Without a joint statement on the form and substance of issues between Egypt and Ethiopia, the ministers of water resources drawn from Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan finalised their meeting in Cairo dated 2-3 December. The filling and hydraulic operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) with that of Egypt s High Dam remain unsettled. Having finished the meeting, Ethiopia rushed, as usual, to accuse Egypt of stalling negotiations by tabling a set of “unreasonable” requests. Some Ethiopian media outlets quoted an Ethiopian source as saying his country put forward in the Cairo meeting a balanced and reasonable proposal based on the principle of equitable and reasonable utilisation of Nile waters. Again, Ethiopia has failed to recognise the fact that equitable has nothing to do with fair. Equitableness means all parties are treated the same way, paying no heed to their needs or requests. But fairness pertaining to the utilisation of water, based on international criteria, requires taking into account many factors, the most important of which is the availability of alternative sources of fresh water to a given downstream nation. Without a fair share of the Nile that would consider the growing demands of population, whether for potable water or for different irrigation projects necessary for ensuring the food security of the people, Egypt would suffer the most now and in the near future. Initially, after the US Treasury Department invited the three eastern nations of the Nile for a meeting in Washington DC to discuss the standoff, Ethiopia said it would engage in the upcoming meetings with a new spirit of openness and transparency to reach a binding compromise. But Ethiopia s actions do not make the grade as they are derailing the whole process. Ethiopia sees Egypt s fair request of linking the operation of GERD with that of the Aswan High Dam and the release of at least 40 billion cubic metres during the process of filling the dam as “non-cooperative” and “non-adaptive”. Satirically enough, Ethiopian officials have dubbed Egypt s request of a linkage between GERD and the Aswan High Dam as “unscientific”! So, was it scientific to construct a huge gravity dam on a deep gorge in the African Great Rift Valley region known for its volcanic nature? And was it adaptive to obstinately aim to produce a huge volume of electricity while knowing that the Ethiopian national power grid will not be able to process it, whether for local consumers or for the so-called goal of turning Ethiopia into a regional power hub? Turning into a regional power hub is, in reality, Ethiopia s and other nations right at large. The question is the efficiency of the national power grid, at the present time, to process the would-be generated power, roughly standing now after downsizing the dam s electricity output installed capacity to some 5,200 megawatts against 6,450 megawatts initially. Technically speaking, outages occur either by a lack of power sufficient for local consumption or because of an overloaded power grid. The latter is the current situation of the Ethiopian national power grid. Amid the failure of the Cairo meeting to settle the pending issues, Ethiopia has, however, employed a void rhetoric, broadly circulated under late prime minister Meles Zenawi, that Egypt contributes nothing to the Nile and wants to deny Ethiopia the right to use the waters that flow from the Ethiopian highlands. Officially speaking, the Egyptian administration, under President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, has embraced a new policy towards Ethiopia that the latter has, like other riparian nations, the full right to utilise the Nile without harming Egypt s water rights. In practice, Egypt does not oppose Ethiopian endeavours to build the GERD, despite the fact that Ethiopia may have used other means to generate power other than damming the lifeline of Egyptians. Egypt s objection is to manipulating with the only source of fresh water it is entirely dependent on. Things are looking up after the United States, the broker of a compromise between the three nations, had again invited them for a sub-meeting in Washington DC on 9 December, which resulted in a joint statement that had two major points worthy of deliberation. First, the ministers agreed that the “strategic direction of the next two technical meetings (in Khartoum and Addis Ababa) should be the development of technical rules and guidelines for the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam”. Second, the ministers of foreign affairs of the three nations would reconvene in Washington on 13 January 2020 for “finalising an agreement” in that respect. This means there is no time to waste and that Ethiopia needs to depart from the policy it has been following for eight years; namely, buying time till July of next year, the date in which Ethiopia should, theoretically, start filling the GERD reservoir. It also means that top international players are finally aware of Ethiopia s intransigence during the course of negotiations. That is why the US set a deadline for Ethiopia to implement the “technical rules and the guidelines for the filling and operation of the GERD”. Failure to reach an agreement by mid-January 2020 would mean no agreement would be reached soon. This is not taking a dim view on current talks; rather, it is an assertion of reality. It would take the three nations some time to agree on a third party, after triggering Article X of the Declaration of Principles on inclusion of international mediation into the debate. And given the current Ethiopian policy of “no deal-good deal”, it will not be foreseeable to reach any agreement before the start of the next rainy season in Ethiopia. While delivering his acceptance speech as a Nobel Peace Laureate, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed made a touching remark in Amharic that he graciously translated as “For you to have a peaceful night, your neighbour shall have a peaceful night as well.” For this peaceful night of Egypt, a far neighbour of Ethiopia, it is a must for Ethiopian officials to take up the slack, because sweet words will never make peace a reality. Ethiopia s neighbour in Egypt needs firm assurances that its share of the Nile, which hardly suffices basic needs now, will never be infringed upon. The Egyptian people have based their life around a narrow strip of their vast country because it is the only part blessed with a renewable source of fresh water.
Things have quickly changed in Libya during the past week, and between the warring parties, matters have escalated. The military confrontation around Tripoli is not new; anyone who follows the Libyan file will know that the Libyan National Army (LNA) has been engaged in military confrontations with militias of the West to secure its presence in Tripoli. Haftar, the head of the LNA, said in a recent conference that the “Zero Hour” has come, and it is time for the LNA to occupy the heart of the capital. However, such an action must be analysed within the overall context of the Libyan conflict, on domestic, regional and international levels. The beginning of the present escalation was the signing of agreements between Libya and Turkey. The Presidential Council lead by Fayez Al-Sarraj signed agreements with Turkey concerning the Turkish maritime presence in the east of the Mediterranean, and in Libyan regional waters, while another agreement concerned military cooperation between Turkey and the Presidential Council. These agreements changed a lot strategically within the Libyan interior. First of all, military balances within the Libyan conflict are still in a state where no one side can supersede the other by military confrontation. Therefore, no side was capable of settling militarily the conflict since it began in April. What we are witnessing in Libya is a recurrent phase of military conflicts that lead to nothing, whether politically or militarily.
The signing 26 November of two Memoranda of Understanding between Turkey and the Prime Minister of the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) Fayez Al-Sarraj, has highlighted the problems caused by Turkish revisionism and meddling in other countries. The first MoU concerns the delimitation of their respective national Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) in the Eastern Mediterranean, while the second deals with future security cooperation and monitoring the coasts of Libya in the south of the Mediterranean. The agreement has led to multiple reactions from various sides. Egypt rightly denounced the agreement between Turkey and the GNA calling it “illegal and not binding or affecting the interests and the rights of any third parties”. Greece and Cyprus rejected the agreement as a blatant violation of international law. Greece and Egypt agreed jointly to accelerate the process of the delimitation of their adjoining EEZs. The parliament of Tobruk, in turn, expressed its strong reaction against the proposed memorandum. The European Union condemned the signing of the memoranda, while the US and Russia regard it as counter-productive for the stability of the region.
The United States acknowledges that the east-west railroad network marked the beginning of the development of the Midwestern United States, followed by the west and the west coast, with the railroad becoming the star of the American economic renaissance. Russia also recognizes that extending railroad lines to Siberia represented the most significant conquest in Russia s long history, since the days of the Czars and throughout the Soviet era. Before the arrival of the railroad, Siberia had been too cold and inhospitable for human settlement.
