The announcement by credit rating agencies Standard & Poor s (S&P) and Moody s of maintaining Egypt s outlook at stable, keeping their ratings unchanged, could not have come at a more opportune time. As Minister of Finance Mohamed Maait said earlier this week, the credit rating reflects the confidence of international institutions and credit rating firms in Egypt s ability to deal adequately with the Covid-19 crisis. It goes to show, like the minister said, that the economic, monetary and fiscal reforms adopted since November 2016 helped strengthen the economy to cope with internal and external shocks. Economists agree: if it had not been for the role of reforms in stabilising the economy, things could have been much worse. All indices are looking good. Unemployment fell to 7.5 per cent, its lowest level in 30 years, in the second quarter of 2019 compared with 13 per cent six years ago. Foreign reserves recorded more than $45 billion compared to $17 billion three years ago. The country s budget deficit came in at 8.2 per cent of GDP for fiscal year 2018-19, compared to 10.9 per cent in 2016-17 and 12.5 per cent the previous year. Egypt welcomed 13.1 million tourist arrivals in 2019, and revenues from the sector grew to $13.3 billion, compared to $11.6 billion in 2018. According to the minister of tourism and antiquities, the number of tourists who visited Egypt in January and February this year was the highest in the history of tourism in Egypt. This indicated that 2020 would have been very promising for the country s tourism industry. The devastating effect of the global lockdown and social distancing measures could have far reaching repercussions on the economy. Remittances, which represent 10 per cent of GDP, are expected to be affected by the drop in oil prices and employee dismissals. Tourism, which makes up five per cent of GDP, has ground to a halt. And the slowdown in global trade will reflect on Suez Canal revenues. But although the government is aware that the virus is a threat to gains made throughout the past three years, it is not dwelling and is acting proactively to contain its effects. The rolling out of measures to help those most affected and easing the burden on industries are part of a comprehensive stimulus package to boost the economy in times of crisis. S&P, which has affirmed its “B/B” long- and short-term foreign and local currency sovereign credit ratings for Egypt, said the stable outlook reflects its expectation that the fall in Egypt s GDP growth will be temporary, and the rise in external and fiscal imbalances will remain contained. It also said it expected external and government debt metrics to gradually decline from 2022. Moody s has kept Egypt s credit rating at B2 with a stable outlook. It said that ongoing fiscal and economic reforms will support gradual but steady improvement in Egypt s fiscal metrics and raise real GDP growth. The ratings are reassuring to investors, especially at a time when growth forecasts are being slashed. The International Monetary Fund has calculated a two per cent GDP growth in fiscal year 2020 and only a slightly higher 2.8 per cent for the following year. And despite these forecasts being a far cry from the 5.6 per cent expected in the current fiscal year, Egypt remains much better off than the negative forecasts for most of the Middle East and North Africa oil importers, as per IMF figures. While the exact impact will depend on the duration of the crisis and when the virus can be contained, the government is doing the right thing in prioritising human life, regardless of the cost. As the IMF said in its April 2020 Regional Economic Outlook report, “In the current circumstances, the immediate priority should indeed be to save lives, protect the most vulnerable and safeguard critical economic sectors, including through outright support to the financial sector, as needed. Fiscal policy should accommodate urgent spending needs, particularly to support emergency services and enhance healthcare infrastructures.”
“Once we OPEN UP OUR GREAT COUNTRY, and it will be sooner than later, the horror of the Invisible Enemy, except for those who lost a family member or friend, must be quickly forgotten. Our Economy will BOOM, perhaps like never before.” — Tweet from @realDonaldTrump, April 8, 2020. Along with the childish exaggeration and capitalization and the gross insensitivity to those who have lost loved ones, this tweet is dangerously naïve in its assumption that after the coronavirus runs its deadly course we ll all just get back to our “normal lives.” In addition to the profound structural changes that this pandemic is already producing in our social, economic, and political spheres, equally concerning will be the psychological impact of the trauma and general unsettledness resulting from all these changes. It is our reaction to this shock that will ultimately shape how we view our lives, understand our world, and deal with challenges in the post-pandemic order. We ve seen this repeatedly play out in human history, including here in the United States. During the last century, the impact of two World Wars and the Great Depression resulted in severe social and economic dislocation – which only later spawned profoundly transformative movements. Both World Wars, for example, fueled intense xenophobia and nativist movements that caused enormous suffering for millions of immigrants and their descendants. As massive numbers of young men went off to fight in these cataclysmic conflicts, women entered the workplace to fill the jobs left vacant. At the same time, Black Americans migrated north in search of employment. New industries and cities grew as the wartime economy flourished to meet the needs of a burgeoning military. When the wars ended and “Johnny came home,” many were shaken by trauma, lost, and unable to return to normalcy. Those who were able to go back to work ended up displacing the women and Black Americans who had filled those jobs – thus planting seeds that would later grow into the women s movement and the northern civil rights movement. At the same time, the dislocation brought on by rapid urbanization, especially in the South, gave rise to a uniquely American form of religious fundamentalism. The trauma brought on by the Vietnam War also had a severe impact. The pain of loss in that war still haunts the lives of survivors and their families and, for a time, psychologically damaged returning veterans swelled the ranks of the urban homeless and addicted. In addition, the controversy fomented by this unpopular war created a deep divide in American society. On one side stood flag-waving “patriots,” while on the other we saw the emergence of a counter-cultural movement that challenged and transformed American cultural mores. These divisions have continued to haunt the “Vietnam generation” until the present day. We needn t, however, go back to last century s World Wars, the Great Depression, or the War in Vietnam and the transformations brought on by these unsettling “shocks to the system.” Instead, we can look to the impact of the more recent Great Recession of 2008-2009 as a case in point. In late 2008, a sudden financial collapse wreaked havoc on the American economy. Banks were closing, major industries were in danger of collapse, and the financial markets were plummeting and in disarray. In a matter of just a few months, middle-class Americans saw their pension funds depleted, unemployment doubling, and one-in-five homeowners threatened with foreclosure. The immediate impact was in evidence in our polling. Up until that time, when asked what we call the “American Dream” question – “Will your children be better off than you are right now?” respondents would answer “Yes” by a margin of two-to-one. Now, the tables had turned and by the same two-to-one margin Americans were answering “No.” What was fascinating was that in the November 2008 election, voters responded not by recoiling in fear but with hope for the future by electing Barack Obama as president. Republicans, however, sensing an opportunity, preyed on the vulnerabilities of the traumatized middle class. They launched, funded, and organized the “Birther Movement” and the “Tea Party” exploiting racial resentment (their “go to” tactic since the days of Richard Nixon s “Southern Strategy”) and fear of immigrants and minorities, especially Arabs and Muslims (which they had cultivated in the wake of 9/11), and the mistrust of government (that ironically grew as a result of the dishonest and failed wars led by the Bush Administration as well as its disastrous bungling of Hurricane Katrina). It might very well be said that the seeds of “Trumpism” were planted in this period. But what is important to remember is that while the GOP planted the seeds, it was the traumas from 9/11 through the Recession of 2008/9 that created the fertile ground enabling them to grow and bear their bitter fruit. In the midst of this current crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, we are witnessing yet another traumatic shock to the system. Signs of unsettling dislocation are everywhere: unemployment is skyrocketing; schools, businesses, and churches are closed; many small businesses are shuttered, never to reopen; a “wartime gig economy” of individuals providing needed services is flourishing; candidates for elective office have been forced withdraw or alter how they reach voters, elections are being postponed, and political conventions canceled; city centers have become ghost towns with many workers, obeying lockdown orders, now teleworking from home; essential services are strained to the breaking point; and the government is taking on massive new debt in an effort to forestall economic collapse. Millions are living in forced isolation and the strains and fears of the illness and economic uncertainty are taking a toll. One day we may discover an effective way of treating this virus and/or a vaccine to protect us from it. At that point, the lockdowns will end, and we may return to work. But will we, as some naively predict, go back to living as we did before? Or will the changes we are now experiencing, transform the way we conduct our lives? There have been a number of thoughtful essays about what the future will hold for our economy and our social and political institutions. They are fascinating and the discussion they are prompting us to have is an important one. But aside from the structural changes that may occur, what concerns me here is the impact that this trauma will have on our collective psyche. While we cannot predict where this will lead us, we can be certain that the shock and fear created by the pandemic are once again plowing fertile ground for future social and political movements. How long it will take for them to ferment; how many of them will emerge; what their messages may be; who will lead them; and how effective or long-lasting their impact will be – this we cannot predict. But what we should know is that we will not just go back to where and how we were before the pandemic
Recently, the ongoing concern about the coronavirus pandemic taking over the world and the damages it may cause in the near future has led to the inability to control societies and individuals; our minds and hearts became preoccupied with this. However, our obsession with the virus has overshadowed our thinking to the point that it invaded our minds before our bodies to an illogical degree, and even limited the role of the majority of us to just staying at home. That is why I found it my duty to draw your attention, dear reader, towards a very important topic that has always gripped me and occupied my mind, until it became one of my top priorities and goals, something I aspire to offer to help contribute to the progress and advancement of nations and societies: The youth and their potential. I have often been asked about the reason for my keen interest in the youth, and why I exert most of my efforts towards discovering, generating, and developing their potential energies. My answer was always somewhat different each time, depending on the situation and to whom it was addressed, but the heart of what I say has always been the same. My vision is that the youth are the most important pillar on which society is built. Their potential represents a generation with broad knowledge, full of renewal, eager for achievement, and waiting for the opportunity to show the world its creativity and capabilities. Indeed, youth is a fundamental stage in a everyone’s life, starting from realizing the nature of oneself and building personality, defining intellectual, ideological, professional and social identity, until reaching maturity and many years of progress, achievement and contribution to building society and preserving its continuity. Therefore, the youth represent the backbone on which humankind has depended at all times, as they are link between the old and the new. Just like a relay race where the youth receive the baton from the previous generation to complete the mission until it is time to hand over the baton again to the younger generation that comes after them. Obviously, I do not deny the importance of the role of the previous or later generations, but it is just like what happens on the race track, as the youth represent the runner who is holding the baton, the one who the crowds encourage and cheer for until he finishes his distance. As it appears, the predecessor received his share of contribution and attention, and the successor will be waiting to play his role. It is very often the case that the stage of youth is accompanied by the qualities of juvenility, modernity and activity. This really gives it a great importance in my view, because renewal is what gives something new to the spirit, which is what humanity is in constant need of to make revolutions that change its course, in order to achieve progress and sustainable development. The biggest proof of this is that currently, the biggest companies in the world — companies such as Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, and Disney, which have radically changed our lives — were founded by people who were in the prime of their youth. They have been successful and contributed to making our lives different the better, which allowed us to make progress on the path of development. In this context, an important question arises: How do we define the stage of youth, and for how many years does it extend? Some say it spans from the age of 15 to the age of 25, while others say it extends into one’s thirties. However, I think it is unfair to restrict the spirit of youth to a certain period, because this stage is not associated with age. Rather, we can call people young when they have certain qualities such as liveliness, activity, peak of giving, productivity and intellectual creativity, and this, in my view, is what makes it the most important stage of life — in my opinion, the dominant stage. Therefore, we need to exert tremendous effort to take care of the youth, to try to embrace their potentials, invest their creativity, and push them to more contribution depending on what each of them excels at. If we want to talk about the ways and methods to build strong, intelligent youth, we will find ourselves facing many fields and domains that will need many more articles. Therefore, I will very briefly touch on two important domains: The Educational Domain: The stage of youth usually begins while a person is still pursuing their education, and here we should mention that choosing the one’s college major is of vital importance, and requires the person to be very careful. How often do we see young people who give up before completing their education, and are unable to move forward because they did not make the right choice? How often do we see young people who finished their education and began their professional life, only to find themselves working in a field completely different from their academic specialization, either because they could not use what they have studied, or because they lost the desire to work in the field they studied in? There are many reasons that may contribute to such problems, such as trying to satisfy the desire of one’s parents or society when choosing a major, or hastiness and not thinking carefully when choosing a field of study. Such important decisions must be studied carefully and cautiously, while making the true desire of the young person the foreground, apart from the desires of others or society’s stereotypes about each major, not forgetting to consider all possible options. However, I am not encouraging the youth to make this important decision by themselves without seeking advice from their parents, experienced people or advisers. Rather, I am calling on them to be honest with themselves when choosing, not paying attention to the pressures imposed on them, but taking advice and listening to the opinions of those around them who have sufficient experience on this matter. The Professional Domain: The importance of the professional field lies in the fact that a young person starts becoming productive and puts their mark on their community or the world when they enter this stage. There is no doubt that the youth around the world — and especially in the Arab world — suffer from unemployment, which is an unjustified waste of our most important fortune. We cannot blame anyone in particular for this problem, or even suggest a solution that is limited to a specific category of people. Such a problem falls on the youth themselves when they decide to sit idly by and wait for job opportunities to come to them without persistence and searching for what they aspire to. It also falls upon communities and governmental bodies that do not invest and employ these potentials as they should. By this, we find that creating opportunities to employ the potentials and experiences of the youth in a way that fits their ambition, while also providing supervision, support and care, is what leads to continuous creativity, and satisfactory results in changing all aspects of society for the better. This will contribute to the development of our youth, and thus the development of our societies. Based on that, dear reader, I must draw your attention to the necessity of giving the youth the confidence they deserve and treating them as people who are able to take care of themselves and their society. Confining the youth to certain tasks, forcing them to stay away from responsibility, and forcing them adhere to the ways of older generations cannot produce a generation characterized by innovation and creativity. What we need to do now is to provide an appropriate platform through which the youth can demonstrate their achievements and experiences to the whole world. But unfortunately, there is no Arab platform that unites the potential of Arab youth. That is why you see many of our young people dream about traveling abroad to study or work — because they find it a better opportunity to improve their lives. And as a result, we lose many indispensable young talents and capabilities. Giving the youth confidence and support is what enables us to see positive outcomes, greater impact and more creativity from our youth, all of which drives our societies forward. Finally, I call on our youth — and the world’s youth — to seize this stage of their lives and to be honest first of all with themselves, and then with those around them. I also call on them to look within themselves in an attempt to recognize what really sets them apart from others, to begin to develop their experiences and skills, and to offer whatever they can to their societies, which need them, especially in these times. I also call on those responsible for the youth to pay attention to them, listen to their opinions and ideas, and try to use them appropriately. The problems and challenges facing our societies may be many, and getting rid of them may not be easy, but with continuous and honest work, we can overcome them in order to advance our nations and the whole world. Just as the idea of change and determination begins with the individual, bringing about change requires collective efforts to make it a reality. The key to the success of this change is the youth, who must not forget that God has created each of us with something special. Trust yourself and do not let daily events affect you. Choose your friends carefully, because friends are mirrors to each other. Stay away from negative people and always look for the positive. You should know that successful people work hard and with determination to achieve their goals.
