The Happy Arab News Service

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Flowers of Life

July 4, 2007

This post is a culmination of a tremendous spiritual journey, one that can be experienced only once in life. The journey started on May 16 in the comments section of one of my posts.

At May 16, 2007 9:37 PM, nominally challenged said...

Tse - I'm not on NB's blogroll either, but then again, he's not on mine (the fact that I don't have one is immaterial).

But I'm not concerned, NB. I know you're secretly reading my posts and desperately want to comment about my flowers, for instance, but you're worried it will hurt your image because you might have to agree with Lirun ;-)

At May 16, 2007 9:56 PM, Nobody said...

you are wrong NC

i dont mind Lirun at all and he is free to emigrate to UAE as far as i am concerned ...

i did desperately want to make a comment on your flowers .. unfortunately i had to eventually give up on this idea as i don't possess the necessary level of emotional intelligence for being able to do this

At May 16, 2007 10:27 PM, nominally challenged said...

NB - LOL. Keep working on it :)


From the beginning that fateful conversation had a profound impact on the way i live my life and interact with other human beings. Yet it was not until my first botched attempt to comment on one of NC's posts about flowers, that the work began in serious as I realized that indeed what is not there is not there. And what is not there are simple human feelings and emotional intelligence.

I am well known among those who read me for my cynical and abusive style of posting and commenting. I was frequently derided for being arrogant and offending. I am sure that right now all of you are rolling on the floor laughing. But then how can you know who I am ? Never mind that I bet you are all for diversity, pluralism and celebrating differences, aren't you? And i am just another side of this multi-faceted reality. I am a thorny side. I admit it. But then who are you to decide how thorny or not life should be ?

Let alone how often we miss the beautiful right under our nose misled by its unpretentious and even worse, thorny, outward appearance. How can you possibly know that behind the thorny and confrontational style of some people there is not hiding a gentle and wounded human soul that's quietly greeting the rising sun every morning after a painful night of agonizing over lost battles of life and noble dreams that were brutally defeated by the uncompromising reality ? So suspend your critical judgement for a while and allow life to surprise you with something beautiful where you were least prepared to encounter it.

And so here we go. My first emotionally intelligent post. If this post came out that long this is not because the journey was so long, but because it was so profound and intense.

Flowers of Life

Dedicated to my spiritual teacher Nominally Challenged, whom I owe every bit (and byte) of my spiritual and emotional intelligence


On June 5 the Syrian government daily Tishrin reported nothing about flowers but it did say that the Syrian population has crossed the 19 million mark.

June 5, 2007

"The Syrian population has crossed the 19 million mark in 2007, from 17.9 million residents in 2004," it said, citing figures from the Arab state's central statistics bureau.

The figure was only 4.5 million in 1960 and 13.8 million in 1994.

"This growth rate represents the greatest challenge for development plans," it said.

The birth rate, however, was as high as 3.3 percent between 1981 and 1994, easing to 2.7 percent between 1995 and 2000, before falling to the current rate of 2.5 percent.


Meanwhile Egypt seems to be approaching the limits of what a vigorously state promoted family planning can achieve in a country that by all accounts is growing more and more conservative Muslim.

Apr 3, 2007

CAIRO (Reuters) - The population of Egypt, the most populous Arab country, has grown 2.0 percent a year for the past 10 years, hitting 72.6 million at the time of the 2006 census, the government's statistics agency said on Tuesday.

The growth rate is only slightly down on 2.1 percent during the previous decade which ended in 1996, suggesting diminishing returns from the government's family planning campaigns. In the period from 1976 to 1986 growth was 2.8 percent a year.


The growth rate was sightly mitigated by emigration that increased the number of Egyptians living abroad from 2.2 million in 1996 to 3.9 million at the time of the census, which means a 79 percent increase over a decade.

If Egypt has any lessons to offer for Syria, it is that on approaching the 2 percent mark Syria should better expect no more favors from its demographics, unless it dramatically revamps its family planning programs and tries something yet unseen in the region.

In short, the statistics published this year suggest that the demographic explosion through the region continues unabated, even though in some countries growth rates are edging down.

The fact is that even the limited success Egypt/Syria did have in reducing population growth will have little impact on the situation for at least another 15-20 years. Both countries are already beyond the first stage of the demographic explosion, a stage at which the rapidly growing population brings steady decrease in work force participation due to the expanding share of population under the age of 15. Women participation in the work force should be also expected to fall at this point because of the need to tend for children. In some respects this stage may actually foster internal stability as adults overwhelmed by extended families they have to support have little time for politics and demonstrations. This stage however is long ago behind our back.

Between a decade and two ago the Middle East moved into the second stage of the demographic explosion when labor markets were inundated by millions of young people, children of the first baby boomers. Both Egypt and Syria entered this stage as socialist countries and responded to the challenge by absorbing the surplus labor into the state sector, creating huge hidden unemployment and making the state sector even more inefficient. The system of price controls and subsidies practiced by both countries distorted normal market mechanisms of price formation, many times making it impossible to determine whether a given state enterprise was profitable or not. Under these conditions the hidden unemployment or under-employment of surplus labor in the state sector reached huge proportions, pushing the whole sector to the edge. This practice ran into big troubles in recent years as the state sector, saturated with excessive labor force, has turned no longer capable of absorbing more workers.

