Clogged Reforms a Speed Bump for Indonesia’s Economy

November 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Neil Chatterjee

2011-11-22T075418Z_373471803_GM1E7BM180L01_RTRMADP_3_-ECONOMY-INDONESIA-REFORM

Commuters standing in the doorways of a train and sitting on its roof, are seen as they travel to work in the capital Jakarta November 10, 2011. Indonesia’s economy has shown strong growth this year, but failure to improve a stifling bureaucracy, to end wasteful subsidies and to systematically curb graft, could derail a growth story that has made resource-rich Indonesia into Southeast Asian’s sweet spot. Doubts are growing that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono can deliver on promised reforms that improve creaky infrastructure and creating higher-value jobs for the young in the world’s fourth most populous country. Picture taken November 10, 2011.        

REUTERS/Supri

JAKARTA, Nov 22 (Reuters) – At a time when many countries are slipping off investors’ radar screens, Indonesia is a beacon with stable finances and the fastest growth rate in Asia outside China and India.

Yet its failure to improve a stifling bureaucracy, to end wasteful subsidies and to systematically curb graft could derail a growth story that has made resource-rich Indonesia into Southeast Asian’s sweet spot.

Doubts are growing that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who’s been in office seven years and has three left, can deliver on promised reforms that would improve creaky infrastructure and creating higher-value jobs for the young in the world’s fourth most populous country.

While Indonesia has had solid growth rates during Yudhoyono’s tenure, much of that is rooted in demand from overseas for the country’s coal and other commodities.

If there’s a major global slump that depresses demand, Indonesia could fail to get needed investment because it remains a difficult place to do business and one where personalities matter, not process.

There has been no real reform of the inefficient civil service – where bribery remains rife — and no sustained progress in building institutions that enhance the business climate such as credible courts.
“The political elite in the parliament and the government are busy with politicking, ignoring an urgent and important economic agenda that needs to be dealt with,” said Syamsudin Haris, senior political analyst at the government-funded Science Research Institute.

After getting improved grades in recent years as a place for business, Indonesia’s position has slipped. In the World Bank’s 2012 rankings for ease of doing business, Indonesia was 129 out of 183 countries, down from 126 a year earlier.

Re-elected by a landslide in 2009, Yudhoyono has so far squandered a mandate to drive reforms and, according to polls, has lost popularity. His long-awaited cabinet reshuffle last month reflected a desire to shore up political support more than to initiate real change before a presidential election in 2014 which he cannot contest.

“We haven’t seen any headline reforms done, which has led to some market disappointment and also to disappointment among voters,” said Prakriti Sofat, an economist at Barclays Capital in Singapore.

“If Yudhoyono and company don’t put things in order, and there’s not a good candidate coming through in 2014, then the risk will go up.”

Having solid GDP growth by itself does not mean trends are good. Just look at India: Although growth is still relatively strong, its image as an emerging market star is losing its shine as corruption scandals, high inflation and a flagging reform agenda have dented investor confidence. Business leaders openly fret that the government may be squandering India’s chance at the big time.

Azim Premji, billionaire chairman of outsourcing giant Wipro , summed up a sense of policy paralysis in India when he recently attacked a “complete absence of decision-making among leaders in government.”

The result has been investors fleeing from Mumbai stocks , making it one of the world’s worst performing major markets in 2011.

While Indonesia has been drawing investors, “long-term, if there are better opportunities elsewhere, money will go somewhere else,” said Sofat.

Yudhoyono’s government has been often commended for good macroeconomic policies. It has maintained fiscal discipline, steadily cutting the debt-to-GDP ratio and boosting foreign reserves, while lifting its budget for infrastructure by 28 percent this year.

But the government’s administrative mechanism is often clogged. Lifting budgets is not translating into spending in the real economy. Overall, government spending grew just 2.5 percent in the third quarter from a year earlier, a slower pace than in the second quarter.

“The government has never shown any reliable track record of efficient budget spending and I don’t think that will change in the foreseeable future,” said Lanang Trihardian, investment analyst at Jakarta-based Syailendra Capital, which manages around $460 million. “The impact of that is I don’t believe Indonesia can grow above the 8 percent level as seen in China and India.”

Officials often rush to spend some of a budget overhang in the fourth quarter. A much-needed project to improve woeful drainage in Jakarta recently started on the main thoroughfare — just as the torrential rainy season began, causing gridlock terrible even by the capital’s traffic standards.

“You know what the bureaucracy is like for government projects — long and complicated,” the head of Jakarta’s public works office, Ery Basworo, told a press conference called to address complaints. “For us to even get the project started in September was an achievement.”

At one time, many Indonesians felt Yudhoyono was making good gains to combat the old, damaging problem of graft, but it remains entrenched. To some citizens, corruption has worsened, in part because of decentralisation since the era of strongman Suharto.

In the remote provinces of the scattered archipelago, greater regional autonomy has sometimes resulted in corrupt local authorities to siphon off resource wealth meant for development.

Yudhoyono has declared eradicating corruption a top priority and said no official is above the law. But his recent cabinet shuffle did not signal a tougher or more effective approach. Two ministers whom the Indonesian media alleged to be tainted retained their seats.

Meanwhile, political squabbles led to a demotion of the trade minister and the narrow survival of the finance minister, both well-respected internationally.

The reshuffle “was an opportunity for Yudhoyono to have a stronger team and he missed it,” said Erman Rahman, director of economic programs in Indonesia at The Asia Foundation, a San-Francisco-headquartered nongovernmental organisation.

Another longtime impediment to business, the bloated and inefficient bureaucracy, remains a source of big frustration. “It will take more than very strong leadership to change this,” Rahman said.
So far, there are no signs of planned reforms for the police department or justice system, which are often the source of complaints.

TRACKING SPENDING FLOWS

Polls show that many Indonesians, used to Suharto’s 32-year rule, want another military man to run the country from 2014. Yudhoyono, the first directly elected president, is a retired army general but is seen by many as unable to make bold decisions to promote institutional change.