In today s world almost everyone is invited to speak his or her mind, which has brought about several issues in public affairs that have threatened national security. I believe that public affairs is very much part and parcel of national security, which in practice means that our security is not a static concept that exists in a vacuum but should rather be seen and defined within the context of the local, regional and international environment. Therefore we should consider the fact that the international and regional arenas are in constant change and what we have been through in Egypt should actually help us extend the concept of national security issues to include social, cultural and religious issues. In fact there are two well-established definitions of national security. The first was introduced by Henry Kissinger, former US secretary of state, who said that national security is the behaviour of a society through which it will secure its right to survive. The second definition is by Robert McNamara, the former US defence minister, who said that national security is about development and without development, there will be no security, and the states that are not developing are in fact unable to remain secure. In light of these two definitions of national security, the state is obliged to preserve the culture and traditions of the society and such acts should fall within the concept of maintaining the national security. Protecting society from attempts to penetrate the spheres of its culture, channels of communication and veiling its religious speech with a phony version should also fall within the issues of handling national security. Therefore, spreading inaccurate information, or what we call rumours, is a threat to national security. Recently, Al-Ahram hosted a roundtable discussion in response to President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi s call to build awareness on how to deal with public affairs questions. The discussions on that issue were not limited and did not target certain aspects or institutions, but rather included all types of the country s elite, be it the intellectuals, the politicians, media people and certainly the men of religion. Despite the fact that the meeting, which was co-sponsored by the religious endowments ministry and the national press council, the meeting was not about those involved in the two institutions, as El-Sisi said: “I am not talking about clergymen, politicians, media people or economists, but about all those concerned about the development of our society.” He added that“we need to speak a lot with our people on different topics… we should give everyone the chance to express himself… and we should all listen.” What the president was looking for is to introduce the issues of concern to the public with the most authenticated information and with adequate knowledge. We should stress the fact that since President El-Sisi took power the state has been working within the context of “smart protection” of national security, which brought to the fore the concept of “development” as the royal gate to security, because the main target of development has always been to protect the state from traditional and non-traditional threats. Improving the people s standards of living through development is a way to pursue national security by tools of “smart protection.” Most people agree that security in general refers to the physical and psychological well-being of human beings. Feeling secure is a global human value, as expressed in the Quran. Therefore, the role of those interested in the public affairs is to enhance the feeling of being secure as against the desperate attempts made by the “others” to spread feelings of panic and fears among the people by questioning the capabilities of the state s institutions. Dealing with issues of public interests by the “non-concerned” has spread chaos and a state of imbalance which in turn created an unhealthy environment for public security. With the advent of modern tools of social media which introduced unprecedented opportunities for people to express their views and echo other s opinions, there has been a state of sweeping generalisation and a cloudy vision that negatively affected almost all topics handled on social media. What is more important is that most of the information presented is either distorted or false depending on the tools of selection or the data analysis. In most cases that information, be it true or false, has always found interested parties who have their own anti-state strategy. Therefore, the efforts made by the religious endowments ministry will become the locomotive that leads those interested to mark the road dealing with public affairs issues without negatively affecting national security. However, those “marks” should not limit freedom of speech and the people s interest in handling, discussing and expressing the pros and cons of certain public affairs issues.
The title seems like a combination of uncombinables. Fascism is an ideology about political power and a system of government that spread in the 1920s and 1930s. Globalisation is a process related to trade, value systems and technologies that transcend national boundaries and turn the world into small village. The concept gained currency in the late 20th and early 21st century. Fascism is about the state, its national identity and purported superiority over others. Its foremost epitome, Nazism, saw the world in terms of a human biological hierarchy in which military hegemony reflected ethnic superiority. Much of globalisation is grounded in the dynamics generated by the contemporary technological revolutions in information systems, biology and chemistry. These revolutions have not only abolished distances, they have also abolished differences between societies, states, nationalities and ethnicities, uniting all mankind under the heading of a single human race with no hegemonic or imperial order. Globalisation is the route to end ignorance, disease, poverty and isolation. After mankind conquered space, the planet and its inhabitants became one. In short, fascism is an outlook that shrinks the world into the space of a single state or ethnic group, while globalisation expands the view to embrace all mankind in a shared destiny. Nevertheless, the prevalent view on the current direction of history and international relations is that many countries are moving to the political right, in all its populist, isolationist and racist hues, with the rise of politicians reminiscent of Nazi and fascist leaders. The trend poses a major challenge to globalisation which right wing opinion has abridged to the movement of peoples across borders and the threat this ostensibly poses to national sovereignty. In a way, both concepts have been undergoing a lot of revision lately and much theorising has been devoted to trying to shed the stigma of certain outlooks that may have contributed to shaping and defining the decade that is about to end, along with its more flagrant features associated with the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States and the near certain of departure of the UK from the EU in the process called Brexit. In an article called “Economists on the run”, appearing in Foreign Policy on 22 October 2019, Michael Hirsh cites the Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman who admitted that his own understanding of economics had been “seriously deficient” and that he, and other economic experts, had “missed a crucial part of the story” about globalisation because they failed to realise that it would lead to “hyper-globalisation” and “huge economic and social upheaval, particularly of the industrial middle class in America”. Hirsh added that Krugman said economists had made a “major mistake” in underestimating Chinese competition which severely hit many working-class communities. Krugman also said that much of the past 30 years of macroeconomics was “spectacularly useless at best, and positively harmful at worst”. Hirsh cites other eminent economists and it appears that most of them agree that three factors hampered globalisation: the inequality it generated, the impact of the competition between the US and China, which economists had previously underestimated, and the fact that the adverse impacts of globalisation extended beyond poor nations to affect the working and middle classes in developed nations. In another Foreign Policy article, “Don t call Donald Trump a fascist”, dated 2 November, modern European historian Eliah Bures turns to the ongoing debate on the term “fascist” which he argues has been misused. He points out that no modern US president, from Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr to Bill Clinton and even Barack Obama — and, of course, Donald Trump — has been spared being maligned as a “fascist”. Like the other “F-word”, the disparaging label has been affixed not just to right-wing politicians but also to politicians on the left. Also, some of the traits associated with fascism have been applied to politicians from both sides of the political spectrum. Bures argues that the model of fascism as epitomised by Mussolini and Hitler is unique and multifaceted, and that it is difficult to find all its facets combined in a single political adversary today. For example, you might find anti-migrant and xenophobic attitudes among Europe s emergent leaders, but none of them seek world domination. Trump might denigrate certain ethnic groups, malign the left or advocate more government intervention in the economy or society; however, if such behaviours show an inclination to discrimination or authoritarianism, they do not signify that he is “fascist”. The term is used far too loosely, Bures says. When people on the left or right use the “F-word” it is because they feel that the words “authoritarian”, “extremist” or “totalitarian” are inadequate, not to describe the truth but rather to damn a politician or to mobilise opposition against that politician or his/her policies. Bures is arguing against the reductionist logic as expressed in the American saying, “If it walks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, it s a duck.” If writers or politicians are going to use such terms and concepts as “fascist” and “fascism” they should adhere to their proper meanings as exemplified by their historical models. They should not put them through a mangle for the purposes of memoirs, propaganda or political ends. The current revision and rethinking that we find in many articles on globalisation or “fascism” are a reflection of intellectual dynamism. They are also a sign that we are entering a new historical era in which it would be wrong and even harmful to apply old terms and concepts to current realities and which, in any case, will produce the more appropriate terms in its own time. Alternatively, we might be looking at a deeper phase or phases in human evolution which produced conflicting phenomena at the same time, leaving us to await the political outcome of the brew, which could be apocalyptic war or global exodus from the planet. Whatever the case, continued observation, study, dialogue and theorising are of the essence. The scientific and technological revolutions that gave birth to globalisation are still in progress. In fact, they are probably moving faster than ever before and reaching the remotest villages on earth. The interactions that have propelled the resurgence of the right in developed democratic countries are also still bubbling and fermenting. It is impossible to tell where they will lead or when the great eruption will occur.
