A decades-long war Why? Because the war between the United States of America and Iran has been underway for more than 40 years. None of this is a secret. It s just that most Americans don t know they ve been at war with Iran. It s been out of their sight and, so, out of their minds. Friday s drone strike that took out Soleimani is but merely one more bump on a well-worn, long, and winding road of a conflict that s been killing people for generations. It is a war with an origin story that dates all the way back to 1953. That s when the Iranians believe America truly picked this fight. For, in 1953, the US staged a coup d etat in Iran to take down a popular, secular and nationalist prime minister, only to put an indulgent monarch, known as the Shah, in charge. It s that American coup that led to the 1979 revolution that placed an ayatollah on the throne and the rule of the mullahs still in power today. The very same mullahs that the now-dead General Soleimani served. When the Iranians revolted against the Shah, they overran the US Embassy in Tehran, taking dozens of American diplomats and Marines hostage, parading them on international television, as seen in the 2012 Hollywood movie "Argo." That is when this war began. Not with this week s drone strike. In 1983, Iran blew up a Marine barracks at the US Embassy in Beirut, killing dozens. President Ronald Reagan abandoned Lebanon and it appeared Iran had chased the US out of the region. That same year an Iraqi man called Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis car-bombed the US Embassy in Kuwait. Though he escaped, with Iran s help, he was sentenced to death in absentia in Kuwait for the bombing. It s believed he then went on to help hijack passenger planes. Western intelligence agencies also accuse him of involvement in the hijacking of a Kuwaiti airliner in 1984 and the attempted assassination of a Kuwaiti prince. Do you want to know who was in the same convoy as General Soleimani on Friday when that drone missile struck? It was that same car-bomber, al-Muhandis. Al-Muhandis, also known as Jamal Jafaar Mohammed, was twice elected to the democratic Iraqi Parliament the US created after the fall of the dictator Saddam Hussein. He was Soleimani s number one man in Iraq. In Parliament. Right under the noses of the US military. It was CNN who revealed al-Muhandis identity. At first, an unwitting US government did not believe CNN. But when the US government checked, and confirmed the bomber of their embassy was, in fact, in parliament, al-Muhandis fled Baghdad for the border crossing to Iran. Al-Muhandis was there to greet Soleimani on Friday at Baghdad airport in Iraq -- a country the Iranian general virtually ran and controlled. Soleimani s plane had just landed and he was with al-Muhandis in the convoy leaving the airport when the drone struck, killing them both. A killer, but not a terrorist Make no mistake, Soleimani was a killer. A calculating, patient, sophisticated killer. He was, most surely, plotting the deaths of many Americans. But, despite what President Trump says, he was no terrorist. He sponsored them. He trained them. He armed them. But Soleimani was a military man to his bootstraps. He fought in the horror of the 1980s Iran-Iraq war. The modern world s version of World War I; chemical gas attacks, suicidal human wave assaults, and a bloodletting we should hope the world never sees again. Soleimani rose up the ranks of the military until he came to head, arguably, the most elite special forces outfit in the region, if not the world, called the Quds Force, which translates as the Jerusalem Force. Iran has two armies, navies and air forces. One, to protect the country. The other, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Force (IRGC), to protect the country s religious revolution. And among the IRGC the Quds are the elite of the elite. Its members speak multiple languages. They are spies, soldiers and technical experts. In Western terms, they are a hybrid of Green Berets, SAS commandos and Delta Force operators all fused into one. And Soleimani was their commander. For more than 20 years. And he ran rings around all of us: Americans, Arabs, Israelis, Brits. Let us be very, very clear: this man was opposed to America and absolutely everything it stands for. He ached to destroy Israel itself, to take it out of existence, and he was opposed to the current balance of power in the Middle East. His entire life was devoted to bringing all of it, and us, down. If you doubt Soleimani s significance, his very assassination should tell you differently. Washington understood his value, that is why President Trump ordered the drone strike. Soleimani did more to shape then re-shape the region than any king or prince or sultan or president or prime minister. The man, quite simply, was a force of history. He just wasn t on our side. Will his assassination alter Iran s strategic ambitions? No. Will it slow them down? Maybe.
The 2019 Nobel Prize in Economics was awarded last month to three of the world s leading economists “for their experimental approach to alleviating poverty.” This experimental approach is gaining popularity in the MENA region, and holds the potential to impact the lives of millions of people. In 2018, nearly 23 percent of young job seekers in MENA were without a job. Slow economic growth in the region further limits employment opportunities for youth. And a recent report by the International Monetary Fund cites unemployment and lack of economic opportunities as drivers of unrest in several countries in the region. The experimental approach practiced by this year s Nobel winners, known as randomized evaluation, breaks down these overlapping issues and sheds light on answers to specific questions. And we have lots of questions: Are there enough quality jobs available? Do job seekers skills align with the skills employers are looking for? Can employers accurately assess the quality of candidates? Are young people well informed about economic opportunities when making educational choices? Governments, NGOs, and other practitioners around the world invest lots of resources into labor market programs in an effort to connect people with jobs. Often times we rely on intuition and assume that these programs work. Randomized evaluations can help us test these assumptions, sometimes with surprising results. In 2007, I started working with 2019 Nobel laureate Esther Duflo and other colleagues toevaluate the effectiveness of a career counseling program for young, college-educated job seekers in France. The program intended to improve employment rates for those who received the intensive job search counseling. We found that the program helped participating job seekers find work sooner, but it did not translate into a long-term increase in their employment rates. What s more, the program actually created worse employment outcomes for those who did not receive the counseling. Particularly in places with more competitive job markets, those who did not get access to the program were worse off—presumably since their peers who got the program were now more able to outcompete them for a limited number of job openings. This highlights why randomized evaluation is so important: Sometimes policies and programs have unintended effects. We re expanding our efforts to bring this experimental approach to address such issues in the MENA region through a new partnership between the American University in Cairo (AUC) and J-PAL, the organization founded by the Nobel laureates. A great deal of this work is focused on the labor markets sector. One example of this new research in the region is a study that looks at how young people in Egypt search for jobs. Throughout Egypt, there is high youth unemployment, and yet there are also many unfilled job vacancies. Our research focuses on job fairs. While they are a way to connect young people with many available quality jobs, attendance to job fairs tends to be very low. There are several potential reasons for this low attendance. It could be because of high transportation costs to travel to the fair. It may also be because youth have misperceptions about the types of jobs available at the fair. To better understand and address these potential barriers, Adam Osman, Mona Said, and I, in partnership with Egypt s Micro Small and Medium Enterprise Development Agency (MSMEDA), designed a randomized evaluation. Some youth were given information about what type of job opportunities are available at the job fair, some were given small amounts of cash to offset costs of attending the job fair, and some received both information and cash. We re now analyzing the results; the government will be able to use this data to inform their decisions about how to make job fairs more effective. J-PAL and our partners have 18 additional ongoing and completed studies evaluating various types of programs and policies throughout the region that address other important social issues. Our partners, including AUC, Community Jameel, and the Sawiris Foundation, are helping make this work possible. We are working with the Sawiris Foundation on a number of exciting projects, including a study in Upper Egypt on capital assistance to sustain self-employment projects showing large impacts for women. We are also working with Egyptian partners to adapt and test programs proved to be highly efficient elsewhere. The 2019 Nobel prize recognizes the innovation, importance, and urgency of this work. This is an important start, but there is so much more to learn. Governments and other organizations in MENA seeking to reduce poverty can look to this important research to inform their decisions about which policies and programs to implement and fund. Of course, policy changes driven by research alone will not completely solve the problem of unemployment and slow economic growth. But evidence from randomized evaluations gives us a rigorous framework to find solutions to some of our most pressing challenges.
