Judge Mohamed Abdel Wahab Khafagy, deputy president of the state council, issued a unique and unprecedented rule in 2016 that granted churches the same immunity mosques have against being bought and sold. This is probably the first ruling of its kind anywhere in the world which prohibits the sale or demolishing of churches, and makes church restoration a must, in order to preserve religious sanctity and freedom of belief. This ruling grants churches the same immunity as mosques based on the fact that houses of worship where prayer is established is transferred from the ownership of people to that of god, and so it can t just be traded between people, and religious purposes can t be altered. This ruling also brought forth an example of Egyptian greatness as it comes in support of the Egyptian government s decision to reject the demolition of a church in Beheira, after a man brought it from a Greek citizen who came from the Greek Orthodox community. The Egyptian government took the case to the court to appeal the selling of the church. Pope Tawadros II, the Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the Orthodox Church of St. Mark, intervened in the case as a religious symbol of Christianity aiming to preserve the Church, no matter what the sect. The Egyptian legislator has entrusted the ruling by issuing a law consistent with it, supporting the rule established by the judge and the sale or purchasing of buying churches. Egypt s churches have now become religiously preserved by an Egyptian judge and legislator. Khafagy s ruling came from the “jurisprudence of citizenship” preserved in the hearts of all Egyptians, providing protection and immunity to our brother s churches. It establishes a stable position for Egypt s churches from whatever sect, and wherever on the land of Egypt required to be protected from sale and purchase and demolition, and even providing restoration if damaged. The government is committed to building churches and keeping up their maintenance and rehabilitation for worship. This enlightened judge s ruling is not far from the state of citizenship in its manifestation, where the church is adjacent to the mosque. This is also comes in line with the church building law, which succeeded in reconciling the situations of more than 1,000 churches in its first year and proceeding towards another 1,000, in hopes to conclude an issue not approached by a government before the June 30 revolution, and which deserves to be described as a revolution of Egypt s people against sectarian superiority. While it s widely known that judges should not be hailed or vilified, here is an exception that deserves praise and appreciation for his work, and tribute and respect for his enlightenment. We are proud of the fact that here is a great judge who believes in true citizenship. The ruling was issued three years ago (March 28, 2016). It is a reference to those who review the history of citizenship, in a country where citizenship has been horribly targeted for decades. This ruling came as a breakthrough.
I spent two days at the seventh National Youth Conference at the New Administrative Capital this week, soaking in the talk of harsh realities, hard work and the prospects of a lasting dream. There, I saw the footprints of the future drawn by young Egyptians. There, enthusiasm is based on plans, statistics and projects that are well-thought-out and attached to their world. Enthusiastic young Egyptians have been searching deeply, looking into the strong and the weak points of the society in an attempt to diagnose the real dilemma. There was a team of young men and women coming from all over this country, working hard and in harmony to pursue their path to the future. Despite their different perspectives, professions, and educational backgrounds, they were highly attuned to their mission. I couldn t help but listen passionately to each and every one of them. They spoke about their dreams for Egypt, until that dream took them far from our reality. Their words -- though brief and concentrated – dig deep into our problems, presenting well-planned and timely projects that set the stage for a better future. Each and every one of them knew exactly his or her role in a well-planned system. Despite the huge number of people who took part in the event, the young Egyptians perseverance and persistence in dealing with the harsh realities and finding the best possible solutions was the key to understanding the harmony of their performance. Throughout the two-day forum, there has been a sense of willingness to overcome the difficulties around us, and to look deeply into the dilemma of coexisting with negligence, ugliness and laxity. President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has rightly bet on those young men and women of Egypt to bridge the gap between the reality and the dream. Following the forum s activities would make anyone feel that the gap between reality and our dream has become narrower. It is very much like watching the blueprints and drawings of the new capital, then, in a short time, one actually lives within and touches each and every corner of that glorious city. The drawings have thus turned into skyscrapers, modern urban planning, wide roads and beautiful scenery. Similar projects have been taking place across the country, from Aswan in Upper Egypt to the North Coast, where new cities are to be launched and will become full of life, beauty and hard work. The new capital, which is a dream that came true in the heart of the desert, has also become the model for hundreds of national projects which will soon be crowned by putting the final touches to the modern state administrative system. Getting rid of the old system has become a necessity. It has been in itself an obstacle due to its slow and long processes, the lack of accurate data due to negligence, and because of its inability to maintain anything more than a sluggish connection between its different institutions. The coupon system, for instance, has been giving aid to those who are not in need, due to lack of accurate statistics and data. This lack of reliable information has also made it difficult to plan for the future. Corruption is another feature of the old administrative system. It will always flourish in a puzzling environment where the manipulation of paperwork and the lack of connections between information has become the rule. What we have seen in the new capital is the outcome of hard work to develop the administrative system. It will depend on state-of-the-art technology to create a “modern brain” for the country: the data of 50,000 employers will be stored on highly secured servers built some 14 meters underground. The most important and highly confidential government data will be kept here. With this modern administrative system, high quality services will be presented to our people without delay and with efficiency. The “government brain” will not only be available to the ministries and government officials, but also to major investment projects. President El-Sisi has said that we will have a modern and well-developed brain for the Egyptian state. When we have such a brain, we will be able to take decisions based on accurate data and plan for the future. Better yet, we will be able to get rid of bureaucracy and of ill-advised decisions. By the end of next year, the new “government brain” will be in operation and by then we will witness a great leap in government performance. One of the most fascinating projects is the initiative of “Dignified Life” which is being launched in the poorest villages. In such villages, new and beautiful houses will be built, with water and electricity supplies and a well-designed sewage system. The young people from poverty-stricken villages will also be able to participate in the new employment programme, broadening their horizons. Now we have so many examples full of hope and confident of a better future with a president who has the will and the spirit to realise our dream. He also has, by his side, very enthusiastic young people who love their country and are well-equipped with knowledge and scientific thinking. Those young Egyptians will give us the positive energy and confidence that our children will pursue a better living standard. It is the future that deserves a lot of work, patience and perseverance. It is the future that comes with grand projects embodied in dozens of new cities planned in the desert to establish industrial and agricultural communities, with roads and bridges that stretch out for 8,000km, and 3-to-6 traffic lanes. It is the future that will change this country, and put an end to the cancerous slums that have until now prevailed and threatened our security and lifestyle. In these slums, all sorts of social diseases are mushrooming, and when they are eradicated with the establishment of new communities that are marked by beautiful structures and clean, wide roads, a new era will be ushered in. It is hard to review such fascinating efforts exerted by our young people in their two-day forum, but their hard work marks a new historical era characterised by a new lifestyle in health, education and economic activity, as dreamed of by all Egyptians.