Addis Ababa claims that Egypt is an intransigent country that refuses to allow Ethiopia to exploit its own water resources and build dams with the aim of achieving development and generating electricity for the poor Ethiopian population deprived of services. Furthermore, Ethiopia claims that under the previous regime, relations between the countries witnessed a lack of cooperation, provoking internal unrest, while the truth is that Ethiopia realised great gains during this period, as Egypt turned a blind eye to the construction of the Tekeze Dam on Atbara River, in addition to the construction of the Tana Belestunnel on the Blue Nile in order to generate electricity and cultivate vast areas of Ethiopian lands. Egypt also agreed that the Nile Basin Initiative would fund feasibility studies of four major Ethiopian dams on the Blue Nile (Karadobi, Beko-Abo, Mandaya and Border) with a total capacity of 140 billion cubic metres, or nearly three times the annual yield of the Blue Nile, in order to expand agricultural land by about one million feddans. In 2008, Egypt agreed that the World Bank would fund the feasibility study of Border Dam with an estimated capacity of 14 billion cubic metres. It is worth noting that after the Egyptian revolution in January 2011, Border Dam was replaced by GERD (the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam) after increasing its capacity to 74 billion cubic metres, and Ethiopia undertook unilaterally the design and construction of GERD without notifying downstream countries or consulting them about its negative impacts and risks. This Ethiopian behaviour towards Egypt in regard to GERD has been always characterised by seizing opportunities and evading any obligations imposed by international law, while no other country in the world pursued this approach except Turkey by building the Ataturk Dam during the period of Iraq s preoccupation with its war with Iran, a dam that deprives Syria and Iraq of most of their historical water share. Similarly, Ethiopia took advantage of turmoil and internal struggles in Egypt amid the 2011 revolution and laid the foundation stone of GERD, announcing the beginning of its construction even before performing the required studies. In spite of this, Egypt willingly entered negotiations over the dam with Ethiopia and accordingly an International Panel of Experts (IPoE) was formed in order to assess Ethiopian studies of the dam and share the results with the countries immediately concerned (Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia). Ethiopia requested that the experts report be consultative and not binding. By the end of May 2013, the IPoE issued its final report which stated that there are many important observations to make regarding the constructional design as well as the hydrological, environmental and socio-economic studies of the dam, which should be started over. In order to consider the recommendations of the IPoE, two meetings of the water ministers of the three countries were held during the months of November and December 2013 where both Ethiopia and Sudan agreed that it would be sufficient to form a committee of national experts from the three countries with the aim to supervise the implementation of the IPoE s recommendations, while Egypt called for the participation of international experts in the committee to ensure impartiality. Unfortunately, the two meetings failed to achieve their objectives and Egypt was forced not only to waive its demand, but also to accept the Ethiopian request "not to conduct dam safety studies through the committee." Meetings continued to select an international consultant to conduct the required studies without any results on the ground, even after the three countries signed the Declaration of Principles in March 2015. In 2016, the three countries agreed to contract two French consultancy firms (according to Ethiopia s desire). The consultant submitted the inception report, but Ethiopia rejected it and suggested to form a scientific committee that comprises academics from the three countries in order to work instead of the consultant! Egypt went along with the Ethiopian request, which intended to exclude the participation of any international experts who might condemn the Ethiopian side for the massive repercussions of GERD on Egypt and Sudan. The scientific committee did not succeed to reach any agreement between the three countries, and Egypt announced the failure of negotiations and resorted to request international mediation. The United States with the World Bank agreed to supervise the negotiations with a view to reaching an agreement concerning the filling of the dam and its operation. Subsequently, serious scientific and technical negotiations took place through several sessions where dam filling and operation rules were agreed upon. However, disagreements emerged on both operational rules and how to settle disputes that may arise during the filling or operation of the dam, as well as the means of coordination and application of the rules agreed upon in this agreement. The United States and the World Bank drafted a compromise agreement regarding these differences, to be discussed during the last round of negotiations. Egypt initialed the agreement, while Ethiopia was absent from this meeting under false pretences. It then refused to continue negotiations under US and World Bank supervision. Ethiopian behaviour of assuming absolute sovereignty over its resources, including shared international rivers, is a public policy applied with neighbouring countries Kenya and Somalia, a clear example being the case of the Omo River shared between Ethiopia and Kenya where Ethiopia had constructed a series of dams to generate electricity, cultivate large areas of sugar cane, and build sugar factories without taking into account the interests of Kenya. The Omo River has historically flowed into one of the most beautiful African lakes, Lake Turkana in Kenya, a habitat for rare wild animals and a source of fish wealth, drinking water and agricultural water for local people. The river dried up, which drove its local population to migrate. Similarly, Ethiopia built a series of dams on the Ganale Dawa River, which is the source of the Juba River that flows into Somalia and into the Indian Ocean, causing great problems for the citizens of Somalia, taking advantage of instability in this sister country. In recent weeks, Ethiopia revealed its true direction after nine years of fruitless negotiations by declaring that any upcoming discussions should include allocating an Ethiopian water share from the Blue Nile, through the application of the rules stipulated in the Cooperation Framework Agreement, which is also called the Entebbe Agreement, neglecting the fact that both Egypt and Sudan are not part of this agreement and have concerns about it. Furthermore, Ethiopia has no hydrological relationship (from far or near) with the countries of the Equatorial plateau. Last, but not least, Ethiopia recently announced the reduction of the number of turbines in the GERD to 13 instead of 16, so that the capacity of the power station is less than 5,000 megawatts, thus reducing the maximum water discharge of the dam by about 20 percent, which will have negative impacts on Egypt and Sudan. It is worth noting that this new power capacity could have been produced through the construction of a smaller dam of no more than two-thirds of the current dam s capacity, which confirms that the real goal is to build the largest possible dam to block water from Egypt until it has to agree to a compulsory water share for Ethiopia. After all the previously mentioned encounters, and after the fact that Ethiopia has unilaterally announced that it will start filling GERD this coming July, what guarantees does Egypt have as to the seriousness of any further negotiations with Ethiopia?
A succession of international appeals has urged the need to see the universal challenge posed by the Covid-19 pandemic as an invitation to allow reason to prevail in order to bring to a halt the futile warfare in Libya, Syria, Yemen and other conflict zones in the Middle East. If asolidarity is what ordinary societies need now more than ever to fight the lethal virus and then struggle to resume normal life, war torn societies will require even greater collective resolve and more determined steps to achieve peace before it is too late. Most recently, the UN secretary general and his Middle East envoys called on all concerned parties “to engage, in good faith and without preconditions, on negotiating immediate halts to ongoing hostilities, sustaining existing ceasefires, putting in place more durable and comprehensive ceasefires, and achieving longer-term resolutions to the persistent conflicts across the region”. The appeal needs to be followed through immediately with practical steps undertaken by the UN in coordination with major powers in order staunch the bloodshed and halt the squandering of vast sums of money and resources on conflicts in the Middle East. In this regard, the Arab Coalition s recent ceasefire initiative in Yemen is a step in the right direction. Channels for dialogue, negotiation, mediation and other peaceful means to reduce tensions and resolve disputes may not always be immediately within reach, but the perpetuation of the pandemic and the spectre of the total collapse of health and security systems in societies already afflicted by conflict do offer a platform for international groups and mechanisms to set to work to reach peaceful settlements on new foundations that prioritise humanitarian concerns in the available options. Without effective communication across the divides of conflict, no effective challenge can be mounted to halt the spread of the mysterious virus and it will be impossible to share already scarce resources in societies torn by civil war and strife. There are urgent priorities that need to be observed in conflict zones. These include enabling medical and relief teams to reach internally displaced persons, refugees, civilian communities under siege and other intended beneficiaries among the victims of the destruction and deprivation caused by war. Another urgent priority is the need “to facilitate the safe, voluntary and dignified return of refugees and internally displaced persons to their homes through urgent, effective and meaningful measures”, as the UN envoys to the Middle East called for in their recent message. The need to rise above narrow disputes and conflicts may be a difficult goal to attain in a short time, but the key players in the conflicts in this region have the power to bring conflicting parties to the negotiating table and to encourage them to reach out to each other in order to work together in what has been described the “real battle” for humankind. The longer international powers continue to ignore ongoing conflicts in the Middle East on the grounds that they are too preoccupied with the fight against Covid-19 at home, the greater the risks that this failure will rebound against them. This applies, in particular, to Europe in the event of a massive health crisis in the Middle East which could trigger higher rates of refugees fleeing the claws of death due to the lack of effective health barriers against the lethal virus in their already crisis-gripped societies. Today, the world has the best available opportunity to put an end to the decade of bloodshed that has ravaged Yemen, Libya and Syria, even if some remain blinded by the pursuit of partisanship and narrow interests, preventing them from rising to the responsibility of the real battle against a relentless enemy that threatens all humankind.
While reporting from Israel/Palestine has focused on Israel s difficulties in forming a new government and on measures being taken by Israelis to deal with the Coronavirus pandemic, the story behind the story is the role anti-Arab racism has played in these developments. Anti-Arab racism, which defined Israel s founding and shaped its seven decades of existence, is now presenting the country with a challenge that will determine its future. Racism is the reason why the Blue and White bloc led by Benny Gantz was ultimately unable to form a government, thereby giving Benjamin Netanyahu yet another term as Prime Minister. While the Gantz-led anti-Netanyahu forces won a majority of seats in the Knesset, 15 of those 61 seats were held by the Arab-led Joint List. After Gantz was given the nod to form a government, Netanyahu intensified his campaign of anti-Arab incitement against Gantz claiming that partnering with the Arabs was akin to making an alliance with “terrorist supporters.” In doing this, he was taking a page from the playbook he and the late Ariel Sharon used in the mid-1990s to incite against then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. They called Rabin s government an illegitimate “minority government” because he relied on Arab Knesset Members to reach a majority. They also called Rabin a terrorist supporter and denounced the peace accords he reached with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. It soon became clear that Gantz did not have the votes he would need to form a government since 10 of the Jewish members of his putative coalition refused to consider forming a government that relied on Arab support. Seven of this group were from the YisraelBeiteinu party – which has called for “transferring” Israel s Palestinian Arab citizens to the West Bank – while the other objectors were from Gantz own party. After still more twists and turns, Gantz surrendered to Netanyahu, agreeing to form a coalition government with Netanyahu as Prime Minister. While all the terms of the coalition have not yet been nailed down, one early concession made by Gantz has been to accept Netanyahu s demand for Israel to formally annex the Palestinian territories Jordan Valley and the settlement blocs that Israel has built on occupied Palestinian lands. There are two new arguments being made by pro-annexation Israelis. The first is that because Donald Trump may not be reelected in November, Israel must act by summer s end to ensure U.S. support for the move. The secondis that with the new coronavirus wreaking havoc across the Middle East, fortifying the West Bank s Jordan Valley is important to protect Israel from disease and chaos that may occur in neighboring Jordan. This latter argument is both explicitly and implicitly racist, in that it makes the case that, to ward off complications that come from next door, Israel must annex the West Bank, thereby consolidating its repressive Apartheid-like hold over a Palestinian Arab population that is roughly equal in numbers to Israel s Jewish population. To understand the future being envisioned by Israel s right-wingers, one need only look at the recent policies being pursued by Netanyahu s interim government toward Israel s Arab citizens, who are 20 percent of its population, and the more than 4.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. At the end of March, Israel opened drive-through coronavirus testing stations throughout the country. None, however, were initially placed in Arab communities. When Israel finally established lockdowns to control the spread of the virus, the lockdowns did not include Arab population centers. So while Israel s Palestinian Arab citizens are on the front lines fighting the pandemic – about one-fifth of all Israeli doctors and one-quarter of all nurses are Arab – their communities are horribly underserved. Experts therefore dismiss reports indicating low infection rates among the Arab population since these most likely are the result of a lack of testing. According to an Israeli press account, as of early April, only 6,500 Arab citizens of Israel had been tested as opposed to over 80,000 Israeli Jews. The situation confronting Palestinians in occupied territories is, of course, significantly worse owing to the persistence of the occupation. The Israeli military continuesviolent nightly raids on Palestinian towns and villages – more than 200 in the last month alone. These raids are accompanied by beatings, shootings, and arrests of scores of Palestinians. Added to this are the unchecked incidents of settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank. These have also accelerated in recent weeks – with 20 especially violent attacks occurring last month. There are also reports from Israeli human rights groups of Israeli troops confiscating medical supplies and materials that were intended to build a needed field hospital in the West Bank. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority, which is already reeling from economic shortages, will now face the additional hardship of the tens of thousands of Palestinian laborers who have been forced to give up their jobs in Israel and return to their West Bank homes. The conditions to which they were subjected while in Israel had become deplorable as a result of the coronavirus lockdowns. They were denied wages, food, and medical care. And, as they have returned to the West Bank, the number of cases of individuals infected by the virus has risen in the territories. All of this has placed an unbearable burden on cash-strapped Palestinian medical services. Early on, when Israel imported 100,000 Coronavirus testing kits, the Israeli press reported that they sent a few thousand to the West Bank and only a few hundred to Gaza! The result, of course, is that while the virus will spread, and probably already has in the occupied lands, the reported numbers will be low because of a lack of testing. And then there s the problem of capacity. The entire West Bank has about 200 ventilators and Gaza has around 80 ICU beds, 72 percent of which are already in use. The Trump Administration has only added insult to this injury. This week, they rejected an appeal from Congress to send emergency medical support to the Palestinian Authority. At the same time, they found the funds to purchase one million surgical masks and other supplies for the Israel military. In the end, the confluence of anti-Arab racism and the coronavirus pandemic will have consequences. The pandemic knows no boundaries. While the Israeli right wing imagines that annexing and fortifying the Jordan Valley will seal off Israel from disease and chaos, in reality they are sealing their own fate. They are serving to hasten Israel s march to becoming a full-fledged apartheid state, and because the coronavirus does not discriminate, Israel s callous disregard for Arab human life will only ensure that the disease will continue to spread and take an ever-increasing toll on both Arabs and Jews alike.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has had an interesting relationship with President Donald Trump. Longtime friends, who ran against each other for president in 2016, Christie was the first major elected official to endorse Trump shortly after the then-governor of New Jersey dropped out of the race. So, when I sat down with Christie (virtually, of course) for the latest episode of "The Axe Files" podcast, I asked him why the President was so insistent on downplaying the burgeoning threat of Covid-19 for six critical weeks and why the Trump Administration was so slow in responding. "He always believes that by sheer force of will he can change circumstances," Christie told me. "And I think that he was like, OK, if I just go out there, talk this thing down, it ll come down. I think that s what he felt at the beginning. And if he took certain steps like closing travel from China, which he did early on -- one of the real aggressive things he did early; one of the only aggressive things he did early -- I think he thought he could do it. "I think what he s learned in this circumstance is there are some things when you re President of the United States that are beyond your own will to fix." Christie, who was driven out as Trump s transition director days after the election in an out-of-the-blue dismissal he says was engineered by the President s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, also blamed the absence of a strong and experienced White House staff for the delays and early mistakes that set the country back in its efforts to blunt the assault of the coronavirus. He painted the portrait of an insular palace guard who has prevented the President from getting the blunt advice he needs and will trust. "In the end, you need a lot of people to deal with a crisis like this. And if you re doing it right, you have to delegate authority and trust them. And I think that the President s been ill-served in that regard." After dismissing the severity of the threat until mid-March, the president took a U-Turn and assumed the mantle of wartime leader—taking the lead role at daily briefings, carried live in all or part on cable news networks. There is no doubt that this President delights in an audience, the bigger the better. It s ostensibly one of the reasons he has been so reluctant to cede the stage at these daily events, the starting time of which he now heralds each day by Tweet. Last Friday s briefing, which ran for over two hours, seemed for a while as if it might stretch all the way to Easter Sunday. Even in the midst of an epic crisis that threatens the lives and livelihoods of millions, Trump simply cannot refrain from boasting about the enormous TV audience his marathon Covid-19 briefings have commanded. Notwithstanding the fact that anxious people are tuning in for news about the virus, what Americans often get is an orgy of lies, distortions, score-settling and self-praise that may do Trump more harm than good. Christie says he s urged the President to curb these appearances. "What I ve advised him to do is to spend a little less time out there because nothing good can happen after about a half an hour," Christie told me. "One of the things I ve advised him, and he s done it on occasion ... is to speak off the top, take a few questions off the top, then leave the vice president and the experts to take care of the rest of it ... because if you re off stage, they re going to ask those people substantive questions. If you re on stage, they re going to ask you questions that go all over the place." Yet Christie says Trump s uncontrollable penchant to brandish the ratings of his pandemic briefings is only natural for a president who built his following as a reality show star. "A lot of the way he judged his success or failure on his television show, as [is true] with most of the people who participate in that world, is by their ratings. Let s face it, that was a major part of his career for the 10 years before he decided to run for president." And, once again, Christie blamed the absence of a strong and trusted staff to persuade the President to change his approach. "Part of what you need to do, if you had a more experienced and more aggressive staff, is you try to prevent the principal from putting himself in positions where those less attractive parts of their character are shown. ... And I think again, here, with the exception of Kellyanne Conway, I don t think there s anybody in that circle who has both the experience and the type of relationship with the President where they could tell him, no, you shouldn t be doing this." Christie, now an ABC commentator, still talks with Trump, and his insights into the President were candid and plausible. But they also beg a larger question. Every organization reflects the person on top. Donald Trump s staff reflects him. More hard-nosed and experienced staffers are long gone, either expelled for their candor or worn down by the mercurial policy shifts and bombast of a president who insists he has all the metrics he needs between his ears to make fateful decisions. Smarter than the generals, smarter than the public health experts, he runs the show. Just watch the energy that doctors Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx, both experts in their fields, have expended in navigating the President s mind-boggling pronouncements, even as they battle heroically to stop the surge of Covid-19. Their restraint is as admirable as their dedication and rigor. And one can only hope that the virus is subdued before they run afoul of the commander-in-chief. The presidency exposes anyone who occupies the Oval Office, particularly in times of crisis. The problem is that we have a reality show president who has run headlong into a grim reality for which he was ill-equipped and unprepared. You can t spin a pandemic, Mr. President. And the numbers that matter
Albeit described by The Washington Post as “old, inarticulate, uninspiring and gaffe prone”, Joe Biden is today the likely winner of the Democratic Party nomination for the upcoming US presidential elections. According to The Financial Times, polls in March 2020 even show Biden beating Trump by seven percentage points in a presidential race. What would a Biden presidency mean for the liberal international order? Would it make a difference, as far as the status quo in US foreign policy is concerned? Let us turn to Biden s recent article published by Foreign Affairs for answers. Biden s Foreign Affairs article is good news to liberals, among whom Princeton University s John Ikenberry is the most outspoken. In his paper, Biden calls for the restoration of US “leadership”. An ambiguous and much contested term, US leadership, to Biden, as to liberals, means commitment to the liberal international order. This means commitment to key alliances such as NATO, multilateral economic institutions such as the World Trade Organisation and the now gone Trans-Pacific Partnership, and confronting key “illiberal” powers, such as Russia and China and, albeit within the parameters of the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran. Today, this also means gradual withdrawal from the Middle East and the “forever” war on terror. With the exception of commitment to economic multilateralism, Biden s foreign policy outline sounds familiar to anyone who has read Trump s 2017 National Security Strategy. Furthermore, it remains unclear how economic multilateralism would be restored under a potential Biden administration. In his article, Biden says, “I will not enter into new trade agreements until we have invested in Americans and equipped them to succeed in the global economy.” In other words, the state will interfere in the “free market”, arming citizens with what they need to compete, and then open “free trade”. A subtle form of economic nationalism under a Biden administration will apparently save the free market by letting the US, in Biden s words, “sell the best to the world”. This is the foreign policy of liberal nostalgia, which simply overlooks the contradiction between the desire for multilateralism and the reality of economic nationalism. In its pursuit of the latter, in however subtle a form, it represents a foreign policy that Trump would applaud. What explains this continuity in US foreign policy? In some areas, for example in US foreign policy towards the Middle East, particularly towards Iran, US foreign policy remains continuous due to domestic considerations. The Israeli lobby, as Professor Stephen Walt of Harvard University and Professor John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago argued in their book, The Israeli Lobby and US Foreign Policy, plays a major role here. Continuity in US foreign policy in the wider liberal order, however, cannot be reduced to domestic considerations: it is due to a lack of imagination to go beyond liberal principles that, for at least for a century now, proved morally bankrupt. Liberal principles, particularly in the neoliberal age that accelerated in the 1980s onwards, lack moral purpose beyond material accumulation and improvement in hedonistic lifestyles. In the age of the nation state, this causes a contradiction that historians of liberalism and empire are all too familiar with. On the one hand, liberal principles call for “free trade” and the reduction of the government role in political economy. On the other hand, liberal principles reduce international politics to a Darwinian struggle for economic and political competition between governments. In the age of the nation state, where each “people” looks to their national government to provide material improvement, endless accumulation and competition result in “total wars” as seen with World War I and World War II. In short, in the age of the nation state, liberal principles are highly problematic: they result in conflict and violence, only to be tamed by the sheer destructiveness of nuclear weapons as seen during the Cold War. Liberals argue that in the post-1945 order the US engaged in the formation of multilateral institutions that allegedly mitigated the disaster of pre-1945 laissez faire. But the contradiction under liberalism remained. Resurfacing under Trump, it once again challenged these institutions, as seen with Trump s recent challenge to the WTO. Biden s image of peace, like Trump s, is based on the false premise that a “fair deal” for America can save its liberal nostalgia and once again open up free trade. What this premise fails to recognise is that liberalism itself became bankrupt a long time ago. What America faces today is a challenge of imagination: the challenge to imagine a post-liberal alternative; that is, to look forward to a new future, rather than backward to a glorious past. Neither Trump nor Biden are ready to come face to face with this moral bankruptcy of liberal principles in the age of the nation state. Rather, theirs is a foreign policy of “reformation” as Thomas Wright recently wrote in The Atlantic. In an age of impending climate catastrophe and global health crisis, both of which cry for transnational cooperation, this nostalgia is dangerous. It lacks a post-liberal imagination that is desperately needed today. Thus, to answer the question raised at the start: no, it does not make a difference, as far as the status quo in US foreign policy is concerned, whether Trump or Biden is in the White House next year. The only real change can come from a more radical candidate, perhaps a democratic socialist who may challenge the moral bankruptcy of liberalism and, with fresh thinking, ultimately challenge the status quo. Whether this challenge will be successful and steer US foreign policy in a less conflictual direction is yet to be seen.
