As had been expected by analysts and economists, the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) decided Thursday to cut interest rates for the fourth time this year. The committee cut the overnight deposit rate, overnight lending rate and the rate of the main operation by 100 basis points to 12.25 per cent, 13.25 per cent and 12.75 per cent respectively. The discount rate was also cut by 100 basis points to 12.75 per cent. The decision came on the back of inflation reaching new lows. Annual headline inflation fell to 4.8 per cent in September 2019 and fell further to 3.1 per cent in October 2019, the lowest rate since December 2005, according to the CBE. With this latest cut the CBE is progressively returning to pre-2016 interest rates. Across the year, the CBE has cut rates by 4.5 per cent. In the months following the floatation of the pound and the $12 billion loan agreement made with the International Monetary Fund in 2016, interest rates were increased by seven per cent. Now, economists believe the interest rate cuts will positively affect investment, providing impetus to revive economic activity in addition to reducing the government debt service bill significantly. Experts have also ruled out that interest rate cuts could affect foreign investment in the domestic debt market, especially after the monetary easing by the US Federal Reserve in late October, and considering the continued strong yield on the pound against the dollar. Businessmen have long called for the reduction of interest rates. Reducing the interest rate will have a positive impact on the long run, encouraging companies to expand their investments, which eventually affects employment, increases production and thus increases the supply of various goods, which would accordingly reflect in a decline in prices. A decrease in interest rates lowers the cost of borrowing and makes it cheaper to set up projects or expand existing ones. By cutting rates, depositors may also find it more worthwhile to invest, such as in the stock market or setting up new projects. But while interest rates are important for investment, they are not the only factor in an investment decision. Though the government has already done a lot to attract investment, including floating the currency, introducing value added tax and various new laws to facilitate investment. Egypt ranked 114th among 190 countries surveyed by the World Bank s annual Doing Business Report this year, six places higher than last year. It also introduced regulatory reforms that have facilitated various aspects of doing business. These include starting a business, getting electricity, protecting minority rights and ease of paying taxes. For example, it takes 5.5 procedures and 12 days to start a business in Egypt, compared to six and 19 on average for the Middle East and North Africa. Nonetheless, challenges remain. The Doing Business Report showed Egypt still underperforms in the areas of trade across borders and resolving insolvency. And foreign direct investment remains below targets, coming at around $6 billion in 2018-2019. More needs to be done to encourage domestic and foreign investment if Egypt is to realise GDP growth targets of around six per cent for the current fiscal year, and creating some 700,000 jobs needed annually amid a growing population.
Recently, we at the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies finished a project about using the concepts of human security to counter radicalisation and violent extremism in Egyptian society. The project took three years of work and reached results on multiple levels. Since the final report is now out, a brief summary of three years of work by a team of researchers is perhaps necessary. Many studies have been done on terrorism in the Arab region, specifically on countries that have witnessed political tensions in recent years, like Syria, Libya, Iraq and Egypt. But what needs to be noticed is that there is a major difference between terrorism and radicalisation, and both should be handled with appropriate attention by research. At the start of the project, a differentiation between terrorism and radicalisation was supposed to be made, taking into consideration the Egyptian context. Sometimes, there is confusion between the two terms, and at other times they are described in the abstract without looking at the overall context of the case being studied with its various dimensions. One of the primary purposes of the project was to draw a distinction between these concepts in the Egyptian context. Terrorism can be described as the sum of actions and operations that aim to create public fear, inflict collective harm to the state and society, and create a feeling among citizens that there is not sufficient security to secure their daily lives. In today s fourth-generation warfare, these are the main objectives of terrorism. Despite the fact that territorial terrorism, in which a group of terrorists takes control of a geographical area, has become widespread in the Arab world recently, Egypt has experienced the operational pattern of terrorism rather than the geographical one. A geographical pattern evolved in Sinai, but it was never able to materialise on the ground in the same manner that has happened in both Syria and Libya. Radicalisation is something quite different because it involves a multitude of factors within its internal context. It is difficult to come up with a definition of radicalisation, but it is easy to make a comparison between radicalisation and terrorism. Radicalisation is a multi-platform process in which different variables come together to create a tendency towards violence, both psychologically and operationally. The creation of this condition later on breeds terrorism, but the reasons and causes differ between the processes. Radicalisation is a process that works on changing a mentality towards more violent forms of action, but terrorism is a matter of logistical and organisational capacities. Attention was also directed towards those who had returned from involvement with the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria, Libya or Iraq. A major question was posed about the reaction of the Egyptian state towards such returnees. The mere fact that such individuals are present on Egyptian soil, with their organisational experiences in IS and their operational background, could lead to a new wave of radicalisation. Hence, strategies need to be developed by the state in order to absorb those who return from IS experiences. The different divisions of IS across the region saw many Egyptians who could stir up a new pattern of violent extremism in case of their return. Here, and for the purpose of countering this potential danger, we need to consider the two dimensions of hard security and human security. Hard security is the best tool to counter territorial terrorism. The situation in Sinai, for example, is being faced by hard security as a main tool in countering it, due to the pattern of terrorism which has proved to be dominant there. Human security, on the other hand, needs to be applied to different parts of Egyptian society and implemented by diverse tools. Infrastructure investment, citizenship rights, political openness to the institutional system and elaborate programmes for the rehabilitation of returnees are crucial factors for countering violent extremism. No one can deny that hard security is required in times of political tension, but if a merger does not develop with other means of human security, the results will likely be sub-optimal. The state has adopted various attempts to counter radicalisation, with the youth forums and the insistence on the demand for the renewal of religious discourse being among the most important of these. But concerns have been raised about the ability of the youth forums to induce change, as well as the insufficiency of the tools to renew religious discourse. Tools of human security are being introduced into the overall context, but they still lack the proper means of implementation. The project concluded that terrorist activities over the past three years have declined, but while the numbers are in favour of the course of action that has been adopted the strategies are not. Egypt is in need of a comprehensive counter-terrorism and counter-radicalisation strategy. While there is a lot that is being done, better coordination between the different actions and policies is required. Countering terrorism and radicalisation is something that requires a diverse platform of actors from various sections of society and the state. At the moment, this platform is largely absent in Egypt s confrontation with radicalisation and terrorism.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi last week and their conversation dealt with the present situation in Libya. Chancellor Merkel, who will be hosting this month in Berlin an international meeting on Libya, shared with the Egyptian president some ideas concerning the best avenues to broker a ceasefire in Libya in order to move forward with the United Nations initiative that the UN Security Council unanimously adopted two years ago in a special summit meeting on Libya. The Egyptian president, according to a declaration by the presidential spokesman, reiterated the known Egyptian positions in this regard; namely, the disbanding of armed militias and the restoration of state authority. The phone call aimed at soliciting Egyptian support for an immediate ceasefire around Tripoli, and the withdrawal of the forces under the command of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who has laid siege to the southern approaches of Tripoli since April. From a military point of view, his forces have failed so far to break the defences of the city. And there are no indications that these forces will enter the capital anytime soon. Such a military stalemate makes the implementation of the UN peace plan all the more difficult. The German chancellor would love nothing more than Egypt to contribute to the successful conclusion of the upcoming Berlin meeting by persuading Haftar to end his offensive and to begin withdrawing his troops from around southern Tripoli. From an Egyptian point of view, the most important imperative is the defence of our extended borders with Libya, so as to deny terrorist groups from infiltrating our country. Egypt stands to gain diplomatically if it succeeds in persuading the Libyan Field Marshal to implement an immediate and permanent ceasefire. Pulling his troops could come at a later stage, or as a gesture of good will towards the Germans and the Europeans. Such a change of direction on the part of Egypt should be introduced in the framework of a larger reassessment of Egyptian foreign policy in the Arab world during the last eight years. For long, the country has adopted subdued positions vis-à-vis key questions, like how to deal with the Syrian government (until this day, diplomatic relations have not been restored with Damascus; nor has Cairo any open contacts with the Libya’s Government of National Accord, the internationally-recognised government). A point of departure could be a public position by the Egyptian government on the explicit American call on the “Libyan National Army” to end its “offensive on Tripoli”. This call was made last week in after the United States and the Government of National Accord in Tripoli held the US-Libya Security Dialogue on Thursday, 13 November. In the joint statement dated 14 November, the State Department said bringing an end to the attacks against the Libyan capital “would facilitate further US-Libya cooperation to prevent undue foreign interference [in Libya], reinforce legitimate state authority and address the issues underlying the conflict”. These aims don’t contradict some of the objectives that Egypt has espoused all along. Egyptian support of such a call would send a clear signal to all Libyan political forces that Egypt is ready to help significantly with its international and European partners such a necessary turnaround. In other words, Egypt should do its best to end the military stalemate around Tripoli and join international efforts, under the United Nations, to move forward. In the medium and long-term, it is in Egypt’s national interest to stabilise Libya, all the more so after the dramatic political developments in Tunisia in the post-Essebsi era during which Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria saw almost eye-to-eye on how to deal with Libya. The three countries who share geographic borders with Libya had common interests there. However, with the election of two leaders from Al-Nahda, Tunisia’s Muslim Brotherhood (to the speakership of the representative assembly and the other to form the government), the Tunisian position towards Libya has become problematic to say the least. One thing is certain. Egypt can’t afford not to have a second look at its present declared policy in Libya. If left unchanged, this policy would become neither effective nor credible. And I would also add, nor sustainable in the long run. The trip that the Egyptian president made to Abu Dhabi 13-14 November could have provided Egypt and the United Arab Emirates the occasion to address the Libyan question anew in light of recent developments. The Berlin meeting on this question will doubtless prove an unmistakable signal that the UN plan should be implemented, after two and a half years of procrastination. The new hoped-for Egyptian position should be Arab-inspired and Arab-based, to be effective. Egypt should work through the Arab League, on the one hand, and bilateral diplomatic channels on the other, to push for a united Arab position on Libya. That would render Egyptian influence on later internal political developments in Libya more forceful and determining. The policy of choosing sides amongst various Libyan parties is no longer tenable. The Middle East and North Africa are undergoing deep changes that, when consummated, would be a radical departure from the Middle East and North Africa of the post-World War II era. Egyptian diplomacy should necessarily take this into account. In transformative periods, countries need to be alert to impending changes and modify their foreign policies accordingly.
