Friday, January 18, 2019

Europe’s Strategic Humanitarian Aid: Yemen vs. Syria

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Europe has provided double the aid for the Syria conflict than for Yemen, despite selling $86.9 bn in arms to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Geography is a major reason for less aid: to stop migrants.

The Syrian conflict will soon be into its ninth year, and the Yemen conflict into its fifth year. Both are major humanitarian disasters, with millions displaced amid unimaginable suffering. An estimated half a million have been killed in Syria, and over 100,000 in Yemen.
The West is deeply involved in both conflicts – supporting the opposition in Syria and the Kurdish areas, and providing arms and political support for the Saudi Arabian and Emirati led war on Yemen.
The humanitarian aid provided to both crises is indicative of where priorities, Europe’s in particular, lie.
From 2015 to 2018, the European Union (EU) and European countries have provided some $1.56 bn in aid to the UN Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan (YHRP), while providing roughly fifty percent more for Syria during the same period, $3.2 bn.
In 2018, $4.03 bn was pledged (globally) to the UN’s YHRP. This is less than half the amount pledged to the UN’s Syria Humanitarian Response Plan, $8.96 bn. Furthermore, the Syria campaign received more funding for 2018 than the entirety of the Yemen conflict, some $8.6 bn (2015-2018). Over the same period, $12.6 bn was pledged for Syria. This is a huge difference, despite the number of people affected in both conflicts being similar.

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Monday, November 12, 2018

EU countries approve arms sales to Saudi, UAE worth 55 times aid to Yemen

Europe's arms sector is unaccountable and highly influential in the corridors of power, with $86.7bn in approved sales to the Gulf since 2015.

European governments and the European Union publicly wring their hands about the "human tragedy" and need for "life-saving assistance" in war-torn Yemen.
Yet while the Saudi-led coalition has bombed the region’s poorest country over the past three years, the EU and European countries approved the sale of more than $86.7bn in arms to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to figures compiled by Middle East Eye.
The value of the licences which the countries issued in 2015 and 2016 - the only years for which data is available - amount to more than 55 times what the EU and European countries have donated to the UN’s chronically underfunded Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan.

To read the article go to Middle East Eye

Monday, July 02, 2018

The Economics of the Hajj

The annual pilgrimage of Muslims to Mecca is a massive logistical challenge for Saudi Arabia, which has been making significant investment in infrastructure

This article was first published in the July 2018 International edition of Accounting and Business magazine.
The hajj pilgrimage to Mecca is one of the five pillars of Islam, a religious duty every Muslim is expected to make once in their lifetime if they can afford it and are healthy enough. But with a worldwide Muslim population of 1.7 billion and the hajj taking place over just five days every year, the event is a massive logistical challenge for the Saudi Arabian government and the tour operators, hospitality service providers and retailers who make it happen.

 To read more go to:

Thursday, June 07, 2018

How Jordan brought its economic woes on itself

Middle East Eye

Mismanagement and corruption - not IMF-backed measures, refugees or drops in foreign aid - have caused the kingdom's problems, say analysts

As protests continue in Jordan, the kingdom has put the blame for the economy’s lacklustre performance and controversial tax reforms on IMF-backed austerity measures and a drop in foreign aid.
But in reality, say analysts, the economy has been badly managed for decades, while significant amounts of government spending remain undisclosed.
A quick look at headline figures explains what sparked protests over the imposition of a new income tax and price hikes and has sustained them over a week despite the resignation of the government and the prime minister.
According to department of statistics data released this week, unemployment has hit a 25-year high at 18.4 percent, rising to 24.1 percent among university graduates – and these estimates are conservative.

On top of that, inflation has doubled since 2006, raising the cost of everyday goods. At the end of May, the Economist Intelligence Unit declared Amman the most expensive city in the Arab world and 28th worldwide.

To read more:

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Nuclear deal: Iran faces the most powerful organisation you’ve never heard of

Middle East Eye

Before Western powers imposed sanctions on Iran in 2011, the US Treasury Department went on a roadshow in Europe and Dubai to persuade banks to stop transactions with the country.
But since the nuclear agreement in 2015 that eased the sanctions, the US Treasury hasn’t had to arm-twist. Instead, private European and Gulf banks have voluntarily refused Iran-related transactions, leaving a mere handful of European banks willing to deal with the country.