Analysts say Vice-President Boediono, a former central bank governor, is trying to improve efficiency and governance by steps such as putting into ministries computer systems that track spending flows.

In the important area of infrastructure, investors have been waiting for a long-mooted land reform bill that would speed up the acquisition of land for state-backed projects, such as $150 billion of public-private partnerships the government wants to see.

But as the end of another year approaches, it has still not been passed by a cantankerous parliament, and Yudhoyono has been silent on the issue.

Another issue that needs addressing is subsidies. With inflation significantly easing this year, the government has missed an opportunity to phase out fuel subsidies for private cars, backtracking on a planned April move and delaying it indefinitely.

The government fears hiking gasoline costing just half the price of the market rate could dampen the domestic economy or spur the kind of riots that contributed to Suharto’s fall in 1998.

Yet not ending subsidies only stores up inflationary problems for the longer-term. The “ruinous middle-class subsidies”, as one economist has dubbed them, could instead go to building roads and ports, argue economists and rating agencies who see weak infrastructure and high inflation as key risks.

“Progress on structural reforms appears to have slowed in the past year. In particular, there has been limited progress in reforming the composition of spending,” said Andrew Colquhoun, head of Asia-Pacific sovereign ratings at Fitch.

($1 = 9050 Rupiah)

(Additional reporting by Andjarsari Paramaditha in JAKARTA and Matthias Williams in NEW DELHI; Editing by Richard Borsuk)

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Arab Spring Raises Hope for Era of Cleaner Business

November 10, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Suleiman Al-Khalidi

2011-11-09T143612Z_1011185299_GM1E7B91KBQ01_RTRMADP_3_ABUDHABI-STRATEGY

Visitors look at models of the Saadiyat Island project during the Cityscape Abu Dhabi Exhibition in Abu Dhabi, in this April 18, 2010 file photo. When Abu Dhabi announced that it would delay establishing local branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums, it was an important signal of the emirate’s economic strategy as well as its cultural priorities.The company gave no new dates for opening the museums, which were originally scheduled to start operating between 2013 and 2014 as part of a $27 billion art and culture development on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island. But the message was clear: getting the projects right and ensuring public demand for them would be given precedence over rushing them out quickly to gain prestige.

AMMAN, Nov 9 (Reuters) – Gulf investor Omar Ayesh flew to Tripoli to meet Saif al-Islam Gaddafi when the son of Libya’s now-deposed strongman wanted to talk business, only to be caught in a web of bribery and crony capitalism.

A deal for a beachfront resort project on Tripoli’s seafront was signed with Muammar Gaddafi’s government and excavation work began, but it stopped after people linked to Gaddafi began asking for payoffs, the 43-year-old businessman says. Now, Ayesh is trying to revive the project.

“I didn’t expect influential figures within the regime would take over the project because it was lucrative. I just hope the new Libya will not repeat the mistakes of the past,” says Ayesh, chairman of United Arab Emirates-based Nobles Investments.

Across the Middle East and North Africa, the Arab Spring uprisings have hurt many businessmen. Economies have slowed sharply as political uncertainty deters investment, new governments focus on trying to restore social stability instead of reforming economic policy, and labor unrest disrupts production and drives up costs.

But Ayesh is one of a substantial number of businessmen who say the economic climate is already improving in an important way: it is becoming easier to do business without the involvement of corrupt politicians and officials.

“Corruption was a major hurdle before the revolution and now it’s much less. This has improved the business environment in Egypt. We are much more optimistic,” said Issam Hijazi, chairman of Hijazi and Ghosheh, a Jordanian meat processing firm with millions of dollars of investments in Egypt and the region.

Patronage

Many businessmen are not as positive as Hijazi. In Egypt, for example, some small company owners still report struggles with corrupt officials and parasitical government bureaucracies that only their larger, wealthier competitors have the money to overcome.

But to some extent, the ousting of president Hosni Mubarak has loosened the grip of a clique of politicians, officials and their businesses cronies on commercial opportunities and the licences and financing needed to exploit them.

Companies linked to the former regime face legal challenges over past deals and must operate under greater public scrutiny; this levels the playing field and allows a wider group of businessmen to compete. Egyptian trade with Sudan, for example, is no longer dominated by businessmen linked to the Mubarak regime; it has become more open and diversified, said a business consultant in Egypt, who declined to be named because of the political sensitivity of the issue.

Cases such as that of former Egyptian housing minister Ahmed al-Maghrabi have sent a chilling signal to officials and businessmen involved in improper deals. Maghrabi was sentenced to five years in jail in May over an illegal land deal in the Mubarak era; he and a businessman involved were ordered to return a total of 72 million Egyptian pounds ($12.6 million) to the state and were together fined a further 72 million pounds.

Much the same is happening in Tunisia, where members of the family of deposed president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali once owned or controlled many of the country’s biggest companies, with interests in media, banking and telecommunications.

“The political support and access to funds that some of the leaders of private sector in the Arab world had has been lost,” said Walid Nassan, head of the Jordan operation of Egyptian investment firm EFG Hermes.

“They now need to present themselves on their own credentials and many are tarnished. Those who exploited the system can no longer do that so openly and blatantly.”

At a meeting in Istanbul last week between executives of international oil firms and Libyan officials, who discussed Libya’s plans to buy nearly $3 billion of gasoline, oil traders were struck by the change in how the Libyans operated. The newly appointed managers of Libya’s National Oil Corp refused invitations to lunch or dinner and kept to a tight schedule.

“Before, everything was done under the table and with bribes. Now I haven’t heard anything about bribes, and tenders are being used to buy and sell,” one trader said.

In countries that have not seen their governments overthrown, the change in the business climate has been less dramatic. But here too, the Arab Spring appears to be increasing popular pressure for more transparency and an end to political patronage of business — pressure that governments cannot entirely ignore.