It was not new for an Egyptian to win a world squash championship — what was new this time was the love that gave him strength, hope and joy on and off the squash court. Tarek Momen, winner of the 2019-20 PSA Men s World Champion, was preceded by Karim Abdel-Gawad, who proved victorious during the 2016 PSA Men s World Champion, Mohamed el-Shorbagy, who won in 2017, and Ali Farag, who came out on top during the 2018 championship. This year, it was love that motivated Tarek Momen to dream and pushed him to refuse to surrender until victory was his. Egypt had already taught the world a lesson in excellence in the game of squash with its world-renowned men, women, and young male and female players, and it was now time that Egypt give the world of squash the romance that it deserves. New world champion Tarek Momen is married to Raneem el-Welily, herself a squash player who won the world championship in Manchester, England, in 2017. Thus, for the first time in the history of squash there exists a husband and wife who have both secured world championships. Theirs is a story of friendship that began inside the squash courts and developed into a love story. The couple tied the knot five years ago, and love remains their motivation to work toward seemingly impossible dreams, regardless of who wins or loses on the court. The world squash arena witnessed the couple s bond the moment Raneem won the World Championship in Manchester in 2017. She left everything — the court, the audience, the cameras and the media — and rushed to the stands to embrace her husband Tarek, who had lost during the third round of the same tournament, only to take on the role of a spectator keen to encourage his beloved wife as she went on to win the world championship. It was not the first time that Tarek cheered on his wife from the sidelines, as he used to travel to attend his wife s tournaments to encourage her — Rameen always needed to see her husband while playing in tournaments and in case she won. Two years after the extraordinary scene in Manchester was captured on camera, Raneem and her husband switched roles, with Raneem sitting among the other spectators and cheering on Tarek as he finally triumphed during the 2019 world championship. A long-deserved tournament championship was finally secured by Tarek with the help of a little love in the squash courts.
As the saying goes “the World is a small village”, but how is that village shaped by the hyper-globalization of the wild-untamed neoliberalism? In today s globalized economy, the polarization between the rich and the poor intensifies, not only between the North and South countries, but also within each country. This polarization is driven by wealth and capital flows from South to North, at rates are faster than those experienced during the old days of outright colonialism. For sure, for the countries of the North, the process of capital and wealth flows has become much more sophisticated, more deceptive and less costly than mobilizing the colonial armies that may provoke military confrontations among themselves, and provoke the nationalist sentiments among the peoples in the South. Our small village has reached this level of unbalanced and unequal "globalization" after four decades of economic policies and legislations that cemented the neoliberal philosophy. This reality has been established as many developing countries have been subjugated to the terms and conditions of the IMF, World Bank, and WTO obligations as well as the obligations of bilateral investment and trade agreements (an agreement between a single developing country and the 28 member countries of the European Union is also called "bilateral"). One of the most influential conditionalities of the IMF and World Bank that shaped today s globalization is the law of central banks, specifically the establishment of the fully open capital account in developing countries. This simply means that there are no regulations to control international capital movement, especially out of the country. Remaining restrictions on capital mobility are often eliminated by bilateral investment and trade agreements between countries of the powerful North and the weak South. Laws have also been enacted to encourage the so-called “financialization”, which promotes rent seeking, monopoly, speculation on everything and transformation of everything with benefit to humanity (even if it is non-tradable good such as real estate) into a monetary value that surges with speculation. Thus, with excessive financialization and open capital accounts, the flow of wealth and capital from the South to the North has become faster and easier. Nonetheless, while capital is encouraged to freely flow South-North, all restrictions are put in place to prevent the flow of people in the same direction; to the extent that some of the South countries are pushed to guard the borders of the North. Last September, the UN released its annual Trade and Development Report, entitled "Financing a Global Green New Deal ". According to the report, the uncontrolled private capital flows can lead to the transfer of resources and wealth from developing to developed countries. Increased financial integration, in a globalized environment, has exposed developing countries to global financial turbulence. In response, central banks in many developing countries are forced to accumulate foreign-exchange reserves by short-term borrowing of foreign currencies in large quantities at high interest rates. This of course leads to capital outflow from the developing countries, at least equals to the value of interest paid on borrowed funds. Recent analysis by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) indicates that in 16 developing countries, over the period 2000–2018, this resource transfer amounted to roughly $440 billion a year, or 2.2 per cent of the GDP of these countries (almost double the size of the Egyptian economy). Another channel through which capital flows South-North is the tax-motivated illicit financial flows of multinational enterprises (MNEs). These enterprises attempt to maximize their profits globally while avoiding paying taxes in the countries where they generate profits by considering the affiliates of MNEs in different countries as independent entities and treat taxable transactions between these entities as unrelated and independent. UNCTAD estimates that the MNEs illicit financial flows deprive developing countries of up to $200 billion annually in fiscal revenue. The digital economy is another source of South-North capital flow. International internet companies usually do not have a physical or legal presence in the countries of the South, and do not pay tax to developing countries on the increasing number and values of digitalized transactions in the South. These companies deal with transactions in hundreds of billions of dollars, may sell a product of a developing country to a consumer from the same country and take a significant commission on each transaction (Egypt domestic tourism is an example). This naturally leads to the outflow of money out of the South without even paying any tax on the profits of the digital company to the governments of producers and consumers in the developing world. To address these problems; it is proposed to move towards a unified international tax regime that recognizes that the profits of the MNEs are generated collectively in a group of countries. The revenue from these taxes could be distributed among the countries where the profits are generated. The current international standards and norms of corporate taxes should also be reviewed to determine the jurisdiction that has the right to tax; the treatment of cross-border transactions between the entities of an MNE; and the measurement of value creation when intangible assets and data accumulation and acquisition is the source of value. Tax equity in the digital economy needs to apply a new concept that does not necessarily depends on the material presence of sales or commercial transactions. If the World is serious in its efforts to achieve the sustainable development goals, control over capital mobility should be considered as an essential economic policy instrument. Such control should be put in place at both senders and recipients of capital, rather than firmer controls at just one end. Furthermore, provisions on “open capital account” should not be part of regional and bilateral trade and investment agreements, or at least these agreements should include some mechanisms to allow countries the right to manage capital flows in times of crises. UNCTAD estimates South-North capital flows from the aforementioned sources at about $680 billion per year (slightly less than three times the size of the Egyptian economy). Instead of leaking to the North; these funds could finance the Global Green New Deal as well as efforts for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in the South.
Egyptians have always had a reputation for their light and witty sense of humour. Even today, it doesn t take much to see that the Egyptians like to make jokes and see humour in any situation or event. As Egyptians, we believe that this light-hearted approach to life was passed down to us from ancient Egypt. We have a great number of jocular drawings shown on the wall reliefs of Egyptian tombs and on papyri, as well as on ostraca. It is astonishing that these humorous drawings, or “picture jokes”, were produced by Egyptian artists who left us the same great work attested to in tombs and on papyri. We can see that the ancient Egyptian artist used his spare time to draw these jokes on ostraca. The drawings are witty scenes that the artist worked on in order to express sentiments about developments and faults in society. These scenes might also touch upon more personal or unique experiences that the artist experienced. He might have wanted to express his opinion on it all while transferring it to a bigger audience in the form of humour. The drawings are also sometimes similar to what we call today the art of caricature. One of the most important of the jocular scenes shows a group of rats forming an army attacking a fortress of cats. We can see the rats shooting arrows towards the fortress, and we see another group walking in a military march. Each rat holds an axe and a shield as it makes its way towards the fortress leading an army of rats. The army is led by a large adventurous rat, and he rides a chariot drawn by two dogs. The leader rat shoots arrows at the cats in the fortress. The rats have also brought a ladder to use to climb into the fortress. On the other hand, we see that the cats are terrified and remain afraid inside their fortress, with no possible solution to stopping the attack of the army of rats. This humorous drawing could explain what happened in Egypt during the Intermediate Period when foreign armies entered the country and became powerful inside Egypt. They began to act as if they owned the country, and the Egyptians clearly were represented as “weak” cats. In this case, the artist used symbolism to express the political situation that the country was facing. Even today, we are all too familiar with this method of implicitly alluding to difficult circumstances, as this type of art can be seen in many countries that do not let the artist freely express his or her opinion. The impression of Egyptians no longer being the rightful owners of their own home is repeated in other ostraca. In another scene, an artist shows how the society he was used to has changed. He depicts a foreigner, shown to us as an old, foreign rat wearing expensive clothing and sitting on a beautiful chair. Behind him stands a cat, clearly representing an Egyptian. The cat is combing the foreigner s hair, while the rat is holding a glass of liquor, also offered to him by an Egyptian cat. Here, the idea of foreigners enjoying wealth while Egyptians serve them is quite palpable. In another jocular scene with the same meaning as the previous ones, an artist draws an old female rat trying to show off as young. She has placed flowers on her head and wears a nice dress. She sits on a comfortable seat and is drinking milk or liquor from a small vessel served to her from a cowering Egyptian cat. This cat is also serving the foreign mistress a fat goose to eat. The Egyptian cat looks hungry and cannot have a taste of the goose that she is offering to the rat, thus once more highlighting the Egyptians inferior position at the time. One of the best scenes of a critical nature appears on an ostracon showing a rat that has become a judge and is shown barking out orders. In front of him is an Egyptian young man, human this time, who is beaten by a cat according to an order from the rat judge. In another scene, we see a donkey as a judge. His doorkeeper is a violent ox, and the suspect is shown as a cat in a subservient position. All of the scenes show how Egypt was weak at the time and how foreigners had become stronger. Emboldened by their victories, the foreigners eat from the wealth of the country. The Egyptians cannot defend themselves. Even if art was done for the sake of art in ancient Egypt, it very often served a purpose, which is the reason why the artists indicated how the society was changing, with Egyptians becoming foreigners in their own land. Sometimes, the artists exaggerated these realities and conjured up impossible scenarios, such as in the following scenes. One artist depicts a group of geese impossibly protected by three cats. One cat happily eats one of the geese, and another greedily eats and drinks what the goose was consuming. The last big cat, the leader, walks quietly behind the goose and looks at the latter as if he is ready to eat it. Another scene shows a group of rams protected by two wolves. One is walking, with its food over its shoulder, similar to what a shepherd does; he is playing the flute, acting as a shepherd but clearly set on doing harm. Sometimes the artists moved beyond illustrating politics in favour of representing everyday scenarios. In one such scene, an artist represents his experience attending a musical party where he listened to a troupe. He was not happy with the performance, so he drew a scene showing a donkey and a lion. Both are singing. The donkey is playing a harp and the lion is playing a flute. A crocodile is also seen playing a flute, as well as a monkey. The artist most likely meant to show that the music was bad, and he showed the musicians as if they were animals. My last scene is one of a hippopotamus climbing a tree in an attempt to rob a bird s nest. We see the bird who is the owner of the nest use all his power to defend it. The hippo wants to have this house that is clearly not suitable for it, or perhaps it is trying to steal the eggs. Is this drawing, then, a commentary on theft and injustice? Such joking was a major aspect of ancient Egyptian society, and in all the bad times that Egypt has faced we always see Egyptians make jokes of their lives, their society, and their leaders.
Dedicated to preserving Egypt s historical water quota from the River Nile, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi signed the Declaration of Principles on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on 23 March 2015, along with the then leaders of Sudan and Ethiopia. In 10 Principles, the agreement stated, though not explicitly, Egypt s historical rights to the river s water. “Where significant harm nevertheless is caused to one of the countries, the state whose use causes such harm shall, in the absence of agreement to such use, take all appropriate measures in consultations with the affected state to eliminate or mitigate such harm and, where appropriate, to discuss the question of compensation,” reads Principle III of the agreement. Unfortunately, this agreement has nevertheless been branded by some for the sake of argument as the cause of the deadlock in the GERD talks. Yet, the simple facts show that the Egyptian negotiators, here citing the English text of the agreement itself, have done their best to ensure that no harm whatsoever would be inflicted on Egypt during the filling or operations of the dam. Here one must cite some studies done by Ethiopian researchers on the agreement. Endalcachew Bayeh from the Department of Civics and Ethical Studies at Ambo University in Ethiopia has produced a study entitled “Agreement on the Declaration of Principles on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Project: A Reaffirmation of the 1929 and 1959 Agreements?” The title of this may give a clear-cut response to those vehemently criticising the agreement on the Egyptian side. In this study, dated 13 April 2016 which has received over 250,000 readings since it was first published, the researcher argues that the incorporation of Principle I of the agreement, sub-article 2, which reads “to cooperate in understanding upstream and downstream water needs in its various aspects” “will bind Ethiopia to consider such water demands of Egypt in its utilisation of Nile waters, thereby putting Ethiopia in a disadvantageous position.” More importantly, he goes on to say that “the treaty seems to be an instrument for securing and maintaining the water needs of Egypt. All the foregoing elements of the principle affirmatively work for Egypt. This, in turn, keeps Ethiopia loyal to the water interests of Egypt, thereby compromising its domestic interests.” His remarks in that department tell everybody concerned with the agreement that the Declaration of Principles was not a go-ahead for Ethiopia to proceed with the dam s construction and that it was not the means by which Egypt legitimised this huge project, as some who have talked to hear the sound of their own voices have claimed. Instead, it, as best as it could be at the time of signature, was by far in favour of Egypt. Moreover, on the operation and filling of the GERD, the researcher says that the above article “shows the deterioration of an ownership right of the Ethiopians. This is due to the reason that the agreement subjects the dam to the joint management of the three countries.” The flawed and ineffective rhetoric that the agreement on the Declaration of Principles was in breach of the very principles of preserving Egypt s water rights is thus ridiculous, to say the least. Even though they talked until they were blue in the face, those who opposed the agreement seemingly had not read its articles, or in the best-case scenario, never showed a proper understanding of it. Another study by three Ethiopian academics led by Minga Negash, the holder of a PhD in economics from the Metropolitan State University of Denver in the US, has suggested that the Declaration of Principles bypasses the Cooperative Framework Agreement reached in Entebbe, Uganda, in May 2010 for a new distribution of the waters of the Nile. According to a lengthy study entitled “Ethiopia: Perspectives on the Declaration of Principles regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam,” the phrase “principles of international law” in Principle I of the Agreement “neither implicitly nor explicitly recognises the existence of the Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement.” The three researchers also argue that the above-mentioned principle was in complete harmony with the “spirit of the framework for cooperation that was signed between Egypt and Ethiopia in 1993,” referring to the agreement signed under former leaders of Egypt and Ethiopia, Hosni Mubarak and Meles Zenawi, respectively. The study also asserts that the intention behind the invocation of Principle I was to cite “the UN Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses” adopted on 21 May 1997. In other words, this means that the aforementioned phrase is another assertion of Egypt s water-rights based on international criteria, given that the 1997 UN Convention stresses the infliction of no significant harm by upstream countries on downstream ones. The most important principle enshrined in the Tripartite Agreement between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan remains that “the purpose of the GERD is for power generation,” as stated in Principle III. Here, the study points out that the text of the agreement left no room for Ethiopia to utilise the Nile waters for any purpose whatsoever other than generating power. In reality, this article has prevented now and in the future any use of the waters around the dam for “fishing, recreation, education and small-scale industrial and irrigation projects,” as the study reveals. On the equitable utilisation of the Nile, Principle IV of the Agreement details the means of equitable distribution of the Nile waters, leaving no room for any speculation in that department either. The principle states that the equitable and reasonable utilisation of water has to consider, among other factors, the “existing and potential uses of the water resources” for the three nations. Moreover, the sub-articles attached to Principle IV “legitimise the increased demand for water by downstream countries,” as the study by the Minga Negash-led team elaborated. In other words, Egypt s historical 55.5 billion cubic metres of Nile water and even any future demands are reaffirmed in the agreement. Thanks to Principle X of the Tripartite Agreement, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan did find a way out of the current stalemate. The principle on the peaceful settlement of disputes stipulates, in case the three nations are incapable of resolving their disputes, that they may request “mediation”. Though it was not clearly announced that the meeting held this month in Washington DC was based on invoking Principle X, it remains effective towards that end. Upon an invitation from US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the foreign ministers of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan met in Washington in a bid to break the deadlock. In reality, the Trump administration sent a letter dated 21 October 2019 to the three nations to settle the standoff. The meetings, in which the World Bank participated, did outline a precise timeframe-based roadmap to end the dispute, something which Cairo has repeatedly requested and has now at last become a reality. The three nations agreed on the completion of a binding agreement by 15 January 2020, adding that should no agreement be reached by the deadline, Principle X of the Declaration of Principles on international mediation should be invoked. In effect, the agreement on the Declaration of Principles has been a win-win one, as it recognises the rights of all the signatory parties. Ethiopia will utilise the Nile for power-generation, without the use of waters around the dam for any other purpose. Egypt has reasserted its position on its historical quota of the Nile water and showed a good spirit in order not to stonewall development in the upstream nations. After seven years of building up tensions over the GERD, a binding and viable agreement looks attainable for the betterment of all the peoples living along the Nile.
There has hardly been any positive news coming out of Iraq in nearly four decades and after the bloody eight-year war with Iran (1980-1988) that left millions of Iraqis killed, injured or missing in one of the bloodiest and longest wars of the 20th century and with enormous economic losses for Iraq alone. That war was followed just two years later by the invasion of neighbouring Kuwait by former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the military campaigns that were then launched against the country to force it to liberate it followed by a decade of economic sanctions left Iraq battered on all levels. However, as disastrous as the 1991 war on Iraq was, it was nothing compared to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and what followed. Mayhem has been reigning in the country up until the present day, and this has included sectarian violence, terrorist attacks and the rise of terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS). One thing that has characterised the Iraqi political spectrum over recent decades has been the fact that the fate of the Iraqi people has not been decided by the Iraqis alone even with the tyrant Saddam Hussein in power. Their fate has usually been decided in Moscow, Washington or Tehran, with both Turkey and Saudi Arabia attempting to influence the political players on the ground or through military incursions in the Turkish case. It is high time that the fate of Iraq was restored to its own people to decide. The current uprising of the Iraqi people may be unprecedented in its magnitude and momentum. The demonstrators are calling for massive changes to the political system that has established sectarianism within the country and become a stepping-stone for regional political influence. Many Iraqis believe that the Iranian regime s greedy eyes have been targeting Iraq for decades to avenge its losses during the Iraq-Iran War and expand its influence in the region. With Shia Muslims a majority in Iraq, the Iranians have not held back in infiltrating the political spectrum of the country, especially after the US-led invasion of Iraq that was a blessing in disguise for Iran. The Iranians have managed to keep their economic, political and military influence in Iraq at the highest levels. Their infiltration became open during former Iraqi prime minister Nouri Al-Maliki s time in office (2006-2014), with his ties to the Iranians dating back to the Iraq-Iran War. Al-Maliki s Islamic Daawa Party backed the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and even went as far as to back Iran s former leader Ayatollah Khomeini during the Iraq-Iran War. The party still receives financial and political support from Iran. This bizarre behaviour has cemented sectarianism within Iraq, making the Iraqi government become a puppet regime controlled from Tehran. Sunni Islamists and terrorist groups capitalised on this unholy alliance between the former Iraqi prime minister and Iran. They managed to recruit and rally many Sunni Iraqis to their vile cause, and the rise of the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq and Syria was merely a by-product of this policy. Iraq thus became a hotbed for sectarian terrorism for over a decade, with Iran-backed militias such as the Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi or the Popular Mobilisation Force (PMF), founded by Al-Maliki, being comprised of over 40 predominantly Shia Muslim militias. While the PMF helped to fight the likes of Al-Qaeda and IS in the country and curb the expansion of these terrorist groups, it was also seen by many observers to be applying its own version of atrocities in Iraq, including ethnic cleansing against the Sunni population in the region of Tikrit. These accusations were filed by the international rights group Amnesty International, and the Iraqi government vowed to investigate them but without any results thus far. Concerns at the growing size of the PMF have grown recently, as the powerful militia has been growing in influence and still retains its allegiance to Iran. Eye-witnesses report that the group is being used to quell the current uprising across Iraq, including by violently attacking, kidnapping, torturing and killing the protesters. The group is thus mimicking the influence exercised by the Shia group Hizbullah in Lebanon, which was once called the “resistance” against the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon, but after the Israeli withdrawal in 2000 continued to expand its activities and became a political player that pledged allegiance to Iran and thus became a parallel army and a state within a state in the country as a whole. Both the PMF in Iraq and Hizbullah in Lebanon are similar to the Iran-backed terrorist group the Houthis in Yemen, which was instrumental in igniting the current civil war in that country. Meanwhile, the Iraqi protests have taken a violent turn, with over 260 protesters reportedly killed and thousands of others wounded in clashes with the security forces across the country. Internet services have been cut by the Iraqi government, and while it was reported that these services resumed last week, reports of erratic services are ongoing. The protesters are demanding improvements in public services in Iraq, including in healthcare, electricity provision, transportation and education, all of which have reached an abysmal state due to the decades of war and civil strife that have struck the country. This time around the Iraqi protesters do not seem ready to relent from their demands, and they have been escalating their protests by the day. While Iraq has witnessed many uprisings over the past decade, the 2019 protests seem to be the most persistent and violent the country has yet seen. The Iraqis do not wish to see their country become a battlefield for regional and international proxy wars, or a hotbed of sectarian violence and terrorism. There are now two generations of Iraqis who have not witnessed a day of peace since they were born. This country with its great history, economic potential and strategic importance can and ought to do much better. For the past three decades, Iraq s enormous oil wealth has been a target for regional and international powers that have left no stones unturned in their desire to control it. Iraq can still be a massive oil-producer and a leading country in the region. However, its lack of a unified national leadership and the regional and international interventions in its domestic affairs have hindered and still hinder the great potential of the country. This time around, young and older Iraqis have had enough, and they all wish to restore their country s stability and build a new Iraq that will truly fulfil its potential. It is unlikely that the older politics and the older political figures who have failed their country and its citizens for decades will have a place in the future Iraq. But they will likely take desperate measures before they capitulate to the demands of the Iraqi public. There are no signs that the protests in Iraq are on their way to fading out, and the attempts by the Iran-backed militias and the Iraqi authorities to crush the rebellion will only lead it to grow and become more violent. Only massive concessions by the current government and the establishment of a new republic in the country will save Iraq from descending into further chaos and repeating the vicious cycles of violence that it has suffered over the past four decades.
For a history lesson: look up America s finger in the pie regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dame (GERD), in light of US President Donald Trump hosting the Egyptian, Ethiopian, and Sudanese delegations in Washington. Unfortunately, this matter is not only about one dam, as the United States previously suggested to Ethiopia in 1964 to build 33 dams, not just the GERD, on the basin of the Blue Nile river. What are the details? As soon as Egypt and Sudan signed an agreement to divide the Nile waters between them in 1959, and as a joint Ethiopian-American response to this agreement at the request of Ethiopia, the US Land Reclamation Office was commissioned to prepare an optimal study utilize the waters of the Blue Nile Basin. The US rushed – it was in a hostile against Egypt during that time- in preparing this study, which lasted until 1964 to develop a comprehensive vision for the development of this basin. This means that the hostility was a joint Ethiopian-American affair. The American study included 33 dams or projects published in full by Professor Rushdi Said in his important book “The Nile River: Geology, Hydrology and Utilization,” published in 1993. The list of these projects has been fully published on page 304 since 26 years ago. But we – as usual – are people who do not read and if we read, we don t take it seriously. So don t be surprised by the American role, which is back in the matter once again. We started negotiations because of the GERD reservoir s increased storage capacity. This capacity was limited, as per the American point of view in the past, to 11 billion cubic meters and 74 meters only used just to generate electricity,as there was no land suitable for agriculture except at the border area with Sudan, and the goal was to generate only 7,290 kWh. By the way, the dam s name was initially “the Ethiopian-Sudanese border project” and then named the “Millennium Dam”, before settling on the “Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.” But the real issue came once Ethiopia decided to raise the project s capacity – in February 2011 – to 74 billion cubic meters. Ethiopia s hostility was clear, as this was a time when Egypt was in a state of instability from the revolution, and was helpless do a thing. All of these projects have been proposed to be implemented on the Blue Nile Basin, or whatever stems from Lake Tana. The Karadobi Dam is perhaps the largest of these projects, and I saw the process of building it on one of my visits to Ethiopia. Some also wonder about the presence of a representative of the World Bank at the Washington meeting, and the answer is because the World Bank has approved the establishment of the Fincha Dam in 1969, built in 1972, and reserves of 400 million cubic meters south of Lake Tana. Then comes the role of Italy, which built the Beles Dam, and also the European Economic Community, which contributed to increasing its capacity, and also contributed to the development of the Baro River up to at the Sobat River at Gambela Region, which I ve visited also, though this was for agriculture. Could you imagine 33 dams in the Blue Nile basin, while in Ethiopia there are dozens of other rivers? This is where the danger lies.
For a growing number of Americans on both sides of our ever-deepening political divide, the 2020 presidential election has become a critical contest about the future of our country. While so many significant policy concerns are at stake in November 2020, this will be an election about Donald Trump and what he has done to our politics. There can be no doubt that, by any measure, Donald Trump has been the most outrageous president in our history. In fact, it is a role he appears to relish. It isn t just the policies he has pursued. It is the way in which he has exacerbated the polarisation of our society and coarsened our political discourse. Ever the performer, he has used his rallies to incite against his opponents, resorting to name-calling and even vulgarity to denigrate them. In addition, he has used his tweets and engagements with the press to the same end. Despite the discomfort this has brought to more staid members of the Republican establishment, they have, for the most part, held back from criticising his behaviour, in part because they fear incurring his wrath and/or ridicule. It s important to understand, however, that there is method to this madness. What Trump has intuited is the anger of a significant portion of the American electorate that has been squeezed by a changing economy, threatened by cultural forces beyond their control, and ignored by political elites in both parties. Whatever they are called, whether it s the white middle class or white working class, this is the base to which Trump has played. And he has played them well. He has condemned both trade deals that he maintains have sent their factory jobs to Mexico and China in search of cheaper labour, and environmental regulations he claims have cost them their mining jobs. He has railed against immigrants whom he says have displaced hard-working Americans, and the “coastal elites” who have looked down their noses at ordinary folks, scorning their values and ignoring their aspirations. And he has preyed on people s fears and insecurities by scapegoating Mexicans and Muslims. When Trump says he ll “Make America great again” (MAGA), his base understands this as recapturing the country s lost glory, while at the same time evoking a romanticised past of quiet middle class neighbourhoods free of crime, where work was plentiful, and opportunities were available to all who “played by the rules”. There are, to be sure, problems galore with both this messenger and the message. If anything, Donald Trump is the embodiment of the very “coastal elites” he derides. His business practices, values and lifestyle are not those of his base. His bankruptcies have left tens of thousands out of work and his resorts have regularly hired undocumented cheap labour. His and his daughter s product lines have moved their operations overseas. And the policies he has pursued have benefited the wealthy and only increased income inequality. But none of this has mattered to his base, because he speaks directly to them and has convinced them that he alone understands them and will fight for them. Hungry for a saviour, they have latched onto him as their “last, best hope” to improve their lot in life. As a result, they see attacks on his presidency as threats to their future well-being. The dilemma now confronting Democrats is how to respond to this Trump challenge. On this, the many 2020 candidates and the party, itself, are not of one mind. All are agreed that Trump s behaviour is to be condemned and that moving forward with impeachment is a national priority and a constitutional imperative. But what about the divide and how to relate to Trump s base? Here there are divergent views. Some appear to see no need to address this concern. They simply want to defeat the man, send him packing and restore a Democrat to the White House. Others believe that the way forward is to heal the divide by preaching a message of unity and civility. But while winning will obviously be an important goal for Democrats, governing in a post-Trump America is a critical concern that cannot simply be pushed aside. We have seen the dysfunction created by hyper-partisanship. When either party has controlled both the legislative and executive branches of government, bills get passed, but rancour only grows. Recall the “Tea Party” reaction to Obama and the “Resistance” that greeted Trump. Winning, by itself, won t do the trick. Changing our politics and the governing coalition is what is required to move the country forward. What polling makes clear is that our political divide isn t just partisan. It s really demographic. For too many election cycles, political consultants using advanced data mining have identified target constituencies and directed their messaging and outreach efforts to reach them. For Democrats this has meant focusing on what has become known as the “Obama coalition,” including young voters, “minorities,” educated professional women, etc. Republicans, on the other hand, have directed their outreach to their base: the wealthy, of course, and white, “born again,” non-college educated and rural voters. Democrats condemned inequality, promoted diversity and tolerance, and proposed a range of social programmes designed to meet the needs of the most vulnerable. For their part, the Republican mantra has been “smaller government, lower taxes,” coupled with a number of social issues (from abortion to anti-gay rights) to appeal to their voters. In all of this, white working-class voters were left behind. The Democrats, who had been the champion of the working class, appeared to abandon them with their focus on a “liberal social agenda”. Meanwhile, Republicans worked to lure them away from the Democrats by denouncing that same “liberal social agenda.” What Trump did was couple the traditional Republican message with an appeal to the left behind middle class. He spoke to their anger and frustration and turned them into his MAGA movement. If Democrats are to not only win, but erase the divide and change politics, they must break from their narrow focus on their base and speak to the crowd that Trump has co-opted. The strategy they have pursued of focusing exclusively on increasing the voter turnout of their base, and directing their anger at Trump, may win an election, but it will do nothing to change and expand the governing coalition. They need to be able to continue to appeal to their base, while also speaking directly, as Trump has done, to the anger and frustration of the left behind working class of all races. Winning and transforming American politics means adopting a “both/and” instead of an “either/or” approach to politics. Ignoring or just trying to get more votes than the “other side” will only perpetuate the divide. And lame calls for unity and civility fall flat when people are hurting, frustrated and mad. Only by recognising that hurt, acknowledging that frustration and sharing that anger can voters become unified around an agenda that speaks to all Americans across the divide. Maybe then we can begin to heal.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted 10 December 1948 as UN Resolution 217. Proclaiming “the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations”, it urged all individuals and nations to “to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and ... to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance”. Many other international human rights conventions and treaties followed. During his term at the helm of the UN, secretary-general Boutros Boutros-Ghali introduced two major documents titled “An Agenda for Peace” and “An Agenda for Development”. All these instruments combined form the international legal framework that defines the human rights that peoples, governments and societies should safeguard, promote and respect. Unfortunately, the question of human rights is sometimes used as a propaganda tool. In this regard, Egypt has recently been the focus of another wave of criticism by parties driven by political, economic or personal agendas and whose attacks rely on unsubstantiated sources or plain fiction. As the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the mother of human rights instruments, it seems worth making a calm and reasoned assessment of how Egypt truly fares in terms of its provisions. The right to peace, justice and development is enshrined in the declaration s preamble. Egypt has a solid record in the pursuit of these goals. It has struggled to realise ambitious developmental aims despite arduous circumstances and limited resources. Its war against terrorism helps protect the region and the world from this blight while the government has made more progress in development in recent years than previous governments had in 50 years. Articles 1 and 2 of the declaration uphold the principles of equality and non-discrimination. The Egyptian people who took part in the June 2013 Revolution now feel this equality tangibly in terms of their equal right to a share in development, progress and improved services without discrimination. Egyptian society is comparatively free of classism, racism and sectarianism. With respect to “the right to life, liberty and security of person” (Article 3), Egypt s efforts to fight for peace and security through its fight against terrorism have received worldwide admiration and recognition. One of the government s main responsibilities is to meet the people s need for safety and security and it has met with considerable success in this domain. Egypt has also been in the vanguard in the fight against new forms of slavery and human trafficking (Article 4) and it was among the group of UN members to promote the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It has also made remarkable progress in the promotion and protection of women s rights (Article 16). There are currently around 100 women members in parliament, compared to only five in the past, and there are eight female ministers, up from one in previous governments. Women also have access to other public offices and jobs that had previously been out of reach for them. Freedom of religion (Article 18) has been furthered by virtue of the recently passed law, for which Egyptians had been campaigning for 30 years, upholding the right to worship in especially designated houses of worship. Egypt has long had free, universal and compulsory education (Article 26). The current government has been unflagging in its efforts to promote educational development through a comprehensive overhaul of curricula and pedagogy. The government has organised free and fair elections (Article 21) and it provides social security (Article 22) through a specialised ministry that conducts diverse activities towards this end. There is no gender discrimination in pay (Article 23). Women obtain the same salaries as men for the same work, which cannot be said of women in Europe. Egypt has also scored considerable progress in providing care for the ill and infirm (Article 25). In addition to the recently introduced comprehensive health insurance programme, there has been a boom in attention to those with special needs and the World Health Organisation has affirmed that Egypt is free of Hepatitis C. In addition, the Nour Al-Oyoun project provides ophthalmological care free of charge. As for “meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare” (Article 29), this is an integral part of Egyptian heritage. Egyptian culture promotes and safeguards moral principles as ordained by religious scriptures, in contrast to European countries that encourage religiously prohibited behaviours. In Europe, too, racism — one of the worst human rights violations — is widespread. Related to this is the way European countries handle the problem of refugees. There, they are not even treated as human beings, in contrast to Egypt which, according to a report by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, is one of the most humane countries in its treatment of refugees (see Article 14). Egypt does not pen up refugees in camps. They are welcome as ordinary members of society and enjoy the same rights and duties as others. One can cite other articles in which Egypt has not only made progress but has taken the lead. As for the articles with respect to which Egypt has come under the glare of criticism, they concern the treatment of lawbreakers. Clearly, the EU parliament has not studied the situation in Egypt as well as it should have. Egyptian law upholds the right to equality under the law and the right to protection of the law without discrimination (Article 7), it ensures access to independent tribunals to remedy acts violating fundamental rights (Article 8), and it prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention (Article 9). Egyptian law prohibits the maltreatment of people under arrest and detention. The Ministry of Interior has issued strict instructions to all members of the police force in this regard, and while it is true that there have been violations, these are punished. Indeed, a number of officers and police soldiers are currently under investigation. Recently five policemen from Sharqiya were sentenced to three years in prison on charges of violating the ethics of their profession. But whereas in Egypt these are the exception to the rule, we find that in some countries it is virtually state policy. In Turkey, for example, protestors and opposition figures are arrested and subjected to all forms of maltreatment at Erdogan s orders, and the perpetrators are often rewarded. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights concludes with a provision (Article 30) that prohibits interpreting anything in the declaration in a manner that would justify any act aimed at destroying any of stipulated rights and freedoms. This includes the right to sovereignty. The preamble underscores the need to promote the development of friendly relations between nations which implies the principles of equality between nations, non-intervention in the domestic affairs of other countries, and refraining from hurling unfounded and misleading allegations. It is time all countries respect the substance of this declaration and it would be best if they held up a mirror to themselves first before casting aspersions against others. In light of the above, it is important to bear in mind the following considerations: - Governments are responsible for fulfilling their obligations in accordance with the provisions of the Declaration and their national laws before their own people and the UN, not before other countries and their parliaments. - Egyptian government officials, MPs and representatives of civil society spared no effort in their attempts to contact EU parliamentary officials and governments to explain Egypt s position with respect to human rights. Yet, the EU parliament ignored them, preferring instead to listen to groups and parties that do not have Egypt s interests at heart. Among these is an organisation whose anti-Egyptian bias is well-known. - Surely the principle of fairness demands attention to the fulfilment of the requirements of the welfare, rights and guarantees of all people, rather than just focussing on offenders. When, in 2000, the UN dedicated its Human Development Report to the question of human rights, it advocated a holistic approach to the question. The study evaluated countries in accordance with a diverse array of criteria among which were the justice system and rule of law, the status of women and children, care for the elderly and persons with special needs, the conditions of detention centres and prisons, the existence of national human rights organisations, and much more. Rather than adopting such a comprehensive approach, the EU Parliament narrowed its focus to lawbreakers. Of course, such people should be afforded protections, but at the expense of peace, development, innocent civilians and all other honest citizens who obey the law? The EU Parliament should have named its report, “Rights of lawbreakers in Egypt.” - Egyptian law does permit protest demonstrations, but under certain conditions that people are obliged to observe or else face legal consequences. The same applies in other countries. The purpose is to safeguard law and order and people s safety. When demonstrations promote violence or the overthrow of a government, police arrest the offenders and then sort those who instigated or practised violence from those who did not. The latter are released and the former are brought to trial. Do any other countries have a mechanism to perform that sorting process in the middle of a demonstration turned violent? Do any of the 28 nations in the European Parliament permit demonstrations that deliberately incite violence and promote the overthrow of the state? Does freedom of opinion and expression cover calls to extremism, violence and destruction? - All governments require demonstrators to designate, in advance, the place, time, duration and purpose of their protests. In some countries, placards are inspected before a demonstration. In New York, for example, its forbidden to carry posters on sticks because the sticks might be used as weapons which, of course, are prohibited. My purpose, here, was not to defend Egypt or to reply to the EU Parliament. It was to tell the Egyptian people the truth about their country s commitment to human rights so that they do not fall for the falsehoods and misinformation spread by agencies with certain agendas of their own. I am convinced the Egyptian people are aware of this, and seek only to confirm their realisation. Egypt has an honourable history in the advocacy and defence of human rights. What is Europe s past in this regard? What is the state of human rights in those countries that always lead the attacks against Egypt?
There is no doubt that people in Egypt live in a dictatorship period that doesn t allow anyone to talk and if you talk you will be punished because they don t want to hear different opinions. Lately, a member of the parliament was requesting Sisi to cancel the amendments on the constitutions that enable Sisi to stay on power until 2032 and called Sisi to adopt an initiative for political reforms.
I must confess that writing a weekly column for Asharq Al-Awsat takes a certain strain. This writer firmly believes that the reader has a right to a well-rounded selection of topics on the Middle East and the world from someone whose academic and intellectual focus is the world. But China, for example, doesn t get its fair share of attention here, and Russia, which has become involved in this region in diverse and complex ways, from military intervention to building nuclear reactors, deserves more focus. Europe, in recent months, has largely been reduced to Brexit and the fate of the EU, which now leaves us waiting for UK parliamentary elections on 12 December and keeping track of that flamboyant, Trump-like Boris Johnson. Certainly, Brazil, who s leader, Bolsonaro, took centre stage in Saudi Arabia last week and underscored Riyadh s emergent realisations regarding the diversity of its choices in the East and West, also merits attention. The problem is that the US always comes up with something that steals the light. This is not just because of the US s global centrality as a superpower, albeit not the only superpower in the fullest sense of the term. In fact, it s mainly because US politics pack a certain sensationalism in their own right. And what makes politics there more exciting these days is the presence of Donald Trump in the White House, not just as a president but as a celebrity intent on staying in the limelight of political events with round-the-clock tweets. Last week, alone, President Trump starred in two major developments: the death of the Islamic State (IS) group terrorist leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, and the House of Representatives vote to formalise the impeachment process against him. No other head of state in the world can boast of being at the centre of sensational events ranging from commando operations to investigatory probes. Or, even if some head of state of any other country were the subject of the latter, it would never be broadcast to the domestic and international public in such minute detail, hour after hour and day by day. If the first question that arose following the military operation that led to the death of Al-Baghdadi together with his wife and children had to do with the intelligence, preparations, leaks, surveillance and actions on the part of various countries and movements that made it possible to track him down and kill him that day, the second obvious question was whether his death would bring an end to terrorism or even just to IS. The answer, of course, is equally obvious. Eliminating fundamentalist extremism and terrorism will take much more than one man s death and the suicide of his two wives. The question of the president s impeachment is perhaps more exciting and more interesting because it has to do with the fate of the head of state of the most important country in the world up to now, and because behind the mysteries that the investigations are trying to clear up are many more secrets that are waiting to come out. The purpose of the procedure is to establish whether the president had violated the constitution and his oath of office by trying to get Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to dig up evidence to incriminate Hunter Biden, the son of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden who had served as US vice president under Barack Obama, in matters having to do with his business dealings in Ukraine. What could amount to a criminal act here is whether Trump, in his communications with Zelensky, made the release of approximately $400 million in US military aid to Ukraine contingent on Zelensky s compliance with his request to launch an investigation into Biden. It appears that Ukraine had little choice in this matter. At the same time, it is unclear what, precisely, the former US vice president s son was doing in Ukraine (and China, as well, according to reports) that made Trump so fired up about the prospect of a criminally tainted Hunter Biden as an ace up his sleeve for his electoral campaign. Although there is still a long way to go until the 2020 elections, a long electoral path is one of the US s most distinguishing characteristics and it is a main reason why the US tends to steal the spotlight from other countries. The US may be a superpower in decline. But maybe this is what President Trump wants, since he doesn t see American world leadership as a means to disseminate “American values”, or the benefits of America s economic might, markets and human and material resources. In fact, he sees it in quite the opposite light: as a means for US friends and allies to sap US might and as something that opens US borders to various forms of invasion on the part of certain human populations and undesirable values. To Trump, values, security, reputation and the like are little more than commodities that should have a tangible return, in cash. He must be the only president in the history of the US who, whenever visiting a foreign country, makes a point of mentioning how many millions or billions of dollars the US has spent on that country. Once the House of Representatives draws up and passes the articles of impeachment — the “indictment” — the process is handed to the Senate which acts as court and jury. Impeachment requires the approval of at least two-thirds of the members of that house. Anything less and the president comes away not guilty, as occurred in the case of president Clinton who was subject to impeachment charges revolving around the Monica Lewinsky scandal. But whereas Clinton was nearing the end of his second term, the impeachment process, this time, comes as the US heads towards a presidential election in which the central question will be whether or not Trump wins a second term. According to the results of 38 opinion polls, 51 per cent of US voters back the House of Representatives in moving ahead with the impeachment process while 42 per cent are opposed, and 47.6 per cent of respondents are in favour of impeaching and removing the president while 43.4 per cent are opposed. Unfortunately for the Democrats, presidential elections are not determined by the overall popular vote but by the Electoral College, an institution that reflects the federal nature of the US. The Electoral College system gives each state a number of votes proportional to its relative demographic weight. The candidate that wins the majority of votes in a particular state wins all that state s electoral college votes. Therefore, opinion polls expressing overall popular sentiment in the US do not reflect political realities. State-by-state opinion polls provide a more accurate gauge of Trump s electoral prospects, especially when we recall that he won the last election not by the popular vote but by the Electoral College because of certain key states that swung from Democrat to Republican. On the basis of recent polls, Trump s position is pretty much the same as it was during the 2016 elections. If the elections were held today, he would carry all the swing states: Wisconsin, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Arizona and New Hampshire. Thus, so far, his chances for a second term appear secure. But there remains the missing link: what the Congressional investigations bring to light, an important instalment in which will be the testimony of Trump s former national security adviser, John Bolton. The formal impeachment process in Congress has only just begun.
The 28 May 1991 is a day Ethiopia recalls very well and has adopted as its National Day. On that day, the forces of the Ethiopian People s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) surrounded and shelled the presidential palace and took control of the capital city of Addis Ababa, formally declaring the demise of the communist Derg regime that had ruled since the coup d état against the last emperor of Ethiopia in 1975. The ensuing incidents were never easy for the man who initiated the military struggle against the Mengistu-led communist regime, namely Ethiopia s strongman Legesse Zenawi, aka Meles, the name of his classmate who the Derg had brutally executed in 1975. After the secession of Eritrea in 1993, Ethiopia was feared to be a failed state because Eritrea s independence had turned Ethiopia into a landlocked country. Eritrea s secession was a blessing in disguise, however. The fear of a failed state made the other ethnicities rally behind Meles Zenawi s recipe of governance: an ethno-federal system in which each of the nine regions (the 10th region is in the pipeline as Sidama votes this November for statehood) of Ethiopia has its own government. Moreover, the 1994 constitution introduced the most controversial article so far —Article 39 that grants each region the right to secession under certain conditions. In 2012, modern Ethiopia s godfather Meles Zenawi died, but the monster he unleashed, the ethno-federal system, did not. Fueled by their grudge against the small minority that controlled almost everything under Zenawi, namely the powerful Tigray, other ethnicities banded together for the first time in almost two decades and challenged the Woyana, or the Tigray People s Liberation Front s (TPLF) monopoly over Ethiopia s political sphere. Unable to contain the growing dissidence, particularly coming from the Oromo, the largest ethnicity and the historically most marginalised one in the country, Zenawi s hand-picked and well-educated professional Hailemariam Desalegn, who hails from the southern nationalities, courageously submitted his resignation in 2018, a rare occurrence in Africa, hoping that this would be part of the political compromise in the Horn of Africa nation. To quench the Oromo rebellion, it was time to pick an Oromo politician to head the EPRDF, something that had never previously happened in Ethiopia s modern history. Hence, came the rise of the American-educated, young and charismatic Abiy Ahmed. The man, whose first name is a shortened form of the Amharic word Abiyot, which means “revolution”, really did revolutionise Ethiopian politics. He released all political prisoners, shut down the infamous Maekelawi jail where opponents were harshly tortured and killed, lifted the ban on Oromo movements, once formally labelled terrorist organisations, and allowed the return of opposition figures and all the armed militias back home, perhaps the last being his tragic flaw. Since their return back home, the armed militias have been stashing weaponry and getting more recruits every day. The government seems helpless in trying to control the day-to-day influx of arms into the nation. Such an accumulation of arms is the harbinger of a sad ending, however. In the past months, armed militias have burned houses, looted shops, and seized control over territory annexed to some regions under the previous governments, forcing some two million people out of their homes and causing one of the worst humanitarian crises Ethiopia has known since the famine that hit the nation in the 1980s. The reformist leader, who recently received a significant accolade in the Nobel Peace Prize, the first ever in Ethiopia, has reshuffled the country s political system. He introduced Medemer, a term floated when the prime minister was delivering his inauguration speech upon taking the oath of office in April 2018 and accidently on purpose the same day on which the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam was launched. Medemer, seemingly the peak of Abiymania, the growing sense of a personality cult of the young prime minister, is a book in which he presents his political ideology and a reminder of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi s Green Book. The new ideology implies the national merging of all the country s ethnicities under a powerful centralised system in which ethnicity is abandoned for the sake of “Ethiopianness”, a term that has recently surfaced as a nationalist sensation in the second-most populous nation in Africa. By all appearances, the would-be system looks good, as it would join all the ethnicities under the banner of one united Ethiopia, except that it does not appeal even to a big portion of Ahmed s fellow Oromo, who burnt the book carrying his image in apparent defiance of the young leader s perceived notion of tomorrow s Ethiopia. Moreover, Ahmed was received with “Down with Abiy” chants by angry Oromo in the city of Ambo, the cradle of anti-government protests that brought to an end the Tigrayan hegemony over Ethiopia s polity. But this is not all the prime minister has to care about. Ahmed has to run the gauntlet of the opposition because lurking behind it are the Tigrayans, the once-powerful elite that swept Ethiopia s politics and economy under late prime minister Zenawi. They have their own woes because they feel marginalised. In June 2019, Debretsion Gebremichael, being groomed for the post of prime minister after the sudden resignation of Desalegn, uttered his ethnicity s outcry. Gebremichael, once infamously described as the “Joseph Goebbels of Ethiopia” due to his tight grip on all branches of the security apparatus, explicitly spoke of secession. He said there was a growing feeling in Tigray to secede from the rest of the country. In reality, Mekele, the capital city of Tigray, has turned into a hub for former intelligence and security chiefs, ministers, and media personnel who were removed from office either because of the atrocities they committed while in power or as a means to make it up to other furious ethnicities. Concurrently, fierce media campaigns have been directed against the Tigrayans, demonising the small minority and putting the blame on them for Ethiopia s current plight. As a response, outrage against Ahmed is rife in the region, something he has watered down by saying that democracy comes at a cost. Banking on the support of the Ethiopian people, Ahmed has distanced himself from the ill-famed EPRDF and sought its transformation into one single party, the Ethiopian Prosperity Party (EPP). This potential party would include all affiliated parties, with representation based on an ethnicity s size and population. No wonder the Tigrayans gnashed their teeth over the idea instantly. The whole idea hinges on a presupposition that Ahmed will get the so-called popular mandate he seeks when Ethiopians go to the polls in May 2020. Here, there are two divergent paths. Some active political forces, including the prime minister himself, are in favour of the idea of holding elections no matter what. This camp thinks that the newly elected MPs would be empowered enough to trigger the needed changes, both political and economic. The other camp wants a transitional period until constitutional and political reforms are introduced. Advocates here believe that the rush for elections, amid growing tensions and multi-ethnic rifts, would dearly cost the nation. They are also afraid that the nation itself may be at stake as everybody recalls the sad memories of the 2005 elections, held under Zenawi. That time round things almost got out of control as violence erupted in Oromia and Addis Ababa itself over claims of vote-rigging. The 2005 elections ended in hundreds dead, thousands arrested, many prominent political figures forced into exile, including the famed judge Birtukan Mideksa, who now serves as the chairwoman of Ethiopia s National Electoral Board. Like the godfather Zenawi whose ethno-federalism, seen as the cause of each and every plight in a highly-polarised Ethiopia, helped him to tighten his grip on power, Ahmed seemingly wants to attain the same goal, unleashing what others think of as another monster, the single party system. Zenawi s so-called notion of “Unity in Diversity”, which the country s ethnicities once celebrated, will be sent into oblivion given the new prime minister s philosophy of rule. The gains of the ethnicities, most importantly their sense, to say the least, of semi-autonomous rule, may vanish into thin air. Like turkeys voting for Christmas, to which camp will the Ethiopians align themselves: the hated EPRDF or Ahmed s EPP? Stay within the EPRDF and ethnic rifts could overwhelm Ethiopian politics for decades to come. Accept Ahmed s new recipe of rule, and then being Oromo, Tigrayan, Amhara will not matter, because what would matter the most would be that you are Ethiopianist.
In late September 2019, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) launched its annual Trade and Development Report, entitled “Financing a Global Green New Deal”. This UN report discusses the global economy and the recent economic challenges facing the developing World and proposes policy recommendations to meet these challenges and those of today s hyper-globalized world, shaped by the philosophy and policies of the wild, untamed neo-liberalism. This year s report discusses the role of public finance, and development and other public banks in achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs); in balance with the role played by private finance. In today s globalized financial world, public funds are usually injected into the economies and the private sector through giant banking institutions or shadow banking systems. However, this is more costly and less capable of creating jobs than financing investments directly, through public and development banks, for job creation, development and cleaner energy. By their nature, public banks seek to invest in productive sectors (agriculture and industry) and are supposed to be designed to contribute to achieving public interest and the SDGs, including poverty reduction and environmental protection. Therefore, the rules of the game of the banking sector that have been established in the last four decades must be changed. The hyper-financialization that transforms everything with utility to humanity into a financial instrument, must be controlled and regulated. Public and development banks are different in nature from private banks. They focus on long-term projects whose social and development benefits exceed the narrow commercial returns. They target sectors of strategic importance that are usually ignored by private finance. Public banks bear the heaviest burden of development and should therefore receive the greatest attention from developing countries to allow them to contribute meaningfully towards achieving the SDGs. Despite the dominance of the neoliberal ideology, public development banks in many developing countries have been able to assume their role by injecting hundreds of billions of dollars in development loans. In the case of the China Development Bank, its current outstanding loans are estimated at more than 13% of China s GDP (nearly seven times the size of the Egyptian economy). The value of the outstanding loans of the Korean Development Bank represents 10.5% of Korea s GDP s. But on the other hand, there are public banks in countries such as Russia, South Africa, Mexico and India that have been less active, with outstanding loans not exceeding 1% to 2% of their respective GDP. In other countries, where the neo-liberal policies are followed with no questions asked, not only that development and public banks have been curtailed, but privatized as a condition of an IMF or World Bank loan/program. UNCTAD analysis indicates that in many developing countries, public banks, especially development banks, lack the capital needed for them to play their developmental role and to finance projects of strategic importance to the state and society. Furthermore, the policy space available to governments in developing countries is limited and does not allow policy makers to design and implement effective economic policies, be they fiscal, monetary, agricultural, industrial or commercial policies. Without additional capital and a wide range of policy instruments, it is not possible to take advantage of the positive opportunities that public and development banks could create. UNCTAD report proposes a number of recommendations for policies that may help decisionmakers in the third world to deal with these problems: Central banks should be freed from the narrow focus on inflation and targeting exchange rates. They should be allowed to regain their historical role for development support, creating jobs and driving investments into the productive sectors, developing credit instruments targeting industries of strategic importance, and playing active role in financing a “Global Green New Deal”; Development and public banks should be provided with additional, adequate capital to expand their base of productive lending. These banks should be supported by appropriate legal and policy frameworks and assigned a clear role and objectives; with a set of performance indicators and accountability mechanisms that fight corruption while focusing on social and long-term economic returns, not only short-term financial return. There is a need to reform banking systems to strengthen the role of public banks and granting them special treatment commensurate with their role in development; Public banks should stay focused on their purpose. There is a concern with what is being promoted as reforms of the banking system and presented as part of a package of conditions associated with World Bank loans, including privatization of public banks.
I am appalled by the situation at Egyptian universities. I can not imagine that there is dancing, smoking, and hashish in the lecture hall. I cannot believe that these students desire knowledge. I cannot imagine that a student could threaten their dean with “You ll see!”. What are we waiting for to fix these problems? A student smoking hashish in the lecture hall. Female students dancing and uploading videos onto the Internet. Are there any standards to study at universities? I ve read details of this kind regarding the “lecture hall incident” at Tanta University, and I heard from my friend the dean about female students dancing in the lecture halls, as well in a private academy. When the dean suspended the students, they returned after high-level mediation and interventions from significant bodies, who said the students “pay money for this education.” What happened to society in the past few years?! I was surprised that the students begged their parents to intervene and solve problems, without any shame. I was even more surprised the parents defend their children, and threaten the university professors. Certainly not all problem go viral in public as most of these are bypassed, after interventions and mediation of course. They communicate with the dean or rector, and it s over. Everything is regressing, and the standing of all university figures is regressing as well. Absolutely I did not make up these stories, because they have been “circulating” for days. The most famous of these incidents is the one at Tanta University, since it went public. And there other stories from an academy which I do not want to disclose, so as not to harm its reputation. But here is a glimpse of one incident there; a parent, coming from famous stores, threatens the dean and involves his customers in big positions and the elite in the issue! Did any of us, in the past, dare to speak, let alone dance? Did any of us dare to make trouble in the presence of the professor, let alone the dean? None of us even knew the way to the office of the rector. Now the situation is out of control. How exactly did all this happen? How did bullying get into the university? How can there be hashish, dancing, rudeness and misbehavior?! Surprisingly, when the Tanta dean asked the “defendant” about the smoking, he said: “I smoke a cigarette, and I ll smoke more.” Does this student deserve sympathy? Is it worth to disturb the universe for him? Who is he even? Are we aligned with the values of a university, which should be preserved, or are we biased in favor of a student who does not realize the difference between the university and the illegal hash cafes? The question is: where is the sanctity of the campus? And where is the respect? What does it mean when a student threatens their professor? What does it mean when a student smokes hashish during a lecture, or female students dance in the lecture hall? Where are the morals of the Egyptian family? Where is the standing of the university? How did we get such deterioration?
A hashtag then a trend then nothing…Thus goes the manufacturing of illusion. When the hashtag begins its journey towards a vacuum, many feel that the world is waiting for that launch. After a while, everybody forgets all about the previous trend amidst the new hustle of trends and the chaos of new “hashtaggers.” The hashtag rises and its opposite also rises, the hashtag and its anti-hashtag rise together. The hashtaggers are restless, for the main characteristic of this new thing is its mercuriality. No constancy, everything will perish after a while and the criteria that have governed the past hours may not be the ones that govern the next few hours. Endless fluid opinions and opinion leaders aren t ashamed of shifting their viewpoints around the clock, swaying from one side to the other. The virtual world is about to triumph over the real world. We are facing a mixed world where globalised man lives half in reality and half in imagination; half of his life based on planet Earth involving how to earn a living and meet his needs, and the other half clinging to the mobile screen, revolving with artificial satellites in their distant orbits. Governments and institutions as well as communities and individuals realise the big change that occurred to Man s nature, his reality having shrunk to a half, or less than half. As a result, the race has begun to invest in the virtual half in the new man. One of the biggest features of the contemporary world order has become cybernetic war. Within the battles of this global electronic war, new mechanisms have emerged: the electronic battalions. These battalions are made up of anonymous persons sitting before secret monitors to execute their masters vision -- to elevate those they deem worthy of elevation and tarnish those they think worthy of tarnishing. Electronic battalions were exclusive to a limited number of governments and intelligence services, but they have since expanded to be one of the mechanisms of groups and organisations as well as companies and persons. It is now in the capacity of a person to establish an electronic battalion that defends him and smear his opponents. Groups and movements have become capable of devoting their battalions to lie about other parties, describing them with all that denigrates them and undermines their stature and path. Electronic battalions sit in pitch-dark rooms without being seen and write whatever they like, for their names and accounts are all fake. The New York Times published a cartoon once of two dogs sitting in front of a computer screen, while one of them is hesitant about writing, the other dog says to him “don t worry, the internet doesn t know that you re a dog.” Electronic dogs have destroyed homelands and peoples. They have torn down social fabric and national belongingness amid the follies of millions of recipients, writing haughtily and arrogantly as if they are big philosophers or prestigious thinkers, while they are just a cheap tool in the hands of cybernetic dogs manipulating their minds with the tip of their tails. Global cybernetic war has transcended that old level of electronic battalions, and computer programs have been designed to work automatically to achieve the same objective. A wedge is driven between the people and the authorities, between the people themselves or between a state and another, and every party escalates its attack on the other party, while the person administering the escalation in reality is the one standing behind the flood of comments which the program has launched in specific directions. In my speech to the forum of the Strategic Vision Group – “Russia-Islamic World” (RIW Group) presided over by Rustam Minnikhanov, President of Tatarstan, which was held in St. Petersburg in September and was attended Farid Mukhametshin, Deputy Chairman of International Affairs in the Federal Russian Council, and Ambassador Veniamin Popov, I called the fake popular approaches produced by cybernetic wars “manufactured public opinion”. This isn t natural public opinion, whatever the foundation it is built upon or what it is moving towards. It is, rather, public opinion that is manufactured in other capitals and other bodies aiming at delivering an untrue public opinion on a certain issue. It is stealing the right of speech on behalf of the people by an unknown manufacturing source. Manufactured public opinion represents a great threat to freedom and democracy because it obscures the real public opinion. It invests in the “silent majority,” staying away from the scene. Thus, manufactured public opinion becomes more powerful and more present, given the absence of the majority and the ascendancy of the cybernetic minority. Contemporary democracy is threatened by a dangerous triangle, similar to the Bermuda Triangle, that is capable of swallowing everything. It is threatened by the ascendancy of money, manufactured public opinion and the silent majority. It has become absolutely impossible for a candidate to be engaged in an election in the West, or not in the West, without the financial support that in turn provides media support. It has also become impossible to attract the silent majority to a scene it realised has become captive to money and media. Moreover, it has become impossible to realise the real public opinion approaches in the light of the ascendance of manufactured public opinion. Pressure from sensible people against the chaos of opinion and the floods of accounts advocating crime or terrorism, or opposing security and peace, have now made big corporations respond positively. In April 2018, Twitter announced the deletion of 1.2 million accounts during the years 2015–2017. During the first quarter of 2018, Facebook deleted more than half a billion accounts, and in the last quarter of the same year it deleted more than a billion accounts. According to the Associated Press, Facebook deleted 2.2 billion fake accounts during the first quarter of 2019. Hence, more than 2 billion accounts were deleted from Facebook in three months only! These deletion numbers clarify the volume of tragedy threatening human thought. Undoubtedly, trillions of foolish, criminal and terrorist opinions are still steadfast and active. Manufactured public opinion is a great threat and confronting it is next to impossible. It is the biggest danger facing the national state in the 21st century. Of course, there exist those sensible persons using social media networks. They are sensible supporters and opponents possessing vision and perception and can offer brilliant ideas. They have fascinating viewpoints, profound knowledge and inventive visions. However, those sensible persons can t appear amid all this clamour. They are similar to a child who is shouting in a raucous square or like a person delivering an excellent speech in the Sahara.
In the streets and squares of Lebanon and Iraq, throngs of young people have been clamouring for sweeping reforms. They speak enthusiastically and passionately about the need to end the corruption and mismanagement that drove their countries to such dire economic straits, decaying public services and deteriorating standards of living. Their anger is understandable. They feel that the negligence and abuse have reached such a magnitude that it is no longer possible to remain silent and that those responsible must be brought to justice. But what is particularly interesting in these latest mass protests is their call for an end to the denominational system of government in accordance with which political offices, parliamentary seats and other government posts are divvied up on the basis of set sectarian quotas. It is a system that gives religious leaders enormous clout in decision-making processes and shaping public policies. Observers of Middle East affairs had long resigned themselves to the conviction that some countries in this region were doomed to denominational systems of government after so many years of civil warfare and ethnic and sectarian strife fed by outside interventions that capitalised on sectarian divides. But now we have a breath of fresh air! The majority of the participants in the demonstrations in Lebanon and Iraq are from middle class backgrounds. In recent years, this class has been severely eroded by the effects of poor governance and the lack of transparency and accountability. From it come the new generations of young people who are most in touch with the outside world and among whom we find a growing shift from a consciousness shaped by sectarian allegiances to one that embraces the value of living in a society in which all members of society are equal in rights and duties. It is here that we find the impetus behind the demands to reorganise government in ways that make it more just and more effective by reducing the sectarian influences that foster exceptions to the rules and facilitate corruption. The governments in Iraq and Lebanon have scrambled to announce reform packages and to take steps to fight corruption. Yet, something has changed in the general mentality of the people: they refuse to swallow the sedatives that are marketed in the name of reform. While such measures may have placated them in the past, people now realise that they do not address the sectarianism at the heart of the system which is the main impediment to any genuine process of political and economic reform. Against the backdrop of current regional circumstances, there is no guarantee that the protest movements in Lebanon and Iraq will yield the results to which the majority of the people in these two countries aspire. A number of factors militate against that quintessential anti-sectarianism of their movement. Above all, it runs up against the powerful influence of pro-Iranian forces in both countries. The weight of these forces in the political equations of the Middle East is not to be underestimated and they will not easily relinquish the influence over decision making processes they acquired through denominational systems. They got where they are today thanks to deals they made with other parties, and they will continue to make whatever deals they can, regardless of the concessions or accommodations they have to make, in order preserve their influence. The brightest aspect of the grassroots movements in Lebanon and Iraq is that they give hope to the possibility of ending medieval sectarianism and building modern societies based on the principles of equal citizenship, equal opportunity and merit. Unfortunately, the authorities in these countries appear unable to keep pace with the new consciousness that is coalescing among broad segments of the people. Governments might appeal to foreign powers for support to help them implement economic programmes to restore some vigour to the economy. But, this time, economic prescriptions from abroad will not suffice. What is needed is the ability to build a society from the ground up, politically, economically and socially, thereby building a consensus around a reform process acceptable to the majority of the people who now refuse to make concessions for little in return. The grassroots movement against sectarianism breaks free of the many moulds and taboos that trap the Arab world in general, and Levantine societies in particular, into forms of socio-political organisation that make it possible for sectarian outlooks to suppress all desire for political reform, and that encourage the pursuit of narrow sectarian interests over the higher interests of a state that embraces all its people. International media coverage of events in Iraq and Lebanon may have failed to grasp the profound change that has taken place in the general mood of two countries where sectarian strife has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and caused so much misery. Ultimately what matters is that this grassroots movement appears able to impose its will thanks to the grit and resolve of the youth.
With mass protests roiling Lebanon and Iraq, unsettling developments in Syria and Yemen, and the latest episode of the continuing soap opera that calls itself Israeli politics, little attention is being given to the plight of the Palestinians. One consequence of this neglect is that both Israel and the Trump administration feel they have been given a free hand to accelerate the oppression of the beleaguered Palestinian people. Two reports passed my desk this week, both of which make this point and require our attention. First, as a result of the loss of US aid to UNWRA, the agency reported that it has been forced to make drastic cuts in its programmes and personnel. I will quote freely from the UNWRA report in order to fully establish the magnitude of the loss. In Gaza, “in order to protect food assistance [UNWRA] provides to one-half of the population, other critical programmes were cut.” These included: all housing subsidies for those still rendered homeless from the 2014 war; drastic reductions in the “cash for work programme” (cut by 59 per cent) and the community mental health programme (cut by 40 per cent). In addition, UNWRA was forced to end all repairs to the refugee camps water and sanitation systems and to end “programmes supporting students whose education was impacted by conflict”. In the West Bank, funding was slashed by 67 per cent, resulting in: ending the community mental health and mobile health clinic programmes; ending the “cash for work programme for 90,000 refugees”, and limiting food assistance to only 30 per cent of eligible refugees. In addition, as a result of cuts to educational programmes, average class size in the West Bank has been expanded from 30 to 50 students. Even more desperate were the cuts to UNWRA programmes serving refugees in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. All of this has been compounded by the Trump administration s decision to cut funding to American non-governmental organisations that provide important development and humanitarian support to Palestinians throughout the occupied lands. In addition to being denied essential services by these cruel decisions, Palestinians living under military occupation have been forced to endure continued acts of repression and brutality at the hands of the Israeli military and vigilante settler groups, both of which operate with impunity throughout the West Bank. This brings me to the second report— a weekly cataloguing of human rights violations compiled by Mondoweiss. While these Israeli behaviours are reported only occasionally in the press, seeing them collected, in full, each week presents a horrifying picture of life under Israeli military rule. Because this last week witnessed the celebration of Jewish holidays, there were a number of incidents directly related to hostile measures taken to allow Israelis to visit holy sites in the West Bank. For example, on 17 October, busloads of Israeli settlers, escorted by Israeli army personnel, entered Nablus without permission to pray at the site Jews believe to be the burial place of the Prophet Joseph. Since Nablus is within Area A, it is supposedly under full control of the Palestinian Authority. As Palestinians gathered to protest this incursion, they were fired on by Israeli soldiers. Four were shot and wounded with live ammunition, 17 were injured by rubber bullets and 34 were hospitalised suffering from smoke inhalation. The Israeli occupation forces also used the holy days to close Hebron s Ibrahim Mosque to Muslims for two days, giving Jewish worshippers full access to the mosque. They also closed several major arteries in the West Bank to allow for settlers to travel freely and to hold a “settlers marathon race”. During this same period, the Israeli military invaded at least 14 Palestinian villages, shot and injured nine young men, and detained over four dozen. These raids included a number of home invasions, which resulted in extensive property damage and theft, and an attack on a wedding party that witnessed beatings and injuries to some of those present who objected to the soldier s behaviour. A continuing reality of daily life in the West Bank are attacks by settlers on Palestinians farming their land located near Israeli settlements and outposts. The most notorious of these occurred in the village of Burin where settlers have engaged in numerous attacks disrupting villagers harvesting their olive crop. This past week, settlers uprooted olive trees, set fires that consumed hundreds of acres of farmland, and beat Palestinians who attempted to stop this vandalism. Settlers also attacked and beat Israeli volunteers who had come to assist and protect the Palestinians of Burin during the harvest. Settler attacks occurred not only in villages but on roads as well, harassing Palestinians on their way to work. These assaults and the Palestinians response to them prompted a bizarre warning issued by the military to some villagers cautioning them against taking action to resist the settlers vigilante behaviour. This was most likely prompted by a warning made by the Palestinian mayor of Sebastia who threatened to shoot or arrest settlers who might break into the town during the Jewish holidays, or the story of an elderly man who confronted Israeli settlers stealing his olive harvest and was beaten so badly that he had to be hospitalised. The above is only an excerpt of the many instances of abuse encountered by Palestinians during the week covered in the report. Also mentioned were: the shootings by Israeli snipers of 73 Palestinian protesters during the weekly “March of Return” protests that took place at five locations along the Gaza border; a number of home demolitions done either as an act of collective punishment or to limit Palestinian population growth in Jerusalem; continued repressive actions designed to increase Israel s control of Jerusalem; unprovoked attacks on Palestinian fishermen operating within the three mile limit allowed to them by the Israeli authorities and the announcement of the construction of 251 new Jewish-only settlement units on Palestinian land. What is most concerning about all of these horrors is how little coverage they receive not only in the US press but in the Arab world s press as well. With events in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen dominating the news, the plight of the Palestinians has taken a back seat. When news related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict receives coverage at all it is driven by the drawn-out drama of Israel s dysfunctional political system. Accounting for this, to be sure, is some weariness with the century old plight of the Palestinians and some justifiable frustration with the Palestinian leadership, which has lost its ability to inspire confidence. But, while all of this may be true, it is imperative that the Palestinian people not be forgotten. In this context I am reminded of a moving moment in Arthur Miller s powerful play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman, the salesman in question, is a tragic figure who has done little to earn the support of his two sons. As he nears his final breakdown, his wife speaks to her sons about the respect owed to their father. She says: “… he s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He s not to be allowed to fall in his grave... Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person.” And so, my dear readers, I urge you to consider that as you focus on all of the other conflicts unfolding across the Arab world. Do not forget what is happening to the Palestinian people under occupation. Put aside your weariness and your frustrations and give attention to what they are enduring every single day. “Attention must be paid” before it s too late.
former White House chief of staff John Kelly told a conservative audience about this piece of advice he gave President Donald Trump before leaving his job: "I said, whatever you do -- and we were still in the process of trying to find someone to take my place -- I said whatever you do, don t hire a yes man, someone who won t tell you the truth -- don t do that. Because if you do, I believe you will be impeached." Kelly s comments drew a decent amount of attention right after he made them -- at a conference in Sea Island, Georgia sponsored by the Washington Examiner -- but got lost the second Trump tweeted "something very big has just happened!" just before 9:30 p.m. ET Saturday night. That tweet -- and Trump s subsequent Sunday morning announcement that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was dead -- overwhelmed all other news. But we shouldn t let the constant churn of covering Trump roll right over what Kelly said and why it s both telling and damning about this President. (Worth noting: Trump denied that Kelly had told him any such thing; "If he would have said that I would have thrown him out of the office," Trump said in a statement. "He just wants to come back into the action like everybody else does.") Consider carefully exactly what Kelly is saying here: If the President of the United States is allowed to do what he wants, he will act in ways that will lead to his impeachment. Which is remarkable! And terrifying! And potentially accurate! Following Kelly s departure, Trump named a loyalist -- Mick Mulvaney -- to the chief of staff post. Mulvaney, by his own admission, allowed Trump to be Trump -- with all the good and bad that comes with it. That includes Trump s coordinated pressure campaign against the Ukrainians -- run by his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani -- to force that government to look into debunked allegations regarding Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. House Democrats are currently conducting an impeachment investigation to determine whether the President abused his office for personal, political gain. Yes, Kelly s comments are incredibly self-serving. He is essentially saying "I told you so!" when it comes to Trump s behavior and what would come from it. But ask yourself this: why would Kelly lie about his observations about the President? He s no Democrat and, unlike scorned former Trumpers like Michael Cohen and Anthony Scaramucci, hasn t spent his time after falling out of favor with the White House savaging the President. Kelly is a highly decorated Marine with a distinguished record of serving the country for the bulk of his adult life. Would he really risk all of that by making up lies about his conversations with the President? Seems unlikely. Especially when you consider that Trump, who is saying Kelly never said anything like this, has said more than 12,000 false or misleading things since coming into office in 2017. What s more important to consider is that someone who spent lots and lots of time with Trump -- and who has, throughout his life, interacted with leaders of all stripes -- believed that if left to his own devices, the President would commit an impeachable act. There s nothing more damning than a judgment like this one coming from someone who knows Trump well and has seen how the President goes about the day-to-day elements of the job. In short: When someone who has lived the life -- and done the jobs -- Kelly has, we would all do well to listen to him when he offers an opinion on the character of this President.
In our youth, we envied Lebanon for its democracy, its picturesque nature and the coexistence of its various sects with each other. The Lebanese civil war broke out in 1975. Syria stepped in to occupy, allegedly to defend it. The Palestinians swarmed it with the pretext of resistance. Lebanon emerged with deep wounds that are yet to heal, even after the Taif Agreement. Despite efforts by the late Rafik al-Hariri in the reconstruction and development of Lebanon, political decisions remained in Syria s hands. The repeated Israeli invasion of its territory since 1978, southern Lebanon s occupation, the Sabra and Shatila massacre, and Operation Grapes of Wrath did not weaken the will and patriotism of the Lebanese. However, lurking predators of this beautiful country chose to activate the 1943 constitution, and thus the Lebanese became slaves to sectarianism and political affiliation. The rulers were separated from the people. Financial and political corruption spread. Against the Maronite thieves there are their Shia, Sunni and Orthodox counterparts, including the Alawites, Protestants, and Syriacs. This corruption infiltrated the citizen. He sees violence in every spot, whether the Parliament, government or its Prime Minister, and even with their excellencies. A Lebanese is used to living under all circumstances, which is why he has accepted these increased restrictions on speech and the growing immunity of those in big positions who turned the concept of virtue into vice. Revealing their mistake has become a crime, exposing sins became a disaster, and condemning those who disregard people s destinies became a betrayal to national unity. The rulers became reassured that the people had forgotten their rights and duties. Forgetfulness became inevitable. The pressing need for jobs and bread has turned the citizen to a laborer, or rather a slave to those who would hired them even if the job was of a janitor or bailiff. The Lebanese who once prided themselves on their education, have now neglected their educational qualifications to seek jobs and food for their children from anywhere, though this also turned up to a bitter choice. Gradually, the citizen became a slave to their leader, be they a sect leader, an MP, or a minister. The bigshot corrupt people succeeded in tying the Lebanese to the chain of employment, education and securing a future abroad. A Lebanese s hope for their child is to have them emigrate to a better life. Even now the rulers and the people have become living “temporarily” in their homeland; neither are they family nor is this their country. The most radical protests from the Lebanese against their rulers were simple jokes in the cafes on immunity of these top people against criticism. But if the protesters came from a sect other than their own convicted of corruption, they criticize it in their homes and mock it among the members of their sect only. But suddenly the dream came true and demonstrators from all sects united under one flag. They stepped on the sects and revolted against the injustice and its people. The public dropped down all foreign influence and the Lebanese powers relying on it. The Lebanese were finally united in hunger, as they sought food and water from the leaders of each sect or party leader. The people suddenly became aware of their rights and unity. They remembered that they were once united, divided under the pretext of sectarian representation. Slogans calling for no solution but the departure of all rulers because the people are the decision-makers have dominated the scene. The Lebanese exposed their prime minister, who spent millions of dollars on a bikini-model. They degraded him, for had it not been for French President Emmanuel Macron, he would still be imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. The demonstrators stepped on pictures of all leaders and MPs in the largest uprising against corruption. The demonstrations served as public courts against those who stole railway tracks to recover land they had sold to the state to build compounds and private pools. They stole the land of the people twice. They destroyed agriculture to encourage import because its profits are higher. They destroyed national industry and closed the factories to make the Lebanese boast international brands, when once they were proud of their own clothes. Without any preparation, coordination or prior arrangement, the Lebanese realized that their homeland is being stolen through sectarian traps, and realized that they are one people in their demands and aspirations, whether personal or national. Awaking from their long slumber and slavery, the Lebanese noticed that they had no public hospitals or public schools, and even the national university is closed. Perhaps the Lebanese uprising will not win, yet half a victory or even a quarter is enough. But the real victory is that Nasrallah could not exercise his influence like in May 2007, when he occupied Lebanon. The patriarch did not even appeal to Christians to defend the Church. The March 14 bloc has withstood the anger. If the people are angry, they will not be silenced by any guns, influence or slogans. The current rulers – wallowing in their luxurious palaces overlooking private ports with their golden yachts- do not know a solution to the crises plaguing their homeland. Even if they knew it, they ignore it for fear that this will affect their political, sectarian and religious influence. The primary solution is that the rulers change their priorities, their tone of speech and give up their arrogance. “Fear God for Lebanon,” the call of the late Anwar Sadat after the assignation of Kamal Jumblatt, remains valid even now. They were betting that the revolution in Lebanon is impossible. But the homeland deserves to blow up this impossibility. Otherwise it will be overthrown by those who rule it. The revolution was impossible in this country of many sects; now it is a present fact at a level of a million-man protest. Without realizing the demands of the people, this revolution, this uprising, whatever its name will be, will continue.
The more we read about happiness, the more we yearn for it. We may read about the experiences of others and how they see happiness. Yet, we fail to imitate them since we can t see with their eyes or feel with their skin. Some say they find happiness in money, and others say it is hidden in marriage and family. Some may find it in health or faith. However, everybody can give you an advice, but it won t help you reach