Egypt Moves to Improve Economy

Page 1 Issue 1941- January- 27/01/2023 2 A Weekly Political News Magazine Issue 1941- January- 27/01/2023 Nemat Shafik: The First Woman to Lead Columbia University A Weekly Political News Magazine Egypt Moves to Improve Economy Supporting Fellow Iranian Women at a Price The Female Jihadist Crisis in Eastern Syria

Egyptians from all social and professional backgrounds are deeply affected by the country’s current economic crisis. Whether rich or poor, people are struggling to adjust. Government officials say it is not their fault, blaming global crises including the Covid-19 pandemic and war in Ukraine. In the Cover Story, Dalia Ziada talks about how Egyptians are depressed by the economic crisis in the country.

In the Economy section, Motasem Al Felou also shed light on the factors causing the risk of inflation risk in Saudi Arabia. He said that Saudi Arabia scored an inflation rate of 3.2%, one of the lowest in the world.

He added that Majid Al-Hogail, the Saudi Minister of Municipal, Rural Affairs and Housing, said that house prices in Dammam (east) are reasonable. However, they are expensive in Riyadh (central) and Jeddah (west), confirming that his Ministry will make available more land for development to increase supply, and deflate the prices eventually.

The Minister’s talk highlights one of the most influential factors in the process of inflation: real estate. People and businesses are sensitive to real estate inflation. Nevertheless, there are other factors, both local and global, Al Felou said.

In the Interview section, Safaa Azab interviewed Iranian chess arbiter Shohreh Bayat who chose to be a voice of Iranian women instead of being pro-regime.

Bayat emphasized that all Iranian women suffer from tough restrictions. Bayat said, “the regime treats us as second-class citizens,” and there is no equality.

She also told Majalla that the regime would arrest her as soon as she reaches the airport in Iran. She refused to speak about her family for fears over their safety, given her opposition to the Iranian regime’s practices against its people.

In the Society section, Maryam Raafat describes how an Egyptian shantytown was transformed into a developed area. The Magra El Oyoun Wall area, which used to be a leather tannery area, was replaced by an integrated cultural and touristic complex with buildings designed in the Islamic architectural style.

All the buildings are painted with beige and brown and all the windows of the residential buildings were adorned by mashrabiyas.

There is also a huge shopping mall that includes a number of shops, cinema halls and theaters, in addition to landscaping features.

Read these articles and more on our website As always, we welcome and value our readers’ feedback and we invite you to take the opportunity to leave your comments on our website.

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A Weekly Political News Magazine
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Issue 1941- January- 27/01/2023 A Weekly Political News Magazine 5 27/01/23 42 «Babylon»: A Watchable If Weirdly Joyless Movie Almost Annual Question 36 56 Data Creates Disbelief in Digital Marketing 32 An Egyptian Shantytown that Turned into Islamic-style Developed Area 46 What the Butler Couldn’t Unsee 58 Bring a Fuzzy Memory Back Into Focus Promoting Not-for-profit Sector to Achieve Prosperity in Society 30

Russia Culture Exhibition

Visitors attend a press preview of «The Grand Duchy. Treasures of the Vladimir-Suzdal land» exhibition at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, Russia, 23 January 2023. The exhibition presents 600 exhibits from the collection of the State Vladimir-Suzdal Museum-Reserve. The earliest items date back to the 9th-10th centuries. The exhibition will run from 24 January to 10 May 2023./ EPA

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India Republic Day parade

Indian military dare devil stunt team performs during the full dress rehearsal for the upcoming Republic Day parade, in New Delhi on January 23, 2023./AFP

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Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Monday defended mega-projects undertaken since he took power, saying they were not to blame for economic turmoil that has seen the currency plummet and in ation accelerate.

Since Sisi became president in 2014, Egypt has embarked on an infrastructure splurge spearheaded by the military that has included the expansion of the Suez Canal, the construction of a new capital in the desert, and extensive road building.

The government in early January issued an order for the postponement of projects with a large foreign currency component and cuts to non-essential spending.

The judge investigating Beirut’s massive 2020 port blast resumed work Monday after a nearly 13-month halt, ordering the release of some detainees and announcing plans to charge others, including two top generals, judicial o cials said.

Judge Tarek Bitar’s work had been blocked since December 2021 pending a Court of Cassation ruling after three former Cabinet ministers led legal challenges against him. The court is the highest in the land.

Despite there being no ruling by the court, Bitar resumed working on the case Monday based on legal justi cations he gave, the judicial o cials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Saudi Arabia

a raid by Israeli town of Jenin injured two, The Saudi foreign Israeli forces’ “the fall of The ministry violations of occupation international to “end the escalation necessary protection Kuwait and their state news

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Arabia on Thursday strongly condemned Israeli commandos on the Palestinian Jenin that killed seven people and two, state news agency SPA reported. foreign ministry said it denounced forces’ “storming of the city” that led to a number of victims.”

ministry said Saudi Arabia rejected “serious of international law by the Israeli occupation forces” and called on the international community to take responsibility occupation, stop the Israeli and aggressions, and provide the protection for civilians,” SPA said. and Oman also condemned the attack, news agencies said on Thursday.


Dubai's stock exchange is working on expanding private sector listings and plans to boost access for both institutional and retail investors, its chief executive said on Tuesday.


Qatar is in talks to buy a stake from French multi-energy company TotalEnergies' $27 billion cluster of energy projects in Iraq, Reuters reported citing sources.

"QatarEnergy is looking to acquire a stake of around 30% in the project, one source said," Reuters reported.

An investment from Qatar is expected to contribute an important victory for Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani, who took o ce last year after a long period of political turmoil.

TotalEnergies have been operating in Iraq since the late 1920s in oil and gas exploration and production. The company currently has a 22.5% interest in the Halfaya oil eld.

Iran on Tuesday strongly condemned new sanctions imposed by the European Union and Britain and said it would retaliate, after the West stepped up pressure on Iran over its crackdown on protests.

“The Islamic Republic will soon announce the list of new sanctions against the human rights violators of EU and England,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said in a statement. The European Union imposed sanctions on more than 30 Iranian o cials and organisations, including units of the powerful Revolutionary Guards, blaming them for a “brutal” crackdown on unrest and other human rights abuses.

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Just two days after a gunman killed 11 people at a Los Angeles-area dance studio, seven more victims were shot dead in an agricultural area near San Francisco, as California su ered one of its bloodiest spates of mass gun violence in decades.

Authorities said they had not identi ed the motive for either of the rampages, which seemed especially ba ing in part because the suspects in each were men of retirement age, much older than is typical for perpetrators of deadly mass shootings that have become numbingly routine in the United States.


Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Peru’s capital and were met with volleys of tear gas and pellets amid clashes with security forces just hours after President Dina Boluarte called for a “truce” in almost two months of protests.

The antigovernment protest Tuesday was the largest – and most violent — since last Thursday, when large groups of people, many from remote Andean regions, descended on the capital to demand Boluarte’s resignation, immediate elections and the dissolution of Congress. “We can’t have a truce when she doesn’t’ tell the truth,” Blanca España Mesa, 48, said of Peru’s president. Even though her eyes were watering from the tear gas, España Mesa said she was “happy because a lot of people came today. It’s as if people have woken up.”


France on Thursday called for the “immediate release” of seven French nationals detained in Iran, denouncing an “unjusti able and unacceptable” situation. The French “hostages” in Iran include 35-year-old Louis Arnaud, foreign ministry spokesperson Anne-Claire Legendre said. Arnaud was arrested Sept. 28 as he was traveling in Iran “for touristic reasons,” Legendre said. He is being detained in “very di cult conditions” in Tehran’s Evin prison, where France’s ambassador to Iran met with him on Dec. 11, she said.

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From Washington to Berlin to Kyiv, a Western decision to send battle tanks to Ukraine was hailed enthusiastically. Moscow rst shrugged it o — and later launched a new barrage of attacks.


The Kremlin has previously warned that such tank deliveries would be a dangerous escalation of the con ict in Ukraine, and it has strongly denounced the watershed move by Germany and the United States to send the heavy weaponry to its foe. But it insists the new armor won’t stop Russia from achieving its goals in Ukraine.

“The potential it gives to the Ukrainian armed forces is clearly exaggerated,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Tens of thousands of people endured a winter chill and mist on Thursday as they watched a parade in the Indian capital showcasing the country’s defense capability and cultural heritage on a newly revamped ceremonial boulevard.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sissi looked on as an o cial guest at India’s Republic Day event, which marked the anniversary of the adoption of the country’s Constitution on Jan. 26, 1950, nearly three years after it won independence from British colonial rule.

Critically ill COVID-19 cases in China are down 72% from a peak early this month while daily deaths among COVID-19 patients in hospitals have dropped 79% from their peak, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday.

The gures, published on the centre's website, come after a prominent government scientist said over the weekend that 80% of China's 1.4 billion population had already been infected, making the possibility of a big COVID-19 rebound over the next two or three months remote.

China abruptly ended its strict zero-COVID policy in early December after three years and infections surged across the world's most populous country.

he Iran
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Egypt Moves to Improve Economy

What the Government is Doing to Stop the Economy from Bleeding

Egyptians from all social and professional backgrounds are deeply affected by the country’s current economic crisis. Whether rich or poor, people are struggling to adjust. Government officials say it is not their fault, blaming global crises including the Covid-19 pandemic and war in Ukraine. Although true in part, many Egyptians think the government is guilty of failing to implement a macroeconomic reform programme that could have solved some of Egypt’s chronic problems, which have led to eco-

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nomic crises since the 1950s. Amidst the debate, Egyptians have been left wholly depressed by the economic situation, heaping pressure on the government to act.


Amid rising energy prices and in desperate need of another loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Egypt cited the economic fallout from war in Ukraine when it requested help from the UN’s financial agency in March last year. Officials entered into negotiations and the IMF made a proposed $3 billion loan conditional on Egypt enacting a series of economic reforms.

One was to slow down on big national spending projects, such as two new cities and huge orders for advanced weaponry from European countries. Another was to privatise state-owned enterprises. A third was to float the currency – the Egyptian Pound (EGP) – which Cairo duly did earlier this month. The shockwave from moving to a flexible exchange rate reverberated through an already troubled macroeconomic system and pushed inflation up past 20 percent. Some basic products - such as cooking oil and eggs – have doubled in price. In short, it made a bad situation worse.

Since the war in Ukraine, foreign investors have taken flight, offloading around $20 billion in Egyptian treasury bills, which prompted the government and the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) to introduce policies – perhaps prematurely - such as import restrictions, which were designed to keep the country’s remaining dollar reserves from dwindling further. Unfortunately, these measures ended up harming Egypt’s heavily import-reliant industries.

Over the past year, with the Egyptian economy weathering significant pressures, the country has seen the reversal of hard-earned gains from the national economic reform programme it launched seven years ago. Investors left, foreign investment rates dropped, and tourists stayed away, in part because of the Ukraine war. By the end of last year, dollar scarcity had led to citizens purchasing dollars to hedge against inflation. In December, the CBE said official inflation rates

were more than 21 percent, adding huge pressure on the purchasing power of the Egyptian Pound. On the black market, dollars sold for between EGP 32-40, compared to EGP 28-31 in banks.

“The influence of the war in eastern Europe on the global supply chains of food and energy is burdening the Egyptian economy with EGP 130 billion in direct costs, in addition to EGP 335 billion to handle the indirect consequences,” said Egyptian Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly.