In Morocco, King Mohammed has ordered that the antitrust authority be given more powers to enforce transparency and good corporate governance. The authority’s head said it would be even-handed in dealing with firms owned by the monarchy, the biggest private stakeholder in the economy — although it may have to wait until late 2012 to obtain the power to intervene.

Usama Fayyad, executive chairman of Oasis 500, a Jordan-based investment firm which finances start-up firms in the region’s information technology sector, said governments had become more careful about appearing even-handed towards companies, even in countries that have been relatively untouched by the Arab Spring.

“Abuse of authority by government entities has definitely decreased. I see it applying even to countries that don’t have protests,” he said.

“It doesn’t mean it’s disappeared, but it means that they are more careful and this holds true in Lebanon, Iraq and in the Gulf in Saudi Arabia, where people are more afraid of exercising undue influence because scrutiny is coming. They know there will be more scrutiny, definitely more than before and that creates more diversified economic opportunities.”

He said big companies as well as governments had become “afraid of exercising their old methods of intimidation, influence peddling and corruption. This is helping local companies that previously were marginalized.”

Omar Bitar, head of Middle East emerging markets at consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers, said bidding processes for government contracts in the region were becoming more stringent and transparent, to the point that the award of some contracts was slowing down.

It is not clear how lasting these changes in the region’s business environment will be. New networks of corruption and economic patronage may form as post-uprising governments become more stable; public indignation over crony capitalism may fade as governments around the region buy off the public with subsidies and increased welfare spending.

Some businessmen suggest that in the short term at least, the cleaner commercial environment is actually hurting economies by making it more difficult for deals to get done.

“Legitimate business is being hurt by the perception of impropriety and few people dare to exercise their authority for fear of a witchhunt, and this is paralysing business,” said one Middle Eastern banker, who requested anonymity.

“Graft has an economic value as you measure the cost of corruption — monetary versus facilitation of business…Although companies now don’t have to buy the deal from some guy, it takes longer to secure the deal, plus the political risks have shot up.

“Business in Tunisia and in Egypt, at least on the surface, is not as tidy. You used to know someone who would facilitate business. Now it’s a big muddle.”

In the long term, though, a cleaner, fairer business environment could, even more than other economic reforms such as deregulation and fiscal policy changes, help to solve one of the Arab world’s biggest problems: job creation.

A more level playing field could spur the growth of small and medium-sized firms, which according to a World Bank study contribute only 20 percent of the region’s gross domestic product but employ 70 to 80 percent of its work force.

These firms could in turn create the tens of millions of new jobs that the Middle East and North Africa, with 65 percent of their 355 million people currently below the age of 25, will need in the next decade to avoid social disaster.

“There is no chance that the jobs needed in the years to come are going to come from government or from large businesses, because they don’t generally generate jobs. So it all has to come from entrepreneurs and new companies,” said Darin Rovere, president of Amman-based Sustainability Excellence, a management consultancy.

He said there were already signs that the Arab Spring was encouraging the growth of a new group of young, entrepreneurial businessmen.

“I think it’s exploding around us. These are all kids, young kids. It’s tech-related and you look at their ideas…and so many people just did not feel empowered or a sense of active citizenship. They are feeling different and feel an opportunity now,” said Rovere.

Fayyad at Oasis 500 agreed: “The desire to launch businesses is stronger than before and as far as start-ups and new companies go, private sector entrepreneurs are seeing more opportunities. More closed systems are now open.” (Additional reporting by Jessica Donati in Istanbul; Editing by Andrew Torchia)

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Understanding the Basics of Business Structures

September 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adil Daudi, Esq.

business-structure-basicsRecently, I was approached by a client who was interested in starting a business, however he was curious to learn about the different business structures available, and which would be most suitable for him. Considering this was not the first time I have addressed such an inquiry, I felt it prudent to elaborate on the various structures and explain the differences between each.

Please be aware that this is not a comprehensive description of the structures and it is always advised to speak to an attorney who would better be able to provide sound advice on which structure is most suitable for your particular needs, expectations and business.

One of the most common misconceptions when it comes to creating a business is that many feel that an incorporation is automatically the best structure to use; however, that is not always true. In order to fully understand why, or why not, an incorporation is most applicable, it is important to get a basic understanding of the other available business entities.  

In Michigan, there are three common business structures that owners can typically choose from: Partnership/Sole Proprietorship, Corporation, and Limited Liability Company.

1. Partnership/Sole Proprietorship: The major difference between a partnership and a sole proprietorship is in the number of owners. In a sole proprietorship, there is essentially only one owner; hence the word “sole.” On the other hand, in a partnership, it is comprised of two or more owners who come together with the intent of advancing their mutual interest.

Depending on the specific type of business you are operating, creating a sole proprietorship or a partnership is not always recommended. Under either of these structures, you, the business owner, are responsible for all taxes. However, the method in how you file your taxes does not differ from your current procedure, as the income received by your company would simply be inputted in your personal tax returns.

However, probably the biggest drawback with a sole proprietorship and partnership is that in the event your company is involved in any legal action, you are ultimately responsible for any and all judgments, whereby your business assets and your personal assets can be seized to satisfy any judgment. 

2. Corporation/Limited Liability Company (LLC): One of the biggest benefits of setting up a corporation or an LLC is that it reduces the exposure of the owners and their assets in the event of a legal action. Because corporations and LLC’s are considered separate entities, requiring a separate tax ID number, a separate tax return, the only assets that can be seized for judgment are the assets owned by the corporation/LLC; therefore, the owners are not held personally liable, and thus have their assets safeguarded from potential liability.

With respect to the taxes, the profit obtained by a corporation/LLC is taxed to the company when earned, and if the shareholder (under a corporation) decides to distribute dividends, the shareholder would also be taxed individually. Thus, this creates a double tax, which is not always appealing. This double taxation can be avoided through the use of an LLC, where there are no shareholders, but rather members to the company. Please speak to an expert for further information in how to reduce your taxes through the set-up on an LLC.

