Category Archives: Published

Greek Local elections – Round 2

 Investors are looking to Greece this week as the country prepares for its second round of voting in local elections on May 25. Up for grabs are positions in Greece’s 325 municipalities in 13 regions. Voters will simultaneously also select their candidates for the European Parliament.

The leading two candidates in every region’s initial elections go to a final vote on May 25 to pick a winner with a clear majority of over 50%. The elections painted a disjointed picture of the country’s political affiliations. A disillusioned and austerity-weary public punished the main parties by picking satellite parties and relative newcomers.

The Global X Greece ETF (GREK) closed at $21.33 on Thursday, down 5.3% year to date.

 Speaking to Bloomberg, Loukas Tsoukalis, president of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, said of the first round, “Personalities won over political parties, as independent candidat 3ff0 es are ahead in three of the country’s largest cities. The results show the fragmentation of Greece’s political landscape.”

In the Attica region of Greece, where Athens is located, the New Democracy party suffered heavy losses and failed to secure a place in the second round of voting.

Adding to the threat of national and European instability was the outcome of voting for anti-bailout party Syriza, which managed to get a candidate through for the second round of Athens’ mayoral seat, and neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn. The party exceeded expectations by securing 16% of the popular vote in Athens, tripling their previous total in 2012 and raising the prospect of the party securing seats in the European parliamentary elections.

Such a move would likely prove problematic to the country’s recent tentative steps back into the bond market.

Just last month, Greece made its return to the international bond market after a four-year hiatus. While the initial launch was a success and was hailed as proof of the country’s economic recovery, yields have begun creeping up to nearly 7% after a pre-launch low of just below 6%, as the markets wait to see what happens next.

The country has already submitted to a 70% haircut for bond interest rates in the past, an economy that has shrunk some 23% since 2008, and a relentlessly growing unemployment rate.

It’s paramount for Greece to assure investors of its stability.

“Greece must show it has the stability it deserves through the sacrifices of the Greek people. And it is in the hands of the Greek people and their vote to decide whether we move ahead with stable steps or we let the country go backwards again.” said Samaras in live television comments the day after the first round of voting. No doubt this was an effort to steer voters away from the anti-EU and anti-austerity rhetoric that has lured voters away from his party. The country’s political uncertainty, combined with speculation that the government was poised to levy a retroactive tax on profits made through trading Greek government bonds in recent years, led to a Greek bond selloff. These claims have since been denied by the Greek government’s finance minister, Yiannis Stouranas, but not before a domino effect had been sparked with Italian bond yields following suit.

 Bond markets in the region remain jittery as investors wait to see how the local and European election results unfold in Greece and beyond.

  This article first appeared on TheStreet.com

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Why I can’t stand racist belly dancers

Recently I read a very interesting piece on Salon.com. Interesting is one of those words that people like to use when they’re trying to avoid saying something was bad, as in the Chinese curse that wishes you to live an interesting life.

The piece was an article by American-Arab author Randa Jarrar and provocatively titled “Why I can’t stand White belly dancers”. It’s certainly an attention-grabbing title, so I started to read.

I’ve been learning belly dance for almost 10 years now. I took it up initially while still living in London as a hobby and a dance form that didn’t rely on you having a partner. I kept up the momentum when I moved to Greece. I was half Indian, half Pakistani, learning belly dance in Greece from an American teacher.

Having moved to a country where I didn’t speak the language, dance was my currency. I relished the weekly lessons where I could get together with like-minded women and unwind, listening to the girl talk until my language skills were up to scratch.

Belly dancers and their students defend their art fiercely. I have found, without exception, belly dancers to be the friendliest, funniest, most open and most inviting women I have ever met. They do not take kindly to the trivialising of their art. I remember one show when I was talking to a fellow student, a girl I had just met and she looked at me with a wounded expression. “Please,” she said “don’t call it belly dance. It’s raqs sharqi.”

Belly dance. Raqs Sharqi. The dance of the East. However you call it, it is a dance form that has transcended many cultures and has its origins deep in the mists of time as a fertility dance. The roots of belly dance can be traced around the Mediterranean and into Africa. Each country has its own style.

Even Greece has a local style of belly dance. What all styles have in common is that this is a dance by women, for women. It was never danced in the company of men. Belly dance entered the male world only when Western explorers reached the East and wanted to see this mysterious dance. Enterprising young dancers began charging them for the privilege, and the myth of the morally loose, seductive belly dancer was born.

How sick are we all in the belly dance community of seeing bored, pretty little things in nice costumes vibrate across a stage and call it belly dance. The cabaret style of belly dance costume, the bra and belt, are Hollywood inventions, and as the Western influence encroached on an ancient tradition, many were horrified.

Armen Ohanian, famed belly dancer from the early 1900s, describes a scene in her autobiography:

“In Cairo one evening I saw, with sick, incredulous eyes, one of our most sacred dances degraded into a horrible bestiality. It was our poem of the mystery and pain of motherhood. It represents maternity, the mysterious conception of life, the suffering and joy with which a new soul is brought into the world… But the spirit of the West had touched this holy dance and it had become the hoochie koochie, the danse du ventre, the belly dance. I heard the lean Europeans chuckling. I even saw lascivious smiles upon the lips of Asiatics, and I fled.”

When I see talentless belly dancers, women who are lured more by the fancy costumes than what lies at the heart of the dance, it drives me mad too. But Randa Jarrar is misguided in claiming that belly dance belongs solely to the Arab world, that any representation beyond these lines is a form of appropriation.

With its roots placed so deeply in femininity, womanhood, motherhood and birth, belly dance is a dance that belongs to all women. Belly dance is encompassing and inclusive — where else will your dance teacher take you aside and gently tell you to try and gain some more weight if you want to execute the moves correctly?

Cultural exchange is part of the human experience. It is to be celebrated, not resented, when people from other cultures express an interest in our own. To suggest otherwise is nothing short of racism.

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