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Category Archives: Middle East

Girl Rising

Motivations of a {potential} Kiva Fellow

Dear friends, family and interweb followers, 

I am applying to a most incredible fellows program with Kiva. As part of my application, I was asked to share my motivation statement on my wordpress blog. Happy reading and many thanks for your continued love and support. Onward!

I believe in human potential. It is unacceptable that some might not realize their own because of oppression or a lack of opportunity. I cannot tolerate such fundamental injustices and, thus, want to work with Kiva toward sustainable, people-driven solutions that will create opportunity and alleviate poverty.

While I have seen extreme poverty firsthand in the developing work, I have also witnessed an entrepreneurial spirit there—a spirit I admire and share. On a research trip in South Africa I heard countless stories of small businesses funded by foreign investors. Families were able to maintain and grow enterprises and shops that would have otherwise been shut down. Beyond a dollar amount, I saw that micro-lending upholds human dignity by encouraging self-sufficiency and financial independence.

Volunteering at a school in Swaziland, I met a girl who would not be able to continue her education because fees increased. I worked to create a collective grant for her to finish her schooling. She ended up at the top of her class. This experience in person-to-person lending was one of thousands of successes that would not have been possible through conventional bank loans, yet it was such a simple solution. I am drawn to Kiva’s model because it connects individuals and enables a person to provide economic opportunity the system cannot.

Beyond a financial solution, microfinance fosters social development. I have always been passionate about gender equality and eliminating gender-based violence. Microfinance is a very tangible way to empower women and, in turn, effect social change. Financial services enable women to transform their family and play a more visible role in their community. I want invest myself in empowerment on the ground and with the people, especially women.

My experiences forming business relationships in China and traveling in the developing world will directly translate to my time with Kiva.  While working on a music project in China, I regularly sought out, met with and assessed potential investors, then provided recommendations on them to my superiors back in the states. I also spearheaded forming our Shanghai team and was responsible for training new employees.

I thrive in relationship building and possess a diverse skillset that will enable me to quickly and comfortably navigate a foreign culture and assess Kiva’s work and impact. I am able to integrate into a community, assess needs and develop solutions. Working with Kiva will cultivate problem-solving skills and provide microfinance experience while building on my prior endeavors and preparing me for continued work in development. Above all, I want to work as a fellow to ensure transparency, cultivate relationships that further Kiva’s mission and tell the stories of the lives impacted by peer-to-peer lending.



{repost from The New York Times}

U.S. War in Iraq Declared Officially Over

Michael Kamber for The New York Times

Flag bearers carried the colors out at the end of the ceremony marking the end of the United States’ military involvement in Iraq. More Photos »

Published: December 15, 2011

 BAGHDAD — The United States military officially declared an end to its mission in Iraq on Thursday even as violence continues to plague the country and the Muslim world remains distrustful of American power.

In a fortified concrete courtyard at the airport in Baghdad, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta thanked the more than one million American service members who have served in Iraq for “the remarkable progress” made over the past nine years but acknowledged the severe challenges that face the struggling democracy.

“Let me be clear: Iraq will be tested in the days ahead — by terrorism, and by those who would seek to divide, by economic and social issues, by the demands of democracy itself,” Mr. Panetta said. “Challenges remain, but the U.S. will be there to stand by the Iraqi people as they navigate those challenges to build a stronger and more prosperous nation.”

The muted ceremony stood in contrast to the start of the war in 2003 when an America both frightened and emboldened by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, sent columns of tanks north from Kuwait to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

As of last Friday, the war in Iraq had claimed 4,487 American lives, with another 32,226 Americans wounded in action, according to Pentagon statistics.

The tenor of the hour-long farewell ceremony, officially called “Casing the Colors,” was likely to sound an uncertain trumpet for a war that was started to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction it did not have. It now ends without the sizable, enduring American military presence for which many military officers had hoped.

Although Thursday’s ceremony marked the end of the war, the military still has two bases in Iraq and roughly 4,000 troops, including several hundred who attended the ceremony. At the height of the war in 2007, there were 505 bases and more than 170,000 troops.

According to military officials, the remaining troops are still being attacked on a daily basis, mainly by indirect fire attacks on the bases and road side bomb explosions against convoys heading south through Iraq to bases in Kuwait.