Many parents and others taking care of children are being asked to do the impossible right now. We must raise our kids in the most terrifying of times. Homeschool them amid the chaos and in many cases work from home while doing it. There is no end in sight and we are not okay. This is what parent burnout looks like in a pandemic. Just weeks ago, we may have been masters at juggling it all, of managing days filled with schedules that were bursting at the seams. Our cars were clocking miles to and from dozens of activities -- virtually all of us unaware it was about to come grinding to a halt. Now, here we are, weeks into quarantine, and it s already feeling a bit like the movie "Groundhog Day." Waking up to a new day and a newly minted attempt at routine to keep some semblance of sanity. Every working parent is between some kind of rock and another kind of hard place right now. I know well that I m one of the very lucky ones to have resources and support. Many of us, myself included, have discovered a shift in priorities that would have never happened without this dark and scary time. We are reevaluating things and seeing what happens when you dedicate time to stillness, uncertainty and family togetherness. But none of that quells the parenting burnout. If there s one thing I ve learned from the countless remote catchups or cocktail hours I ve had on Zoom or FaceTime with girlfriends and what I hear from so many other people on social media and from other parts of life, it s that I am not alone in that. We ask each other how we re holding up or if we completed the daily activities sent by teachers. Others wonder if their children will get a grade or need to repeat next year, some breaking the news to their kids that school is over for the rest of the year. And a sea of stressed parents are doing what we all felt was way outside our job description: acting as schoolteachers. Just over one month ago, I was hosting my HLN show "On the Story." On March 16th, in the interest of keeping HLN employees safe, we temporarily went to taped programming beginning at 10 a.m. to ensure the least amount of people were coming into the CNN center in Atlanta. The way my colleagues have rallied under difficult circumstances is remarkable. I was given everything I needed to work remotely and am now ensconced in what I affectionately call my basement bureau. Now I appear on air with Robin Meade with my kids screaming upstairs while I am barefoot, wearing yoga pants and a bright top to look like I am put together. Spoiler alert: I m not. Then I hurry back upstairs to help my son with his Zoom classes to keep his mind enriched and engaged with his schoolwork. Then, I sneak back into my closet office to write my script for the next day or work on interviews I need for my pieces. No small feat and not executed with anything close to perfection. Just the other day, I did my first virtual interview. I was planning on recording John DeGarmo, a foster care expert on the how Covid-19 is affecting foster children. Sadly, this crisis will likely drive more children into foster care as parents who get sick from or succumb to the disease will be unable to care for their children. DeGarmo noted that while virtually everyone is suffering from stress and anxiety caused by this pandemic, it s likely worse for foster children who may already be coping with dislocation and trauma. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, I could have never conceived of running my own interviews on my laptop in my dining room but there I was -- even logging in early to make sure everything was working right before DeGarmo joined me, since it was my first time doing it. My 4-year-old son chose that time to have one of the many meltdowns that have come with this crisis. I ve had my fair share too. And from the hall I began screaming for him to stop: "Mommy has an interview to DOOOOOOO!!!" Yes, I know he doesn t know what an interview is, but there I was, screaming. That was when I realized that I wasn t alone on the call -- DeGarmo had joined as well. The man who was there to help me tell viewers what children without parents are facing right now had just heard me yelling at my own. Gulp. "Please don t take my children away," I said, only half-joking. He gave me a reassuring laugh and said, "That s parenting in a crisis." He gave me grace, and I was actually able to accept it. It s guaranteed that if you re parenting right now, you have your own version of this story -- of something that you couldn t do right but had to do anyway. I hope that there is someone there to see your burnout and offer you grace too. If there isn t, I want you to know that I see you. There is no supreme act of juggling that could bring all of this into balance. You are doing your best. Bottom line, this crisis -- even as it s gutting us -- has the potential to produce (among the people who are lucky enough to be able to rally) a generation of children defined by their resilience. Helicopter and lawnmower parents are powerless right now to do anything about their children s disappointment about canceled graduations, proms, birthday parties and more. That s terrifying and exhausting, but it should also give us perspective. We cannot shield our children from this crisis, but it s quite possible that because we can t, they will grow and stretch in uncomfortable but meaningful ways. In the meantime, give yourself grace. Remember that you re being asked to do the impossible.
With the coronavirus still wreaking havoc across the country, the Democrats have made the difficult decision to delay the party convention until August. But with Bernie Sanders decision to suspend his campaign on Wednesday and presumptive Democratic nominee former Vice President Joe Biden noting that a virtual convention may be required, a live, in-person convention is no longer necessary. Some party leaders have suggested this is a potential major missed opportunity, but their argument may be flawed. While once providing the most exciting moments in politics, conventions have become a boring, widely ignored event. And if Democrats are strategic about it, canceling a convention could prove to be a strong talking point for the party. Conventions used to be where journalist H. L. Mencken said "one lives a gorgeous year in an hour," as a presidential contender s hopes could rise out of seemingly nowhere, like Ohio Gov. Warren Harding at the Republican convention in 1920, who was in 6th place after the first ballot, but thanks to several smoke-filled room negotiations, won on the 10th ballot. Or conventions could mark the end of a candidate s presidential dreams, like Ohio Sen. Robert Taft in 1940, who was in second place after the first ballot at the GOP convention, but could not consolidate support and lost to Wendell Willkie after six ballots. But no convention has made it past a first ballot since 1952, meaning that the horse trading for the nomination that marked past conventions has stopped. And the last time a convention s delegates made a significant choice on their own was in 1956, when Adlai Stevenson added excitement to the Democratic convention by leaving it to the delegates to choose his vice president, who turned out to be Estes Kefauver. In the years since, though, primaries and caucuses have become the standard method of selecting nominees. By the time party leaders arrive at the convention, the nominees are determined. Now, there are two practical reasons to have a convention -- beyond trying to give a boost to the candidate before the election. First, if no candidate gains a majority during the primary season, the convention delegates would be called on to select the nominee. And while this could happen again, it will likely not happen 2020, since Biden is now the presumed nominee. The second reason is if the presumptive nominee must be replaced due to death, disability or scandal. But this could be handled in other ways, since a candidate could just as well need to be replaced after the convention. This has happened before -- and that example could serve as a model for the Democrats today, should it happen again. In 1972, Missouri Sen. Thomas Eagleton, slated to be George McGovern s running mate, bowed out after the July convention due to revelations that he had undergone electroshock therapy. In that case, the convention was not reconstituted. Instead, the Democratic National Committee held an emergency meeting in August and ratified the new running mate, Sargent Shriver. An official convention meeting wasn t needed to make that change. Conventions today amount to several days of political theater -- and not particularly exciting ones at that. While the candidates may want the convention bounce, polls indicate that the bounce is often a momentary uptick that usually dissipates within days. The value of the convention as a campaign rallying point is, at the very least, overstated. The broadcast networks used to devote four days worth of "gavel to gavel" coverage (all-day coverage) to the convention. But that has been cut back, since viewers are just not interested in watching the spectacle, outside of the presidential nominees speeches. And the ratings of the conventions have wavered over the years. According to Nielsen ratings, Donald Trump s speech in 2016 received an estimated 6 million fewer viewers than John McCain s in 2008. Despite the decreased importance of the conventions, President Donald Trump has insisted the Republican National Convention will take place in Charlotte at the end of August, saying there is "no contingency plan." This gives Democrats a unique opportunity to provide a marked contrast. By skipping a convention and instead holding a smaller event with social distancing procedures in place or even an entirely virtual event, Democrats can show that Biden is willing to listen to scientific authority when American lives are at risk. In short, they may be able to gain some needed popular support by taking people s health more seriously than their Republican counterparts.