Former Vice President and current Democratic front-runner Joe Biden is a good guy. In fact, that s his primary argument for why he deserves the presidency: He s America s Uncle, a literal regular Joe who wants to bring respectability back to the Oval Office, uniting the warring houses of red and blue in the common goal of mopping up the toxic sewage pouring out of President Donald Trump s White House. It s a heartwarming aspiration, on the face of it. But Biden s statement Monday that he d be open to choosing a Republican running mate -- as offhand or pandering as it may have been -- underscores just how much of his appeal is rooted in made-for-TV fantasy like "The West Wing," rather than modern political reality. In an Exeter, New Hampshire, town hall, Biden told the crowd he s willing to keep the option open, even if he couldn t name a worthy cross-the-aisle veep candidate offhand. "There are some really decent Republicans that are out there still!" he said. "But here s the problem right now: They ve got to step up." Here s the real problem: "Decent" Republicans have had countless opportunities to "step up," beginning long before Donald Trump was elected. But those who stepped up to criticize him have fallen in line, rendering their criticism hollow. They could have condemned the racist "birther" slurs Trump used to slander his predecessor, Barack Obama. They could have rejected his public history of gross misogyny and alleged sexual misconduct. Their leadership could ve called out the lies and xenophobia embedded in his campaign rhetoric, and that still define many of his policies as president today. Rare exceptions aside, the mainstream GOP has remained aligned in its support of Trump. But rather than stepping up, they ve knelt down -- to pledge fealty to a President who has embraced some of the viewpoint of white nationalists, elevated kin to the highest of offices, drained America s coffers into the pockets of his fellow billionaires (and his own, of course), corrupted our essential civic institutions and sold out long-standing foreign policy norms and goals. Naturally, Biden made clear that he expected his running mate, regardless of party, to be in lockstep with his priorities. "We could disagree on tactics, but strategically we d have to be in the exact same page," he said. But how could such strategic alignment even be possible given the that the singular priority for most of today s Republican Party seems to be defending their leader s use of the powers and resources of the US government in a concerted political attempt to destroy Biden himself? Biden s persistent bright-eyed attempts to push bipartisanship aren t evidence that he s a relic of the past, because the past was never particularly bipartisan. Contrary to Biden s cheery anecdotes of Senate collaboration with former segregationists, legislative compromise comes from genial backslaps and warm hugs less often than a campaigning candidate would like to admit; more often it has emerged from one dominant party slamming through its preferred agenda, and the other grinding it into a more acceptable shape. History shows successful bipartisan executive leadership a lot less often than Hollywood likes to. The only "unity ticket" ever to win the White House came about in 1864 in the throes of the Civil War, and it arose from Abe Lincoln s Hail Mary decision to join with Andrew Johnson, Democratic governor of Union-occupied Tennessee, to run for reelection under the hastily created and short-lived National Union Party banner. The true inspiration for Biden s bipartisan framing might be most evident in a fundraising pitch his campaign sent out in September under the name of Richard Schiff -- the actor who played White House communications director Toby Ziegler in Aaron Sorkin s seminal political drama, "The West Wing." "During this dark Trump era, it is easy to find yourself wishing we could be led by President Bartlet instead," wrote Schiff. "Sadly, President Bartlet is just a TV character. But luckily, Joe Biden is real, and he is running for president." Joe Biden as Jed Bartlet? It makes sound campaign sense, given how "The West Wing" has become such a beloved text for Democrats (and a handful of independents and Trump-averse conservatives) seeking hope -- or escapist relief -- in the post-Obama era. As the New York Times wrote on the very day Biden made his willingness to consider a "unity ticket" known, the show has become "something more than just a nostalgic drama ... For many in the Trump era, the show is an idealistic alternative reality, an escape from the vitriol and ill-will that they see coursing like poison through contemporary politics." West Wingers are drawn to the way that the series portrays politics as a pragmatic arena inhabited by passionate idealists. But they also delight in the way it embraces a noble version of bipartisanship, in moments such as President Bartlet s decision to voluntarily cede his office to the Republican House Speaker when his daughter is kidnapped by terrorists; his hiring of staunch right-winger Ainsley Hayes as deputy White House counsel; his nomination of a conservative justice to the Supreme Court as a complement to his choosing a liberal judge as the court s first female Chief Justice; and Bartlet s presidential successor Matt Santos naming his Republican presidential opponent as his new Secretary of State. But on "The West Wing," bipartisanship works because its left and right politicians are true believers who strategically want what s best for the nation, even if they "differ in tactics." Disagreements invariably end in begrudging compromise, or with one party -- whichever one is in the wrong -- shamed or exhausted into submission by a rousing monologue. There is no self-dealing or double-dealing; no collusion, no obstruction. That s not our world. We exist in a timeline where "The West Wing" has been preempted by "The Celebrity Apprentice," and bipartisanship is both a myth and a trap. Joe Biden may actually believe he s a Bartlet pair, all the way down to the initials; or he may be cynically seeking to fly "West Wing" nostalgia all the way to the White House. In either case, for a 77-year-old Democratic frontrunner for president to blithely suggest that he might put a Republican a heartbeat away from the Oval Office is disheartening at best -- and disqualifying at worst. Let me end this piece with a "West Wing" quote, a parable famously told by the show s beloved White House chief of staff, Leo McGarry: "This guy s walking down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep, he can t get out. A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, Hey you, can you help me out? The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along, and the guy shouts up Father, I m down in this hole, can you help me out? The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by. Hey Joe, it s me, can you help me out? And Joe jumps in the hole. Our guy says, Are you stupid? Now we re both down here. Joe says, Yeah, but I ve been down here before, and I know the way out. " The point being: We don t need a president who jumps into the Republican hole. We need one who ll dig us free of it.
A TV host at the MBC Masr channel, Yasmeen Ezz, asked me which of the ministries that I had anticipated would change in the recent cabinet reshuffle did not change at all. I immediately answered: the Ministry of Health! While answering the question on the “Hadith al-Masaa” show, I said that had the decision-makers seen that Health Minister Hala Zayed deserved a second chance, then this is their constitutional right, no doubt. But it is also the right of the people to see the ministry change its performance, even if the minister stays the same. To put it clearly, this change can come in the way they work, the way they deal with the ministry s issues, and how they handle patient issues; these matter more than changing the minister. A change there is required all the time, and it remains and lasts with the practical outcomes directly reaching the citizens! No one can deny that Zayed is following the comprehensive health insurance program with apparent seriousness. She heads to Port Said (northern Egypt) where the program begins, then travels to Luxor in southern Upper Egypt and later South Sinai (eastern Egypt) in no time! She must be credited for this effort, as well as her efforts in the “100 million healthy lives” initiative – which seeks to declare Egypt free of Hepatitis C by the next year! The problem is, the ministry is broader than just these two accomplishments. The minister hardly sees other programs and initiatives despite their importance, and how millions benefit from them and in the future! It s fortunate that the president gives these two projects personal attention, and that he doesn t stop following new ways of making them achieve their ultimate goal! Presidential impetus, it can be said, is sufficient enough to accomplish these projects in due form, and so the minister should give more attention to other projects – such as doctor retention, which was raised during the previous period and still remains an issue. There is also the issue of public hospitals and the extent to which they are ready to receive poor patients; the issue of young doctors complaining about a host of problems standing in their way; and the lack of public spending on health, determined by the constitution as a percentage of the gross national product and bent to the government! And still, there are many other issues. If we look to an expanded investigative report published by al-Akhbar newspaper a few weeks ago, we find that while it monitored good performance in two issues: health insurance and Hepatitis C, it detected poor performance in seven other areas, mentioned one after the other! The citizens are waiting for a change in the ministry s performance, as the minister hasn t changed!
For the past few years, Russia has been playing with some asymmetric advantages -- on- and offline. While investing in costly conventional assets to increase its military edge, such as a new hypersonic weapon, Russia has also mobilized aggressive assets in cyberspace. Its cyberwarriors have penetrated some of the United States most critical pieces of infrastructure, from election systems to nuclear power plants and electric grids -- as well as private homes. In addition to hacking into key infrastructure, Russia has also used its cyberwarriors to engage in a sophisticated information warfare campaign with a broad target audience -- the American people. And while President Donald Trump promulgates Russian propaganda about the 2016 election -- giving Russia s information operations a major boost -- he has also given members of his team the authorization to chip away at Russia s online operational advantages, as well as those of other foreign countries. Though Trump may continue to spread Russian conspiracies in the year to come, we must hope he also continues to prioritize offensive cyber operations as part of a key strategy to deter Russian aggression. Prime time coverage Senior US government officials have publicly stated under oath that Russian efforts to interfere in our elections are ongoing. Despite efforts to punish and deter foreign election interference, we have not succeeded in changing the cost-benefit calculation for the actors involved in directing or participating in these attacks. As we head into an election year, we should expect countries such as Russia to kick their operations into high gear. 2020 is prime time for Putin -- his internet trolls and bots have endless, divisive content to amplify online, unless we figure out a way to stop them. Cyberspace force Defending our interests from cyberattack -- and also deterring them before they happen -- is a complex undertaking, and the Trump administration has thankfully streamlined the resources we have available. The administration elevated Cyber Command (CyberCom) to a unified combatant command in 2018 with a mission to integrate and conduct "full-spectrum cyberspace operations, electronic warfare, and information operations, ensuring freedom of action for friendly forces in and through the cyber domain and the information environment, while denying the same to our adversaries." In other words, CyberCom s mission expressly fits within the Defense Department s larger cyberstrategy, which specifically calls out persistent campaigns by Russia to influence Americans. The United States has engaged in information operations and overt public diplomacy in the past, using both civilian and military assets. But by giving CyberCom the ability to integrate and conduct these operations online, the administration took an important step to modernize our information operations and protect our democracy. And Trump s decision to delegate decision-making authority to the Pentagon for offensive cyber operations has probably made the approval process faster because decisions do not necessarily have to be vetted through an interagency process and get the sign-off from the President each time. With the authorities and resources available to launch calibrated attacks for both defensive and deterrent purposes, our cyberspace force has gone to work and may up the ante in the run-up to the 2020 election. Since the 2018 midterm election, the administration has engaged in offensive online operations aimed at influencing specific target audiences -- namely Russians involved in interfering in our elections. CyberCom reportedly took the Internet Research Agency -- a Russian troll farm that the administration has accused and sanctioned for interfering in our 2016 elections -- offline to prevent it from spreading disinformation during the midterms. And The Washington Post reported that CyberCom also engaged in calibrated online information operations -- known as cyber psyops -- sending direct messages to Russians working at the agency, telling them Americans know who they are and are tracking their work. We don t know whether any of those targeted stopped working at the Russian agency, but new reporting suggests CyberCom may be broadening its target list to include members of the Russian security apparatus and Russian oligarchs. Leveling the playing field While stepping up online information operations, the administration has also tried to level the playing field in other ways, including through offensive cyber operations against Russian electric grids. Our cyber operations are likely intended to send a warning that the United States is poised to inflict damage on these grids if necessary, including if Russia takes action against our own infrastructure here at home. And since Russia has placed itself in a similar position with respect to our key infrastructure, the risk of engaging in a tit-for-tat escalatory cycle is high. US cyber operations against specific Russian targets are a drop in the bucket when compared to the information warfare campaign that Russia has and is engaging in against Americans. But they are an important step toward signaling to Russia that its actions have consequences -- and that its asymmetric advantages may be eroding. If integrated into a broader deterrence strategy and properly calibrated, these cybercampaigns are an appropriate step toward modernizing the tools in our toolkit -- and better protecting American national security interests.
