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The brainier sex

Saudi Arabia [EDUCATION]

Saudi Arabia is not known for its liberal attitude towards women. Despite numerous protests – all quickly quashed – it is still illegal for women to drive, for example. But in one area, higher education, Saudi Arabia is surprisingly female-friendly. According to new figures compiled by Unesco, the majority of Saudi university graduates are now women.

This being Saudi Arabia, most of them are educated at women-only universities and colleges, of which there are now more than 300. The opening of the Princess Noura bint Abdulrahman University in the suburbs of Riyadh next year has capacity for 40,000 places in 15 faculties. Education spending overall accounts for more than 20 per cent of the Saudi government’s budget.

The government hopes that these increased enrolment figures will eventually be replicated in the workforce, where women are still severely under-represented. However, although women represent only 17 per cent of the workforce – one of the lowest rates in the Arab states – that number has tripled since the early 1990s. And the rise of women graduates in the Saudi kingdom reflects a wider trend across the Middle East region, where several countries now boast more female graduates than male.

Middle East countries where more than 50 per cent of graduates are women:

1. Kuwait: 69 per cent
2. Qatar: 63 per cent
3. Palestinian Territories: 59 per cent
4. Lebanon: 57 per cent
5. Saudia Arabia: 57 per cent

Q&A- Peter Mwangi

Chief executive, Nairobi Stock Exchange

Nairobi

Peter Mwangi wants foreign investors to consider African bourses. And perhaps they should: the Nairobi Stock Exchange was one of the best performers on the continent in 2010, rising 35 per cent, although it still lags behind some of the better performing Asian bourses.

Are the risks for foreign investors high?
The global financial crisis showed that the risks may not have been where they were thought to be. Foreign investors are beginning to appreciate that.

How easy is it for outsiders to access these markets? What are the disadvantages? It’s as simple as calling your broker. The constraint has been that for the large funds, they talk about lack of depth and liquidity.

Why do you think the Nairobi exchange is growing so quickly?
Kenya has gaps that need to be filled – roads, power, housing. We see ourselves playing a crucial role in the vision of Kenya.

Half-finished job

Chad [REFUGEES]

The UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) completed its mandate at the end of 2010, ending a three-year mission to protect refugees who had fled to Chad from Sudan’s Darfur region and the Central African Republic. It might not be long before the blue berets return, however. More than 600,000 refugees are still dependent on aid, and Chad’s government has taken control of programmes established by the UN, including those promoting law and child protection. Optimism would be ill-advised: Chad’s ranking on the UN’s human development index is 163rd out of 169 countries.

Nile be dammed

Egypt and Sudan [WATER]

The battle over the future of the Nile is about to get more complicated. A colonial-era treaty gave Egypt and Sudan the lion’s share of the river’s waters, but for the past decade the seven other countries through which the river flows have been negotiating for more access. But with South Sudan set to become the world’s youngest country, the balance of power could shift between the upstream countries that signed a new deal last May and the downstream states that didn’t. The five signatories to the plan, including Ethiopia and Uganda, are threatening to build dams that could cut supplies to Egypt.

Warm welcome

Turkey [VISAS]

Turkey’s recent rapprochement with its Arab neighbours has translated into a slew of political and trade agreements with Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. Visa requirements have also been waived between the four countries allowing the number of Turks visiting Syria to rise by 170 per cent last year.

Such encouraging numbers have led the quartet to plan a “single tourist bloc” in the words of the Lebanese tourism ministry. Discussions are under way for a common tourist visa that would ease the rather unfriendly border crossings foreigners have to go through, making the jump from Bodrum to Byblos far more comfortable.

Foreign labour magnet

Qatar

Qatar has the highest proportion of foreign-born residents in the world, at 86.5 per cent of its population. It’s hardly an exception in the region, which often looks to foreign labour to do everything from managing its businesses to cleaning its houses: of the 10 countries with the highest percentage of migrants, eight are in the Middle East.

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