A rapid look around the world demonstrates that few rentier countries can be classified as democratic states, especially those in the MENA region; therefore, scholars have suggested that oil wealth blocks democratization process. Other scholars linked the lack of democracy in rentier countries immediately to their dependence on oil rent. Furthermore, researchers clarified that rentier states have common characteristics like, weak civil society and low middle-class formation, no taxations on citizens and higher scales of suppression as participating to the dictatorial of rentier states. The aim of this article is to highlight the relation between rentierism and democracy.
Rentier effect Less taxation weak civil society
Algeria is very dependent on oil and gas, which accounts for 95 per cent of export earnings and one third of the national GDP. Oil economists claimed that any fall in oil prices could affect the Algerian economy, social and political stability; Algeria has a significant role in the international oil and gas market. It is the third largest natural gas producer in the Arab world after Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the leading gas exporter in Africa and an energy supplier to France, Spain, Italy, Turkey, US and China. The Algerian dependence on oil created structural political, economic and social problems, one of them is authoritarianism, which has different manifestations, and the study dismantles this phenomenon in Algeria through three main aspects: political, economic and social through two levels domestic and international.
It is important and critical to understand how rent affects the nature of a rentier state, why oil-exporting countries are considered less democratic. One of rentier state scholars Beblawi argues that rent provides a source of income to oil-exporting countries that grant them to have very low and weak domestic taxation structures. Other scholars like Luciani present similar argument, who claim that high rents liberate the state from the need to increase income domestically. Moreover when citizens, do not pay for taxes, they are much less Demanding of the government, also government expensing on public goods preserves the indispensable support and acquiescence for standing authority, also since the state does not demand a financial contribution from the citizens, they resort to be satisfied with the expense of the state, even when benefits and interest are not equally distributed.
Another important factor which explains the rise of authoritarianism in rentier countries which is the social groups, In addition to minimal taxation in these countries, there are higher amounts of patronage spending, which helps to the government’s staying power. The government also utilizes oil revenues to prevent and stop the formation of certain social groups that would rise the demands and requests on the government for more democracy and less authoritarianism.
The taxation is not only an economic matter but also a political one, taxes means representation, rights and duties..etc. .The ‘neo-classical’ theory of the state developed by Douglass North clarified that taxes are connected with representation and democracy, therefore, less taxation means less democracy. In addition, Adam Przeworski and Fernando Limongi, claim that in rentier states, limited taxation decreases the people’s influence to keep the rulers responsible, because the rentier state allocates jobs, services, money to them. This manner of guarantying political obeisance and loyalty produces patron‐client relations, rather than democratic exchanges, between the governor and people.
In addition, the rentier state’s welfare policies create a huge bureaucracy, which prohibits the emergence of independent civil society. In addition, the revenues can badly affect individuals too, because it transforms to a serious barrier to the morals of work. Furthermore income is no longer a recompense of serious work but it is related to special coincidence and circumstances like chance, hazard.., etc., another important aspect is that rents help authoritarian regimes with the monetary ability to enlarge their tyrannical security system and to use state‐owned means of communication like media and other propaganda mechanisms to attack the opposition.
In Algeria, non-oil tax revenues constitute 10.2 %of the country’s GDP this figure is under the average index in developing countries and under the rate in the neighboring oil importing like Morocco and Tunisia. The IMF model 2014 argues that, Algeria has not attained its tax potential and should look into reducing costly tax exemptions. Moreover, according to Algerian statistics, 46 %of wage earners were unregistered workers .Some types of taxes are even non-existent in Algeria like property taxes. In addition,it argues that oil wealth supports authoritarianism through patronage. It faced with expended disturbance, as the very first countermeasure, Algeria agreed to repeat the subsidies for foodstuff, therefore, the import of food products rose by 60 %in comparison to 2010 and the invoice of imports reached 46 billion dollars as a result. Algeria also raised pays of civil workers by 46%. At the same time, the regime was determined to relieve the policies controlling the street vending in order to keep unpaid youth far from the protestation.
