Doha,april,1:OF course, the Doha summit did not tackle the increase in the price of cement and the parallel decrease in its production in the Arab world nor did it tackle the pressing need of Arabs for wheat after their vast lands, including those rich in water, have become unable to yield enough.
The summit discussed crucial issues in the Arab world, which is going through “exceptional circumstances” and taking “dangerous turns.” The Syrian crisis topped the agenda, and it would have been useful if anyone had posed a few questions: Who will reconstruct Syria? Will the cement produced by Arab factories be enough? How can we supply tons of wheat to feed hungry mouths in the light of dangerous political tension? From here emerges the importance of discussing the issues of cement and wheat in the Arab world.
It might sound inappropriate to ask who will rebuild the new Syria while killing and destruction is ongoing in the old Syria, or how Egyptians in the second republic will be able to secure the 250 million loaves of bread they need every day while their politicians are still fighting over the legitimacy of the prosecutor general. It is important for us to toughen up, deal with the future coldly, and form committees to tackle such questions.
Toward the end of last year, around 45 Syrians, who represent different opposition factions, met in Berlin. Some of them worked for the Syrian government, then defected. They met to set a plan known as “the following day in Syria” project under the auspices of two institutes, one German and the other American. They put forth wonderful ideas that constituted a road map for Syria following the ouster of Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.
The plan included democratic transition, the reconstruction of the state, security, the constitution, and finally economic boom and reconstruction. A detailed copy of this study is available on the website of the United States Institute for Peace. Yet, they did not discuss the issue of cement of which Syria only produces six million tons and God only knows how many months it will take to reopen its ruined factories.
Egypt ranks first among Arab cement-producing countries with 48 million tons followed by Saudi Arabia with 44 million, but despite the expansion in the construction of cement factories in both countries, the price of cement is still increasing in each of them. This is the result of high demand for the construction of housing units in both. This demand is likely to rise even more with Saudi Arabia’s adoption of comprehensive real estate development systems, like mortgage and housing loans. The soaring prices and monopoly of housing land is what mainly hinders a breakthrough in the construction of houses.
But who will provide Syrians with cement if Saudi Arabia is prohibiting its export and Egypt is in need of all that it can produce? Who will fund the reconstruction of Syria? Syria is not like Libya, which suffered from similar destruction yet had the money for reconstruction. Syria produces only 300,000 barrels of oil a day. Some of this quantity is exported and Bashar Al-Assad and his family get hold of the revenue. The scope of destruction in Syria is much greater than that in Libya. Will Saudi and Turkish companies vie for investing in Syria? Or will the money Syrians smuggled abroad solve the problem? However, there should be time for the reconstruction of state institutions, drafting a constitution, and holding elections before thinking of supplying Syrians with cement.
Wheat is another communal Arab problem. For example, Saudi Arabia will stop cultivating wheat by 2015 with nonrenewable subterranean water running out, even though the Kingdom only needs three million tons of wheat and has the money to import it from Australia and Russia. The problem is in Egypt, which needs 19 million tons and only produces half this quantity. Egypt is also short of hard currency with its reserve dropping to 13.5 billion dollars, which can cover the country’s need for imported products for only three months.
Theoretically, Arabs can find a solution in their fertile land in Iraq, Syria, Sudan, and Algeria, but politics makes the Kingdom prefer to look to wheat cultivation options in Russia, through private companies it owns, rather than resort to Algeria, which is ruled by military commanders who are hard to deal with. After the revolution, Egypt started exploring the possibility of cultivating one million acres of wheat in Sudan, but this is a long-term plan that requires Arab support and domestic attention after Egyptian politicians are done with their squabbling over the prosecutor general and are finished with their intrigues.
I mention cement and wheat to demonstrate how closely related we are as Arabs. Borders do separate us and we have different customs duties. Some countries support the manufacture of cement, like Saudi Arabia, while others don’t. Some countries have the money and expertise to cultivate wheat, like Saudi Arabia, while others have land, water, and labor, like Sudan. We are all affected by the economic changes that take place around us, especially when it comes to essential products like iron, cement, wheat, and fertilizers, which all have universal prices. This should encourage us to speed up economic unity and to work on lifting restrictions as leaders promise at the end of each summit. Economic prosperity and better living conditions are among the goals of the Arab people in the post-Arab Spring era.
Had we helped Egypt start with its economy instead of politics, the country wouldn’t have been hampered by one standoff following the other, absurd protests, and the exchange of incriminations. Everyone is beating up and torturing everyone else, so that all the values for which Egyptians staged their revolution, especially dignity, are collapsing. When you violate your adversary’s dignity you are in fact violating your own.
In Syria, the revolution is not over and incriminations and score settling have already started. The media is starting to be inspired by Egypt as far as the tools of division are concerned, so now there is a lot of talk about the necessity of stopping the “Brotherhoodization” of the Syrian revolution. Let us wait till the revolution is victorious, then start dealing with the Brotherhood.
Is there anything that calls for optimism? Yes, when the issues of cement and wheat top the priorities of Arab politicians.
Follow us on our social media channels: