The upcoming presidential debates promise to be a watershed moment in this election. Democratic challenger Joe Biden has been preparing to debate sitting Republican President Donald Trump. By contrast, according to NBC News, the President has reportedly eschewed formal preparation, arguing that debate "isn t something you have to practice." That may be so. But since presidential candidates began appearing on televised debates in 1960, incumbents who don t properly prepare have a decidedly mixed record in the November elections. At the same time, presidential challengers who come out swinging need to be sure they don t miss their mark -- or else face political implosion.Conventional wisdom is that prior preparation prevents poor performance. Yet the history of presidential debates reminds us that other factors, such as a winning personality and the ability to think on your feet, matter equally, if not more. With the whole world watching, presidential debates are equal parts landing jabs and taking punishment, as much as sticking to the script and exploiting opportunities to score points. No magic formula exists to predict their outcome, but one thing seems clear in retrospect: just one dramatic exchange can change public perception of the debates, and by extension, the result of the presidential election. Looking back on the history of presidential debates, these four contests may give us a preview of what s to come:The election of 1976 brought the return of the presidential debate, since both Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon had previously refused them. Gerald Ford was eager to secure a term as president in his own right (following Nixon s resignation post-Watergate), and his team of advisers spent weeks preparing their candidate, including by running him through an exhaustive "murder board." By contrast, an overly confident Carter bombed his first answer on how he would end the ongoing economic recession, when he failed to provide a clear plan of action. The focus of the second debate turned to foreign policy, an area where Ford was expected to shine. Thirty minutes into the evening, however, Max Frankel of the New York Times asked Ford about the Soviet influence in Eastern Europe (an area Churchill described in 1946 as being behind an "iron curtain"). Incredibly, Ford answered: "there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration." All that preparation for nothing. When given a chance to clarify, Ford refused. Carter seized the opportunity to underline Ford s error: "I would like to see Mr. Ford convince the Polish-Americans and the Czech-Americans and the Hungarian-Americans in this country that those countries don t live under the domination and supervision of the Soviet Union." Advantage Carter. Following the second debate, Carter enjoyed a 4-point bump in the polls. Even as the race narrowed, Ford could not bring home electoral victory that November.In 1984, the Democrats turned to a beloved former vice president to take on an entrenched Republican incumbent. Sound familiar? Back then, it was Walter Mondale challenging Ronald Reagan, and like Biden, Mondale needed to formulate an effective strategy to debate his charismatic opponent. It would not be an easy task. During the 1980 presidential debates, Reagan had effectively negated Carter s attack on Reagan s previous opposition to Medicare with a one-liner that resonates across American history: "There you go again." With the roles now reversed, Mondale came out strong in the first debate, firing against Reagan s record as president. "You can t wish it away," Mondale charged, in reference to the country s large deficit. Caught flat-footed, even Reagan admitted that he had "flopped." But in the second debate, Reagan rebounded and delivered yet another of the most memorable lines in American political history. When asked about age as factor in the election (he was 73), Reagan replied: "I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent s youth and inexperience." The audience erupted into laughter, and even Mondale, in his mid-50s at the time, couldn t help himself from doing the same. Mondale simply could not make his criticisms of Reagan stick during the debates. Reagan, already comfortably ahead in the polls, cruised to a landslide in November.Moderator Carole Simpson presides over the presidential debate between Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton, Independent candidate Ross Perot and Republican candidate, President George H.W. Bush, at the University of Richmond, Virginia, in 1992. With three major candidates, the 1992 election attracted widespread popular interest. Both Bill Clinton, the charismatic Democratic governor of Arkansas, and independent candidate Ross Perot, a Texas billionaire, looked to unseat Republican incumbent George H.W. Bush. The first debate went predictably enough, with the three candidates cordially answering questions from the moderators. But, in the second debate, with its new "town hall" format, Bush self-destructed on stage. As audience members asked questions, the President appeared to look at his watch at several points, giving the air of being bored or perhaps uninterested (Bush later said that he was thinking, "Only 10 more minutes of this crap.") When asked a question about the national debt, Bush waffled. By contrast, Clinton hit a home run, replying compassionately in what has been described as an "I feel your pain" moment. "Well, I ve been governor of a small state for 12 years," Clinton said, "I ll tell you how it s affected me ... When a factory closes, I know the people who ran it. When the businesses go bankrupt, I know them." With his emotional style, Clinton had won the battle for the public s heart. In comparison, Bush s poor performance in the debates foreshadowed his loss at the polls.Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama answer questions during a town hall style debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, in 2012. The election of 2012 demonstrated the continued vulnerability of a sitting president to a challenger s attack. Building up to the debates, Republican challenger Mitt Romney scored points on President Barack Obama s "you didn t build that" line in connection to small business owners. National polls showed the race to be nearly tied leading into the fall. During the first debate, Obama appeared underprepared and overconfident, even contemptuous, and pundits awarded the contest to Romney. But at the second debate, Romney fell victim to unforced errors of his own. Speaking about the terrorist attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Romney went on a veritable tirade that spiraled into near incomprehension. Obama coolly remarked: "Please proceed, governor." Later in the debate, Romney again goofed when he declared that his staff had brought him "binders full of women" to work for him as governor of Massachusetts.On election night, Obama s reelection rankled incredulous conservatives (George W. Bush s former campaign adviser Karl Rove s Fox News meltdown is legendary), but they should not have been surprised. Romney s lackluster performance at the presidential debates pointed to the November outcome. Presidential debates are won and lost on a mixture of preparation, personality and performance. While preparation can help a lot and personality can save the day, a candidate s performance ultimately matters most. May the best debater win.
Venus is the brightest object in the night sky after the moon and has intrigued humans for thousands of years. The discovery of phosphine gas in Venus atmosphere has just upped the planet s appeal.I was a member of the multinational research team that announced the finding in Nature Astronomy on Monday, and my takeaway is that it indicates there is something highly unusual going on to produce phosphine -- either some completely unknown chemistry, or possibly some kind of microbial-type life. Each explanation, somehow, seems equally crazy. Phosphine is a gas made up of one phosphorus atom and three hydrogen atoms. Phosphine is toxic to any life on Earth that uses oxygen, including humans. It was used as a chemical warfare agent in World War I and is associated only with human industry (e.g. pesticides) or with life in oxygen-free environments. Phosphine is found coming from swamps and marshes and sludges. It is also found in animal guts and excrement -- for example in relatively high concentrations over penguin colonies. Phosphine has also been measured in the lab as coming from complex mixtures of bacteria. The finding is so astonishing because phosphine should not be present in Venus atmosphere. Phosphine needs lots of hydrogen and the right temperatures and pressures to form -- conditions found on Jupiter and Saturn but not at all on Venus. My team at MIT exhaustively searched all known chemistry and did not find any way for phosphine gas to be easily produced on Venus. Planetary processes including volcanoes, lightning, meteorites entering Venus atmosphere are also "no goes" in that some might produce the tiniest amount of phosphine but not nearly enough to match the observations.Does this mean Venus has alien life in its atmosphere producing phosphine gas? Not necessarily. Venus is a very hostile place for any kind of life as we know it. The surface is scorchingly hot -- far too hot for complex molecules needed to make up life. High above the surface, the atmosphere becomes colder and colder. On Venus there is a sweet spot at 48 to 60 km (30 to 37 miles) above Venus surface, in the clouds, where the temperature is not too hot, not too cold, but just right for life. Even so, the environment is harsh. The atmosphere is, for example, 50 times drier than the driest places on Earth. The cloud droplets are made not of liquid water but of concentrated sulfuric acid. The acid environment is billions of times more acidic than the most acidic environments on Earth. Earth-life components including DNA, proteins, and amino acids would be instantly destroyed in sulfuric acid. Any life in the Venusian clouds would have to be made up of building blocks different than Earth life, or be protected inside a shell made up of sulfuric acid-resistant material such as wax, graphite, sulfur, or something else. People have been speculating about the presence of life in the clouds of Venus for over 50 years, starting with Carl Sagan. Scientists are sometimes reluctant to openly admit their interest in such a fringe topic.Yet our team lead Jane Greaves of Cardiff University in the UK purposely decided to search for signs of life on Venus by way of phosphine gas. She proposed to use the James Clerk Maxwell radio telescope (JCMT) on Mauna Kea in Hawaii to observe phosphine at radio wavelengths. By coincidence, my team at MIT had also been working on phosphine gas as part of a larger project trying to understand which gases on exoplanets -- planets orbiting stars other than the sun -- might indicate the presence of life. A mutual contact connected us. When I first learned of Jane s finding I simply didn t believe it. Nonetheless, my MIT team worked with Jane s team on a proposal to use the more powerful Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA). When the data came back and was analyzed, the phosphine signal was even stronger than before. I was still so shocked, so astonished, but we now had to accept that the finding was real. We diligently pressed on to support our detection, continuing to work through and rule out chemical processes as the phosphine source, and double and triple-checking that no other gas could mimic the presence of phosphine gas.Our solar system has a growing number of bodies of interest in the search for life. NASA s Mars Perseverance rover is on its way to Mars to search for signs of ancient life. Jupiter s moon Europa, Saturn s moons Enceladus and Titan are each fascinating potential targets. Our finding of phosphine gas now raises Venus as just one more place to take seriously in the search for life beyond Earth -- maybe not so crazy after all.
The most important thing most voters need to know for this fall s election can be expressed in three words: Vote in person. That includes early in-person voting, as well as Election Day voting. That should be the message to voters who are not in unusually high-risk health categories. No doubt that will sound surprising, after all the fights to expand mail-in and absentee ballot options. Yet no action is more critical to avoiding an election nightmare. Like every aspect of this year s election, the way people plan to vote has become politicized and polarized. Once President Donald Trump turned his Twitter account to inflaming opposition to mail-in voting, the way one votes became an expression of political identity. Voters sorted themselves accordingly. In an August Monmouth University poll, 75% of Republicans said they will likely vote in person, no doubt as a sign of solidarity with the President. The inverse is true for Democrats: nearly 75% are "very" or "somewhat likely" to vote by mail, in part because Democrats and their allies led the charge to expand absentee voting during the pandemic. We need to cut through that politicization to be clear-eyed about the biggest threat to the election and how to minimize it. That threat arises from the risk that the election outcome could turn on millions of absentee ballots that cannot be counted until after Election Night. Even if everything else about the absentee voting process goes smoothly -- which is unlikely -- a potentially decisive number of absentee ballots that cannot be counted until after Election Night could trigger an explosive situation. Indeed, most "election nightmare" scenarios are based on this single issue. Yet the laws in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania currently make it inevitable that those states will face this situation: Those states preclude election officials from even beginning the time-consuming processing of absentee ballots until Election Day or later. (Like me, voices across the political spectrum, including Republican political consultant Karl Rove and the Wall Street Journal s Editorial Board have called for those laws to be changed.) To make this concrete, consider these numbers: In 2016, nearly 14 million people voted in those three states. If 60% vote absentee, which is within the range of the latest estimates, that s more than eight million ballots -- in just these three key states -- that election officials currently will not be able to start processing, much less count, until Election Day. In Michigan and Pennsylvania, governors and legislators are currently fighting over even modest changes to these policies -- in Michigan, whether to permit processing of these ballots one day before Election Day, and in Pennsylvania, several days in advance (Wisconsin election officials say they will be able to finish counting absentees by "the middle of election night," even if they can t start the process before Election Day). Those changes would help, if they happen, but would still not eliminate the prospect of potentially decisive absentee ballots that will not be counted after Election Night. Many absentee ballots will not arrive until Election Day or days after; potential battleground arenas, such as Iowa, Minnesota, and Ohio permit absentees to be received six to 10 days after Election Day and still be valid. If the election is close, we can predict how such a situation will play out. Because Republicans say they will disproportionately vote in person, Donald Trump could well lead the vote tallies on election night, when most voters are glued to their screens and in-person vote totals are released. If Democrats disproportionately take the absentee route, as anticipated, Joe Biden might begin to overtake Trump slowly, as those ballots get counted in the following days. The mainstream media will preach patience, as they should. But they will be preaching only to the choir. Trump will likely try to proclaim that the vote is being stolen; cable and social media allies will quickly amplify that message; efforts to stop the counting of absentee ballots will erupt in election offices and courts; and the scenarios could only get worse from there. Whichever side of the country loses will struggle to accept the outcome as legitimate. And all that assumes the absentee process goes perfectly. Yet that s unlikely, and because Biden supporters may disproportionately vote absentee, they will bear the brunt of any problems that emerge with the absentee process. In recent primaries, for example, nearly 4% of absentees were rejected in Philadelphia; 8% in Kentucky; and 20% in parts of New York City. Those rejections result, in part, from voters having trouble complying with the unique procedural requirements absentee voting entails. Those voting absentee for the first time -- which is expected to be most absentee voters this fall -- are more likely to run into these problems. Studies also show that absentee ballots cast by voters who are younger or from racial and ethnic minority groups are rejected at higher rates than other absentee ballots. Imagine if the outcome in Michigan is close, and 75% of Biden supporters vote absentee, yet 10% or more of those ballots are rejected. Or that tens of thousands of absentee ballots mailed back do not get delivered in time to be valid. Biden supporters will surely erupt in fury, viewing the election as illegitimate. Even now, before more than a few votes have been cast, 79% of Democrats and 71% of Republicans believe it is very or somewhat likely the other side will "cheat" to win the election. Any problems in the process, however innocent, will be seen as sinister by voters already primed to believe the worst. The higher the percentage of people who vote in person, the more the potential sting is taken out of every one of these potentially divisive scenarios. Voting in person is the single most effective action voters can take to reduce the risk of election turmoil. To be sure, we will still have unprecedented levels of absentee voting, but the difference between 35% and 60% of the vote being cast absentee could be the difference between an outcome broadly accepted as legitimate and one that portions of the country never accept. Democrats and their allies might feel uncomfortable turning around and now urging voters to vote in person. They might fear sounding as if they are legitimating Trump s views. They might feel awkward, having fought hard for the right to vote by mail. Those feelings need to be put aside so that leaders of all stripes drive a message encouraging voting in person. Dr. Anthony Fauci and other public-health experts now assure us that, with the protocols that will be in place, in-person voting will be safe (the absentee option remains important for those who fear they face exceptional health risks). For the health of American democracy, the message needs to go out: the more people who vote in person, the better.
