Friday, 23 October 2015

The Weekend Edition:
From the MENA growth outlook and the future of mobile computing to ‘special moustaches’ and why pork is the world’s most divisive meat

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A QUICK NOTE TO NEW SUBSCRIBERS

Enterprise publishes Sunday-Thursday before 7am, with a focus on the business, economic and politics news that will move markets that day. But for the past few weekends, we’ve been experimenting with a weekend edition that is light on news and heavy stories to read, videos to watch and podcasts to which you may want to listen on Friday and Saturday (that being the weekend for the vast majority of our readers).

As always, feedback is very welcome at editorial@enterprisemea.com. We’ll be back on Sunday at around 6:15am with our usual roundup. Until then: Enjoy the weekend.

SPEED ROUND, THE WEEKEND EDITION

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Economic prospects for the Middle East and North Africa are going be dominated by two factors: the price of oil and the spread of conflicts, says IMF Middle East Director Masood Ahmed, outlining the findings of the Regional Economic Outlook for the Middle East and Asia (pdf). Oil importers are seeing positive developments, but the road ahead for them is likely to be “bumpy,” Ahmed notes. Looking forward, there will be a need to rebuild the economies and the infrastructure of the countries affected by conflict and refugee inflows regionally. You can watch Masood Ahmed’s comments here (watching time 03:13).

The World Bank sees the situations similarly albeit a bit clearer and a bit less sanguine. “Back in January we were cautiously optimistic about the global economy, now we are just cautious,” the World Bank’s Chief Economist for the Middle East and North Africa, Shanta Devarajan said. For the MENA region as a whole, the WB is projecting a growth rate of 2.8% in 2015. With low oil prices, one would expect that oil importers would be benefitting, but importers are facing a set of problems of their own. “The prospects are not good: The conflicts don’t seem to be abating; oil prices are likely to stay low; and in this situation, many of the economic reforms that the countries need to do in order to attract investment and stimulate growth are not happening… So I would say the urgency to act is even higher,” Devarajan adds. You can read and watch Devarajan’s comments here.

We may not have hoverboards (those two-wheeled things do *not* count), but Back To The Future got a lot about 2015 right: For the many readers who geeked-out with us on Back To The Future Day this week, the New York Times has a look at what the film did (and didn’t) get right about Marty McFly’s future / our present: “Coexisting with inventions and trends that may never come to fruition are those that have now arrived, including the use of drones, eyeglasses as wearable tech, video conferencing, and a focus on urban renewal and green space.”

Flashback: There are plenty of investors who can beat the market over a few years, almost none who can do it over decades. This 2014 chart, picked up by Business Insider at the time, is making the rounds of Tweeeter again.

Oh, for the love of bacon: Long Reads has an excellent piece out on pork — or: “The story of how pigs became the world’s most divisive meal.” Whether you love bacon or despise it, it’s a fascinating piece of gastronomical and social history. Crazily enough, the story starts at the Great Pyramid of Giza. Read: I Would Rather Be Herod’s Pig: The History of a Taboo

Arab street artists hacked the U.S. television show “Homeland” after being contracted to tag the set with realistic Arabic-language graffiti, but instead scrawled messages such as “Homeland is racist.” The politically-minded prank made international headlines (no, CNN, it’s not subversive — it’s commentary). But the must-read piece on the episode is by Egyptian visual artist and AUC visiting professor Heba Amin, a direct participant in the prank-as-political-message who uses her blog to chronicle how they pulled it off, show off some awesome photography — and score a point or two. “Arabian Street Artists” bomb Homeland: Why we hacked an award-winning series.

The social compact in investment banking. (Or: Why young investment bankers should stop whining.) Once a decade, the overwork of white-collar professionals becomes a “thing.” In the 1980s, it was doctors. In the 1990s, lawyers. This time around, it’s the time of the investment bankers. And the backlash has begun.

Best advice we’ve read this week: Don’t email first thing in the morning. And don’t check mail before you sleep. “The former scrambles your priorities and all your plans for the day and the latter just gives you insomnia.” In the morning: Let email wait until 10am — or at least until you check one big item off your to-do list. (From Tim Ferriss’ Four Hour Workweek.)

