The Arab professionals ushering in a new energy era in the Middle East

Former OFID director general Suleiman Jasir Al-Herbish stands with interns hoping to boost renewable energy in the MENA region.
Updated 03 September 2019

The Arab professionals ushering in a new energy era in the Middle East

  • OPEC-backed internship aims to build a cadre of young Arab energy professionals
  • Six interns have begun work at the Cairo regional headquarters of the RCREEE

DUBAI: “Energy is the backbone of life and economy. With the depletion of energy sources, the best way to preserve it is to rely upon sustainability.”

The words of Nour Khadra, a a young Syrian, arguably sum up the worldview of a generation that does not believe fossil fuels should be the be-all and end-all of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

She is one of six interns who recently began work at the Cairo regional headquarters of the Regional Center for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (RCREEE) as part of the Arab Program for Sustainable Energy Youth (APSEY).

APSEY is managed by RCREEE with the support of the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID). Launched in 2013, APSEY seeks to boost the technical and operational capacities of the region’s young talents.

The latest batch is composed of engineers from Egypt, Djibouti, Yemen, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon who are interested in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

FAST FACTS

  • The APSEY program is managed by RCREEE with the support of the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID).
  • Three consecutive grants were approved by OFID to support APSEY in building the capacities of young professionals in the region starting from 2014.
  • RCREEE is currently inviting candidates for the 13th round of the program with engineering, environmental, economic, political science and business backgrounds.

“The APSEY internship is the only program in the region which aims to boost technical and operational capacities of the region’s young in the sustainable energy field,” said Khadra, adding that she has gained knowledge about national and regional plans, and also energy-efficiency policies adopted by some countries.

“I can use this information to implement similar plans that are appropriate and customized for my country, Syria,” she said. “I want to develop my knowledge and skills in the field of sustainable energy, including policies and regulations, research and statistics, and work closely with technical experts and learn from their experience.

“Our region contains a large part of the traditional energy sources, which will be depleted one day if the concept of sustainable energy is not applied, while depending on suitable energy sources will have a positive environmental impact on the region.”

Khadra’s views were echoed by Sarah Al-Akbari from Yemen. She said what piqued her interest in the field of renewable and sustainable energy was its relevance and potential.

“I believe that initiation of dialogues, policies and strategies is crucial for the advancement towards a prosperous sustainable growth,” she said. “APSEY aims to develop and build on existing knowledge and skills which, in turn, helps to enrich the experience and benefit gained through this program.”

To date, APSEY has in course of 12 rounds of internships welcomed a total of 65 individuals from Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya and Mauritania, as well as Morocco, Palestine, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen.

“I have had the opportunity to work on RCREEE’s flagship program, the Active Turbine Management Project (ATMP), whose function is to optimize the operation time of wind turbines, while ensuring safety and mitigating risk for migratory soaring birds,” Al-Akbari told Arab News.

“This program was useful for putting my academic and technical skills to use, and also for acquiring knowledge of the renewable energy sector.”




Upper row, from left: Sarah Al-Akbari, a Yemeni intern; Souliman Idriss, Djiboutian intern; and  Noha Gamal, RCREEE member states relations and operations director. Lower row, from left: Dr. Ahmed Badr, RCREEE executive director;  Ehab Al-Amleh, Jordanian intern; and Nour Khadrah, Syrian intern. (Supplied photos)

She said she was able to acquire hands-on experience in such activities as report writing, creative problem solving and negotiation techniques.

“In this dynamic environment, I am able to surround myself with and benefit from various specialists and experts in the field, as well as expand my network,” Al-Akbari said. “RCREEE is recognized for its active role in renewable and sustainable energy and its prominent international initiatives.

“I’m confident that my time there as an APSEY intern will help hone my communication and technical skills as well as widen my network.”

Al-Akbari believes renewable and sustainable energy will provide permanent solutions to current and future challenges, with developing countries standing to benefit most.

“Today millions are suffering from a lack of electrification,” she said. “Green energy investments will have a positive impact on the region and assist in its economic revival.”

Ehab Al-Amleh, from Jordan, chose APSEY for its environment, which he said encourages knowledge sharing between young professionals and experts.

“I spent almost two months in RCREEE, which allowed me to upgrade my skills. I am constantly learning about the region’s energy situation and its main challenges and opportunities,” he said.

“I am mainly involved in research and analysis under the private investment promotion unit. I see myself as an active learner in terms of time management and coordination.”