Turkey’s expansionism in the Eastern Mediterranean and the wider Middle East is coming to an end on all fronts. After a decade of interference in other countries and military operations in Syria, Iraq and Libya, a new regional balance is gradually taking shape, with Turkey’s influence slowly but steadily receding. Turkey’s maximalist aspirations have become empty rhetoric. One of the reasons for this is Greek-Egyptian cooperation. Greece and Egypt have been working closely over recent years on all levels. In early August, the two countries signed a deal for the partial demarcation of their respective exclusive economic zones (EEZs) southeast of Crete and northeast of the Matrouh governorate in Egypt. The deal is a necessary first step that needs to be supplemented by a tripartite Greece-Egypt-Cyprus deal according to international law provisions, especially the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Turkish reactions to the Greek-Egyptian EEZ deal have been awkward and hostile in a sign of Turkey’s increased anxiety over the realigning regional balance. Both Egypt and Greece have witnessed considerable upgrades in their military capability. Egypt under the leadership of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has expanded its military and now ranks ninth on a global level. Greece is currently upgrading its military arsenal by spending some 10 billion Euros over the next few years, obtaining 18 4.5-generation Dassault Rafale jets and at least four frigates. Greece has also requested that it be included in the US F-35 fighter-jet programme from which Turkey has been expelled. These initiatives will offer Greece a considerable advantage over Turkey in air power in the Mediterranean by the end of the 2020s. Meanwhile, Turkey has attempted to exert pressure on Greece on both the land and the sea. In March 2020, Turkey used migration as a weapon against Greek territorial sovereignty, but to no avail. Now Greece has deployed both military and police formations, and it is completing an extended fence on its land borders. The renewal of demographic pressure on Greece through strategically engineered migration remains an option for Turkey, but this failed in March and it will not succeed today, especially as the EU fully supports Greece’s actions. After its failure on land, Turkey has attempted to relocate the tension with Greece on the sea. But there it has met with a double failure, both diplomatic and military. On the diplomatic level, the Greek-Egyptian EEZ deal rendered the memorandum between the Al-Sarraj government in Libya and Turkey void. On the military level, the steady presence of the Greek naval fleet and air force has halted Turkish aggression. Now the EU is considering implementing extended sanctions against Turkey at its upcoming Special European Council meeting to be held on 24-25 September dedicated solely to Turkish provocations in the Eastern Mediterranean. It is probable that Turkey will be subjected to a series of sanctions in the fields of shipping and energy. The EU sanctions will also not just target individuals, but will also be aimed at whole sectors of the Turkish economy. As its economy crumbles and the Turkish lira plunges, the EU sanctions could seriously undermine the ability of Ankara to maintain its presence in Libya and its attempts to impose its ideas in the wider region. France has been preeminent among the EU states in halting Turkish aggression. French President Emmanuel Macron has declared that “enforcing red lines” is the only language Turkey understands, and the expansion of French-Greek military cooperation will be announced in September. France is thus acting as an external stabilising force, and its energetic diplomacy is not objected to by the US, which potentially views France as a counter-balance in the wider region. France has excellent relations with Egypt and Greece, and together these three countries could form an alternative defence structure that would complement or even replace NATO activities in the Eastern Mediterranean. Finally, the US has lifted a 33-year embargo on the sale of non-lethal security equipment to Cyprus. The US is thus changing its stance in the Eastern Mediterranean, realising that Turkey has become an unstable actor and one prone to maximalist notions of regional hegemony that undermine both NATO’s stability and regional peace. Time is not on the side of Turkey either in the Mediterranean or in North Africa. In the Mediterranean, the decisive stance of Greece and Egypt has halted Turkish plans. In Libya, the advance of Government of National Accord (GNA) forces into the east of the country has been halted as a result of the stance taken by Egypt that has declared the Sirte-Jufra axis to be a red line that must not be crossed. The military theatrics of the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seem by now to be both self-repeating and tiresome. Even its playing of the Islamist card with the conversion of the Hagia Sophia Church in Istanbul and other Christian monuments in Turkey into mosques has backfired. Turkey has lost virtually all its sympathisers in moderate Western circles, and its religious diplomacy seems patronising and arrogant to the Islamic community. Despite the emerging balance, Turkey will likely continue to act provocatively against the interests of major Mediterranean actors, however. Only this time round it is not facing individual actors or war-torn states such as Iraq, Syria or Libya. Instead, Turkey is up against powerful states with considerable military power, such as Egypt and Greece, and it is also confronted by France, a European nuclear power that is determined to halt Turkey’s neo-Ottoman dreams. What this goes to show is that once again Turkey is on the wrong side of history.
France has never been absent from the Middle East theatre since the Napoleonic campaigns and the ill-fated invasion of Egypt and Syria by France between 1798 and 1801. For the two centuries that have followed France has remained a major player positively or negatively in the fate of many countries in the region. Through its colonial presence in the North African Maghreb countries or in the Levantine ones such as Syria and Lebanon, France has left an undeniable mark on the region s politics, language and culture. French is still widely spoken in many countries around the Middle East and North Africa region as a first or main language. The French role in the region diminished after the end of the cold war and with the United States dominating the scene after the first Gulf War. But over the past few years, the French role has been getting larger and stronger under French President Emmanuel Macron s leadership. Macron may still suffer from some domestic economic and social troubles in France and possibly some loss of popularity, but the opposite can be felt across the Mediterranean Sea and in the Middle East. France has been a key player in recent events in the face of the Neo-Ottoman expansionist ambitions of the present Turkish regime. Turkey has been involved militarily in Syria, Iraq and Libya, and it has been supporting terrorist organisations in Libya as well as in Yemen and Somalia. France wants to see an end to the Libyan Civil War and a reduction in the Islamist influence in the country, with the latter being supported by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The French believe that an Islamist-dominated government in Libya backed by terrorist militias that include Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State (IS) group, and Muslim Brotherhood elements could jeopardise North Africa as a whole and have negative impacts on some of its closest allies such as Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. All of these countries have long-standing ties with France, including economic and military cooperation as well as sizeable French investments. Moreover, an Islamist-ruled Libya would endanger the outcome of the French war on terrorism in Africa, represented by Operation Barkhane which was launched in 2014 and is still ongoing. About 5,000 French troops are stationed mainly in Chad as the Operation targets IS and Al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist groups in the African Sahel countries of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. One of the aims of the operation is to nip terrorist-group activities in the bud and prevent them from reaching the North African countries and from there finding their way to southern Europe and eventually France. If the state of lawlessness in large parts of Libya continues thanks to Turkish support for terrorist activities, the country will continue to be a launching pad for terrorist attacks on the European continent and France cannot accept that. Macron conducted two visits to Lebanon following the horrific explosions that took place in Beirut on 4 August killing over 200 civilians and injuring thousands of others as well as destroying significant parts of the city. In his first visit to Lebanon after the explosions, Macron received a hero s welcome from the public, though he was perhaps not received with the same enthusiasm by the country s political elite. Macron expressed his county s intention to stand firmly behind Lebanon in its present crisis, which was preceded by an economic collapse as well as widespread social and security concerns. However, Macron has placed conditions on French help for Lebanon, and these include the formation of a new cabinet and the introduction of far-reaching economic reforms. In his second visit to Lebanon in September, Macron reiterated his support and demanded that the new Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab swiftly form a new government. His second visit included meetings with Lebanese cultural icons such as the legendary singers Fairuz and Magda Al-Rumi, with these being ways of winning the battle for Lebanese hearts and minds. He awarded Fairuz the French Legion of Honour, the country s highest award, after paying her a visit at her house. For the Lebanese nation, Fairuz is a unifying symbol, and the award manifested Macron s policy of seeking unity in the politically torn county. Some Lebanese politicians, such as former Lebanese president Emile Lahoud, are wary of French interference in Lebanese affairs. However, Macron has wide public backing from Lebanese citizens, with many saying that if he ran for political office in the country he would win. Macron s visit to Iraq was also a landmark and came at a time when the Iraqi state is facing all sorts of challenges, including the Turkish incursions in the Kurdish region of the country, the impacts of the Covid-19 coronavirus crisis and the power shortages that have plagued the country. Macron reasserted Iraq s sovereignty during his visit in what was a clear message to Turkey and Iran about their interference in Iraq over the past decade. He also offered to assist in the country s power crisis by offering to construct a French nuclear power station. Iraqi officials viewed the visit positively and believe that France may be a counterweight to Iranian and Turkish ambitions in the country. Macron s visit to Iraq represented a major step forward in curbing Erdogan s ambitions to control the Kurdish region in the north of Iraq on the pretext of fighting terrorism. It will also open the door to a bigger French role in the country through economic cooperation. France is also assuming a leading role in Europe and projecting its diplomatic power in the Middle East as well as its military power in the Mediterranean. The country s unbending support for Greece and Cyprus against Turkish threats has not been just empty words. France has deployed naval units, including its powerful Charles De Gaulle aircraft carrier, and a number of fighter jets to Greece and Cyprus in a message that Macron will not only protect French interests and French allies by diplomatic means, but that he will also use military ones should the need arise. Aside from the Greek and Cypriot leaders, Macron remains the most outspoken EU leader against Turkish aggression in the region. All this is taking place as German Chancellor Angela Merkel s political role recedes, and Macron is stepping up to fill the void. France is gaining the kind of role that Germany has managed to play for years in the Middle East, and it is wielding military force to back it. France may also play more of a role in countries such as Lebanon and Iraq where the US role is no longer desired by the public or politicians. Time will tell whether that role will be met with success or not. As a member of the NATO alliance, a nuclear power, and one of the world s top ten leading economies, France has been displaying a more hands-on attitude in dealing with some of the region s long-standing problems by diplomatic or military means. Macron s friendly ties with many of the region s leaders have enabled him to play a role that most European countries no longer desire to play, and should success be on his side he will change his country s political course towards assuming a larger and more dynamic role in world affairs. France has never been absent from the Middle East theatre since the Napoleonic campaigns and the ill-fated invasion of Egypt and Syria by France between 1798 and 1801. For the two centuries that have followed France has remained a major player positively or negatively in the fate of many countries in the region. Through its colonial presence in the North African Maghreb countries or in the Levantine ones such as Syria and Lebanon, France has left an undeniable mark on the region s politics, language and culture. French is still widely spoken in many countries around the Middle East and North Africa region as a first or main language. The French role in the region diminished after the end of the cold war and with the United States dominating the scene after the first Gulf War. But over the past few years, the French role has been getting larger and stronger under French President Emmanuel Macron s leadership. Macron may still suffer from some domestic economic and social troubles in France and possibly some loss of popularity, but the opposite can be felt across the Mediterranean Sea and in the Middle East. France has been a key player in recent events in the face of the Neo-Ottoman expansionist ambitions of the present Turkish regime. Turkey has been involved militarily in Syria, Iraq and Libya, and it has been supporting terrorist organisations in Libya as well as in Yemen and Somalia. France wants to see an end to the Libyan Civil War and a reduction in the Islamist influence in the country, with the latter being supported by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The French believe that an Islamist-dominated government in Libya backed by terrorist militias that include Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State (IS) group, and Muslim Brotherhood elements could jeopardise North Africa as a whole and have negative impacts on some of its closest allies such as Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. All of these countries have long-standing ties with France, including economic and military cooperation as well as sizeable French investments. Moreover, an Islamist-ruled Libya would endanger the outcome of the French war on terrorism in Africa, represented by Operation Barkhane which was launched in 2014 and is still ongoing. About 5,000 French troops are stationed mainly in Chad as the Operation targets IS and Al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist groups in the African Sahel countries of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. One of the aims of the operation is to nip terrorist-group activities in the bud and prevent them from reaching the North African countries and from there finding their way to southern Europe and eventually France. If the state of lawlessness in large parts of Libya continues thanks to Turkish support for terrorist activities, the country will continue to be a launching pad for terrorist attacks on the European continent and France cannot accept that. Macron conducted two visits to Lebanon following the horrific explosions that took place in Beirut on 4 August killing over 200 civilians and injuring thousands of others as well as destroying significant parts of the city. In his first visit to Lebanon after the explosions, Macron received a hero s welcome from the public, though he was perhaps not received with the same enthusiasm by the country s political elite. Macron expressed his county s intention to stand firmly behind Lebanon in its present crisis, which was preceded by an economic collapse as well as widespread social and security concerns. However, Macron has placed conditions on French help for Lebanon, and these include the formation of a new cabinet and the introduction of far-reaching economic reforms. In his second visit to Lebanon in September, Macron reiterated his support and demanded that the new Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab swiftly form a new government. His second visit included meetings with Lebanese cultural icons such as the legendary singers Fairuz and Magda Al-Rumi, with these being ways of winning the battle for Lebanese hearts and minds. He awarded Fairuz the French Legion of Honour, the country s highest award, after paying her a visit at her house. For the Lebanese nation, Fairuz is a unifying symbol, and the award manifested Macron s policy of seeking unity in the politically torn county. Some Lebanese politicians, such as former Lebanese president Emile Lahoud, are wary of French interference in Lebanese affairs. However, Macron has wide public backing from Lebanese citizens, with many saying that if he ran for political office in the country he would win. Macron s visit to Iraq was also a landmark and came at a time when the Iraqi state is facing all sorts of challenges, including the Turkish incursions in the Kurdish region of the country, the impacts of the Covid-19 coronavirus crisis and the power shortages that have plagued the country. Macron reasserted Iraq s sovereignty during his visit in what was a clear message to Turkey and Iran about their interference in Iraq over the past decade. He also offered to assist in the country s power crisis by offering to construct a French nuclear power station. Iraqi officials viewed the visit positively and believe that France may be a counterweight to Iranian and Turkish ambitions in the country. Macron s visit to Iraq represented a major step forward in curbing Erdogan s ambitions to control the Kurdish region in the north of Iraq on the pretext of fighting terrorism. It will also open the door to a bigger French role in the country through economic cooperation. France is also assuming a leading role in Europe and projecting its diplomatic power in the Middle East as well as its military power in the Mediterranean. The country s unbending support for Greece and Cyprus against Turkish threats has not been just empty words. France has deployed naval units, including its powerful Charles De Gaulle aircraft carrier, and a number of fighter jets to Greece and Cyprus in a message that Macron will not only protect French interests and French allies by diplomatic means, but that he will also use military ones should the need arise. Aside from the Greek and Cypriot leaders, Macron remains the most outspoken EU leader against Turkish aggression in the region. All this is taking place as German Chancellor Angela Merkel s political role recedes, and Macron is stepping up to fill the void. France is gaining the kind of role that Germany has managed to play for years in the Middle East, and it is wielding military force to back it. France may also play more of a role in countries such as Lebanon and Iraq where the US role is no longer desired by the public or politicians. Time will tell whether that role will be met with success or not. As a member of the NATO alliance, a nuclear power, and one of the world s top ten leading economies, France has been displaying a more hands-on attitude in dealing with some of the region s long-standing problems by diplomatic or military means. Macron s friendly ties with many of the region s leaders have enabled him to play a role that most European countries no longer desire to play, and should success be on his side he will change his country s political course towards assuming a larger and more dynamic role in world affairs.