Japan should rearm in response to China’s rise. That’s the argument Brahma Chellaney advances on Project Syndicate, saying there’s a difference between pacifism and passivity. “After decades of contentedly relying on the US for protection, Japan is being shaken out of its complacency by fast-changing security and power dynamics in Asia, especially the rise of an increasingly muscular and revisionist China vying for regional hegemony,” Chellaney notes. Arguing in defense of  Easing the self-imposed ban on arms exports and increasing defense spending allows Japan to collaborate more actively with its allies and “ensuring long-term peace in Asia demands a stronger defense posture for Japan.” Chellaney says Japan “can build robust conventional capabilities, including information systems to cope with the risk of cyber warfare. Beyond bolstering Japanese security and regional stability, such an effort would likely boost Japan’s GDP and yield major profits for American defense firms.”

Last month, the upper house of the Japanese parliament voted to amend Japan’s constitution to allow for overseas military engagement, a break in its 70 years of pacifism. The move was met with weeks-long street protests in Tokyo denouncing the move, NPR reports.

Some people believe that economics as a discipline has cemented gender inequality rather than helping to solve it, a problem that goes beyond the fact that women constituted only 12% of American economics professors and having only one female winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences to date: Elinor Ostrom. The Economist explains that feminist economists believe how women’s contributions to society are systematically undervalued. As a starter, the problem began with how GDP is measured, as it only counted paid work. From a public policy perspective, “feminist economists think that gender equality is valuable in and of itself, not just as a means of promoting growth. They also consider the effects of public policy on women. When public services are cut, a simple analysis might summarise the change in the amount spent on employing civil servants, say. A feminist economist’s analysis would probably point out that if those most likely to plug the gap left by the state are women, then this distribution of cuts could worsen gender inequality.” Ultimately, The Economist reminds us that “feminist economists wish they lived in a world where the label need not exist.

Are you a type nerd? Can you spot the difference between Helvetica and Helvetica Neue from a mile away — and then regret the overuse of Frutiger as an alternative? Then this story is for you: You Wouldn’t Think It, But Typeface Piracy Is a Big Problem.

Islam’s tragic fatalism:” On the liberal end of the spectrum, too many Arab and Muslim intellectuals write seem to write almost exclusively for Western or international audiences of like-minded fellows than for domestic consumption. Turkey’s Mustafa Akyol straddles the line, pumping out pieces in both Turkish and English as he looks to stir debate on what a “liberal” construct of Islam might look like. His most recent piece, dating back to late September for the NY Times, received scant attention in the Arab world. It also ignores a long tradition of predestination and preordination dating back not to Calvin, but to the second-century BCE Jewish sect known as the Essenes. It’s still worth reading as he uses Turkish and Saudi responses to recent disasters — and a rich theological debate before today’s orthodoxy settled in — to argue that “‘God’s will’ becomes an easy cover for intellectual laziness, lack of planning, and irresponsibility.”

How does your MBA rank? Have you spent thousands of dollars (and hours) on an MBA? Curious where yours stacks up in the Economist’s global ranking of graduate business degrees? Tap here and lament that the magazine (yes, Economist, you’re a magazine, not a newspaper) ranks only one non-US school in the global top 10.

Opening the Doomsday Vault: Back in 2008, on a Norwegian island about 1,300 km from the North Pole, the Crop Trust began storing 860,000 samples of seeds from across the globe in a giant underground vault deep inside a mountain as a hedge against future disaster, secure in the knowledge that even if there were no power to keep the vault chilled, it would take at least 200 years for it to thaw out. Originally seen as a means of protecting biodiversity ahead of climate change, scientists have already been forced to crack it open thanks to the conflict in Syria. Researchers elsewhere in the Middle East have withdrawn “samples of wheat, barley and grasses suited to dry regions … to replace seeds in a gene bank near the Syrian city of Aleppo that has been damaged by the war.” Tap here to take a “virtual tour” of the vault, with 360º views of key rooms and tunnels.