In Algeria the informal economy is predestined at 6 billion USD, which means 13 %of GDP outside the oil and Gas sector and provides jobs to nearly 2 million people22 %of the active force, any attempts to stop this business without inserting a real development and job creation had proved to be costly and risky. In addition, the government assigned fundamental amounts of money for interest-free loans for young people. Only in 2011, more than 50.000 small enterprises giving jobs to 70.000 young people were created with the financial help of the government; according to IMF, the Algerian government gaveto its citizens more than 23 billion dollars in public grants and retroactive salary and benefit increases. Algerian spending increased by 50% in 2011. The abundance of its financial reserves, standing at 182 billion dollars as of December 2011, which makes the Algerian regime able to expand and develop its patronage policy and facilely buy off popular opposition .
Therefore, the oil rents accrue directly to the state, which has discretionary power over how the revenues are spent. The state can subsequently afford to buy off or repress political opposition. The regime can purchase consent and acquire a form of legitimation through government expenditure on a welfare system. This includes spending on education, health, social security, employment, infrastructure and investment in the private sector.
Repression and the military role
In this concern, Ross argues that there are at least two reasons why resource wealth might lead to larger military forces and elite. The first one is self-interest improving the self-defense and the capacity to respond militarily also get rid of the constant fear of the others and their pressure so this is what an authoritarian government will do so. The second reason is that resources wealth provoke conflict and there is always a need to the military role to keep order
In the geopolitical Mediterranean context, Algeria represents a key country. Because it is the largest and most populous North African state and it has large oil and gas resources, in the mid-1980s under the Chadli presidency, Algeria started to give up the striped economy and became closer to the western model. Also during the social and economic crisis in 1988 the regime was convinced that it is time to adopt political reforms, but the process failed and the military dominated with a western support, France was especially against the rise of the Islamic Front The issues disturbing western countries are: security of investments, the fate of liberal economic reforms, an anti-western regime at the frontiers of Europe, and the access to oil and gas resources.
The Algerian army presented itself as the defender and the protector of democracy and as a credible partner for western interests. The Algerian army is still able to use the saving of energy resources and the readiness to improve the economy and to support from the West, which in turn will guaranty the existence and the survival of the regime. Furthermore, after the coup attempt, France gave $550 million in help to aid Algeria import food and a western consortium provided $1.45 billion in credits this aid could be explained as a payment to the Algerian military for a job well done.
The United States also supported the Algerian military, because of the oil company presence in the Algerian Sahara, the United States encouraged its oil and gas multinationals to invest in Algeria, the army preferred the security of the oil and gas production system. The economy has been liberalized especially in the gas and oil domain, where companies are strongly investing; therefore, new pipelines have been established between Algeria and Europe. The Algerian military took the control of the country. From an economic perspective, persons near to the regime are earning hugely from the economic reformation, the generals themselves became very wealthy. Furthermore the economic reforms aid the regime to narrow the first on society as ‘private monopolies supersede public monopolies and are caught by those with close relations to the powerful generals , from a political perspective , the regime is capable to survive due to the series of feral inhibition and repression, façade democratic steps and outside help .
3/The luck of modernization effect through cultural and social change: it suggests that the oil wealth fails to create the social and cultural changes, which a democratic government demands due to some reasons:
Rentier states have low and weak developed industry capabilities, they lose the information they need to formulate development policies.
Being progressively independent of society, they are unaware, ignorant, of society and indifferent to the preferences and preferences of their populations.
There are ‘allocation’ and not ‘production’ states, therefore the state sector increases in immensity and importance –sometimes it become inactive, entrepreneurship is not promoted, and ‘rent-seeking,’ is in coalition with the state, is the important key to social mobility.
Rents are used by the state to encourage obeisance and that way they block the formation of free social network and groups that could make demands and push for democracy.
The centralization of government and the ambiguity of efficient regulatory frameworks feed corruption and patrimonialism that have a negative effect on the law and the transparency of rent distribution.
An autocratic regime seeks to create loyalty through patron–client networks, which rise political stability and guarantee a certain degree of legitimacy. Such networks include the award of personal support in the format of public sector jobs and the distribution of public resources through permits, projects and contract. These activities will increase the level of corruption and decrease transparency and accountability.