Rebuilding a country and enshrining it in the ranks of developed nations after years of turmoil and economic crises is no easy feat. Doing so, while surrounded by conflict not only along all borders, but also within the country, is almost a miracle. Since 2014, Egypt has set itself on a path to implement major changes to its economy, infrastructure, and society in the hope of eventually guaranteeing growth and a better future for its young population. In doing so, the government set itself a roadmap with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals 2030 (SDGs) and the African Union’s Agenda 2063 in mind. Initially called the Sustainable Development Strategy (SDS) 2030 (also known as Vision 2030), the strategy finalised in 2015 was to put Egypt on a rigorous path for change. Drafting a list of goals to be reached in different phases, the plan used 2020 as a major milestone year to evaluate its progress. The SDS was divided into three main dimensions: Economic, Environmental, and Social. Each of the dimensions encompassed a list of targets for short and long-term plans that would ultimately advance Egypt in world rankings, namely in the following categories: Quality of Life, Anti-Corruption, Size of the Economy (measured by the Gross Domestic Product -GDP-), Market Competitiveness, and Human Development. Even though it was taken into account in many projects since its drafting, the SDS proved it had much room for improvement in later years. The strategy was thus reassigned to a team of specialists in sustainable development in order to evaluate how it can be further improved to fit Egypt’s unique circumstances. That said, many of the projects mapped out in the SDS were completed and its plans for major economic reforms were followed. Among the measures that Egypt took to achieve its economic goals were the opening of the Tahya Misr fund to gather national contributions to the country’s economy and the procurement of a number of external loans. Among those loans were the $12bn loan in 2016 from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to implement its economic reform plan. As well as, a loan from the World Bank acquired between the years 2015 and 2017 “called the Fiscal Consolidation, Sustainable Energy, and Competitiveness Development Policy Financing loans - worth a total of US$3.15 billion.” These loans entailed applying hard and stringent economic reforms in order to achieve the set goals which included reducing government spending, and increasing revenue (i.e., by floating the Egyptian Pound, removing fuel subsidies, etc.). As a result, Egypt has improved its ranking in many fields, most notably in road safety and infrastructure, becoming 2nd in Africa and 28th in the world in 2020 after it ranked 108th in 2016. It also rose in Global Competitiveness ranking, going from 116 in 2016 to 93 in 2019. In fact, according to an assessment by US News, Egypt ranks #36 Best Country in the world, this ranking takes into account Egypt’s culture, tourism, heritage, and above all, Egypt’s development speed, ranking it #4 in the “Movers” category. The Movers subranking “represents a version of [a] metric predictive of a country’s future growth in terms of per capita purchasing power parity gross domestic product.” In total, Egypt has “carried out national projects worth 4.5 trillion Egyptian pound ($284 billion) over the past six years.” Many of these projects had both sustainability and growth as their baseline, including what is projected to be the world’s biggest solar park in Benban, Aswan. Following Egypt’s Sustainable Energy Strategy 2035, this project is part of the country’s plan to produce “20% of electricity from renewable sources by 2022.” Egypt further implemented its plan to modernise its irrigation system in the Delta region, installing drip irrigation systems in an area of over 7,476 feddans. This project (among others) equips Egypt against its current water crisis which includes a deficit of 30 billion cubic meters in meeting its citizens’ water needs and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam crisis which threatens Egypt Rebuilding a country and enshrining it in the ranks of developed nations after years of turmoil and economic crises is no easy feat. Doing so, while surrounded by conflict not only along all borders, but also within the country, is almost a miracle. Since 2014, Egypt has set itself on a path to implement major changes to its economy, infrastructure, and society in the hope of eventually guaranteeing growth and a better future for its young population. In doing so, the government set itself a roadmap with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals 2030 (SDGs) and the African Union’s Agenda 2063 in mind. Initially called the Sustainable Development Strategy (SDS) 2030 (also known as Vision 2030), the strategy finalised in 2015 was to put Egypt on a rigorous path for change. Drafting a list of goals to be reached in different phases, the plan used 2020 as a major milestone year to evaluate its progress. The SDS was divided into three main dimensions: Economic, Environmental, and Social. Each of the dimensions encompassed a list of targets for short and long-term plans that would ultimately advance Egypt in world rankings, namely in the following categories: Quality of Life, Anti-Corruption, Size of the Economy (measured by the Gross Domestic Product -GDP-), Market Competitiveness, and Human Development. Even though it was taken into account in many projects since its drafting, the SDS proved it had much room for improvement in later years. The strategy was thus reassigned to a team of specialists in sustainable development in order to evaluate how it can be further improved to fit Egypt’s unique circumstances. That said, many of the projects mapped out in the SDS were completed and its plans for major economic reforms were followed. Among the measures that Egypt took to achieve its economic goals were the opening of the Tahya Misr fund to gather national contributions to the country’s economy and the procurement of a number of external loans. Among those loans were the $12bn loan in 2016 from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to implement its economic reform plan. As well as, a loan from the World Bank acquired between the years 2015 and 2017 “called the Fiscal Consolidation, Sustainable Energy, and Competitiveness Development Policy Financing loans - worth a total of US$3.15 billion.” These loans entailed applying hard and stringent economic reforms in order to achieve the set goals which included reducing government spending, and increasing revenue (i.e., by floating the Egyptian Pound, removing fuel subsidies, etc.). As a result, Egypt has improved its ranking in many fields, most notably in road safety and infrastructure, becoming 2nd in Africa and 28th in the world in 2020 after it ranked 108th in 2016. It also rose in Global Competitiveness ranking, going from 116 in 2016 to 93 in 2019. In fact, according to an assessment by US News, Egypt ranks #36 Best Country in the world, this ranking takes into account Egypt’s culture, tourism, heritage, and above all, Egypt’s development speed, ranking it #4 in the “Movers” category. The Movers subranking “represents a version of [a] metric predictive of a country’s future growth in terms of per capita purchasing power parity gross domestic product.” In total, Egypt has “carried out national projects worth 4.5 trillion Egyptian pound ($284 billion) over the past six years.” Many of these projects had both sustainability and growth as their baseline, including what is projected to be the world’s biggest solar park in Benban, Aswan. Following Egypt’s Sustainable Energy Strategy 2035, this project is part of the country’s plan to produce “20% of electricity from renewable sources by 2022.” Egypt further implemented its plan to modernise its irrigation system in the Delta region, installing drip irrigation systems in an area of over 7,476 feddans. This project (among others) equips Egypt against its current water crisis which includes a deficit of 30 billion cubic meters in meeting its citizens’ water needs and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam crisis which threatens Egypt s future water supplies. All in all, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Egypt seemed to be on the right track towards achieving many of the milestones it had set for 2020. Yet, much like the rest of the world, Egypt was shaken by the pandemic and the partial lockdown it had to impose. Egypt’s robust economic reforms, however, are projected to have equipped it well enough to weather the storm and come out better than most. In fact, taking into account its resilient structure, the IMF has projected that Egypt will be the only country in the Middle East and North Africa region to have a predicted growth rate in its GDP in the years 2020/2021. Despite the generally positive indicators, the rise in ranking, and obvious developments in the country, many are still concerned about the rising external debt and its long-term implications on the country’s economy. The IMF and the World Bank have both granted Egypt emergency funds to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. A double-edged sword, these loans prove that Egypt has managed its economy relatively well so far, and that its repayment strategy is robust enough. Nevertheless, the increased debt puts additional pressure on the country’s production sector, its society, and its struggling currency. Rising further amidst a global economic crisis might also prove very difficult, especially if the world is hit with a second wave of the pandemic. On the same wavelength the SDGs, already severely affected by global political apathy, are now under a stronger and more palpable threat as the crisis makes it highly unlikely the goals will be achieved by 2030. Economic concerns and political protectionism have all increased the risk of forgetting or overlooking the SDGs while attempting global economic revival. Yet, as much as the pandemic has shown that the world is now supremely interconnected and that this may have grave global consequences, it has also proved that global responses are essential for survival. The SDGs thus, now more than ever, would require a global action. Similar to many countries, Egypt’s main target remains growth and rising to the ranks of the most developed states. While capitalism and sustainability do not necessarily go hand in hand, especially in times of crises, 60% of Egypt’s population is under the age of 30. Therefore, it remains imperative that while building the nation, sustainability is not forgotten. Fortunately, there continues to be a palpable effort in the political discourse in Egypt to keep sustainability in mind. Integrating efforts in all sectors is essential in guaranteeing a green and sustainable economy, and the new plans seem to be taking this into consideration in almost all the new projects. In fact, President Abdel Fatah alSisi ratified the new sustainable development plan for the 2020/2021 fiscal year, keeping the fight against poverty at the forefront of the discussion. There is no one size fits all for the creation of a sustainable nation. The SDGs, as set by the UN, have been written in a manner that allows them to be malleable to all national contexts. The discussion surrounding sustainable development in Egypt, despite its many hiccups, has thus far proved positive enough. Nonetheless, it has yet to reach the country’s citizens. Communicating the importance of creating a sustainable nation to the masses is vital in order to truly implement and integrate sustainable projects in day-to-day life. The discussion should not be a nominal top-down conversation among the political elite, but an integral part of a citizen’s general behaviour in all sectors of society. Egypt’s young population deserves to have a sustainable and green economy that would open up the job market and allow for positive growth for generations to come. While we still have a long and challenging road ahead, the fact that the conversation around growth and sustainability continues and that attempts at implementation are still moving forward, is a very positive omen for Egypt.s future water supplies. All in all, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Egypt seemed to be on the right track towards achieving many of the milestones it had set for 2020. Yet, much like the rest of the world, Egypt was shaken by the pandemic and the partial lockdown it had to impose. Egypt’s robust economic reforms, however, are projected to have equipped it well enough to weather the storm and come out better than most. In fact, taking into account its resilient structure, the IMF has projected that Egypt will be the only country in the Middle East and North Africa region to have a predicted growth rate in its GDP in the years 2020/2021. Despite the generally positive indicators, the rise in ranking, and obvious developments in the country, many are still concerned about the rising external debt and its long-term implications on the country’s economy. The IMF and the World Bank have both granted Egypt emergency funds to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. A double-edged sword, these loans prove that Egypt has managed its economy relatively well so far, and that its repayment strategy is robust enough. Nevertheless, the increased debt puts additional pressure on the country’s production sector, its society, and its struggling currency. Rising further amidst a global economic crisis might also prove very difficult, especially if the world is hit with a second wave of the pandemic. On the same wavelength the SDGs, already severely affected by global political apathy, are now under a stronger and more palpable threat as the crisis makes it highly unlikely the goals will be achieved by 2030. Economic concerns and political protectionism have all increased the risk of forgetting or overlooking the SDGs while attempting global economic revival. Yet, as much as the pandemic has shown that the world is now supremely interconnected and that this may have grave global consequences, it has also proved that global responses are essential for survival. The SDGs thus, now more than ever, would require a global action. Similar to many countries, Egypt’s main target remains growth and rising to the ranks of the most developed states. While capitalism and sustainability do not necessarily go hand in hand, especially in times of crises, 60% of Egypt’s population is under the age of 30. Therefore, it remains imperative that while building the nation, sustainability is not forgotten. Fortunately, there continues to be a palpable effort in the political discourse in Egypt to keep sustainability in mind. Integrating efforts in all sectors is essential in guaranteeing a green and sustainable economy, and the new plans seem to be taking this into consideration in almost all the new projects. In fact, President Abdel Fatah alSisi ratified the new sustainable development plan for the 2020/2021 fiscal year, keeping the fight against poverty at the forefront of the discussion. There is no one size fits all for the creation of a sustainable nation. The SDGs, as set by the UN, have been written in a manner that allows them to be malleable to all national contexts. The discussion surrounding sustainable development in Egypt, despite its many hiccups, has thus far proved positive enough. Nonetheless, it has yet to reach the country’s citizens. Communicating the importance of creating a sustainable nation to the masses is vital in order to truly implement and integrate sustainable projects in day-to-day life. The discussion should not be a nominal top-down conversation among the political elite, but an integral part of a citizen’s general behaviour in all sectors of society. Egypt’s young population deserves to have a sustainable and green economy that would open up the job market and allow for positive growth for generations to come. While we still have a long and challenging road ahead, the fact that the conversation around growth and sustainability continues and that attempts at implementation are still moving forward, is a very positive omen for Egypt.