To read more go to:

Interview on Al Jazeera Arabic, documentary on Saudi Arabia - ما خفي أعظم – بين تطرٌفين

I'm on (dubbed in Arabic) at:


Monday, January 08, 2018

Made in Egypt? The quiet garment scheme making Israel millions

Middle East Eye 

CAIRO – Activists are targeting Disney and other brands over links to a contentious scheme that allows Egyptian manufacturers to export garments to the US tax-free so long as Israeli materials are used.
The quietly promoted programme, known as Qualifying Industrial Zones (QIZ), was enacted by the US Congress in 1996 in an effort to "normalise" relations between Israel, Egypt and Jordan, through economic cooperation.
Through QIZs, Israeli manufacturers supply at least 10.5 percent of products used in a garment. Then Egyptian factory workers in 705 QIZ-certified factories sew the final product which is exported to the US and exempted from taxes of between 5 and 40 percent, but typically at a 15 percent average.

To read more go to Middle East Eye

To read in French

Photograph by Paul Cochrane

'Factory of tomorrow’: Egypt aims to replace Far East as cheap clothing king

Middle East Eye

Egyptians earn a monthly average of between $100 and $113 in the garment sector 
(MEE/Paul Cochrane)

CAIRO - After nearly seven years in the economic doldrums, Egypt is keen to bolster its clothing exports, worth some $1.4bn a year, and employ over one million Egyptians.
Egypt - and Africa more generally - is well positioned to become the next destination for sourcing clothing: salaries in the up-and-coming manufacturing hubs of Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya are as low as $60 a month, rising to $100 in Egypt.
What is more, there are no other low-cost destinations left on the planet. Asian manufacturers are at full capacity and South America has also become too expensive to source from.
Garment workers earn on average $100 a month in India, and around $70 in Bangladesh, while the lowest in China is $208. Bangladesh, the second-largest producer, still has a certain stigma from buyers in the wake of the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster that killed 1,135 people.
That was the message at a major trade conference recently organised by the Egyptian government, export councils and the UN’s International Labour Organisation aimed at promoting Africa as a "new frontier" for garment and textile manufacturing.

 To read more go to Middle East Eye

Money Laundering Bulletin: Egypt - In Transition (Video)

20 minute video I made on Egypt's AML and CTF regime for Money Laundering Bulletin -

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Qatar stand-off raises wider Gulf terrorist financing questions

Money Laundering Bulletin

The five month-long diplomatic and commercial dispute between Qatar and the so-called ‘anti-terror quartet - ATQ’ of Saudi Arabia, the Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt - revolves around Doha’s alleged financial support for terrorist groups. Evidence of such financing has been drawn up by both sides, with Qatar claiming its opponents have pushed money into the hands of terror groups. But as the Gulf impasse persists, it is Qatar that’s under the spotlight reports Paul Cochrane from Beirut.

The ATQ cut diplomatic, transport and trade ties with Qatar in June (2017), accusing the small, yet incredibly wealthy, Gulf state of financing terrorism. While Doha denies the accusations, there are strong grounds for the Q uartet’s claims, say analysts.

The ATQ has assembled many files and other evidence of Qatari support for terror groups, ranging from the Muslim Brotherhood and affiliates to Al Qaeda, as well as Iran as a state sponsor of terror,” said Dr Theodore Karasik, a senior advisor to Gulf State Analytics, a Washington DC-based consultancy. (1)

The ATQ has also complained that Qatar hosts the Afghanistan Taliban, which operates an office in Doha, although Qatari’s special envoy on counterterrorism Mutlaq Al Qahtani has said this had been requested by the US government to promote dialogue and hopefully peace with the government in Kabul. Qatar has also been criticised by the quartet for hosting senior officials from Palestinian organisation Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip. The four governments also level serious accusations at Qatar that it has helped finance the Islamic State (ISIS) and Syrian rebel groups, such as the Al Nusra Front (now rebranded as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham), a jihadist group likened to Al Qaeda.

In July (2017), Egyptian intelligence said it had prepared a ‘black book’ that compiled evidence from the four ATQ allies to be provided to US, German, French and British intelligence to substantiate these claims, noted Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president at the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies (FDD) in Washington DC, and a former terrorism analyst at the US treasury department. This was also noted in a report by intelligence sector journal Intelligence Online released in July. (2). However, the black book has not been released. Meanwhile there has not been any new or fresh information published over the past five months, according to Schanzer: I’ve seen a bit of what Egypt has. It’s what you’d expect: what we know. I think Qatar’s record speaks for itself, and the radicals that live within the country have remained consistent give or take an expulsion here or there to ease some pressure,” he said. Schanzer added that the only new evidence from Egypt that has surfaced concerns Qatar’s support for Islamic extremists in Libya such as the Rafallah al-Sahati Companies, Benghazi Defense Brigades and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group.