Much is still unknown about Covid-19, but one thing is certain: Owning a gun does not make you any safer from it. But that didn t stop the Trump administration from caving to the firearm industry by treating gun store workers just like the real frontline responders-- police, doctors, nurses-- in new advisory guidelines issued to state and local officials that designate who should be allowed to keep working during the pandemic. It is both shameful and nonsensical for the federal government to deem gun stores essential, a special privilege that millions of other shuttered small businesses can only dream about. The argument for keeping grocery stores and pharmacies open during a pandemic is self-evident. People need to be able to access food and medication in order to preserve public health, so it s worth the risk of allowing people to congregate -- while observing social distancing. This calculus clearly doesn t apply to firearm sales. In fact, when you examine the evidence, it s clear that allowing gun stores to stay open in a time of self-quarantine and heightened stress will likely send more people to the hospital just when our medical system is already under unprecedented strain. We only need to look back to the 2008 financial crisis for indications that the economic conditions created by coronavirus could be deadly. Researchers estimate that 4,750 more Americans died by suicide during the Great Recession than would have been expected otherwise, and they attribute some of this increase to rising unemployment. Given that this week s unemployment numbers already dwarf what we saw then, there is good reason to believe that the risk of suicide will rise, and that s even more true for people with easy access to a gun -- about half of all suicide deaths are with a firearm, according to CDC data analyzed by the Pew Research Center. All told, an average of 22,926 people die by gun suicide every year. But firearm suicide is not the only form of gun violence that needs to be considered when factoring in whether to keep gun stores open. At least 4.6 million American children live in homes with unsecured guns, and many of those children are now confined to those homes, with lots of free time on their hands -- and lots of new worries. Recently, a 13-year-old in New Mexico was killed when his cousin allegedly shot him with a gun that the cousin said he brought home to "protect" himself during the pandemic. In addition, parents -- especially parents who own guns -- should be aware that research has shown a link between social isolation and suicide in young people. Those victims of domestic violence who are now staying inside with their abusers around the clock are also at greater risk. Cities across the country are seeing dramatic spikes in domestic violence calls. For instance, as coronavirus cases increased in Tennessee, the Nashville YWCA reported a 55% increase in calls during the first two weeks of March when compared to last year during the same time. And again, the combination of more domestic violence incidents and more guns in circulation is cause for alarm. When a firearm is present in domestic violence situations, women are five times more likely to be killed, according to a study. The first step to reducing these types of gun violence is ensuring that every gun in every home is securely stored. That s why the organization I represent, Everytown for Gun Safety, is aggressively promoting our Be SMART program, which encourages gun owners to keep their firearms locked, unloaded, and separate from ammunition. Unfortunately, such common sense efforts to prevent avoidable tragedies are being undermined by the gun industry, which jumped at the opportunity to exploit the pandemic for every last cent. On the marketing front, they ve been using time-tested fear tactics to drive up gun sales. These days, the National Rifle Association s social media feeds read like something out of a dystopian fantasy novel. According to the gun lobby, we live in "a dangerous world" of "gun-grabbing politicians" and "reported prisoner furloughs," a world where "the 2nd Amendment is often all we have." In a new low, the NRA is using this deadly Covid-19 pandemic to advance its radical agenda and sell more guns. And while the group argues that closing gun stores violates the Second Amendment, there s nothing in the Constitution that says the Second Amendment is a super-right above other rights, or that requires gun stores to be singled out for special treatment during the most serious public health emergency of the last century. On the political front, lobbyists for the gun industry have leaned hard on public officials to let gun stores stay open, and the Trump administration folded like a house of straw. This should come as no surprise -- in 2016, the NRA spent more than $30 million on President Donald Trump s election effort, making the organization the single largest independent outside spender to his campaign. In the years since, Trump has faithfully followed the gun lobby s lead and refused to take major action to prevent gun violence. Luckily, the Trump administration s guidelines for essential businesses that should stay open during the pandemic are only advisory, and state and local officials are free to do what s best for their residents. They should consider that with every additional day that gun stores stay open, the number of unsecured guns in American homes will rise. The risk of those guns falling into the wrong hands is one we simply can t afford. It s time for America s lawmakers to hold gun stores to the same rules as other nonessential businesses, so our nation s doctors and nurses can focus on what is truly essential: fighting the coronavirus.
The world is in the midst of a serious fight against a virus that has wrought havoc on the world economy with grave consequences on the political and social stability of most countries. In the wealthiest powers, for example the United States, struggling against the coronavirus has demonstrated that not every American will have the chance to find quick treatment if he is down on the social ladder. The US administration, in a rare demonstration of bipartisanship, collaborated with both Houses of Congress to pass a bill to inject $2 trillion into the economy. The Saudi government, in its capacity as the chair of the G-20 this year, had called for an emergency summit, through videoconference, 26 March to deal with the coronavirus. Group leaders agreed on a financial package worth $5 trillion for the sake of jumpstarting the world economy. The Arab world has not demonstrated yet a collective will to work as a group of nations to deal with the outbreak. Aside from bilateral contacts at the level of heads of state, no attempt has been made to call for an Arab summit to tackle the pandemic. For example, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi was on the phone with the king of Jordan and the Tunisian president separately to discuss how to coordinate bilateral efforts to better fight the pandemic. The United Arab Emirates sent aid to Iran and Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Zayed called President Bashar Al-Assad last week to assure the Syrian government that the UAE will stand by Syria and will provide much-needed assistance to the Syrian people, and more particularly Syrian refugees and displaced persons. In a war-torn Arab world, a collective response is much needed. No Arab country, save the oil-producing Gulf States, can tackle on its own the ravages of the pandemic. Millions of people are out of jobs and hence a decent income to enable each of them to secure the basic minimums for survival, let alone paying bills and rent. Maybe part of the $5 trillion promised by the G-20 will be earmarked to Arab governments that badly need a strong injection of liquidity to avoid a complete shutdown of their economies. However, this is still to be determined. Moreover, the World Bank decided to provide $160 billion to help the world economy to recover, and the International Monetary Fund has said the most fragile states in the developing world will need assistance among which figure some Arab countries that have suffered tremendously from the ravages of armed conflict, on the one hand, and the failure of revolutions on the other. The pandemic descended on the Arab world when it was least prepared to deal with such an existential threat. And despite the call by the UN secretary general to respect a ceasefire in the Arab countries that are still in the throes of military conflict, the call has not been heeded, regardless of expressions of good will in this regard. On Friday, 28 March, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar of the Libyan National Army threatened to bomb the headquarters of the Libyan Government of National Accord in Tripoli in case violations of the UN-mandated ceasefire are not stopped. The cases of Lebanon and Syria are not dissimilar from Libya. Although Lebanon has not been the scene of armed conflict, its economy was in shambles, and accordingly lacking in financial resources to deal with the pandemic. No Arab or foreign assistance has been promised thus far to the Lebanese government, though there have been press reports that the government is holding talks with the IMF to discuss the modalities of a future assistance agreement. The special representative of the UN secretary general to Syria called for a ceasefire in Syria in order to dedicate all resources, financial and otherwise, to halt the spread of coronavirus. In the case of Syria, the situation could get out of hand if the warring parties don t heed the ceasefire call. The threat in this eventuality will not be limited only to Syria but felt throughout the Levant and Iraq. The situation in Yemen is not much different. Although fighting has abated, relatively speaking, there are no coordinated efforts to face the pandemic. The Arab world is at a crossroads. Not only has it to strive to put an end to conflicts raging within it, but also to deal collectively with the pandemic now, before it gets worse. Strangely enough, no Arab country has called for an emergency Arab summit, through videoconference, to discuss ways and means of enabling Arab governments to work together to contain the pandemic before it spirals out of control. The other question, which is no less important, is a path forward once coronavirus is no longer a public health threat. One proposal in this regard will be for Saudi Arabia, as the present G-20 chair, to formulate, in agreement with other member countries in the group, a financial package for the Arab world out of the $5 trillion that the G-20 decided to set aside to ensure the recovery of the world economy. Similarly, Arab powers, including Egypt, should initiate talks with both the World Bank and the IMF to come up with a special financial assistance plan for the Arab world, with special attention to war-torn Arab countries. These moves would ensure Arab economies don t crash land under the combined weight of two deadly scourges: wars and the pandemic. Add to that the dramatic fall in oil prices which will hamper the ability of oil-rich Gulf countries — if still we can call them that — to provide direct financial assistance to their Arab “brethren”. The situation is not doomed provided there is political leadership to deal with the challenges immediately and forcefully. I would imagine a joint initiative by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE could save the day. There are no alternatives. The status quo could be highly destabilising for decades to come.
If it had not been for the coronavirus that has threatened the lives of millions of people, we certainly would never have seen several unexpected political interactions. These movements, though dictated by the urgency and the seriousness of the virus threat, signal a retreat to the safe haven of human behaviour as opposed to political manoeuvres. Who would ever have expected a long peaceful chat of cooperation between the American and the Chinese presidents, who expected Iran to extend a helping hand to Americans in their fight against the virus, or who expected medical kits to be dropped by Saudi jets over Houthi territories? Is there a light at the end of this dark COVID 19 tunnel… should we expect that? It all depends on learning the lesson of the coronavirus. President Donald Trump, who months ago launched a trade war against China, felt the need to deal with the Chinese, who managed to overcome the dilemma of COVID 19. Trump discussed means of cooperation between the two sides to fight the virus. Surprisingly, his Chinese counterpart was also willing to help by sending medical supplies to the US, saying that we are all just waves in the same sea. Moreover, Trump had put an end to the war ignited between Russia and Saudi Arabia over oil prices which threatened the international economic balance. Within weeks of this war, oil prices fell to $20 per barrel, adding greatly to the economic burden not only of Riyadh and Moscow but to that of other oil exporting countries in dire need for economic stabilisation like Venezuela, Nigeria and Algeria to be able to fight the virus. Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad had also received a call from Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed of the United Arab Emirates, who said that Damascus will not fight the virus all by itself, thereby mending wounds of several years of enmity that shattered the Arab ranks. Meantime, Saudi jets made several trips over the Houthi territories in Yemen, dropping medical kits to help people protect themselves against the threat of COVID 19. And despite the ongoing harsh sanctions imposed by the United States against Iran, Iranian officials extended a helping hand to Americans through the Swiss embassy in Tehran, offering to send a huge number of PCRs to the United States, which in return said it is willing to unfreeze some of the Iranian funds in its banks. These behaviours are human reactions to the virus spread all over the world. People are not only threatened by a death sentence, but even those who survive the fight against COVID 19 will face a new world with giant economic challenges. Rich and poor countries alike will have to face a serious downward trend in economic activities, huge debts, and the heavy burden of the social and medical consequences left behind by the virus. Countries all over the world are fighting on two fronts: COVID 19 and its consequent economic downturn. The virus has left no place for arms races or investing in conflicts around the globe to assume supremacy, or for a cold or hot war over oil prices. COVID 19, if nothing else, has managed to bring governments back to their senses and to realise that conflicts, be they big or small, should be settled peacefully. The Arab world should have also learned this lesson the hard way. They should have learned that the military fronts are not exactly the right place to solve their problems. Weakening the Arab League was not to anyone s benefit. They should have sensed the need for a means to resolve the inter-Arab conflicts by Arab states only, especially those who were not involved in such bloody confrontations like Egypt, which has been calling for peaceful settlements. Now, we have a great opportunity because everyone will be counting their losses and will be busy with making ends meet. The United States will be occupied by the economic aftershocks of the virus and China will be busy pursuing its upward development, and thus we should find our way to the end of this tunnel. Arabs should learn that the world after COVID 19 will have a variety of options, they should find the right connection to keep them away from international polarisation. Arabs should learn how to keep their environment and resources safe for the coming generations. People all over the globe will certainly be working hard to peacefully settle their differences and Arabs should not be an exception. Arabs have the means and history of great civilisations that put them in a better place and to even become the fifth conglomerate on the international arena.