Al-Amleh sees plenty of scope for the expansion of sustainable-energy opportunities in a region in pursuit of energy security. “As a young professional, I have a great passion to be part of this sector because youth are the leaders of tomorrow,” he said. “As a junior intern, I know that I still have much to learn, but APSEY has made me believe there is also a lot for me to do and achieve. This, in my opinion, is the uniqueness of the program.”

Souliman Idriss, originally from Djibouti, thinks APSEY will help to ensure a clean and green future for the region. “Time has shown us that the use of fossil fuels is a threat, not only to human health and quality of life, but also to the ecosystem,” he told Arab News.

“Sustainable energy offers us the means to address all of this, but also to reduce poverty, reinforce social equity and promote economic growth and environmental protection.”

Idriss described the six-month internship as an opportunity to move forward in the fields of renewable energy and energy efficiency in order to participate in the actions undertaken by RCREEE.

“So far, I have learned how to manage and plan a project, using the tools required to carry out a feasibility study such as data relevant to the development of the strategic framework for MENA countries and their current energy situations,” he said.

“I am also learning more about energy efficiency, major international donors and investors. I am becoming more familiar with the Global Atlas for Djibouti, in addition to various projects that RCREEE is working on.”

After completing his internship, Idriss’ hope is to carry out a feasibility study for energy projects, manage a project, and draft proposals to support financing of projects in Djibouti and other countries.

“Through my in-depth research on international and national donors, I want to become familiar with the different procurement and tendering procedures,” he said.

“The concentration of greenhouse gas has increased by 30 percent in a century, which contributes enormously to climate change, causing drought, fires, famine and the melting of ice. Sustainable energy is important for our future and our children’s future, because future generations will not have another planet at their disposal.”

Idriss said regional policymakers should rely on sustainable energy to prepare for that future. “All the measures must be taken to preserve the environment through the development of renewable energies and controlling the use of current resources,” he said.

“All the countries of the region ought to raise awareness about better use of energy and the need for sustainable-energy strategies with socio-economic and environmental objectives.

“Even though a large percentage of the world’s known reserves are in the Middle East, stocks of fossil fuel are limited, not inexhaustible.”

Besides introducing the interns to the wonders of energy technology and management, APSEY acts as a bridge between industry and academia in the Arab world. “APSEY is not a regular internship program where interns are provided with training materials and sessions,” said Noha Gamal, APSEY program manager and RCREEE operations and member states relations director.

“Instead, RCREEE immerses more than 12 interns annually, on two rounds, in its ongoing projects to gain hands-on experience in various fields like research, analysis, policy design, business development and private business promotion.”

As part of a problem-solving exercise, two Yemeni interns came up with a plan for the revival of their country’s electricity sector. It aimed at proposing options for financial intervention in promoting sustainability and growth of decentralized solar energy in different sectors in Yemen against a background of conflict.

The APSEY program is considered, among other things, a community of Arab energy professionals exchanging experiences, knowledge, best practices and culture.

Graduates usually go on to occupy prominent positions in renewable energy and energy efficiency in the MENA region or back home.

“We strongly believe that the future lies in the hands of the region’s youth,” said Dr Ahmed Badr, RCREEE executive director.

“APSEY has enabled RCREEE to equip this generation with the necessary skills, knowledge and expertise to expand the renewable energy and energy efficiency markets, and secure affordable energy sources for their communities.

“This will eventually result in increasing the region’s energy supply, reducing its reliance on fossil fuels, creating more jobs and fulfilling its commitment to combating climate change.”

 

FASTFACTS


Ankara burns bridges with UAE but maintains ties with Israel: Why?

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his party members, in Ankara, Turkey, late Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020. (AP)
Updated 14 min 59 sec ago

Ankara burns bridges with UAE but maintains ties with Israel: Why?

  • Hamas is listed by the US and the EU as a terrorist group, but Ankara considers it a legitimate political movement

JEDDAH: After Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened on Friday to suspend diplomatic relations with the UAE following a breakthrough deal between the Gulf state and Israel, without making reference to any downgrading of its own diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv, the move was criticized by many as hypocrisy.

The deal between Israel and UAE requires that Israel suspend its planned annexation of parts of the West Bank in exchange for a normalization of ties with Abu Dhabi. In response, the Palestinian Authority announced the “immediate” recall of its ambassador to the UAE.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry described the deal as a betrayal of the Palestinian cause.