Worried about the mood on the street, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has made three speeches in recent weeks, at three carefully selected platforms: the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, the Military Academy, and the Police Day Ceremony. The president’s choice to speak from these specific venues was not accidental, but a way of politically framing his economic message both to the public, to international allies, and to other stakeholders. In a nutshell, his message is that the economy is doing well, there is no need to panic or worry, and that Egypt will survive this economic crisis in the same way that it has survived past crises. Most Egyptians are skeptical but have chosen to wait and see what the government does to keep the Egyptian economy afloat.


The Egyptian public’s opposing views on IMF loans is particularly intriguing. When the Egyptian government announced its intention to seek an IMF loan in 2016, most Egyptians applauded

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People shop at Al Ataba, a popular market in downtown Cairo, Egypt, December 2022 ,4. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
Over the past year, with the Egyptian economy weathering significant pressures, the country has seen the reversal of hardearned gains from the national economic reform programme it launched seven years ago.

the decision and supported the political leadership in completing the comprehensive economic reform plan attached to the loan. Fast forward to 2023 and the same Egyptian public is now wary of the latest IMF money and the conditions that come with it.

It is far from Cairo’s first IMF pledge. Egypt is the world’s second biggest recipient of IMF loans after Argentina, whose economic collapse in the

late 1990s shook the world’s financial system. Like Argentina, Egyptians have a rocky history with the IMF, but since the 1960s, IMF money has undoubtedly kept Egypt afloat on more than one occasion, often to the detriment of middleclass citizens. The only exception was the 2016 IMF loan overseen by Christine Lagarde, which transformed Egypt’s socio-economic circumstances and brought hope to the hearts of the poor. These gains are now in jeopardy due to the government’s attempts to fulfil the requirements of the most recent loan, which is both smaller and much more restrictive.

In terms of attaching conditions of state policy and structural reform to its loans, the current IMF leadership team appears more rigid than its predecessors, including that led by Lagarde, who entered talks with an element of compassion and understanding, and who urged the Egyptian government to make tangible progress on the development social agenda. By contrast, the current IMF leadership has prioritised the fast-tracking of market liberalisation, even at the expense of slowing important national infrastructure pro-

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Egyptian tourism companies have already started arranging trips for tourist groups from China, the first of which arrived in Cairo and visited the Red Sea resorts earlier this month.
Vendors wait for customers in an alley of souvenir shops at a tourist market, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Luxor, Egypt April 9, 2021. Picture taken April 9, 2021. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
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jects and causing yet more pain to Egypt’s middle-class.

The IMF loan to Egypt in 2016 was far bigger, at $12 billion. It was spread over three years and delivered through the agency’s Extended Fund Facility. It came with a linked technical support programme and provided a tremendous buffer for the Egyptian economy against the challenges thrown up by reform, especially those related to the first shocks of inflation and the partial floating of the currency. When the Covid-19 pandemic broke out in 2020, the IMF again intervened with two additional financial support packages, the first in May 2020 with $2.8 billion in emergency financial assistance through the IMF’s Rapid Financing Instrument, and another loan of $5.4 billion one month later, in June 2020, through the IMF’s Standby Arrangement.

Thanks to this, Egyptians felt tangible improvements in their living conditions and greater flexibility in their microeconomic decision-making. It led to a growing confidence, as Egypt’s global

credit rating began improving. By December 2021, the IMF said it expected that Egypt would grow to become the second largest economy in Africa (behind Nigeria) by the end of 2022, and the second largest Arab economy after Saudi Arabia, with record Growth Domestic Product (GDP) figures predicted to exceed $438 billion. All looked rosy. Then Russia’s president decided to invade Ukraine…

As the shockwaves of war reached its shores, the Egyptian government’s first instinct was to knock on the IMF’s door once again. After almost a year of negotiations, a sudden cabinet reshuffle, and a change in leadership at the CBE, the IMF finally approved the small $3 billion loan to Egypt in December 2022. It will be paid in instalments over 46 months and may be frozen or withdrawn if the Egyptian government reneges on progress on the IMF’s list of onerous conditions.

As well as slowing big spending projects and floating the Egyptian Pound against the US Dol-

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Vehicles drive on a road next to the construction site of the Iconic Tower skyscraper in the Central Business District (CBD), which is being built by China State Construction Engineering Corp (CSCEC) in the New Administrative Capital (NAC) east of Cairo, Egypt January 15, 2023. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

lar, the IMF also asked that the country remove subsidies on oil and gas to better reflect international prices, accelerate and widen the collection of taxes, sell state-owned assets to private investors, and list military-owned enterprises on the stock market - the Egyptian Exchange. The middle class was left understandably concerned about the impact, not least on their standard of living, given the Egyptian Pound’s falling purchasing power in relative terms. Many now fear for their continued ability to afford the services

not offered by the government, such as quality education, healthcare, and unsubsidised food and energy products.


The government’s plan to survive the current economic crisis and to avoid future crises focuses on what it can do in the short-term, the medium-term, and the long-term. In the short term, its top priority is to control inflation and stabilise the market, mainly through restoring depleted dollar reserves back up to a level that would allow the resumption of imports. This, in turn, would mitigate the soaring price of basic commodities. Doing so is important both economically and politically. To achieve its aim, the government has mapped out two parallel tracks.

The first is to enlist the help of military-owned enterprises to keep basic commodities such as food and energy abundantly available. Since March, the government has put a huge effort into making sure there is enough bread and oil for people to buy at affordable prices, even postponing plans to remove the subsidies on food and fuel.

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The current IMF leadership has prioritised the fasttracking of market liberalisation, even at the expense of slowing important national infrastructure projects and causing yet more pain to Egypt’s middle-class.
Vendors selling produce last month at a market in Alexandria, Egypt, where inflation has soared during the past year.Credit: Islam Safwat/Bloomberg

The second track is for the CBE to take radical fiscal measures to close the gap between the dollar exchange rate in official and unofficial (or black) markets. Floating the EGP against the dollar in conjunction with raising interest rates encouraged most Egyptians to invest in highrate EGP certificate deposits rather than hedging against inflation by purchasing and saving dollars or gold. In December, the CBE’s Policy Committee decided in its last routine meeting of 2022 to raise interest rates by 3 percent to control inflation and strengthen the Egyptian Pound before allowing it to float, as per IMF instructions. Since March, the CBE has gradually raised the interest rate by 8 percent.

This economically liberal policy has succeeded in attracting large investments - from Egyptians both at home and abroad - in the high-profit Egyptian Pound certificates of deposits offered by Egyptian national banks. In the medium term, this policy is expected to control inflation and bring the exchange rate back within a reasonable range. Official statements show that Egyptians poured more than EGP 300 billion into these certificates of deposit in just two weeks, which has helped to compensate for the flight from Egypt of financial investors.

Doing so tapped into a recent trend. In the past few years, many of the 14 million Egyptians living and working abroad have made financial contributions to Egypt’s sovereign wealth fund to support the state-led comprehensive development plan. This huge Egyptian diaspora has the financial muscle to make a real difference to the future of the Egyptian economy. In August, the CBE highlighted a record increase of 1.6 percent in the remittance inflow, now equal to £31.9 billion.

In the near future, the government’s main goal is to encourage foreign investors to return to the potentially lucrative Egyptian market, including hot money investors and funds offering foreign direct investment. This would bring much-needed money and employment opportunities to the Egyptian macroeconomic system. In the past two weeks, the Egyptian Prime Minister has held several meetings with local business owners and foreign investors to discuss ways to facilitate their operations and increase their volumes of production.

This goes hand-in-hand with improving the tourism sector, in particular the need to entice new tourists from east Asia to compensate for the re-

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An employee counts Egyptian pounds at a foreign exchange office in central Cairo, Egypt, March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

the recently reduced number of Russian and European tourists, whose visits were curtailed in part by the war in Ukraine. Egyptian tourism companies have already started arranging trips for tourist groups from China, the first of which arrived in Cairo and visited the Red Sea resorts earlier this month. In his meeting with the Indian prime minister this week, President El-Sisi said Egypt would welcome an increase in Indian tourists. He is no doubt mindful that tourism is one of two frontiers of foreign currency, alongside revenues collected from transit through the Suez Canal.

In the long-term, the government proposes to harmonise taxation rules and limit the military’s role in the economy, whilst over the next four years it also plans to list state-owned stocks worth around $10 billion every year for foreign and local investors to buy, a plan that officials hope will net the government around $40 billion by its conclusion. At the same time, ministers want to increase the Egyptian private sector’s role in the running and ownership of big national projects, up to 65 percent from roughly 30 percent today. That is expected to offer a golden opportunity to Egyptian entrepreneurs and start-ups that could give a major boost to the country’s economic future.

On tax, the government wants to regulate the process of collection, both from businesses and individuals, although its proposed policies have already been greeted by a chorus of objections. On state ownership, the government recently issued a policy document outlining key principles governing the scope of state and military interventions in the market, but the complete withdrawal of the military from the market does not seem realistic or feasible any time soon. Military enterprises have always been the backbone of the Egyptian economy and a safety net for Egyptians in times of crisis, meaning that any wholesale changes will need to be implemented slowly,

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Cairo, Jan 24th 2023. Credit: AP
The government’s main goal is to encourage foreign investors to return to the potentially lucrative Egyptian market, including hot money investors and funds offering foreign direct investment.
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and under a constant process of evaluation and revision.


There are always hidden opportunities in every crisis. In the case of Egypt’s current economic crisis, the hidden opportunity could be to accelerate the process of establishing a modern macroeconomic system in place of the old and barren structure that has kept the Egyptian economy struggling for so long.

Yet despite the painful pressures on the spending

power of most Egyptians, especially the middleclass, there are some promising indicators at the state level. Egypt’s GDP had grown by 4.4 percent by the end of 2022, compared to 3.3 percent growth by 2021, while Egypt’s non-oil exports rose by about 12 percent to reach $30.4 billion, compared to $27.1 billion the year before. If improvements continue, the government will dust off the big national infrastructure projects, which in turn are expected to benefit society’s poorest. Yet all that is for a later day. For now, the focus is on taming inflation. For the foreseeable future, expect only temporary fixes to a chronic disease that has inflicted Egypt for seven decades.

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The Female Jihadist Crisis in Eastern Syria

Most Serious Issue for Al-Hawl, Roj Refugee Camps

With the announcement in the middle of this week by the French Ministry of Justice and the Anti-Terrorism Department in Paris of the return of 47 people, (15 women and 32 children), from the families of ISIS fighters from camps in northeastern Syria, just days after Canada agreed to return 6 women and 13 other children, the issue of female jihadists trapped in Syria with their children has resurfaced. However, why is their presence in those

camps considered a problem? Who is to blame, and how can it be resolved?

Although the exact number of jihadi wives of ISIS fighters is unknown, their combined number with their children exceeds 42,000, and they come from more than 50 countries worldwide, including Asian, European, and African nations. These figures are according to a source from the Civil Administration of Al-Hawl refugee camp, which is located in the countryside of the Syrian province of Al-Hasakah, and also include other female jihadists

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who live in another location called the “Roj” camp.


According to the Civil Administration in Al-Hawl refugee camp, the number of female jihadists, estimated at around 8,000, is the most prominent problem for Al-Hawl and Roj refugee camps. Their presence in those camps is the most significant “security obstacle” that the Civil Administration and security forces face in terms of repeating the jihadists’ crimes. Although the international coalition led by the United States continues to pursue elements of the ISIS organization in Syria and neighboring Iraq with the Syrian Democratic Forces, the problem of female jihadists persists, particularly in Al-Hawl refugee camp, which has the highest number of female jihadists in comparison to Roj camp.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are leading security campaigns in the three camps on a regular basis, in an attempt to obstruct the killings that take place in the camp and to disrupt the cells formed by jihadists who want to flee from the two camps, parts of which have been allocated for them and their children.