During a White House briefing on March 20, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, respectfully pushed back against President Donald Trump s claim that an anti-malaria drug would successfully treat coronavirus patients. The evidence was only anecdotal at that point, Fauci cautioned. Yet, just this week, the FDA provided "emergency use approval" to prescribe the drug to coronavirus patients. On a different front, Trump said last week that he wanted the nation "opened up and just raring to go by Easter," but later backed off, in part, after Fauci called this an "aspirational projection" and presented him with the likely estimates of fatalities. As these exchanges unfolded in front of the press, it became clear that the President and the nation s foremost public health expert were battling, however politely, over who the American people should trust. While the scales may be tipping in Fauci s favor at the moment, the battle is far from won. The Covid-19 epidemic is a critical moment for the nation s public health experts. It is their credibility, no less than the political leaders , that is now on the line. And after years of declining levels of trust in experts, their handling of this crisis will either mark a restoration of the public s trust in experts -- or be the nail in their coffins. The Trump administration is known for its distrust of many experts. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the administration has sidelined independent experts advice and often created a hostile working environment for government scientists whose research conflicted with its agenda. Defenders of the administration argue that the science in question -- for example, that on climate change and the regulations designed to slow its pace -- is inconclusive and that they are merely encouraging an intellectually honest approach. Yet it is hard to find many mainstream scientists who agree with that argument. None of this is particularly surprising. Populists like Trump often detest experts. They call them "elitists" and "globalists" -- and imply that experts cannot be trusted. The irony of this moment -- with a world under siege by a lethal virus -- is that the legitimacy of populist politicians now depends on the professionalism and competence of the very experts they have denounced. Yet skepticism about experts predates the Trump administration. One survey, documented in an Administrative Law Review paper, found that trust in the US Food and Drug Administration declined from 80% in the 1970s to 36% in 2006. And the assessments of experts regarding climate change, environmental pollution or vaccines have been fiercely contested for years. In other words, there is a systemic crisis of mistrust in experts. While it has multiple causes, it can be traced principally to interaction between two factors. First, experts are called upon to provide advice on contested matters that advantage some groups, while disadvantaging others. For example, when the FDA fast-tracks approval of one drug, it can enrich a pharmaceutical company and its investors -- as well as benefit a specific group of patients. At the same time, rejection can bankrupt another company and deny the hopes of other patients. In such a scenario, those who find themselves on the "losing" side may grow distrustful of the decision makers. Second, unlike the exploratory nature of basic scientific research, government experts are tasked with formulating binding rules like "acceptable levels" of a pollutant. These are based on estimates that may reflect the state of the scientific art at one point in time -- but can quickly become obsolete. Initially, for example, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discouraged Americans from wearing masks to combat the pandemic, and yet the CDC is now set to be reconsidering that initial recommendation. In public perception, the combination of these two factors is potentially explosive. It can appear as if rules that allocate winners and losers were formulated on the basis of arbitrary cut-offs, or worse, are formulated to favor one group over another. But a crisis does not have to mean the "death" of expertise. Whatever problems beset expertise, the alternatives are worse. A key issue now is who gets tested for Covid-19. Because tests are still scarce in some places, these decisions are made by infectious diseases experts. They take calls from clinicians, decide in each case whether to prioritize testing and revise guidelines as more kits become available. This is exactly how we would want such decisions to be made. An epidemic requires careful stewardship of scarce resources (such as ventilators and N95 masks) on the basis of expert assessments of relative risk. Yet for patients waiting in a long line only to be told that they cannot be tested, the decision can appear arbitrary. Most importantly, even when experts make decisions based on the best available evidence, inescapably they will sometimes be wrong, and when they do so, they will further undermine trust. Another case in point: the FDA s restrictive guidelines that in the early days of the epidemic allowed labs to conduct tests only for patients who met specific criteria, such as having recently traveled to Wuhan. In retrospect, it appears the guidelines may have caused many people carrying the virus and complaining about symptoms to go untested, and thereby masked the degree of community spread already taking place. But before we jump to denounce this as another case of rigid bureaucracy, we should realize that while the restrictions in this case may have been too strict, we need to have a set of guidelines to assist health care workers in their decision-making during an epidemic. If, in the early days of the virus, we did not have any guidelines, doctors may have given out tests to too many people who were suffering from allergies, the flu or other potentially less severe illnesses. And we could have found ourselves with no tests at all -- and an even harder time tracking an epidemic. US public health experts are therefore entering this moment handicapped by the systemic crisis of mistrust in expertise. And, in the absence of trust, critics are ready to pounce at the slightest impression of political bias, either for the administration or against it. On the other hand, the epidemic may work in the experts favor, because in a moment of emergency we are predisposed to look to them for reassurance. And a skilled communicator like Fauci should be able to use this opportunity. His performance up till now has reminded people that, despite the misgivings evoked by the administration s clumsy messaging, there are deep wells of professionalism, integrity and competence from which to draw among American public health experts. Reliance on them is our best bet, even if they make some mistakes
The Covid-19 pandemic is already in its third disruptive wave in the United States. First came a few cases on the West Coast, culminating in the tragic nursing-home outbreak in Washington state. Next, the ongoing health care calamity in New York City, where the shortage of diagnostic tests, protective equipment and ventilators has helped make the crisis almost unthinkably worse. Then last week, other large American cities, including Detroit, New Orleans, Chicago and Atlanta, saw the giant wave crash over them. The endless stream of new, very sick patients. The lack of tests, masks, gowns and ventilators. The hope that the outbreak might be just an urban phenomenon seemed plausible for a brief moment. Indeed, last Monday plans for an Easter "re-opening for business" were floated, until reality dashed the plan on March 29. That reality is the fourth wave of the US epidemic. It is now clear that the epidemic has found a foothold not just in coastal cities, but also in mid-sized cities and towns across the country. Albany, a town in the western part of Georgia, near nothing in particular, was the first to gain attention as the epidemic appeared, possibly spread by people at a funeral. To date, 462 people have been diagnosed in Dougherty County, where Albany is situated, and 18 have died. The outbreak there revealed a likely problem for the next wave of affected areas. Unlike the large cities -- Seattle and New York City among them -- Albany has just one hospital network. It has strained to meet the challenge and marshaled forces from the region. Yet other cities and towns now feeling the early surge of cases may lack specialists, intensive care beds, a cadre of well-trained nurses and a full-time municipal government capable of coordinating a community-wide response. Shreveport, Louisiana, also is battling an outbreak, as is Bossier City across the Red River. Shreveport has a branch of LSU medical school in the city of about 200,000 and thus far has been able to handle the crisis, though as cases mount, it too will be stretched. Across the Mississippi River sits Jackson, Mississippi, a city of about 170,000 and the state capital. Though its governor waited until March 31 to issue a shelter-in-place order, Mississippi is in or near the top quarter of states in cases of diagnosed Covid-19 per capita. Indeed, the three counties that Jackson straddles (Hinds, Madison, and Rankin) have diagnosed 172 cases and dozens of new cases are now diagnosed there daily. Rural areas in states with previously modest infection rates have begun to see cases in unusual settings. In Arkansas, rural Cleburne County -- just 26,000 people in a few small towns -- has seen 61 people diagnosed, many possibly as the result of a church outing. A 25-bed hospital in the county seat of Heber Springs (population about 7,000) has no critical care beds (according to the hospital s website) although it is part of Baptist Health, a large network of hospitals throughout the South. Pawnee County, with a population of about 17,000 has a single accredited hospital with 14 beds, Cleveland Area Hospital, designated a critical access hospital. The area is also served by Pawnee Indian Health Center, which does not provide in-patient care, as well as a private, unaccredited hospital. The appearance of so many cases in so many towns points to the next crisis for health care delivery. Hospitals in rural areas generally provide basic emergency and medical-surgical care, then refer more complex patients or those needing higher-tech care to a large city, often one with a medical school. If the large city finds itself overmatched by a certain problem, it will in turn arrange transfer to a regional super-specialty medical center. This system is held together by ambulances, helicopters, airplanes, goodwill -- and the assumption that there will always be capacity at the next level hospital. The Covid-19 pandemic has changed that. A hospital like Cleveland Area Hospital might soon reach out to a medical center in Oklahoma City or Tulsa to transfer a Covid-19 patient in need of ICU care. But the ICUs in those large medical centers will likely soon be full of patients with Covid-19 -- and their outreach to super-specialty institutions in Houston or Dallas will in short order produce the same problem of ICU gridlock. This may mean that medical personnel at small community hospitals with nowhere else to turn will be left managing critically ill patients using equipment they are not familiar with, all the while worrying that they might catch the infection from the patient. As has been said, the pandemic is revealing the many strengths and weaknesses of the US health care system. It is a tragedy that major cities are overwhelmed -- treating too many patients with too little equipment and protection. Yet the disruption of the well-established chain of care that goes from community hospital to local major medical center, then to regional super-specialty care may result in the largest tragedy of all.
I am sitting at my desk in a furious rage. Recently I read an article in ProPublica in which pharmacists described "unusual and fraudulent" prescribing activity for the drug hydroxychloroquine, suggesting that doctors may be hoarding it in a "just in case" manner. Not long after that, another article popped up in my Facebook feed, describing a 45-year-old woman with lupus who said she was denied a refill on her hydroxychloroquine at Kaiser because all supplies had been diverted for the "critically ill with Covid-19" who might fill their system. As for her? According to Buzzfeed, the woman was told she could manage for 40 days without the drug and thanked her for her "sacrifice" and "understanding." The Lupus Foundation of America has written to Congress and is fighting on our behalf to ensure the drug supply remains strong, but as it is with every bit of this situation, I know that it s going to take all of us together to find the solution. Together we must not get lost in the panic. We must not forget that everyone is affected by every choice that s made. And we absolutely must understand that hoarding and withholding hydroxychloroquine will do more harm than good if we re not careful. Plaquenil, or the generic version hydroxychloroquine, is an anti-malarial that acts as a disease-modifying drug for those with lupus, like me, and other rheumatic diseases. People who don t have these diseases want access to hydroxychloroquine because the US Food and Drug Administration has issued emergency use authorization for chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to treat patients hospitalized with Covid-19 -- and even though there is little scientific evidence that either drug is effective in treating the disease, people are frightened and want to believe it will help. Promising trials are under way, but there is no absolute yet. What is absolute is what will happen to me without the drug. I can tell you, as another woman with lupus, skipping a dose or two of the drug has had serious consequences to my health. I could not make it without for 40 days. I am scared, too. Scared for myself and the estimated 1.5 million Americans (according to the Lupus Foundation) who also suffer from lupus. Decades ago, before lupus patients had access to this drug, many of them died young. Life expectancy was low. The novel coronavirus isn t like the flu, it s far deadlier; the same is true with lupus. It s easy to forget about those of us who live with this often-invisible illness because our faces aren t out there. Stories of our disease don t haunt the public on a daily basis as is the case currently with Covid-19, but truthfully there are crucial similarities between people like me and the patients with this new diagnosis. When the symptoms worsen, they will fear death. When they have to adjust to a new normal, they will go through all the stages of grief. When I read stories of people who have gone through a Covid-19 diagnosis, I latch on to phrases like, "wearing the same pajama bottoms for days because it is too hard to change out of them, too hard to stay that long on his feet," because phrases like that distinctly describe exactly what it s like when my lupus flares. I have skipped meals with my fiancé because the thought of having to chew my food was too exhausting. I have cried in the shower because I don t have the strength to wash my hair. I have missed deadlines and nearly lost jobs because I cannot focus. Without hydroxychloroquine I would certainly slip back into the far worse state that I was in before I was diagnosed with lupus. It was a state that not only had me fatigued but also riddled with pain. My joints ached. My bones hurt so deeply that I wanted to crawl out of my own skin. My lungs were inflamed, struck with pleurisy that made breathing painful. I became out of breath walking from one room to the next. Changing clothes and talking on the phone left me breathless. I lost my ability to exercise. A walk around the block, if I even had enough strength to complete it, felt like running a marathon. If I spent any time in the sun, I broke out in strange rashes, the fatigue worsened and the bone pain tightened its grip. This was the decline that happened over three months before I was officially diagnosed, before I was on hydroxychloroquine. Now, imagine if I am denied a refill of the drug and I slip back into that state. Imagine I also contract Covid-19. What then? Am I hospitalized alone, gasping for my last breaths? I know that we have all played the scenario in our heads about what would and could happen if we got the virus. We understand the best-and-worst-case scenarios. Now imagine if you were contemplating best-and-worst case with Covid plus another disease. With lupus I m already at a 50% higher risk for heart attack than the general public. Over my lifetime, there s a 60% chance that my lupus will affect my kidneys which could in turn require chemotherapy, or worse, a transplant. I am fighting for my life daily. Yet, I am one of the lucky ones. I am currently doing quite well. The days of pain and extreme fatigue are spread out amongst the months instead of daily. I can work out again. I have taken on more work. I am managing and feel fairly strong. But do you know why I m doing well? Because I have been taking my hydroxychloroquine for a little over two years now. If that goes away, then so does my health. Right now, I am one of the lucky ones whose last routine rheumatologist appointment happened to be before all of this chaos. My prescription is filled, but it will run out and when it does, what will happen then? I can tell you that the fallout from lupus patients without their lifesaving meds will place a bigger burden on our already burdened healthcare system. I can tell you what it will feel like inside my body, and I can tell you that the good from hoarding the drug will not overcome the bad from what occurs when the drug is not available to those who need it most.