Beards in the news: Once upon a time, at a publication far, far away, we ran a cover story on the Egyptian Society for the Promotion of Special Moustaches (or “El Shanabet,” as they styled themselves). Men who were hipsters and freaks a decade or more before it was cool, they were led by Fathi Shanab (who worked at the Cairo Transit Authority, if we recall correctly), and we can only imagine his smile if he were to come across this photo gallery of prize-winning facial hair from the 2015 World Beard and Moustache Championship. Good ol’ Fathi would not, however, have been impressed with this group of “Bearded Villains” in Sweden being mistaken for a Daesh cell.

Our political cartoon of the week, this time on Europe’s refugee policy, is here.

Infographic of the week: Why Entrepreneurs Should Never Feel Guilty for Sleeping.

CORRECTION- Media reports quoting Housing Minister Mostafa Madbouli as saying his ministry has signed a contract with Orascom Construction for a waste water treatment plant in Abu Rawash are inaccurate. OC has received a letter of award (its second PPP investment) and disclosed the same in its 1H2015 earnings. What Madbouli said at last week’s PPP conference was that the contract for the plant would be signed “within days.” As of yesterday, that had not taken place.

SPOTLIGHT on Hillary Clinton’s Benghazi testimony

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s testimony before the House Select Committee on Benghazi on Thursday: Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was questioned for a nearly uninterrupted 11-hour televised session of the House Select Committee on Benghazi on Thursday. As widely anticipated by a number of media outlets, not only did Clinton acquit herself well, she succeeded – largely without needing to try – in demonstrating that the Committee was completely a political exercise. Republicans on the panel unwittingly turned the hearing into a campaign stump for Clinton to defend her record, managing to implicate the Republican-controlled Congress in not responding to funding requests to ensure the security of State missions abroad, with Clinton at times resting her face on one hand in a demonstration of her boredom.

One of the main failings of the Republican’s on the panel is their relative inexperience — with two exceptions, most of the seven Republicans have only been in Congress since 2011, making Clinton look like an old pro as she ran circles around their questions. After extensively referring to testimony taken by former Clinton advisor Sidney Blumenthal, a transcript of which had not been shared with Clinton or the public, the Committee recessed to vote along party lines not to release the transcript, making it appear that it was the Committee and not Clinton who had something to hide.

The Republicans were unable to effectively pin blame on Clinton as being the architect of United States’ Libya policy (she both defended her concept of “smart power” while reiterating the decision to intervene in Libya was ultimately that of US President Barack Obama).

Clinton also effectively brought up that Congress failed to respond to funding requests, as well as noted that the State Department is hampered by a 35-year old law that requires the State Department to accept the lowest-possible cost on bids on security contracts for its missions, even those with a higher level of security threats.

The future of the Committee is uncertain, with its five Democratic members threatening to resign in protest if its activities continue for much longer, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The Washington Post has the full text to yesterday’s hearing here.

WATCH THIS

NASA scientists on the International Space Station pop food coloring and an effervescent tablet into floating balls of water. Watch on Youtube (running time 1:13, or catch video of another experiment here) or get the background from NASA’s website.

Not enough space for you this morning? Hit up NASA’s channel of ultra high definition video from the International Space Station.

Oh, and did you know NASA has grown lettuce in space? Which astronauts have then eaten?

READ THIS

As this year’s Nobel Prize season ended, many were left wanting to know more about Svetlana Alexievich, the winner of this year’s Nobel Prize in literature: Alexievich is the first person to receive the Nobel for books that are based entirely on interviews and her award is the first to be awarded to a writer who works exclusively with living people, Masha Gessen writes for the New Yorker. Alexievich is someone who “wanted to dispense with the author’s voice and with the usual chronologies and contexts” and her books “deal with historical crises — the Second World War, the Soviet war in Afghanistan, the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, and the collapse of the Soviet Union — through the voices of ordinary individuals. This is oral history stripped down to segments so raw that it can stretch both credulity and the reader’s tolerance for pain,” Gessen writes.