Every fall, the United Nations issues its Trade and Development Report to discuss and analyze the state of the global economy, challenges facing the developing countries and policy alternatives that could deal with these challenges. The report, prepared by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), also assesses the challenges of today s globalization and the ramifications of the on-going economic policies of the wild-unteamed neoliberalism. The 2019 report entitled "Financing a Global Green New Deal", was launched last September. The report calls on policymakers in the developing world to focus on job creation, and increase wages and productive investments rather than their obsession by the stock markets, share prices, and financialization, which seeks to profit from speculation, rent and inflationary increases in asset prices. What is presented, by the advocates of neoliberalism, to policymakers on the economic convergence between the North and South countries is nothing but exaggeration. On the contrary, the historical divergence in the average per capita income between the North and the South has become the reality. The average per capita income of the developed economies, which was seven times that of the developing economies (except China) in the late 1970s, increased to ten times in recent years. This fragile picture is reflected in the huge accumulation of debt in the developing world, which is mostly short-term debt and in foreign currency, with the private sector having a significant share. In 2017, developing countries total debt reached its highest level ever, where it accounted for 190% of the GDP of these countries. This suggests weak ability to repay along with high probability of default in the future. In Egypt, the debt to GDP ratio increased from 95% to 118% between the fiscal year 2017/2018 and 2018/2019 (Egypt s GDP was 5.25 trillion pounds in 2018/2019). But the problem in the Egyptian case goes beyond the fact that the increase of 23 percentage points occurred in one single year. A more worrying problem, which may have serious negative effects in the long run, is that government servicing of debt, (i.e., only payment of interest on debt; not the principal) represents 36% of all public spending in this year s budget – equivalent to 50% of all government revenues and 125% of the budget deficit. The fact that the largest share of government spending is directed towards debt servicing leaves little space to increase spending on education, health, social justice and future developmental investments. In today s globalized world, debt was promoted as an effective engine for global growth, particularly in developing countries. But it led to more financial speculation and failed to boost real, productive capacities. In this environment, debt which used to be looked at as a long-term financing instrument to stimulate productive investment and foster growth in developing countries, has become a risky financial asset exposed to the volatility of global financial markets and subject to the growing short-term interests of the creditors. This is disturbing because the structural transformation of the developing economies, needed for the achievement of the new Global Environment Deal and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), requires an unprecedented increase in the financing of productive investment. At the very least, $2 to $3 trillion per year, at the global level, are needed only to reach the simplest SDGs by 2030 (elimination of poverty, promotion of nutrition, good health and quality education). To deal with the debt problem in the developing world, a set of recommendations at the international and national levels is pertinent. At the national level, borrowing should be limited to productive investments that will benefit the society and the economy in the future, so that loans can be serviced and repaid without heavy burdens on future generations. Debt should enhance social justice and reduce the polarization between rich and poor, by directing public loans towards investments that benefit the poorest classes. As for the burden of debt, it should be borne by the affluent classes through a progressive and equitable tax system that also considers the interests of future generations. At the international level, a global lending program should be established not only on concessional terms, but without stringent conditions similar to those attached to the World Bank and IMF loans and programs. There is also a need to establish additional external lending facilities to meet the needs of the developing countries till 2030. UNCTAD recommends the establishment of a global fund to support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and the financing of the Global Green New Deal. This fund could be financed by donor countries that have, over the past four decades, failed to fulfil their official development assistance (ODA) commitment of 0.7% of gross national income. The list of recommendations includes strengthening regional monetary cooperation among developing countries to refinance and promote regional trade and technical cooperation within each region, and moving beyond mere regional foreign exchange reserve swaps and pooling agreements towards the development of full-scale regional payment systems. Furthermore, consideration should be given to establishing an alternative system to facilitate equitable restructuring of sovereign debt that can no longer be serviced and repaid in accordance with original contracts. This system should be governed by the provisions of international law and a set of internationally agreed principles.
This is the city of the hundred gates, as known by ancient Egyptians, or Luxor as we know it today. I have been longing to revisit the place where most of my cherished memories took place. Luxor is the city that witnessed the secrets and stories of thousands of years -- yet to be told. Since the discovery of the treasures of Tutankhamun some 97 years ago, Luxor has been in dire need for a face-lift. Efforts to renovate the Avenue of Rams, one of the iconic Pharaonic landmarks, had been kept in the drawers for decades. The fact that the urbanisation of the city has swept almost 70 percent of the avenue made it next to impossible to renovate the area. The avenue stretches along Luxor for 2,750 metres from Karnak to Luxor Temple. In 2009, the former governor of Luxor, Samir Farag, exerted remarkable efforts to bring to the fore the urgent need to renovate the Avenue of Rams. But the lack of funding brought those efforts to a standstill and the whole idea was shelved in 2011 despite its importance to attract more tourists to Luxor. However, the instructions given by President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to pursue the renovation works on the avenue had a miraculous effect. For more than 3,000 years, kings, queens, top officials and pastors passed along the Avenue of Rams where 1,200 pieces of exquisite arts and crafts identify the avenue and create a glorious, lively scene of ancient Egypt. The 12,000 statues of rams with lions bodies and men s heads, dot the passage which, when renovated, will turn Luxor into an international open museum. The world will keep a close eye on the details of such a magnificent archaeological event. There are many mega projects which will soon be inaugurated in Luxor, like the international Olympic city in new Thebes and an international stadium. The two facilities will host sports activities, camps for European and national sports clubs. Moreover, the Luxor University will have a new well-established headquarters to manage its scattered schools and play a leading role via its ties with various Arab and international universities. During my recent visit to Luxor, I had the chance to see the accomplishment of almost 80 percent of the "Visual identity of Luxor" which turned the city into a historical site with modern features. From the very moment of landing at Luxor International Airport to the Nile Corniche, I saw boats colourfully decorated and horse-drawn carriages along the roads, giving the city an exquisite flavour. The "Visual identity of Luxor" is the project presented by the students of the German University in Cairo at the sixth National Youth Forum, held at Cairo University. The idea of the project, which was embraced by President El-Sisi, is to establish a visual identity for each of Egypt s governorates. In collaboration with the Engineering Establishment and the German University, a small army of 4,000 students, teachers and professors have been working around the clock to implement the designs of Yasmine and Ghada Waly; two students from the School of Applied Arts at the university. For almost two years now, the team has been able to create a new vision marked with labels and logos that match the city s history, placing them throughout the city, thus embedding an international brand for Luxor. The majority of designs employ semi-hieroglyphic letters and colours that reflect the long history of the well-branded city of Luxor. This visual identity is all around the city. You can almost see the ancient city that has gloriously evolved into a modern beautiful city. The governor of Luxor, Mostafa Alham, said the new visual identity calls for a better understanding and a drastic change of behaviour and the collective approach to the concept of tourism which can be achieved with the efforts of the young people in the city. The visual identity of the city, according to the governor, is branded at the vital archaeological sites in a unified form. The success story of the visual identity in Luxor is the beginning of a nationwide plan to focus on the main themes and features of each governorate in Egypt.
Despite Turkey s attempts to gain a foothold in North Africa and the Mediterranean, the world community was taken by surprise when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed an agreement with the Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord in Libya, Fayez Al-Sarraj. The agreement covers security and military cooperation as well as the demarcation of maritime boundaries, immediately rejected by Egypt, Greece and Cyprus, raising tensions in the Mediterranean Sea. Egypt, Greece and Cyprus insist that the declaration between Turkey and Sarraj s government has no legal weight, does not impact the rights of countries on the Mediterranean Sea, and that Al-Sarraj has overstepped his authority. Article 8 of the Skhirat Agreement signed by Libyan parties in 2015 defines the powers of the Libyan prime minister in Tripoli and gives the power to sign international agreements to the Presidential Council, not its chairman alone, which means Al-Sarraj s signature on this agreement is void and does not affect the rights of other countries on the Mediterranean. The biggest question is the timing of the Turkish move, when parties are trying to find a solution to the Libyan crisis and make the Berlin political process succeed. Germany will host a broad conference on Libya before the end of the year. With extraordinary tenacity, Erdogan said he will present the agreement to the Turkish parliament soon, and that all articles will be implemented, a clear violation of international law. Turkey began exploring for oil and gas in the Mediterranean Sea, a step the EU described as illegal. In October, Erdogan said that Turkish interference in Libya is an “inherent right” as Libya is the inheritance of his ancestors. This was strongly criticised by senior Libyan politicians including Parliament Speaker Aqila Saleh who described Erdogan s statements as “colonialist”, constituting interference in Libya s domestic affairs, and also an excuse to support terrorists and propagate “historical fallacies” in support of armed groups and militias who control Tripoli. Analysts believe the illegal agreement allows Al-Sarraj s government to receive military and logistical support from Ankara to fight the Libyan National Army led by General Khalifa Haftar. It also affords Turkey the right to use Libyan airspace, waters and land without prior permission from Libyan authorities, and build military bases, which would be a violation of Libyan sovereignty. Turkey s actions could trigger uncalculated regional confrontations, increase political polarisation and provide armed militias inside Libya with help from foreign parties that do not want the conflict to end, but rather wish to increase polarisation to serve Ankara s interests, opening a gateway to controlling areas teeming with anarchy. Turkey s policies in some African countries are key to understanding Turkey s recent moves. An effective role by the global community and major world powers is key to reining in Erdogan s government, stopping its provocations of major regional countries to prevent matters from spiralling out of control.
