]. Partner of SOM, Philip Enquist, says, “While we are at the earliest stages of design, the new city will be built on core principles that include places of education, economic opportunity, and quality of life for Egypt’s youthful population”[9].

Capital Cairo 3

These are certainly aspiring goals that many countries can learn to adopt but a certain extent of skepticism is needed with such projects. These are lavish projects that need to be planned accordingly, specifically financially. “The impulse for a leader to create a new capital is as old as history itself”[10] and there is nothing as symbolic as the “centralizing authority of a new regime than a shining edifice, built in its supposed image”[11]. However, these new capitals and dreams have been executed in other countries, such as Brazil, Nigeria, and Malaysia, with the eagerness to break down the walls of division with a modern view of unity and the future but never succeed. To model, in 2005, “the Burmese junta quit the capital at Yangon, a former British colonial center, for Naypyidaw, a new city built literally out of the jungle. To this day, the capital is widely described as an artificial ‘ghost town’”[12]. The bitter truth is that more often than not, the ground of these skyscrapers outweigh the dreams of their architects.

Although this plan is in its early stages, there are still unanswered questions. An urban planning expert in Cairo, David Sims, says, “How are you going to do the infrastructure? How are you going to get the water? How will they move all these ministries?”[13] “Mr Sisi has made progress in this area, cutting fuel subsidies, reducing the budget deficit and making investment easier”[14] but inducing such a project has adverse impacts on the budget, which could be used for education, health, and other simpler tools to improve business. Amr Adly of the Carnegie Middle East Centre is not completely in agreement with Egypt’s plans. He says, “the government does not have a plan to spread the benefits of growth. Moreover, it is looking for inspiration in Dubai whereas India might be a more suitable model given Egypt’s size and poverty”[15]. Mr. Adly makes an interesting point, although Egypt does have over population, it is not to the extent of that of India and Egypt is just pulling itself back together after the revolution that took place recently. At first “there might be many construction jobs for a time. But the main benefits will accrue to Egypt’s dominant big firms, and to the Gulf companies that follow their government’s investments. Most small and medium-sized enterprises will be left on the sidelines”[16]. A shiny capital is nice and generates good publicity but “kick-starting these engines of growth would do more for his people”[17].

This is the message that Egypt must deliver, that it is a safe country with aspiring goals. The future city must strengthen and diversify Egypt’s economic potential by creating attractive new places to live, work, and welcome the world. For too long, the treasure of Egypt has been hidden as the city of Egypt became a spectacle for the world as the people of Egypt struggled to obtain an appropriate leader. Now, the plans to find this treasure are in place as the entire country risks almost everything to find this treasure, which is admirable. But in seeking this treasure, Egypt must have counter-measure plans, as this is the real world, and the real world is not a fantasy. Egypt must make sure that during this period of heavy investment a steady economic supply is found, so as to be able to continue a decent lifestyle for the people and not uproot another crisis.

[1] http://news.nationalpost.com/2015/03/17/egypt-new-capital-why/

[2] http://news.nationalpost.com/2015/03/17/egypt-new-capital-why/

[3] http://news.nationalpost.com/2015/03/17/egypt-new-capital-why/

[4] http://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2015/03/18/egypts-tourism-revival-sought-at-economic-summit/

[5] http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/mar/16/new-cairo-egypt-plans-capital-city-desert

[6] http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21646806-another-egyptian-leader-falls-false-promise-grand-projects-thinking-big

[7] http://www.dezeen.com/2015/03/02/pyramid-inspired-skyscraper-zayed-crystal-spark-cairo-egypt/

[8] http://www.dezeen.com/2015/03/20/som-new-capital-city-cario-egypt-seven-million-people/

[9] http://www.dezeen.com/2015/03/20/som-new-capital-city-cario-egypt-seven-million-people/

[10] http://news.nationalpost.com/2015/03/17/egypt-new-capital-why/

[11] http://news.nationalpost.com/2015/03/17/egypt-new-capital-why/

[12] http://news.nationalpost.com/2015/03/17/egypt-new-capital-why/

[13] http://news.nationalpost.com/2015/03/17/egypt-new-capital-why/

[14] http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21646806-another-egyptian-leader-falls-false-promise-grand-projects-thinking-big

[15] http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21646806-another-egyptian-leader-falls-false-promise-grand-projects-thinking-big

[16] http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21646806-another-egyptian-leader-falls-false-promise-grand-projects-thinking-big

[17] http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21646806-another-egyptian-leader-falls-false-promise-grand-projects-thinking-big

Episode 2 – The Hamayouni Decree and the Restrictions on Building Churches


For centuries, Egypt’s laws have restricted the building and repair of churches to the extent that fixing a broken toilet once required presidential approval. Although there have been some developments, the state of the law as it relates to the building of churches is still very dismal. Join Sherif Rizk as he discusses the current state of affairs, and whether there’s any hope for an improvement in these laws in the future.