Some interpreters of the Holy Quran say that the city of Iram, “which had lofty pillars, the likes of which had never been created,” is the city of Alexandria in Egypt. Others say that it was a tribe or city in the Arabian Peninsula. Iram was a city with lofty pillars and towering buildings; the New York of its age. This city s inhabitants deviated from God s path. God s punishment, as mentioned in Surah Al-Fajr, was the destruction of the entire city. Several legends surround Iram, to the extent that the “lost city” became a source of interest for historians. Years have passed and big cities were constructed from Baghdad to Timbuktu, all of which are civilisational layers and astonishing monuments that capture hearts and minds. These civilisations remnants stood as a witness to what innovators had achieved in bygone eras, which is not easy to accomplish nowadays. The new generations of cities, with their architecture resembling the “lofty pillars” of Iram, were not fortunate. Invasion and wars led to the destruction of many of them. The Mongols were behind one of the worst civilisational catastrophes and one of the biggest instances of destruction of human heritage. Again, years passed and the Islamic world became half-safe until terrorists came… the new Mongols. Palmyra (Tadmor in Arabic) was one of the beautiful remnants of ancient civilisation that fell into the hands of the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group. Its ancient Roman amphitheatre was a symbol of joy and sophistication, but it became the backdrop of execution verdicts. Supported by a number of extremist groups and perhaps international parties, IS began what it called “cultural cleansing.” It carried out an operation of destruction against the fabulous civilisational monuments; deeming them “idols.” The word Tadmor in Aramaic – the old Syriac language – means “the invincible city.” It was the capital city of the Tadmor Kingdom, one of the prestigious kingdoms of the Levant. It was also an important city along the Silk Road between Asia and Europe, and it flourished in the first century BC, rivalling Rome. Mr. Khaled Al-Asaad, author, historian, researcher and curator of Tadmor monuments, was fluent in the old Tadmorian language and conducted several distinguished studies. When IS entered Tadmor, the curator, who was over 80, refused to leave the city. He insisted on remaining to protect what he could of this magical historical city. The terrorists drove the elderly archaeologist to the heart of the archaeological site and a rabble was gathered. The criminals asked the scholar to guide them to the hoard of gold in “Ali Baba s cave”. He replied: “There is no gold here. Here, there are monuments; pillars, arches, temples and amphitheatres.” After a brief discussion, the man was slaughtered. IS bombarded Tadmor Castle with mortar shells and homemade rockets, then it headed to the Triumphal Arch, which dates back to 200 BC, and demolished the great hallway leading to it. It also transformed the National Tadmor Museum into a prison and chose the Roman Amphitheatre as the site for carrying out execution verdicts. The entire city of Tadmor seemed as if it were the new Iram, “which had lofty pillars.” However, its destruction was at the hands of humans, who struck out against believers who had not committed any sin. There is another “Iram” eastward… the city of Mosul. The ancient city and its museum were damaged in unimaginable ways. The Al-Nouri Mosque was demolished along with its minaret, which had survived for eight centuries. Following in the footsteps of their spiritual ancestors, the Mongols, IS burned down the Mosul library and destroyed thousands of books and manuscripts. They also demolished the statue of the great Abbasid poet Abu Tamam. Mosul became the ruins of a civilisation. The destruction was coming from every place and every direction. In one month of the conflict, the US-led coalition forces in Iraq dropped more than 4,000 bombs. The UN estimates the weight of the debris to have been more than 8 million tonnes. The criminals attacked the grave of the Prophet Jonah, may peace be upon him, and desecrated the Shrine of the Forty in Tikrit, which includes the remains of 40 soldiers of the Caliph Omar Ibn Al-Khattab. The Green Church in Tikrit, which was built 1,300 years ago and endured the Mongols, did not withstand the new Mongols. The city of Timbuktu in Mali is also a new Iram and without sin. In 2012, a terrorist organisation calling itself Jamaat Ansar Al-Din ("Defenders of the Faith") controlled the north of Mali. A terrorist named Abu-Turab, head of the Hesbah (the moral brigade), received permission from his superiors to demolish Timbuktu s Islamic monuments. The Yahya Mosque along with 10 other archaeological shrines and historical buildings were demolished. In the 14th century, the city of Timbuktu was a centre of science and trade, and in the 21st century it was transformed into a hub of ignorance and poverty. The UNESCO filed a lawsuit before the International Criminal Court, accusing terrorists of destroying world heritage. Abu-Turab was tried in the Hague and he said: “I was a miscreant. I am really remorseful and I really regret all the damage that my actions have caused”. Timbuktu will not benefit from the imprisoning of Abu-Turab for nine years, for he has transformed a glorious history into a heap of dust. The Hague Convention for the protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflicts guarantees trial for the attackers. However, international law does not go beyond the moral role of condemnation, while the landmarks of civilisation have exited history. There is no use in dialogue with the new Kharijites, for with the death of every one, another one is born. After every extremist passes away, another emerges. Using force is the solution. There are ways out of economic and political crises, but the crisis of state collapse has no way out. In contemporary conflicts, a moment of collapse can wipe out tens of centuries. The most important fact of the 21st is: the present is history and the state is civilisation.
The United States acknowledges that the east-west railroad network marked the beginning of the development of the Midwestern United States, followed by the west and the west coast, with the railroad becoming the star of the American economic renaissance. Russia also recognizes that extending railroad lines to Siberia represented the most significant conquest in Russia s long history, since the days of the Czars and throughout the Soviet era. Before the arrival of the railroad, Siberia had been too cold and inhospitable for human settlement. Even in Saudi Arabia, there exist those who ask: How, in the era of rockets and planes, does Saudi Arabia decide to restore life to the railways — not only to link the cities of the Hijaz, but also linking Jeddah on the Red Sea, and extending to the eastern region of the Arabian Gulf. Is this a setback?!. Likewise, we have proposed establishing a national project to connect all of Sinai via railway network, which will allow us to finally end the separation of Sinai — by land — from the Nile Delta. Such a railway network does not only revolve around economic goals, though those goals are certainly critical. Most importantly, a railroad network linking Sinai with the rest of Egypt ends forever the region s isolation and solves the problems inherent in commuting from East Delta to Sinai. It would help us to forget that the Sinai peninsula is a triangle of land located between the Gulfs of Suez and Aqaba. Sinai, no longer an isolated peninsula, would be opened. The central Sinai region is the most sensitive, because the enemy — any enemy from the east — can launch its weapons east of our borders, reaching the coast of the Suez Canal within 6 hours at Umm Khushayb. The weak point in this is central Sinai, a region with which the majority of Egyptians are unfamiliar. North Sinai is well-known around the world, and South Sinai is famous internationally for vacation spots along the Red Sea like Sharm el-Sheikh and other touristic attractions. Central Sinai, however, is the most beneficial region, economically and in terms of human capital. I admit that we have neglected central Sinai frequently for decades — its oases, olive trees, agricultural wealth, and mining resources. Ask the scholars about the mineral and marble wealth in this area – even the soil there is rich with clay needed to manufacture cement. ■ ■ Do not ask, however, how much this vital project will cost. Instead, ask about its impact, and Sinai will become a land opportunity. The western area of Sinai on the Gulf of Suez is our most important source of oil, but central Sinai is the real treasure, and studies have confirmed that. This will not be achieved now through the implementation of scattered projects here or there, but rather through a single national project that incorporates and achieves all these goals — railways.