The one-day general strike that was supposed to shut down France last Thursday is now stretching at least into next week as President Emmanuel Macron perseveres in his efforts to drag his nation into the 21st century. This time, he s leaping onto the third rail of French society and politics, the nation s Byzantine pension system — actually 42 public and private systems that are hell-on-wheels to navigate and give French workers some of the world s most liberal (and expensive) retirement benefits. Macron has declared an all-out campaign to consolidate them into a single national system managed -- naturellement -- by the state. So, as with most major grievances of the French people, going back to the French Revolution, it s "to the barricades," or at least into the streets. The walkout began on Thursday with transport workers, really the heart and soul of French life. Transportation is nearly frozen. All but two of 16 lines of the Metro system are shut down — those two being the only lines that run automatically without conductors. Rail service across the country, including the high-speed TGV network, has slowed to a trickle. And now, the walkout has spread to schools and colleges, which are closing as their teachers strike. Even the Eiffel Tower shut down its gleaming lights that are a beacon in the night horizon of Paris. The strike will continue at least until Monday, but unions are now calling for another nationwide demonstration on Tuesday — the day the government has said it will unveil details of just what it has in mind. Until now, France and its outraged workers have been running largely on rumors of what the plan might hold. All that s been disclosed thus far is that France would embrace some form of Sweden s "points" system — with workers accumulating points throughout their working lives, which they could cash in at some still undefined moment. It would be a more equitable and simpler system, the president claims. It s not surprising that so many are afraid of losing ground. After all, while the official French retirement age is 62, as the New York Times reported, "Train drivers can retire at 52, public electric and gas workers at 57, and members of the national ballet, who start dancing at a very young age, as early as age 42." And retirement can mean a pension of up to 75% of the wage they earn while they re actively working. France has the lowest retirement age of any Western European nation. A lot of this stretches back to the post-war leadership of Charles de Gaulle, who — facing the challenges of rebuilding France and taking the leading role as Europe s statesman -- simply let a host of different unions (including those representing teachers, lawyers, accountants, transport workers and stage and screen performers) set their own level of pensions and retirement age. The result is that France is being bled white by the generosity of these plans. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that France spends at least 14% of its GDP on pensions each year — more than twice the level of the 6.8% spent in the United States. "New measures to raise the effective age of labor market exit will be needed," the OECD reported perfunctorily in April. Indeed, the French government seems to feel that rationalizing the pension system, along with other reforms Macron has in mind, could actually mean tax cuts and a boost to GDP. Of course, other such Macron economic reforms — like a steep hike in gas taxes — are what sent the "gilets jaunes" (yellow vests) protestors into the streets a year ago. Macron had only just gotten past that problem before the pension crisis arose. And it comes at a particularly parlous moment for him. On Monday, he is poised to host Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky in Paris for a landmark summit on Ukraine. That meeting, along with his contentious run-in with President Donald Trump at last week s NATO summit in London appear to be elements in the French President s carefully-crafted campaign to assume the mantle of the leading political figure in Europe, now that Merkel has announced her retirement, at the latest in 2021. The question, following the "yellow vests" movement, is how much more of this unrest he can take before his international standing starts to suffer and he loses his grip on the political party he created when he convinced people he was the answer to economic France s stagnation? Macron is not one to give up easily. Nor should he. The fact is, he s right. Too often France quite simply doesn t work. Its bureaucracy is paralyzing. I should know. It s taken me weeks and two visits to government offices simply to create a "personal page" on the French internet tax system — the only way to monitor my payments. Still, Macron may have to compromise in order to win. The French often must be led forcefully to a solution they resist but that will improve all their lives in the long run. The problem is that most still can t see beyond the fact that the long run might take them past their long-anticipated early and lucrative retirement.
Sen. Kamala Harris is gone, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has risen, Sen. Elizabeth Warren seems to have lost her momentum, and overlooking the shuffling deck from on high is former Vice President Joe Biden, who was the favorite before he was even a candidate. In many ways, voters preference for Uncle Joe harks back to a time when a party s nomination often seemed predetermined once a candidate had put decades into public service and grown his or her name recognition. You know: so-and-so has been around for x number of years — it s his turn. The election of President Barack Obama sparked a change in that model, while President Donald Trump set the whole thing ablaze. Clearly, Democrats are willing to swing the pendulum back the other way, first with the party s chosen nominee in 2016, Hillary Clinton, and now with frontrunner Biden — although the latter comes with a curious caveat. For as much as Biden, who was first elected to the Senate in 1972, touts himself as the man who can restore dignity to the White House, the truth is he is a behavioral and rhetorical wild card as well. Take his recent confrontation with a voter at a campaign event in Iowa. The man accused Biden of placing his son, Hunter, with a Ukrainian gas company "in order to get access to the president" (he was referring to Barack Obama) — an accusation for which there is zero evidence. The way Biden handled the moment was Trumpian. He called him a "damn liar" and later said, "You re too old to vote for me." He even challenged the man to a pushup contest. I repeat: a pushup contest. Such a diatribe, while entertaining for some, completely undermines the idea that Biden will restore dignity and grace to the Oval Office. When faced with a similar situation in 2008 at a voter town hall meeting, then-presidential candidate Sen. John McCain did not attack the voter who said she didn t trust Obama because "he s an Arab." Instead, McCain defended his opponent and respectfully corrected her by saying, "No ma am. He s a decent family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that s what this campaign is all about." For all of the racist and Islamophobic vitriol that hovered over that year s general election, McCain s interaction with that voter pierced through the darkness to remind voters what it means to be presidential. Biden s interaction, on the other hand, reminded voters what it means to be mean — not that we needed it. A one-off is easy to ignore but these lapses are not a rare occurrence for Biden. I was at the Human Rights Campaign s LGBTQ town hall event in October when the 77-year-old went drifting into some bizarre verbiage about "gay bathhouses" and "round-the-clock sex." Back in August, Biden said "poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids," which is precisely the kind of well-intended racist sentiment that would have sent liberals into a frenzy had a Republican said it. He called 54-year-old Kamala Harris "kid." Just imagine what the headlines would look like if Trump had done the same. I m not trying to draw a false equivalency here. I recognize these two rivers likely diverge when it comes to intent. Still, it feels as if Democrats grant Biden a much longer rope with regards to error while keeping their opponent chained to a far shorter leash. And that s the Democratic voters prerogative. But with every gaffe, Biden chips away at his own claim that he s a better choice than Trump because he can restore decorum. Calling a misinformed voter a liar and challenging him to a pushup contest reeks of the machismo present in Trump s thinly-veiled exchange about penis size with Sen. Marco Rubio in 2016. Rubio said, "He s always calling me Little Marco. And I ll admit he s taller than me. He s like 6-(feet)-2-(inches), which is why I don t understand why his hands are the size of someone who is 5-(feet)-2(inches). And you know what they say about men with small hands? You can t trust them." Days later, Trump responded to the jab during a debate and said, "If they re small, something else must be small. I guarantee you there s no problem. I guarantee." It might be perfect dialogue for a cheesy, R-rated comedy, but it s painfully disappointing for two men vying to be President of the United States. The same can be said about Biden s exchange with that voter from Iowa. For those who are used to Trump s crass behavior and vile rhetoric, there might be a desire among some voters to see a candidate sling some mud. And that s fine. But you can t do that while claiming to be the candidate who can clean things up. Biden needs to decide what kind of campaign he is going to run, and Democrats need to remember there is a difference between beating Trump at his own game and restoring the dignity of the White House they believe his presidency has tarnished.
Gary Cohn is a Democrat and a robust supporter of trade, immigration and climate action. So why did he go to work for a president who pitched his candidacy in ferocious opposition to all three? "I thought that I could potentially sway him," the Wall Street veteran told me on the latest episode of my podcast, "The Axe Files." Cohn said his decision to accept Donald Trump s invitation to become director of the National Economic Council was rooted in his faith that "fact-based" reason would prevail. "In my mind, having a seat on the inside and trying to influence was better than being on the outside and trying to get to a more positive outcome on, you know, climate, on trade, on immigration." Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs executive, did align with Trump on deregulation and tax reform, and helped orchestrate the controversial tax cut bill of 2017 that Trump claims as a principal achievement. But on other issues the two clashed, with Cohn quitting in protest in 2018 after the President imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from China and other countries. Listening to Cohn describe how he and a cadre of now-departed advisers tried to steer Trump away from his worst impulses and key positions, I had two reactions: One was that there is no one left in the White House to push back, a fear Cohn echoed in our conversation. "There was a group that was willing to tell the President what he needed to know, whether he wanted to hear it or not ... None of us are there anymore," he told me. "So I am concerned that the that the atmosphere in the White House is no longer conducive -- or no one has the personality -- to stand up and tell the President what he doesn t want to hear." Cohn s hope that Trump, like past presidents, would be willing to moderate some of his positions in light of facts and governing realities was a colossal misreading of the man, and reflected hubris and wishful establishment thinking. Trump s refusal to yield to his advisers and abandon his vivid, signature positions has a lot to do with why he retains the fierce loyalty of his base, even in the face of impeachment and the chaos that reigns around him. Trump s approval rating has held steady and remained in the low 40s throughout the impeachment inquiry. His unwillingness to be "swayed" on trade, immigration and climate and an array of social issues -- or to curb his smash-mouth politics -- may alarm his opposition. But to his loyal supporters, they are emblems of authenticity upon which Trump will stake his claim in 2020. It is a base only, base always strategy, risky in a country that grows more diverse and metropolitan by the day. But Trump is gambling that in the older, whiter, less-educated industrial states that matter -- Pennsylvania, Michigan and, particularly, Wisconsin -- he can replicate his 2016 formula and eke out another victory.