Take her 1989 book “Boys of Zinc,” which covered Soviet soldiers during the invasion of Afghanistan: “It was my first time at a war,” she told Gessen, “I was so shaken by what I was seeing—the dead, how simply they kill, how then they drink vodka, sell, laugh, barter. It was the Soviet period, and they wanted to get souvenirs for their mothers, but where did they get the money? They sold bullets, which, the following day, would be used to kill them.”

What’s next for Alexievich? Gessen says Alexievich “is now working on two books—one about old age and dying, and the other about love. Neither centers on a historical event, and neither, she says, is going very well: ‘When I started recording, I found I had a problem. The older generation is a Soviet generation. They have to talk about themselves and they have no experience of doing that. You start talking to them about love, and they talk about how they built Minsk. You start talking to them about old age, they tell you how difficult life was after the war. It’s like they never had a life of their own.’” Still, she says she felt surrounded by “‘the great shadows’ of past Russian Nobels. She listed Bunin, Pasternak, and Solzhenitsyn. ‘I have to work,’ she said.”

LISTEN TO THIS

Yitzhak Rabin, the fifth Prime Minister of Israel, was assassinated twenty years ago by a lone gunman — and Israeli Jew — in protest of the Oslo Accords in 1995. “From the left’s perspective, Rabin’s assassination is the moment that completely reshaped Israel’s history. It killed off the last best chance for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and Yigal Amir has got to be the most successful assassins anywhere… when Lincoln was murdered, it didn’t bring back slavery. When Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, the civil rights (sic) continued. But after Rabin’s murder, Oslo unravelled, settlements expanded, and the right has been in power for most of the past 20 years.”

Nowadays, oddly enough, lots of people do not believe the official narrative surrounding his assassination — even though plenty of witnesses saw it happen and the assassin, Yigal Amir, confessed immediately.

Producing arguably one of their best episodes of the year, the consistently excellent show This American Life talked to people involved about the various conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination. Using a lot of cui bono thinking, one of the wackier theories suggests: “Rabin staged an attempt on his own life in order to boost his public standing and smear his opponents on the right. It was supposed to be a thwarted assassination attempt but something went wrong [he could have had a stroke] and he died in the process,” Hillel Weiss, a right-wing activist, told the show’s producers adding that the Oslo Accords were on their way to “being gutted” at the time. You can listen to the episode in full here (listening time 01:04:23).

ENTREPRENEURS

You could argue that Sequoia is the “top” VC firm in Silicon Valley, but none is more interesting or hard-charging than Andreessen Horowitz, an outfit “designed to be a full-throated argument about the future, a design predicated on its founders’ comfort with conflict.” From an epic New Yorker profile titled Tomorrow’s Advance Man: “Something of the transporter beam clings to Andreessen, a sense that he just rematerialized from a city on the edge of forever. He’s not great at the basics of daily life: directions confound him, because roadways aren’t logical, and he’s so absent-minded about sunglasses that he keeps a “reload station” with nine pairs on his hall table. Perhaps Edison haunts his conversation because Andreessen is a fellow-tinkerer, except that his gadgets are systems and platforms, and his workshop is his own mind.” Even if you can’t stand reading about “unicorns” and over-entitled 24-year-olds, it’s a must-read as a window into the mind of a man who’s not just shaping our future, but bending today’s reality.

While you’re checking out Andreessen Horowitz’s website, you’ll doubtless stumble onto Benedict Evans, a Brit transplant to California and who comes across as the original stuffed shirt — but who, as we’ve mentioned before, is one of today’s best thinkers on the many incarnations of mobile computing. Evans is a mainstay on A16Z’s podcast (good if you’re into tech, media or entrepreneurism; outstanding if you’re into all three), one of the authors of the outstanding Mobile is Eating the World (slide presentation and lecture; link here is to the updated 2015 edition), and author of a weekly newsletter on mobile that’s out every Sunday.