The second decade of the 21st century showed little mercy for Egypt, its Middle Eastern environment and the world. It opened with the tumultuous events called the “Arab Spring”. Egypt s share of this “season” was the January 2011 and June 2013 Revolutions, in between and after which development ground to a halt, infrastructure deteriorated, and terrorist groups were spurred into action under Muslim Brotherhood rule and remained a severe threat that only began to subside as this decade drew to a close. Elsewhere in the region, “revolutions” led to civil wars and intensive foreign intervention. In the process, oil prices soared and then plummeted, rocking the Egyptian economy in both cases. Regional powers, such as Iran, Turkey and Israel, grew more aggressive in their interventions and expansionist designs, while the Palestinian cause encountered major setbacks. Ethiopia grew less cooperative in the management of Nile waters and initiated construction of its Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. The world as a whole was not much better off. The influence of international organisations and multilateral agreements waned as nationalist trends gained ground over pro-globalisation outlooks. Xenophobic ultra-right movements proliferated as they fed on and furthered racist stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims as religious fanatics, terrorists and illegal migrants. Meanwhile, the trade war between the US and China and political rivalry between the US and Russia hampered global economic growth and undermined the efficacy of the UN and other international organisations. Nevertheless, the halfway point in this decade brought some positive developments in the form of sweeping reform drives in Egypt and other Arab countries in response to difficult challenges in the region. As we cross the threshold into this century s third decade, the cumulative changes of the second will carry with them Egyptian and Saudi developmental visions that were formulated in 2015 with their sights set on 2030. In a study published in the November 2019 edition of The Egyptian File, published by Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, Hoda Youssef, an economic researcher for the World Bank, described the state of the Egyptian economy at the end of this decade as follows: “Although the economic reform programme that the Egyptian government initiated in 2016 in collaboration with the IMF succeeded in achieving stability and boosting confidence in the economy, it had negative social and economic impacts. While the targeted social protection measures that were taken to counter these impacts managed to alleviate the effects on some of the targeted sectors of society, the measures were inherently limited and restricted to their range of coverage. In addition, they failed to address the harm the middle class suffered due to the erosion of its real income levels. It is therefore necessary to proceed to the second generation of reforms which focus on structural problems, remedy the foundations of the economy and clear the way for private sector participation so that the improvement can be felt positively and tangibly across all social classes, age groups and professional categories, as well as across all geographical areas. This entails unleashing Egypt s export potentials as a basic engine of growth, and establishing rules for competition and equal opportunity for businesses in a manner that ensures that rules apply equitably to all companies, regardless of whether they are owned by the private or public sector. Above all, it is essential to invest in human capital which is the sine qua non for the efficacy of all other reform processes.” Actually, Egypt accomplished much more during the second half of the outgoing decade. It succeeded, firstly, in routing terrorism, and secondly, in building an extensive infrastructure linking the Nile to Egypt s Red Sea and Mediterranean coasts through a network of roads and transportation facilities. It followed through on a moderate foreign policy based on upholding the peace with Israel, resolving Egyptian-Ethiopian differences through peaceful means, working to promote regional stability and forging a large network of cooperative relations with other Arab countries focused on the regional and international benefits to be had from serving the processes of domestic development in Egypt. In this framework, the delineation of maritime borders between Egypt and Saudi Arabia has cleared the way for the development of the Red Sea region and Sinai. In like manner, the maritime borders agreement between Egypt and Cyprus has made it possible to exploit offshore oil and gas resources and to found the Easter Mediterranean Gas Forum which regulates the processes of natural gas production, liquidation and use in Egyptian industries. Egypt will also enter the third decade of the 21st century with its balance of trade tipping in favour of exports and the highest growth rates in the Arab region and Africa, a trend that is expected to continue during the coming decade due to the newfound wealth of fossil energy resources on top of growing renewable energy resources. Egypt will also enter the next decade spurred not only by the upswing in exports but also by other drivers of nationwide development: encouraging the capital accumulation needed for 100 million Egyptians; stimulating the human resource factor through education, health and culture; advancing the legislative revolution needed to ensure Egypt s advancement on the ladder of business practices; and restructuring the Egyptian administrative map to enable “decentralisation” and “local government” to take the lead in driving investment and mobilising local and national resources. This Egyptian dynamism at the turn of the third decade of the 21st century will face difficult domestic challenges and just as difficult external challenges. Egypt will be crossing the decade threshold with a population that has crossed the 100 million mark (of which 10 million live abroad). It is expected to climb another 20 million by 2030. This population is afflicted by three harsh realities. Some 32.5 per cent of it are poor, 26 per cent are illiterate and there is a sharp economic growth disparity between northern and southern Egypt. To address this triple challenge, the current economic growth rate of around 5.6 per cent will need to rise to eight per cent. The dilemma, here, is that economic growth frequently brings inflationary pressures which affect the middle class which, in turn, requires remedies to safeguard against the political consequences. With regard to external challenges, firstly, the countries that have been the most violently shaken by the Arab Spring revolutions remain weak, weary, fragmented and plagued by chronic instability. Iraq and Syria stand out foremost in this regard. As a result, they are likely to remain vulnerable to further Iranian, Turkish and Israeli interventions. Secondly, although the Egyptian-Ethiopian water crisis that persisted throughout the outgoing decade appears likely to be resolved, the 2020s may usher in quite a number of other crises due to Israel s undermining of all opportunities for a peaceful settlement to the Palestinian cause, Iranian revolutionary expansionism in the Gulf region and Turkish designs in the Levant. Thirdly, the possibility of war between Iran and the US, due to the collapse of the 2015 Iranian nuclear agreement, could precipitate a larger war in the region. The global environment will continue to pose equally tough if not tougher challenges to Egypt in the coming decade. As a consequence of global warming, there has emerged a rival to the Suez Canal in the Artic Circle. While the construction of the second Suez Canal and the development of the Suez Canal Corridor give Egypt a competitive edge, the repercussions of climate change, apart from the damage they inflict in Egypt, will affect the levels of international trade that passes through Suez. Secondly, although the ongoing US-Chinese trade war has abated somewhat as we enter the new decade, it could resurge, especially in light of the decline in the European role following Britain s exit from the EU and the repercussions of Brexit. No less demanding a challenge will come from the increasingly fast-paced changes in global technologies related the fourth industrial revolution. Egyptian economic capacities and its international economic standing will come under heavy pressures unless Egypt takes quick action to catch up and keep pace with the technologies required to enhance its competitiveness. Lastly, the surge of “identity” politics, the rise of extremist and ultranationalist trends and the decline in the role of international organisations and multilateral agreements will make the world that Egypt has to deal with in the next decade more difficult, complex and puzzling. This said, Egypt has just emerged from the difficult and complex circumstances of the outgoing decade with its head held high. Armed with the abovementioned drivers and resolve, Egypt will be much better poised to deal with the new challenges.
Trump signed a new executive order sparking controversy among supporters of the Palestinian cause in the US, with the toughest criticisms coming from none other than the American Jewish community. It s no secret that the right-wing in Israel and America have sought over a decade to destroy the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. Trump s executive order comes in support of that endeavor, albeit in the form of “protecting American Jews.” Under the cover of fighting against discrimination, the executive order threatens educational institutions to be denied federal funding not only if they criticize Israel, but even if it allows Israeli critics to speak in its forums. American Jewish leaders and figures have slammed the executive order as exploiting Jewish students as a tool to discriminate against fellow anti-occupation colleagues who are also minorities to be protected such as Black and Hispanic Americans, and not only Muslims and Arab Americans. However, what upset many American Jews was that the decision regarded any criticism to Israel as discrimination against American Jews, which implies that they belong to Israel and not America – that their place is in the Middle East, not the United States. It is precisely the rhetoric used by white supremacy groups, who are very hostile to American Jews by the way and consider them to be of “another nationality”. It is a discourse derived from the Nazis, which they used to propell the Jews towards the Holocaust. Several American Jews have written that what Trump is doing puts American Jews at risk, not the other way around. Yet those affiliated with the Israeli and the American Jewish right regard Trump as a wonderful tool to achieve Israel s expansionist dream and annex the West Bank. However, the majority of American Jews do not support Trump and rather find in many of his expressions a clear hostility to Jews and Semitism, despite his unprecedented support for Israel. A week before signing the executive order, in a meeting in Florida with his Jewish supporters, Trump used crude language long used against Jews that perpetuates negative stereotypes, saying: “A lot of you are in the real estate business, because I know you very well. You re brutal killers, not nice people at all. But you have to vote for me—you have no choice,” as Democratic Party candidates are not an option for them. Months ago, Trump faced firestorm of criticism from Jewish Democratic members of the Congress, after he said that any American Jew voting for Democrats is disloyal to Israel: “In my opinion, you vote for a Democrat, you re being very disloyal to Jewish people, and you re being very disloyal to Israel,” he said. It reproduces the idea of dual loyalty, or rather in this case that their only loyalty is to Israel. One of the Jewish Democratic members of the Congress said that these phrases “have been used against Jews for centuries, and encourage anti-Semitism.” Another said that if this continues, it will put an end to the cross-party consensus regarding support for Israel, which threatens Israel s long-term interests! However, what those members have warned against has begun to happen in the short term. Three Democratic presidential candidates, including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren – who top the list – have pledged to cut US military aid to Israel if the latter continues to pursue policies that will eliminate chances of a two-state solution!