The news about Jessica Krug, disgraced George Washington University history professor who has been asked to resign by her department, came fast and furious on Thursday. In a post on Medium, she confessed to having masqueraded as an African descendant, "gaslighted those whom I love," and asked to be "canceled" for having lived a "violent, anti-Black lie."The irony to Krug s revelation is that she was apparently discovered because several Black Latina scholars questioned Krug s identity after a group discussion about the late novelist H.G. Carrillo, who, after his death this year, was revealed not to be Afro-Cuban, but African-American by his sister. But it was the violence that Krug, who said in her post that she had grown up as a White, Jewish child in Kansas City, had done to her colleagues, peers and students that hurt the most. The depth of the damage was most poignantly called out by Yomaira C. Figueroa, associate professor at Michigan State who comes from a "working poor" background growing up in Hoboken, New Jersey. In a Washington Post interview, Figueroa said it was "disgusting," and asserted that many in the academic world are "aghast that (Krug) would perpetuate these lies and gain access to the spaces in the academy, the resources." Hunter College professor Yarimar Bonilla, who was a fellow at New York s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture with Krug, said on Twitter that Krug employed gross racial stereotypes to build her claim to authenticity, "claiming to be a child of addicts from the hood," and harangued colleagues through a "woker-than-thou" rhetoric that made Bonilla feel like she was "trafficking in respectability politics when I cringed at her MINSTREL SHOW." What got to me most about the Krug "performance" was a video that surfaced of a talk she did at Harlem s Studio Museum about her involvement with a community-led police monitoring group called Harlem Cop Watch. As someone who actually grew up in the Bronx and actively reported on police violence in the 1990s, I was repulsed when I watched her self-righteous rant about her youth in the Bronx constantly witnessing acts of police brutality, describing one against her brother, and even alluding to the horrific police shooting of Amadou Diallo in 1999, which she claimed happened "around the corner from my home."A number of local New York activists like Andrew J. Padilla and Ed García Conde shared their brief, puzzling encounters with Krug online and traces of her involvement with Revolutionary Fitness, a left-oriented fitness center, emerged. Shawn Garcia, founder of Revolutionary Fitness, told me in an email message that Krug tried to "gain some clout by affiliating herself with us and other community organizations like Harlem Cop Watch," but stopped hanging around "because she claimed we weren t hard enough on gentrifiers." Apart from all the self-searching of this moment, there is a danger that conservatives might use this to discredit ethnic and Black studies as an invalid field to research. Just Saturday, as the New York Post plastered a mocking headline alongside a photo of Krug on its cover the Trump administration released a memo blocking some race-related training sessions for federal agencies, with Trump himself attacking "critical race theory" as a "sickness" on Twitter. Still, the question remains, does this 21st-century race-anxiety horror show invalidate Krug s work? Her book, "Fugitive Modernities," was published by the prestigious Duke University Press and had been a 2019 finalist for the Harriet Tubman Prize and the Frederick Douglass Book Prize. Even Professor Figueroa admits that it was considered an "amazing," "field-changing" book. "Fugitive Modernities" focuses on the 16th-century history of the Kisama region of Angola, whose status as a refugee site for Africans escaping Portuguese slave traders influenced the creation of escaped slave towns in New World countries like Colombia and Brazil. Historian Toby Green, who teaches at King s College in London, wrote a review of it in the Hispanic American Historical Review, praising Krug for "moving beyond Eurocentric concepts to ideas derived from African languages." In an email, Green told me that he had a few exchanges with Krug because "there are not many historians of precolonial West/West Central Africa out there!" He insisted the book was "based on solid research," and that he "found it one of the best kinds of history, taking a sledgehammer to state power of all kinds... So for many reasons, I found the revelations (about Krug) saddening."Perhaps a clue to Krug s motivation could be seen as an overzealous interpretation on her research on Latin America and Africa. In "Fugitive Modernities," she cites an article called "The Jíbaro Masquerade and the Subaltern Politics of Creole Identity Formation in Puerto Rico 1745-1823," written by University of Wisconsin Professor Francisco Scarano. In the article, Scarano describes how elite Puerto Rican intellectuals used to disguise themselves by writing in the coarse language of rural peasants to make more effective political arguments against Spanish colonialism without endangering their own privileges. Krug took advantage of the willingness of many urban Puerto Ricans to embrace their African ancestors to claim Blackness -- "Caribbean rooted Bronx Blackness," as she describes in her Medium post, even though she was visibly light-skinned. I m haunted by what one of Krug s GWU students said to a reporter at New York magazine s The Cut: "She would have been fine if she was just a white woman. I have taken several African Studies courses at GW taught by white professors who were just as passionate and just as knowledgeable. The things that she taught me could have been done without this whole minstrel show of a persona." Why Krug did what she did will be debated by psychologists, pundits and historians for years to come. "To say that I clearly have been battling some unaddressed mental health demons for my entire life, as both an adult and child, is obvious," she wrote in her Medium post. "Mental health issues likely explain why I assumed a false identity initially, as a youth, and why I continued and developed it for so long."Krug says she is "belatedly seeking help" for these issues. While she does that, we can t lose sight of how now, more than ever, our university system must support Black and brown scholars and fields of study, as well as enhance opportunities for the growth of its faculty and prestige of the field.
Scientists across the world are working around the clock to supply a vaccine that could halt this devastating pandemic. Yet this deadly virus has once again highlighted how we also desperately need a cure for a completely different disease -- one which will sadly outlive Covid-19. For many terrified women, the fear of a silent virus may pass, but the screams, the beatings and the ever-present threat of violence will remain. Forced coexistence and economic pressures have resulted in domestic violence increasing at alarmingly high rates since the virus entered our lives. Distress calls to domestic violence helplines have risen by up to 300% in some countries, while domestic homicide rates are higher than normal, a pattern playing out across the world.I have listened to the heartbreaking stories of so many victims over the years in my role as the Commonwealth Secretary-General. They are often asked: "Why did you not leave?" While it may appear that they have a choice to do so, the path to freedom is precarious. Besides physical, emotional and financial abuse, perpetrators often use coercive tactics to control behavior, isolating victims from family and friends, enforcing restrictions on basic necessities and threatening harm if there is any indication of a desire to leave. Victims often find it hard to recognize the abuse until they are in dangerous situations. Their agency is continually eroded under this pressure, leaving them with the feeling that they have no choice but to stay. Even in normal times, the layers of bureaucracy can also act as barriers to freedom. Victims find themselves asking: "Will the police believe me? How can I attend court? Where will I sleep? Will reporting the abuse make my partner more dangerous? Will I get the custody of my children?" Lockdown and social distancing restrictions have further intensified these anxieties. So, it is important for our institutions and service providers to create conditions which respond appropriately and sympathetically to the different circumstances of all women before it is too late. Innovations introduced during the pandemic, such as virtual courts, online protection orders, pop-up counseling centers and makeshift shelters, must be shared around the world. And that s exactly what we plan to do -- flattening the curve of violence in Commonwealth countries. In partnership with the NO MORE Foundation, the Commonwealth Secretariat has developed a digital portal, featuring easy-to-use tools and resources for governments, community-based organizations and people from our 54 member countries to bring down cases of domestic and sexual violence.Governments, particularly those with more limited resources, can download toolkits to establish local campaigns which tackle domestic and sexual violence, support victims and those at risk and train community leaders on the ground. The digital portal is specifically designed to help victims understand and recognize violence and give them one-stop access to critical information, including local hotlines, shelters, safety plans and legal guidance. We have developed guidelines to support citizens in speaking up when they see violence occurring in their circles of family and friends or local communities. The portal will also feature good practice guides for preventing abuse, delivering services and protecting survivors -- including model laws on criminalizing coercive control in relationships so that a full history of abuse is investigated rather than as one-off incidents. We recognize abuse does not stop when women are removed from their abusive homes. Victims need constant support to recover from the trauma and rebuild their lives. Their children also need counseling to change attitudes and behavior developed as a result of witnessing violence between parents. Perpetrators need to participate in special programs to help prevent them from reoffending in the future. This is why we are accelerating our ongoing work on several fronts in the Commonwealth. We are making a financial case for addressing violence against women by helping countries measure the economic cost if we fail to act -- a figure that in 2016 was estimated globally to be some $1.5 trillion. This modeling encourages countries to direct more resources towards preventing violence rather than intervening once it starts. It s a more cost-effective approach with immediate and long-term benefits at both individual and societal levels.Additionally, while many countries have laws specifically designed to protect women who are abused, these are not always compliant with international standards. Working with partners, including UN Women, we are providing support for countries to reform such legislation and laws which discriminate unjustly on grounds of gender so that women have equal rights to leave their abusive partners and seek justice. Violence is never justified. Domestic abuse is the betrayal of love and trust. We are working with some member countries to ensure that all victims are protected against domestic violence in all possible ways, including separation, restitution, compensation and even court mandated alimony. Our homes should be sanctuaries, not prisons. We do not need the gift of seeing into the future to be aware of what is happening in front of us right now. It is time for all of us to stand up, to say NO MORE and to work with resolve and a sense of purpose towards building safer homes and communities in a more just, equal and peaceful world.
More than 185,000 people have already died from the coronavirus in the US. If you ve checked the Johns Hopkins Covid-19 dashboard as frequently as I have for the last several months, the growing death toll may have started to look like numbers on a broken digital scale counting up to some interminable figure. Its persistent climb demonstrates the eerie psychological trick large numbers play on our minds: "If only one man dies ... that is a tragedy. If millions die, that s only statistics."That quote, attributed to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, has been made all too real by President Donald Trump in the context of the pandemic in 2020. What initially appeared to be the Trump administration s ineptitude when it came to responding to the country s worst public health crisis in a century has since morphed into something far more sinister — a seemingly purposeful effort to turn the Covid-19 pandemic into white noise as Trump amplifies the clatter of his own fearmongering with unfounded or distorted claims about crime and lawlessness. Trump continues to put his political aims ahead of the public health crisis, contributing to projections that show the US death toll from coronavirus could exceed 315,000 by December 2020. Several events in the past few weeks reveal Trump s problematic approach to this pandemic. First, he appointed Dr. Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist, a doctor who specializes in imaging the brain, as a Covid-19 adviser. That s like appointing a plumber to build your roof because, well, plumbers and roofers both work on houses. Atlas is not an infectious disease expert and has little relevant experience in this space. His top qualification for the job in the Trump administration s eyes seems to be that he s appeared on conservative cable news shows in praise of the President s "handling" of the pandemic. Despite scientific consensus to the contrary, Atlas has questioned the use of masks and said that children cannot spread the virus. Most astoundingly, he s argued that the country would reach herd immunity more quickly if more people are infected, and that death counts could be limited if protective measures focus on the most vulnerable. In a Fox News interview in June, he said, "The reality is that when a population has enough people who have had the infection, and since these people don t have a problem with the infection, that s not a problem. That s not a bad thing."But thousands of young people under the age of 45 have died from the coronavirus in the US, and that strategy failed in Sweden, where less than 10% of the population has tested positive for antibodies — well below the 70-90% required for herd immunity. In advocating for such an idea, Atlas is essentially shrugging at the risk that thousands potentially die from the virus (On Saturday, Atlas said, "I have never advised the President to push a herd immunity strategy. I have never told the task force that I advocated a herd immunity strategy." He went on to clarify that he supported social distancing measures and protecting the vulnerable, adding, "I am advocating opening things, but opening safely, with mitigation ... We must understand something: prolonging a lockdown is enormously harmful.") Atlas is one of the few doctors willing to oppose the scientific and medical consensus on the public health failure of the administration s inaction, while covering it with the fig leaf of his medical school degree — and this may be precisely why Trump is such a fan. But it gets worse. Last week, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published new guidelines arguing that people who are not experiencing Covid-19 symptoms should not get tested for the virus, even if they have been exposed. But the virus can be transmitted by asymptomatic carriers. Indeed, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country s leading infectious disease expert, estimated that about 40% of people who carry Covid-19 do not exhibit symptoms — yet they can still spread it. These recommendations aren t just unfounded; they run directly in opposition to the science. We need more testing, not less. So why the new guidelines? The White House pressured the CDC to issue them, according to a federal health official who told CNN, "It s coming from the top down." In exerting this pressure, the Trump administration may have created the perfect excuse for its failure to ramp up testing to levels necessary to mitigate the virus. Rather than increasing testing capacity to meet the needs of Americans, the administration seems to have persuaded the CDC to revise down the need for testing to meet the current testing capacity.Finally, US Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn is under scrutiny for rushing through an emergency use authorization for convalescent plasma under pressure from the White House and against the public advice of experts at the National Institutes of Health. But Hahn s own comments this week seem to show the full extent of his politicization in the role. He said that his agency would consider emergency use authorization or approval for a Covid-19 vaccine before Phase III clinical trials are complete, practically inviting pharmaceutical companies to apply for FDA authorization or approval. Already, observers worry that safeguards will be cast aside to accelerate the timeline for a vaccine to produce an "October Surprise" for Trump just before Election Day. Trump himself has lent credence to that worry, saying he expects a vaccine could be ready before November 3. It should go without saying that vaccine development should be dictated by science s timeline, not a politician s. The issue is one of trust: According to a recent Gallup poll, approximately one-third of Americans say they would not get a vaccine if it were available today. But to reach the immunity we need to end the spread of the coronavirus, epidemiologists estimate that between 70-90% of the population will need to be immune. With a third of Americans already uneasy about a vaccine, there s little room for error. And if Americans lose trust in the process used to create that vaccine, it could bring the number willing to be vaccinated below that critical threshold. Hahn s words could further fuel this skepticism. Trump has done something worse than give up; he s prioritized electoral politics above public health — and at the potential expense of American lives. Meanwhile, as his administration has forced its political agenda upon apolitical agencies that are supposed to be leading with science, Trump himself seems to be doing everything he can this week to divert attention away from the pandemic.On Tuesday, he went to Kenosha, Wisconsin, where Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, was shot seven times in the back by the police. Trump did not meet with Blake s family during his trip, and said during a roundtable event that systemic racism is not a problem in the US — and that journalists should be focused on the "tremendous violence" in cities like Portland instead. Trump s betting on former President Richard Nixon s 1968 strategy by stoking racist fears among White people in the suburbs. But Nixon wasn t an incumbent running against the record of his own administration. Trump is. Whether he likes it or not, this is Trump s America — the "American carnage" he warned the country about in his inauguration. And the death toll is more than 185,000 and counting.