The state sector having finally gone into coma, both Syria and Egypt started introducing free market reforms, Egypt more of them, Syria less, trying to generate economic growth and to allow for more employment opportunities to be created in the private sector. Yet as a wave after a wave of young people enter the market each year, the modest economic achievements of both countries seem to have had no significant effect on the employment situation. Meanwhile both countries are already deep into red tape and their growing budget deficits are cited as the primary source of concern with increasing frequency by various experts.

The nature of the free market reforms undertaken by both countries seems to conflict with the urgent priority of defusing the situation on the labor market. The state sector in both countries is hit by mounting losses and is in urgent need of a severe sanation campaign which should include shedding from the state payroll the labor surpluses absorbed into the sector under the disguise of hidden unemployment. As to the state companies sold into private hands the private sector sees to it that those unprofitably employed are promptly sent home. While this slimming down of public enterprises, abused by the state for decades long, is not bad in itself, it does not address the urgent needs of the labor market. In fact, both countries seem to be struggling to generate enough growth to keep the situation as it is, let alone to start actually reducing unemployment.

That's why a few weeks ago His Imperial Majesty Philip I (No, Syria is not yet a constitutional monarchy. NB) was writing in his "Syrian population – staring at disaster in the mirror":

At present 4.5 million employed Syrians feed themselves and 14 million other Syrians who are too young to work, housewives , old, incapacitated or cannot find jobs. The informal economy and money transfers back home by Syrian expatriates help to keep many families above subsistance level.

The combination of high unemployment, widespread under-employment, rapid population growth and diminishing oil revenues means Syrians are speeding towards an economic and social disaster. The country is faced with four stark choices:

1) Increase investment on a massive scale (at least US$10 billion per year, or 25% of GDP) to create at least 5 million jobs over the next decade (especially for women), while improving productivity.

2) Export 5 million unemployed Syrians to the rest of the world in the next 10 years

3) Force every woman of child-bearing age to take contraceptives indefinitely

4) Start armed conflicts that selectively kill 5 million unemployed Syrians in the next 10 years.

Shocked? So you should be. Ask your newly "re-elected" parliament and president what they are doing to attract US$ 10 billion of investment capital per year. Prominent Syrian economists estimated foreign investment at only US$300m in 2006 whereas vice-prime minister for economic affairs, Abdulla Dardari had told reporters a year earlier that Syria would pull in US$ 2 billion.

The experts seem to be unanimous in considering the demographic explosion and in particular the pressure exerted by it on labor markets as the primary challenge facing the region in next years. Throughout the region countries, once exporters of agricultural products, are turning into importers of food. Water resources are running out. The ratio of cultivated land to population is falling and when it comes to the general overpopulation and population density in some places, the scenes of people making their homes on top of graveyards in Gaza and Egypt speak for themselves.

However, it's the political implications of the second stage of demographic explosion that happened and are happening to be even more far reaching than the economic ones. Numerous criticisms were leveled against the famous youth bulge theory. Without analyzing the particular cases cited as examples when the theory seems to fail to work, it would be fair to say that in the impoverished Middle East, saturated with radical ideologies of every strain from the extreme leftism to the extreme Islamism, the massive presence of young unemployed or underemployed males has turned into a hugely destabilizing factor. As the Middle East hit the second stage of the demographic explosion the youth bulge may have been one, if not one of the primary, factors that led to the rise of extreme Islamic ideologies.

In such a highly oppressive society such as Syria the operation of this factor is not very visible, yet the presence of Syrian volunteers among Sunni insurgents in Iraq and militants of Fatah al-Islam in Lebanon may indicate that its destabilizing potential is there. As to Egypt the influence of the youth bulge on its progressively more restless street is all too evident.

In short, as the demographic explosion continues, not only it seems to be depleting the already stressed water and land resources, it's continuously feeding into the huge and constantly growing pool of impoverished and unemployed young male population that enthusiastically joins radical movements of all kinds bent on smashing the already shaky status quo. And the very nature of demographic explosions means that even those moderate achievements some nations had in reducing their population growth won't take effect within next few years. The region should brace itself for at least another one or two decades of an ever increasing pressure on labor markets and natural resources.

No discussion of the regional demographics can be complete without mentioning global warming and its possible impact on the Middle East. In a region where water is already scarce global warming should be expected to exacerbate the situation even more. Global warming may have a particularly nasty impact on Egypt, already importing food in billions of dollars as the country is running out of cultivable land. Global warming will lead to increasing desertification of the region reducing even more the overall surface inhabitable for humans and suitable for agriculture. And on top of this the increasing push in the West towards low carbon economy may precipitate an economic holocaust in the Gulf, a traditional source of credit and investment for the Arab countries in the region, while sending dozens of thousands of Egyptians, Syrians and others back home. The latter will have a combined effect of an abrupt cessation of remittances that gasterbeiters in the Gulf transfer to their home countries, while adding up tremendously to the acute crisis already gripping the labor markets.