Although it is a strong advocate of the Palestinians as far as Israeli actions in the Gaza Strip and West Bank are concerned, Turkey continues to maintain its diplomatic ties with Israel.

“Turkey has a hypocritical stance, slamming the UAE for discussing relations with Israel, while Turkey also has relations with Israel,” said Seth J. Frantzman, executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis.

Turkey has had diplomatic relations with Israel since 1949. Despite deep mistrust between the two countries, especially since the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010, when Israeli commandos boarded a Turkish aid boat and killed ten Turkish activists, bilateral trade between two countries reached to $6 billion last year. Israel is among Turkey’s top 10 export markets.

In the past two years, the bilateral diplomatic representation has been at the level of chargé d’affaires rather than ambassador in response to the transfer of the US embassy to Jerusalem and to Israeli policies in the Gaza Strip.

According to Frantzman, this rhetoric is part of a deliberate choice by Ankara to distract from economic failure at home.

“Ankara, guided by its current ruling party, is moving towards becoming the most anti-Israel regime in the region. Recent bombastic announcements about ‘liberating Al-Aqsa after Hagia Sophia’ seek to fan religious extremism as part of an agenda by Ankara to try to re-kindle populist, religious and nationalist views across the region rooted in the previous century's mentalities and wars,” he said.

On Aug. 13, the British Daily Telegraph alleged that Turkey is granting citizenship to seven senior operatives of Hamas and voiced concerns about the potential repercussions of such moves to give the group more freedom to stage attacks on Israeli citizens around the world. The allegations were denied by a spokesman for the Turkish government.

Hamas is listed by the US and the EU as a terrorist group, but Ankara considers it a legitimate political movement. Western allies have warned Turkey several times about Hamas’ presence on Turkish soil.

Frantzman thinks that Turkey’s ruling party, which supports Hamas and is growing closer to Iran’s regime, only maintains its current relations with Israel because of Washington and because of its desire to exploit NATO and the EU.

“Ankara’s real agenda is to try to dominate the Arab world, and it thinks anti-Israel views will gain it support, the same way Iran seeks to exploit Palestinian suffering for the regime’s own ends. Neither Turkey or Iran have succeeded so far in bringing Palestinians more rights, all they have done is led to false hopes and ruined chances at peace and tolerance,” he said.

But Frantzman finds it unfortunate that Turkey pursues this policy rather than engagement because Ankara once played a role in Israel-Syria discussions and other productive work in the region.

The “technical” and “functional” relationship between Israel and Turkey still go on. Israel’s flagship carrier El Al, which suspended its flights to Turkey a decade ago following the Mavi Marmara crisis, landed in Istanbul this May to operate twice a week between Istanbul and Tel Aviv.

“Turkey was the first majority Muslim country to extend diplomatic recognition to Israel, and that has not changed under the AKP (the ruling Justice and Development Party). So, all the UAE is doing is what Turkey has done for almost 70 years – recognize Israel,” said Bill Park, a visiting research fellow at King’s College London.

Furthermore, as Turkey’s trade with Israel has continued to increase under the AKP in Turkey’s favor, Park doubts that Erdogan could really put this trade at risk for this reason.

If it is little more than a war of words, why does Erdogan engage in these threats?

“He is already in conflict with the UAE over Libya, Qatar and Turkey’s regional backing for Islamist and Muslim Brotherhood elements,” Park said. “So Erdogan’s rhetoric is part of this ongoing tension. He doesn’t like Israel and its plans to annex the West Bank, so maybe he is trying to achieve the moral and/or political high ground at home and in the region.”

Park thinks that if other Arab states, such as Oman, Bahrain and even KSA follow the UAE example, this would isolate Erdogan still further.

“The UAE is in large measure driven by fear of and hostility towards Iran, a sentiment shared by Israel. This now looms larger for many Arab governments than the plight of the Palestinians. Turkey again finds itself at odds with much of the region. Although there is a degree of mutual suspicion between Tehran and Ankara, there is little hostility, and Turkey has been crucial in enabling Iran to reduce the impact of US-inspired sanctions,” Park said.

Park said Erdogan could be either engaging in rhetoric for its own sake, or playing to the gallery of public opinion, or willing to damage Turkey’s economic interests, or simply adding to Turkey’s stark regional isolation.

“What his stance will not do is solve any problem that the region, or Turkey, faces,” he said.