In addition to the number of the supporters of the Waliyas, the nickname given to the Ethiopian national football team, at the Addis Ababa Stadium in their tough game against Cote d’Ivoire on 19 November, the scenes of the crowd’s jubilant celebrations after Ethiopia’s 2-1 win had something else worthy of scrutiny. The emblem that used to define Ethiopia’s national flag, in other words the yellow star with its radiant rays standing for unity in diversity raised by late prime minister Meles Zenawi, had suddenly disappeared, sparing only the three traditional colours of the flag of red, yellow and green. It seems the fans wanted to show a departure from the Ethiopia of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). Now, they are embracing a brand new Ethiopia, after three of the four major parties of the coalition that used to run the country since 1991 have officially buried the front, with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front’s (TPLF) total rejection of the newly formed Ethiopian Prosperity Party. Posing as federalists, the TPLF branded the merger a sham and one that had ruined the very fabric on which Ethiopia’s polity had been based some 30 years ago. As the cards are stacked against them, prominent TPLF member Getachew Reda, once a government spokesperson, said in a defiant tone moments after the burial of the EPRDF that “we will cross that bridge when we come to it.” Earlier, he said that Tigrayans would again carry arms if there was a need to do so. Fears are mounting in this small region that the Ethiopian federal government may use force to subjugate what was once the powerhouse of the country. A defiant Tigray is not, however, the sole pain in the neck for Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed because objections to his unionist approach have come from his own fellow Oromos. Against all the odds, Lemma Megerssa, Ahmed’s hand-picked defence minister, also explicitly said that the merger of the EPRDF into the Prosperity Party was wrong and that even if it was right it was not the appropriate time to do it. He even uttered his objections to the Medamer philosophy that the Ethiopian prime minister has embraced and detailed in a book he has released. But nationalist Megerssa did not utter his objections out of a federalist inclination, but rather an ethnicity based one. He said that the questions raised by the Oromo people, who had entrusted their leaders with finding appropriate responses to them, should have received appropriate responses first before thinking of the merger. The Ethiopian minister of defence opposes the dissolution of the Oromo Democratic Party (OPD) and holds the view that this is the party that the Oromo people have entrusted their woes and demands to and not any other. But what are those demands? Are the Oromos not satisfied with one of their own assuming the highest executive position in the nation for the first time in modern history? In practice, the Oromos are now having golden moments unparalleled in the history of the country. In the past, they decried the Tigrayans’ hegemony over the political structure and the security apparatus, while now, to the dissatisfaction of other ethnicities, the Oromos are accused of replicating the Tigrayans’ experience when they were in power. Concurrently, another no to the merger has come from the man whose actions while in exile helped Ahmed to assume office. Political activist Jawar Mohamed, who was the victim of a recent smear campaign branding him an extremist Muslim who wants Sharia-based rule in Ethiopia, spoke of a new entity that would gather all the country’s pro-federalism parties together. Some speculate that he and the outspoken critic Megerssa may form a new coalition that would be a killer blow to the overambitious Ahmed’s political career. Ahmed’s Prosperity Party is widely seen as a back-door policy to tighten his grip on power, just as godfather of modern Ethiopia Meles Zenawi did with the EPRDF. But unlike quick-witted Zenawi, who managed to surf gracefully in dangerous waters, the present Ethiopian prime minister is flying blind, given the rising opposition from within his own entourage. In tandem with the political earthquake rocking the country, Ethiopians last week welcomed the State of Sidama, Ethiopia’s officially tenth region – except that less than two per cent of the 2.4 million people who form the region’s population unanimously voted for statehood. Seemingly, Sidama statehood may have a domino effect on other nationalities in southern Ethiopia. Eleven of the 12 southern nationalities have already submitted official requests for holding local referenda for statehood. They are Wolaytta (from which Ethiopia’s former prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn hails), with its 2.4 million people; Gurage (1.8 million people); Gamo and Kembata Tembaro (one million people each); Bench-Maji and Hadiya (900,000 and 800,000 people, respectively); Dawro Zone (700,000 people) Gofa (1.3 million people that submitted a request in May this year); and South Omo (800,000 people that also submitted their request in April this year). Out of all these southern nationalities, the Wolaytta’s quest for statehood remains the next challenge. Historically speaking, Wolaytta was an influential independent kingdom until its annexation by the Ethiopian emperor Menelik II in the 1890s in his successful expedition to enlarge the Empire. That annexation is branded as “one of the bloodiest campaigns of the whole process of expansion,” as Ethiopian historian Bahru Zewde has put it. It was so because the once-powerful kingdom ferociously resisted its subjugation and inflicted huge damage upon Menelik’s invading armies. Though Wolaytta was one of the nine regions of Ethiopia in 1991, the same year the now-defunct EPRDF took over, the then transitional government decided to merge the ethnicity into the larger Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region. Just a few months after Abiy Ahmed took over as prime minister, ethnic-based conflicts took the lives of scores of people drawn from the Wolaytta in Hawassa, the capital of the newly formed State of Sidama. The atrocities and the burning alive of people have given rise to a now-prominent youth grouping called the Yalaga, a group of Wolaytta youths who want to restore the glory of their ancestors. Since assuming office 19 months ago, Abiy Ahmed has taken long strides towards reforming Ethiopia, drafting his own model of Perestroika E Glasnost (Restructuring and Openness), a policy once adopted by the last leader of the former Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev. Ahmed’s policies are internationally celebrated because the West as usual fails to understand the core of the problems and the intertwined nature of Ethiopian society. Ahmed has been regionally welcomed with much cautiousness, but he is locally looking vulnerable. This is due to the mounting cracks within the ruling elite and the uncertainty overwhelming the 112 million people of Ethiopia who have failed to get a clear-cut answer to the question of where Ethiopia is heading. The writer is a former press and information officer in Ethiopia and an expert on African affairs.