Modern British history has shown no shortage of great leadership figures that have stirred the country in the darkest of times. Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher were two examples of how stern and visionary leadership could help to steer the country to safety in times of peace and war. However, the United Kingdom s more recent history has lacked such figures. Over the past couple of decades, the country has been struggling with the quality of its political leadership, with this doing the opposite of what its historical antecedents did, which was to help the country through various storms. The UK s failure of leadership has become a pattern since at least former prime minister Tony Blair, in office between 1997 and 2007, who parroted former US president George W Bush s false claims about Iraq possessing nuclear weapons and led his country into invading a sovereign nation in 2003. This pattern of troubled leadership has continued over the past decade, reaching its highest point when former prime minister David Cameron called for a referendum on leaving the European Union, the so-called Brexit, in 2016, resulting in a British vote to leave the EU. This vote has had ramifications until today, and it was the result of an unexplained lack of political awareness and overconfidence on Cameron s part. The result was a slap in the face for the ex-prime minister, who ended up losing his bet on Britain remaining in Europe and opened a Pandora s Box for further political upheaval that may take decades to fix. Britain now has a new prime minister in the shape of the Conservative Boris Johnson who has replaced former prime minister Theresa May. The latter had promised to deliver a safe Brexit out of the European Union and firmly negotiate favourable terms with it. Though she had three years to accomplish the task she had sworn to do, she failed miserably on all counts. Johnson s first speech as prime minister contained another vow to exit the European Union with fewer than 100 days left before this is due to take place. It is not known how he will attain such a feat. But earlier statements speak about exiting the European Union at all costs even if this means no deal with Europe and economic catastrophe. May could have done this without all the fuss as well, though it would have left Britain and the British economy stranded at a crossroads between being forced to work with European laws that are no longer acceptable in the United Kingdom and with unpaid debts to the EU that will have their own ramifications for the future of the country. Johnson s approach of bullying Europe is highly unlikely to yield tangible results. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has already expressed his rejection of Johnson s rhetoric and said that the EU will not renegotiate a deal with the UK. The deal reached with May is the best that can be achieved, he has said, though this deal was rejected several times by the British parliament. Johnson s reaction to this is the first move in his attempt to carve out a legacy as prime minister, which means either he keeps his image as a controversial political activist with an emphasis on media showmanship or adopts an image as the nation s leader instead. Johnson may not be the most likeable character in the Conservative Party, but if can secure a proper Brexit with the least economic costs for the United Kingdom then he will be looked at in a different light. There is worse news from the other side of the aisle with the opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn is not short on controversies, as hardly a month goes by without unrealistic and populist statements emerging from his mouth. Corbyn is not shy about being photographed with representatives of terrorist groups such as the Palestinian group Hamas. He portrays himself as a staunch fighter for human rights, while remaining on cordial terms with figures and groups that do not believe in them. Corbyn, in fact, is a staunch communist in terms of his political agenda, and he could have been an active leader in the former Soviet Union. Many of his statements may sound plausible to the general public, especially when he delivers speeches about healthcare, social justice and economic reform, but they are always presented within a classically Marxist vision of things. Populist promises fall on hard ground when they are attempted in reality, and for a British leader to adopt such promises spells danger if Corbyn finds his way into 10 Downing Street after future elections. This will depend on the performance of Johnson in the coming months, and the look of his new cabinet is not promising. It includes two ministers sacked from previous cabinets, one of them being Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, who as a former defence minister leaked state secrets that resulted in his firing. The cabinet also includes a significant number from the Remain camp who voted against Brexit and then changed their minds, making their commitment to Johnson s goal of leaving the EU as soon as possible questionable. At the moment, distrust of the new cabinet and Johnson himself remains very high among the public and media alike. The three years wasted on attempting to exit the European Union have been harsh on Britain s social, economic and political position, and the situation cannot continue to remain unresolved for much longer. Moreover, current domestic feuds within Britain are reflecting negatively on the state of the union, evident in Scotland s first minister demanding a new independence referendum for Scotland in the light of the Brexit decision which according to her provides a choice for the Scottish people to remain within the union or become independent within the European Union. She iterated this position in a letter addressed to Johnson this week. Johnson, unpopular in Scotland even among Tory supporters, plans to visit Scotland soon to rally the unionists to his side who managed to win the Scotland independence referendum in 2014. Back then the Brexit was none-existent, however, and being a member of the EU was one of the perks flaunted by the Remain camp to persuade voters to vote to remain in the UK. Since the 2016 Brexit Referendum, things have changed dramatically, and the very perk that kept Scotland within the United Kingdom may be the same that will now lead to its independence should a new referendum take place. Since the end of the Second World War, the UK has not found itself in a bigger political crisis, even with the years of economic recession, the Suez Crisis, the Falklands War and then the Gulf War. The reason is that the Brexit crisis will shape the future of the United Kingdom and its political and economic status for future generations. Given the inept and comic figures that currently hold key positions in Britain, the future does not look bright.
In a cabinet meeting 24 July, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani reiterated his country s readiness for talks over its nuclear programme. He added that Tehran has always been ready for what he described as “just and respectful negotiations”. The following day, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, talking to Kevin Cirilli of Bloomberg, said he would welcome the chance to address the Iranian people and tell them the “truth” concerning the policies adopted by their leadership. The same day, 25 July, he told Bret Baier of Fox News that the US strategy of maximum pressure on Iran aims at disrupting the creation of wealth for the regime of the Ayatollahs and to push the Iranian leadership to “sit down and negotiate to terms that just make Iran look like a normal nation”. So, the stage is being set for future negotiations between the United States and Iran. It goes without saying that the American gun pointed at Tehran won t make things easy. However, the Europeans and other powers, particularly in Asia, would doubtless try to mediate a path that would make it possible for the Iranians to start talking to the Americans without appearing to be surrendering to American conditions as laid out by Pompeo in May 2018, days after the United States announced its withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or Iranian nuclear deal. In the meantime, the main concern for the United States and its European and Middle Eastern allies and partners is to safeguard the freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz. For this purpose, US Central Command hosted a meeting at its headquarters in Tampa, Florida 19 July to discuss the development of a multinational maritime effort “to increase surveillance of and security in key waterways in the Middle East to ensure freedom of navigation”. “Operation Sentinel”, the name given to this multinational maritime effort, aims according to a released statement to promote maritime stability and ensure safe passage in international waterways in the region. Furthermore, another important objective is to deescalate tensions in international waters in four strategic zones; namely, the Strait of Hormuz, the Arabia Gulf, the Gulf of Oman and the Bab Al-Mandab. On the other hand, former British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt proposed last week the formation of a naval force to escort ships and tankers in the Arabian Gulf to ensure safe passage through the Strait of Hormuz. The French, the Germans and the British are coordinating their diplomatic efforts to agree on the formation and rules of engagement pertaining to this proposed force. The French are very careful not to antagonise the Iranians in this regard, and want the force to act as a deterrent to any attacks on foreign ships in the Gulf. They believe that what is important is to keep the Iranians engaged in negotiations with the European Union so as to deescalate the situation in the Gulf and to work with the Iranians with the hope that Tehran, despite its threats, would remain committed to the nuclear deal while trying hard to lessen the economic and financial impact of American sanctions on Iran. After the arrival of Boris Johnson as British prime minister on Wednesday, 24 July, the Europeans could find him more prone to deescalate with the Iranians. Some observers fear that the new prime minister could be more prone to follow in the footsteps of the White House strategy of maximum pressure on Iran. When he was foreign secretary in Theresa May s cabinet, before his resignation last year, he tried to talk President Donald Trump into not walking out of the Iranian nuclear deal. Now, and taking into account the difficult Brexit process under his tenure, chances are that he would prefer to take the middle ground between the American and the European positions on Iran. In the difficult months ahead, before Britain exits the European Union by 31 October, he is in no position to lose the support and the goodwill of President Trump. As long as the United States is not keen on a military confrontation with Iran, the Europeans, including the British, have a good chance of using their diplomatic leverage with Iran to facilitate negotiations between the United States and Iran. One sure way is the successful implementation of the mechanism Intex (Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges) to avoid American sanctions. Judging from the positions and declarations of American officials and top brass, Washington s main objective is twofold. First applying maximum pressure on Iran to push the Iranian leadership to agree to negotiate, and second is to safeguard safe passage through international waterways in the Gulf, the Arabian Sea, as well as Bab Al-Mandab in such a way as to deescalate the situation in the Gulf region. In other words, to deter Iran from escalating the face-off with the United States and its Middle Eastern allies and partners. The Europeans are also interested in deescalating while working to deter Iran from threatening freedom of navigation, as well as to encourage Tehran to remain committed to the nuclear deal. Iran, even though its economy is in shambles, does not hesitate to take small, inoffensive steps to deter the Americans and the Europeans at the same time. The former to not increase its campaign of maximum pressure and the latter to help Iran get around American sanctions. It is a risky three-way deterrence. Its success depends on each side of this triangle calculating its moves carefully. However, the longer this three-sided deterrence remains, the greater the chances of miscalculation, especially from the Americans or Iranians. Another factor in this equation is Israel. If Iran would gradually disengage from its commitments in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, because of lack of diplomatic progress on contentious questions with the Europeans and the US, Israel could destabilise the deterrence balance in place between the US and Europe, on the one hand, and Iran, on the other. Israel s strategic aim remains the complete destruction of Iranian nuclear capacities and capabilities. Israel won t hesitate to go to any length if Iran would someday go full steam ahead in its nuclear programme.