At his Sunday coronavirus briefing at the White House, President Trump sounded like he had just been mugged by reality. There were no more Trumpian fantasies about reopening the country so that church pews could be filled with people on Easter Sunday on April 12. Instead, Trump talked soberly about the 2.2 million Americans that could have died if the US government had done nothing to stop the spread of the virus. Trump seemed to be citing an influential study by Imperial College London that projected up to 2.2 million Americans would die if no efforts were made to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. During Sunday s briefing, Dr. Deborah Birx, who is coordinating the US government response to the crisis, mentioned another recent study by Christopher Murray of the University of Washington. Murray s study projects that the number of deaths in the United States will peak three days after Easter Sunday on April 15 with more than 2,200 deaths on that day and also that the total number of deaths in the United States will be more than 82,000 by August 4. It is the work of scientists and the advice of experts that seems to have brought a welcome change in Trump s thinking when he announced at the Sunday briefing that all the social distancing guidelines that his administration had instituted were now being extended until the end of April. At the briefing Trump commended Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci for their handling of the crisis response. Earlier Sunday, Fauci had emphasized these sobering facts, telling CNN s Jake Tapper that computer models suggested that deaths from the coronavirus in the United States could range from 100,000 to 200,000. Of course, Trump can rarely resist dipping into his usual bag of tricks and during Sunday s briefing he berated reporters from CNN and PBS for asking questions that he didn t like. Trump also made some bizarre comments about a New York hospital that he said had started using a vastly larger number of masks, saying, "How do you go from 10 to 20 [thousand masks per week] to 300,000?...Something is going on, and you ought to look into it as reporters. Are they going out the back door?" It s pretty clear that demand for masks is skyrocketing in New York, not because they are being pilfered but because medical staff need a lot of them given the scale of the emergency. Yet, overall Sunday s briefing at the White House was more along the lines of the briefings by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo that treat Americans as adults who can be leveled with about the scope and nature of nature of the coronavirus threat. The crisis communications 101 rule is that you just tell folks the facts as best you know them. On Sunday Trump began to do that.
COVID-19 has disrupted both supply and demand around the world. Egypt is not immune to the recessionary trends caused by the sudden halt in supply chains and the sharp decline in demand, domestically and globally, resulting from the rapid spread of the virus. The drop in economic activity is even more evident in a country that has adopted fiscal consolidation measures and increased public spending on major infrastructure projects that are underway. These policies worked while the economy was strong, but it is time to consider new strategies to promote the private sector as the government faces some tough decisions ahead. The Egyptian government adopted an ambitious reform program starting in 2016, which included a currency devaluation, liberalization of certain sectors, and a phased lifting of state subsidies. The implementation of these reforms was coupled with a high inflation rate, and as a result disposable income has been shrinking and consumer demand in the domestic market has weakened. Signs of improvement in early 2020 Despite a drop on the demand side, however, the Egyptian economy was showing significant signs of improvement at the start of this year. Egypt had a GNP growth rate of 5.6 percent in FY 2018/2019, unemployment stabilized at around 8 percent, while inflation was down to single digits and seemed to be under control. According to the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE), the annual consumer price inflation rate declined from 7.2 percent in January 2020 to 5.3 percent in February. The Egyptian pound (EGP) steadily gained strength against the American dollar in 2019 and was deemed one of the year’s top performing currencies. In addition, remittances from Egyptian expats working overseas reached $26.6 billion in 2019. This made Egypt the 5th largest recipient country in the world, according to the World Bank, and remittances are an important revenue stream for many Egyptians. Last year also witnessed the revival of the tourism industry, a critical pillar of the economy. It is a source of significant employment and foreign currency, with revenues reaching $12.4 billion in fiscal year 2018/2019. This represents a rise from $3.93 billion in Q1 of FY2018/2019 to $4.19 billion in Q1 of FY 2019/2020. But there are serious challenges on the horizon While it is too early to gauge the total economic impact that COVID-19 will have on the global economy as well as on individual economies, there are certain areas in which Egypt is likely to face serious challenges. The disruption of supply chains will negatively affect industries that depend on inputs from China and other foreign markets, thereby affecting production levels for the domestic market as well as for exports. The decline in international trade as a result of the disruption of supply chains will also have adverse effects on revenues from the Suez Canal, which reached $5.8 billion in 2019. The oil-rich Gulf countries are struggling with the economic impact of COVID-19 given the decline in demand for oil, especially from China, as well as the recent and sharp fall in prices stemming from the Russia-Saudi Arabia dispute, with Brent trading for under $30/barrel as of late March. This will result in a tightening of economic policies in the Gulf states and may require wage cuts and layoffs among expatriate workers, which in turn will affect the remittances of Egyptian expats, who account for a high percentage of the workforce in the Gulf. The tourism industry is unlikely to see a revival until next season in light of ongoing travel restrictions and the lingering psychological impact of health risks associated with international travel. The demand crunch both globally and domestically will spill over into recessionary trends that will affect domestic investments and employment. In addition, in light of the global uncertainty around the current situation and the expanding role that governments will play in safeguarding their economies, countries such as Egypt might find it even more difficult to access the finance needed to support their economies and carry out their stimulus plans. Global financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund may not be able to handle the huge demands that are likely to arise as a result of this crisis given the sheer number of countries affected. The need for government action In anticipation of these challenges, the Egyptian government has been quick to introduce stimulus measures. The CBE announced on March 16 that it was cutting borrowing rates by 3 percentage points to stimulate industries and boost demand, while increasing credit limits for businesses to support working capital and payment of salaries. At the same time, with fear of dollarization and to ease expected pressures on the currency, public banks are offering new certificates of deposit at a rate of 15 percent for one year, which is only available online without any need for personal interaction. Furthermore, the CBE has instructed all banks and lenders to provide a six-month grace period on all loans as an emergency tool to ease the burden on the population and the private sector. The government also announced the following measures: the allocation of EGP 100 billion (around $6.25 billion) to combat the virus; a reduction in the price of natural gas and electricity for industries; the immediate release of export subsidy arrears; and the provision of support for the tourism and real estate industries through banking finance initiatives. As the world changes in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Egypt has an opportunity to address some of the structural reforms in the economy by boosting the confidence of the domestic private sector, as well as moving at a faster pace to promote technological transformation, particularly in the financial and health care industries. Based on what we are seeing globally, Egypt is likely to face some serious public health and economic challenges in the days ahead. It is important to act quickly and creatively to anticipate and mitigate them. *The Writer is a non-resident scholar at MEI and CEO of EN Investment. He previously served as CEO of the Chemical Industries Holding Company and as Egypt’s Principal Deputy Minister of Planning, Monitoring and Administrative Reform and Principal Deputy Minister of Investment. The views expressed in this article are his own. **This article was originally published by the Middle East Institute in Washington DC. https://www.mei.edu/publications/what-does-covid-19-mean-egypts-economy
Egypt s President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has set into motion a package of important initiatives and measures to steer the fight against the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic that could ravage the domestic and global economy. He urged citizens to follow the advise of public health authorities and to avoid going out as much as possible in order to help curtail the spread of Covid-19. “The world will be a different place afterwards,” he said. “The economic impact will be extremely profound, even in countries that manage to contain this disease.” Alluding to the political exploitation of the crisis, he stressed that the official figures reflect the current situation in Egypt and added that from the word go certain parties were determined to cast aspersions on every action Egypt took. “The very least that can be said about these aspersions is that they are lies containing a lot of slander and have nothing to do with coronavirus.” The global socioeconomic fallout from this crisis could last months. Economists predict unprecedented rates of unemployment, especially among irregular workers, severe recession in most industrial and commercial sectors and sharply declining economic growth rates. The urgent social and economic measures taken by countries around the world share a number of features. They offer support to the most vulnerable sectors of society, increase government expenditures on social services, cut taxes, pump money into the hands of consumers, furnish emergency bailouts to hard hit sectors such as airlines and tourist companies, and increase funding for hospitals and the healthcare industry in general. The sheer magnitude of the crisis is forcing governments to shoulder more responsibility for the economy, in sharp contrast to the liberal economic strictures that prevailed during the globalisation era of the past few decades. Interventions in order to channel money and energies into medical research, manufacturing medical supplies, increasing hospital capacities and building new hospitals and other facilities are essential government tasks today. So, too, are government interventions to prevent the collapse of important economic sectors. Even in the early stages of the contagion, it was estimated that coronavirus could cost the global economy more than $1 trillion of global GDP if it turned into a pandemic. Oxford University warned that the spread of the virus outside Asia could trigger a 1.3 per cent drop in global income in 2020, or about $1.1 trillion. An indication of how hard the pandemic might strike the world economy comes from the US where Congress has approved a $2 trillion emergency aid plan in order to contain the economic repercussions of the spread of coronavirus in the US alone. The sum equals 10 per cent of annual US GDP. Financial and investment circles have welcomed the Egyptian government and Egyptian Central Bank s urgent steps to stimulate the economy and offset the damages of coronavirus. They lauded, in particular, the measures to reduce the price of natural gas for industry, to cut electricity prices, to extend the deadline for paying real estate tax and to help out floundering industries. All such measures are crucial for local industry and investors. Still, both domestically and internationally it looks like we have to brace ourselves for worse to come before humankind can beat Covid-19 into retreat. The dramatic coronavirus-related developments in Europe are very alarming and it is impossible to tell when scientists will find a cure. What this means is that a sense of collective responsibility between world governments and peoples is more crucial than ever before. Humanity must unite in the face of the most serious threat in modern times.