There are more and more signs that the age of economic reforms is coming to the Middle East as Arab nations across the region start racing their economies forward in a bid to outrun the demographics and escape the danger of socio economical collapse. In a few years Egypt and Syria may discover that they have to leave the arms race with Israel for good as with the resources at their disposal they can no longer afford it. For the two countries the road ahead is blocked by the huge and misdeveloped state sector, dismantling and privatizing which may put the relationships of both governments with their populations to a severe test. Rising inflation and widening deficits indicate that the moment of truth is approaching fast for both.

Almost any country in the region is now engaged in some sort of economic reforms program. Yet it seems that for some it may be already too late. If there is a country in the region that should claim itself the title of a nation wiped out by the Arab demographics, it is not Egypt. And it is not Syria. It is Yemen.

Yemen does not feature prominently in the news. The country is occasionally reported as desperately trying to attract foreign investment and cultivating special ties with the US. Yemen is one of the staunchest American allies in the war against el Kaida and the reason for this: this nation has no time left for any socialist or Islamic bullshit. Yemen is what a society looks like after an Arab demographic bomb goes off. Yemen is staring into abyss this very moment.

One of the poorest countries in the region, its population growth is regularly approaching 4%. Yemen doubles its population every 20 years. Apart from its insane demographics Yemen is hit hard by the mass addition of its population to Ghat, despite all claims that Ghat is not addictive.

Qat, or catha edulis, has become the national pastime in this poor Arab country of 19 million, but one many experts say is ravaging Yemen's frail economy and sucking up precious water.

Demand for qat is so high and Yemenis are so inclined to spend a large chunk of their paltry incomes on it that farmers are uprooting their fruits, vegetables and coffee in favour of the popular evergreen that provides year-round profit.

Qat production has grown by more than 41 percent to 147,444 tonnes in the decade to 2006, according to official figures.

That makes qat Yemen's biggest cash crop by far; just 22,002 tonnes of its nearest rival, cotton, were produced in 2006.

Already filling terraces across much of Yemen's mountainous north, qat is now making inroads into the plains further south.

. . .

Known for its fertile mountains in a desert peninsula, Yemen already faces water shortages, partly due to qat, and these are set to worsen as the population grows by over 3 percent a year.

With an estimated 70 percent of water in Yemen used to grow the thirsty plant, the Sanaa area will be dry by 2015, according to one official at the Agriculture and Irrigation Ministry.

Yemen relies on wells for fresh water, but farmers and authorities who once dug barely 50 metres to strike water say aquifers are so depleted they must now dig hundreds of metres.

"Qat is definitely a problem; there is no doubt about that," said Deputy Minister for Economic Affairs Abdul-Karim al-Arhabi.


As a result Yemen is massively importing food. Oil, the backbone of the economy, is projected to run out within next few years. The economy is already failing to keep pace with Yemen's runaway demographics and the huge unemployment is relieved only by the no less impressive numbers of young Yemenis who moved to the Gulf and elsewhere in search for a better life. If and when the oil wells run dry, only Allah knows what will happen to Yemen. And probably even he does not know. And even he does, Allah plainly no longer cares for this country.

Conclusion: Back to Flowers

It is the enormous pressure put on water, land and other resources of the region by the relentless Arab demographics that makes one fully comprehend the meaning of a saying I once heard in Russia. Children, the saying goes, are like flowers of life growing on their parents graves. Translated to Arabic the saying retains much of its original meaning with two minor differences - there are no flowers and everybody eats shit in the end. As new generations of Syrians, Egyptians and Yemenis come to being, go to schools and join labor markets, the whole socio economic structure of the region looks more and more shaky and prone to collapse, a collapse that on its way down is bound to take with itself both the young and old generations.

And to finish my post on an optimistic note I attach here a clip of a moderately popular Israeli song. Israel has largely opted out of the demographic race that consumed the region. Yet the clip shows that even Israelis are not immune to the sentiment that is fueling the demographic onslaught across the border. Maybe a person less lazy than i am will translate the song to English and post the translation in the comments section, but to give the reader an idea of the clip, it says: Make yourself six seven eight kids. Because nothing in life, goes the song, equals the joy of living through one uninterrupted demographic cataclysm.

Now, equipped with the clip, the reader will be able to appreciate the surprising reality of our region where we are both celebrating our differences and sharing something in common at the same time, namely, that while the Jews sing their demographic songs in Israel, their Arab neighbors are detonating their demographic bombs all around.

Inshallah, may peace come to rule our region.


Special thanks go to NC and Lirun for their flowers that served both for decoration and as a source of inspiration of this post.


The tag 'Arab Oil' was added to this post because of a discussion of biofuels in the comments section.

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