Kindling the Middle East's Economic Fire

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- As violence erupts in Cairo’s streets, this might be the ideal time to talk about the economic kindling that his helping fuel the fire of dissatisfaction in the Arab world. Young men and women all over the world are suffering the consequences of generations of economic neglect and the bitter fruits of the global economic crisis.
According to the UN’s International Labor Organization 40 percent of the world’s 211 million unemployed -- about 81 million people -- are young people between the ages of 15 and 24. Another 152 million of their young neighbors have work, but live in households that make less than $1.25 per day.
Denied the dignity of a day’s work and a living wage, this legion of unemployed and underemployed young people are most likely to take to the streets. In many cases, they are fed up with economic disparity and corrupt regimes which enrich their partisans while ignoring the plight of the underclass. The Middle East is especially burdened with an entrenched class of young unemployed people who see little hope for change.
According to data from the UN’s International Labor Organization 2010 Global Employment Trends for Youth report, Arab countries see a 30 percent unemployment rate for their 15-24 year old citizens, more than double the global average (14.4 percent).

In Egypt, the UN says, it takes more than 2 years (29 months) for a young person to find a satisfactory job after they leave school. Is it any wonder they are turning out by the thousands to effect change in their leadership?
But it’s not just Egypt facing this problem with unemployed youth. Jordan, Libya, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Territories all have youth unemployment rates higher than Egypt. If the fire starts to catch, there is certainly a lot of kindling ready to burn.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Egypt, Tunisia Rank Low on 'Wellbeing' Scale

Protestors gather in Cairo, Egypt. Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) - New economic indicators give a glimpse into the lives of those who have stood recently in protest in Egypt and Tunisia. In both countries, wellbeing has plummeted over the past several years, despite gains in GDP, according to a new Gallup survey.
Gallup used the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving ladder scale to determine whether respondents worldwide viewed their lives as "thriving," "suffering," or "struggling."  In Egypt, where demonstrators have urged the immediate exit of President Hosni Mubarak, the number of people who view their lives as "thriving" dropped 18 percentage points since 2005. In Tunisia, where protests last month toppled the country's government, the number of people who felt their lives were "thriving" had dropped 10 percent since 2008.

Despite gains in GDP in both countries over the same period, the results make wellbeing in the two countries among the worst in the Middle East and North Africa regions. The results also raise concerns about Libya, Palestinian Territories, Iraq, Yemen and Morocco whose wellbeing results were about the same as the two countries.

Copyright 2011 ABC Newss Radio


Egypt's Mubarak Likely to Retain Vast Wealth

Photo Courtesy - Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(CAIRO) -- President Hosni Mubarak's power may have visibly crumbled before the world on Jan. 25 when protesters took to the streets of Cairo, but his personal wealth will likely be intact when he leaves office as pledged at the end of the year, or sooner if the crowds have their way.

Experts say the wealth of the Mubarak family was built largely from military contracts during his days as an air force officer. He eventually diversified his investments through his family when he became president in 1981. The family's net worth ranges from $40 billion to $70 billion, by some estimates.

Amaney Jamal, a political science professor at Princeton, said those estimates are comparable with the vast wealth of leaders in other Gulf countries.

"The business ventures from his military and government service accumulated to his personal wealth," said Jamal. "There was a lot of corruption in this regime and stifling of public resources for personal gain."

Gross national income is $2,070 per family in Egypt, according to the World Bank. About 20 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, according to a 2010 report by the CIA.

Robert Springborg, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School and a Middle East scholar, said while the family is very wealthy, they have not been extremely overt with their wealth.

"One of the sons has a nice apartment in Cairo but nothing hugely lavish. There are many other people in Egypt who live a more lavish lifestyle than them."

Whatever Mubarak's wealth is, Jamal said it is certain that whenever the president actually leaves office, there will be an investigation into his assets.

"There's not much of a cover-up," she said. "The people have already outed him as a corrupt leader."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Egypt Looms Over Diplomatic Huddle in Washington

Photo Courtesy - US State Dept.(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton convened an unprecedented gathering of American ambassadors from around the world Wednesday to talk about how they will address global challenges in an era of shrinking budgets, but the political upheaval in Egypt clearly loomed over the meetings.