Episode 1 – On Politics and Philosophy

Since the days of the ancient Greeks, the intersection between politics and philosophy has been well-known. Key questions such as the meaning of justice, truth, and their role in political leadership have always been at the centre of debates about political philosophy. Join Sherif Rizk and Raffaella Rady as they discuss these questions, how some ancient Greek philosophers felt about these topics, and whether these philosophical roots have any bearing on Christian philosophy today.

Follow this link to our podcast!

 

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Reward “Profitable” Speech, not Free Speech

By: Sherif Rizk

**Editor’s Note: At the end of this article, I am going to make a small request from you. I would ask that, if you agree with at least one thing in this article, that you fulfill this request**

As the dust settles on the emotional aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo/Paris attacks, new questions have begun to emerge. And, unlike other terrorist incidents in the past few months, the question is not one of national security, but on freedom of speech/expression.

There have been numerous posts on social media sites lately decrying the double-standard that supposedly applies when talking about freedom of speech – that attacking certain identities like sexual orientation, colour of skin, and sex/gender are decried as intolerance, racism or sexism (respectively), but attacking a prophet is considered “freedom of speech”, and therefore, should be tolerated.

This picture, one of several being shared on social media websites, summarizes the hypocrisy that some Muslims perceive to occurring in this situation. [Source: Unknown]

This picture, one of several being shared on social media websites, summarizes the hypocrisy that some Muslims perceive to occurring in this situation. [Source: Unknown]

I would argue that this is not a good comparison –the ridicule of a religious prophet, no matter how holy he is deemed to be, is not the same as ridiculing a personal aspect that one is born with. Ridiculing someone for a personal quality like the colour of their skin, or their sex, is something that this individual is born with, meaning that they have no way of changing that aspect about themselves. To ridicule that would be absurd. However, a personal quality like someone’s religion is, ultimately, a choice. Like many other choices in life, choices can be subjected to criticism, much in the same way that we criticize the decisions of lawmakers, or how we can criticize the decisions made by healthcare practitioners who make mistakes by way of litigation.

The Disconnect: should Muslim standards apply to all?

The disconnect I see is this: the Muslim faith calls for a ban on any depiction of the prophet, while non-adherents of that faith see no reason why that ban should apply to them. The real issue is that adherents of the Muslim faith wish to see the same standard that they hold themselves to apply to others. Yet, this is not fair. I have chosen not to abide by the rules of your faith, yet I am still being asked to follow its tenets. If one were to apply this logic to all religions in the world, that would result in a strange, contradicting view of how I should conduct my life.

Make no mistake: my religion is my choice. Your religion is your choice. And anyone who does not follow a particular religion does so as a choice. And, by living in a free and democratic society, you have every right to make that choice. It is also under the same free and democratic principles that you have the right to speak out about that faith (or choice not to have a faith) through freedom of expression, a right among the bundle of rights one is entitled to in society.

So, it is with all due respect, that I iterate to my Muslim friends that, despite your strong and sincere belief in this tenet of your faith, it cannot be reasonably expected of non-Muslims to abide by this aspect of your faith.

Some of you may look at this and say “but what about the other religions? Why do they benefit from protection, when we do not?”.

The fact is, other religions are subject to criticism and ridicule all the time. For some of them, it may even be considered blasphemous to their religion – for example, Christians believe that to swear by Jesus’ name is a sin, as listed in the ten commandments (yet, many people, Christian and non-Christian, use this term openly and freely). Christians may not like this, but it is each person’s choice to utter those words under the laws of freedom of expression, and despite Christians’ belief to the contrary, they have no right to prevent someone else from using that term.

With regards to the Charlie Hebdo incident in particular, Islam was not the only faith to be ridiculed by that magazine. Christianity, Judaism, and even Buddhism have also been repeated targets of this magazine, and other shows/cartoons. So, as a religion, Islam is not the only religion to be mocked or ridiculed.

The slippery slope of blasphemy laws

Let’s suppose we try an equal approach to all religions (not just Islam): should the insult or contempt of any religion be made illegal in some capacity, to be codified into the formal laws of Western societies?

To answer this, one should look where such laws already exist and are exercised: the Middle East. One of the prominent features of Middle Eastern laws are its dubious “blasphemy laws”. Similar to its strange cousin, defamation laws, it is distinct in that it criminalizes overly harsh criticism (read: rejection) of religious deities, despite the fact that those same deities are supposedly all-powerful figures that do not need legal protection!

The parameters of defamation laws are already difficult enough to deal with – legally speaking, it is difficult to link someone’s criticism of another individual with actual, substantial losses that this individual suffered. For example, if I were to write on this blog that Donald Trump eats babies for breakfast, and he sees this post and is arguably so upset with it that he decides to sue me, he would have a difficult time proving that he has suffered any loss of business, or a loss of reputation, as a result of such a post!

This difficulty becomes even more complex in the case of blasphemy laws: how can one prove that a harsh criticism of a deity has resulted in a loss of anything for that deity? Do we not believe that the deity is an all-powerful being, who does not need the protection or adoration of his human creation?

Blasphemy Law

Never before have I seen such a brilliant depiction of blasphemy laws [Source: cartoonmovement.net]

The reality is that blasphemy laws protect men of religion from being offended, and NOT the actual deity that the laws supposedly protect. And men of religion – whether priests, imams, rabbis, or monks – are still members of society, subject to the laws of this society, and are not entitled to additional protection due to the choice they made to follow this particular religion, or don the garb of that religion.

Thus, to say that we should adopt anti-blasphemy laws, regardless of how religious the society may be, is antithetical to the fundamental core of the idea of powerful deities, and the freedom to criticize choices.

Where do we go from here?

Still, there is a reality that we must own up to: how do we regulate speech that is critical of deities? Are religious individuals not entitled to some form of protection?

The question should not be one of “protecting” religious individuals from critical speech – but rather, it should be one of rewarding, or promoting, constructive and profitable speech. There is a bible verse that speaks to this idea of “profitable” speech:

“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable”  (1 Corinthians 10:23)

This verse has always intrigued me because it is not just a statement on spiritual conduct, but I view it also as a legal expression. And if there has ever been a time where this expression is relevant, it is now – in the days that have followed the terrible shootings that took place at Charlie Hebdo’s offices (and other places) in Paris.

We have a choice of how to react to such terror. We could argue and debate over the merits of each side of this coin we call freedom of expression, and we would walk away without agreeing on much. But, in order to affect true progress, I believe it is best that we implement laws that reward “profitable”, or “good” speech, as opposed to protecting people from offence. We should be rewarding those who use this freedom to do good in this world, and to build bridges where ideologies alone cannot.

At the end of the day, there was nothing illegal about what Charlie Hebdo did. What they did was lawful. Yet, as we saw from the reaction of Muslims around the world, what they did was certainly not profitable (from a moral sense – I know they turned a nice financial profit from this whole fiasco). So, I will choose to have profitable speech instead of just free speech.

Today, I want to say to all of my Muslim readers that I respect you, I respect your faith, I admire your love for your prophet, and I do not see your faith as fanatical. I see the good in you, and I see the desire you have to make this a better world. You are human beings, just like me, who want to build a prosperous world where we can live side-by-side, and co-exist despite our differences. We are not enemies, and I refuse to look at the actions of a few as an indication of what you believe. While I may not agree with what some of you are saying or doing, I am not going to associate that with the actions of all Muslims. I will stand with you.

Finally…the request

At the beginning of this post, I said that I would make a small request of you. I want you to join me in a small social experiment. Share this article to show that the power of constructive, positive speech exceeds that of satirical speech. Show that the power of tolerance, acceptance and forgiveness can overcome the extremes that have recently clashed heads. Show that the real winners out of the Charlie Hebdo incident are not satirists or extremists, but the middle ground that seeks to use its free speech rights to build bridges.

Share it…and let’s see how strong our freedom of expression can be!

The Price of the Emotional World Cup

Written by: Mark Eisa

The World Cup, no other prize has been coveted more in sports entertainment by each nation in the sport of soccer. The World Cup occurs every four years and has a wave of influence and impact on the hosting country’s economy. The hosting country of the World Cup enjoys the benefits of an increased spotlight from the world as it hosts an international tournament to see the champion of champions. However, to determine which country will host this prestigious event, several factors are taken into consideration in addition to the bid the interested countries make. These factors include the number of suitable stadiums as well as the potential for success and profit. Although there is a great joy in the hosting nation, there are severe economic issues that could arise in a lack of preparation and analysis.