“Returning female jihadists and their children to their original homelands and dismantling the camps in northeastern Syria where they live is the best solution to this security problem, because each of the countries from which they come can rehabilitate and integrate them into their societies through intellectual programs,” Amr Farak, a researcher and political analyst specializing in terrorism affairs, said to Majalla. Farak also added: “Confronting and dismantling the intellectual vision of female jihadists and their children through intensive programs is something that has happened in the past, so that they can live within their societies again, far from the idea and concepts of the supposed caliphate and extremist ideas.”


“When the female jihadists return to their home country, some will be placed under security control until

they are rehabilitated, while others will face trial. Perhaps the Canadian authorities want to put this matter into action, given their agreement a week ago to return 6 women and 13 children,” Farak continued. The researcher also warned of the impact of female jihadists on children while they remain together in camps in northeastern Syria, as this results in the cultivation of extremism among children, particularly adolescents, some of whom, as he put it, have turned into extremist elements without any affiliation. He stated in this regard, “Some of these children were born in countries to which they do not belong. For example, they were born under unusual circumstances in Syria. If that had happened in Canada, for example, they would be in much better shape today.”


Farak went on to say; “Blocking the path to extremism among the third generation of children of ISIS jihadis is a success in and of itself. A number of European and Arab countries have put programs in place to rehabilitate those who have been returned from jihadist camps in Syria.” He noted that: “Canada has a similar experience related to its dealings with returnees from Chechnya in the 1990s, and thus it can today deal with those it wishes to return from Syria.”

Farak also observed: “Returning female jihadists with their children, rehabilitating them, and prosecuting some of them will reduce the security burdens facing Syria, instead of turning some areas of this country into hotbeds for male and female jihadists. Their return will help Syria overcome a major crisis caused by the failure to evacuate female jihadists and their chil-

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Although the exact number of jihadi wives of ISIS fighters is unknown, their combined number with their children exceeds 42,000, and they come from more than 50 countries worldwide.
Female member of jihadist battalion, the Ahbab Al-Mustafa Battalion, assembles a rifle during military training in a mosque in the Seif El Dawla neighborhood in Aleppo. (Reuters)


dren from Al-Hawl refugee camp to countries where they have their nationalities.”


Ahmed Sultan, a researcher specializing in the affairs of armed religious movements, described the fact that female jihadists are still trapped in the Al-Hawl refugee camp with their children as an “international dilemma.”

“Because it has shied away from its responsibilities, the international community has shown no genuine desire to address the issue of this camp and other camps in Syria and Iraq. Although ISIS was defeated militarily, there was no serious planning for the stage that followed the organization’s military defeat,” Sultan told Majalla.

The camps, according to the organization, are essential to the survival of ISIS’ purported caliphate.


“Before it was defeated, the organization told the female jihadists who joined it to surrender to Kurdish forces and that its fighters would liberate them later. Unfortunately, this plan is being precisely implemented, as we witnessed a year ago with the attack on Ghwayran prison in Al-Hasakah governorate. ISIS was able to release dozens of its members, the exact number of which was unknown due to the security and intelligence services’ obscuring this event. However, the organization now sees in those camps the survival of its defunct caliphate. Jihadi women teach ISIS doctrine and ideology to their children in Al-Hawl camp and other camps in Syria and Iraq via Sharia insti-

tutes,” Sultan added to Majalla.


“Imam al-Shatibi Institute works to educate the children of jihadists, whom ISIS refers to as the ‘cubs of the caliphate’ in in Al-Hawl camp and other camps. It is overseen by Osama al-Iraqi within the Education Bureau and is run by Abu Hassan al-Muhajir, who travels to several regions in northern and northeastern Syria, including towns controlled by Turkey, such as Ras al-Ayn,” Sultan explained. Sultan also noted: “At the moment, the international community is oblivious to ISIS’ expansion, but Canada has resorted to returning its citizens in order to avoid future problems. By not returning them, the organization is able to redo its plans and return through a new generation.”

Sultan also considered that: “The timetable for returning female jihadists and their children is below the required level, as the numbers that are returned are few compared to those who remain in the camps. Therefore, the issue needs more concerted efforts from the international community to solve it. The funds allocated to the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria for camps located in its areas are limited and simple. More support from active countries is required to prevent the emergence of a new generation of jihadists.”


According to a statement issued by the French Ministry of Justice last Tuesday, the women returned from camps in eastern Syria ranged in age from 19 to 56, and seven of them had arrest warrants issued against them, while eight others were detained. Although Canada agreed a week ago to return a number of its citizens stranded in the Al-Hawl camp after initially refusing their return, the date of their evacuation from Syrian territory has yet to be announced. The federal court, which agreed to return several women and their children, has yet to rule on four men who have pursued the authorities in the hope of being returned to their country.

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SDF are leading security campaigns in the three camps, to obstruct the killings and to disrupt the cells formed by jihadists.
Kurdish female fighters of the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) take part in a military parade as they celebrate victory over the Islamic State, in Qamishli, Syria, on March 2019 ,28. (Reuters)

Last week, Canada’s foreign ministry announced that it had “finally agreed to a decision regarding the return of several women and their children to the country” after they filed a lawsuit against the Canadian government, claiming that the authorities’ refusal to return them violated their rights. The Canadian authorities did not specify what legal actions could be taken against the women if they returned to Canada, including whether they would face charges of belonging to a “terrorist” group or be placed in rehabilitation centers.

Although many European and Arab countries returned their citizens who had become stranded in a camp, this did not alleviate the problem of female jihadists who had become stranded in the Al-Hawl and Roj camps, especially since each of those countries only returned dozens of them.


Human Rights Watch, an international human rights organization, in mid-December noted the delay in repatriating foreigners with alleged ties to ISIS. According to the organization, despite an increase

in the repatriation of women and children in recent months, more than 42,400 foreigners accused of having links with ISIS remain abandoned by their countries in camps and prisons in northeastern Syria.

Security incidents occur on a regular basis at Al-Hawl camp. At least 42 people were killed by ISIS supporters in 2022. Employees, aid workers, and children were also targeted, forcing international organizations and institutions to withdraw from the Al-Hawl camp, posing new challenges for the “Civil Administration”

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Ahmed Sultan, a researcher specializing in the affairs of armed religious movements, described the fact that female jihadists are still trapped in the Al-Hawl refugee camp with their children as an “international dilemma.”


Supporting Fellow Iranian Women at a Price

International Chess Arbiter Fired for Supporting the Protests Speaks to Majalla

Iranian chess arbiter Shohreh Bayat chose to be a voice of Iranian women instead of being pro-regime. She emphasized that all Iranian women suffer from tough restrictions. In an exclusive interview with Majalla, Bayat said, “the regime treats us as secondclass citizens,” and there is no equality. She also told Majalla that the regime would arrest her as soon as she reaches the airport in Iran. She refused to speak about her family for fears over their safety, given her opposition to the Iranian regime’s practices against its people. Speaking of her most recent problem with the International Chess Federation, Bayat told Majalla that people in her country are risking their lives to bring a change, so losing her job is nothing compared to their sacrifices.

Shohreh Bayat is one of the most prominent and famous chess players in the world. She is a Woman FIDE Master and the first Asian woman to work as an arbiter. She was appointed General Secretary of the Iran Chess Federation until her resignation in October 2018. As a prominent member, she was elected to the FIDE Arbiters Commission in 2019. She was awarded the International Women of Courage Award by the United States due to her

courageous opposition to the Iranian regime. Bayat’s public clash with the regime started in 2020, after IRGC’s media accused her of violating hijab rules in a championship in Russia. Afterwards, Bayat joined with athletes who expressed their solidarity with anti-government protestors, which affected her work as a chess arbiter.

Bayat showed solidarity with the protests of Iranian women that erupted following the death of Mahsa Amini (22 years) in the custody of the morality police who had arrested her on charges of violating the Islamic dress code. Bayat faced a serious problem with the FIDE which resulted in its firing her from the Arbiter Committee, after she expressed solidarity with her fellow women in a tournament in Iceland. Bayat wore a T-shirt with the phrase “Women, Life, Freedom” slogan during the tournament, which the Federation deemed as violating the rules. Hence, Shohreh Bayat has become a symbol of resolve and challenge against the injustice and oppression of the Iranian regime against its people. Western media also consider her an icon for courageous Iranian women.

Majalla had the following interview with Bayat in which she spoke about the impact of the crisis on her career, the possibilities of her return back home, and

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the position of her family.

Q. First, tell us why did you choose chess?

A. Chess is a historical and cultural game for Iranian people, because we believe chess was invented in Persia. It appeared in many poems and the game is popular in the country.

Q. Did your family support your choice? How did this sport influence your life?

A. My father introduced me to the game of chess, which was beloved by Persian poets. At the time, chess was one of the few sports in which one could compete while wearing a hijab, so my father could still support me and accompany me in the events. Chess taught me critical thinking and helped me to travel abroad to broaden my horizons, and that changed my life.

Q. How do you see the status of women in Iran, particularly those who play sports? As an Iranian woman, what are the obstacles you faced?

A. There are indeed many limitations for women in sport. Some limitations come from the mandatory hijab and it makes the life of athletes difficult by

being required to compete with uniforms that are not suitable for sporting competitions. In my personal experience in chess, the problem was that we were not allowed to play against men, and the number of female players was limited so it was slowing down our progress.

Q. Do you consider your decision to publicly defend the freedom of women in your country to be a major turning point?

A. Definitely, it happened to me that I had to take a side. To be with the people or the regime. I am one of these people, one of the millions of Iranian women who were suffering from living under a dictatorship. I wanted to be myself, and to be a voice of Iranian women rather than a poster girl for Iranian regime.

Q. How are women’s lives in Iran? Do they get good education? Why do many Iranian women go abroad?

A. The regime treats us as second-class citizens. There is no equality. However, on average, the majority of Iranian people are open-minded, including men who stand up for women›s rights. Iranian women normally are well-educated, and it is not because the regime encourages us to be educated, but because of our culture which we inherited from the pre-Islamic revolution era.

Q. In your opinion, is there a contradiction between Iran›s interest in science and weapons development and the dictatorship of the political system?

A. When it comes to science in military or nuclear areas, there is no freedom. People who work there have to agree on minimum five-year travel ban.

Q. Are you really afraid of going back home? Did you ask for a written guarantee of your safety before returning?

A. I know that as soon as I reach to airport in Iran, the regime will arrest me. Otherwise, I would definitely go back to my country. In 2020, I asked

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People in my country are risking their lives to bring a change.
I learned courage from them. Losing my job is nothing while they are sacrificing their lives.
Shohreh Bayat.

for a guarantee letter from the regime that if I go back to Iran, I would be safe, but they refused to provide it.

Q. Do you live with your family in London? What is the position of your family in Iran towards you?

A. I do not want to answer questions about my family because it puts them in danger.

Q. What does the phrase “Women - Life – Freedom” written on your T-shirt mean to you?

A. Women, Life, Freedom are three strong words. They are similar to the word “love,” so they are hard to define. For me, “Women, Life, Freedom” is the right to a normal life for Iranian women, because we are also human beings.

Q. Why did you do wear the T-shirt in spite of earlier warnings not to do?

A. I wore this T-shirt because if I stay silent regarding this massive human rights cause, I would not able to forgive myself. My silence would empower oppressors of Iranian women. We want the whole world to stand up for human rights and it is an obligation of sports organizations like FIDE as well. It is already mentioned in article 4.3 of FIDE Charter. FIDE is committed to respecting all internationally

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My silence would empower oppressors of Iranian women. We want the whole world to stand up for human rights and it is an obligation of sports organizations.
Chess Arbiter Shohreh Bayat during a chess game in an international championship.
Shohreh Bayat wearing hijab

recognized human rights and shall strive to promote the protection of these rights.