Many British citizens from the north of country to the south are wondering where their country is heading. The ripple effects of the vote to leave the European Union, the so-called Brexit, still have not run their course, clouding the atmosphere with uncertainty and doubts about the future of the United Kingdom and its political and economic prospects. For decades, the British capital of London has taken pride of place as the world s most important financial centre, even preceding the status of New York. But the last few years after the Brexit vote have been troubled and have led to the loss of over one trillion pounds sterling of assets from the United Kingdom. Even the British bank Barclays has moved 166 billion from the UK to Ireland as a result of concerns about the post-Brexit period. Many international and British corporations have either downsized or moved their operations away from the UK, with companies such as Panasonic and Sony moving their headquarters from the UK to Holland. Others have cancelled plans for investment, such as Nissan and Toyota, which may close their UK facilities by 2023. In short, the economic situation looks worrying. Then there is British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who instead of calming growing post-Brexit fears and the panic over possible economic stagnation and recession has announced that he will be targeting billionaires and big corporations in the United Kingdom. These, he says, have bankrolled the ruling UK Conservative Party to the tune of 100 billion pounds sterling ($126 billion). Corbyn has accused British billionaires of bankrolling his opponents, as 48 out of the 151 UK billionaires have donated more than 50 million to the Conservative Party since 2005 alone. He has called their wealth “obscene” and has vowed to tax these billionaires, saying it would take a man on the UK minimum wage 69,000 years to make one billion. While there may be some truth in the last calculation, this kind of communistic propaganda is a new low for Corbyn s Labour Party because it instills hate among the public towards success and entrepreneurship. He is comparing the years a minimum-wage worker would take to become a billionaire, while neglecting the fact that an average worker might not even get a job at the minimum wage if it wasn t for those billionaires with their “obscene” wealth as he calls it. In his speech on 21 November, Corbyn introduced communist-style plans to nationalise the UK water, post, railways and energy companies, while introducing pay raises for public-sector workers. If Corbyn had not been delivering his speech in English at a conference in the UK city of Birmingham, one might have thought this was a speech by some developing world dictator of the 1960s or 1970s. But the reality was that this speech was made in the United Kingdom in 2019, which breaches the boundaries of sanity. The desperate tones adopted by the Labour leader reflects his and his party s panic over the gains of the Conservatives in the opinion polls before December s elections, with the Conservatives now leading by 19 per cent over the Labour Party. Such polls can be accurate, but there is no way of knowing the effects such speeches about increasing taxes on the wealthy and increasing benefits for the impoverished through acts of nationalisation may have on the average voter. Some voters may feel desperate enough to vote for the Labour Party and its eccentric leader, who appears desperate enough to become prime minister even if this is at the cost of a collapsing British economy. Most countries that suffered from socialism in the 1960s in the Middle East, Africa and Asia have now become robust and competitive capitalist economies. However, at the same moment in the West there are still some who are apparently still preaching socialist-communist dreams of equality and shared wealth that always fail when it comes to implementing them in reality. Some of them claim that China, potentially the largest economy in the world and second only to the United States in terms of GDP, is a communist economy, but this is a fallacy and twists the facts. While the Chinese Communist Party still survives and controls the country as the single party, with many aspects of communism still lurking in China, the country s main drive to the great economic successes that it is now enjoying has been due to its introduction of a capitalist economy. This has allowed the influx of hundreds of billions of dollars to flood the Chinese economy and the establishment of millions of commercial companies and manufacturing plants in China over the past few decades. More millionaires and billionaires have emerged in the exponentially growing Chinese economy than in most other countries in the world, and yet China has not declared war on them as Corbyn has on the British billionaires. There are 476 billionaires in China, which is only second to the United States, and that is not counting the 4.4 million millionaires and the over 150,000 that appear in China every year. These people employ millions of Chinese citizens and other nationalities worldwide and have helped to cement China as the world s biggest exporter and next in line to becoming the biggest economy in the world, with some analysts already calling the 21st century the Chinese century. China did not attain this success by following Karl Marx s failed theories, proven wrong time and time again, but it did so through capitalist economic plans that transformed China from being a near failed state in 1980 to the economic giant that it has become in 2019. The failed dreams of the communist economies of the former Soviet Bloc are apparently still lurking in the minds of many, and the latest victim to be claimed by communism is Venezuela, at one time the most stable and robust economy in Latin America. Venezuela is now hammered with failure and astronomical inflation rates reaching 344,509 per cent in February 2019, unprecedented in the history of economics. Venezuelans have late president Hugo Chavez and incumbent President Nicolas Maduro to blame for this resounding failure. Should Corbyn find his way into 10 Downing Street in Britain and become the country s next prime minister, given his history of controversy, including befriending the leaders of the terrorist groups Hamas and Hizbullah, there is a good chance of his carrying out his twisted election promises and initiating a war on whomever he deems as being too rich or too successful in Britain. Such acts of government crackdown on the rich have always spelled the beginning of a long and agonising road to a failed economy. Corbyn should drop these childish dreams and act like the political leader of a great country and not as a communist student union leader. The country that introduced capitalist economics to the world through the work of Scottish economist Adam Smith (1723-1790) appears to be on the verge of an economic breakdown, and this will become certain if Corbyn is allowed to carry out his wild promises on a British economy that even if it can survive the onslaught of the post-Brexit era will not be able to survive a prime minister whose chief concern is to target the successful.
A critical reading of the history of Arab thought during the past two decades reveals a missing or perhaps even a deliberately concealed truth, which is that this body of thought has been the victim of ideological affiliations that have exerted such a force over the Arab intellect as to compel it to read what has been happening in our societies through doctrinal blinkers. These have filtered out complexities and prevented the insights necessary to understand the laws governing the development of Arab societies. The result has been a cognitive gap between intellectual perceptions and a thorough understanding of our societies and the causes for their advance or decline. This gap has been aggravated by a tendency to ignore the voices of the masses, whose day-to-day struggles nevertheless shape the components of our lives. Arab intellectuals have given insufficient attention to learning directly from the masses and have too often ignored their aspirations. Modern Arab thought has run the full spectrum from the reformist outlooks of the 19th century through the liberal and Arab nationalist and socialist orientations of the 20th. Much of this thought has failed to promote the realisation of the ideological visions that informed it, though it has left behind it a rich legacy of ideas even if this has remained confined to the ivory towers of the intelligentsia and has not influenced the outlooks of the masses. Some Arab intellectuals have stood up to the Western challenge by saying, correctly, that the scientific, philosophical and cultural achievements of Western civilisation had their roots in Arab Islamic civilisation. Had it not been for the scholars who transmitted Arab science and philosophy to Europe, the West would never have achieved the breakthroughs that led to the European Renaissance, not just in the sciences, but also in the humanities and in the ethics of freedom, equality and the openness to others. Such values formed the core of the Arab Islamic civilisation. Yet, the Arab cultural elites failed to appreciate that implanting these ideas and value systems, as they had evolved in the West, into culturally and developmentally different Arab societies could only produce a truncated and deficient version of modernity, especially given prevailing tribal or sectarian-based systems of government. Marxist thought, despite its theoretically rich and enlightening legacy, failed to establish the foundations of genuine social change on the basis of the principles of social justice and class equality in the Arab region. It collided with authoritarian regimes that were for the most part subordinated to Western influences and propped up by allies among the business classes, tribal leaders, rural oligarchies and corrupt bureaucracies. The fate of socialist activists in the Arab world was thus often marginalisation and repression, while wealth remained concentrated in the hands of an elite that continued to control the institutions that shaped political, cultural and social life. Simultaneously, the army and security apparatuses were transformed into instruments to support and perpetuate the power of the ruling classes, while over 75 per cent of the Arab peoples became poor and marginalised. The Arab socialist thinkers failed to readjust and rectify their approaches, despite their noble aims and the huge sacrifices they made in the pursuit of their ideals. They were unable to look beyond the theoretical principles of Marxist or socialist thought or to draw on the experiences of other countries, among them China, which incorporated a grasp of the realities of their own societies and histories. Arab socialists, by contrast, did not attempt to study Arab economic, cultural and social history. They did not attempt to study the Arab Islamic heritage in terms of its impact on the masses. They remained confined to their own circles in urban centres and never thought to step into the streets to engage with the masses and learn from their experiences. Despite the fact that a common Arabic language and culture and a shared national struggle against foreign domination lent the Arab nationalist movements a remarkable momentum during the national liberation struggles, enabling the banner of Arab unity to prevail, these movements were adversely affected by the ambiguity surrounding the concept of Arab nationalism. There was never a consensus over the definition of the term or for realising its aspirations on the ground. The Arab defeat in the June 1967 War with Israel delivered a debilitating blow from which this body of thought would never recover. Liberal thought in the Arab world also remained confined to the intelligentsia and never gained ground among the broader masses, primarily because of its focus on political rights and its blindness to questions of social justice for the popular classes that make up the vast majority of the Arab populations. It failed to address the fact that these classes still live in the framework of a traditional legacy shaped by sectarian, ethnic and tribal affiliations and values, and they suffer from the poverty that has too often resulted from the policies of Arab governments. Regarding the region s religious heritage, in theory each generation receives the scriptures in its own historic context and interprets them within the framework of contemporary conditions. However, the Arab world has been afflicted with a stagnation of religious thought since the Middle Ages as the result of the closure of the bab al-ijtihad in the early Ottoman era. Ijtihad licenses Islamic jurists to exercise independent reasoning, in contrast to taqlid, or conformity to tradition, in areas where the Quran and the hadith, or Prophetic traditions, are not unambiguous. In the modern era, this stagnation has led to the political exploitation of religion and religious sentiments. Islamist groups rely on the interpretations of mediaeval jurists to justify their political projects, while official religious institutions perpetuate the ambient intellectual stagnation. The result has been the reproduction of generations of imams and jurists who adhere to the injunction to “obey the ruler” without question and the obstruction of attempts to renovate religious thought. Against this backdrop of a crisis in Arab thought, the problems of democratisation, civil society and human rights gained prominence in Arab political discourse in the 1980s. As Arab intellectuals grew engrossed in such questions, they tended to overshadow other issues, such as economic, social and cultural rights and the underlying question of citizenship. It is precisely here that we find the crux of the crisis in the gap between the intelligentsia and the people that exploded with the Arab Spring Revolutions in 2011. These brought unprecedented hopes and promises, even if the upheavals and frustrations that followed them ushered in new rounds of already timeworn questions. Arab intellectuals were also left with the possibly even greater problem of how to address their ongoing subordination to Western modes of thought.
Human rights are based on the principal of equality, meaning “all rights to all people”. They also infer equality between countries, all of which have equal rights and duties towards their people and other countries. When Europeans invaded Africa, they found people who are different in looks, colour, creed and with different values and traditions. They assumed these are not “humans” and decided to own their land and resources. The record of Europe in Africa is not very honourable. With European countries competing to control Africa, the UK was the “pioneer”, and now that Europe is advocating equality and “human rights” all over the world, I am confident that they are now willing to correct their behaviour and pay their debts to Africa. PIONEER OF THE INVADERS: France and Portugal had started their exploits in Africa. Britain had conquered southern Africa and penetrated parts of the western coasts of the continent. These incursions were met with resistance prompting the British parliament in 1854 to ask the government to stop its campaigns in Africa. Until 1875, the size of the British possessions in Africa did not exceed 640,000 square kilometres, some of which had been purchased from Denmark and some had been exchanged with Holland against lands in Sumatra and Southeast Asia. Britain also exercised strong influence in Zanzibar which had been separated from Muscat by the governor of India in 1861. France, meanwhile, appropriated a small part of the North African coast in Algiers, Senegal, Guinea coast, the Gulf of Gabon and some areas on the southern coast of the Red Sea. The Portuguese had appropriated land that did not exceed 100,000 square kilometres. In the 1870s, the European powers were involved in heated competition to conquer and divide the African continent among themselves. Germany joined the race after its victory in the 1870 war with France. At the same time, France began settling and colonising parts of north Africa. Italy went into Eritrea. The king of Belgium, who was intrigued by the discoveries of Livingstone and Stanley in the Congo Basin, decided to send an expedition to occupy that basin. The success of the expedition aroused the concern of the European powers who feared that this might encourage individual adventurers. This led them to expedite the apportionment of the African continent among themselves. For years after that Africa became the scene of intrigue and military exploits. Portugal occupied Angola and Mozambique, Germany occupied Tanganyika and Cameroon, and Britain the Niger Basin and then the Nile Basin. The US contributed to the invasion of Africa, not as an occupier but as an enslaver. Africa was the source of slaves who build that emergent nation, and they only obtained their freedom after a gruelling civil war. All the countries above, without exception, exploited Africa, abused its resources and exploited its people. Even the River Nile, the pure and eternal African wonder of the world, they considered their own. In November 1884, the colonial powers met at a conference in Berlin to determine and outline their spheres of influence in Africa. The conference was attended by Germany, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, the United States, France, Britain, Italy, Holland, Portugal, Russia, Sweden, Norway and Turkey. In a series of acts, protocols, agreements, treaties, declarations and exchanges of notes, collected in three volumes by Hertslet (1967), participant powers delineated their spheres of influence, which eventually became the borders of modern African states as we know them today. Foremost among these agreements are: the Rome Protocol, 15 April 1891; the Addis Ababa Convention, 15 May 1902; the London Convention of 13 December 1906; the Rome Convention of 1925; and the July 1993 Cooperation Framework. Two agreements between Egypt and Sudan were struck in parallel: the 1929 Convention; and the 1959 Convention. THE COLONIAL RESOURCE-GRAB: Africa does not need European resources. The reverse is the case. Africa has vast stretches of cultivable land and it has agronomists and other scientists who work in international organisations and Western nations. It is rich in basic minerals. There are abundant sources of iron in Mauritania and Zambia, of aluminium in Guinea, nickel in Mozambique, chrome in West Africa and natural gas in Egypt. But Africa does need two things: the transfer of the technology and knowhow to enable African countries to optimise the utilisation of their resources, especially in such fields as healthcare, fighting epidemics, education, modernisation of agriculture, industrialisation and exports; and investment, in particular in order to support infrastructural development, an area in which Egyptian expertise can contribute greatly. Egypt, as chair of the African Union, underscored these realities and drew up the necessary plans for the development of the African continent and its people. It convened numerous conferences and meetings towards these ends, the most recent of which was the third G20 Africa Summit in Berlin to bolster the business climate and spur investment in the continent. WHERE EUROPE CAN MAKE AMENDS: One of the foremost areas in which Europe and Africa can and should work closely together is water resources. Africa, like other regions in the world, is grappling with the problem of both the availability and quality of fresh water. The continent s needs in this regard call for numerous hydraulic projects to harness water for electricity (such as the electricity generating project that Egypt has been working on in Tanzania), to put cultivable land to work, to prevent water loss due to evaporation, to make potable water available to millions and to serve other crucial developmental needs. The Bahr Al-Ghazal, the main western tributary of the Nile, is an area that merits closer attention due to the huge amounts of water that are lost in the vast marshes known as the Sudd wetlands. It is a region that offers plenty of scope for canalisation and other hydraulic projects to conserve and harness the lost water. Another area where enormous amounts of water are lost is at the source of the White Nile in the Great African Lakes. The Lake Victoria basin receives more than 110 million m3 a year, but only about 30 million m3 of this exits the lake into the White Nile. Only 33 million m3 of water makes its way through the White Nile from the Equatorial plateau into the approximately 700 km2 of Sudd wetlands. It is here in this region where the Bahr Al-Ghazal, which flows 160 kilometres eastward from Al-Riqq, joins the White Nile at Lake No. Only six per cent of the more than 500 million m3 of rain that falls on the Bahr Al-Ghazal basin makes its way into Lake No. Surely hydraulic projects in these areas would offer an excellent opportunity for Nile Basin countries to overcome longstanding differences between upstream and downstream countries (Egypt and Sudan) by working together to persuade Europe to fund much needed water conservation projects. Perhaps Lake Victoria could be the starting point, it being the largest of the African Great Lakes (69,000 km2) and the main source of the White Nile. There has been a proposal to construct a dam to help conserve the waters lost from this lake. This could be the focus of a cooperative project that brings together Nile Basin countries and Europe in an endeavour that could greatly augment available water resources in the White Nile, which would be shared equitably in accordance with an international agreement. I know that such an idea has been mooted before, but it never got off the ground because of a number of conflicts of interests and ambitions. However, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, who has the resolve and discernment to rise above petty differences and look towards the future, has ushered in a new phase for Africa based on mutual understanding and cooperation, and it is this spirit that should encourage the governments concerned to re-examine their positions for the sake of the collective benefit to be had from preventing the loss of enormous quantities of Nile waters. PAYING COLONIAL DEBTS: For centuries, European countries colonised, exploited and enslaved the peoples of Africa. Today, they should repent, by which we mean they should remedy their wrongs by contributing to the development of this continent. There is plenty of scope for this through any number of development projects to which Africa s European partners could contribute. They should simultaneously bear in mind that they, too, stand to gain, as development of Africa is the key to stemming the flows of migrants escaping prevailing hardship and strife in Africa. The key to success here is European political will combined with a convergence of opinion among the African countries concerned. Fortunately, Egypt s chairmanship of the African Union has worked to raise international awareness, mobilise global public opinion and alert international organisations and European governments to their responsibilities. The question now is whether Europe will pay its debts to Africa.