The United States and the world celebrated Saturday, 20 July, the fiftieth anniversary of the landing on the moon of Apollo 11 with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on board. Once he touched the lunar surface, Armstrong had uttered a sentence that would reverberate around the globe and down ages to come. “That s one small step for man, one giant leap for mank Looking back, I could not help but think of where Egypt had been 50 years back and what has become of her after five decades that have seen radical changes in world politics as well as the fate of Egypt, the Middle East and the Arab world. Egypt from within has undergone deep and transformative changes. The years that separate us from the day that two daring American astronauts landed on the moon have been years of war, peace and modernisation by fits and starts.
The backlash abroad against President Xi Jinping s China, at least in developed nations, has spread rapidly in the last year. Some countries, like Australia and Canada, feel patronized and bullied. Neighbors worry they are being marginalized. Advanced industrial nations, especially Germany and South Korea, see China coming at them like an unstoppable, oncoming train. he US, for decades the world s lone superpower, is confronted by a once-in-a-lifetime challenge from Beijing. All of these phenomena, previously bubbling under the surface, have burst into clear view during Xi s time in office. Beijing s opaque internal political system means it is hard to make judgments about domestic Chinese politics, but there can be little doubt that a backlash is underway at home, too. Good and bad enemies As a leader, Xi is unique in post-revolutionary party politics in not having any identifiable domestic rival or successor, largely because he has ensured that none have been allowed to emerge. But Xi has earned himself an array of what we might called "bad enemies" and "good enemies" since taking office in late 2012. They range from the once-rich and powerful families he destroyed in his anti-corruption campaign, all the way to the small-r reformers angered by his illiberal rollback of the incremental institutional advances of the reform period. Forced to lay low initially because of the dangers of challenging him outright, Xi s critics at home have begun to find their voice. They have been outspoken mainly on economic policy, but the deeper undercurrents of their criticisms are unmistakeable. The sons of former top leaders, revered scholars who guided China s economic miracle, frustrated private entrepreneurs and academics furious about Xi s unrelenting hardline -- all have complained in multiple public forums, in speeches, in online postings and in widely circulated essays at home and offshore, about Xi s policies and style. "Something strange is happening in Xi Jinping s China," wrote Ian Johnson in the New York Review of Books. In what was supposed to be the "perfect dictatorship", the country was witnessing "the most serious critique of the system in more than a decade, led by people inside China who are choosing to speak out now, during the most sensitive season of the most sensitive year in decades." The exact number of "tigers" toppled by Xi s anti-corruption campaign -- in other words, officials who were once part of the designated elite whose jobs had to be cleared through the Party s central personnel system -- is not easy to calculate. The best estimates put it around 300 to 400, including scores of generals. The officials who have been prosecuted and jailed include members of the Politburo, ministers, vice-ministers, the heads of state-owned enterprises, provincial party leaders and governors, and mayors. An anti-China protester raises a placard with a portrait of Chinese President Xi Jinping during a protest in front of the Chinese consular office in the financial district of Manila on April 9. In each of those cases, the investigations don t just hit the individual official who has been targeted and detained. Literally, hundreds of thousands of people who are tied into and rely on that single person for their income are effectively swept up with them. Their livelihoods, and all that they have invested in clawing their way through the system, can evaporate with the stroke of a pen. Some members of the patronage networks are often arrested themselves. Xi has made enemies of them all. "Xi has destroyed millions of people in the elite who now all hold a personal grudge against him," said a China-based businessman, who asked not to be named, earlier in 2019. "These people are not a bunch of uneducated peasants from the sticks in Henan. They had skin in the game." Threshold for an uprising is high Despite all this, Victor Shih, a US-China specialist, was doubtless right when he said that the threshold for some kind of "intra-party uprising" against Xi remains very high. "He would need to commit a catastrophic mistake that jeopardizes the continual rule of the Party for his potential enemies within the Party to rise up against him," Shih said in the New Yorker. But the idea that Xi is literally "president for life," as he is often referred to in the wake of the 2018 abolition of term limits, will in all likelihood be proved wrong. From mid-2018, Xi was already facing a public backlash on economic policy, the area where it has always been safest for Chinese to speak out. Xi has a legion of critics on foreign policy as well, who believe he has overreached and left the way open for the US and others to bind together on issues ranging from trade and technology to military and strategic influence in east Asia. Most scholars have delivered their critiques in private, or in carefully coded language. However Deng Xiaoping s son, Deng Pufang, was explicit in a speech late last year to a disabilities forum which was leaked to the Hong Kong media. He urged China s leadership to "know its place" in the world, and concentrate on its problems at home. Finally, the abolition of term limits summed up the rage that many influential officials and scholars felt about their country s leader. In one decision, Xi confirmed his critics view that he was an unrepentant autocrat willing to take China backwards in the service of his agenda. Just as it is difficult to anticipate where any challenge will come from, it is equally hard to see how Xi s supremacy in domestic politics can be sustained. Factors which remain out of Xi s control will weigh against him. China s slowing economy and rapidly declining demographics can obviously be leveraged to argue in favor of maintaining tight authoritarian controls. But they are much more likely to work against Xi in future. The same goes for China s tightening fiscal situation. Beijing s ability to throw money at every problem, like bailing out cash-strapped local governments, will only get harder. In other words, by the time of the next party congress, due in late 2022, the issue of succession should return with a vengeance.