According to Karasik, there is a lot more material that can be brought to light. But there is speculation that because of accusations that ATQ members, specifically Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are themselves conduits for terrorist financing, the material has not been publicised over fears that their dirty laundry would be exposed. The response of the Qataris and their supporters will probably feature more dirt on ATQ members, so this ‘infowar’ is set to escalate,” said Karasik.

The stand-off between the ATQ and Qatar has led to a split in the Middle East, with the ATQ blacklisting some 30 groups such as the Qatar Volunteer Centre, Qatar Charity, Hizbullah Bahrain and Saraya Defend Benghazi in Libya. Qatar, fot its part, has sided with Turkey in supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, the now outlawed former governing party in Egypt.

Over the last two or three years the Quartet has a new commonly found belief about which groups should or not be supported, and are trying to draw a line. Qatar has found itself on the other side of that line,” said Dr David Roberts, a Qatar specialist and lecturer in the defence studies department of King’s College London.
He added that Qatar has been lax in cracking down on terrorist financing over the past decade. “A nagging question is why have they been so slow? It is not necessarily nefarious, but if you don’t crack down you open yourself up to criticism.” 
For instance, Qatar has not updated its anti-terrorism law since 2004. This changed in July 2017, with Qatar amending the law to include setting clearer rules for defining acts of terrorism, and the freezing of funding and terrorism financing.

Qatar has responded to the ATQ’s accusations by denying them and refusing to capitulate to the Quartet’s initial 13-point demands to curb terrorism, later reduced to six principles (3).

These are a commitment to combat extremism and terrorism in all its forms and to prevent their financing or the provision of safe havens; prohibiting all acts of incitement and all forms of expression which spread, incite, promote or justify hatred and violence; full commitment to the Riyadh Agreement 2013 and the supplementary agreement and its executive mechanism for 2014 within the framework of the GCC (3); a commitment to all the outcomes of the Arab-Islamic-US Summit held in Riyadh in May 2017 (4); to refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of States and from supporting illegal entities; and abiding by a responsibility to confront all forms of extremism and terrorism as a threat to international peace and security. 
The ATQ has also requested that the UN Security Council issues a new resolution to impose sanctions on Qatar for being in violation of Resolutions 1373 and 2133, on countering the financing of terrorism. The resolution has not been forthcoming, nor have additional measures the ATQ announced against Qatar for not acting against the ATQ-blacklisted organisations, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.

In response, Qatar signed a memorandum of understanding with the US in July to improve its combating the financing of terrorism (CFT) regime and work more closely with Washington. “Qatar is playing catch-up to limit damage. It has been quietly working with the US Treasury for quite a while, and is now belatedly speaking out about it,” said Roberts.

According to Karasik, the US Treasury has sent additional personnel to Doha to improve its oversight, while Qatar has hired the US-based Financial Integrity Network (FIN), which is staffed by former senior US Treasury officials like Daniel Glaser, Juan Zarate and Chip Poncy. (The state-run Rule of Law and Anti Corruption Centre in Doha, and FIN did not reply to interview requests on this subject from MLB).

The Quartet has also bolstered its CFT efforts by increasing law enforcement efforts to crack down on terrorist financing, aware of accusations of hypocrisy for targeting Qatar over terrorist financing while having their own shortcomings.

This US-Qatari move is being done simultaneously from Washington’s perspective with all the Gulf states because there are citizens who still support terrorist groups. The ATQ has done a very good job at shutting down and closing financial flows to such groups. The ATQ wants Qatar to follow their lead, so the US is desperately working to bring Qatar in-line,” said Karasik.
The US, however, has been inconsistent on Qatar. (5) The State Department has tried to reconcile the opposing camps while the White House has backed Saudi Arabia, noted Schanzer. As a result, it is unlikely that the US’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), or the OECD’s Financial Action Task Force (FATF) will alter its approach to Qatar, he added.

The lack of consensus within the US government is a de facto greenlight for the ATQ to continue its blockade. Every day this continues, it doesn’t necessarily reflect wonderfully on the UAE and Saudi Arabia, but it certainly does reflect poorly on Qatar, and maintains the spotlight on them more than anyone else,” said Schanzer.


         1) Detailed lists of terrorist groups and financiers have been published by the Counter Extremism Project and Intelligence Online. 

3) Indicative of the inconsistent US approach is that in June (2017), US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley said Qatar was funding Hamas. In October, she stated otherwise. "While the Qatari government does not fund Hamas, it does allow Hamas political representatives to be based in Qatar... Qatar has committed to take action against terrorist financing, including shutting down Hamas bank accounts," Haley wrote in a memo to the USA House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs.