EconSource: Amnesty Says Syrian Government Profits From Forced Disappearances

Syria’s government is profiting from money charged to families of people trying to find individuals who have been forcibly disappeared, Amnesty International said in a report on Thursday . The international rights organization said the Syrian state is benefiting from an “insidious black market in which family members desperate to find out the fates of their disappeared relatives are ruthlessly exploited for cash.” Nearly 60,000 civilians are believed to have been “disappeared” since Syria’s conflict began in 2011. Some people reported paying tens of thousands of dollars to try to find their relatives, according to Amnesty. Analysts say that since the start of the conflict, Syria’s economy has contracted by more than half, making forced disappearances a source of revenue for the government at a time of economic difficulty. [AFP, BBC, Washington Post, 11/5/2015]

Saudi Oil Minister says no need to cut energy subsidy
Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said on Wednesday that the kingdom does not need to reduce its energy subsidies. He said slashing domestic energy assistance is a measure for “when you are in dire need, and fortunately Saudi Arabia isn’t today in such dire need.” He also rejected the notion that Saudi Arabia’s low domestic energy prices constitute a subsidy, because petrol and electricity are sold for more than the cost of production. Last week, Naimi said the government was studying the possibility of increasing domestic energy prices. Analysts said this was most likely to occur via small increases in petrol prices and a rise in power costs for industrial, corporate, and other large-scale users. [WSJ, Reuters, 11/4/2015]

Iraq seeking $6 billion from IMF, World Bank
The Iraqi government is expected to begin discussions this month with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) this month to secure a $6 billion loan to help finance its budget deficit, according to government economic advisor Mazhar Mohammed Saleh. In July, the IMF approved a $1.24 billion emergency loan for Iraq. Iraq’s draft budget is due to be sent to the parliament’s finance committee by the end of this week, according to committee member Jabbar Ebadi. “The whole month of November may be devoted to discussions on next year’s budget, after which, the draft budget will be put to vote by the parliament in December,” he said. The Iraqi government may also issue local bonds worth $6.2 billion next year to help finance the budget deficit. [Zawya, 11/5/2015]

Yemen Central Bank agrees to support sagging currency
Yemen’s Central Bank has reached an agreement with commercial banks to try to support the currency. The official exchange rate of the rial has been fixed at around 214 to the dollar since 2010. Yemen’s civil war, however, has led to a hard currency shortage that pushed the free market rate down to about 270 per dollar last month from 243 in September. On Wednesday, sources said the free market rebounded to around 247 per dollar in response to the agreement between the central and commercial banks. Under the deal, commercial banks will provide merchants with dollars to cover their import needs and stop speculating on the rial. It is unclear whether the central and commercial banks will have enough hard currency to satisfy demand and support the rial in the long term. [Reuters, 11/4/2015]

Egypt changes wheat farmers’ subsidy system
Egypt will start buying local wheat from farmers at the average global price starting next season, marking a change in the way it subsidizes its wheat growers. In previous years, Egypt annually fixed a local procurement price for Egyptian wheat above global prices in an attempt to encourage farmers to grow the crop. But the high price led to smuggling in which foreign wheat, mostly Russian, is sold to the government and falsely labeled as Egyptian wheat. Under the new system, the government will directly subsidize wheat farmers by granting each of them 1,300 Egyptian pounds ($161.89) per feddan at a maximum of twenty-five feddans per farmer. In other news, Egypt’s foreign currency reserves increased to $16.415 billion in October from $16.335 billion the previous month, according to the Central Bank of Egypt.[Reuters, 11/5/2015]

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