“We’ve wanted to do this for some time.  We figured early February would be quiet, not much going on. What better time to pull you from your posts and responsibilities?” Clinton joked in a speech to open the conference, referencing the unrest in Egypt that has dominated the headlines and her schedule.

U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Margaret Scobey was not in attendance as she has been tending to the crisis in Cairo.

“As we see with what’s going on today, recent events in Egypt and certainly in that broader region, remind us all how crucial it is to have top-notch leadership on the ground, and how quickly that ground can shift under our feet.  So whether your mission is large or small, whether you’re a political appointee or a career diplomat, you are all on the front lines of America’s engagement with a fast-changing world.  And that’s why we think this conference is so important,” Clinton said.

Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said the crisis in Egypt was a good example of the U.S. military supporting civilian leadership, perhaps a reference to his own frequent contacts with the Egyptian military throughout the crisis.

“It hasn’t just been a $1.3 billion investment in Egypt over the last 30 years. It hasn’t been just dollars, and it hasn’t just been a military investment in their armed services, which have been a critical part. It has been an investment on the part of the United States that goes back actually a long way, even further back than 30 years,” he said, pointing to the long, close relationship between the United States and Egypt that predates President Hosni Mubarak’s time in power and transcends the military relationship that commands much attention.

Clinton called all of her ambassadors back to Washington for this conference to discuss a report her teams have compiled called the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, which maps out long-term goals in order to justify budget requests to Congress.

“From the theft of confidential cables to 21st century protest movements to development breakthroughs that have the potential to change millions of lives, we are all in uncharted territory, and that requires us to be more nimble, more innovative, and more accountable than ever before,” Clinton said.

Clinton said she would confront Congress about the staggering number of reports they demand from the department, tying up critical resources. She also said she would continue redeploying resources from peaceful posts in Europe to hotspots around the world.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Egpyt Protesters, Mubarak Supporters Clash; Several Killed, Injured

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(CAIRO) -- Thousands in support of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak invaded Tahrir Square in Cairo Wednesday, meeting with opponents of Mubarak's rule and igniting violent clashes between both sides.

At least 10 people have been killed and hundreds of others injured, according to local news reports.  Most of the violence stemmed from stone throwing, clubs and fist fighting.  Protesters assembled in the square are asking doctors and medical workers to come to the aid of those wounded.

ABC News correspondents on the scene reported thousands of people have converged on the square “as if it is the battle ground.”

“People are afraid,” one correspondent told ABC News Wednesday from Cairo.  “Even some of the protesters in the square -- they’re afraid for the stability of the country and they don’t want to see the country sink into chaos.”

The fresh violence comes on the heels of a call by the Egyptian military to end the demonstrations and “restore normal life” as well as President Hosni Mubarak’s announcement that he would step down and would not seek re-election when elections are held in September.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Northeast Australia Battered by Cyclone

Photo Courtesy - NOAA via Getty Images(CAIRNS, Australia) -- The northeastern corner of Australia is toughing it out again. This time, it's against a massive cyclone. 

Strong winds and sheets of rains are battering the coastal towns, ripping roofs off buildings and cutting power to thousands.

"We are seeing torrential rain and we are seeing the beginning of some serious wave activity, according to Queensland State Prime Minister, Anna Bligh.

Some of those on the coast haven't gone to shelters and emergency officials predict the sea surge could bring water up to roof levels in the most affected areas.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Yemen President Out in 2013

Photo Courtesy - GAMAL NOMAN/AFP/Getty Images(SANAA, Yemen) -- There are more political ripple effects from the national uprising in Egypt. Jordan's king fired his government amid weeks of public protests on Tuesday and Wednesday, Yemen's president, who has ruled for over 30 years, called an emergency parliamentary meeting to announce his political future is coming to an end. 

Bowing to public protest, Ali Abdullah Saleh has announced he will step down in 2013 and not seek re-election.  Saleh also promised not to put his son in power to succeed him and called on the opposition to enter talks on political reforms.  Some opposition leaders are already rejecting Saleh's calls and questioning his sincerity to leave office. 

Opposition groups are planning to stage mass protests in the Yeminite capital Thursday in a so-called "day of rage" and Saleh's announcement hasn't changed that. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Egyptian Military Calls for End to Protests; Internet Service Returns

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(CAIRO) -- The Egyptian army began asking demonstrators Wednesday to return to their homes as more people lined the country's streets for a ninth day of protests.