Coronavirus has the world on edge. Stocks are tumbling. People are sheltering in place. Conferences, schools, weddings, even religious services, are being put on hold. And Americans are watching with bated breath to see if policymakers can come together to provide urgent relief. If the Covid-19 crisis sounds bad to you, imagine what it might feel like to human beings behind bars. A public health catastrophe is rapidly spreading through our prisons and jails. The Federal Bureau of Prisons, America s largest prison system with 175,000 people incarcerated across 122 facilities, reported its first few cases last week. New York City s notorious Rikers Island jail has confirmed dozens of cases. Some 1,800 people in California s San Quentin State Prison were put under quarantine. Correctional officers in Alabama, California, Georgia, Michigan and New York have tested positive. And it is only a matter of time before the situation gets worse. Unfortunately, there is little that incarcerated people can do to protect themselves. In jails and prisons, access to basic goods like toilet paper, personal hygiene products and cleaning supplies are often limited or exorbitantly expensive. The alcohol-based hand sanitizer that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends for use is banned and considered contraband, although some prisons in New York are using the labor of incarcerated people to produce it. Even handwashing can be difficult in facilities with questionable water supplies. In short, prisons are often dirty and unsanitary already. On top of that, there is no such thing as social distancing when you are locked up with hundreds of other people in close quarters. That means today there are roughly 2.3 million people locked up in our prisons and jails, waiting in fear for this crisis to hit them. One of us knows what this fear looks like. Louis served almost 14 years in prison. While incarcerated, he unapologetically gave his life to Jesus, gained an education that transformed his mind, and realized that -- to quote criminal justice reform advocate Glenn Martin -- the people who are "closest to the problems are usually closest to the solutions, but furthest from the power and resources." Now, Reed is the national organizer of Dream Corps #cut50, a bipartisan effort to safely and smartly cut the number of people behind bars and give people coming home chances to rebuild their lives and contribute to their communities. Together, we believe three critical steps must be taken. First, there are already solutions on the table. The REFORM Alliance has published a SAFER Plan policy recommendation, especially for those in at-risk communities, asking governors to suspend technical violations, probation visits, fines and fees for the time being -- especially since those locked up are more susceptible to being exposed to Covid-19. Second, we need to remember that the incarcerated are in prison, not on another planet. Their health matters to our health. Guards leave at night, lawyers visit clients and family members visit loved ones. People come and go. What s more, someone on parole who is sent back to prison for technical violations -- or anyone arrested and detained in the coming weeks -- could bring the virus into an already overcrowded confined space. The only way to stop the spread of coronavirus to the incarcerated population is to reduce the size of the prison population. That means jails should not be holding anybody in pretrial detention. It also means both prisons and jails should be safely releasing as many people from within their confines as possible. A smart place to start would be individuals most at risk of infection: those already suffering from serious underlying medical conditions and people over the age of 65. Most states already have mechanisms to release elderly and sick people, and research shows that people over the age of 65 are far less likely to commit future crimes. There are also hundreds of thousands of people incarcerated for low-level crimes who could safely be released from prison with no threat to public safety. Some regions are already stepping up. Counties from Cuyahoga, Ohio, to Alameda County, California, are releasing hundreds of people from their jails, most of whom were already scheduled to be freed within the next 30-60 days. The state of New Jersey recently issued an order allowing the release of close to 1,000 people, mostly those serving time for low-level offenses like probation violations or municipal court violations. More should follow suit, as quickly as possible. Third, we need to go beyond fear and ask that this crisis continue to bring out the best in people. Yes, at a time when people are afraid for themselves and their loved ones, we need to ask them to have empathy for the incarcerated, too. In fact, it could help all of us. Out of sight, those in prisons and jails are not just out of mind. This abandonment is made possible by a massive empathy gap -- our inability to see ourselves in those who are incarcerated. Wednesday, March 25, is the National Day of Empathy, organized by Dream Corps #cut50. It is a day when people who have suffered under our mass incarceration system will share their stories with policymakers and local leaders. Celebrities and artists will echo the call to greater empathy. And countless people will discover that in the midst of a viral pandemic, we can still care and worry about people worse off than we are. This is the fourth annual Day of Empathy, but it takes on new and special significance this year. In years past, the profound arguments of formerly incarcerated individuals sparked enough empathy to produce bipartisan criminal justice reform. Empathy for the incarcerated drew together a bipartisan coalition of people from across the political spectrum to support the First Step Act. This historic criminal justice reform, signed into law in 2018, has already led to a reduction in incarceration time for more than 7,000 people in just over a year. The equivalent of 17,000 years of human freedom have been restored back to communities and loved ones. Now that Americans are looking to our government for bipartisan concerted action against Covid-19, the First Step Act is a model for what is possible. People from both political parties can come together, despite their disagreements and driven by their own distinct values, to respond to suffering. We need to remember the "do onto others" Golden Rule -- and put our empathy in action. Human lives should not be defined by the worst mistake they have ever made, as they are for many incarcerated people. We can enact safe, smart solutions -- such as putting low-risk individuals back home in their communities -- but only if we resist the fear that led to mass incarceration in the past.
We humans were meant to be social animals. We thrived on connection, community and kinship. When we met up with other humans, it wasn t enough to simply be there with them; we felt an urge to instantly bond with them. And so we kissed, we hugged, we shook hands, we high-fived. That was how things were until early 2020. Then came the age of coronavirus and the need for social distancing, self-isolation, quarantine, lockdown and shelter-in-place. Today, we humans continue to be social animals, and we continue to crave connection. We need to find a way to build an instant bond but we have to do it without physical contact. Research shows that a single handshake can transfer 124 million bacteria on average, so it is quite likely a perfect way to share viruses as well. A high-five will transfer about half of that number. Some of us have dusted the elbow bump off the shelf. This is what the World Health Organization told us to use in the 2006 age of avian flu. But let s face it, elbow contact just doesn t have the same sizzle as, say, a handshake or a hug. You just have to see this picture of two grimacing presidential candidates to feel convinced about that. And Director-general of the World Health Organization Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recently said it wasn t a good idea, tweeting "When greeting people, best to avoid elbow bumps because they put you within 1 meter of the other person." So some elder statesmen around the world are using the bonding method that they ve learned during their state visits to India: Namaste. Namaste around the world In case you haven t taken a yoga class, namaste is when you bring your hands together, palms pressed against each other, centered at your chest. Namaste is part of several yoga postures, but it is also the traditional way in which the people of India greet each other. And, since it involves no physical contact, it is virus-proof. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had traveled to India in 2018. So when coronavirus struck, he was one of the first to adopt namaste as his greeting of choice. He has also encouraged his country to abandon handshakes and adopt namaste -- and is giving free tutorials. France s President Emmanuel Macron also recently decided to employ namaste in welcoming Spain s King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia. The French ambassador to India, Emmanuel Lenain, later tweeted, "President Macron has decided to greet all his counterparts with a namaste, a graceful gesture that he has retained from his India visit in 2018." In US President Donald Trump s recent state visit to India, his host, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, may not have been able to sell him on a new trade deal, but he did sell him on namaste. Soon after his return, Trump folded his hands to greet Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar. "I just got back from India. And I did not shake any hands there, and it was very easy because they go like this and Japan goes like this," Trump said, demonstrating the Indian namaste and the Japanese bow. "They are ahead of the curve." After a number of visits to India, England s Prince Charles too has now adopted namaste as his preferred style of greeting, although, as this video shows, old habits are hard to break. It s high time namaste went global, for it has been around in India forever. Namaste may arguably be the oldest form of greeting in active use on our planet. Earthen figures excavated by archeologists from the Indus Valley Civilization, dating back to 3,000 BC, show people in the namaste pose. In contrast, the handshake only originated, like, yesterday -- around the 9th century BC. You can use it during your video conference Because namaste involves no contact, it is also the perfect form of remote greeting. So tomorrow when you run what may be your 31st virtual meeting in this age of coronavirus, think about it. You can t shake your colleagues hands or give them a hug as they enter the Zoom video conference room, but you can invite them all to build a bond with each other through a namaste. That s what we are doing now in our team meetings at Mentora Institute. Besides its no-contact benefits, there are other alluring possibilities in adopting namaste as your preferred greeting. A few years ago, as I was wrapping up a keynote to an audience of 600 executives, I felt a strong tug in my heart for the audience. They had listened to me for an hour, laughed and sighed at my stories, and, through their nods and note-taking, given a gracious reception to my ideas. I dearly wanted to hug each one of them at the end of my talk as they were applauding. In 15 seconds, I was going to walk off stage and out of their lives forever, and I wanted to convey to each of them "I am grateful for the beautiful connection you and I made today." How on Earth could I create this bond with 600 individuals before I rode away into the sunset? Then, instinctively, my hands folded and the palms pressed against each other, my thumbs close to my heart. Namaste. I realized that I was doing what I would do growing up in India every time I walked into a room buzzing with friends and family. Stand still. Bow ever so slightly. Smile. Sweep the room with one namaste while looking affectionately into everyone s eyes. Namaste has this powerful quality of being inclusive. With namaste, you are building an instant bond with all who are gathered in your midst -- not simply the one person right in front of you. It is physically impossible to achieve that with a kiss, a hug, a handshake, a high-five or an elbow bump, all of which are exclusively one-to-one. Namaste helps us to recognize that, like it or not, we are all connected; we rise and fall together. While we may choose to hug or bump elbows with just our favorites, when we offer a namaste, we are opening our heart to everyone, without discrimination. All of humanity is in our embrace. What does namaste even mean? And that is not all. To understand namaste s ultimate potential as a social bonding tool, we need to ask, "What does this strange-sounding word even mean?" Within the word Namaste is encoded the whole philosophy of yoga. Here s what I mean. If I were to draw for you a line to represent the full spectrum of human nature, going from "terrible" to "terrific," where would you place yourself on this line? Where would you place your favorite colleague? And your least favorite colleague? Wherever you placed yourself, and wherever you placed these two colleagues, I offer that you are wrong. Because, you see, you are the whole spectrum, and so are they. Think of your worst quality, your worst behavior, your worst life moment. Now think of your best quality, your best behavior, your best life moment. Yoga invites you to find that divine spark within yourself -- the part of you that I call your "inner core". When you operate from your inner core, you are centered, committed, connected and curious. You are able to step away from attachment, ego and insecurity to operate with wisdom and intention. You are at your full potential. The more you discover this divine spark within your own self, the more you start seeing it all around you, in every throbbing heart, for it is innate in humanity. We all have it -- we just need to work on awakening it and expressing it in all we do. Namaste is a Sanskrit word that means "the divine spark in me bows to the divine spark in you." In other words, it is saying, on some days, you or I may be tired, ill-behaved or deeply flawed; but today, in this moment, as we connect, I seek to offer you the best in me, and I strive to draw out the best in you. It is now abundantly clear that we will win the war with coronavirus only if we re all in this together. Rich have to unite with the poor, young with the old, conservatives with liberals, each nation with all others. We need to inspire not just the best in ourselves, but the best in others -- including the people who, on a more average day, we may dismiss, dislike or denounce. What better way to pursue this goal than to start and close every interaction by pressing palm against palm to gently affirm the untapped heroic potential that lies within everyone you engage with? Because, as Gandhi once said, "The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world s problems." Namaste.
The Church of St. Mark in Alexandria is the oldest church in Egypt and Africa, dating back to the first century. It was built at the place of the house of St. Anianus who was the first to believe in Christ by St. Mark s preaching. It also contains about 55 of the first patriarchs of the Coptic Church. Father Abram Emil, Priest of St. Mark s Cathedral in Alexandria explained in his article The Church of St. Mark