The French politician Roland Dumas is perhaps the most famous foreign minister in the history of the Fifth Republic. Dumas was the life-long friend of François Mitterrand and served with him as European affairs minister and then foreign minister. I met Minister Dumas in Paris in 2008. Dumas, who was 86 years old at the time, was strikingly alert and confident. The veteran politician stood at the window of his home and pointed to the River Seine saying, “I am seeing the horizon clearly as I am seeing Paris from behind this glass. I am telling you: the Arab world has gone through tough years and will undergo tougher years. The future isn t in your region s advantage. Big players know what they want and your region doesn t want to be engaged in any match.” Ten years after meeting Dumas, the man was standing by his vision. In 2019, at 97 years old, Dumas remains a politician going his own way, clashing with Europe and the US and attacking Israel. Dumas didn t change since I met him more than 10 years ago, despite all the water that has passed under the bridge of politics. Dumas was a member of the French National Assembly during France s participation in the Tripartite Aggression on Egypt in 1956. When I asked him about his standpoint on the aggression, Dumas said: “Of course, I was against the aggression and I objected to the French government s decision when I was in the assembly. It was totally a wrongful war. However, I and those who objected ... couldn t stop it.” I said to the former French foreign minister: “You ve been close to Saddam Hussein and was a member of his defence team after his arrest. There is a prevalent idea in the Arab world that Washington insinuated to Saddam Hussein to invade Kuwait ... How do you see this theory?” Dumas replied dismissing the theory and said: “I met President Saddam Hussein more than once when I was foreign minister. He wasn t an easy man at all. However, he should have been granted a fair trial. A former US official came to visit me here in this house and asked me to join him in a committee he formed for the defence of Saddam Hussein. I participated with him in preparing the defence case. But we weren t granted the entry visa." I don t believe the story that the US ambassador was the one who suggested to Saddam that her country gave its consent to go ahead with the invasion or turning a blind eye to it. The American conspiracy narrative isn t a true narrative. Saddam possessed a great deal of guile and he was the person who propagated this narrative to defend his standpoint towards invading Kuwait. As a matter of fact, he had previously envisioned annexing Kuwait for reasons concerning oil and authority. I said to Mr Dumas: “There is another theory regarding the Israeli bombing of the Osirak-Tammouz Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981; it is based on a premise that France at the time colluded with Israel in its execution. The narrative is based on two points: the first point is that the assassination of the Egyptian nuclear scientist Yahya El-Mashad, the most prominent scientific figure within the Iraqi nuclear programme, took place in Paris. The second point is that Israel possessed detailed drawings of the reactor. This roused suspicion that maybe France had given them to Israel." Roland Dumas said: “This is untrue. France was extremely furious. Israel bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor a few days before François Mitterrand s inauguration. Mitterrand was deeply affected. France was the country that helped Iraq and constructed the reactor. There was a French engineer who got killed in the Israeli air raid. Israel didn t apologise to us and this increased our anger. We can t make such a deal. Israel executed this through coordination with other parties. As for France, it remained furious for a long time due to the raid on the reactor.” I said to Mr Dumas that another bombing occurred on Syrian sites and Israel claimed that they were nuclear sites and that was long years after the Israeli bombing of the Iraqi reactor. Was Syria on the nuclear track also, as has been propagated? He said: “There is a conspiracy on Syria. I don t know its dimensions now, but it is real and dangerous.” In June 2013, Dumas returned to this topic and talked to Arab and international media saying: “The conspiracy against Syria began before the Arab Spring. British officials visited me and told me, There is something prepared for Syria. I definitely refused to participate, but France did." Roland Dumas has spoken about Bernard Henri Lévy, who was one of the big agitators of intervention in the Arab world. He wondered, “How come a contemptible intellectual like Bernard Henri Lévy plays an important role within the French Republic?” Roland Dumas s standpoint extends to saying there is Jewish influence in French decision-making circles. In February 2015, Dumas accused Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who called for security consolidation to confront “Islamist Fascism”, of acting under probable Jewish “ nfluence." He said: “Everyone knows he is married to someone who has an influence on him,” in reference to Valls s Jewish wife. The French Socialist Party subsequently released a statement declaring that Dumas s claims were "unworthy of a socialist decorated by the Republic." Roland Dumas is still loyal to Mitterrand and his book, titled “Blows and Injuries: 50 Years of Shared Secrets with François Mitterrand,” which was published in 2011 attracted avid attention. Our discussion went in various directions, and Dumas said to me laughingly, “You have to drink the orange juice, some of the ice has melted and the juice has become hot." I still remember my meeting with Mr Dumas and I am still thinking about his vision that war in Syria is just a stage in a number of steps to isolate Iran. How is that destroying a civilisation and evicting its people from its geography to the margins of history is just a tactic or a transient step? I am still thinking about what Roland Dumas mentioned on exposing Iran to huge and continuous pressure, even if a war wasn t waged. It is the model that I may call the “No-War war” — creating the state of war without fighting. Iran stands behind the Arab world crisis and it also stands, with its failed ideology, behind a civil war in the Islamic world. However, the danger of the “No-War war” is that it is a new and fearful innovation and it can be replicated with any state, even those today counted among friends. The “No-War war” is a new model in managing international conflicts: political blockade, economic destruction and a pressing psychological war, all without firing a single bullet. It is the slow death of the state and society without aircraft or tanks. No battles and no peace, no security and no life. Victory without fighting and defeat without war.
The leaders of five African nations were supposed to meet with President Emmanuel Macron of France on 16 December at the invitation of the French president, but the summit was postponed after a terrorist attack against an army base in Niger — one of the five countries in the G5 group that includes Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania — that left three soldiers and 14 terrorists dead last week. This was not the first deadly attack on military targets in the G5. In fact, terrorist groups operating in this vast stretch of land have increased their attacks which have grown in sophistication from a military point of view, whether we are speaking of the types of weapons used or tactics. The French president called for the summit with the G5 leaders after the French army lost 13 soldiers when two of its gunships collided 26 November when they were providing support for French soldiers on the ground fighting terrorists in northern Mali. It was the worst military setback for France since the attacks against the French military in Lebanon in the mid-1980s. Two weeks later, a French soldier was badly hurt 7 December in a mine explosion in a region known as Liptako, which straddles Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. He had to be evacuated to France. France has been fighting terrorist groups in the Sahel for the last five years. Military operations initially began with Operation Serval during the presidency of Francois Hollande. Serval was followed by Operation Barkhane with 4,500 French soldiers deployed in a war theatre whose surface is so vast that it approximates that of Europe. President Macron said after the collision of the two French gunships in November that he needs to confer with the leaders of the five Sahel countries to hear clarifications. In a press conference held 4 December in London, where he was participating in the NATO summit on the occasion of its 70th anniversary, the French president declared that he neither can nor wants to deploy French soldiers in the Sahel region when there is “persistent ambiguity [on the part of G5 governments] as to the [growing ] anti-French feelings”. He was referring to the change in popular sentiment with regards to the presence of French troops. He added that the G5 leaders should reiterate before their respective public opinion that they want French military help, and take political responsibility for that. He reiterated that he needs clarifications in this regard, in order for France to keep its troops in the Sahel region. He made it clear that these clarifications are a “necessary condition” to maintain the French deployment. At the outset, public opinion in the Sahel received French troops as liberators, but this sentiment gradually gave way to a certain hostility that has been fuelled against the background of inter-ethnic rivalry in the region, on the one hand, and the stoking of religious feelings by terrorist groups against the French, on the other. Add to that the lack of economic and social development, in addition to poor governance, if not the complete absence of state authority, and the result is an unpredictable and dangerous mix. France has lost 4,100 soldiers since 2013. French public opinion needs to see progress in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel to justify the continuation of Operation Barkhan. However, the situation on the ground is not promising. After six years, terrorist groups have intensified their attacks against both French and other military targets. For instance, they are still operating in the northern parts of Mali in the same time that they have started operating in the heart of the country. Also, their attacks in Burkina Faso and Niger have increased in both frequency and lethality The overall situation has become all the more critical after the defeat of the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq. An unspecified number of its fighters have joined terrorist ranks in the Sahel region with their hardened experience in fighting and planning and carrying out terrorist attacks against regular army units. France has called for more help in terms beefing up the national armies of G5 countries. This will need time and money and both are in short supply until further notice. Needless to say, if the status quo remains the same, the chances of defeating terrorism in the Sahel in the foreseeable future are not bright. Terrorist groups have greater mobility and have the element of surprise on their side. The fact that poverty is rampant does not make the fight against these groups easier. The greater threat is that fragile states in the Sahel, like Mali for instance, could face serious problems regarding national unity if terrorist groups succeed in exercising complete control over some parts in the north. The battle against terrorism in the Sahel should be seen by European countries and by NATO as an extension of the fight against Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. France, alone, will not be able to win this battle in the Sahel without concerted military assistance from its Western partners, including NATO allies. Moreover, G5 governments should receive outside help, military, economic and financial, to enable them to face the pressures from terrorist groups that are following a strategy of slow attrition on state authority in the Sahel with the ultimate aim of supplanting them, even if this will take decades. Political instability in North Africa, particularly in Libya, gives them space to operate and time to recruit and train new recruits. The political stabilisation of Libya, according to the United Nations initiative adopted by the Security Council summit of September 2017, will be a great step forward towards creating the necessary conditions for defeating these terrorist groups in the Sahel. Neither Arab, African nor European countries can afford losing the battle against terrorism in the Sahel. It should be seen as an extended battle, geographically and strategically, in the fight against international terrorism. The present selective approach of dealing with terrorist groups according to political considerations and geographic locations is not the surest way of defeating Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group.