In Algeria, the economic development was not connected to the democratization process. Part of the manifestation can be found in Algeria’s social structure. At independence, the class structure was comparatively united and combined, in the last decade; Algeria gave most of the chances for economic development. Within a mixt elite consisting of political parties, bureaucrats, and, much of the population was attached to the state through patronage networks and the economic interests of the private sector. In addition, trade unions were strongly under governmental control. As a result, the social grounds for opposition was very tight. When compression to reform spread, it did not come from the working or middle classes but from students and religious groups.
Therefore, The social structure in the rentier countries generally and Algeria specially is enfeeble, the social force with the powerful interest in the economic liberalization have to improve political pluralization, specifically the bourgeoisie, however combining those most menaced by it specifically workers, peasants and civil servants. Therefore, rentier states aimed to prevent the formation of a democratic coalition because they extremely menace the bourgeoisie, its ability leading force, and in combining the working class and peasants made them unavailable as shock troops of democratic revolution. Moreover, rent clientelist mentality and networks aimed to individualize political activity as actors look for personal wining through privileged relationship to power, therefore frittering the potential class action necessary for democratization process.
The article concludes that the plenty of the oil prevents democratic transition and supports the strength and immovability of an authoritarian system, through providing for dictator monetary capability to repel any democratic efforts, The case study on Algerian authoritarian regime demonstrated how an tyrannical system whose economy is largely dependent on oil and gas rents acted in the political crises, therefore the Algerian example shows well how oil wealth have played a significant role in blocking the social opposition to increase through repression and patronage, therefore rent is a structural variable in explaining authoritarianism.
Syria: 10 years of war has left at least 350,000 dead
A decade of war in Syria has left more 350,200 people dead, High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet told the Human Rights Council on Friday, noting that this total was an “under-count of the actual number of killings”.
These are a result of a war that spiralled out of the 2011 uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.
Based on the “rigorous work” of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), she said that the tally, which includes civilians and combatants, is based on “strict methodology” requiring the deceased’s full name, the date of death, and location of the body.
People behind the numbers
In the first official update on the death toll since 2014, Ms. Bachelet informed the Council that more than one in 13 of those who died due to conflict, was a woman – 26,727 in all – and almost one in 13 was a child – a grim total of 27,126 young lives lost.
The Governorate of Aleppo saw the greatest number of documented killings, with 51,731 named individuals.
Other heavy death tolls were recorded in Rural Damascus, 47,483; Homs, 40,986; Idlib, 33,271; Hama, 31,993; and Tartus, 31,369.
“Behind each recorded death was a human being, born free and equal, in dignity and rights”, reminded the High Commissioner.
“We must always make victims’ stories visible, both individually and collectively, because the injustice and horror of each of these deaths should compel us to action.”
More accountability needed
Her office, OHCHR, is processing information on alleged perpetrators, recording victims civilian or combatant status and the type of weapons used, Ms. Bachelet said.
To provide a more complete picture of the scale and impact of the conflict, the UN agency has also established statistical estimation techniques to account for missing data.
The High Commissioner explained that documenting deaths complements efforts to account for missing people and that her office has been helping the families of the missing, to engage with international human rights mechanisms.
Given the vast number of those missing in Syria, Ms. Bachelet echoed her call for an independent mechanism, with a strong international mandate, to “clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing people; identify human remains; and provide support to relatives”.
No end to the violence
Today, the daily lives of the Syrian people remain “scarred by unimaginable suffering”, the UN human rights chief said, adding that they have endured a decade of conflict, face deepening economic crisis and struggle with the impacts of COVID-19.
Extensive destruction of infrastructure has significantly affected the realization of essential economic and social rights, and there is still no end to the violence.
“It is incumbent upon us all to listen to the voices of Syria’s survivors and victims, and to the stories of those who have now fallen silent for ever”, the High Commissioner concluded.
Lessons Learned: US Seek to Salvage their Relations with the Syrian Kurds
The hasty retreat of the US troops from Afghanistan has left a sizeable dent in the reputation of the White House among the American public, in the Middle East and the world in general. Washington was criticised heavily for the betrayal of the Afghan government, which paved the way for Taliban to storm to power.
It’s only natural that such events created a breeding ground for uncertainty among US allies in the region. Some of them started to reevaluate their relationship with the White House after the Afghan fiasco; others were having doubts about the US’ commitment beforehand. Current situation forces Washington to take firm actions to validate their status as a powerhouse in the region. There are indicators that US leadership has found a way to regain trust from its allies starting with Kurdish armed units in Syria.
The Kurds became a key ally to the US in their quest to defeat ISIS in Syria. Washington helped to create the predominantly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who consequently established control over oil-rich regions in the north-eastern Syria. However the rapid rise of Kurdish influence triggered discontent from other parties of the Syrian conflict: the Assad government and Turkey, who considers SDF an offshoot of the PKK, designated as a terror group by the Turkish authorities. Under this pretext Ankara conducted three full-scale military operations against the Kurds in spite of its membership in the US led coalition.
Turkey remains a major headache for the US in northern Syria as it obstructs the development of a Kurdish autonomy. US failure to act during the Turkish offensive on Al-Bab and then Afrin is still considered one of the most agonizing experiences in the recent history of American-Kurdish partnership. On the flip side, this relationship had its bright moments. US forces were persistent in their cooperation with the Kurds despite Donald Trump’s efforts to withdraw US military presence from Syria. Furthermore, former Pentagon’s chief James Mattis increased funding of SDF in 2019 to a record high of $300 million.
Although the US cut back its support for the Kurds after proclaiming victory over ISIS, it’s still sufficient for SDF to stay among the most combat-capable forces in Syria. US provide machinery, equipment and ammunition, but most importantly teach the Kurds the skills to profit from their resources. Besides training SDF rank soldiers, the American troops prepare their special forces HAT (Hêzên Antî Teror, Anti-Terror Forces) primarily tasked with establishing security on oil facilities as well as detection and elimination of terrorists. In terms of their equipment they practically hold their own even against US troops. During their operations HAT fighters use standardized weaponry, night goggles and other modern resources.
Regardless of all the US aid military capabilities of SDF have one critical vulnerability, namely the lack of air defense. This weakness is successfully exploited by Turkey who uses their drones to bomb Kurdish positions. For the last couple of months the number of air strikes has significantly increased, which brought SDF to find new methods of deflecting air attacks.
There are good grounds to believe that Washington accommodated their partner’s troubles. Thus a source from an US air-base in Middle-East who asked to keep his name and position anonymous told us that on the 18th of September three combat-capable trainer aircraft T-6 Texan have been deployed to Tell Beydar air-base in Hasakah province, Syria. According to the source American instructors have begun a crash course in air pilotage with the candidates picked form the SDF ranks long before the airplanes arrived to their destination. This is implicitly confirmed by the large shipment of US weaponry, machinery and ammunition to Tell Beydar delivered on the 17th of September that included missiles compatible with Texan aircraft.
The sole presence of airplanes, even trainer aircraft, prompts a change in the already existing power balance. T-6 Texan can be used not only for air cover but also as a counter tool to Turkish “Bayraktar” UAVs especially if US grant Kurds access to intel from the radars situated on US air bases. Ultimately, from Turkey’s standpoint it must look like an attempt from the US military to create PKK’s own air force.
This being said the US are better off using political means rather than military if the goal is to handicap Turkish interests in Syria. The groundwork for this has been laid thanks to a reshuffle in the White House under Biden administration. First came the resignation of former US Special Representative for Syria Engagement James F. Jeffrey infamous for his soft spot for Turkey, who has been openly promoting pro-Turkish views in the White House during his tenure. In addition to the loss of their man in Washington, Turkey has gained a powerful adversary represented by the new National Security Council coordinator for the Middle-East and North Africa Brett McGurk. McGurk is a polar opposite to Jeffrey and has sided with the Kurds on numerous occasions. He is well respected among the leaders of SDF because of his work as Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to counter ISIS.
The only yet the most important question that is yet to be answered is the position of US president Joe Biden. So far Biden’s administration has been avoiding radical shifts regarding its Syria policy. Development of cooperation with the Kurds considering they have proven their reliability might come as a logical solution that will also allow the White House to show their teeth. Washington cannot endure another Afghanistan-like fiasco that will destroy their reputation figuratively and their allies literally. Even with all possible negative outcomes taken into account the enhancement of cooperation with the Kurds outweighs the drawbacks and remains the optimal route for the US.
Turkish Geopolitics and the Kabul Airport Saga
The Taliban’s ultimate agreement to a prominent Turkish security presence at Afghanistan’s only airport completes an important power-play for the latter. Ankara wishes to establish itself as a dominant player in the post-U.S. withdrawal Afghan affairs, ensuring that the U.S. looks to it as an ideal partner for its future policies in Afghanistan. It is in this context that Turkey having overcome the formerly heated rejections by the Taliban of its proposed role at the airport is highly significant as it portends the closer integration of Afghanistan into familiar Turkish geopolitical agendas.
Turkey’s Afghan power-play and the U.S.
Turkey’s announcement in June of plans to militarily manage the security at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport with U.S. financial support incensed the Taliban.
By not consulting or informing the powerful Islamist group on such a major issue in a post-withdrawal Afghanistan, Turkey signaled its view of the Taliban as inimical non-state actors lacking the stature to act upon the pretext of Afghan sovereignty. Indeed, President Tayyip Erdogan accused the Taliban of the ‘occupation’ of the Afghan territory in response to their warnings that Turkey’s airport plan violated the Doha Accords in terms of the exit of all foreign forces from Afghanistan and that they would harshly react to it.
The Taliban’s near-effortless takeover of Kabul in mid-August seemed to close the chapter on the airport saga, but deadly ISIS bombings near the airport two weeks later forced the new regime to consider external help in filling the Afghan security vacuum.
Consequently, Turkey gained not only an acquiescence from Afghanistan’s strongest faction to its desired role at the airport but also an affirmation of its capacity to face down and override local actors as a foreign power seeking to guide its Afghan initiatives to fruition.
This may appeal strongly to the U.S., which has increased its geoeconomic interests in Afghanistan in parallel with the process of its military disengagement from the country. These interests take the form of large infrastructure trade projects of a regional scale and would benefit if shielded from the whims of domestic Afghan factions that tend to cripple governance and policy implementation. Ankara’s assertive posture during the airport tussle with the Taliban helps it pitch itself to Washington as capable of doing precisely this.
The Central Asia factor
These trade infrastructure projects in Afghanistan aim to develop it as a transit hub for Central Asian trade to extra-regional markets as outlined in the U.S. ‘Strategy for Central Asia 2019-25’. The U.S. affords considerable importance to this strategy both as a means of rebuilding Afghanistan and providing the Central Asian states with new trade routes that do not need to transit the territory of Russia, their former Soviet patron and America’s great-power rival.
Turkey shares the goal of increasing Central Asia’s global connectivity, whilst envisioning itself the natural leader and conduit for the Turkic Central Asian states’ growing socio-economic bonds with the outside world. By acting as a lead-from-the-front partner for the U.S. in the post-withdrawal Afghanistan, Turkey can persuade the U.S. to entrust it with the Afghan leg of the Strategy for Central Asia.
Turkey could then inculcate the progress of its own connectivity projects for Central Asia into the U.S. priorities as a premium of sorts for its services tackling Afghanistan-based risks and hazards to the U.S. Strategy for Central Asia. These Turkish-led projects include the East West Trans-Caspian Middle Corridor (connecting Turkmenistan-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan or Kazakhstan to Europe via the Caspian Sea-South Caucasus-Turkey route) and its Eastern spur for Afghanistan, the Lapis Lazuli Corridor (connecting northwest Afghanistan via Turkmenistan to the same Caspian Sea-South Caucasus-Turkey route to Europe).
The text of the US Strategy for Central Asia does mention and pledge favourable visa and customs policies for the Lapis Lazuli Corridor, but does not mention the Middle Corridor or Turkey at all. The absence of the latter two key names indicates that U.S. backing for the Lapis Lazuli Corridor likely owed to the simple fact that it directly includes Afghanistan and has already been functional since December 2018. Thus, the U.S. does not formally endorse the East-West connectivity for Central Asia—which Turkey specializes at—under the rubric of its Strategy for Central Asia.
“Senior [Trump] administration officials have expressed support for specific infrastructure projects—such as, notably, Georgia’s deep-water port project in Anaklia—but without having cast them as part of a broader regional agenda,” commented Middle East Institute scholar Dr John Calabrese on the erstwhile Donald Trump administration’s position on the Middle Corridor months before the Strategy on Central Asia’s release.
All this greatly limits the pool of U.S. financial and political support that Turkey could tap into for developing and expanding the Middle Corridor, which is the lynchpin for its push for pan-Turkic leadership. Ankara’s remedy for this problem, however, may lie in gaining the mentioned lead-from-the-front ally status vis-a-vis the U.S. in Afghanistan.
As observed by the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute’s Chairman and Director Frederick Starr and Svante Cornell, the present U.S. approach represents important shifts in the American conceptualization of Afghanistan and Central Asia relative to each other. These are a departure from the long-standing tendency to ‘view Central Asia as an appendix to Afghanistan policy’ and an embrace of Central Asia as a bloc. Both these shifts laid the basis for the U.S. Afghan policy to take its cue from Central Asia’s development. Officially mandating the development of an East-West transport corridor from Central Asia to Europe—in short, Turkey’s Middle Corridor—is the next logical step in this paradigm.
Starr and Cornell, leading proponents in the U.S. policy advocacy community for treating Afghanistan as part of Central Asia, identify the East-West transport corridor as crucial to the Strategy for Central Asia and criticize the document for not mentioning it.
Thus, from its position in Afghanistan, Turkey can orient the inputs it feeds back to its diplomatic and military partners in Washington around the case for the merger of the U.S. Afghanistan and Central Asia policies that Starr and Cornel advocate. The U.S. will expect actionable suggestions from its top consultative partner for Afghanistan to actualize this merger, paving the way for Turkey to impactfully pitch the Middle Corridor as the solution.
This could well become an elusive opening that Turkey has long needed to bridge the chasm between the Middle Corridor’s innate appeal to the U.S. great-power sensitivities underpinning its Central Asia posture and the U.S. seeming disinterest in the corridor. After all, the Middle Corridor bypasses Russia, challenging its monopoly over Central Asia’s trade routes. It also acts as what Starr describes as a ‘Land Suez’ for China to connect to Europe—reducing China’s reliance on transiting Russia for this purpose and offsetting, from Washington’s perspective, the prospect of its two great-power rivals’ geoeconomic priorities aligning too closely.
Subsequent U.S. endorsement of the Middle Corridor would stimulate greater U.S. investment in the mega-project, hitherto limited by the Strategy for Central Asia’s non-mention of East-West connectivity as explored prior.
In addition to this, the Middle Corridor could become an agenda item in multilateral platforms for Central Asia, such as the C5+1, set up by the U.S. with a focus on the Afghan-Central Asian connectivity. This would prop up advocates in Turkic Central Asia for a formal embrace of an Ankara-led Turkic bloc by enabling them to present this as part of the institutionalization of Central Asian affairs as opposed to a pro-Turkish tilt which might alarm Russia, who has a past record of reacting forcefully to external powers engaging in bloc-building in its former Soviet backyard in Eurasia. This will greatly benefit Turkey.
Restoring balance with the West
Afghanistan can arguably bring Turkey’s ideologically-driven desire to carve a Turkic bloc from Central Asia and its more general desire to mitigate the strains in bilateral ties with the U.S. closer together than any other foreign policy file in Ankara.
Linked to Central Asia or not, Afghanistan stands out as a vacuum left by American strategic miscalculations at the regional doorstep of several U.S. rivals. Turkish initiatives, such as the Kabul airport project, clearly designed to preserve U.S. stakes in Afghanistan—at a time when Russia, Iran and China appear poised to capitalize on the U.S. shrinking presence there—can inject fresh credibility into Turkey’s historical image as the West’s Eurasian vanguard.
This will help President Erdogan as he tries to stabilize relations with the U.S. against their list of disputes, from Turkey’s purchase of Russian air defense systems to the U.S. support for Kurdish groups near the Turkish-Syrian border and beyond. Additionally, President Joe Biden faces mounting public and political pressure at home over the rapid collapse of the former U.S.-backed Kabul government in the Taliban’s wake; in this context, Turkey volunteering itself as a new and coherent vehicle for U.S. interests in Afghanistan may prove the very ice-breaker Erdogan needs for his notably bleak relationship with Biden.
However much progress Ankara makes in these endeavours, its headstrong approach and eventual success in securing a role at Kabul’s airport points to strategic clarity and an expectation of Afghanistan’s seamless integration into Turkish geopolitics.
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