"Your message has arrived, your demands became known," a military spokesman told protesters on state television.  "You are capable of bringing normal life to Egypt."

The military's call comes just a day after President Hosni Mubarak announced he will stay through the end of his term but will not seek re-election when the ballots open in a few months.  Protesters have gathered in Egypt since last week calling for his ouster.

On Wednesday, thousands in favor of Mubarak took to the streets, approaching Cairo's Tahrir Square, where protesters who oppose the president's rule were gathered.  The military worked to prevent both sides from confronting each other, fearing clashes between the two.

Meanwhile, Internet service began returning to Egypt Wednesday after the government cut it off fearing it would help demonstrators gather for protests.  The government-imposed curfew was also lessened by two hours, starting now at 5 p.m. instead of 3 p.m.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Japan's National Sport Rocked by Scandal

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(TOKYO) -- Japan's national sport of sumo wrestling faces new allegations of bout-fixing, less than a year after a betting scandal rocked the Japan Sumo Association.

The latest investigation involves 13 wrestlers and stable masters accused of sending text messages to plan out matches.

In a press conference broadcast live on Japanese television Wednesday, Sumo Association chairman Hanaregoma apologized to fans and bowed before cameras.

"We cannot find the words to say sorry to our fans," Hanaregoma said. "I believe these are new allegations, not reports of something that's happened in the past."

The text messages detailing bout-fixing were found on cell phones police confiscated while investigating a sumo gambling ring, the sumo chair said.

National broadcaster NHK reported those messages laid out plans about which wrestler would attack and how the other would fall.

The texts also included the amount of payment involved. Hanaregoma acknowledged the authenticity of the e-mails in question, saying the association board had spoken with all but one of the accused.

But he said it was too early to draw any conclusions. The sumo association has launched an investigation, eager to quell concerns.

"There will be severe punishment for wrestlers [involved]," he said. "We don't take this lightly. We see it as a betrayal to fans."

Bout-fixing is the latest in a long list of scandals that have tainted the reputation of Japan's national pastime.

Last week, reports surfaced that three sumo wrestlers were involved in drunken incidents, including a late-night brawl.

Last summer, high-ranking wrestlers were accused of gambling on baseball games.

Several wrestlers were arrested, and sumo's close ties to organized crime exposed, in the investigation.
The scandal forced Japan's national broadcaster NHK to pull live coverage of the Nagoya tournament for the first time in 57 years.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama to Egyptian Protestors: 'We Hear Your Voices'

Photo Courtesy - ABC News Radio (WASHINGTON) -- President Obama Tuesday told the embattled President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt that the U.S. would stand by his country, but that change had to happen "and it must happen now."

In remarks made at the White House, just hours after Mubarak announced he would not seek election to another term, Obama praised the peaceful demonstrators in Egypt, calling them an "inspiration to people around the world."

"To the people of Egypt, particularly the young people of Egypt, I want to be clear," Obama said Tuesday evening. "We hear your voices."

The White House carefully avoided a firm position on the protests in Egypt for the first several days of demonstrations. But Tuesday it became clear that the president supported a new regime in Egypt.

"An orderly transition must be meaningful," he said. "It must be peaceful and it must happen now."

According to a White House official, Obama spoke to Murabak for about 30 minutes Tuesday. Obama said during his public remarks that Mubarak knew stepping aside after the end of his term was the right thing for his country.

"He recognizes that the status quo is not sustainable and that a change must take place," he said.

But Mubarak's announcement that he will stay through his term did little to appease protesters calling for his immediate removal. A stoic Mubarak announced that he will ask the new government to speed up elections, which are scheduled to be held in September. He vowed to honor people's demands, to protect the citizens honestly, and end corruption.

Crowds in Tahrir, or Liberation, Square, in Cairo cheered loudly as Mubarak made his announcement. But while the mood was jubilant, Mubarak's message wasn't enough for many. Protestors shouted, "Go now! Go! Go!" and, "We will not go. You go, Mubarak."

Demonstrators, now in their eighth straight day of protests, vowed to stay in the square until Mubarak leaves office.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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