Known as the golden boy-king, the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun became important news this month when Christie s, an auction house in the UK, put a head featuring the boy-king s facial features on sale on 4 July in London. Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany asked the National Committee for the Return of Stolen Artefacts to discuss the issue. They announced that the ministry would file a lawsuit against Christie s and asked Prosecutor-General Nabil Sadek to give authority to the Egyptian Embassy in London in its attempt to halt the sale. The UN cultural agency UNESCO was also asked to intervene. The head is made of quartzite and represents the god Amon Re with the facial features of Tutankhamun. This type of head came from Karnak, or rather it was stolen from Karnak. One major problem that we are facing with stolen artefacts is that the antiquities authorities in Luxor seldom report stolen objects. As a result, even in the case of this head of Tutankhamun it is difficult to offer evidence that it was stolen. UK law also does not require that Christie s should present legal documents to the effect that the object left Egypt legally. Egyptian law before 1983 required anyone taking an object out of Egypt to go to the Egyptian Museum and obtain a certificate saying that the piece was not stolen. Christie s did not show any evidence that they had a legal document to show that the head of Tutankhamun was not stolen. At the same time, the auction house said that the head had belonged to German prince Wilhelm von Thurn und Taxis (1919-2004) in the 1960s and that he had sold it in 1973 or 1974 to Josef Messina, the owner of the Galerie Kokorian & Co in Vienna. But according to a report by the website LiveScience, Gudula Walterskirchen, a historian and journalist who knew Wilhelm well, said that he did not have an artefact collection. Moreover, Sylvia Schoske, director of the Museum of Egyptian Art in Munich in Germany, published the head in a book in Germany (Konzeption der Ausstellung und Katalog Heinz Herzer, an exhibition catalogue). This was for an exhibition in 1986, but she did not report the event to the Egyptian authorities at that time, who also did not recognise the head of Tutankhamun. Even so, the Munich Museum has a reputation for exhibiting stolen artefacts, as was shown by its exhibiting the coffin of Akhenaton even though it knew that it had been stolen. The head of Tutankhamun was sold on 4 July for over four million pounds sterling, the equivalent of $5.97 million. The occasion took 10 minutes, and we do not know who bought the head. Unfortunately, it seems to have been some rich person who will now keep the head in his private collection, not allowing the public to see it. I said on many TV channels at the time that this was a black day in the history of Egyptian archaeology. People all over the world were upset. If the British government lets this object leave the country without looking at the legal papers, then this will also be wrong. Some 18 British archaeological teams are working in Egypt, and though we do not want to punish them because of the actions of Christie s, some people have argued for just that. These teams are made up of colleagues working at many sites and making major discoveries. Other people have argued that there should be an embargo on the current Tutankhamun exhibition visiting London in November, but we cannot punish British citizens for the actions of Christie s or their government. I recently returned from the US to attend a meeting of the national committee headed by El-Enany. We decided to hire a law firm in London to take action against Christie s, and this decision was passed on to the Egyptian ambassador in London. Sadek has also asked the international police organisation Interpol to follow up on any sale of Egyptian objects abroad. At the very least, we should see the legal documents to ensure that the objects left Egypt legally. Meanwhile, Christie s has done nothing whatsoever to help. They sold the piece, and they damaged history, and the world was outraged at the move. We may not be able to do anything to bring back the head, but those who deal in such statues may do well to beware the curse of Tutankhamun.
We are now in the second half of July, a time when ten days or so before the 23rd of the month Facebook in Egypt erupts with people feeling an urge to express their views on former president Gamal Abdel-Nasser, the modern Egyptian state, on what went wrong, what went right and who was better – Nasser or his successor Anwar Al-Sadat. Some people also say we should not forget Mohamed Naguib or king Farouk, individuals who are rightly thought of as Nasser s victims. As a result, they are sometimes wrongly sanctified, Farouk especially so. I ll try to be more accurate about the people I mean. I am now 60 years old, and among my generation and my parents generation everybody wants to have their say. This is inspired by our experiences and is grounded in our recollections, as we all lived under Nasser and his heirs. Memories of our parents doubtless plays a role. During the 1970s and 1980s, we used to spend hours with friends and schoolmates debating the question of how 1967 had been possible. People exchanged stories, shared recollections, and tried to stick to “lessons learnt”. Of course, we also tried to figure out what happened in 1973, to assess how Sadat had managed the war, and to establish the accuracy of general Al-Shazli s narrative of it, and so on. However, our generations are now in a minority in Egypt. What about today s young people? I do not have an answer to this question as we lack recent and reliable polls. However, I have a sample, definitely not representative, made up of my students and Facebook friends. All my students speak foreign languages and almost all belong to the upper-middle classes with some exceptions. According to some polls taken in 2011 or 2012, Nasser emerged as the clear number one among Egyptian political preferences, though he did not reach the threshold of 50 per cent. Sadat came a strong second. When I lecture my students on “theories of revolution,” with Egypt s as case studies, they show great interest, a willingness to read and learn, and some sometimes surprising twists. For instance, though this is not related to Egypt, a brilliant student of mine with strong leftist inclinations once told me that the ultra-reactionary Roman Catholic writer Augustin Cochin was her preferred author. “I have finally read something really new and inspiring,” she said. I cannot claim I have had discussions with all of them, but I can give some examples of what they say. Those who belong to very conservative families cannot understand how I can say that Nasser was a great man. He was a megalomaniac who crushed dissent and led Egypt to disaster, they say. Liberals, on the other hand, tend to say that “what you are saying is very interesting, but it is so remote. However, it is interesting as it helps us to understand your world view.” By this, they mean “ferocious belief in independence and autonomy” and sceptical attitudes towards the West. Others have told me they do not like Nasser and his brand of nationalism. After some discussion, it seems to me they think Nasser s discourse sounds pretty much like the diatribes of some of those who call themselves “nationalists” today and who keep on imagining world conspiracies, horrible plots and lecture everybody on foreigners and fifth columnists misdeeds. Most of my students tend to consider Nasser as the father of the “July state,” which is alive and kicking, powerful, authoritarian and unable to adapt itself to democratic needs. Many admit that this state has achieved many things and accomplished great deeds. They differ on the question of whether we need it today. Lastly, I have some students and acquaintances who think of Nasser s era as a lost paradise. Egyptians trusted the leadership, had a lot of things in common including a grand design, did not need to pay attention to their daily needs as the state took care of them, and could devote their time to heroic deeds and sacred causes. Of course, not all Nasser s fans are as naïve as that. Many simply think of him as an honest patriot who dedicated his life to a grand design that should be an inspiration to all of us. It should be noted that I think these young people do not necessarily see Nasser through their parents lenses. Rightly or wrongly, they believe they know the pros and the cons of the case, and they have their own opinions. However, it seems to me that many of them believe their parents views on Sadat. Many are surprised when I evoke what his opponents have had to say about him. Reviewing such themes could be very instructive, not for understanding Nasser and Sadat, but for understanding contemporary Egyptians.For now, I prefer to describe something that has surprised me, however. Many students have said that Nasser was a “crypto-communist” and many others have thought he was a “crypto-Muslim Brother.” For them, Nasser agreed on the essentials with his “political family,” whether communist or Islamist, and the real clash was not about ideology but about who would seize power. They underline the fact that Nasser was a Muslim Brother before the revolution and that he had had close contacts with HADETO, the Democratic Movement for National Liberation, a communist faction. This is very unsound, however. Instead, we should say that Nasser was something like a centrist. This may sound paradoxical, except that French historian Fabrice Bouthillon has said in one of his best books that there are two opposite kinds of “centre,” a centre that excludes the extremes and a centre that includes them. Nasser excluded both extremes from the relevant circles of power, but he also borrowed many ideas from them and fitted them into his own doctrine. This is one way to explain the problem. Another one stems from Nasser himself, especially as he once said that he read Marx with the Marxists and against them. This meant that he thought it was necessary to analyse the social system using Marxist tools, but that he did not accept a scheme predicting or advocating an exacerbation of class struggle and culminating in revolution. He was also too much of a nationalist to accept internationalism, especially as this was a cover for Soviet hegemony at the time. His own recipe was to “nationalise” the class struggle. With Political Islam, the problem was different. Nasser shared some strong dislikes with the Brotherhood. He thought they were good on education, as they educated young people to become good Muslims and they disciplined them. But he thought they totally lacked political or common sense and that they could not accept the logical consequences of the need for a united country fighting for its independence.
The entire world stopped before the Hiroshima disaster and history recalls every day the number of victims and images of devastation. But nobody stopped to acknowledge the victims of a greater catastrophe whose numbers surpass those of Hiroshima by a factor of 14. The former was a disaster that struck humanity with horror and after which treaties and campaigns were launched, initiatives and organisations were established. The latter was a disaster on a whole other scale, but ceased to become first page news. With established scientific responsibility, I dare say that ideological weapons are the most dangerous of Weapons of Mass Destruction in the 21st century. They are the equivalent of biological weapons without noise or clamour. Bacteria and viruses that constitute the backbone of biological weapons were substituted with intellectual bacteria and ideological viruses to form the cornerstone of ideological weapons. The West speaks of the dangers of biological weapons, while the Islamic world confronts daily the uses of ideological weapons. Wars knew biological weapons centuries ago where rivers and water wells were poisoned. In World War I, poisonous bacteria was used in order to spread illnesses and diseases and annihilate the largest numbers possible among enemy troops. In World War II, Nazi Germany used more advanced biological weapons and the armies of other Axis countries used biological bombs, killing thousands of people. Biological weapons are terrifying weapons. According to historians, smallpox victims surpassed the victims of World War I and World War II put together. In spite of eradicating the smallpox virus in the world now, the virus is still preserved in the laboratories of the big powers. About half-a-century after the ratification of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development of Bacteriological Weapons, Moscow and Washington began accusing each other of violating the convention and developing horrific biological weapons. What I would like to draw attention to is that ideological weapons are also developed and there are laboratories in several intelligence services that are working on this field in order to make ideas weapons for annihilation, not for dialogue. The ideological weapons, as I see it, use extremist ideas to annihilate vast numbers of enemies under the pretext of breaking the rules of the creed. It is a weapon which was put into use during European colonisation, then developed further by the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, after which the victorious Western powers from WWII adopted it. The policy of “Divide and conquer,” which is built on sowing religious sectarian divisions and creating a mutually exclusive formula among society s forces and segments, is the foundation of the imperial ideological weapon. This policy has succeeded many a time in helping small colonial countries in colonising other big countries. Strife was the first kind of ideological weapon put into practice and was behind the weakness of colonised peoples and elites towards forces of invasion and occupation. Then religious extremism gained full attention as the weapon of utmost importance in destroying the Islamic Ummah (Nation) without a fight. A victory without war. The author of A Mosque in Munichpointed out the Nazis role in developing the application of this weapon. It was done through using Islamist extremists as a fifth column, working with forces abroad for the sake of ruining the state and terminating the regime and also using extremists within Muslim minorities in enemy states for the same purpose. Hitler was defeated but the idea wasn t crushed. It moved from Berlin to other capitals. The ideological weapon was developed to be the most lethal of weapons. The ideological weapon, that is using the extremist Muslims as a weapon in defeating Islam and Muslims, succeeded in harming almost all the Islamic countries. There is not a single Islamic country that has escaped from the clutches of terrorism and the tragedy of excessiveness and extremism. The American war on Iraq and Afghanistan led to a historic leap in the power of terrorism and an exponential increase in the numbers of victims. According to a study made by the Watson Institute for International Affairs at Brown University in the US, more than half a million people died in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan during 10 years: a quarter of a million in Iraq and another quarter of a million in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As for The Lancetmedical journal, it published an authoritative study in which it estimated the Iraqi death toll from the year of invasion 2003 until 2006 to be more than 650,000, including 50,000 due directly to the invasion and 600,000 killed as a result of violence erupting following the invasion. The British Opinion Research Business agency, which conducted a detailed field study, estimated the numbers of Iraqi victims from 2003 to 2007 to be about one million and 33,000! Study centers hold the view that the real numbers are far greater than already mentioned. According to the introduction of the Brown University research paper, “Indeed, we may never know the total direct death toll in these wars.” Tens of thousands were killed in the operations of regaining Mosul and other cities from the hands of the Islamic State (IS) group, but the bodies of those casualties weren t regained. Statistics don t also include those killed indirectly. If we put that into consideration, the Iraqi death toll since the invasion could well surpass two million. Newspapers published in 2019 that IS seeks to obtain biological weapons in different parts of the Islamic world. This time the tragedy would be unlimited, combining both biological and ideological weapons. The matter is shocking and terrifying to the extent that it is better not to think about it. In this case, Muslim societies will disintegrate into groups and factions, with each group considering the other its enemy and everyone condemning the other. The Islamic world doesn t need more than this to witness the autumn of its life. A defeat without war. At this time, the numbers of victims of ideological weapons can t be estimated. We will repeat what General Tommy Franks, who led the 2003 invasion of Iraq, said when asked by reporters about the number of casualties: “We don t do body counts.” The ideological weapons need a counter weapon to dispel the illusions ignorant extremists propagate, and resume the building of the soft power of civilisation. Culture is the foundation of the counter weapon and knowledge is the base for resuming hope.
Despite multiple examples of both electronic and print media that highlight the successes of women in public and private life, women are still seen as too emotional and unable to take substantial decisions in their lives. It is not just men who assume that women are not decision makers, women also fall prey to the same assumption. To a considerable extent, the media plays a key role in promoting negative concepts and attitudes toward women. Doubtless, the media not only gives people information and entertainment, but it also impacts people s lives by shaping their opinions and beliefs.
On Wednesday, 10 July, Sir Kim Darroch, the British ambassador to the United States, submitted his resignation after three eventful days that pitted him against the “most powerful man in the world”, the President of the United States Mr Donald Trump. In his letter of resignation, Darroch stated he was afraid he would not to be able to carry out his official duties. His resignation was unprecedented for a British ambassador posted in the United States.
As I write this, the Gulf has stepped closer to the brink of a military confrontation. On Wednesday, last week, Iranian gunboats tried to impede and seize a British oil tanker. They would have forced it towards an Iranian port had not a British frigate escorting the tanker intervened, trained its guns on the Iranian vessels and forced them to retreat. The attempted seizure of the British tanker was in retaliation for the British seizure of an Iranian tanker in Gibraltar because it was carrying oil to Syria in flagrant breach of EU sanctions. The Iranian response is part of the succession of escalatory incidents in the Gulf and Red Sea that have led the US to decide to form an international coalition to protect commercial vessels, oil tankers and maritime platforms. It would be comprised of nations keen to safeguard the security of their ships and maritime routes, while the US would be in charge of monitoring and intelligence in the designated region, which includes the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Oman, Bab Al-Mandeb and the Suez Canal. As tensions in the Gulf grow increasingly fraught, it appears that the Eastern Mediterranean is heading in the same direction. An impending crisis has been seething beneath its waters and threatens to erupt to the surface there as well. UN Secretary General António Guterres has warned of the “risks of conflict” raised by exploratory drilling for hydrocarbon resources (oil and gas) in that region. The risk of conflict over natural resources — from water to petroleum and natural gas — is far from new in the Middle East. What is new this time is that the bad omens are coming at a time when the spirit of cooperation and partnership in the Middle East seemed to have gained an edge over the spirit of conflict and tension, and when good news appears quicker to arrive than bad. Previously in this column I have observed how the maritime border agreements between Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Egypt and Cyprus, which were concluded in accordance with international maritime law, had opened the doors to mutual prosperity in the Red Sea and Eastern Mediterranean. I held that the prospects for sharing the benefits of the natural resources in these regions would work to keep tension and conflict at bay. In no small part, this has proven correct. Things have begun to look up in the south after Ethiopia and Eritrea signed a peace deal ending their longstanding conflict and in the north where Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Cyprus, Greece and Italy formed the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF). In addition, the US mediation carried out by Ambassador David Satterfield succeeded in bridging differences between Lebanon and Israel over the maritime boundaries between them, facilitating natural gas extraction for them both. Lebanon has engaged the French firm Total, the Italian Eni and Russia s Novatek for the purpose while Israel engaged the Israeli Delek Drilling company and the American Noble Energy company which are currently operating in the Tamar and Leviathan gas fields. The Dutch-British Shell company has begun exploration for more gas in Cypriot waters which, according to the Cypriot-Egyptian agreement, will be liquified by the Egyptian firm Edco. The most recent piece of good news concerns the closure of the longstanding dispute between Egypt and Israel over Egyptian compensations to Israel for halting gas exports in the wake of 18 terrorist attacks against the gas pipeline in Sinai. Under the agreement, the compensation due to be paid to Israel was reduced from $1.8 billion to $500 million. Then, on 30 June, Israel used pipelines belonging to Egypt s Eastern Mediterranean Gas Company to pump gas from Israel s Tamar gas field to Egypt. Mutual interests, therefore, seem to have the power to transcend sensitive areas of conflict, as occurred with the Palestinians and Israelis, who became members in a single forum (the EMFG) and between them and the Lebanese in order to enable them both to benefit from their offshore resources. Unfortunately, Turkey had no interest in such an approach. Ankara s agenda is shaped by the Turkish-Greek conflict of a century ago, the proxy war between Greece and Turkey over divided Cyprus, and tensions between Turkey and Egypt over Ankara s incessant attacks on Egypt for the revolution against Muslim Brotherhood rule and its hosting of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood on Turkish territory. Ankara recently began to harp on the “historic rights” of Turkish Cypriots in the “Republic of North Cyprus” which is recognised by no other country in the world but Turkey. It then sent military vessels into the gas exploration areas in an attempt to provoke Egypt and Cyprus. Egypt responded by deploying its naval vessels while Nicosia lodged a complaint with the Security Council with support from the EU and the US. Next, Ankara began to speak of its “geographic rights” in the large underwater gas fields in the Eastern Mediterranean and then began drilling operations there without having concluded an agreement with any other country with which it shares Mediterranean shores. Naturally, such actions are a breach of international maritime law and a form of economic thuggery. Turkey has exhibited such predatory behaviour elsewhere in the region, most recently in Libya where it has intervened directly in the Libyan crisis, supplying Tripoli s Al-Sarraj government and its terrorist militia and Muslim Brotherhood allies with heavy weaponry in order to prevent the Libyan National Army from entering the capital and completing the unification of the Libyan nation. If Turkey is a main cause of spiralling tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean and the rise in hostilities in Libya, mounting international rivalry in the region has begun to cast its heavy shadow over good developments in the Middle East, especially given the ongoing Syrian crisis. If the US and NATO are responsible for protecting Cyprus and Cypriot interests, the Russians, from their position in Syria, are anxiously watching developments in the Eastern Mediterranean which has the potential to rival Russian gas exports to Europe. The Iranian presence in Syria and Lebanon cannot be seen as a positive factor either, given how it links the crisis in the Gulf, the crisis surrounding the Houthis in Yemen overlooking the Red Sea and the Syrian crisis on the shores of the Eastern Mediterranean where the possibility of an Iranian-Israeli confrontation remains open. Nor is China remote from the scene, now that Beijing has found footholds in the Greek port of Piraeus, the Israeli port of Haifa and in Djibouti to the south in the Red Sea. It is impossible to foresee where all this international rivalry in the Eastern Mediterranean will lead, and to what extent it will be linked to spiralling and extremely volatile tensions in the Gulf and the Red Sea. Is there a way to cool these situations down and to prevent explosion? The impetus towards cooperation and partnership in the Middle East that has been generated during recent years continues to gain momentum thanks to the will of participatory nations and the desires of major international firms. So much can be accomplished if industrial and commercial enterprises increase. At the same time, the “Jerusalem meeting” between Russia and the US, with Israel attending, might generate another calming trend, especially if Russian-US and China-US relations improve. On the other hand, history has shown that it is to the folly and impetuousness in Ankara and Tehran that we should look for the key to the question regarding war versus peace in the seas around the Middle East.
Politics have found their way into the field of sports for decades, and in many cases some sports events have been turned into political battlefields as a result. However, there have also been other cases when politics in sports has been able to produce benign results. One of these is undoubtedly Egypt s hosting of the 32nd Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON). Hosting the football tournament in Egypt came as a pleasant surprise to many Egyptians as well as to others across the African continent. Egypt suffered security issues after the 25 January Revolution in 2011, followed by a wave of unprecedented terrorist attacks after the fall of the Morsi regime in July 2013. As a result, it was a challenge to host the biggest tournament on the continent and one of the biggest in the world in the record time of just five months, as well as to present this most spectacular of all African sports events in a suitably spectacular way.
The Twitter invitation was abrupt, even by Trumpian standards. On June 29, while visiting Japan for the G20 summit, President Donald Trump tweeted: "If Chairman Kim of North Korea sees this, I would meet him at the Border/DMZ just to shake his hand and say Hello(?)!" Less than 48 hours later, Trump and Kim Jong Un would indeed shake hands at the Joint Security Area in Panmunjom. By taking a few steps across the military demarcation line, Trump kicked the stalled US-North Korea diplomacy back into gear.
storical drama is almost as old as theatre itself and continues to play a viable role in contemporary theatre. However, history belongs to those who write it, especially when the author uses his dramatic license to interpret historical facts in response to current events. That does not mean that there is no historical truth, but it emphasises the fact that history is a constantly evolving, never-ending journey of discovery.
More than two or three years ago, the US administration leaked a rumor about something called the “Deal of the Century” without revealing any details. It was leaked that this “Deal” will resolve the Palestinian question and all the problems of the Middle East, and include all countries in the region where there will be prosperity for all. As time passes, the rumor spread with imaginations running wild raising the expectations of the Arab peoples, especially the Palestinians. Creating a situation similar to that of a merchant who is trying to promote a new product by creating an atmosphere of anticipation, so that when the product is released, consumers would compete to acquire it, even if there were no real need for it. Finally, after a long wait, on 25-26 June, the "deal" was unveiled. “There is nothing money can t buy”, this is a saying that the West believes in strongly. It implies that anything and everything has a price and could be bought, including dignity, loyalty, honor, honesty, nation, homeland and human beings, as well as killers, robbers and rapists. I believe that this is the philosophical justification for the “wild neo-liberalism” that runs the World economy today. It seems that this is the same logic that controls the thoughts of those who imagined and shaped the “Deal of the Century”. But, from what has been announced, it does not seem to be a political deal nor an economic one, nor even a deal to show good will or to save face. It does not seem to be a deal at all, let alone the “Deal of the Century”. At the political level, the so-called “deal” does not intersect, at all or even by chance, with any of the legitimate demands of the Palestinian people. It does not talk about ending the occupation or the Palestinian people as a People with history, present and future, and legitimate rights. It talks about the Palestinian people as if they are a group of individuals who happened to be living in the region without any history, and could be satisfied or silenced by providing them any crumbs. This “deal” has no international, historical or legal reference. Its political ceiling, if it exists, is far less than any know international agreement (even if the Palestinians have reluctantly accepted it). It ignores the United Nations General Assembly or security Council resolutions, and pretends to forget the two-state solution, refugees, the right of return and Jerusalem. It seems that the "deal" only reference is that Israel is a Jewish state. At the economic level, the “deal” is not less surprising, nor its wrapping is less cynical. It was promoted as the “$51 billion deal”. But actually, out of the $51 billion, $11 billion are supposed to come from foreign investments, and of course no one knows whether they would materialize or not. This means that the value of the "deal" is $40 billion only and not $51 billion. Add to this, the beneficiary of the deal is not only Palestine but three other Arab countries (Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon), and the $40 billion will be disbursed over 10 years; not one, two or three years. Egypt s share of the “deal” could be around $800 million in grants and $4 billion in loans over the ten years. The amount of the grant is negligible, relative to the size of Egypt s economy, and does not deserve any comment. But the loans could be harmful because they will increase the already heavy burden of debt, on projects that may not suit Egypt politically or economically. As for the Palestinian people, their share of the “deal of the $40 billion-4-country-10-year” is 26 billion dollars, of which $11.4 billion are supposed to be in grants and the remaining $14.6 billion in loans. Here there is an attempt to enforce a fallacy by lending a people under occupation, while evading and renouncing the international responsibility towards the Palestinian people. Yet this is not the only fallacy, because most of the projects that would be funded from the “deal” would be done by American or Israeli companies, meaning that the money of the “deal” would benefit these companies, not the Palestinian people. To better appreciate the magnitude of the fallacies, one has to compare between what is proposed by the “deal” and what is presently available to the Palestinian people. According to what was announced, the annual average of Palestine s share in the “deal” could be around $1.1 billion in grants and $1.5 billion in annual loans, which must be paid back plus interest during or after the 10 years. On the other hand, presently the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) serves 2.5 million Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza with an estimated annual budget of at least $ 650 million. The donor community funds this budget, but the United States has stopped its support to UNRWA in the last two years. The Palestinian people also receives an annual grant of about $ 800 million in development assistance and budget support to the government, but again the United States halted this support two years ago. In addition, there are annual (non-US) grants to the Palestinian private sector and NGOs estimated at about $ 250 million annually. Hence, the sum of grants that presently reach the Palestinian people in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, are estimated at a minimum of $1.7 billion annually. This is more than one and a half times of what is proposed by the “deal”. Simply put, the “deal of the 40/4/10” is not concerned by ending the occupation nor by the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people; it is not even economically attractive or viable. On the contrary, what is being offered, from an economic point view, is less than what is presently available to the Palestinian people. Gentlemen, the cause of the Palestinian people, their land, homeland and their legitimate rights can t be resolved by a “deal”, even if it is a “Real” deal.
People in Egypt woke up on Friday to find petrol prices had increased that morning. The move had not come as a surprise, as they had been expecting it throughout June and knew it was going to happen as the 2019-2020 budget went into effect. Fuel-price increases range from 17 per cent on the highest-grade unleaded gasoline 95 fuel used by high-performance and luxury cars to 30 per cent on the liquid gas canisters used by households in cooking. Both diesel, the fuel widely used by trucks and buses, and gasoline 80, used in heavy transport vehicles and agricultural tractors, increased by 22.7 per cent. This is the fifth increase in fuel products since 2014 and the fourth since November 2016 when Egypt signed an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that aimed at cutting the budget deficit through slashing energy subsidies, introducing a new value-added tax (VAT), and rationalising government administrative expenditures. The energy subsidies had burdened public finances for years, representing more than 20 per cent of overall expenditures. Economists have long argued that money that went into fuel subsidies was not targeting those that really needed it, with a World Bank study showing that the highest income quintile receive around 60 per cent of all energy subsidies. Moreover, the energy subsidies promoted capital-intensive rather than labour-intensive industries. Economists have long argued that subsidy money is better spent on improving education, health and the social safety network. Previous governments were reluctant to reform the subsidy system for fear of stirring up social unrest. However, Egypt in its agreement with the IMF committed itself to lifting the subsidies gradually so that fuel is now to be sold to customers at its cost price at the beginning of the current fiscal year that began on 1 July. Moreover, electricity subsidies were cut by 15 per cent starting in July. According to a statement by the Ministry of Petroleum, this price brings the cost coverage ratio to 100 per cent within the fuel segment. Diesel and liquid gas canisters are still 40 per cent subsidised, according to estimates by investment bank Beltone Financial Holding. The savings from the hike are estimated at LE37 billion, which puts the oil subsidies for the current fiscal year at LE53 billion based on the assumption that oil prices will be at $68 per barrel. Government estimates suggest that every $1 increase in oil prices above this level could add LE4-6 billion to its expenditure bill. The next step is to adopt a price-indexation mechanism on fuel, which is an automatic pricing mechanism whereby prices will be set based on a calculation that takes into account international oil prices and the exchange rate. The system is already in the works for the higher end Octane 95 fuel and allows for price fluctuations of up to 10 per cent to be decided by a committee of officials from the finance and petroleum ministries every three months. This does not mean that fuel might see another increase soon, however. “We do not expect movements in prices upon the indexation implementation given the current low petroleum prices trending below $70 per barrel and supported by a stronger pound,” Beltone said. Besides car owners, users of public transportation were the ones to immediately feel the effects of the price hikes. Commuters were not happy to hear drivers breaking the news of yet another increase in the cost of each ride. While transportation was directly affected by the price hikes, cutting subsidies will also indirectly affect inflation upwards. Investment banks expect the resulting increase in the inflation rate to be mild and much less than the hikes caused by previous increases in fuel prices, however. “We expect a softer hike in commodities prices than that experienced in the two previous energy price increases, as it was partially priced in since the kick-off of the IMF-backed reform programme in November 2016 and given the weak purchasing power recovery,” Beltone noted, putting the increase at between seven to 10 per cent at most. This, according to Beltone, would translate into 2.6 per cent on average in monthly inflation during the third quarter of 2019. “Annual inflation is expected to average 13.3 per cent in the third quarter, almost flat from 13 per cent in the previous quarter,” it added. According to the government, the money saved by both the fuel and electricity subsidies lift will be channelled into spending on social measures. Beltone estimated these savings at LE43 billion and noted that petroleum bill savings alone would fund 45 per cent of the wage compensations package revealed by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi recently, at an overall cost of LE60 billion and aimed at easing inflationary pressures resulting from fuel liberalisation. The package includes raising the minimum wage to LE2,000 per month, increasing pensions for public employees to LE900 per month, and providing state employees with a LE150 one-off increase. It will also see the inclusion of 100,000 families in the conditional cash-transfer programmes Takaful and Karama (Solidarity and Dignity). The first supports households with children, while the second targets the elderly and persons with disabilities who are unable to work. Moreover, dozens of traders and producers are participating in the government-sponsored Kolena Wahed (We are All One) initiative, whereby discounted commodities are sold in fairs and mobile outlets provided by the government. Egypt’s perseverance with the fiscal reforms has so far paid off in terms of macroeconomic stabilisation. Preliminary financial indices for the 2018-19 budget have shown that GDP growth reached 5.6 per cent, Presidency Spokesman Bassam Radi announced in a statement earlier this month. GDP growth ranged at around two per cent in 2016. The budget deficit is expected to drop to a targeted 8.4 per cent of GDP, he said. Meanwhile, gross general government debt is expected to decline to about 85 per cent of GDP in 2018-19 from 103 per cent in 2016-17, according to the IMF. While macroeconomic stabilisation is a short-term priority to restore confidence, enhance competitiveness, and ensure the sustainability of public finances, the efforts should be combined with a longer-term perspective on structural reforms, said the “Egypt’s Stocktaking” report prepared by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). “The success in structural reforms, in particular aimed at boosting job creation, will determine whether Egypt goes beyond macroeconomic stabilisation to create sustainable growth, which is essential in the long run for social and economic stability,” the report said. Nicolas Pinaud, head of the Sherpa Office and Global Governance Unit at the OECD, told Al-Ahram Weekly that it was important for Egypt to work on the quality of growth and how it trickles down to the population and not just the pace. “There is a need to look at generating opportunities for the entire population, including the most vulnerable segments through, for example, education and training,” he said during an event organised last week by the Egyptian Centre for Economic Studies (ECES), a think tank. When looking at Egypt’s peers in the region such as Morocco and Tunisia or to OECD middle-income countries like Mexico, Turkey and Greece, “Egypt is not doing well enough compared to those countries when it comes to inclusive growth,” Pinaud said. He noted that despite existing social spending, poverty rates remained high, which meant they may need to be better targeted. As the report showed, “despite significant efforts to roll out Takaful and Karama, these programmes still need to be substantially scaled up to create an effective safety net covering Egypt’s vulnerable population, in particular given the impact of the ongoing adjustment on the poor,” he said. *A version of this article appears in print in the 11 July, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Economic reform on track
One month ago, no one could have predicted, let alone imagined, that a sitting American president would venture into North Korean territory via the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) in the absence of peace on the Korean Peninsula. The unthinkable happened on Sunday, 30 June, when President Donald Trump stepped into North Korea for a few seconds, accompanied by Chairman Kim Jong-Un.