Without a joint statement on the form and substance of issues between Egypt and Ethiopia, the ministers of water resources drawn from Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan finalised their meeting in Cairo dated 2-3 December. The filling and hydraulic operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) with that of Egypt s High Dam remain unsettled. Having finished the meeting, Ethiopia rushed, as usual, to accuse Egypt of stalling negotiations by tabling a set of “unreasonable” requests. Some Ethiopian media outlets quoted an Ethiopian source as saying his country put forward in the Cairo meeting a balanced and reasonable proposal based on the principle of equitable and reasonable utilisation of Nile waters. Again, Ethiopia has failed to recognise the fact that equitable has nothing to do with fair. Equitableness means all parties are treated the same way, paying no heed to their needs or requests. But fairness pertaining to the utilisation of water, based on international criteria, requires taking into account many factors, the most important of which is the availability of alternative sources of fresh water to a given downstream nation. Without a fair share of the Nile that would consider the growing demands of population, whether for potable water or for different irrigation projects necessary for ensuring the food security of the people, Egypt would suffer the most now and in the near future. Initially, after the US Treasury Department invited the three eastern nations of the Nile for a meeting in Washington DC to discuss the standoff, Ethiopia said it would engage in the upcoming meetings with a new spirit of openness and transparency to reach a binding compromise. But Ethiopia s actions do not make the grade as they are derailing the whole process. Ethiopia sees Egypt s fair request of linking the operation of GERD with that of the Aswan High Dam and the release of at least 40 billion cubic metres during the process of filling the dam as “non-cooperative” and “non-adaptive”. Satirically enough, Ethiopian officials have dubbed Egypt s request of a linkage between GERD and the Aswan High Dam as “unscientific”! So, was it scientific to construct a huge gravity dam on a deep gorge in the African Great Rift Valley region known for its volcanic nature? And was it adaptive to obstinately aim to produce a huge volume of electricity while knowing that the Ethiopian national power grid will not be able to process it, whether for local consumers or for the so-called goal of turning Ethiopia into a regional power hub? Turning into a regional power hub is, in reality, Ethiopia s and other nations right at large. The question is the efficiency of the national power grid, at the present time, to process the would-be generated power, roughly standing now after downsizing the dam s electricity output installed capacity to some 5,200 megawatts against 6,450 megawatts initially. Technically speaking, outages occur either by a lack of power sufficient for local consumption or because of an overloaded power grid. The latter is the current situation of the Ethiopian national power grid. Amid the failure of the Cairo meeting to settle the pending issues, Ethiopia has, however, employed a void rhetoric, broadly circulated under late prime minister Meles Zenawi, that Egypt contributes nothing to the Nile and wants to deny Ethiopia the right to use the waters that flow from the Ethiopian highlands. Officially speaking, the Egyptian administration, under President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, has embraced a new policy towards Ethiopia that the latter has, like other riparian nations, the full right to utilise the Nile without harming Egypt s water rights. In practice, Egypt does not oppose Ethiopian endeavours to build the GERD, despite the fact that Ethiopia may have used other means to generate power other than damming the lifeline of Egyptians. Egypt s objection is to manipulating with the only source of fresh water it is entirely dependent on. Things are looking up after the United States, the broker of a compromise between the three nations, had again invited them for a sub-meeting in Washington DC on 9 December, which resulted in a joint statement that had two major points worthy of deliberation. First, the ministers agreed that the “strategic direction of the next two technical meetings (in Khartoum and Addis Ababa) should be the development of technical rules and guidelines for the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam”. Second, the ministers of foreign affairs of the three nations would reconvene in Washington on 13 January 2020 for “finalising an agreement” in that respect. This means there is no time to waste and that Ethiopia needs to depart from the policy it has been following for eight years; namely, buying time till July of next year, the date in which Ethiopia should, theoretically, start filling the GERD reservoir. It also means that top international players are finally aware of Ethiopia s intransigence during the course of negotiations. That is why the US set a deadline for Ethiopia to implement the “technical rules and the guidelines for the filling and operation of the GERD”. Failure to reach an agreement by mid-January 2020 would mean no agreement would be reached soon. This is not taking a dim view on current talks; rather, it is an assertion of reality. It would take the three nations some time to agree on a third party, after triggering Article X of the Declaration of Principles on inclusion of international mediation into the debate. And given the current Ethiopian policy of “no deal-good deal”, it will not be foreseeable to reach any agreement before the start of the next rainy season in Ethiopia. While delivering his acceptance speech as a Nobel Peace Laureate, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed made a touching remark in Amharic that he graciously translated as “For you to have a peaceful night, your neighbour shall have a peaceful night as well.” For this peaceful night of Egypt, a far neighbour of Ethiopia, it is a must for Ethiopian officials to take up the slack, because sweet words will never make peace a reality. Ethiopia s neighbour in Egypt needs firm assurances that its share of the Nile, which hardly suffices basic needs now, will never be infringed upon. The Egyptian people have based their life around a narrow strip of their vast country because it is the only part blessed with a renewable source of fresh water.
Things have quickly changed in Libya during the past week, and between the warring parties, matters have escalated. The military confrontation around Tripoli is not new; anyone who follows the Libyan file will know that the Libyan National Army (LNA) has been engaged in military confrontations with militias of the West to secure its presence in Tripoli. Haftar, the head of the LNA, said in a recent conference that the “Zero Hour” has come, and it is time for the LNA to occupy the heart of the capital. However, such an action must be analysed within the overall context of the Libyan conflict, on domestic, regional and international levels. The beginning of the present escalation was the signing of agreements between Libya and Turkey. The Presidential Council lead by Fayez Al-Sarraj signed agreements with Turkey concerning the Turkish maritime presence in the east of the Mediterranean, and in Libyan regional waters, while another agreement concerned military cooperation between Turkey and the Presidential Council. These agreements changed a lot strategically within the Libyan interior. First of all, military balances within the Libyan conflict are still in a state where no one side can supersede the other by military confrontation. Therefore, no side was capable of settling militarily the conflict since it began in April. What we are witnessing in Libya is a recurrent phase of military conflicts that lead to nothing, whether politically or militarily.
The signing 26 November of two Memoranda of Understanding between Turkey and the Prime Minister of the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) Fayez Al-Sarraj, has highlighted the problems caused by Turkish revisionism and meddling in other countries. The first MoU concerns the delimitation of their respective national Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) in the Eastern Mediterranean, while the second deals with future security cooperation and monitoring the coasts of Libya in the south of the Mediterranean. The agreement has led to multiple reactions from various sides. Egypt rightly denounced the agreement between Turkey and the GNA calling it “illegal and not binding or affecting the interests and the rights of any third parties”. Greece and Cyprus rejected the agreement as a blatant violation of international law. Greece and Egypt agreed jointly to accelerate the process of the delimitation of their adjoining EEZs. The parliament of Tobruk, in turn, expressed its strong reaction against the proposed memorandum. The European Union condemned the signing of the memoranda, while the US and Russia regard it as counter-productive for the stability of the region.
The United States acknowledges that the east-west railroad network marked the beginning of the development of the Midwestern United States, followed by the west and the west coast, with the railroad becoming the star of the American economic renaissance. Russia also recognizes that extending railroad lines to Siberia represented the most significant conquest in Russia s long history, since the days of the Czars and throughout the Soviet era. Before the arrival of the railroad, Siberia had been too cold and inhospitable for human settlement.
In today s world almost everyone is invited to speak his or her mind, which has brought about several issues in public affairs that have threatened national security. I believe that public affairs is very much part and parcel of national security, which in practice means that our security is not a static concept that exists in a vacuum but should rather be seen and defined within the context of the local, regional and international environment. Therefore we should consider the fact that the international and regional arenas are in constant change and what we have been through in Egypt should actually help us extend the concept of national security issues to include social, cultural and religious issues. In fact there are two well-established definitions of national security. The first was introduced by Henry Kissinger, former US secretary of state, who said that national security is the behaviour of a society through which it will secure its right to survive. The second definition is by Robert McNamara, the former US defence minister, who said that national security is about development and without development, there will be no security, and the states that are not developing are in fact unable to remain secure. In light of these two definitions of national security, the state is obliged to preserve the culture and traditions of the society and such acts should fall within the concept of maintaining the national security. Protecting society from attempts to penetrate the spheres of its culture, channels of communication and veiling its religious speech with a phony version should also fall within the issues of handling national security. Therefore, spreading inaccurate information, or what we call rumours, is a threat to national security. Recently, Al-Ahram hosted a roundtable discussion in response to President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi s call to build awareness on how to deal with public affairs questions. The discussions on that issue were not limited and did not target certain aspects or institutions, but rather included all types of the country s elite, be it the intellectuals, the politicians, media people and certainly the men of religion. Despite the fact that the meeting, which was co-sponsored by the religious endowments ministry and the national press council, the meeting was not about those involved in the two institutions, as El-Sisi said: “I am not talking about clergymen, politicians, media people or economists, but about all those concerned about the development of our society.” He added that“we need to speak a lot with our people on different topics… we should give everyone the chance to express himself… and we should all listen.” What the president was looking for is to introduce the issues of concern to the public with the most authenticated information and with adequate knowledge. We should stress the fact that since President El-Sisi took power the state has been working within the context of “smart protection” of national security, which brought to the fore the concept of “development” as the royal gate to security, because the main target of development has always been to protect the state from traditional and non-traditional threats. Improving the people s standards of living through development is a way to pursue national security by tools of “smart protection.” Most people agree that security in general refers to the physical and psychological well-being of human beings. Feeling secure is a global human value, as expressed in the Quran. Therefore, the role of those interested in the public affairs is to enhance the feeling of being secure as against the desperate attempts made by the “others” to spread feelings of panic and fears among the people by questioning the capabilities of the state s institutions. Dealing with issues of public interests by the “non-concerned” has spread chaos and a state of imbalance which in turn created an unhealthy environment for public security. With the advent of modern tools of social media which introduced unprecedented opportunities for people to express their views and echo other s opinions, there has been a state of sweeping generalisation and a cloudy vision that negatively affected almost all topics handled on social media. What is more important is that most of the information presented is either distorted or false depending on the tools of selection or the data analysis. In most cases that information, be it true or false, has always found interested parties who have their own anti-state strategy. Therefore, the efforts made by the religious endowments ministry will become the locomotive that leads those interested to mark the road dealing with public affairs issues without negatively affecting national security. However, those “marks” should not limit freedom of speech and the people s interest in handling, discussing and expressing the pros and cons of certain public affairs issues.