Q. Do you feel regret after the problem with the International Chess Federation?

A. I do not, and I won›t regret it. People in my country are risking their lives to bring a change. I learned courage from them. Losing my job is nothing while they are sacrificing their lives.

Q. Some people call for the separation of sports from politics. What do you think?

A. I think sports is not silent when it comes to human rights and that is why IOC suggested banning Russia. Iran murders its own people. Dictators in Iran use sports as a tool to bring international credit for themselves. Sports must not be political but must speak up for human rights. It is our obligation.

Q. Have any international figures, institutions or countries expressed solidarity with you?

A. I have received many messages of support, especially by Iranian and Ukrainian peoples, which was overwhelming. Hikaru Nakamura, the champion at the event where I wore the “Women, Life, Freedom” T-shirt, also wrote a tweet in support of “Women, Life, Freedom” and Ukraine.

Q. How do you feel now? How do you spend your time after FIDE decision?

A. I feel that I did the right thing and because of that I feel self-satisfaction. No one can keep me away from my beloved game. I teach chess in primary schools across the London every day, and I want to be a good role model for my students.

Q. What is your next step? When do you expect to return to your country?

A. I think life is a short journey and I want mine to be productive. I do not know if I will ever have the chance to return back to Iran, but I know these days I am closer to it than ever.

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Chess Arbiter Shoreh Bayat during a championship. Shoreh Bayat wearing the T-shirt that caused a crisis with the International Chess Federation

Promoting Not-for-profit Sector to Achieve Prosperity in Society

Social Investment in Saudi: A Shift to Concept of Making Profits

In the past few years, the Saudi government has started to include innovative labels. For example, the public sector, which is now widely called the government sector, is currently being called the first sector. As for the private sector, it is the second sector while the third sector is the new name for the non-profit sector, on which Saudi Arabia relies a lot these days.

The third sector is a more comprehensive, ambitious and flexible

name than the one that is being replaced: the non-profit sector. From this particular sector, the name of social investment emerges, as a new method of doing business, but with a social impact away from the for-profit business, exchange and pay taxes only.

In a 2021 book entitled: “Social Investment in the Non-Profit Sector,” Saudi researcher, Dr. Amani Bint Zuhair Al-Shehri, said that the emergence of social investment was accompanied by the beginning of awareness of social goals in business that is, avoiding investing in what might harm society such as tobacco companies and projects that

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cause environmental pollution, etc. She added, “Ideas about social investment began to spread.”

Meanwhile, a few days ago, Majid Al-Hogail, the Saudi Minister of Municipal, Rural Affairs and Housing, said that house prices in Dammam (east) are reasonable. However, they are expensive in Riyadh (central) and Jeddah (west), confirming that his ministry will make available more lands for development to increase supply, and deflate the prices eventually.

The Minister’s talk sheds light on one of the most influential factors in the process of inflation: real estate. People and businesses are sensitive to real estate inflation. Nevertheless, there are other factors, both local and global. Saudi scored an inflation rate of 3.2%, one of the lowest in the world.


As of the 1st of January, Saudi Arabia raised the price of diesel by 19%. The price has jumped from SR 0.63 (16.8 US cents) per liter to SR 0.75 (20 cents) per liter. The Saudi move goes in line with the new Saudi policy of liberating the economy, lifting subsidies, and adjusting the fuel prices to match the global prices.

Saudi consumers felt the price differences on the 2nd of January as companies raised their product prices. Diesel is the backbone of the commercial, industrial and agricultural sectors. Even small price adjustments are reflected in the selling price on the very next day. Consumers felt a little rise in their grocery invoices. Any cost differences are always shouldered by consumers.

The electricity, gasoline and cooking gas prices have not changed. This helps keep inflation rates under control. It is worth mentioning that a Saudi Royal Decree was issued on the 10th of July, 2021, to fix the prices of gasoline at SR 2.18 (58 US cents) per liter of Octan 91 and SR 2.33 (62 US cents) per liter of Octan 95.


Nobody can predict the path of oil prices in 2023. Saudi Arabia needs USD 76 per barrel to maintain a balanced budget in 2023. This January has not witnessed noticeable fluctuations in the oil market.

Saudi Arabia produces three kinds of oil: Arab Extra Light, Arab Medium and Arab Heavy. The lighter the oil, the heavier the price. Light is the easiest to refine and extract products. The price range of the Saudi oils did not go below USD 78 and rose up to USD 88 per barrel. January seems to be fine for energy exportation. However, the news coming from China about the declining population and scoring the lowest growth rate in 40 years could affect oil consumption negatively.

“Global growth is forecast to slow from 6.0 percent in 2021 to 3.2 percent in 2022 and 2.7 percent in 2023,” says the IMF’s website on the latest global growth forecast.

The lower the growth, the lower the consumption. If prices go below 76 per barrel there could be increased taxation to run the state or lending money at a higher interest rate, both of which

are undesirable.

On the other side, the Russian diesel import ban by EU, which takes effect next February, might create a shortage in diesel market, which is an important export product of the Saudi oil refineries.


The US Federal Reserve is expected to hike the interest rate to 5% or a little more to curb inflation and dry up liquidity. The Saudi Riyal is pegged to the US dollar. This means that the cost of loans will be higher which in turn means that businesses will bear higher costs to continue in the market, and inflation is inevitable.

Insurance policies have hiked by 130% in January. The reason is that Saudi insurance companies re-insure the policies with European insurers to share insurance risk. The problem is that European insurers have raised the cost of their re-insurance policies due to the rising risks of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.

The above show a couple of examples of imported inflation.


Five years ago, the Saudi government launched the Citizen Account Program. According to its official website, the Citizen Account Program was established to provide social protection for Saudi families from the expected direct and indirect impact of various economic reforms, which may cause an additional burden on some groups of society. The program re-directs government benefits to deserving groups in a way that promotes rational consumption, and ensures that subsidies are effectively directed to deserving groups, as government support will be provided in the form of cash transferred directly to eligible beneficiaries.” The program was supposed to expire in December 2022. However, the government has extended the life of the program for three months. It is hard to tell if further extensions will happen after March.

It is clear that the government will see how things go. If inflation continues at higher rates, the program is likely to be extended to protect the safety net of middle classes and people with less access to education and wealth, as well as social security beneficiaries.

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The Citizen Account Program was established to provide social protection for Saudi families.
The Russian diesel import ban by EU might create a shortage in diesel market, which is an important export product of the Saudi oil refineries.

An Egyptian Shantytown that Turned into Islamic-style Developed Area

A New Era for Magra El Oyoun Wall Area

National projects have changed the features of Cairo Governorate, which is famous for its history and civilization. These projects aim to restore the cultural destination of the capital again through re-planning slum areas and converting them into tourist attractions, highlighting the history, civilization and heritage of the capital.

One of these projects is the development of Magra El Oyoun Wall area, where the leather tannery area was replaced by an integrated cultural and touristic complex with buildings designed in the Islamic architectural style.

All the buildings are painted with beige and brown and all the windows of the residential buildings were adorned by mashrabiyas.

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ociety S
Photo shows buildings at the developed area of Magra El-Oyoun Wall. Credit: The Egyptian Ministry of Housing

There is also a huge shopping mall that includes a number of shops, cinema halls and theaters, in addition to landscaping features.

“The project to develop Magra El Oyoun Wall area comes within the framework of implementing the directives of the political leadership to restore Cairo’s civilized splendor as well as its historical, cultural and touristic role,” Assad Nasry, Senior Project Executive Engineer, explained to Majalla.

The development project includes the building of 79 residential buildings of different heights, with a total of 1924 housing units, and 18 commercial units on the ground floor in some buildings, according to government data.

The project also includes the construction of an entertainment and administrative shopping mall which includes res-

taurants, cinemas, and other facilities, a garage with a capacity of 1355 cars, in addition to an open-air theater in front of the mall with a total area of 1000 square meters.

Magra El Oyoun Wall area is one of the areas that enjoys a long history spanning the ages, so it was at the top of the areas that the State (represented by the Ministry of Housing and Utilities and the New

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Photo shows buildings at the developed area of Magra El-Oyoun Wall. Credit: The Egyptian Ministry of Housing
All the buildings are painted with beige and brown and all the windows of the residential buildings were adorned by mashrabiyas.

Urban Communities Authority) was keen to revive and restore its civilized appearance.

Magra El Oyoun Wall area was built in the time of Sultan Al-Ghoury over 800 years ago. The main purpose was to provide the Salah El-Din Citadel with pure drinking water straight from the Nile.

It operated through wheels that brought up the water to the aqueduct, which then flowed all the way to the Citadel.

It’s known that Al-Nassir Muhammad ibn Qalawoon built four waterwheels to connect the waters of the Nile to Salah El-Din Citadel.

The aqueduct remained an integral part of the Cairo water system until the mid of 19th century.

“The development projects of Historic Cairo coincide with the urban renaissance that Egypt is witnessing currently, whether through expanding the urban area by establishing new cities, or developing the existing urban areas,” Nasry added.

The residential buildings are graded between 6, 5, 4 and 3 floors plus a ground space as the height of the building de-

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The project is a small part of the government’s ongoing efforts to clear out Cairo’s slum neighborhoods which have accumulated over the course of the last few decades.
Photo shows buildings at the developed area of Magra El-Oyoun Wall.
Credit: The Egyptian Ministry of Housing

creases as we approach the wall of Magra El-Oyoun, so that it does not disappear, according to Nasry.

The project is a small part of the government’s ongoing efforts to clear out Cairo’s slum neighborhoods which have accumulated over the course of the last few decades.

Individuals living in such neighborhoods have been moved to other housing in the Asmarat district in Helwan as well as other similar government housing, offering many of the capital’s citizens a much higher standard of living.

“The idea of the renovation is based on creating an axis that links the north and south geographically through merging a number of trade, handicraft, touristic and cultural activities along that axis to preserve the historic theme of Cairo,” said Karim Gamal in an interview with Majalla. Gamal is an engineer with the New

Urban Communities Authority, which is in charge of the development project of Magra El Oyoun Wall area.

The Ministry of Housing and Utilities prepared model workshops for leather tanneries in Al-Rubaiky in Badr City, to which the workers in the Magra ElOyoun area were transferred. Residents and workers were also transferred to the Badr area, due to the proximity of the housing to their new workplace in AlRubaiky area within the city, according to Gamal.

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Photo shows buildings at the developed area of Magra El-Oyoun Wall. Credit: The Egyptian Ministry of Housing
Magra El Oyoun Wall area is one of the areas that enjoys a long history spanning the ages.


Almost Annual Question

What is Happiness?

Parts of the American beginning-of-the-year’s rituals, beside vows to lose weight after more than a month of festivals, (Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve), is to wonder whether the

year before was a “happy” one and whether the new year will be happy, and, anyway, what is “happiness.”

With the beginning of this year, magazines were, as usual, interested in the subject: Time published

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Mohammad Ali Salih - Washington

a cover-story titled “The Secret of Happiness Experts;” Fortune wrote about how “researchers have followed over 700 people since 1938 to find the keys to happiness;” Forbes wrote a long report under “Work-Life Happiness;” Psychology Today under “How to Spend Your Time Like a Millionaire and Become Happier;” and, Discover under “Try These 6 Science-Backed Secrets to Happiness.”

Amazon’s lists of January’s new books included: The Good Life: Lessons from the World›s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness. Similarly, the January 2022 new books list included The Good Life Method: Reasoning Through the Big Questions of Happiness, Faith, and Meaning.