As indicated above, it is always best to rely on the expert opinion of an experienced attorney who would be able to discuss in more depth the differences between each respective structure and determine, based on your specific needs, which structure is most efficient for you. Although starting a partnership/sole proprietorship is the easier and cheaper selection, it may not always be the most optimum, as you could be opening yourself up to unnecessary liability.

Adil Daudi is an Attorney at Joseph, Kroll & Yagalla, P.C., focusing primarily on Asset Protection for Physicians, Physician Contracts, Estate Planning, Business Litigation, Corporate Formations, and Family Law. He can be contacted for any questions related to this article or other areas of law at adil@josephlaw.net or (517) 381-2663.

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Shehryar Khan in ‘40 Under 40 list’

August 18, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

shehryarSEATTLE,WA–Shehryar Khan, CEO of leading mobile and emergent technologies agency Übermind (www.ubermind.com), was named as one of the “40 Under 40” by the Puget Sound Business Journal (PSBJ), an honor that the publication hails as one of its most prestigious annual awards.    

Khan was selected from a pool of 201 qualified applicants — one of the most competitive years yet for the award — for his leadership and contributions not just to his company, but also his industry and community.

While Khan’s been at the helm, Übermind has seen year-over-year growth of more than 70 percent, one hundred percent staff growth from 2010 to 2011, and the addition of powerhouse clients like Apple, Target, REI, and Alaska Airlines. The company also provides the local community with time and financial resources for nonprofits, as well as employee-matched charitable donations and pro bono projects.

“I put my heart into my work,” says Khan, “and I’m delighted to be recognized by the PSBJ and share the recognition with the immensely talented team of employees that comprise Übermind. I’m grateful to be part of such a dynamic team and to live in such a culturally and professionally progressive city like Seattle. I feel truly blessed, and sincerely thank the Puget Sound Business Journal for the honor.”

To be selected, says PSBJ assistant managing editor Becky Monk, applicants first had to be nominated by one of their peers and then articulate their business and community leadership accomplishments in an essay-form application. Submissions were read, scored, and deliberated on by eight judges — men and women from all walks of the business community — for more than half a day to ensure that the most deserving candidates were selected.

The 2011 honorees will be feted at a special VIP reception on September 14 at Showbox SoDo. Übermind employees are thrilled for Khan’s recognition and highlight his ability to not only develop sound, long-term strategies that drive the business forward but also to inspire all levels of employees with his motivational and “team first” management style. As Khan says, the function of a good CEO is to “inspire people around you to do their best work, understand their strengths and weaknesses, and create an environment in which they can excel.”

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The Business of Iftar

August 11, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

iftar tablebwMuslims from around the world forge onward with the Ramadan fast in hopes of being successful this holy month and reaping all the benefits. Year in and year out, the rites of Ramadan remain primarily the same. Fasting, performing the daily and nightly prayers, reciting from the holy Quran and rejoicing in the season are the activities that most Muslims find themselves engaged in during the auspicious occasion.

However, while most things stay the same from one Ramadan to the next, there is one thing that always changes. The Iftar meal, which follows the breaking of the daily fast, is as diverse as the leaves adorning a lush green tree. Muslims in the Middle East, most of which continue to thrive despite the economic turmoil affecting the rest of the world, are renowned for the Iftar spreads offered on their tables. Surplus oil wealth and heavily subsidized governmental social services ensure that cups runneth over and plates are filled to capacity during Ramadan as well as the rest of the year.

Yet Ramadan provides a unique opportunity for savvy businessmen in the region looking to cash in on the Holy Month. And it does not hurt that this Ramadan features a minimum of 14 fasting hours per day and in scorching day time temperatures. Why bother slaving over a hot stove when you can be feted like a king? Hotels and restaurants in wealthy Middle Eastern countries, like Qatar and Kuwait, cater to the fancies of Muslims fasting in Ramadan. Social-networking sites, like Facebook, are utilized to attract fasting Muslims with sleek ads featuring delectable dishes. Print media, such as newspapers and magazines, are also used to advertise sumptuous buffets offering international cuisine as well as local delicacies.

Some of the most sumptuous Iftar buffets can be found in the Dubai Mall located in the municipality of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. One of the most popular restaurants, Na3Na3, features live cooking stations during Ramadan and the Eid festivities.  Guests dine on traditional Arabic fare and sip freshly prepared beverages that compliment the meal. A traditional ‘Oud’, or Arabic stringed instruments, player keeps everyone entertained during the meal. Al Bahou restaurant, also located in Dubai, offers fasting Muslims a lavish menu featuring roasted lamb and freshly wrapped shwarma sandwiches.

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Dubai Hotels Aim to Pick Up Pilgrim Trade During Ramadan

July 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The National

Atlantis_Hotel_in_Dubai

Atlantis Hotel in Dubai.

Hoteliers in Dubai are trying to tempt pilgrims to stop over in the emirate on their way to Saudi Arabia to make up for an expected slump in business next month during Ramadan.

The GCC is usually the most important market for Dubai hotels during the summer months, a low season for the industry as many Europeans are put off by the soaring temperatures.

This year, Ramadan takes place throughout August. Most GCC nationals prefer to spend the holy month at home.

The dual impact of Ramadan falling during the slowest month in the year has prompted hoteliers to launch “pilgrim packages” as they seek out alternative markets. Ramadan is a peak time for umrah trips to Saudi Arabia. About 4 million pilgrims travelled to Saudi Arabia for umrah throughout last year.

“We are trying to link the stopover for many of the Muslims who are travelling from India, Pakistan, Iran, and they go for umrah in Saudi Arabia,” said Habib Khan, the general manager of the Arabian Courtyard Hotel and Spa in Dubai. He said the packages were likely to include iftars and suhoors.

Indonesia and Malaysia were other potential markets for this business, he said, adding that the pilgrims could be persuaded to stop over either on the way to Saudi Arabia or on their way back.

“That’s an opportunity to give them a special offer and reach out to them,” Mr Khan said. “If they get a good offer, they will stop over and stay for two or three nights.”

The Ramada hotel in the Downtown Burj Khalifa area is also trying to attract pilgrims, aiming to draw stopover business from the large Muslim communities in South Africa and the UK.

“They have to transit via Dubai,” said Wael El Behi, the executive assistant manager at Ramada Downtown Dubai. “This is another market which can generate a good proportion of business. There is another factor to consider, which is the inventory in town.

“The room inventory is increasing. We have to be tactical in our approach to win new business. Our expectations for the month of July, because of the Dubai Summer Surprises, will be 85 to 87 percent occupancy, while for the month of Ramadan our target is a maximum of 60 percent occupancy.”

Mr El Behi said the room rates could more than halve next month compared with their present rates.

An influx of tourists from the GCC, in particular Saudi Arabia, has helped hotels in Dubai to achieve high occupancy levels in the past few months.

Beach hotels in Dubai benefited from an 11 percent increase in revenue per available room, a key industry indicator, during the first four months of the year, according to the property consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle. Occupancy levels across Dubai reached 81 percent, compared with 77 percent in the same period last year.

Dubai hotels will also be targeting their home market, with packages for UAE residents to attract guests from neighbouring emirates.

Tourists from China could also help to counteract the expected decline next month.

“The Chinese market will come because of the low prices,” Mr Khan said. “My hotel has seen a threefold increase in the months of May and June.”

He said that Chinese tourists made up 15 percent of all guests at the hotel during that period.

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Analysis: Egypt Army May Pull Strings from Barracks

June 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Edmund Blair

CAIRO (Reuters) – Hossam el-Hamalawy is used to being in trouble with the authorities. State security hauled him in three times for his activism when Hosni Mubarak was in power. He hoped Egypt’s uprising would end such summonses. It didn’t.

He was called in again in May for questioning. But one element changed. It wasn’t internal security but an army general who wanted to question the blogger over accusations he made on television about abuses by the military police.

“We didn’t have this revolution … so that we would replace Hosni Mubarak with the military as a taboo,” said Hamalawy, insisting that the army must change its ways.

“The military institution is part of the old regime,” he said. “It will have to go through its own change in revolutionary Egypt.”

Quite what that change might look like is perhaps the biggest question facing Egyptians now.

The army has vowed to hand power to civilians, after it took control when Mubarak was ousted on February 11.

Few doubt it wants to quit the grimy world of day-to-day government but, at the same time, few expect the generals to submit to civilian command when they return to barracks.

Instead, analysts say the military is likely to slip into the political shadows, as a protector of national security — a broad brief that would allow some back-seat intervention — and rigorously guard its business interests and other privileges.

The military has after all supplied Egypt’s rulers, including former air force commander Mubarak, for six decades.

“I do feel they are sincere about handing over power to a civilian government,” said Hamalawy, who writes the arabawy.org blog. “But that does not mean they will give up … their role in the Egypt political arena.”

After summons for interrogation prompted protests, Hamalaway said the general who quizzed him on May 31 promised to examine evidence he provided of any abuses by the military police.

Such incidents, played out in public and drawing the ire of Egyptians enjoying a new-found assertiveness, can only tarnish the reputation of an army which was sky-high when troops took control of the streets from Mubarak’s widely reviled state security forces.

The army has committed to a parliamentary vote in September and presidential poll to follow.

National Security

“The Egyptian military is the institution that can hold the country together, move it forward. It is the only one,” said Kamran Bokhari, an analyst at global intelligence firm STRATFOR.

“I don’t see it relinquishing power to a very nascent, parliamentary system in which there is also a president.”

He added: “There are material interests as an institution. Their privileged status, they want to be able to retain that.

“There are genuine national security concerns.”

To achieve this, there are several models for Egypt to copy.

Close to home is Turkey, where the army was guardian of the secular constitution for decades and toppled governments when it saw that threatened. That role has been diluted with the rise of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s AK, a socially conservative party with Islamist roots and free market policies.

Further afield is Pakistan where Bokhari said there was an “unwritten rule that the top brass is involved in the decision-making or foreign policy-making process.”

Egypt could forge its own formula. Bokhari said the army may want to insert a line in the constitution that it be consulted over national security, ensuring it a seat at the top table.

The army denies having any such ambitions.

“The job of the army is specified by the current constitution and if this is to change it will be through the parliament after studies and based on the demands of the people,” one military official told Reuters.

“But so far nothing is planned to increase the powers of the army or give it new ones,” said the official, who responded to questions only on condition of anonymity.

However, Mamdouh Shaheen, a general on the military council who deals with legislative and constitutional affairs, said in comments published in May that a new constitution should give the military a special place — “some kind of insurance, so that it is not under the whim of a president.”

He also said parliament should not be allowed to question the armed forces, the newspaper reported.

Such talk has riled commentators. Writing in the same newspaper after Shaheen, Amr el-Shobaki, a columnist, dismissed the idea that army should have any “special immunity” — although he said that it should have a role in protecting Egypt’s democracy.

For now, the generals are in the public eye but the institution is not submitted to public scrutiny. Just as it was under Mubarak, the military budget is a mystery and it controls a sprawling business empire — just how big is unclear.

One Western diplomat, asked about the scale of the army’s business interests compared to the overall economy, said: “Estimates vary wildly, even as much as 40 percent, which I think is way off the mark. We just don’t know.”

Some suggest a more realistic estimate is 10-15 percent.

WINNING OVER THE PUBLIC

The army runs factories that make plastic products and other goods. The highway connecting Cairo with the Red Sea port of Ain Sokhna was built by army engineers and the toll ticket for that road has the words “Ministry of Defense” stamped on it.