The title seems like a combination of uncombinables. Fascism is an ideology about political power and a system of government that spread in the 1920s and 1930s. Globalisation is a process related to trade, value systems and technologies that transcend national boundaries and turn the world into small village. The concept gained currency in the late 20th and early 21st century. Fascism is about the state, its national identity and purported superiority over others. Its foremost epitome, Nazism, saw the world in terms of a human biological hierarchy in which military hegemony reflected ethnic superiority. Much of globalisation is grounded in the dynamics generated by the contemporary technological revolutions in information systems, biology and chemistry. These revolutions have not only abolished distances, they have also abolished differences between societies, states, nationalities and ethnicities, uniting all mankind under the heading of a single human race with no hegemonic or imperial order. Globalisation is the route to end ignorance, disease, poverty and isolation. After mankind conquered space, the planet and its inhabitants became one. In short, fascism is an outlook that shrinks the world into the space of a single state or ethnic group, while globalisation expands the view to embrace all mankind in a shared destiny. Nevertheless, the prevalent view on the current direction of history and international relations is that many countries are moving to the political right, in all its populist, isolationist and racist hues, with the rise of politicians reminiscent of Nazi and fascist leaders. The trend poses a major challenge to globalisation which right wing opinion has abridged to the movement of peoples across borders and the threat this ostensibly poses to national sovereignty. In a way, both concepts have been undergoing a lot of revision lately and much theorising has been devoted to trying to shed the stigma of certain outlooks that may have contributed to shaping and defining the decade that is about to end, along with its more flagrant features associated with the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States and the near certain of departure of the UK from the EU in the process called Brexit. In an article called “Economists on the run”, appearing in Foreign Policy on 22 October 2019, Michael Hirsh cites the Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman who admitted that his own understanding of economics had been “seriously deficient” and that he, and other economic experts, had “missed a crucial part of the story” about globalisation because they failed to realise that it would lead to “hyper-globalisation” and “huge economic and social upheaval, particularly of the industrial middle class in America”. Hirsh added that Krugman said economists had made a “major mistake” in underestimating Chinese competition which severely hit many working-class communities. Krugman also said that much of the past 30 years of macroeconomics was “spectacularly useless at best, and positively harmful at worst”. Hirsh cites other eminent economists and it appears that most of them agree that three factors hampered globalisation: the inequality it generated, the impact of the competition between the US and China, which economists had previously underestimated, and the fact that the adverse impacts of globalisation extended beyond poor nations to affect the working and middle classes in developed nations. In another Foreign Policy article, “Don t call Donald Trump a fascist”, dated 2 November, modern European historian Eliah Bures turns to the ongoing debate on the term “fascist” which he argues has been misused. He points out that no modern US president, from Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr to Bill Clinton and even Barack Obama — and, of course, Donald Trump — has been spared being maligned as a “fascist”. Like the other “F-word”, the disparaging label has been affixed not just to right-wing politicians but also to politicians on the left. Also, some of the traits associated with fascism have been applied to politicians from both sides of the political spectrum. Bures argues that the model of fascism as epitomised by Mussolini and Hitler is unique and multifaceted, and that it is difficult to find all its facets combined in a single political adversary today. For example, you might find anti-migrant and xenophobic attitudes among Europe s emergent leaders, but none of them seek world domination. Trump might denigrate certain ethnic groups, malign the left or advocate more government intervention in the economy or society; however, if such behaviours show an inclination to discrimination or authoritarianism, they do not signify that he is “fascist”. The term is used far too loosely, Bures says. When people on the left or right use the “F-word” it is because they feel that the words “authoritarian”, “extremist” or “totalitarian” are inadequate, not to describe the truth but rather to damn a politician or to mobilise opposition against that politician or his/her policies. Bures is arguing against the reductionist logic as expressed in the American saying, “If it walks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, it s a duck.” If writers or politicians are going to use such terms and concepts as “fascist” and “fascism” they should adhere to their proper meanings as exemplified by their historical models. They should not put them through a mangle for the purposes of memoirs, propaganda or political ends. The current revision and rethinking that we find in many articles on globalisation or “fascism” are a reflection of intellectual dynamism. They are also a sign that we are entering a new historical era in which it would be wrong and even harmful to apply old terms and concepts to current realities and which, in any case, will produce the more appropriate terms in its own time. Alternatively, we might be looking at a deeper phase or phases in human evolution which produced conflicting phenomena at the same time, leaving us to await the political outcome of the brew, which could be apocalyptic war or global exodus from the planet. Whatever the case, continued observation, study, dialogue and theorising are of the essence. The scientific and technological revolutions that gave birth to globalisation are still in progress. In fact, they are probably moving faster than ever before and reaching the remotest villages on earth. The interactions that have propelled the resurgence of the right in developed democratic countries are also still bubbling and fermenting. It is impossible to tell where they will lead or when the great eruption will occur.
Every fall, the United Nations issues its Trade and Development Report to discuss and analyze the state of the global economy, challenges facing the developing countries and policy alternatives that could deal with these challenges. The report, prepared by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), also assesses the challenges of today s globalization and the ramifications of the on-going economic policies of the wild-unteamed neoliberalism. The 2019 report entitled "Financing a Global Green New Deal", was launched last September. The report calls on policymakers in the developing world to focus on job creation, and increase wages and productive investments rather than their obsession by the stock markets, share prices, and financialization, which seeks to profit from speculation, rent and inflationary increases in asset prices. What is presented, by the advocates of neoliberalism, to policymakers on the economic convergence between the North and South countries is nothing but exaggeration. On the contrary, the historical divergence in the average per capita income between the North and the South has become the reality. The average per capita income of the developed economies, which was seven times that of the developing economies (except China) in the late 1970s, increased to ten times in recent years. This fragile picture is reflected in the huge accumulation of debt in the developing world, which is mostly short-term debt and in foreign currency, with the private sector having a significant share. In 2017, developing countries total debt reached its highest level ever, where it accounted for 190% of the GDP of these countries. This suggests weak ability to repay along with high probability of default in the future. In Egypt, the debt to GDP ratio increased from 95% to 118% between the fiscal year 2017/2018 and 2018/2019 (Egypt s GDP was 5.25 trillion pounds in 2018/2019). But the problem in the Egyptian case goes beyond the fact that the increase of 23 percentage points occurred in one single year. A more worrying problem, which may have serious negative effects in the long run, is that government servicing of debt, (i.e., only payment of interest on debt; not the principal) represents 36% of all public spending in this year s budget – equivalent to 50% of all government revenues and 125% of the budget deficit. The fact that the largest share of government spending is directed towards debt servicing leaves little space to increase spending on education, health, social justice and future developmental investments. In today s globalized world, debt was promoted as an effective engine for global growth, particularly in developing countries. But it led to more financial speculation and failed to boost real, productive capacities. In this environment, debt which used to be looked at as a long-term financing instrument to stimulate productive investment and foster growth in developing countries, has become a risky financial asset exposed to the volatility of global financial markets and subject to the growing short-term interests of the creditors. This is disturbing because the structural transformation of the developing economies, needed for the achievement of the new Global Environment Deal and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), requires an unprecedented increase in the financing of productive investment. At the very least, $2 to $3 trillion per year, at the global level, are needed only to reach the simplest SDGs by 2030 (elimination of poverty, promotion of nutrition, good health and quality education). To deal with the debt problem in the developing world, a set of recommendations at the international and national levels is pertinent. At the national level, borrowing should be limited to productive investments that will benefit the society and the economy in the future, so that loans can be serviced and repaid without heavy burdens on future generations. Debt should enhance social justice and reduce the polarization between rich and poor, by directing public loans towards investments that benefit the poorest classes. As for the burden of debt, it should be borne by the affluent classes through a progressive and equitable tax system that also considers the interests of future generations. At the international level, a global lending program should be established not only on concessional terms, but without stringent conditions similar to those attached to the World Bank and IMF loans and programs. There is also a need to establish additional external lending facilities to meet the needs of the developing countries till 2030. UNCTAD recommends the establishment of a global fund to support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and the financing of the Global Green New Deal. This fund could be financed by donor countries that have, over the past four decades, failed to fulfil their official development assistance (ODA) commitment of 0.7% of gross national income. The list of recommendations includes strengthening regional monetary cooperation among developing countries to refinance and promote regional trade and technical cooperation within each region, and moving beyond mere regional foreign exchange reserve swaps and pooling agreements towards the development of full-scale regional payment systems. Furthermore, consideration should be given to establishing an alternative system to facilitate equitable restructuring of sovereign debt that can no longer be serviced and repaid in accordance with original contracts. This system should be governed by the provisions of international law and a set of internationally agreed principles.