Even after the last two bases are closed and the final American combat troops withdraw from Iraq by Dec. 31, under rules of an agreement with the government in Baghdad, a few hundred military personnel and Pentagon civilians will remain, working within the American Embassy as part of an Office of Security Cooperation to assist in arms sales and training.

But negotiations could resume next year on whether additional American military personnel can return to further assist their Iraqi counterparts.

Senior American military officers have made no secret that they see crucial gaps in Iraq’s ability to defend its sovereign soil and even to secure its oil platforms offshore in the Persian Gulf. Air defenses are seen as a critical gap in Iraqi capabilities, but American military officers also see significant shortcomings in Iraq’s ability to sustain a military, whether moving food and fuel or servicing the armored vehicles it is inheriting from Americans or the fighter jets it is buying, and has shortfalls in military engineers, artillery and intelligence, as well.

 ”From a standpoint of being able to defend against an external threat, they have very limited to little capability, quite frankly,” Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the outgoing American commander in Iraq, said in an interview after the ceremony. “In order to defend against a determined enemy, they will need to do some work.”

The tenuous security atmosphere in Iraq was underscored by helicopters that hovered over the ceremony, scanning the ground for rocket attacks. Although there is far less violence across Iraq than at the height of the sectarian conflict in 2006 and 2007, there are bombings on a nearly daily basis and Americans remain a target of Shiite militants.

Mr. Panetta acknowledged that “the cost was high — in blood and treasure of the United States, and also for the Iraqi people. But those lives have not been lost in vain — they gave birth to an independent, free and sovereign Iraq.”

The war was started by the Bush administration in March 2003 on arguments that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and had ties to Al Qaeda that might grow to an alliance threatening the United States with a mass-casualty terrorist attack.

As the absence of unconventional weapons proved a humiliation for the administration and the intelligence community, the war effort was reframed as being about bringing democracy to the Middle East.

And, indeed, there was euphoria among many Iraqis at an American-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. But the support soon soured amid a growing sense of heavy-handed occupation fueled by the unleashing of bloody sectarian and religious rivalries. The American presence also proved a magnet for militant fighters and an Al Qaeda-affiliated group took root among the Sunni minority population in Iraq.

While the terrorist group has been rendered ineffective by a punishing series of Special Operations raids that have killed or captured several Qaeda leaders, intelligence specialists fear that it is in resurgence. The American military presence in Iraq, viewed as an occupation across the Muslim world, also hampered Washington’s ability to cast a narrative from the United States in support of the Arab Spring uprisings this year.

Even handing bases over to the Iraqi government over recent months proved vexing for the military. In the spring, commanders halted large formal ceremonies with Iraqi officials for base closings because insurgents were using the events as opportunities to attack troops. “We were having ceremonies and announcing it publicly and having a little formal process but a couple of days before the base was to close we would start to receive significant indirect fire attacks on the location,” said Col. Barry Johnson, a spokesman for the military in Iraq. “We were suffering attacks so we stopped.”

Across the country, the closing of bases has been marked by a quiet closed-door meeting where American and Iraqi military officials signed documents that legally gave the Iraqis control of the bases, exchanged handshakes and turned over keys.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey of the Army, has served two command tours in Iraq since the invasion in 2003, and he noted during the ceremony that the next time he comes to Iraq he will have to be invited.

 ”We will stand with you against terrorists and others that threaten to undo what we have accomplished together,” General Dempsey said during the ceremony. “We will work with you to secure our common interests in a more peaceful and prosperous region.”

Elections in Cairo

Egypt’s parliamentary elections this week had an astounding turnout, with 70-80% of the population casting a vote. Some lines at polling location were several kilometers long. Round two and three of voting will occur in mid-December and January.

However, what I find more important and moving than everything I’ve read in the news is a facebook status I saw today. My godfather, his wife and two kids moved to Cairo in August. His wife Chris (an incredibly intelligent and inspiring woman) posted:

An uplifting and exciting thing today to hear both my language teacher and housekeeper – both women – talk about their first experiences voting. They are excited, positive, and feel that this has meaning for the first time in their lives. THIS is what the media should be reporting on!

Reminds me of the significance of being present to understand a situation, culture and people. Thrilled for the many people across Egypt who are voting for the first time and that their are women like Chris in this world!