The American Merriam-Webster dictionary

defines “happiness” as “a state of well-being and contentment … a pleasurable or satisfying experience.” In the Oxford English Dictionary it is “Good fortune or good luck in life generally… The state of pleasurable contentment of mind; deep pleasure in or contentment with one›s circumstances.” The latter dictionary points out that the word was first written as “happyness” in a book that was published approximately in 1473

The American Declaration of Independence declares three “unalienable rights:” “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” But the Declaration doesn’t define “Happiness.”

A 2018 report by Emory University’s Center for Law and Religion provided a challenging definition: “The most important thing is to realize that the happy life is about more than just me: my health, my wealth, my safety and security … We would not permit, say, one political party to flourish and deny the chance for another to do the same … Why, then, are we satisfied to let some neighborhoods in a city languish, or some schools in a district fail? Why are we willing to let some countries deteriorate?”

The report, calling upon governments to lead their citizens to pursue – and obtain – happiness, criticized the American government for its lack of interest and, therefore, inability, to do that. In Washington, the nation’s capital, an obscure office building at 2 Massachusetts Avenue, where the National Postal Service and the National Postal Museum are located, seems to be

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The American MerriamWebster dictionary defines “happiness” as “a state of well-being and contentment … a pleasurable or satisfying experience.”
Credit: Unsplash

the only place that bears the heavy responsibility of recording – not persuading, and definitely not obtaining – the happiness of the Americans.

The American Time Use Survey (ATUS), part of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, declared that its job was to “measure the amount of time people spend in one day doing various activities, such as paid work, childcare, volunteering, and socializing.”

“Amount of time” is, of course, far different from “happiness,” and the survey started only in 2003 But a few years ago, questions were added to the survey about the “wellbeing” of the respondents. They were asked to describe their feelings about being happy and enjoying what they were doing, as compared to being sad and stressed.

The 2021 survey results showed that happiness and job-satisfaction could be reduced by being physically and mentally tired, as sadness didn’t necessarily mean being tired.

Health-care and social workers ranked high on happiness and job-satisfaction, but high on stress and being tired.

The most stressful people were those in finance and insurance sectors, followed by education, with lawyers at the bottom. On the other side, farmers and loggers ranked less on stress, and, although their jobs were mostly physical, their closeness to nature and outdoor environment seemed to be a positive factor. Clearly, the white-collar sector had more stress than the blue one.

This survey on happiness was unique for calling people, asking them what they were doing and how they felt about that. Places where respondents were at the time of being called seemed to be an important factor: those in churches and other places of worship ranked at the top for feeling happy and the least for being stressed, while teachers and nurses had high stress ratings, although appreciating their jobs,

Some respondents were doing easy things or doing nothing when called by the survey officers, and, expectedly, recorded less stress: eating or drinking at restaurants or bars; riding a bike; a

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Healthcare and social workers ranked high on happiness and jobsatisfaction, but high on stress and being tired.
Credit: Unsplash

passenger (not a driver) in a car; shopping; in a spa or a gym; and, walking as an exercise.

The American government’s only office to record happiness seemed to have a hard time doing that, let alone to define what the word meant:

First, a person who was called in a bar or a restaurant, eating and drinking, could be happy at that very moment he was called, but could be sad before or after that call. Sometimes, there were follow-up questions, but they barely produced definite results.

Second, asking people if they were happy or not

is, of course, subjective. The above-mentioned definition of happiness by Emory University covered wider subjects than eating or drinking: the happiness of the people all over the world.

Third, understandably, being government employees, the survey offices didn’t touch the subject of religion. But religion – and the expanded definition of “spiritualism” -- could not be ignored.

The survey’s own result about people in churches, or other places of worship, scoring high on happiness and low on stress could not be ignored.

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2 A Weekly Political News Magazine Issue 1941- January- 27/01/2023
Nemat Shafik: The First Woman to Lead Columbia University

«Babylon»: A Watchable If

Weirdly Joyless Movie

Every Great Filmmaker Has to Fall on Their Face Once and Learn From It

Watching Damien Chazelle›s «Babylon,» in all its superficially titillating, occasionally exciting and mostly exhausting wretched excess (the orgies, the elephant poop, the contempo

actors overdoing it as dawn-of-cinema stars, the general air of cynical performative effrontery), I thought to myself: We›ve been here before, so many times.

You sit down to watch a movie by a director

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whose work you love. He›s swinging for the fences. His ambition is on full display and so, in fits and spurts, is his talent. Yet something else is on display too: a lack of judgment that starts out like a worm, wriggling through the proceedings, before growing and metastasizing until it›s eating everything in its path.

I›ll leave the D-word out of this, since «Babylon,» a watchable if weirdly joyless movie, never turns into a disaster of incoherence like, say, «Amsterdam.» Yet the movie reminded me of how many great directors have had a compulsive epic misfire in them. Probably most of them; it may be inherent in the imagination of moviemaking. I›m thinking of Francis Ford Coppola and «One from the Heart,» Steven Spielberg and «1941,» or Martin Scorsese and «New York, New York,» a debauched ramble of a Method musical that, I›m sorry, does not hold up. I›m thinking of David Lynch and «Wild at Heart,» Steven Soderbergh and «Kafka,» Michelangelo Antonioni and «Zabriskie Point,» Baz Luhrmann and «Australia,» or even (dare I say it?) Stanley Kubrick and «Eyes Wide Shut.» (We can debate that one another time, but after numerous viewings I still don›t think it jells.)

My point is that great filmmakers, in following their muse, sometimes need to let themselves go out there -- too far out there -- in order to return to earth. Each colossal movie failure is different; each one writes its own rules for what not to do going forward. But film directors, who tend to regard each movie they make as if it were one of their own children, are often very protective of their big duds, for understandable reasons. Directing a movie can be an impossible job. Those who make movies need to feel that even the ones that didn›t go over were worth doing. Yet the lessons can creep up on them. Especially if they really did build a movie around a mistake, which is what I think Damien Chazelle did in «Babylon.»

Chazelle has been on the map since 2014, during which time he›s made four films, two of which I love, one of which, I think, is good

and underrated. Have you seen «Whiplash» recently? I found it even more gripping the second time -- a percussive jazz psychodrama, centered around a charismatic teacher from hell, that›s built like a runaway riff that won›t stop. «La La Land,» a musical that›s a virtuoso fusion of the old and the new (just what Scorsese was trying to pull off in «New York, New York»), achieves a quality of ecstatic nostalgia and bittersweet heavenly yearning. It›s an addictive movie (I›ve seen it nearly a dozen times). And «First Man,» while not on that level, dramatized the American moon landing with such a clear-eyed apprehension of the perils of space travel -- the hurtling apocalypse beneath the smooth glide -- that if you got on the film›s wavelength (which many didn›t), you felt the stakes in every scene.

One of the reasons I think Damien Chazelle is an important filmmaker -- the artist he reminds me of most is Spielberg -- is that, in each of those three films, he›s crafting a tale of faith. Not religious faith per se, but faith in something (the salvation of music, the promise of love, the evolutionary need for exploration) that is ardent, total, sustaining. A kind of gaga-eyed belief in the stories he›s telling has been Chazelle›s defining quality as a filmmaker. Which is why «Babylon» is such an overwrought oddball. Chazelle, of course, has every right to shift gears and make a sardonic, side-eyed riff on the debauchery of Old Hollywood. And he has every right to make a film that›s less a docudrama than a coruscating historical fantasia.

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Which is why «Babylon» is such an overwrought oddball. Chazelle, of course, has every right to shift gears and make a sardonic, sideeyed riff on the debauchery of Old Hollywood.
Director Damien Chazelle. Credit: Scott Garfield

For all that, the hook of «Babylon» is that Chazelle is presenting the formative days of Hollywood with a bracing warts-and-all semiotic reality. He›s trying to go deeper than other portrayals, to lay the underbelly of the dream factory bare. It›s become a cultural tic to dismiss the authenticity of Kenneth Anger›s «Hollywood Babylon,» a compendium of sordid stories (of sex, drugs, murder) that was first published in France in 1959, but even though that book presented itself as unverified gossip, much of it (though not all of it) really happened, and the mythology it helped to create, about the dirty hidden truth of celebrity in the 20th century, is part of what Chazelle was aiming for.

But «Babylon,» in the largest sense, really is inauthentic. The movie packs in a thousand meticulously researched details, yet its driving sense of excess is fundamentally anachronistic and overblown, whether it›s Margot Robbie›s 1980s-style wild dancing at a party or the way that the depravity on display all seems to take place in a hermetic counterculture bubble removed from the corridors of power.

Kenneth Anger, in his derisive dark way, perceived the grandeur of Hollywood. The scandals he presented became part of its underground mystique, but for Anger everything about Hollywood, even its depravity, was larger than life. What›s missing from «Babylon» is any sense that Hollywood was a dream factory fueled by… well, dreams. The assembly-line filming of silent-movie two-reelers, in which Robbie›s Nellie LaRoy first proves her mettle as a star who can bawdy-dance and cry on cue, is staged with promising ingenuity. But when the film reaches the sound era, the closest it comes to showing us what moviemaking is about is the scene of maladroit studio-set logistics in which Nellie has to keep shooting the same entrance and phone conversation

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One of the reasons I think Damien Chazelle is an important filmmaker is that, in each of those three films, he’s crafting a tale of faith.
ovies M
Brad Pitt and Diego Calva in Babylon. Credit: IMDp

over and over again, until the cameraman literally expires in his hot-box chamber. That›s as close as we get to the joy of filmmaking in «Babylon.»

But the whole reason that Hollywood propelled itself, especially in the ‹20s, as the industry version of a castle in the air is that it produced movies with magic in them, and the people who made those movies (or at least some of them) meant what they were doing. It wasn›t just a cynical shitshow. You would barely guess this from «Babylon,» with its heightened Mad-magazine aesthetic of over-the-top flamboyance and nose-thumbing.

Watching the movie, what I couldn›t fathom is how Damien Chazelle, a disciple of the faith of cinema as surely as any filmmaker alive, could think that this brand of reflexive undercutting represented some sort of higher truth. One of the inevitable conversation pieces in «Babylon» is its movie-montage finale, in which Chazelle uses a rapid-fire psychedelic feast of famous film clips to send us out on a floating cloud of cinema love. But all I could think

was: I wish a meeting could be arranged between that sequence and the film›s previous three hours. What «Babylon» doesn›t have, oddly enough, is a movie love that you can feel in your bones. It shows us the happenstance beauty of a sunset kiss in the silent era, and the nicely written speech that Jean Smart›s gossip columnist delivers evokes a wistful sense of the cyclical nature of cinema and celebrity. But Damien Chazelle›s belief in the power of movies is, for the most part, what he forgot to bring to the table. That›s the lesson of «Babylon»: that even a great filmmaker can›t just believe in himself.

This article was originally published by Variety Entertainment News Service.

Credit: Paramount Pictures
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What’s missing from «Babylon» is any sense that Hollywood was a dream factory fueled by… well, dreams.


What the Butler Couldn’t Unsee

It’s Pretty Clear the Rich are Oblivious to our

Back in the days of stately piles and the serving classes that ran them, the interest we took in the hidden lives of the rich had a recreational quality to it. Working people went off to the seaside for a few days and – either because they were unaccustomed to idleness, or just because of the proximity to each other on the beach – they indulged in reveries. To cater for these reveries, there were rotating racks full of cheeky postcards. When that wasn’t enough to supply their fervid imaginings, then half way along the pier they could bung a penny in a slot machine – a mutoscope, no less – and see what the butler saw. This illicit peep wasn’t just titillating; it also had a certain delinquency about it. Members of the lower orders weren’t supposed to spy on the rich in this way, least of all their butlers.