This is the city of the hundred gates, as known by ancient Egyptians, or Luxor as we know it today. I have been longing to revisit the place where most of my cherished memories took place. Luxor is the city that witnessed the secrets and stories of thousands of years -- yet to be told. Since the discovery of the treasures of Tutankhamun some 97 years ago, Luxor has been in dire need for a face-lift. Efforts to renovate the Avenue of Rams, one of the iconic Pharaonic landmarks, had been kept in the drawers for decades. The fact that the urbanisation of the city has swept almost 70 percent of the avenue made it next to impossible to renovate the area. The avenue stretches along Luxor for 2,750 metres from Karnak to Luxor Temple. In 2009, the former governor of Luxor, Samir Farag, exerted remarkable efforts to bring to the fore the urgent need to renovate the Avenue of Rams. But the lack of funding brought those efforts to a standstill and the whole idea was shelved in 2011 despite its importance to attract more tourists to Luxor. However, the instructions given by President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to pursue the renovation works on the avenue had a miraculous effect. For more than 3,000 years, kings, queens, top officials and pastors passed along the Avenue of Rams where 1,200 pieces of exquisite arts and crafts identify the avenue and create a glorious, lively scene of ancient Egypt. The 12,000 statues of rams with lions bodies and men s heads, dot the passage which, when renovated, will turn Luxor into an international open museum. The world will keep a close eye on the details of such a magnificent archaeological event. There are many mega projects which will soon be inaugurated in Luxor, like the international Olympic city in new Thebes and an international stadium. The two facilities will host sports activities, camps for European and national sports clubs. Moreover, the Luxor University will have a new well-established headquarters to manage its scattered schools and play a leading role via its ties with various Arab and international universities. During my recent visit to Luxor, I had the chance to see the accomplishment of almost 80 percent of the "Visual identity of Luxor" which turned the city into a historical site with modern features. From the very moment of landing at Luxor International Airport to the Nile Corniche, I saw boats colourfully decorated and horse-drawn carriages along the roads, giving the city an exquisite flavour. The "Visual identity of Luxor" is the project presented by the students of the German University in Cairo at the sixth National Youth Forum, held at Cairo University. The idea of the project, which was embraced by President El-Sisi, is to establish a visual identity for each of Egypt s governorates. In collaboration with the Engineering Establishment and the German University, a small army of 4,000 students, teachers and professors have been working around the clock to implement the designs of Yasmine and Ghada Waly; two students from the School of Applied Arts at the university. For almost two years now, the team has been able to create a new vision marked with labels and logos that match the city s history, placing them throughout the city, thus embedding an international brand for Luxor. The majority of designs employ semi-hieroglyphic letters and colours that reflect the long history of the well-branded city of Luxor. This visual identity is all around the city. You can almost see the ancient city that has gloriously evolved into a modern beautiful city. The governor of Luxor, Mostafa Alham, said the new visual identity calls for a better understanding and a drastic change of behaviour and the collective approach to the concept of tourism which can be achieved with the efforts of the young people in the city. The visual identity of the city, according to the governor, is branded at the vital archaeological sites in a unified form. The success story of the visual identity in Luxor is the beginning of a nationwide plan to focus on the main themes and features of each governorate in Egypt.
Despite Turkey s attempts to gain a foothold in North Africa and the Mediterranean, the world community was taken by surprise when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed an agreement with the Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord in Libya, Fayez Al-Sarraj. The agreement covers security and military cooperation as well as the demarcation of maritime boundaries, immediately rejected by Egypt, Greece and Cyprus, raising tensions in the Mediterranean Sea. Egypt, Greece and Cyprus insist that the declaration between Turkey and Sarraj s government has no legal weight, does not impact the rights of countries on the Mediterranean Sea, and that Al-Sarraj has overstepped his authority. Article 8 of the Skhirat Agreement signed by Libyan parties in 2015 defines the powers of the Libyan prime minister in Tripoli and gives the power to sign international agreements to the Presidential Council, not its chairman alone, which means Al-Sarraj s signature on this agreement is void and does not affect the rights of other countries on the Mediterranean. The biggest question is the timing of the Turkish move, when parties are trying to find a solution to the Libyan crisis and make the Berlin political process succeed. Germany will host a broad conference on Libya before the end of the year. With extraordinary tenacity, Erdogan said he will present the agreement to the Turkish parliament soon, and that all articles will be implemented, a clear violation of international law. Turkey began exploring for oil and gas in the Mediterranean Sea, a step the EU described as illegal. In October, Erdogan said that Turkish interference in Libya is an “inherent right” as Libya is the inheritance of his ancestors. This was strongly criticised by senior Libyan politicians including Parliament Speaker Aqila Saleh who described Erdogan s statements as “colonialist”, constituting interference in Libya s domestic affairs, and also an excuse to support terrorists and propagate “historical fallacies” in support of armed groups and militias who control Tripoli. Analysts believe the illegal agreement allows Al-Sarraj s government to receive military and logistical support from Ankara to fight the Libyan National Army led by General Khalifa Haftar. It also affords Turkey the right to use Libyan airspace, waters and land without prior permission from Libyan authorities, and build military bases, which would be a violation of Libyan sovereignty. Turkey s actions could trigger uncalculated regional confrontations, increase political polarisation and provide armed militias inside Libya with help from foreign parties that do not want the conflict to end, but rather wish to increase polarisation to serve Ankara s interests, opening a gateway to controlling areas teeming with anarchy. Turkey s policies in some African countries are key to understanding Turkey s recent moves. An effective role by the global community and major world powers is key to reining in Erdogan s government, stopping its provocations of major regional countries to prevent matters from spiralling out of control.
The one-day general strike that was supposed to shut down France last Thursday is now stretching at least into next week as President Emmanuel Macron perseveres in his efforts to drag his nation into the 21st century. This time, he s leaping onto the third rail of French society and politics, the nation s Byzantine pension system — actually 42 public and private systems that are hell-on-wheels to navigate and give French workers some of the world s most liberal (and expensive) retirement benefits. Macron has declared an all-out campaign to consolidate them into a single national system managed -- naturellement -- by the state. So, as with most major grievances of the French people, going back to the French Revolution, it s "to the barricades," or at least into the streets. The walkout began on Thursday with transport workers, really the heart and soul of French life. Transportation is nearly frozen. All but two of 16 lines of the Metro system are shut down — those two being the only lines that run automatically without conductors. Rail service across the country, including the high-speed TGV network, has slowed to a trickle. And now, the walkout has spread to schools and colleges, which are closing as their teachers strike. Even the Eiffel Tower shut down its gleaming lights that are a beacon in the night horizon of Paris. The strike will continue at least until Monday, but unions are now calling for another nationwide demonstration on Tuesday — the day the government has said it will unveil details of just what it has in mind. Until now, France and its outraged workers have been running largely on rumors of what the plan might hold. All that s been disclosed thus far is that France would embrace some form of Sweden s "points" system — with workers accumulating points throughout their working lives, which they could cash in at some still undefined moment. It would be a more equitable and simpler system, the president claims. It s not surprising that so many are afraid of losing ground. After all, while the official French retirement age is 62, as the New York Times reported, "Train drivers can retire at 52, public electric and gas workers at 57, and members of the national ballet, who start dancing at a very young age, as early as age 42." And retirement can mean a pension of up to 75% of the wage they earn while they re actively working. France has the lowest retirement age of any Western European nation. A lot of this stretches back to the post-war leadership of Charles de Gaulle, who — facing the challenges of rebuilding France and taking the leading role as Europe s statesman -- simply let a host of different unions (including those representing teachers, lawyers, accountants, transport workers and stage and screen performers) set their own level of pensions and retirement age. The result is that France is being bled white by the generosity of these plans. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that France spends at least 14% of its GDP on pensions each year — more than twice the level of the 6.8% spent in the United States. "New measures to raise the effective age of labor market exit will be needed," the OECD reported perfunctorily in April. Indeed, the French government seems to feel that rationalizing the pension system, along with other reforms Macron has in mind, could actually mean tax cuts and a boost to GDP. Of course, other such Macron economic reforms — like a steep hike in gas taxes — are what sent the "gilets jaunes" (yellow vests) protestors into the streets a year ago. Macron had only just gotten past that problem before the pension crisis arose. And it comes at a particularly parlous moment for him. On Monday, he is poised to host Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky in Paris for a landmark summit on Ukraine. That meeting, along with his contentious run-in with President Donald Trump at last week s NATO summit in London appear to be elements in the French President s carefully-crafted campaign to assume the mantle of the leading political figure in Europe, now that Merkel has announced her retirement, at the latest in 2021. The question, following the "yellow vests" movement, is how much more of this unrest he can take before his international standing starts to suffer and he loses his grip on the political party he created when he convinced people he was the answer to economic France s stagnation? Macron is not one to give up easily. Nor should he. The fact is, he s right. Too often France quite simply doesn t work. Its bureaucracy is paralyzing. I should know. It s taken me weeks and two visits to government offices simply to create a "personal page" on the French internet tax system — the only way to monitor my payments. Still, Macron may have to compromise in order to win. The French often must be led forcefully to a solution they resist but that will improve all their lives in the long run. The problem is that most still can t see beyond the fact that the long run might take them past their long-anticipated early and lucrative retirement.
There is no doubt that festivals bring special joy, especially the religious holidays that raise minds and hearts to heaven. It brings our souls closer to God. Then we enjoy his presence like the bible says: “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, Will bring her into the wilderness, And speak comfort to her. (Hosea 2: 14) Christmas has its own magic go bringing joy into our hearts and enlightenment to our souls.