To win over the public before one big protest after Mubarak was ousted, the army issued a four-page insert in a newspaper outlining its economic contribution. It listed pharmaceutical firms it owned, stadiums it built and farmland it had reclaimed.

For many in Egypt, a country of 80 million people where about two-thirds of the nation were born during Mubarak’s rule and knew no other leader, the army’s presence gives reassurance.

“We have at least three years to get back on our feet and we need to have a strong and strict establishment in power, like the armed forces, to help us achieve that,” said Saeed Saeed, in his 40s, who works at a private company.

The army has been revered by many Egyptians for its role in wars fighting former colonial powers Britain and France in the 1956 Suez crisis and Israel, notably in the 1973 war that led to peace talks and the return of the Sinai peninsula.

The army was virtually the only institution of state to survive this year’s political turmoil intact. For investors, it provides confidence as the country rebuilds.

“For continuity and to provide an element of security, then having a state institution that functions efficiently is important,” said Angus Blair of Beltone Financial, adding that there needed to be an “evolution in other institutions.”

But there are many Egyptians who have become uncomfortable with what they see as the army’s clumsy handling of government.

“I am getting a feeling that the army is not fulfilling the demands of the protesters … and I don’t like that because I agree with the revolution and all its demands,” said Mohamed Afan, an accountant.
An army-backed ban on strikes by workers drew the wrath of protesters, who accused the army of betraying their trust. There have been no obvious cases where the law was implemented.

Egyptians have rallied over what they say is the army’s tardiness in holding Mubarak to account. His trial on murder and graft charges is now set for August 3. The military insists this is a judicial matter, beyond its control.

Seeking to appease the public, generals have appeared on TV chat shows, unheard of in Mubarak’s time, to explain themselves.

Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces Egypt, once served as defense attache in Pakistan and seems to have long been aware of the pitfalls of military rule.

The U.S. ambassador wrote in a leaked 2009 cable of a remark Tantawi had made then in which he concluded that “any country where the military became engaged in ‘internal affairs’ was ‘doomed to have lots of problems’.”

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Celebrating Extraordinary Muslim Women

March 11, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Salma Hasan Ali

Washington, DC – On 10 March, three Muslim women will be honoured alongside philanthropist Melinda French Gates and human rights activists Panmelo Castro from Brazil and Rebecca Lolosoli from Kenya, by Vital Voices Global Partnership, a Washington, DC-based organisation that works to empower women around the world.

The need to recognise the work of Muslim women is important. Type the search terms “Muslim women” or “women in Islam” online and chances are that a majority of English-language hits will consist of stories relating to what Muslim women wear on their heads or how women in Muslim-majority countries are subjected to physical abuse, or subjugated under the false pretext of religious principle.

But there is another side to Muslim women that is too infrequently recognised, reported or discussed. The Vital Voices Global Partnership awards ceremony, taking pl ace two days after International Women’s Day, provides an opportunity to celebrate this not uncommon, yet too frequently overshadowed, side to Muslim women.

Andeisha Farid grew up in a refugee camp outside Afghanistan. As a teenager, she lived in a Pakistani hostel for six years, where she studied and tutored others. In 2008, at the age of 25, she started her own non-profit organisation, the Afghan Child Education and Care Organization (AFCECO), in Kabul. Today, AFCECO runs ten orphanages in Afghanistan and Pakistan for over 450 children of diverse ethnic backgrounds.

In a country where non-governmental organisations that work with women and girls are frequently targeted by religious extremists, Andeisha is constantly on guard. But she remains committed to providing Afghan children not only with food and shelter, but with a sense of mutual respect, regardless of ethnic differences, a feeling of khak – connection to the earth as their homeland – and a s ense of empowerment to shape their own future, and that of their country.

“The happy faces of these children give me hope,” she says. “It helps me conquer fear.”

Afnan Al Zayani is a wife, mother, social activist, television personality and CEO of a multi-million dollar business. It’s no wonder that Forbes and Arabian Business magazine call her one of the most powerful women in the Middle East. In addition, she helped ensure the first written personal status law that protects the rights of Muslim women in cases of divorce and child custody was passed in Bahrain.

She attributes her ability to juggle so many responsibilities to her strong faith. “God will judge us on whether we use our gifts of life and health towards good or evil,” she says. Immaculately dressed in her hijab, or headscarf, she shatters the Western stereotype of the downtrodden Muslim woman. Her guiding philosophy: “Live your life as if you will live forever; live yo ur day as if you will die tomorrow.”

Then there is Roshaneh Zafar. While studying development economics at Yale University in the United States, she came across the story of Khairoon, a woman in Bangladesh who owned only one sari. Khairoon borrowed $100 from the microfinance organisation Grameen Bank to invest in a business, and now owns a sweetshop, a poultry farm, a call centre – and a collection of colourful saris.

Roshaneh met Khairoon many years after her initial loan, and saw firsthand the miracle of microfinance in changing women’s lives. She decided to start a microfinance organisation in Pakistan called Kashf, which means “miracle”. It is now the third largest microfinance organisation in Pakistan, with 300,000 clients and a goal to reach more than half a million in the next four years.

Roshaneh’s message encapsulates the sentiment of many: “Women matter to the world. We need not accept the status quo. Freeing the world of poverty and disenfranchisement of women is possible. But it will only happen when 50 per cent of the world’s population is allowed to recognise its latent strength.”

It is these stories that must be reported, not only to herald the achievements of remarkable women, but to dispel falsely created perceptions of the role of Islam in defining the fate of Muslim women.