Even back then, however, it was axiomatic that no man was a hero to his valet. In Britain nowadays, ninety percent of the population (give or take a more deferential percentage) are sceptical valets. Like the supercilious butler straight out of Wodehouse, we gave up feeling much respect for the rich long ago, but it’s not because they are toffee-nosed eccentrics, nor are we horrified by their occasional indiscretions. It’s because they come across as dim. There were always signs that they might not be omniscient, but like Anthony Hopkins in ‘The Remains of the Day’, one preserved a demeanour akin to rigor mortis and buttled on regardless. One could not, as a menial, be expected to understand their lofty deliberations.

Then, in 2008, the evidence of their dimness was suddenly so apparent as to be incontrovertible. Everyone remembers watching the drudges bundling their stuff out of Lehman Brothers, and in the banking crisis that followed it became clear, beyond reasonable doubt, that the ‘masters of the universe’ weren’t mas-


terly at all. They weren’t even especially intelligent, though they did have sufficient guile to get themselves bailed out. The revelation of how dumb they had been inoculated the entire Clapham omnibus against thinking rich people were clever and turned a proverbial gibe into scientific fact: they really did have ‘more money than sense’.

One of the few consolations to be had from living in a world

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‘What the Butler Saw’ slot machines on Brighton Pier

that rewards people like Fred ‘the Shred’ Goodwin is that they are philistines. All that ill-gotten dosh is certain to be wasted on rubbish. These people are definitely not the Medici of Florence or the Gonzaga of Mantua. They are not even pale imitations of artsy-fartsy popes. Those ancestral patrons of the arts were aberrations, whereas in normal times the rich are reliably lacking in sense, including the aesthetic kind. Reliably. We have seen this amply demonstrated by Boris Johnson and the décor supplied by Lulu Lyttle for his flat in Downing Street. Even though the money wasn’t strictly his, when it came to matters of taste, Boris displayed all the vulgarity of a Russian oligarch. I suppose if you hang around with them long enough, some of that bad taste is bound to rub off.

But, oh my, how the rich have changed since the banking crisis! The denizens of Silicon Valley make the erstwhile masters of the universe look like petty criminals. These digital types are far too adventurous to grub around with sub-prime mortgage scams. They are also far too complicated, protected as they are by multiple layers of irony, to bother about how clever we think they are. After taking over Twitter, Elon Musk famously pronounced himself ‘Chief Twit’. I may be wrong in assuming that the word twit has the same meaning in South African English. Or else I may, heretofore, have underestimated Mr Musk’s capacity for self-deprecation.

Actually, though, I don’t think either of these things is the case. A twit is just as much a fool in South African slang as it is in the rest of the Anglosphere, and self-deprecation is not one of

Elon’s more prominent character traits. For the Twit-in-Chief, lugging a kitchen sink into the lobby of Twitter’s headquarters for the sake of a visual pun, stupidity is nothing to be ashamed of. He’s a disruptor. Stupidity is a badge of honour. In a shareholder case against him in San Francisco, the judge found it hard to appoint impartial jurors. They variously described Musk as “narcissistic”, “unpredictable”, “a genius” and “another arrogant rich guy.” One spoke for disenchanted valets everywhere, though, when he claimed the Tesla CEO was “a little off his rocker” (Guardian, 18 January 2023).

In the good old days, we would have had no hesitation in sneering at Elon Musk. “That Elon,” we would sneer, “is running Twitter into the ground and losing billions on the share price of Tesla. If you ask me, he’s got more money than sense!” Accord-

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Even back then, however, it was axiomatic that no man was a hero to his valet. In Britain nowadays, ninety percent of the population (give or take a more deferential percentage) are sceptical valets.
That sink in feeling


well, only one of life’s losers could give a toss about that. This sublime indifference to criticism can be observed in a scene from ‘Glass Onion’ and the imperturbable stupidity of the rich man at the centre of it. The film stars Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc, an ingenious detective with a ridiculous accent. Before I describe the scene, I should explain that the action takes place on a private island in Greece. The glass onion of the title is an onion-shaped building to which some rich ‘disruptors’ are invited by their even more disruptive, and richer, colleague to solve the mystery of his murder.

ing to that quaint old perception, back in the days of analogue it was a simple inverse law – as the money grew, so the sense dwindled, and vice versa. Everyone knew that as the wealth ran out, good sense would finally begin to prevail, though always too late for one’s taste in furnishings. But does anyone, in all honesty, believe that Musk could live long enough to get through such vast quantities of wonga as todays ultra-rich possess? That’s the difference between the old money and the self-styled ‘cognitive elite’ of Silicon Valley. If the money-to-sense equation had any validity, the present lot would be disqualified, on grounds of extreme wealth, from claiming any cognitive powers at all. Unless, that is, the whole thing about being ideas people made good is a hoax. Perhaps if they had more sense, people like Musk would never have made so much money. The lack of sense is the cause of their affluence. If you ever feel stupid for having too little money, cheer up: the fact is, you are definitely not stupid enough, though the fact you cared whether you were, or were perceived to be, intelligent,

I should also clear up the small matter of Craig’s accent, as it relates to the whole issue of intelligence. Craig has intimated that he borrowed the accent from an historian of the civil war by the name of Shelby Foote. You can hear his drawl on YouTube. But why choose this particular brogue? ‘If we adhered to the most pernicious of prejudices,’ says Alex Clark (Guardian, 15 January 2023), ‘we might say it was because we associate that drawl more readily with rednecks than genius sleuths.’ The convincing impersonation of stupidity is the ultimate disguise for an undercover detective mingling, incognito, with the rich. The accent is not cool, it’s definitely not Bond, it’s not even convincing. Blanc manages to befuddle his listeners like this, right up to the point when he unmasks what Peter Bradshaw has referred to as the ‘loathsome Musk-ish plutocrat’, Miles Bron, as the actual murderer:

‘Blanc: The killer nearly struck my Achilles heel, but thank high heaven, at the last moment I realised what had teased my brain through this entire case: ‘inbreviate’… it’s not a word…

Lionel Toussaint: What?

Miles Bron (in a flashback): Can we just take a second and fully inbreviate this moment?

Blanc: It’s not a real word. It kinda sounds like one, but it’s just entirely made up. Now reclamation, now that is a word, but it’s the wrong word.

Miles Bron (flashback): This place is the full reclamation of everything I’ve achieved up to now.

Blanc: The entire day… a veritable minefield of malapropisms…

Miles Bron (flashback): The infraction point…

Blanc: And factual errors…

Miles Bron (flashback): Dance in the sun, swim in the Ionian Sea.

Blanc: That [pointing towards the sea] is the Aegean Sea. Claire Debella: Oh yeah, it is. It is.

Detective: His wonder fuel is a disaster, his grasp of disruption theory is remedial at best, he didn’t design the puzzle boxes, he didn’t write the mystery, eh voila, it all adds up, the key to this entire case, and it was staring me right in the face. Like everyone in the world, I assumed Miles Bron was a complicated genius, but why? Look into the clear centre of this glass onion: Miles Bron is an idiot.

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This eviction leads to a rare moment of magic as Quinn’s trance is interrupted by a splashing sound and he sees a breaching whale close by the shore.
What is it with the rich and islands? Oh, hang on, I get it.

Miles Bron: Oh please, just tell us who tried to kill me. Detective: Er, nobody tried to kill yer, you vainglorious buffoon!’

Now, vainglorious is good. Buffoon is even better. But neither of these words takes root in the mind as tenaciously as ‘idiot’. Surely, in this brave new digital world that is no longer constrained by expletives, it’s the nearest thing we have left to an oath. From the Greek idiotes, meaning layman, person lacking professional skill, as opposed to a writer, soldier, or skilled workman, idiot literally means ‘private person’ (as opposed to one taking part in public affairs). So decorous was the writer Flann O’Brien, he used the phrase ‘private person’ whenever he could. And yet it is a matter of utter indifference to Miles Bron that the detective does not extend him the same courtesy.

trooping off to the amphitheatre to watch a string of emperors being eaten alive. Virtually, that is. The scurrilous depiction of the rich in ‘Glass Onion’ is merely part of the Zeitgeist. I won’t speak of ‘Parasite’ here, as I’ve never had the stomach to watch it, but the very fact such films exist makes you wonder if open season has been declared on the sybarites. You know things are bad when the actor who played Logan Roy, the media mogul in ‘Succession’, records his disgust with the present situation in a documentary for Channel Five, but seemingly everywhere in popular culture the rich have come in for a proper drubbing. In ‘White Lotus,’ the attitudes and lifestyles of the one percent are mercilessly, and hilariously, satirised by Mike White. It’s hard to know where to begin with this trail hunting classic. The best option for anyone who missed them, is to watch both seasons – one set in Hawaii and the other in Taormina, Sicily – in a single weekend. This needn’t stop me making a few tentative observations. The first season is basically a continual bedroom farce in a luxury hotel presided over by an ingratiating manager who secretly hates his job and most of the clientele. It’s a sort of Fawlty Towers for the Anthropocene.

Like the word buffoon, idiot bounces off him. He exemplifies the thickness of skin of a true idiot. As for the accusation of committing malapropisms, he’s a geek for heaven’s sake – geeks have been taking liberties with the English language since this whole paradigm shift began. There are forty somethings so digital, they even speak this stuff in their everyday lives. The scene demonstrates how impervious rich people like Bron are to the constant barrage they receive from the culture industry. More of this reputational damage has come from HBO. If satire had any potency, ‘White Lotus’ would have triggered a bigger flight of capital than a Bolshevik coup at the Fed. As it is, the filmmakers could dispense with a solemn assertion that ‘no rich folks were harmed in the making of this film,’ because satire is not a real blood sport. As barbaric entertainments go, it is more like trail hunting. In essence, you get up far too early in the morning, unstable the horses, unkennel the hounds and toast each other with stirrup cups, only to pursue a thin line of pisstake across a muddy field.

It is also, as befits these by turns oversensitive and brutal times, not punching down. If this were the Roman Empire, we’d be

Jennifer Coolidge was cast in both seasons as the credulous Tanya McQuoid. When she spoke at the Golden Globes – without doubt the only speech at an awards ceremony I have ever enjoyed – she summed up what she thought motivates Mike White: ‘He’s worried about people,’ she said, ‘he’s worried about friends of his who aren’t doing well. He’s worried about animals, all of that.’

The way White has of showing his concern about people is to line them up against a wall, preferably one painted red so the blood doesn’t show afterwards. And yet, if Coolidge’s words sound like the usual awards ceremony gush, I urge you to listen to the whole speech. She managed to explode the sham of these ceremonies in front of our very eyes. She complained about being bumped off by the writer even as he was openly weeping in the audience, as if in belated repentance at having literally bumped her off. I want to stress again, here, that actual extermination is not what the public requires.

Coolidge went on to confess that she’d dreamt of becoming the Queen of Monaco, ‘even though someone else did it.’ Instead, her acting career had turned out bitty. No one had ever cast her in a big role, and yet she had found stardom in the end, as a

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At the risk, again, of giving too much away, Jennifer Coolidge’s character has to cope with more than just a funny turn in a Sicilian square.
The Berkshire Hunt preparing to rid the countryside of rhyming slang


woman so rich she finds it hard to know what to feel about people, or even whether to feel anything. Judging by a piece of dialogue from ‘A Cinderella Story’ (2004), she was not born for the part so much as made:

Coolidge: I am very, very, very, very upset about this. Girl in mouse suit: You don’t look upset.

Coolidge [sighing]: Huh, it’s the Botox. I can’t show emotion for another hour and a half.