The number of inflammatory and threatening statements made by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over recent months has been escalating at a meteoric rate, and due to their hollow nature, they have become a source of ridicule across the globe. Hardly a day passes without a new threatening statement made by Erdogan towards Greece, the EU or countries in the Middle East. The tone of Erdogan’s latest wave of threats reveals a state of despair as a result of recent events that have brought his megalomaniacal ambitions of restoring the so-called “glories” of the former Ottoman Empire to reality, however. Among these was the recent signing of the historic Egyptian-Greek naval demarcation agreement that set the maritime and economic borders of the two countries. The agreement has been ratified by both the Egyptian and Greek parliaments despite the objections of the Turkish regime. France has also entered the fray as Erdogan has become a menace in the Eastern Mediterranean region and has threatened French allies as well as the French state in its efforts to carry out the war on terrorism in Africa, notably in Libya. French President Emmanuel Macron stated earlier this week that enforcing red lines was the only language that the Turkish regime understands in his explanation of his country’s involvement in the region. Macron said he had set out red lines to Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean that were backed by military force. France has been a strong backer of Greece, Cyprus and Egypt in their feud with the Turkish regime. Macron has backed Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s position on Libya and has shown his understanding of Egypt’s concerns regarding the Turkish intervention in that country. France has also deployed several warships as well as a number of fighter jets to Cyprus in support of the Republic of Cyprus against Turkish threats. Greece, France, Italy and Cyprus have also conducted naval drills in the region as a message to Erdogan that his ambitions will be met with military force if necessary. However, these actions have not deterred the Turkish president and his Islamist regime from issuing more threats. One of Erdogan’s lieutenants, Metin Külünk, has called for the establishment of a “Greater Turkey” that would include parts of Greece, half of Bulgaria, Cyprus, Armenia and parts of Syria and Iraq. In doing so, Külünk, a member of Erdogan’s Islamist AKP Party, has simply expressed the expansionist ambitions of the Turkish regime. Fortunately, of course, Turkey is capable neither militarily nor economically of carrying out even a fraction of such neo-Ottoman threats or ambitions. Why attempt to provoke the animosity of almost every country in the region with such unbalanced statements? The answer lies in the domestic politics of Turkey. The AKP has long rallied Islamist and neo-Ottoman Turks who still believe in the expansionist ambitions of Erdogan. It is this deluded and radical constituency that Erdogan and the AKP are counting on to stay in power and to quell the protests of traditional republicans and secularists in Turkey. However, the signs of Erdogan and his regime being able to maintain this sort of politics are dim, and with every statement he and his followers make more and more countries are rallying against the Turkish state and what were once simple diplomatic spats have been approaching fully-fledged war. Turkey’s disregard of the sovereignty of other nations will have severe consequences, and Erdogan’s attempt to play the NATO card, relying on Turkey’s membership of the alliance, is no longer working since he has made just as many enemies inside NATO as he has among his regional neighbours. Should matters continue as they have thus far, an unprecedented war or at least a military skirmish between members of the NATO alliance could occur at any moment. The usually indecisive EU is mulling major economic and political sanctions against Turkey as a result of Erdogan’s military and political aggression in the region. Should these sanctions be approved, they will be a major blow against the already bleeding Turkish economy, which has witnessed the freefall of the Turkish lira against the US dollar and other currencies along with contractions in both GDP and international ratings. According to the latest Finch Ratings report on the Turkish economy, it has seen a “depletion of foreign-exchange reserves, weak monetary policy credibility, negative real interest rates and a sizeable current account deficit partly fuelled by a strong credit stimulus… exacerbating external financing risks.” These and other factors have led the international credit-ratings agency to give Turkey the dismal rating of BB-. To counter such economic and political pressures, which have been merged with a wave of domestic disapproval owing to his impetuous policies, Erdogan’s domestic media machine has gone into overdrive to inflate his supposed achievements, such as the unethical conversion of the Hagia Sophia Museum in Istanbul into a mosque so that he can proclaim himself a pious Muslim leader. Lacking any tangible economic achievements in recent years, Erdogan has been attempting to distract the Turkish population with the announcement of the discovery of a major natural gas field in the Black Sea. The announcement was made using the usual theatrical methods of Erdogan’s speeches. However, experts have other opinions about the discovery, and opposition analysts such as Abdullah Bozkurt have questioned the reality of the new discovery. Erdogan has proclaimed such discoveries before, they point out, the last time being in 2019, and they have given rise to no real outcomes or developments. The Russian news outlet Russia Today has questioned the credibility of the recent Turkish discovery, for example, said to hold 320 billion cubic metres of natural gas, which is modest compared to Egypt’s Al-Zohr gas field in the Mediterranean, for example. Russian experts have said that the alleged Turkish field lies 2,100 metres underwater and would require a hefty investment to exploit efficiently. The Russian media has concluded that the alleged discovery would be hard to exploit economically, given the steep costs of extraction and the growing supply glut in the market. As the noose tightens around the neck of the Turkish president, Erdogan’s reckless behaviour is becoming more aggressive and unpredictable. Time is not on his side, and with every waking hour the Turkish economy is bleeding more. More and more of Erdogan’s opponents are rallying their forces to curb his megalomaniacal and neo-Ottoman ambitions. Egypt, France and Greece have the military means to stop any Turkish aggression should Erdogan resort to this as his final card. The Turkish regime will face overwhelming odds should it attempt military action, and neither its membership of NATO nor its recent attempts to appease the Russians will be able to assist it in an effective way.
The founding fathers of the US built the country on the bases of freedom and justice. The majority of US presidents respected these values and promoted them internationally. This is what made the US a leading country respected the world over. We, in the Middle East, fondly remember the noble actions of president Dwight Eisenhower during the tripartite aggression of England, France and Israel in 1956 when they invaded Egypt and sent their troops to occupy Sinai, a very dear part of Egypt. Eisenhower intervened, giving the three countries an ultimatum to withdraw their troops from Egypt. They left. This is what the world expects from the US to support justice and condemn aggressions and occupation of other countries. The Middle East believes the US should restore its status. I am referring here to two international issues that threaten world peace and security. The first is the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) Ethiopia is building on the Blue Nile. The dam will deprive River Nile downstream countries Egypt and Sudan, that are friends of the US, of their share of Nile waters and endanger the lives of millions of people who shall suffer from thirst and hunger. The Nile is about the only source of water for Egyptians. Ethiopia is water-rich, often referred to as the Fountain of Africa. A young diplomat, Marwa Salem, conducted a study about water in Africa. Salem said 14 water basins flow through Ethiopia, including the Nile Basin. Its total water surface is about 122 BCM, nearly 90 BCM of which – coming from national rivers – are under Ethiopia s control. Moreover, there are about 20 BCM of groundwater near the surface, which are renewable due to the heavy rainfall, which averages 1250 mm per year. Consequently, Ethiopia belongs in the category of “water abundance.” In the 1960s, the US agricultural Department conducted an extensive study on water in Ethiopia. The four-year research identified 33 locations in Ethiopia for building a dam. Nevertheless, the Ethiopian government chose the most controversial of them to build dam. The US, realising the critical GERD crisis, has sponsored tripartite negotiations to reach a deal that safeguards the rights of the three countries. When an agreement was already reached in Washington, Ethiopia didn t show up to sign it, showing disrespect to the negotiating parties including the US that brokered the talks. Ethiopia should have honoured its word, if not for the $8 billion the US grants Ethiopia each year, then at least for the sake of respecting the diplomatic codes and proper behaviour. We are all well aware that Ethiopia s aggressive attitude is a flagrant violation of all international agreements and the Helsinki principles that safeguard the rights of all countries sharing international rivers and ensures their good relations. The US Treasury has recently withheld $200 million from its aid to Ethiopia, sending a message to Addis Ababa it will not get away with this extreme violation of international laws. The whole world expects the US to continue its efforts to support the rights of millions of Egyptians and Sudanese people who cannot survive without water. The second issue is Turkish President Recep Tayyip s Erdogan s invasion of Libya and his establishment of military bases west of the Egyptian borders. It is well known that he is a strong supporter of terrorist organisations, providing them with funds, arms and mercenaries. He even recruits Turkish Kurds to fight in Libya under the pretext of reviving the Ottoman empire. He flagrantly announced that he intends to occupy Austria, Rome and even the Vatican itself as well. The dictator had the audacity to turn the Aya Sofia church and museum into a mosque where the preacher gave his sermon holding a sword, claiming that this is the way to spread Islam and restore the Ottoman glory -- although the teachings of Islam call for peace and coexistence of all peoples of all religions. Erdogan also attacked some oil wells in the Mediterranean that belong to Greece and Cypress. His actions constitute a threat to peace and security, not only in the Middle East but in Europe and the world at large. Dear US friends of Egypt, the US is now preparing for a major political event, namely the Congress and presidential elections. Get in touch with your candidates, the senators, the governors, and the mayors. Demand they listen to your requests. Ask your family, friends and colleagues to create a strong public opinion. Tell them the US should restore its status as a major power that supports world peace, security, and human rights. Encourage them to support justice.
A bystander video recorded shortly before the fatal shooting of two people in Kenosha, Wisconsin, shows the accused shooter, Kyle Rittenhouse, with an assault-style rifle, milling among a group of other armed civilians claiming to be standing guard against people gathered to protest the police shooting, two days earlier, of Jacob S. Blake.At 17, Rittenhouse was charged with violating Wisconsin law, which bars those under 18 from being armed with any deadly weapon. Police officers are seen on the video passing in an armored vehicle, offering Rittenhouse and the group of armed civilians bottles of water, and broadcasting over a loudspeaker "We appreciate you guys. We really do. Without asking, they could not know that Rittenhouse was underage, but they certainly knew that he and the others were in violation of the curfew the officers were legally bound to enforce. But, having chosen to side with vigilantes, they gave out water bottles and encouraging words rather than an order to disperse under threat of arrest. Rittenhouse, along with many militia members, profess a special fellowship for the police and we also know that some police reciprocate that sentiment. It s true that police are facing especially tough challenges in a time of pandemic, street protests and a spike in gun violence in major cities. But competent police leaders do not welcome any alliance with armed, unsworn, untrained vigilantes. In addition to the obvious immediate danger these people pose, they make the job of the police in the community exponentially more difficult. The "appreciation" for the Kenosha curfew breakers is evidence of the risks facing police when they give the appearance of being overtly involved in politics or a particular political viewpoint. They can t afford any perception that they re leaning toward vigilantes in the performance of their duties. Any association with them casts the police in a partisan light that sacrifices the trust of the community.On that trust, the effectiveness of a police force depends. It can be equally dangerous for police to show any support to a particular party or politician when police are acting in a professional capacity. No law in America requires you to disclose whom you voted for or intend to vote for. Like the right to vote itself, we take the secret ballot for granted. But the secrecy is, in fact, very valuable. It preempts social, local, employer, or peer pressure from swaying or intimidating voters. For police officers and many other public servants, the right not to disclose your electoral choice is, I believe, not just a right but an obligation. At the very least, it is a best practice. During the four decades in which I was in law enforcement, I proudly referred to myself as a "law and order lawman," but I never told anyone outside of family and a few friends what candidates I voted for. Nobody ordered me to keep my preferences secret. I just knew, in my gut, that keeping my politics to myself was the way to ensure that my actions as a police officer were not only apolitical but would be perceived as apolitical. In every law enforcement position I have held, my oath was invariably to the Constitution, and I also swore to serve and protect the people of the community that hired me. My oath mentioned no sheriff, no chief, no mayor, no governor, no organization, no political party, and certainly no president of the United States. Every sworn law enforcement in our nation takes essentially the same oath. On the street, a cop cannot afford to be a Democrat, Republican, Independent, Libertarian, or anything other than a member of the community who is pledged, trained, and qualified to serve and protect the public safety courageously and impartially within the law.To perform their sworn mission, police officers are entrusted with very consequential legal authority, including the authority to use deadly force. But the power behind that authority comes not from any law but from the public. It is the members of the community who grant their officers the legitimacy to perform their mission. Without this grant of legitimacy, the police, for all their legal authority, are essentially powerless. A congressional representative serves terms of two years, a senator six, a president four. Partisans all, they win or lose elections, they come, and they go. A police officer s career has no fixed term, but that officer s effectiveness in the community depends exclusively on the legitimacy the people grant him or her. Demonstrate partisan bias, and that legitimacy will dissolve -- perhaps in an instant. Ask a competent police officer "Which side are you on?" and the answer you will hear is not the Republican side or the Democratic side but your side. Of course, police have political opinions, and, these days, they are often strong opinions. But everyone in law enforcement, from leadership down to street level, needs to discipline themselves to act on those opinions only at the polls and off-duty. Citizens ask if the police are capable of demonstrating such impartiality, especially when some police unions endorse a high-profile candidate, as the president of the City of New York Police Benevolent Association, Patrick J. Lynch, recently did in the case of Donald Trump.My response to officers and their leadership is this: The people cannot read your mind or peer into your soul, but they can hear what you say and see -- as well as feel -- what you do. What is more, they share your words and your acts on social media. Let these be just, measured, and resolutely apolitical. For the police must serve just one side, the American community -- gloriously diverse as it is in race, religion, appearance, lifestyle, opinion, and political affiliation.