###

* Salma Hasan Ali is a Washington, DC-based writer focusing on promoting understanding between the West and the Muslim world. This article first appeared in Washington Post/Newsweek’s On Faith and was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

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OPEN-Houston Brought A Most Useful Seminar For The Community

February 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

The Organization of Pakistani Entrepreneurs and Professionals (OPEN) is a not-for-profit organization and started in 1998 from Boston Massachusetts, with sole purpose to promotion entrepreneurship and professional growth of Pakistanis, in collaboration with those living around Pakistanis. OPEN has several chapters across USA. One of the main aims of OPEN is to enhance the prosperity of Pakistani businesspersons, which in turn should reflect in the augmentation of wealth and resourcefulness of the Pakistani community living in USA and for the societies at large Pakistanis live. In order to achieve its goals and objectives, OPEN organizes several educational seminars and networking events, as well as fosters sound relationship with political & business decision makers in USA and Pakistan. OPEN also has special focus on the youth, encourage them to be innovating entrepreneurs and proficient professionals and bring for them various internship programs themselves or through other organizations’, business and governmental entities.

At the picturesque Embassy Suites Hotel along Katy Freeway at South Kirkwood, OPEN-Houston organized a timely seminar on “The Credit Crisis and Great Recession: A Historical Perspective”, presented by Faisal David Khan, Senior Financial Advisor and Partner with Ameriprise Advisory Services. He talked about the governmental intervention, the worsened housing market, securitization, investment banking, and the current volatile financial climate. After his short power-point presentation, he answered several questions of the attendees for more than half-an-hour.

“I am against governmental control of free enterprise system of USA: However we do need proper regulations and check-&-balances, so that everyone plays by rules and greed does not become the main ingredient of the system,” said Faisal David Khan.

He said although President Obama Governments’ steps to strongly intervene into the markets have avoided the depression, but have we really come out of the troubled waters, no one can say for certainty. Reason is when there was incentive to buy homes, people bought the homes. Moment it was going away, we had the worst home sales month. Similarly clunker car program increased auto sales, but once gone, it also went down.

Faisal David Khan most eloquently explained that the concept of “Leverage” is one of the main reasons for the markets downfall. Leverage is when: (a) an institution’s financial assets are larger than its capital; (b) an institution is exposed to the change in value of a position more than the amount that it paid for the position; or (c) an institution owns a position with embedded leverage. A position with embedded leverage is a position with an exposure larger than the underlying market factor.

Result of this concept of “Leverage” is that we have seen watershed event of the Bear Stearns Companies, Inc Company of 1923, collapsing completely in 2008, due to the subprime mortgage crisis.

Businesses and individual consumers have learned the lesson and are willing to be regulated. President Obama Government needs to bring more innovative and stricter regulations and try to avoid complete takeover of the government, as that will hurt the free venture system.

“We should be worried about USA Economy, more so that the world economy is dependent on USA. Although we may see countries like China making amazing strides in the financial field, but in fact their economy is dependent largely on the well-being of US,” added Faisal David Khan.

For more information on OPEN-Houston and/or getting involved in a business endeavor, one can visit http://www.open-houston.org/

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Omar Khan, Football Executive

January 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

3D23 Omar Khan is the Business & Football Administration Coordinator of Pittsburgh’s Steelers. A well respected executive he is currently being interviewed by the Seahawks for the general manager vacancy.

Khan has the title of Business and Football Administration Coordinator and handles the salary cap and negotiations for the Steelers.

Khan, 32, is the child of immigrant parents. His father was born in India and his mother in Honduras.  A keen sports enthusiast from his high school days Khan earned a degree in Sports Management with a minor in Business Administration from Tulane University.

As a student, Khan worked in the Tulane football office filming practices and games and making travel arrangements. He filled a similar capacity during an internship with the New Orleans Saintswhile he was still in school. Once he graduated in 1998, he was brought on in a full-time role by the Saints. He worked his way up the ladder in New Orleans by doing anything that was asked of him.

In 2001 he was hired by the Steelers and has served as their chief contract negotiator and capologist, replacing Dan Ferens.  In that role he has helped to assemble two Super Bowl winners.

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Book

November 25, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

tufail-adil

Definitions for “book”

A set of written, printed, or blank pages fastened along one side and encased between protective covers.
1. A printed or written literary work.
2. A main division of a larger printed or written work: a book of the Old Testament.

1. A volume in which financial or business transactions are recorded.
2. books Financial or business records considered as a group: checked the expenditures on the books.

1. A libretto.
2. The script of a play.

Book

   1. The Bible.
   2. The Koran.

1. A set of prescribed standards or rules on which decisions are based: runs the company by the book.
2. Something regarded as a source of knowledge or understanding.
3. The total amount of experience, knowledge, understanding, and skill that can be used in solving a problem or performing a task: We used every trick in the book to finish the project on schedule.
4. Informal. Factual information, especially of a private nature: What’s the book on him?

A packet of like or similar items bound together: a book of matches.

A record of bets placed on a race.

Games. The number of card tricks needed before any tricks can have scoring value, as the first six tricks taken by the declaring side in bridge.

Community News (V11-I46)

November 5, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Ruhi Khan named VP of Acorda Therapeutics

HAWTHORNE, NY–Ruhi Khan recently named Vice President, Business Development, of Acorda Therapeutics reporting to President and CEO RonCohen, M.D. Previously, Ms. Khan was the Executive Director, Business Development at Acorda.

Before joining the Company, Ms. Khan was the Senior Director of Business Development at Lexicon Pharmaceuticals. While at Lexicon, she led the business development function for both in-licensing and out-licensing of programs, research stage collaborations, technology assessments, spin-outs and other strategic initiatives. She was also responsible for market research and market analysis for clinical product candidates. Prior to that, Ms. Khan was a Director at Fidelity Biosciences, the biotech venture capital investment division at

Fidelity Investments; in that capacity, she had operational management responsibilities at EnVivo Pharmaceuticals, a biotech company focused on the development of therapies for central nervous system disorders. Ms. Khan has a Bachelor of Arts from Harvard College and a Master of Business Administration from the Wharton School.