Now I’m no film critic, and fear not, unlike Peter Bradshaw I have no intention of giving away the plot of ‘White Lotus’. Granted, I did just reveal a crucial aspect of it, but I hope I can depend on the reader’s amnesia, or failing that their short attention span. Suffice it to say that, although we are looking at rich people here – which fulfils a genuine need if one feels the slightest consternation at the way the rich prefer to conceal their lives from us paupers – there are scenes which it is truly hard to look at, and thereafter hard to unsee. The shock involved is so acute that it confounds any element of voyeurism. After all, a voyeur chooses to look. When we see this Hawaiian version of Basil Fawlty doing something very rude, we see it through the eyes of

the two people who make the discovery. If the camera lingered a fraction of a second longer on such scenes, then some aspect would begin to turn somebody on. Thankfully, it never quite does. Along with the unseeable, the script introduces us to the unseeing. Only rarely can the rich see what they are doing to the world, and even when they can, there seems no escape back to a world untouched by their depredations. Instead, we are privy to their chatter – bitchy, banal, occasionally baroque in its choice of buzz words – as they lounge about on the shore of a Pacific Island. The only character, arguably, to escape this world is the sixteen-year-old Quinn.

White has admitted that he identifies with Quinn more than with any of the other characters, yet initially Quinn seems an unlikely hero. Utterly dependent on his phone, afflicted by the locked-in syndrome of the modern adolescent, he seems entirely self-sufficient. When he is banished by his sister and her girlfriend from the room they occupy and forced to sleep on the kitchen floor, he is stoical. There isn’t even a window from which to watch the gently lapping waves, yet Quinn is oblivious initially to his cramped surroundings, just as surely as he ignores the charms of the tropics. Until, that is, the uncomfortable reality of a night on a hard floor finally penetrates his consciousness. He stomps off in a huff, duvet under his arm, and heads for the beach.

This eviction leads to a rare moment of magic as Quinn’s trance is interrupted by a splashing sound and he sees a breaching whale close by the shore. Suddenly the humdrum chatter of humanity falls silent as he watches the tail of the creature rise out of the sea. It’s a vision of the Other. Yet, for all its sublime otherness, it is like the flailing tailfin of nature in its death throes. The effect on Quinn seems transitory. In the morning, he is inconsolable when he finds the tide has washed his smart phone and iPad away. But this is not the end of the matter for Quinn. At the dinner table he surprises his family by decrying the damage humans are doing to the planet. He reminds them of the billion animals that burned to death in the Australian bushfires and demands to be told “Where does all the pain go?” In the words of someone conversant with the argot of our times, ‘Nobody at the table answers the question because wow, downer!’

Mike White lets his characters off the hook this time, but there are reminders throughout ‘White Lotus’ of the way this privileged set of people are ruining the world, whether that is their effect on local cultures or the destruction of the biosphere. The chambermaids and the cleaners know it. So does the spa manager, Belinda (played by Natasha Rothwell), who is very forthright on the subject. There are times when the most even-tempered underlings run out of sugar to coat the pill.

At other times, the script is so subtle that if you blinked, you’d miss the reference altogether. The hotel manager, Armond, is a

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If this were the Roman Empire, we’d be trooping off to the amphitheatre to watch a string of emperors being eaten alive. Virtually, that is.
No need to press mute

case in point. Hapless in a way that would not be out of place in a Joe Orton farce, this gay version of Basil Fawlty is constantly on the brink of collapse. He falls off the wagon with an almighty bump when, through a stroke of luck, he gets handed a massive stash of drugs left on the beach by one of the guests. Thus, stoned up to his eyeballs and harassed by another of the guests who blames him for a cockup with the honeymoon suite, Fawlty adopts a maniacal smile whenever he has to greet the punters, while displaying the unmistakable signs of a man unfit for office. At any moment he might stop smiling and do a full-on John Stonehouse. God knows, the beach is temptingly close at hand.

One evening he is watching – as he does every evening, it’s part of the job – the obscenely rich eat dinner. There is an eerie com-

posure about him, despite the fact that he is completely mashed as usual. He turns to a member of his staff and says “Seeing them eating every night, sometimes I want to gouge my eyes out.” It is then that, in a fit of angst, he begins quoting from Part IV of Lord Tennyson’s poem, The Lotos-Eaters, though only the incongruous style would alert one to the fact:

‘Hateful is the dark-blue sky, Vaulted o’er the dark-blue sea. Death is the end of life; ah, why Should life all labour be?’

Because Armond stops after four lines, and there is only the slimmest chance that viewers will recognise them, this is a hidden depth that gives up its secret grudgingly. It turns out Tennyson’s words are spoken by a crew of Greek sailors who have ended up on an island where a flower, the lotus, is the only sustenance. This flower is a narcotic of some kind. Like the occupants of the hotel, it renders the sailors indolent to the point of paralysis. Their captain, Ulysses, struggles to shake them out of their torpor. The mariners continue:

Let us alone. Time driveth onward fast, And in a little while our lips are dumb. Let us alone. What is it that will last?

All things are taken from us, and become Portions and parcels of the dreadful past. Let us alone. What pleasure can we have

To war with evil? Is there any peace

In ever climbing up the climbing wave?

All things have rest, and ripen toward the grave

In silence; ripen, fall and cease: Give us long rest or death, dark death, or dreamful ease.

Death, or the fear of it, drives the entire plot of ‘White Lotus’, and I say this while still managing not to do a Bradshaw and bombard you with spoilers. Death may seem like poor material for humour, but where would any comedy be without a tinge of the funereal? As for black comedy, a fixation on death goes with

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But does anyone, in all honesty, believe that Musk could live long enough to get through such vast quantities of wonga as todays ultra-rich possess?
Locked-in syndrome Murray Bartlett as Armond

the territory. Apart from the chill shadow of the grave, however, which passes over the characters from time to time, there is also the nagging question of what happiness could possibly look like, and whether labour is really a bad thing, and therefore to be shunned, or whether its opposite is a kind of hell on earth. This question torments the newly-wed Rachel (played by Alexandra Daddario). She has never really made it as a journalist, and her brand-new husband, the one harassing Fawlty over the honeymoon suite, is so rich she need never work again. Nonetheless, within hours of arriving on the island, the dread of idleness has already brought her to a point of despair. It threatens to negate her identity, and induces that unbearable, marooned feeling particular to tropical islands and an exclusive diet of lotus blossom. But Tennyson’s ‘dreamful ease’ is not just killing Rachel or, if they but knew it, the other guests. It’s killing us all, as the rich either burn or drown the planet before our very eyes – ‘in plain

sight,’ as Benoit Blanc would say.

The jarring intrusion of Lord Tennyson into the proceedings offers us a deeper insight into Quinn’s malaise. Stirring from yet another night sleeping on the beach, his bleary eyes fix on some local men handling a long canoe. They are fit. In an almost otherworldly way, their bodies, sleek in the seawater, ripple with muscle under skin burnished by the sun. They could not be more unlike anaemic solipsists. The hungry way Quinn’s eyes devour them suggests the dawning of homoerotic desire, but actually this may be a shimmering red herring. What Quinn sees before him is actually a route out of phone blindness and the trance of his fellow lotus-eaters. Like the tailfin of the leviathan, he has glimpsed another world beyond anaesthetised luxury. It’s the world where the pain is felt, but also where there is some remnant of feeling. After befriending the canoeists, he resolves to shake off his own dreamful ease, grab a vacant seat in the canoe and climb up the climbing wave to freedom.

In the myth, Ulysses had to force his crew to leave the island of the lotus-eaters, in order to continue on the journey home. Quinn, in contrast, opposes the incredulity of his family in vain. He is quite unable to explain his desire to stay behind and join the natives on their quest for a distant island. At the airport, however, he fails to board the plane back to Los Angeles. The reformed lotus-eater has nowhere to call home. He opts instead for the life of a prepper, except not the kind that dreads the apocalypse and buys a bunker to escape it. Pain cannot be avoided so easily. This promises to be closer to the other kind of prepper lifestyle, one freed from the suffocating comforts of modern life, with its supply chains and drip-feed of information.

If season one was Fawlty Towers transported to Hawaii, then season two is Up Pompeii transported to Taormina. It’s the wrong volcano, of course – Etna, not Vesuvius – but the implication is the same: these rich white folks are living on the edge of it. The second sojourn among the rich is just as entertaining, but with the possible exception of a pianist with erectile dysfunction brought on by the iconography in a church, there is little in the way of high farce. There is, however, the same tendency to discover things you’d rather not know about when opening doors or passing doors that have been left ajar; a severe case of too much information.

Also, as with the first season, there is a fleeting allusion – I almost missed it, and who can say how many other such nuances I did miss – which might be the key to everything. It happens in a Sicilian square, in broad daylight, when one of the rich American women is left alone momentarily, while the other one goes off to find cash. In a dizzying instant, Aubrey Plaza, who plays Harper Spiller, is surrounded by predatory Italian males who

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Coolidge went on to confess that she’d dreamt of becoming the Queen of Monaco, ‘even though someone else did it.’ Instead, her acting career had turned out bitty.
No slouch

stare at her from all sides. Then, as soon as the second woman returns, the weirdness ends as quickly as it began. It took me a while to catch on, but there is a famous photograph entitled ‘American Girl in Italy’.

The picture dates back to the Florence of 1951 and it’s no surprise that a woman took it. However, confusingly, we are told that Ruth Orkin’s model did not find the experience intimidating. Back in 2017, CNN reported that the 89-year-old Ninalee Craig was thrilled. “I was having the time of my life,” she averred. “I was Beatrice walking through the streets of Florence. I felt that at any moment I might be discovered by Dante himself.” Instead, it was her fate to be discovered – and mentally uncovered – not by a poet, but by some very prosaic oglers. Perhaps it was not so alienating back then when an entire street turned to stare at you, but I am not alone in seeing the alienation in this photograph. The writer of ‘White Lotus’ saw it too. If the rich are usually oblivious to being seen by the rest of us, that’s because they appear only in films and on magazine covers, if they appear at all. Most of their activities, and their inactivity, are invisible to us. Unless, that is, we have access, as the local escorts in the second season have access. The Italy in the photograph was on the cusp of an economic miracle, but no one makes the mistake of thinking the present-day West is on the cusp of one. Being seen in a public square when the inequalities of Western society are so much greater than they were before, is as alarming for Harper Spiller as any bad trip. If they are not as rich as I am, they must be out to get me.

At the risk, again, of giving too much away, Jennifer Coolidge’s character has to cope with more than just a funny turn in a Sicilian square. Her undoing is the result of meeting, and being charmed by, a very urbane and obliging Englishman. Now, much as I enjoyed the satirical flourishes of the second season, I feel I must take issue with this. Let’s face it, rich people may not be the sharpest tools in the box, but there’s not a single American billionaire who doesn’t know that the villain is al-

ways English. They can spot them a mile off. The only other role the English are any good at, as any casting agent knows, is that of butler.

Obviously, no manservant is perfect. Despite the lack of feeling my work requires, I would be the first to admit that parts of me are still human. I have dreams. Not of playing the Dane, I hasten to point out, but of taking on the role of villain or butler in a motion picture. Thus far, regrettably, I am yet to pass an audition. Hollywood agents looking to cast a villain have praised my posh accent, while dispraising my servility. Those casting butlers have been simultaneously wowed by my obsequiousness, while detecting in my accent a faint undertone of imperialist hauteur. One just can’t win.

Although it seems I am not destined to achieve fame, I know my place. I watched both seasons of ‘White Lotus’ as any man born for a life of service would. For the most part, I remained discreet. Like Lane in Oscar Wilde’s play, I thought it impolite to listen. What is more, it has always been my practice, where possible, not to see. I ask you, then, is it my fault if, on more than one occasion, the door was left momentarily ajar when I happened to be passing? Naturally, I tore my eyes away each time, but one day I noticed the scenes I glimpsed had something in common, a simple thing that, try as I might, I could no longer unsee: they were costing me a lot of money. From that day forth, I forswore slot machines.