The impact of external shocks on economies is often contained by sound domestic policy frameworks, well-targeted policy responses, and public opinion engagement to ensure a durable economic recovery. Bearing in mind the current global crisis mostly examines the resilience of indebted countries and companies as well. Each individual country has its own political, economic and social circumstances and thus, policy responses would differ to react appropriately to the external shocks. In addition, Domestic policy responses must be complementary to each other and well-sequenced, referring to three main pillars; the specific circumstances of each country, and to what extent the country is depending on the external side in financing, and to what extent the external shocks could lead to domestic financial crisis, considering the assurance of debt sustainability. Worth noting, the nature and magnitude of the external shocks caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic will also expand to impact the most resilient economies, and the current wave of debts may lead to a sequence of financial crises in case of debt mismanagement and lack of well-targeted policy responses not only on the domestic level, but also on the international level. Accordingly, International cooperation and solidarity become more essential than ever, accompanied by sound domestic macroeconomic policies. Among the outstanding solidarity models of international financial community is the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative, which was launched in 1996 by the IMF and World Bank. This initiative aims to ensure that that no poor country faces unmanageable debt burden. Hence, the international financial community and governments sought hand-in-hand to promote sustainable levels of the external debt burdens of the most heavily indebted poor countries, providing faster, deeper, and broader debt relief; accommodating debt relief with poverty reduction, and social policies. To-date debt reduction packages under the HIPC Initiative have been approved for 36 countries, 30 of them in Africa, providing 76 Billion USD in debt-service relief over time. On another note, the IMF provides relief on debt services under the Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust (CCRT). The CCRT enables the IMF to deliver grants to eligible low-income countries member to cover their IMF debt service obligations amid catastrophic natural disasters and during major global public health emergencies. Relief on debt services provided by the international financial community is considered a fast-acting measure and short-term remedy, which would help to provide factual benefits to vulnerable individuals and households in hardly-hit poor countries, particularly countries that don’t have enough financial resources to cushion the negative socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 and to manage high levels of debts burden. Accordingly, the World Bank Group and IMF, G20 economies and others are allowing the world’s poorest countries to suspend repayment of debt services to safeguard the lives and livelihoods of millions of the most vulnerable people. Recently, the IMF approved relief on debt service under CCRT for 28 member countries that are poorest and most vulnerable hardly hit during by the current COVID-19 pandemic. This would enable the disbursement of grants for repayment of total debt service falling due to the IMF over the next six months, with potential extensions. Noteworthy, relief on debt service would help to boost financial resources that are much needed to be directed toward vital emergency health needs, instead of debt services repayments and to meet balance of payments needs for containment and recovery. To-date the total debt reliefs for 28 countries are mounted 251.24 million USD. However, the international solidarity towards providing debt reliefs is not enough to avoid an anticipated string of financial crises ahead. Domestic well-coordinated and swift structural reforms are much needed than ever, to boost the resilience of financial sector and to strengthen fiscal governance; ensuring debt sustainability, which means that government, is capable of servicing its debt at any point in time. The global COVID-19 pandemic severely impacted both the fiscal space and the financial performance of highly indebted emerging and developing economies, exacerbating debt distress. In spite of heavily debts, these economies could cushion such severity and weather the current global crisis through following; sound debt management and good governance, effective regulation and monitoring of financial sector, and robust monetary, exchange rate, and fiscal policy frameworks. Note worthy, high public debt may limit fiscal space to undertake additional broaden fiscal measures. Accordingly, policymakers in highly indebted countries need to revise and update their debt management strategies and systems, assessing the crisis and financing needs. Debt management requires adoption of prudential governance principles. These principles include assessment of debt structure, borrowing and repayment policies in terms of their combined effect on potential for insolvency and costs of such crisis. Noting that it is essential to consider that Loan portfolio should balance between welfare gains from each activity with the costs generated by that activity s contribution to default risk; managing financial institutions and policies to avoidance of financial crisis. The success of Egypt’s economic and structural reforms provided a unique model for other emerging and developing countries. However, political instabilities and conflicts in the region hindered the reforms in Africa and Arab regions, exacerbating debt distress in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic. On the back of the economic and structural reforms launched in Egypt, the Egyptian economy becomes more able to weather the negative consequences of the COVID-19 crisis. Noteworthy, the public debt has markedly reduced from nearly 103.2 % of GDP in 2016/17 to around 84 % of GDP in 2018/19. In the mean time the Egyptian government targeted to keep primary surplus of 2 % of GDP and put public debt back on a downward path, reducing further the public debt with projection of slight increase by end of 2020 due to the negative impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. Noteworthy, Egypt is considered to be one of the very limited countries that succeeded in reducing the debt ratio to the GDP during the 2019/2020; this sound achievement was mainly due to the success of economic reform program and the decisive precautionary measures taken to contain the repercussions of the COVID-19. Whilst, the financial control measures and real growth rates contributed to the continuation of the downward trend in debt rates as a percentage of gross domestic products (GDP).Efforts are continued to reduce risks to debt sustainability through lengthening debt maturities and strengthening revenue mobilization over the medium term to lower gross financing needs and to create an adequate fiscal space for priority spending. AG Graph Source: International Monetary Fund (IMF) WEO, 2019 and 2020 Furthermore, well-coordinated structural reforms need to be continued to strengthen good governance and to improve transparency and accountability in public finances and Stated-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) as well as other public entities. In addition, the government keeps monitoring financial vulnerabilities to further safeguard financial stability. In that context, it is essential to keep maintaining debt sustainability through considering the following main paths in parallel. Promoting sound debt management and debt transparency are critical to ensure that new debt could be repaid at any point in a time, borrowing costs are manageable and well-balanced with gains, and fiscal risks are contained. In addition to bolstering good governance which is crucial to rationalise public spending and fiscal stimulus, ensuring the fiscal stimulus packages are targeted the main needs and purposes through assessing economic response and productivity. Also, putting strict bankruptcy frameworks is needed to prevent debt overhangs from affecting adversely investments over the long-term. Consolidating the effectiveness of regulations and monitoring of the financial sector would help to give proactive insights of potential risks. Noting that well-strengthened financial sector would effectively contribute to mobilizing domestic savings, which is considered a more stable source of financing. Well-coordinated and robust monetary, exchange rate, and fiscal policy frameworks contribute to bolstering the resilience of economy amidst the external shocks. The reforms in recent years have provided Egypt with a high-degree of flexibility to weather this shock. Accordingly, the current precautionary measures of monetary easing and fiscal expansion would slightly impact fiscal and debt sustainability. The Egyptian economy recovery gets underway, supported by continued structure reforms and rules of rational fiscal stimulus. In Conclusion, maintaining debt sustainability is a must, considering the urgency to balance between maintaining sustainable debt levels and the need to meet the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and to boost inclusive growth through increasing investments in infrastructure and human capital, avoiding debt distress through capturing potential risks from contingent liabilities and any further natural disasters. Last but not least, keep on strengthening the capacity of debt management is a cornerstone for better debt sustainability; bearing in mind the assurance of borrowing in the interest of maintaining sustainable debt levels aligning with sustainable development goals (SDGs).
In the great urban debate between the co-owner of the Stand Up NY comedy club on New York City s Upper West Side and its greatest stand-up act, the comedian wins the debate hands down. Jerry Seinfeld makes the point: he won t ever leave NYC. And because he won t, we won t.(Full disclosure: My daughter and I once watched transfixed as Jerry Seinfeld gave an impromptu and utterly hilarious performance in front of a couple dozen customers at the fish counter at Zabar s, around the corner from the comedy club. No one watching that Sunday morning several years ago could ever dream of leaving NYC, since the hope springs eternal for a repeat performance.) NYC will survive the Covid-19 pandemic, as it did the 1918-19 flu epidemic, 9/11, and other calamities. And as Seinfeld rightly notes, so too will other great cities such as Rome, which after all first became known as the Eternal City (Roma Aeterna) in the 1st century BC. The world today is 56% urbanized and the UN expects the continued rise of urbanization to 68% of the global population living in cities by 2050. I think it will be even higher.There are three reasons. First, from a historical perspective, Covid-19 will soon subside. Maybe in a year, maybe three, but it won t be with us forever. New York City has suppressed the transmission to around 260 cases per day, down from an average daily high of more than 5,000 in mid-April. With 8.3 million people in NYC, that s around 34 cases per million per day, compared with more than 600 cases per million per day in the spring. We can and should slash that tenfold in the coming weeks, as in several Asia-Pacific countries. Sure, there will be other pandemics, as there have been in the past. If we are more careful and better prepared, as we should have been, they won t overturn daily life as this one has done.Second, cities are more productive, except for farms. The single biggest driver of urbanization in human history is therefore the productivity of farming. When one farmer feeds one household, every worker must be a farmer. When one farmer feeds around 100 households, as in the US, fewer than 2% are farmers and the rest do other things, almost all of which are best done in cities. Third, people really do like cities. The services are far better, the entertainment is far more varied (Seinfeld and all), and the violent crime rates in US cities have plummeted, though with a spike this year. Urban health in the US and elsewhere improved dramatically a century ago with the introduction of public health measures such as mass vaccinations, sewage, and clean-water systems that slashed the effluence and disease associated with crowding. Yes, Covid-19 transmitted earlier and faster in densely settled places like NYC, but alas, the virus is also spreading dangerously in rural areas too, which are also burdened by vulnerable older populations with pre-existing health conditions (such as high blood pressure and obesity) and living farther from hospitals. In claiming that NYC is finished, James Altucher argues that the digital-age work-from-anywhere technologies will gut the office towers and central cities, with cascading damage for the life of the city. I think the situation is somewhat more prosaic: rents will go down, property prices will go down, commercial space will be converted. NYC is the place where meatpacking plants became high-end art galleries, garment factories became chic hotels, and a former railway spur became the much-beloved High Line outdoor walkway, residential and shopping area. Repurposing is what cities do.No doubt, Altucher raises some pertinent questions. NYC, like every part of the world, will be revolutionized by the digital age. A large part of the workforce will work from home at least part of the week. Hundreds of thousands of commuters will be delighted to dispense with commutes to midtown offices that can take one or two hours each way. They will come in perhaps 1 or 2 days a week, and at staggered schedules. We won t have banks at every street corner (thank God) because consumer banking will be online. Thousands of retail businesses will not return because e-commerce truly is more convenient and efficient. For the coming year the number of empty store fronts will be staggering, indeed depressing. But then commercial and residential rents will fall. They are already down perhaps 5-10% and there is more to come. Mortgage rates are at historic lows, with 30-year mortgages below 3%. The unaffordable prices that recently were driving young people out of NYC will become the bargain prices that drive them back in. Stodgy midtown offices will be reconverted into new startups. The City will become younger, not older, occupied by a young generation that mixes digital, brick-and-mortar, startup, residential, and leisure.Be certain: there is a reckoning ahead, not between urban and rural, where urban will prevail, but between the superrich and the rest. The shocking reality of Covid-19 is that the superrich have gotten fantastically richer, unimaginably so, during the pandemic. The soaring stock market alongside Great Depression unemployment is just what it seems: the most dramatic redistribution of income from the poor to the rich in US history. With tech stocks soaring, for example, Jeffrey Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, and Elon Musk have seen their combined net worth rise by $197 billion since the start of the year while, tens of millions of Americans have been thrown into financial desperation and hunger. NYC has more billionaires than any other city in the world -- 111 in 2019. They like NYC, like the rest of us. They depend on NYC for their vast fortunes. And many have enjoyed astounding windfalls of wealth this year as frontline workers around them have died or faced eviction. The true challenge for New York City is not technology or even the pandemic. It is basic decency. A city survives and thrives as a living breathing social organism, one that acts together for the common good. The billionaires must be the ones paying higher taxes to keep the City s schools, hospitals, public transport and social services running as NYC picks itself up from the crisis.