“I`m delighted to announce the promotion of Ruhi Khan to Vice President of Business Development,” Dr. Cohen said. “Ruhi`s first assignment after joining Acorda was to lead our process to obtain a commercialization partner for Fampridine-SR outside the U.S. She did an outstanding job of executing this process and concluding a great deal with an optimal partner, Biogen Idec. I expect Ruhi to continue to be a major contributor to Acorda`s future successes as we work to capitalize on business development opportunities and build shareholder value.”

Islamic Studies at Lehigh University hosts first speaker

The Center for Global Islamic Studies at Lehigh University  welcomed David Lelyveld, author and professor of history at William Paterson University, to give the center’s inaugural lecture in Linderman Library on Wednesday.

Lelyveld’slecture, “Sir Sayyid’s Dreams: Biography and Islamic Dream Interpretation in Nineteenth Century India,” focused on the life, accomplishments and dream interpretation of one of the most well known Muslim reformists in late colonial South Asia, Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan.

The Center for Global Islamic Studies was launched in the fall of 2009 with the support and grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and is an intellectual community committed to the study of Islamic civilization. “This four-year grant provides support for library acquisitions and faculty research,” said Robert Rozehnal, the director of the center and professor of religion studies. “Thanks to this grant, the center now has a real dynamism and direction.”

The grant also funds three visiting faculty positions: a professor of practice in Arabic, a visiting scholar and a pre-doctorate/post-doctorate scholar.

During their time at Lehigh, each visiting scholar will teach a range of courses in their respective fields, while contributing to the intellectual life and numerous activities of the center.

Lynchburg mosque to hold open house

LYNCHBURG, VA–The Greater Lynchburg Islamic Association is holding an open house this Saturday for everyone in  the community to come and learn  about Islam.

The mosque was opened last December and on average about thirty people attend the prayer services. Speaking to the media GLIA’s president, Maqsud Ahmad, said you’ll often hear in the media about those who are not representing the true image  of Islam.

“We want to tell them that you know we are just like you, we are as friendly as you are. We believe in one God, the same God you believe in.”

Mosque opposed once again in Gwinnett County

ATLANTA, GA–Gwinnett County Commissioners delay voting on a zoning application that would allow a mosque to move forward with its expansion.

The commission is considering a re-zoning application by the Darus Salam mosque. They want to build a 20,000 square-foot, two-story mosque with towers.

Neighbors against the mosque say the issue is traffic and parking.One woman told commissioners, “It is not about the mosque itself. It’s about how they conduct themselves toward the neighborhood.The mosque said they need the space to accommodate a growing number of worshipers. They have bought the surrounding property. In addition to the mosque, they are planning a small strip mall with stores downstairs and a library upstairs.County staff recommended the re-zoning application be denied. The Commission is delaying their vote.

Interfaith prayer service held in Toronto

TORONTO, CANADA–About 100 people from synagogues, mosques and churches gathered last week at the Church of the Transfiguration for an historic service of Evensong (the traditional Anglican late-afternoon/evening service), sponsored by the Neighbourhood Interfaith Group. The Reverend Canon Michael Burgess, incumbent, officiated at the service; Imam Dr. Abdul Hai Patel delivered a sermon; Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl of Beth Tzedec congregation recited a prayer, and Archbishop Terence E. Finlay, former Bishop of Toronto, gave the blessing.

“This interfaith Evensong service and kosher-halal reception is a unique way of bringing people of our Abrahamic faiths together,” said Bryan Beauchamp, chair of the Neighbourhood Interfaith Group, which represents five Christian denominations – Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Roman Catholic and United Church – and three Jewish denominations – Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist.

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Where’s the Beef?

July 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

Capture7-22-2009-4.40.17 PM

They’re smothered in cheese, pickles, lettuce tomato, and mayonnaise, and are served on a sesame seed bun. But they’re not anything like the traditional all-American hamburger you might be used to. ‘Hashi’, or baby camel burgers, are the latest food trend to take Saudi Arabia by storm.

The camel is one of the most beneficial animals to residents in the Middle East. The camel has long been ‘man’s best friend’ for time eternal, and was instrumental in helping Islam flourish in the region during the life of the Prophet Muhammad (s), prior and since. Camels are prevalent in the history of Arabia as they have served as a mode of transportation, battle buddies in countless wars, companions, and a source of food whether through the fresh and foaming milk camels provide or as a source of highly nutritious meat. Even the camel hair is cultivated and used in the textile industry as it is woven into fine cashmere, which is made into disdashas, blazers or even blankets.

Camel meat has long been a staple in the Saudi Arabian diet. Camel liver is considered to be a fine specialty food and served in the finest hotels and restaurants from Riyadh to Jeddah. The meat is very light and has a delicate flavor. And it is not as fattening as beef, nor as cholesterol-ridden. However, the older the camel the tougher the meat. That’s why baby camels are used for the camel burgers, as the meat is tender.

The camel burgers are the brainchild of three brothers who together own the ‘Local Hashi Meals’ restaurant in the capital city of Riyadh. In a recent interview, one of the owners said that the new menu item was meant to “invent something new” which would tantalize the taste buds of camel meat connoisseurs. So far, the camel burgers have literally been flying off of the grill as customers are eating up the new sandwiches in record numbers.

The camel burgers have helped to revive the family’s business, which had slowed down in recent months due to the global financial crisis. Thanks to the camel burgers, business is now booming. The creators of the camel burger already have plans to expand their business by opening up another branch which could mark the creation of a whole new franchise, in the fledgling ‘camburger’ industry, that could most definitely be a market leader in the Gulf States.

Camel burgers may seem like a unique food that may or may not be a welcome guest on your dining table. However, there are even more unique and weird foods that are considered to be delicacies in the Middle East. How about a slice of sheep’s brain grilled to perfection and tucked into half of a freshly baked pita bread, along with a slice of onion and a squeeze of lemon juice?

Or sheep testicle kebabs grilled on skewers over an open flame until they ‘pop’? No matter which foods grace your palate, trying new foods that may seem strange at first is an excellent way to increase your culinary repertoire and experience a new gastronomic adventure.

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