Speaking of Andreessen Horowitz: A16Z managing partner Scott Kupor writes for Fortune on why your next business partner should come with a prenup. It’s a list of practical considerations about a topic most of us starting businesses would rather not consider: “Startups are passionate, exciting endeavors — but they are still businesses. And when things go wrong between co-founders, as with most things in life, a little planning up front can mean the difference between a catastrophic vs. merely painful outcome.”

If you listen to podcasts, odds are reasonable you’ve heard an ad for Blue Apron, a recipe-and-ingredients delivery service. Business Insider has the story on how three founders built it out from an idea into a USD 2 bn company with 2,500 employees in just 36 months.

Upcoming events:

  • 12-13 December: RiseUp Summit 2015: The largest and most significant event for startups in Egypt of the year, held at the Greek Campus in downtown Cairo. A who’s who of both experienced startup types and wannabes as well as top regional and global investors and industry players will be on hand. (Register here)

HEALTH

If you could stand to lose a few kilograms, this is the one and only scientific letter you should read for the next decade, and it’s only one page long. “A recent report from the UK’s Academy of Medical Royal Colleges described ‘the miracle cure’ of performing 30 min of moderate exercise, five times a week, as more powerful than many drugs administered for chronic disease prevention and management. Regular physical activity reduces the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia and some cancers by at least 30%. However, physical activity does not promote weight loss.

The paper comes as Coca Cola was found to have been “funding a new organisation that is emphasising the importance of exercise over diet to a person’s health, amidst concerns by health experts that [Coke] is trying to deflect criticism of the health effects of its products,” the Independent reports.

SPOTLIGHT on African growth

The commodities crash is raising doubts about how far Africa’s middle class has really grown. While the rise of Shoprite, MTN, Nestlé and Unilever across Africa suggests “many lower-income Africans do have more money to spend,” Reuters writes, there are growing “doubts about whether the growth of the African middle class has been overplayed: has the wealth created by the decade of growth been widely distributed, or have only relatively small pools of urban consumers merely benefited from a transient commodity boom?” The newswire uses Nestlé’s pullback — it cut 15% of its African workforce in June “because it had overestimated the rise of the middle class” — and U.S. private equity outfit Carlyle to make its case.

But two of the world’s most high-profile tech companies — Google and Facebook — are increasingly long Africa:

Google to buy stake in “the largest single private investment in Kenya’s history”: Google is buying a 12.5% stake of the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project in Kenya. The project, which broke ground in July, is expected to generate 1,400GWh of electricity per year, making it the largest wind farm in Africa, and providing Kenya with 15% of its power needs. The project is billed as the largest private investment in Kenya’s history, and will include 365 wind turbines spread along the shore of Lake Turkana, The Washington Post says. The project could save Kenya more than USD 113 mn per in imported fuel costs. The Lake Turkana Wind Power Project would mark Google’s 22nd renewable energy investment, the paper says.

That’s only the G’s latest venture into Africa: Quartz overplays the headline but gets the fact right when it notes that “Google may have a solution to Africa’s last-mile internet connectivity problem.” While noting that undersea cables have brought a 20x increase in bandwidth to Africa, Quartz notes that “last-mile connectivity—the infrastructure to extend networks into homes, schools, and workplaces—remains a challenge. Most African countries simply lack the fiber to distribute bandwidth more locally.” Google’s solution: build commercial-scale fiber-optic networks to help ISPs and mobile operators to deliver faster internet access. It’s why Kampala, for example, already has 4G LTE mobile internet.

Speaking of the company formerly known as Google, Alphabet, its new holding company, released 3Q2015 results on Thursday, reporting a net income of USD 3.98 bn, up from USD 2.74 bn y-o-y. (Read the earnings release here, pdf).

Facebook, meanwhile, has entered into a partnership to deliver internet to sub-Saharan Africa using a satellite starting some time in the second half of next year.