For many countries the sport of soccer, or football as commonly said, is a religion, and one of those countries is Brazil. The nation of Brazil was thrilled to host this coveted event but it is a nation that exemplified the lack of proper financial analysis as well as planning their future appropriately. The country placed their emotional aspirations above their objective goals to a certain extent. Firstly, “the government of Brazil spent over $11 billion in preparation of the World Cup”[1]. Though an overjoyed nation was expected as they are hosting the thing they love most in the entire world, Brazil’s Favela’s experienced much unrest as the residents and police clashed. The reason for this is the significant debt that Brazil is facing and instead of using resources to alleviate some of this debt, the Government is incurring more debt to finance the World Cup. To illustrate, footballer-turned-congressman Romario says, “you see hospitals with no beds; you see hospitals with people on the floor, you see schools that don’t have lunch for kids; you see schools with no air-conditioning. You see buildings and schools with no accessibility for people who are handicapped.”[2] Furthermore, for remote areas, an increased expense was added in transportation of materials. For example, “Manaus, a very remote area, needed materials to be brought in by boat, shipped from the Atlantic from Portugal and up the Amazon River. This is a waste of money as the stadium built will only be used for 4 World Cup games.”[3] Moreover, there is no team in Manaus that could fill it, say in a seasonal match, essentially becoming a wasteland afterwards. Finally, there is no financial advantage in hosting the World Cup as Romario says, “FIFA, who invested nothing in Brazil to stage its signature event, will leave when it’s finished with considerable profits.”[4] It is actually FIFA, organizer of the World Cup, that makes money, and not the hosting country, as FIFA and its subsidiaries demand they be exempt from any tax levied at any level of Government. For example, “Brazil allowed FIFA to forego $250 million worth of taxes.”[5] Brazil, like many other countries, is an example that nations should recall when hosting the World Cup, making sure they are financially sufficient to host this lavish event.

Despite not receiving much international media coverage, many Brazilians protested the lavish costs of hosting FIFA's flagship event in Brazil.

Despite not receiving much international media coverage, many Brazilians protested the lavish costs of hosting FIFA’s flagship event in Brazil.

For the 2010 World Cup, Egypt made a bid to host the World Cup but received no votes and ultimately South Africa obtaining the most votes. To host the World Cup several factors need to be aligned and work together coherently to yield a successful event for FIFA. There were several reasons why Egypt could not host this tournament, mainly stemming from the political and economic risks at large during the time. Politically, Egypt had been struggling due to the reform that was taking place because of the need for change needed by the citizens. Between 2004 and 2011 “an economically liberal cabinet pursued an economic reform programme with far-reaching plans for change. Public opinion has turned against liberalisation, and post-Mubarak governments have demonstrated some populist tendencies.”[6] This has resulted in Egypt, as a republic, “undergoing a convoluted political transition, ostensibly designed to introduce a more democratic system.”[7] An unstable government has repercussions that deal with economy of the country as well as the foreseeable future of that country. Lack of continuity is a major factor any investor looks at to view a profitable return, which is the case for FIFA. Economically, Egypt was not on par with other countries, due to the crisis at the time, which did affect the flow of the economy. “Financial contagion was contained by limited direct exposure to structured products and low levels of financial integration with world financial markets.”[8] Moreover, the country’s finances remained heavily reliant in foreign aid and the tourism industry, making it vulnerable to external shocks. Egypt had a large debt to pay off, “weak growth prospects, and a persistently high fiscal deficit will continue to impair Egypt’s creditworthiness”[9]. In terms of future potential, Egypt still faces financial worries as “the Economist Intelligence Unit forecasts that the external debt stock will rise in 2015‑16, to an average of US$63.5 billion, but remain manageable at 17.5% of GDP. Ongoing security uncertainties pose additional downside risks to the sovereign rating”[10]. Lack of a fortified economy would prove to be a stringent liability for Egypt because of the several expenses needed building the stadiums, building transportation routes to the stadiums, and gathering construction materials.

The Logo of Egypt's failed bid to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup

The Logo of Egypt’s failed bid to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup

To summarize, the World Cup brings joy to the nation because in many ways, it is a celebration of the many cultures in our magnificent world. In the joy of celebration, many countries make the mistake of accepting this credit risk that comes with hosting this expensive event, without fully realizing the detrimental effects that could take place without a practical analysis. Brazil is an example of a country that may have taken on more than they could handle, as they sacrificed potential funding needed by its institutions in favour of, and liability, the FIFA World Cup. Egypt, in many regards, could not host this event because of the risks that it posed FIFA, as an investor. The political and economic risks were too great and may have harmed Egypt’s economy further if pursued. In looking to the future, Egypt’s political structure is starting to stabilize, and with a more stabilized political infrastructure, a more stable economy is on the rise.

[1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DlJEt2KU33I

[2] http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1845944-how-much-has-hosting-the-world-cup-cost-brazil

[3] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DlJEt2KU33I

[4] http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1845944-how-much-has-hosting-the-world-cup-cost-brazil

[5] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DlJEt2KU33I

[6]http://country.eiu.com/article.aspx?articleid=512413635&Country=Egypt&topic=Summary&subtopic=Fact+sheet

[7]http://country.eiu.com/article.aspx?articleid=512413635&Country=Egypt&topic=Summary&subtopic=Fact+sheet

[8] https://www.imf.org/external/np/ms/2010/021610.htm

[9]http://country.eiu.com/article.aspx?articleid=652427849&Country=Egypt&topic=Risk&subtopic=Credit+risk&subsubtopic=Overview

[10]http://country.eiu.com/article.aspx?articleid=652427849&Country=Egypt&topic=Risk&subtopic=Credit+risk&subsubtopic=Overview