Hello from…

Yemen Leader Signs a Deal to End His 33-Year Rule

{repost from The New York Times}

Published: November 23, 2011

SANA, Yemen — After months of street protests calling for his resignation, President Ali Abdullah Saleh signed an agreement Wednesday immediately transferring power to his vice president.

The agreement effectively ends Mr. Saleh’s 33 years of authoritarian rule, making him the fourth leader forced from power by the Arab Spring revolts that have roiled the Middle East and North Africa. But it is unlikely to restore calm anytime soon to a country that has become increasingly important to the United States as Islamist militants have gained a stronger hold there.

The unity government that is expected to take over in the coming days or weeks will face not only those insurgencies, which have grown only more entrenched during months of turmoil, but also festering tribal divisions and the likelihood of continued protests from young demonstrators unsatisfied with Wednesday’s deal.

The deal allows Mr. Saleh to retain his title and certain privileges until new elections are held in three months and grants him immunity from prosecution. It was unclear when, and if, the president intended to return to Yemen.

Mr. Saleh had resisted signing similar agreements to step down in the last several months, sometimes appearing close and then backing off at the last minute.

Although the signing was the first time he actually agreed to give up formal authority, it is unclear how big a political presence Mr. Saleh hopes to maintain or how Yemen might overcome its many divisions. His family members retain powerful posts in the military and intelligence service, and Mr. Saleh, a wily political survivor, has figured out ways to hang on to control when he has been threatened in the past.

Abdul-Ghani al-Iryani, a Yemeni political analyst and the head of a nonpartisan group that campaigns for democracy, said few people thought the agreement signaled the end of Mr. Saleh’s political ambitions. “He figures the rest of the maneuvering can be kept for after the signing,” Mr. Iryani said.

Mr. Saleh’s opponents and Yemen’s foreign allies, including the United States, have put increasing pressure on Mr. Saleh to sign a deal, warning that the country, stalled by protests and wracked by successive rounds of bloody factional fighting, is on the brink of collapse. The fighting has crippled the country’s already sputtering economy.

Mr. Saleh was also facing the threat of international sanctions. “There was no more room for him to maneuver,” Mr. Iryani said.

The sanctions, he said “would end up suffocating his regime and even maybe put him behind bars.”

The president’s surprise trip to Riyadh, the Saudi capital, had been rumored for days but was not announced beforehand. It came after several days of intense negotiations between opposition politicians and the president’s representatives, brokered by a visiting United Nations envoy.

Yemeni opposition leaders, who are expected to join members of Mr. Saleh’s party in the new unity government, flew to Riyadh later on Wednesday for the signing of the agreement, which was brokered by several Persian Gulf states.

Youth activists have said the agreement, and in particular the immunity clauses, would not satisfy thousands of demonstrators still camped in city squares throughout the country, demanding trials for Mr. Saleh and members of his government in connection with the killings of scores of demonstrators.

The youth activists framed the agreement as a deal between political elites, rather than a step forward for their revolt. April Longley Alley, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group who studies Yemen, said that while the agreement would facilitated Mr. Saleh’s exit, “Yemenis from across the political spectrum are looking for much broader and deeper political change.”

Previous agreements have been derailed by violence in Sana, the capital, between government forces, and defecting army units and tribal fighters loyal to Mr. Saleh’s rivals. There were reports on Wednesday of sporadic shelling in Hasaba, a district in northern Sana.

The military remains divided between supporters of the Saleh family and loyalists of a powerful commander, Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsin al-Ahmar. General Ahmar, once a close ally of the president and frequently called the second most powerful man in the country, announced his support for the antigovernment protest movement in March. His heavily armed troops have controlled a large portion of the northern half of Sana.

General Ahmar, who has repeatedly said he that he is willing to leave the country if Mr. Saleh will, did not immediately release a statement reacting to the news of a possible agreement.

Yassin Saeed Noman, a socialist politician and the leader of Yemen’s opposition coalition, said the agreement would not quickly pull the country from its malaise but added that he remained optimistic.

“If there is a willingness from the government, it will end the crisis,” Mr. Noman said.

Kareem Fahim reported from Sana, and Laura Kasinof from Greencastle, Pa.

Off and Away…

…to London and Dubai.

World Happenings…

{reposts from NY Times Lens}