Libya remains a platform for regional conflicts in the Mediterranean and North Africa. Several actors have been involved with the Libyan file in recent weeks, mainly Egypt, Turkey, the US, France, Italy, Greece, Cyprus and the UAE. Many diplomatic efforts were made, and the interests of both Egypt and the United States managed to spur a ceasefire between the warring parties in Libya. But due to contrasts within the Libyan interior, the ceasefire pact did not last more than 48 hours. It was broken Sunday night, 23 August. This means that the matter is not one related to international efforts seeking coexistence within the Libyan interior; it is rather a matter of a complicated situation between the different parties in Libya. The conflicts within the Libyan interior are the major source of political turbulence in the scene. The fact that neither party acknowledges the legitimacy of the other means opportunities for a political settlement are very thin. Regional powers try to exert influence within the file, but the domestic equations are what govern. Several attempts were made to end the contentious state of conflict. However, regardless of what the others might say, Egypt has exercised a role within the Libyan conflict to serve the protection of its national security interests. It is very difficult to discuss a political settlement in Libya at the current moment. There is a domestic difference, and regional competition over influence in Libya. Both Egypt and Turkey remain in restraint regarding direct military intervention. Few are the times where such political situations re-occur. But this proves it is a matter of a local context that regional and domestic powers do not fully understand. The ceasefire was broken not only because legitimacy is not equally recognised, but also because of the lack of a connection between the East and the West within dual international communications. Neither partner wants to defy the international community. They attempt to prove that they are pro political consensus, although their actions prove otherwise. There is a cost to be paid within international relations that Libyan political elites are afraid of, because they know they are culpable. In the end, there is a limit to the role that the international community can play in light of equally warring parties on a political level. This leads to another important question regarding any political settlement in the Libyan interior. According to the givens so far, both parties have legitimacy — the House of Representatives in Tobruk, and the State Council in Tripoli. Both political bodies enjoy international legitimacy, and manage to contain a set of local, regional and international allies to uphold the various interests they have. There is no political consensus or military supremacy that makes one party more powerful than the other. In fact, there is a balance of power between the warring parties. So how can Libya surpass this current situation of political confrontation and lack of coordination? The answer lies in the idea of building new domestic political associations, backed and supported by regional ones. As Turkey attempts to split the Arab world apart over the Libyan file, Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia must work out a framework of regional cooperation inside Libya, to ensure that the interests involved within the file are being promoted by regional actors who are concerned with the Libyan conflict. The vulnerability of the ceasefire is mainly due to the total absence of political solutions while actors and parties supporting one side or the other move to raise the military capacities of that side. The international community needs to take into consideration the context of the Libyan conflict before it starts to theorise about it. Otherwise, we will be back to square one, trying to find the basis for a political agreement. Past attempts by the UN and other international organisations were all a failure on the level of implementation. Mainly because of a lack of practical study of the Libyan interior. There is a need to renew the mechanism involving neighbouring countries, and a dire need for Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia to reach a mutual understanding concerning the Libya file. International alliances and regional ones regarding Libya are still not effective on the ground, mainly because the interest of each actor is what determines its patterns of action. Egypt remains the most concerned actor within the scene, and it has to further develop the efficiency of the role it practises in the context of the conflict between East and West Libya.
left for Israel and the Gulf on Sunday not with the two-state solution on his mind; but with a focus on what you might call the 22-state solution: how best to use Arab state relationships with Israel to support President Donald Trump s reelection campaign.Not that Pompeo or Jared Kushner, who will reportedly follow him to the region after the Republican National Convention, believe there s any chance of getting a majority of the Arab League s 22 members to join the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in its recent normalization of ties with Israel. But the pair plans on getting some. Enamored of Arab money, arms sales and enlisting Arab states in their pro-Israeli and anti-Iranian agenda, the Trump administration s real play was never about the Palestinians or two states. It was always about the Arab nations. And authoritarian Arab regimes eager to please an autocrat-friendly president have been only too happy to follow along with Donald Trump. The only question is how many more will do so. In my first meeting with Kushner in 2017, it was clear where the administration was headed. Kushner stressed then that one of the key principles of his approach to the Middle East peace process was developing what he called "strategic relationships" with Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The objective was not to enlist the Arab states to leverage Israel into making concessions to the Palestinians. Instead, it was designed to demonstrate that the Arab world would leave the latter behind if they didn t agree to make concessions and sign up to more reasonable terms with Israel. Over the next several years, Kushner made good on his word. Instead of developing a close personal relationship with any Palestinian interlocutor, he invested heavily in courting the two Arab leaders central to his strategy: Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi Crown Prince, and Mohammed bin Zayed, the most powerful leader in the UAE.The attention and focus on the Gulf states was stunningly willful. The President s first trip abroad began in Saudi Arabia and Israel. The administration defended the disastrous Saudi and Emirati campaign in Yemen (the Emiratis have since withdrawn their forces) and backed it with arms sales. And it has turned a blind eye to their repressive regimes, especially providing cover for MBS s alleged role in the murder and dismemberment of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. In essence, as we ve seen recently with the likely sale of F-35 advanced fighter aircraft to the UAE, what the Arab states wanted, they more or less got. Before we turn Kushner and company into Metternich-like diplomatic geniuses, it s important to point out that much of the foundation for closer Arab state-Israeli ties had been laid well before Trump came to Washington. A rising Iran, concern over Sunni jihadi terror, exhaustion with the seemingly endless Palestinian cause and discreet security and intelligence ties with the Israelis created a strong basis for regional cooperation. Israel and the Gulf states in particular, already greatly concerned about the Obama administration s nuclear deal with Iran and its seeming willingness to support the overthrow of Arab autocrats in Egypt and Tunisia in the wake of the Arab spring, were only too happy to welcome the anti-Iranian, pro-autocratic tendencies of the new President. There is little doubt that the Pompeo and possible Kushner trip eventually will produce additional agreements on normalization with Israel. Pompeo will knock on doors in Bahrain and Sudan and visit the UAE to consolidate the agreement already made there. The former two states are the most likely candidates for normalization. Bahrain warmly welcomed the Israel-UAE deal; already hosted Israelis in a US-sponsored economic conference last year and has been in talks with Israel for months. Sudan is more complex politically in the aftermath of the removal of former leader Omar al-Bashir; the Sudanese Foreign Ministry spokesman was fired earlier this month after making comments about warming ties with Israel.But in February, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with a key member of Sudan s Sovereign Council and Sudan badly wants to be off the US list of state sponsors of terrorism so an agreement is likely -- it s just a question of time. In coming months, Oman and Morocco, with longstanding contacts with Israel, will probably follow suit. The big prize is Saudi Arabia. If Riyadh, as custodian of the holy sites of Mecca and Medina, lends its hardline Islamic legitimacy and authority to normalizing relations with Israel, the tactical shift underway might well become strategic, leading to a transformation in Arab attitudes toward Israel, breaking apart the Arab consensus in support of Palestinians and freeing each Arab state to decide on its own what to do about relations with Israel. In the wake of the Israel-UAE deal, the Saudis issued a mild statement that appeared to connect any normalization to a sovereign Palestinian state with a capital in Jerusalem. And King Salman is more pro-Palestinian than MBS. The Saudis will also use the UAE as a sort of canary in the coal mine to see how their deal with Israel fares. Saudi Arabia is due to host the G-20 in November. If MBS were looking for a way to improve his image in the US after his role in the Khashoggi killing, normalizing ties with Israel might be one way to do it. It should be obvious that the timing of this normalization effort is tied to the political interests of the key players. Netanyahu, under enormous pressure at home from a resurgence of Covid-19, economic recession, an annexation he promised but couldn t deliver and an upcoming corruption trial, gets a huge win. The UAE may get F-35s out of the deal and positions itself -- through this pro-Israeli act --as a key Washington player regardless of whether Trump or Biden wins in November.As for a Trump administration desperate to showcase competency and any piece of good news, the image of Arab states making peace with Israel couldn t hurt. If there were any doubt about the politics here, consider Pompeo s plan to address the Republican National Convention from Jerusalem while on a diplomatic mission to promote the national interests of the United States. That tethers him and his office to the domestic political interests of the President s reelection. Unprecedented to be sure. But for a secretary of state -- the most politicized in modern American history and arguably the worst -- who appears to have presidential ambitions of his own, it may well be just another day at the office.
At times, while watching the pandemic edition of the Republican National Convention, I had to remind myself this wasn t a "Saturday Night Live" parody of the Party of Trump. But it easily could have been. The first night of the RNC amounted to a series of skits on the themes Trump has previewed for us repeatedly, alternating between lying about who President Donald Trump is and what he has done -- and lying about who Joe Biden is and what he would do. It started with the convention s opening film. As images of the Statue of Liberty and Trump in action flashed across the screen, the narrator -- Jon Voight -- described Trump as "a man who works tirelessly for you," and a party that is "embracing the undeniable greatness of diversity." Cue the laugh track. If "SNL" producers had been directing, they would probably have added video of any of Trump s over 200 golf outings, and perhaps him telling non-White Democratic members of Congress to go back where they came from.We were told that Trump has been a "decisive leader" on the pandemic, in contrast to Democrats. The evidence to the contrary is overwhelming, with plenty of material available to illustrate Trump s bungling of the federal government response. Just to highlight the point, the producers put Trump in the White House talking to "regular people," without masks, without sufficient social distancing, with Trump again mentioning "hydroxy" and giving other incorrect coronavirus information. Convention speakers offered variations on these deceptive themes, with an occasional dog whistle along the way. The youthful conservative activist Charlie Kirk proclaimed Trump the "bodyguard of Western civilization." And the wealthy St. Louis couple that made you-can t-even-believe-this news around the world, brandishing weapons outside their mansion last June when Black Lives Matters protesters were outside, claimed that Biden and Democrats "want to abolish suburbs altogether" by bringing low-income housing to neighborhoods. They further warned about "Marxist revolutionaries" taking over Congress. It was all really scary -- or funny -- depending on your perspective. Biden, we heard over and over again, plans to defund and dismantle the police, something he has repeatedly denied; and that he is a radical socialist, a ludicrous claim that his decades in office prove false. A Cuban émigré noted gravely that Fidel Castro was once asked if he was a communist. Castro, too, said no. We know how that turned out. So, grain of salt on Biden s centrist claims; he may be a secret commie.Montana businesswoman Tanya Weinreis praised Trump for saving her business and expressed deep compassion for small businesses facing "the terrifying prospect of Joe Biden." The entire slate of speakers was determined to make Biden look chillingly frightening and Trump reassuringly competent. Perhaps after Biden s recent performance, they ve changed tack on painting him as addled -- and instead decided to cast him as a weak leader controlled by the "radical socialists," a label that came up again and again. The charge that the Democrats are all becoming socialist clashes with the reality that primary voters chose the centrist Biden, who then picked a centrist running mate in Kamala Harris. Surely, they ll fine tune their Trojan Horse argument. Trump s "promises made, promises kept" motto came up a few times, making me think back to his promise to abolish Obamacare and replace it with "something terrific." Waiting, still. Then there s the wall Mexico will pay for, and all the other unkept promises. But never mind any of those. There was a lot of drama -- even tears. But nothing came close to the performance of Kimberly Guilfoyle, Donald Trump Jr.s girlfriend, former Fox News host and a Trump campaign fundraiser. In a very loud, melodramatic delivery that was vaguely reminiscent of the over-the-top rhetorical style of South American caudillos, Guilfoyle gave us an urgent heads up about the great perils ahead. Biden and the Democrats, she warned, "want to destroy this country ... they want to steal your liberty, your freedom. They want to control what you see and think, and believe, so they can control how you live." She beseeched us, "Don t let them kill future generations."When her effusive display ended, CNN s Wolf Blitzer declared coolly, "That was forceful." Jake Tapper responded, "Forceful is one word for it." If "SNL" were scripting the RNC, they could simply lift some of these speeches and performances verbatim. And then, to wrap it up, they could show the party officials trying to come up with a platform, explaining what they stand for, and what Republicans believe and hope to accomplish. In the comedy routine, Republican stalwarts would find that everything they thought they believed has been opposed or muddled by Trump. So, someone would suggest that instead of bothering with a platform, they should simply issue a document stating that whatever Trump wants, that s what they believe. And if it were a television sketch, that would be hilarious. But, unfortunately, for America today, that s actually reality.