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Death, or the fear of it, drives the entire plot of ‘White Lotus’, and I say this while still managing not to do a Bradshaw and bombard you with spoilers.
Come in Number Sixteen, your time is up! Wait till their mothers hear about this

Po rt ra it Nemat Shafik: The First Woman to Lead Columbia University

Nemat Talaat Shafik, also known as Minouche Shafik, is an Egyptian-born British-American economist who has been the President and Vice Chancellor of the London School of Economics since September 2017. She will take over as the twentieth President of Columbia University on July 1, 2023.

Dr. Shafik will be the first woman to be named president of the prestigious New York institution in the university’s 268-year history. It comes on the heels of recent appointments of women to top positions at Harvard, Dartmouth, M.I.T., the University of Pennsylvania, and George Washington University.

In a letter to the Columbia community, the board of trustees described Dr. Shafik as a “brilliant and able global leader, a community builder, and a preeminent economist who understands” higher education “and the world beyond it.”

Dr. Shafik will take over as president as American universities await Supreme Court decisions on raceconscious admissions and grapple with issues such as the high cost of education and free speech on campus.

Dr. Shafik previously served as the Bank of England’s Deputy Governor from August 2014 to February 2017. Prior to this, she served as the Permanent Secretary of the Department for International Development from March 2008 to March 2011, as well as Vice President of the World Bank and later as Deputy Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund.

According to a statement from Columbia University, Nemat Shafik’s selection concludes the search process that began after Lee C. Bollinger announced his intention to step down as president at the end of

the 2022-2023 academic year.

Dr. Shafik was born in Alexandria, Egypt, to parents who were both teachers. She attended Schutz American School as a child. In the mid-1960s, the family relocated to Savannah, Georgia, and later to Miami, Florida, and Raleigh, North Carolina. Her family returned to Egypt when she was 15 years old. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in economics and politics from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in 1983, and she also took classes through the Five College Consortium.

She then went on to study at the London School of Economics, earning an M.Sc. in economics from the University of London in 1986 and a D.Phil. from St Antony’s College, Oxford.

Dr. Shafik joined the World Bank after graduating from Oxford, where she worked in the research department on global economic modelling and forecasting, and later on environmental issues. During the transition period, she did macroeconomic work in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, where she published a number of books and articles on the region’s economic future, the economics of peace, labour markets, regional integration, and gender issues.

At the age of 36, Shafik became the World Bank’s youngest Vice President.

Dr. Shafik began her career on secondment to the British Government’s Department for International Development (DFID), where she was responsible for all of DFID’s overseas offices and financing in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe.

Dr. Shafik was appointed as DFID’s Permanent Secretary in 2008, where she oversaw a bilateral aid programme in over 100 countries, multilateral policies and financing for the United Nations, European Union, and international financial institutions, and overall development policy and research - oversee-

ing 2400 employees and a budget of £38 billion (approximately US$60 billion) for 2011-2014. DFID was described as a “recognized international leader in development” by the OECD independent peer review during her tenure.

Dr. Shafik joined the Bank of England as its first Deputy Governor on Markets and Banking, overseeing the bank’s £500 billion balance sheet. She also served on the bank’s Monetary Policy Committee, Financial Policy Committee, and the Prudential Regulatory Authority Board.

Dr. Shafik led the Bank’s Fair and Effective Markets review to combat financial market misconduct. She was appointed as the 16th Director of the London School of Economics (LSE) on September 12, 2016, succeeding sociologist Craig Calhoun. She began her new job on September 1, 2017.

Dr. Shafik has written, edited, and co-written a number of books— Prospects for the Middle East and North African Economies: from Boom to Bust and Back? (14 editions, 1997–2016), and Economic Challenges Facing Middle Eastern and North African Countries (14 editions, 1997–2016). (14 editions, 1997 to 2016).

She has published articles in Oxford Economic Papers, The Columbia Journal of World Business, The Middle East Journal, Journal of African Finance and Economic Development, World Development, and the Journal of Development Economics. She writes for, a blog run by other heads of development organizations.

Regarding her personal life, Dr. Shafik married economist Mohamed El-Erian after joining the World Bank. She has twin children and three stepchildren with her second husband, scientist Raffael Jovine. Her daughter is a graduate of Columbia GSAPP’s urban planning programme.

Dr. Shafik is of US and UK nationality and speaks English, Arabic, and French.

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Data Creates Disbelief in Digital Marketing

It Happens Because of Experiences, Imagination, and This One Odd Psychological Quirk

We love to believe that decisions are made on the basis of facts backed by data, that the decision-making process is both rational and logical. But what happens is radically different. Data creates disbelief when in-

troduced too early in the sales cycle, and it kills your website and digital marketing conversions. This happens because of an odd psychological quirk in the human brain.

As a Web and digital designer, I’ve had to get extraordinarily good at sales and marketing because ul-

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timately my work is going to be judged based on how much traffic the website gets and how many sales it generates, regardless of how good it looks or how fast it loads. The challenge of the internet is that you’ve got to move people to action without being able to see how they react. Winning that challenge requires mastering practical psychology.

For a long time, I believed that data was the ultimate trump card in getting customers. If something is empirically better, more efficient, or provided actionable insights, then wouldn’t that always be the best option for someone to choose? I was completely wrong.

Data is easier to challenge than story and narrative.

The purpose of data is to give clarity and provide an empirical way to move forward. To be as factual as possible to uncover the truth. The hope is that that will shift someone’s perspective and get them to think, act, or do something differently. Ideally that means seeing things our way, a.k.a. doing business with us.

What happens instead is shocking: People challenge the data, poke it full of holes, or walk away with more questions than before. Sales calls end with the ever frustrating “I have to think about it” backed up by some murky reason why and often without specific follow-up questions. Whether something is factual, empirically the best choice, or supported by the numbers matters very little to someone if it runs contrary to the experiences they’ve had in life because they’re not capable of perceiving it as a fact. This happens simply because people are emotional creatures.

Another common mistake is to assume that the more analytical or data-driven someone is, the more you should double down on presenting them with data. Doing this is exponentially worse than presenting the data to someone who isn’t numbers driven at all because the more data-driven someone is, the more experience and context they have to challenge what you’re presenting.

Experience guides the interpretation of data, while imagination builds trust. The precise clarity that data can offer is exactly what makes it fail in sales and marketing. Clarity eliminates imagination because there’s an answer already presented. Rather than creating a scenario where the prospect can imagine all the ways

something could work out, they’re instead left with doubt, challenging all the reasons why it can’t work based on their biases from experience. This is why narrative and story work so well in persuasion, sales, and marketing. With a story, the person is left to imagine “how” something could work or be achieved.

The numbers person does the heavy lifting of figuring out how it could work in their head. The nonanalytic person is drawn into and understands the narrative and thinks of things in a different light. In both cases, what’s happened is that the believability of what your pitching has increased because it’s the person that’s “seeing” how it could work that way and making their assumptions.The paradox is that early in the sales process, narrative creates trust and data builds doubt.

The best time to use data is to justify the narrative after the prospect trusts you.

The best time to use your data is after the primary sales pitch, marketing material, or website opt-in has occurred. Namely, after you’ve gone through the narrative and emotional reasons why someone should do business with you. Importantly, for your data to be well-received and accepted, they have to be at least at a point of basic trust with you. When the data is presented simply and concisely at the end of the sales cycle, it completely changes its effectiveness and amplifies the impact.

People choose to take the next step with you or your idea based on their emotional connection with you. Data allows them to logically justify their decision. For data to work effectively, it has to follow after trust and an emotional connection is established. This happens because they’ve opened up to what you have to say and aren’t in a skeptical frame of mind oriented around challenging your viewpoint.

This article was originally published by Inc Magazine.

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The challenge of the internet is that you’ve got to move people to action without being able to see how they react.
Credit: Getty Images

Bring a Fuzzy Memory Back Into Focus

Treating Underlying Conditions and Living a Healthy Lifestyle May Help

If you’re like most people ages 50 or older, your power of recall has lost a little wattage. That becomes clear if you often forget where you left your glasses or can’t remember why you walked into a room. Those everyday

lapses in memory are normal in middle and older age. Why is that, and can you do anything to change it?


Subtle changes occur everywhere in the body as we get

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older, including in the brain. Some of those changes affect memory.

For example, a brain region called the hippocampus (which plays a big role in learning and memory) shrinks a little, and structural and chemical changes in brain cells make it harder for them to communicate. That makes it challenging for us to concentrate or absorb and recall new information.


On top of aging, some people have health conditions that make it harder to concentrate or remember information. Examples include depression, thyroid disease, vitamin deficiency, migraine headaches, or medication side effects.

Sleep deprivation can also affect your memory. “To learn new information, you need to be alert so you can pay attention. But it’s hard to be alert if you’re tired,” says Dr. Andrew Budson, a neurologist and chief of Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology at VA Boston Healthcare System. “And to store a memory over time, you need to consolidate it during sleep, when brain cell connections become strengthened. If your sleep is interrupted or of poor quality, the strengthening process may be disrupted,” Dr. Budson says.

Some memory problems can be early signs of dementia. While forgetting where you put your glasses isn’t a concerning symptom, forgetting what glasses are for -- or forgetting the names of family members -- is something to take more seriously.

If you suspect that you have a health condition that is contributing to a fuzzy memory, see your doctor to figure out what the problem is and get it under control.


Keeping the brain as healthy as possible might help slow age-related brain changes. The best way to do that is by living a healthy lifestyle: exercising regularly (at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise, like brisk walking), giving yourself the opportunity to sleep seven to nine hours per night, eating a Mediterranean-style diet, managing stress, socializing, and learning new things. These habits work together to help create new connections between brain cells, and to maintain existing ones, which keeps thinking and memory sharp. In addition, you can help keep your memory in good shape by practicing certain habits.

For learning new information: “Pay attention and put ef-

fort into the learning process,” Dr. Budson says. “Many people believe that they can learn information and retrieve memories while they multitask, but the evidence shows that they cannot. If someone is talking to you while you’re checking your email or watching TV out of the corner of your eye, you’re not likely to remember what they said. Write down the information, say it out loud, or repeat it back to the person.”

For memory retrieval: “It’s important to relax and try to go back in your mind to the time and place when you formed the memory. Think about the senses that were engaged at the time. What did you see, hear, smell, taste, or touch? What were you feeling at the time? The brain ties those perceptions to memories as a way to help you retrieve them later,” Dr. Budson explains. For overall sharpness: Make your brain work harder. Challenge it with exercises such as crossword puzzles. A small randomized trial of people with mild cognitive impairment, published online Oct. 27, 2022, by NEJM Evidence, found that people who did online crossword puzzles for 18 months had less brain shrinkage and performed better on memory tests than people who took part in online cognitive games that included memory, matching, spatial recognition, or processing speed tasks for 18 months.

Dr. Budson isn’t surprised. “Many studies have shown that doing moderately difficult cognitive tasks is better for your brain than doing easy tasks,” he says. “A good crossword puzzle in particular causes you to use large areas of your brain to come up with the correct word, and that will, in turn, keep those areas of your brain strong. Finally, crossword puzzles -- at least in my household -- are usually a social activity, in that the person with the puzzle will frequently call on others nearby for help. And the more we connect with others, the more we’ll keep our brain cells connected, firing, and ready to work.”

This article was originally published by Harvard Health Letter.

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If you suspect that you have a health condition that is contributing to a fuzzy memory, see your doctor to figure out what the problem is and get it under control.
Credit: Thelightwriter/iStock