PERSONAL TECH

We’re fans of The Sweet Setup, a site that consistently recommends the best “x” for Mac / iOS, and we couldn’t agree more with its recommendation for the best photo management solution. In two words: Google Photos.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

In our 23 October 2015 report, we ran the following infographic from The National charting the labyrinthine connections between the Muslim Brotherhood abroad, Hamas and media outlets Middle East Monitor and Middle East Eye. (View)

We also featured the Wall Street Journal’s report on HSBC’s 2014 Expat survey on the top-ranked countries for living and working as an expat based on three metrics: economics, experience and family. This year’s survey has seen Egypt slip three spots in the rankings from 34th to 37th (View Egypt’s profile on the survey).

THE WEEK’S MOST-CLICKED STORIES

The most-clicked stories in Enterprise in the past week were:

  • The full list of candidates standing for round one of this year’s parliamentary election (High Elections Committee)
  • Back to the Future Day, the official trailer (Youtube)
  • How one Egyptian family’s USD 6 bn enterprise has spanned the globe (Arabian Business)
  • 17 new PPP projects, one table: Enterprise’s list of the 17 public-private partnership projects the Ismail government announced this week (pdf download)
  • The 24 Year Old Party Leader who Seeks to Rule Egypt (Atlantic Council’s Egypt Source)

THIS WEEK IN: BUSINESS AND ECONOMY

There was only one business story this week: Just four days after Central Bank of Egypt Governor Hisham Ramez declared on Al Qahera wal Nas’s Cairo 360 that “We are not facing a foreign exchange crisis, but rather a challenge,” Ittihadiya announced that the veteran banker would step down at the end of November, when his term comes to an end. Replacing him is Tarek Amer, who had previously served as a deputy governor at the CBE and who breathed life into the sclerotic institution known as the National Bank of Egypt. We had a complete rundown on the episode — and some of Amer’s best quotes — in yesterday’s edition.

Otherwise notable this week:

  • Too little, too late: The CBE allows the EGP to slide in the run-up to Ramez’s resignation. The pound slid to EGP 7.9301 at auction, meaning it changed hands (if you could get it) for EGP 8.0301 in banks (plus commissions, of course). The pound was stable at Tuesday and Thursday’s auctions, but closed the week down at EGP 8.60 on the parallel market.
  • Both Nestlé and Intel denied rumors they were exiting the Egyptian market.
  • Finance Minister Hani Dimian said we’re not looking to borrow from the International Monetary Fund — and again promised we’ll have a value-added tax by year’s end.
  • Abbott is expected to finalize its acquisition of top generic maker Pentapharma Egypt within the next two weeks.
  • The new cement licenses we had told would be announced “within days” failed to appear.

THIS WEEK IN: POLITICS

First round parliamentary election results highlights:

  • 26.5% turnout
  • 222 individual seats contested in the runoff round, to take place next week
  • All 60 party-list seats won by loyalist “For the Love of Egypt” bloc
  • Poor showing for Salafist Nour Party, even in their stronghold of Alexandria, with only 25 of its 160 candidates for individual seats qualifying for a runoff

For a more in-depth look, see:

Otherwise notable this week:

  • Egypt won a rotating seat on the United Nations Security Council with shockingly little international drama.

ON YOUR WAY OUT

Pyramids remain one of the most baffling of human creations. While many theories exist as to how they may have been built, perhaps what is most baffling is how many of them exist in different places around the world, and were built by civilizations that knew nothing of each other through ancient history. Scientists have found underwater pyramids in Japan and large quantities of liquid mercury under pyramids in Mexico. But perhaps for something a little closer to home, National Geographic’s Alan Turchik released some incredible drone footage of the 3,000-year old pyramids in North Sudan (running time 2:16)

In the event you weren’t already convinced geopolitics is insane: China will be awarding President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe the Confucius Peace Prize. Despite being notorious for “overseeing the beating, intimidation and deaths of democratic challengers and their supporters,” the good Chinese seems to be happy to accept that minor misdemeanour, along with the fact that Mugabe shouldn’t be blamed for having his economy “halt or even [go] backwards.” Ah, the joys of taking a long view on Africa as a natural resource play… (Read)

Have you ever wondered why “Mom” and “Dad” sound so similar in so many (completely unrelated) languages? The Atlantic has some suggestions.

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