The orders were clear. On the first day of the Trump administration, I joined 24 other lawyers in the White House, where we were charged with helping fulfill President Donald Trump s promises to the American people. The President wanted to unleash American ingenuity and stimulate economic growth by rolling back burdensome and, in some cases, crippling regulations that were allowed to run amok during the Obama administration. "The prior administration piled up more than 600 major new regulations — a cruel and punishing regulatory burden," Trump said last month. Forbes found in 2016 that the Federal Register contained 3,853 rules and regulations, 629 of which were flagged by agencies as having notable effects on small businesses. Our team went to work in the Office of White House Counsel immediately, and on January 30, 2017 -- only 10 days after President Trump took office -- he issued Executive Order 13771, which requires agencies to offset the cost of any new significant regulation with at least two deregulatory actions. The administration launched a massive regulatory relief campaign and for every new federal regulation, seven have been cut, according to the administration -- exceeding the target laid out in Executive Order 13771 by a wide margin. These cuts translate to an increase in real incomes by upwards of $3,100 per American household after 5 to 10 years, according to estimates from the Council of Economic Advisers. Under Trump, the Federal Register, the daily depository of rules and regulations, has been nearly 25,000 pages shorter than what it was under Obama.Former White House Counsel Don McGahn, who was instrumental in this deregulation effort, understood as well as anyone that, at its core, this was an issue of the core principles articulated so clearly in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution -- free speech, due process and individual liberty. "The greatest threat to the rule of law in our modern society is the ever-expanding regulatory state," McGahn said in 2017. "And the most effective bulwark against that threat is a strong judiciary." McGahn understood that regulation and the courts are inextricably linked. The vast expansion of regulatory authority, both in scope and deference, began decades ago when Congress ceded authority to federal agencies. For far too long, agencies operated unchecked by the courts and were free to investigate companies and private individuals without due process. For example, in a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court (Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency), a couple in Idaho, Mike and Chantell Sackett, in 2005, purchased two-thirds of an acre on which they planned to build a house. Shortly after they began clearing the land, the EPA issued a compliance order to stop work claiming the parcel was, in fact, a wetland and could not be developed. The EPA, without a hearing or any other sort of due process, threatened the Sacketts with fines of up to $75,000 a day if they didn t comply. In 2012, the high court ruled that, indeed, the EPA was subject to the Administrative Procedures Act and that landowners could challenge the agency in court. The EPA finally withdrew its compliance order against the Sacketts in March 2020, according to Bloomberg Law.This was an important ruling for individual liberty. But it should never have taken the Sacketts a Supreme Court-imposed order to be able to challenge the EPA. The moral of this story is that regulations without due process tie up the resources of private individuals and businesses. They stifle entrepreneurship and destroy companies. Jobs disappear. Goods and services become more expensive. Regulations come with real consequences for real people. The President understands this, which is why one of his priorities was to appoint judges who, as McGahn said, are "committed originalists and textualists," will uphold the rule of law and not legislate from the bench. Trump made the appointment of judges and justices a key issue during his 2016 campaign. He even released a list of potential Supreme Court nominees after the Republican primary. Deregulation doesn t happen without judges and justices committed to upholding constitutional principles. The President knew what had to be done and McGahn implemented the plan. To date, the Senate has confirmed 203 federal judges nominated by President Trump, including two Supreme Court justices. The shackles have been removed from the private sector. When Covid-19 hit, the President signed an executive order, designed to jumpstart the economy, directing agencies to "remove barriers to the greatest engine of economic prosperity the world has ever known: the innovation, initiative and drive of the American people."President Trump said he was going to reduce America s regulatory burden and he did it. He promised to nominate judges who would uphold our founding principle of individual liberty. He did that too. In an election season when the President s detractors are making promises and offering platitudes, we should remember that Trump delivered on his promises, not just for his party but for the American people.
We fought Covid-19 in New York City and we thought that we won.After three months of a relentless cycle of breathing tubes, ventilators, organ failures and deaths, the rhythm gradually shifted to breathing, healing, recovery and going home. We thought we had stabilized the situation. But it hasn t stopped. Now, more than 80% of my Covid patients have been discharged from the hospital. The ones that remain have mostly been in the hospital for months. We still have patients infected with the novel coronavirus coming. But they re manageable enough that we, the health care workers, can focus again on the jobs we used to do before this pandemic took off earlier this year. We are still exhausted, still recovering, but we thought we were moving forward in a smarter and more prepared way to manage another surge. Our work had mattered. The 23,000 lives we lost had mattered. And the 8.4 million people of New York City cared about those lives. New Yorkers have sacrificed a lot with businesses closed and people sheltered in place. More than a third of New York City households lost jobs, and almost half struggled with anxiety and depression. And in our hospitals, my colleagues and I fought hard for our patients lives — and for our own lives. We had figured out how to stop Covid-19. Or so we thought.After going through so much, the numbers started to climb in California, Texas, Florida and Arizona. Now we have more than 5.6 million confirmed Covid cases in the United States. We are seeing thousands of new cases and more than 1,000 deaths daily. While this gruesome and devastating situation continues, President Donald Trump claims "we have the best" mortality rate in the world. Needless to say, we don t. It s enough to take your breath away, like a sucker punch. With the spike of coronavirus cases in other states, numbers, data and scientific facts are being manipulated, treated as political opinion. In June, Vice President Mike Pence said in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, "Our public health system is much stronger than it was a month ago, and we are winning the fight against the invisible enemy." This week, Pence appeared to back off somewhat from his position. In the two months since that statement, cases across the United States have more than doubled from 2.1 million to 5.6 million and we are still well below where we need to be on testing. Almost a quarter of public health laboratories are at risk of running out of supplies within a week, according to the Association of Public Health Laboratories. This shows our public health system is not where it needs to be to end this pandemic.Public health experts at the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization all agree that wearing masks saves lives by blocking the spread of droplets that transmit the virus. Projections estimate it could save about 70,000 lives by December 1. Yet the President has no plans to mandate masks at the White House or on federal property. Furthermore, mask mandates are drawing public lawsuits in states like Florida, Oregon, Washington and Missouri. In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp filed a lawsuit against Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms over her plan to step up social distancing and mask mandates. The governor withdrew the suit earlier this month. The refusal to implement these critical measures feels like a denial of what we experienced firsthand here in New York. As if the lives that were lost here didn t matter enough. As if the lives we continue to lose don t matter enough. The parents of one of my patient asked me last month, "Is it really so bad in these other states?" It s hard to know without clear and consistent information from the leadership at federal, state and city levels. What is the truth?The truth is we are losing 1,000 lives in a day from a single cause. The truth is that we are all afraid. As a physician, I am afraid for everyone who will suffer from this virus when it should not be this way. The truth is that we know that face masks, physical distance and hand washing stop the spread of this disease — and these are all acts of love, not just for ourselves, but for each other, for people who are at greater risk, and for people with fewer resources. The truth is that these acts of love will save us. Without them, there will be more gut punches, and more lives will be lost.
Last night, Democrats offered a moving and motivational argument for their vision of America as a pluralistic and progressive society Through powerful videos, testimonials and speeches, they made the case for action to stem gun violence and climate change; bring undocumented workers out of the shadows; and strengthen the social contract with measures such as universal childcare. They welcomed a historic nominee for vice president, who touted her lineage as the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants and spoke of the ideal of racial reconciliation and John Lewis s vision of the "beloved community." They heard a fervent, powerful homily from a former president who symbolized change. Taken separately, you will find a majority of Americans are in favor of many of the ideals Democrats promoted last night. But President Donald Trump won the 2016 election by energizing a minority of voters -- most of whom are White -- who view these changes as a threat to their livelihoods and way of life. And what may seem like a humane, common sense agenda to most Americans, this week will be cast by Trump and the Republicans as nothing more than job-crushing environmental regulations; amnesty for "illegals" and open borders; an attack on police that invites urban violence and anarchy; onerous new taxation and a radical assault on the second amendment. These are the jagged fault lines of American politics: a rising number of young people, racial minorities and college-educated White voters versus those who view the cultural and social changes proudly displayed at the Democratic National Convention this week as a threat. Trump s fear of Joe Biden as an opponent is so pronounced that the President was impeached for trying to dig up dirt on him. But Biden -- a White, plain-spoken, devout Catholic from the industrial heartland -- is a culturally inconvenient target. Biden hardly looks the part of the far left radical Trump would use to rile up his base. In the primaries, Biden s history of moderation and bipartisanship was a rallying point among fellow Democratic candidates. But in a general election, this history serves as an asset, offering comfort to middle-of-the-road voters who are ready to fire Trump. That doesn t mean Trump won t try to seize on, embellish and distort the Democratic platform and Biden s programs to paint him as an aged and addled dupe who has surrendered to the left. Trump is likely to cast him as a trojan horse the Democrats will use to promote socialism, lawlessness and cultural expropriation. But Democrats have been relentless this week in presenting Biden as a decent, caring man deeply rooted in Main Street values; a resilient leader who has weathered unthinkable struggle and loss and is prepared to lead America out of one of its darkest epochs. Tonight, as he accepts the nomination of his party, his job is to dispatch Trump s attacks on his physical energy and mental acuity with a robust speech that defies caricature and speaks to the broadest swath of Americans. He needs to approach the speech as if he were already a sitting president and give Americans the confidence that better days are within our reach by laying out a clear sense of where he would lead on the virus and the economy. The battle for the presidency will mostly be one of mobilization, with each side working to get their bases out to vote. Democrats did a good job Wednesday of appealing to theirs with emotional presentations on core issues. But they have also offered reassurance this week to middle-of-the-road voters with speeches from moderate and Republican voices. This is particularly important, since the outcome in November may be decided by the final disposition of few, mostly White voters who are up for grabs in a handful of swing states. Tonight, Biden needs to keep that balance in mind as he makes his pitch to what may amount to the largest audience he will have to himself between now and November.
Why is President Donald Trump helping Russia and hurting the United States? That isn t a question that most Americans probably want to ask themselves right now, but they should.With the clock ticking toward Election Day, President Trump has inserted himself squarely into the election security threat matrix, undermining his own national security team and US democracy. By tweeting out and amplifying content officially attributed to a Russian influence operation and taking active measures against key election infrastructure, like the US Postal Service, and by failing to hold certain bad actors accountable, Trump himself is the biggest threat to a free and fair 2020 vote. There are active foreign threats facing the US election. Last month, after facing pressure, primarily from Democrats, the US intelligence community (IC) made public information regarding certain foreign election security threats. The IC issued a second statement earlier this month that specific foreign actors are targeting US elections -- they cited China, Russia, and Iran. While their statements are helpful in terms of informing the public, overall, about various threat streams, they confusingly grouped threats of very different scales and scopes -- apples and oranges -- in the same basket. Active, covert Russian influence operations are seemingly a bigger threat to Americans than public criticisms of the Trump administration from the ruling Chinese Communist Party. But the IC indicated that Russia prefers Trump to win the 2020 election, while China prefers him to lose. Trump may think it s more politically and personally expedient to focus on election interference from China and to disregard Russia s attacks. Plus it s clear he has never liked acknowledging that he is Putin s preference. Shortly after the IC s statement, US National Security Adviser Robert O Brien said on CBS that China and other countries are attacking secretary of state websites -- which sounds like an allegation that China is engaged in cyberattacks against critical election infrastructure. That s the first we ve heard about this alleged Chinese operation -- the IC statements on election security threats made no mention of any Chinese cyberattacks. While the intelligence community has indicated that unnamed adversaries "seek to compromise US election infrastructure," and says it is monitoring "malicious cyber actors," we have not seen anything to corroborate O Brien s specific accusation against China.If O Brien s allegations are true, it would be a major escalation by China that should warrant some kind of response. But we haven t heard about any planned punitive measures by the administration against the individuals and entities involved in the recently disclosed election security threats. (A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said last week that Beijing has never interfered in US elections, but government statements should be taken with more than a grain of salt.) That s a dangerous approach. With several foreign threats now public knowledge, it appears that the President is choosing to do nothing about them. Instead of taking action to counter foreign attacks on US democracy, he is playing dodgeball and failing to hold the attackers accountable. When recently asked about foreign meddling, he turned his ire on Democrats, saying it was they who were "meddling" by insisting on mail-in ballots. POTUS s failure to punish the actual attackers just empowers people like Vladimir Putin to keep attacking the US. Absent a policy response to their election interference, bad actors have no reason to stop while they re at it. But not only has Trump failed to punish certain foreign actors, he s helping them. The Intelligence Community s recent statement on election security threats said -- notably -- that Russia prefers Trump in 2020 and that Moscow is actively working to denigrate rival Joe Biden. The IC even specifically cited a player in Russia s influence operations against the United States -- Andriy Derkach. The statement said that Derkach, a Ukrainian lawmaker, "is spreading claims about corruption -- including through publicizing leaked phone calls -- to undermine former Vice President Biden s candidacy and the Democratic Party." Democrats have consistently raised concerns about Derkach s actions and work with certain Republican lawmakers.The US intelligence community could not have been clearer: Derkach is part of Russian attacks on US democracy. As President, Trump had to have had access to the underlying, highly classified intelligence that led the IC to their conclusions about Derkach, not to mention access to the underlying, highly classified intelligence about Russian election attacks more broadly. Trump s not known for spending a lot of time reading classified intelligence. But with the information on Derkach now public, there s zero chance that the President isn t aware of the US intelligence community s conclusions. Yet he helped Russia intelligence with the click of a button -- on Sunday he retweeted content that Derkach leaked, allegedly of a conversation between Biden and former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. (Poroshenko reportedly has said the audio is bogus.) Quite simply, Trump helped spread Russian disinformation, and the reason seems obvious -- it s all about winning a second term. When it comes down to it, Trump prioritizes his perceived personal needs over all of us -- the safety of our elections, our physical safety, and more. That s probably why Putin prefers him -- he s the antithesis of what a democratic leader looks like. In addition to giving certain attackers a free pass and apparently aiding and abetting Russian influence operations against us, Trump and his appointees also appear to be engaged in active measures targeting key election infrastructure -- the USPS. Trump s Postmaster General appointee Louis DeJoy will testify before Congress next week about allegations that his recent operational changes will hamper the Postal Service s ability to support voting by mail in November. And Trump s spreading of disinformation about mail-in voting amounts to influence operations against the USPS as he tries to denigrate the service s perceived capabilities to handle mailed ballots.Actions speak louder than words. It s obvious that the USPS is going to face an unprecedented burden this election cycle. A patriotic president would do everything possible to shore it up so that Americans can vote safely from their homes. Trump, however, is doing just the opposite. In fact, Trump said he opposes additional funding for the Postal Service because he doesn t want to see it used for mail in voting. Instead of giving the USPS the resources it needs to support a free and fair election, Trump is trying to undercut it. It goes without saying that a candidate confident of winning wouldn t try to stop Americans from voting. And a President who cares about his country s democracy wouldn t help the foreign actors attacking it. So as Americans tune in to the conventions and try to make sense of the election threats we re facing, they should be aware that President Trump himself is our primary source of election insecurity.
Mina M. Azer
Along the Corniche of Alexandria, they gather every Friday in the early morning and run. Some on their feet, others on their wheelchair or even bicycle. This is Wheelie Runners, an initiative launched by a group of young people, most of them people with disabilities. They aim to devote the concept of practicing sports, specifically to children. Thus, with the activities returning gradually, they decided to hold a