Egypt is “very clear” about its opposition to the pursuit of military action against Iran, an Egyptian source said earlier this week as political tensions between the US and Iran were escalating. The source, who has been closely following the Iran issue in Cairo, spoke as Iran was announcing its plan to violate the uranium enrichment level it had committed itself to in the 2015 nuclear deal it reached with the US and five leading European countries. The escalation between the US and Iran started in May last year, when US President Donald Trump decided to withdraw from the deal concluded by his predecessor Barack Obama. During the past 13 months, the source said, regional countries, essentially Israel and Saudi Arabia, each of which has its own reasons for pressure to be exercised on Tehran, had driven the pressure for escalation against the country. Over the past year, the source said, Egypt had been trying to argue the case for political dialogue. Egypt has no direct influence on the issue, but it had expressed its apprehensions about any possible military attack against Iranian targets in the region to regional and international countries who shared its apprehensions about picking a military confrontation with Iran, he said. This was especially the case since no careful assessment had been done on possible repercussions in the region, which was already in turmoil. “We are carefully following French attempts to introduce de-escalation, and we are hoping they will work,” said another Egyptian official later in the week when France announced plans to send an envoy to Tehran to try to reduce the tensions. One reason Egypt is particularly apprehensive about any escalation against Iran is its assessment that if attacked directly or indirectly Iran would use all the cards at its disposal in the region, including Gaza. A scenario that Egypt particularly fears is that Iran could lean on its allies in Gaza to carry out proxy retaliations that could aim at Israeli targets. “It is already a very fragile and week-by-week truce that we are working with all the parties to keep between Gaza and Israel,” the official commented. Over the past few months, Egypt has been “very clear” in telling the Islamist group Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since 2006, to act firmly against any attempts at “provocation” that could be used by Israel to start an assault on Gaza. It is five years since Israel’s last war on the impoverished and largely isolated Gaza Strip. In July 2014, Israel’s war on Gaza, labelled Operation Protective Edge, cost the lives of over 2,000 Palestinians and led to further deterioration in already poor living conditions for the over one million people living there. “Every day is a clear reminder that we are living in a part of the world that has been totally forgotten by the rest of humanity. We are living amid piles of trash, with poor sewage, poor health services, poor electricity services, and poor everything, and on top of it all we are not even getting our salaries paid fully on time,” said Nizar, a Palestinian civil servant who spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly by telephone from Gaza. Nizar’s family had been suffering “enormously”, he said. “Everything is just so difficult: to get food for the children is difficult; to get medicine for any of them when they fall ill is very difficult; and we have no exit to hope for,” he lamented. Nizar blamed the Palestinian Authority (PA) led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for “forcing so much hardship on the people” while trying to settle political scores with the Hamas leaders in Gaza by declining to pay civil servants their dues. This had compounded the “tormented suffering” of the Palestinians in Gaza who were already living under a harsh Israeli blockade, he said. This week, Israel allowed fuel into Gaza in a sign of its willingness to keep up with a truce that had been sponsored by Egypt. Israel is also negotiating with Qatar on its intention to build an industrial city in Gaza that would provide thousands of jobs for the largely unemployed population. “We hear so many things about plans to improve our living conditions, but what we actually see is very little, if anything at all,” Nizar said. The last thing that Nizar would wish to see is for Iran to come under attack and to call on its allies in Gaza, Hamas and Islamic Jihad to act in retaliation by targeting nearby Israeli villages. Israel is already building a 65km and six-metre high fence around Gaza and has been destroying any tunnels between Gaza and neighbouring areas to seal off the Strip. According to the Egyptian official, there is no telling what could happen if “things got out of hand in the current confrontation between the US and Iran and took a bad turn that included Gaza.” Egypt, the official said, knows very well that there are “cells here and there” that do not follow the orders of the Hamas leaders in Gaza or the leaders of Islamic Jihad. “This is why we have to worry; if Gaza is implicated, we absolutely have to worry. The Strip is on our direct border, and the last thing we want is a confrontation with huge humanitarian costs,” he said. Ahmed Youssef, a Hamas leader in Gaza, is convinced that “Gaza is too small and too dilapidated to be of any real significance in the Iran issue,” however. “We are just withering away here,” he said, lamenting the failure of the international community and the Arab world to help Gaza overcome the “horrific outcome of Israel’s last war on Gaza”. “The world is not going to reach out to Gaza now. The world is too busy discussing the ‘Deal of the Century’ [on Palestine] and is forgetting about the people of Gaza who are suffering on a daily basis,” Youssef said. A Washington-based diplomatic source said that all the plans relating to Trump’s vision for a political settlement between Israel and the Palestinians that involved an economic package to improve the living conditions of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank had been shelved. This was due to the failure of “even the most enthusiastic Arab capitals” to give the deal a push, as had been demonstrated in a meeting hosted by Bahrain last month, the continued ambiguity about the fate of Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, who is going through another round of elections while still facing legal charges over corruption, and the firm refusal of Palestinian leaders in the West Bank and Gaza to talk about a deal that offers the Palestinians no statehood and no repatriation of refugees. The most that Gaza could hope for now, Youssef said, was for Egypt to re-launch its reconciliation proposals between Hamas and the PA, “which will not be easy, as each side had points on which it would brook no compromise.” “There might be a resumption of the talks, and we may see an Egyptian delegation coming to Gaza and going to Israel later this month, but things are still being discussed,” he said. The other thing that Hamas might wish for, he added, was for Iran to escape from any military confrontation with the US because “clearly Iran has been able to arrange some political support for the Palestinians in Gaza, and a weaker Iran would not be in our interest.” A Cairo-based European diplomat argued that Hamas was not in a position to lose the support, “financial and not only political”, of Iran, even if the financial support “has been dwindling considerably over the past months”. According to the diplomat, Hamas is being denied other financial resources with the policy of Egypt to destroy all the tunnels with the Strip, the blockade that Israel is imposing on it, and the policies that the Arab Gulf countries have been taking against its citizens, including those of Palestinian origins, who had been finding ways of sending funds to Gaza. He added that the Hamas leaders were already losing their popularity in Gaza and the last thing they would wish for was for “an even more complicated situation.” Nobody wanted a crisis in Gaza with large humanitarian consequences. A de-escalation in the tension between the US and Iran might not be to the liking of some in the region, but it would spare the world, and certainly Egypt, from the consequences of an even more complicated situation in Gaza, he said. *A version of this article appears in print in the 11 July, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: All eyes on Gaza
Dr. Naguib Gibraeel
After judge Khalid Khafaji, Vice-Premier of the Council of State Commentary, issued a ruling to ban demolition or selling of churches, I need to express my happiness and gratitude to the honorable judge for several reasons: Such ruling proves the importance of worship houses and proves equality between Muslim and Christian houses of worship. It also annuls the claims of the extremists that churches are places of i