After years of investigation and months of delay, Israel s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit formally indicted Binyamin Netanyahu for crimes ranging from his violation of public trust to bribery and fraud. Israel s apologists will argue that the fact that a sitting prime minister has been charged with crimes against the state and people presents compelling evidence of the country s democracy and commitment to the rule of law. This is the very point that Mandelblit made in announcing the indictments: “The public interest requires that we live in a country where no one is above the law.” However, this is only partially true since it appears that in Israel the principles of democracy or the rule of law only apply to Israeli Jews or the interests of the state itself. In fact, Netanyahu s entire sordid career is evidence of the selectiveness of Israel s sense of justice. In the past the Netanyahu household has been charged with some of the pettiest forms of corruption imaginable. For example, his wife was found guilty of taking the empty bottles from beverages consumed at official state functions and keeping the money she received for turning them in for recycling. The Netanyahus were also known to bring three weeks of dirty laundry on two-day official state trips and sending it to the hotel in which they were staying for a night so that the cleaning bill would be charged to the state s budget. This is the sort of past petty thievery for which the Netanyahus were famous. Looking at the recent indictments, it is clear that the prime minister has graduated to bigger and better forms of fraud and corruption. What s striking, however, is that all of the crimes with which he is charged are focused on feeding his ego or his appetites. In some instances, they were favours done for a businessman in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts, in others they were the corrupt deals he made with various media tycoons in which he promised them benefits in exchange for their guaranteeing him positive coverage in their news outlets. There is no doubt that in all of these cases Netanyahu s behaviour has been clearly criminal and reprehensible and, as described by the attorney general, a breach of the public s trust. But what I find so striking and disturbing is that these crimes pale in significance when compared to what Netanyahu has done to the Palestinian people and the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace — crimes for which he will not be called to account. After Oslo, Netanyahu organised a back-door lobby to mobilise US Congressional opposition to the peace accords. This was the first time an Israeli lobby worked in the US to oppose their own government. He should have been charged with treason. Back in Israel, during the same period, he organised with Ariel Sharon and a few others a smear campaign of incitement against Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The campaign was so virulent and threatening that many Israelis, including Rabin s wife, held Netanyahu responsible for Rabin s assassination. Netanyahu should have been charged with incitement. In 1996, he was elected prime minister on a platform dedicated to ending the peace process and he did everything he could to slow down, distort, and ultimately sabotage the Oslo peace process. Even the agreement he signed with the Palestinians at Wye so encumbered the process that by the end of his first term in office, peace was on life support. He should have been charged with destroying the prospects for peace and putting at risk the lives of millions. During his last three terms in office, he incited violence and hatred against Palestinians, both those who are citizens of Israel and those living under occupation. This has fuelled extremist settler movements that have engaged in daily acts of violence, destruction of property and murder. He also encouraged soldiers in the Israeli army to murder defenceless Palestinians and supported them when they were charged with crimes. In addition, as he did with Rabin, he has falsely accused his Israeli opponents of being too close to the Arabs and accused the Palestinian citizens of Israel of being enemies of the state. He should have been charged with hate crimes. During his time in office he has expanded settlements on stolen Palestinian land and the demolition of Palestinian property; overseen a number of devastating assaults on Gaza resulting in the indiscriminate massacre of thousands of innocent civilians and the destruction of Gaza s infrastructure; instituted and maintained a cruel blockade of Gaza s population, as an act of collective punishment, in which, for long periods of time, food, medicine and other essential items were restricted or severely regulated, resulting in death, disease and impoverishment of millions of innocents. He should have been charged with war crimes. The list could go on, but this should suffice. The bottom line is that, to be sure, Netanyahu is a criminal. But in today s Israel he can t be found guilty of his most serious crimes — treason, incitement, destroying peace, hate crimes and war crimes. Instead, he will be asked only to answer for his narcissistic appetites and corruption.
Last Friday, the Egyptian national under 23 team won the U23 African Cup of Nations and qualified for the Olympics to be held in Tokyo in summer 2020. The win created a wave of happiness for Egyptian football fans who were frustrated after the national team was knocked out in the 16th round of the African Cup of Nations in summer. Moreover, the performance of the Egyptian Olympic team was more than satisfactory; the players had both zeal and passion to win the tournament. Egyptian youth managed to make millions of Egyptians happy, and recreate the charisma of Egypt s National Team in the African continent. At this point, a comparison needs to be made. While the Egyptian first team could not qualify for the finals of the African Cup organised in Egypt, the Olympic team managed to win the tournament, also organised on Egyptian soil. Here we must recognise the idea of investing in youth, and understand that there is a new generation of Egyptian youth more capable and more empowered in comparison to previous generations. This fact poses the question, how can we invest in youth? More than 30 per cent of Egyptian society is composed of youth under 30 years of age. From a demographic perspective, youth are the most influential and crucial faction within society. Two African tournaments were organised in Egypt this year, one that saw the exit of the first team, and another that saw the Olympic team winning the title. Regardless of the technicalities of football between both tournaments, there are profound meanings and more lessons to be learned behind these events. The main idea is the generation of youth and the capacities that they can exhibit. Whoever saw the game last Friday would know that more than 70,000 Egyptians were there and they went home jubilant. This is, of course, besides the millions that watched the match on television screens and slept satisfied. There is a generation of youth in Egypt capable of great accomplishment, and prepared to prove themselves as providers of happiness within this nation — something the older generation failed to do during the tournament of last summer. And now the question becomes, how can the state develop the capacities of youth in a more significant manner, in order to witness what we witnessed in football in more than one dimension? The core idea is that there is a new generation of youth that is exhibiting talent and professional skill. However, if these talents are not empowered and utilised, it will indeed be a loss of potential for Egypt. There are some sectors that require more attention from the Egyptian state regarding youth. The concept is to create a mechanism that transforms experience from one generation to the next, and to adopt a long-term strategy for developing and aiding youth who are capable of achieving success. The Egyptian state undertook the idea of youth forums, where youth selected according to certain criteria get to interact with the Egyptian president himself. The idea is both nationalist and noble, but implementing it in the ground does not necessarily mean that it achieved its objectives. Youth forums are a platform that could generate lots of capacities that have been hidden from sight in previous times. How to transfer this dialogue into an actual process that materialises the outcomes of strategic plans is the question being posed within the context of investing in youth in Egypt at the current moment. Some modification needs to be introduced on the mechanism of youth forums, and each forum must come out with a list of recommendations that the state will aid in implementing. Youth forums are not a mere process of dialogue (despite how important this dimension is); youth forums are supposed to be a path for Egypt s youth to implement ideas that they were not able to implement before, and hence create a difference within society. It could also be a good idea if the Egyptian state designed programmes of public service for university students. The idea of national collective action needs to be used in a manner that generates an identity. The lack of a national identity is one of the main problems that Egypt s youth face; one which could only be resolved with this youth s direct participation in social reform projects. An agenda for public service in fields like education, medical care, raising awareness and envisioning long-term development projects, needs to be quickly developed in order to have a structured process regarding investing in the youth sector in Egypt. Winning the U23 Africa Cup of Nations and qualifying for the Olympics was not a work of magic; it was a process that took over 18 months where a coherent work team was focused on a specific target. Perhaps there are other fields where youth could be active that do not get the same attention that football does. If we are talking about the development of a society, with its different demographic factions, plenty of variables need to be taken into consideration. At such times, keeping a focus on youth and their empowerment seems the most viable solution on both the political and social levels.
Now that the dust has settled after two weeks of riveting impeachment hearings on Capitol Hill, the primary lines of argument have emerged. In one corner, President Donald Trump and his supporters point to his September 9 conversation with EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland, during which (according to Sondland) Trump said, "I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo." In the other corner, we have testimony from multiple ambassadors and National Security Council officials that suggests Trump indeed conditioned foreign aid and a White House visit on Ukraine s announcement of investigations into Trump s political rivals. But the fact that both sides have a line of argument does not mean those arguments are persuasively equal or cancel one another out. The vast weight of the evidence -- supported by logic and common sense -- indicates Trump wanted a quid pro quo. And upon scrutiny, Trump s self-serving denial carries little persuasive or evidentiary weight, and provides a flimsy shield for Trump and his supporters to hide behind. The "I want nothing" defense -- no matter how many times or how loudly Trump shouts it -- is a cheap distraction and should not divert attention from the actual evidence of his corrupt intent. The timing of Trump s "I want nothing" comments is crucial to this point. Trump s September 9 conversation with Sondland happened nearly a month after the whistleblower filed a complaint, several days after the White House learned about the complaint, and on the same day Congress received notice of the complaint. As House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff put it, "he got caught." The jig was up, and Trump was in cover-up mode. Both the law and common sense tell us that a self-serving denial made after a person has been caught carries limited if any value. Criminal defendants generally are not allowed to offer evidence at trial of their own self-serving, after-the fact denials of guilt (indeed, every criminal defendant who goes to trial already has proclaimed his lack of culpability by pleading not guilty). Impeachment, of course, is not a criminal proceeding, and the rules of evidence do not apply. But it is telling that our established legal rules likely would deem Trump s self-serving denial too unreliable to use in court. The logic is so plain that even a child can understand it: once you ve been caught with your hand in the cookie jar, it doesn t make you innocent to announce, "I want no cookies!" Trump s "I want nothing" defense also is crushed by the sheer weight of the evidence to the contrary. Boiled down, that evidence establishes two facts that even the most ardent Trump supporter cannot credibly contest: (1) Trump held up foreign aid to Ukraine and a potential White House visit, and (2) Trump asked Ukraine to investigate his political rivals. The big question, then, is whether (1) and (2) are related: were the foreign aid and White House visit held up in order to get the investigations, or was it just a cosmically unlikely coincidence that both of these things happened, independent and unconnected to one another? Common sense alone answers the question, but if that wasn t enough, witness after witness testified that the foreign aid and White House visit were indeed connected to the investigations. Acting Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor testified that "by mid-July it was becoming clear to me that the meeting President Zelensky wanted was conditioned on the investigations of Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 US elections." Lt. Col. Alex Vindman, who listened to the July 25 call in his capacity on the National Security Council, described "a demand for him [Zelensky] to fulfill his—fulfill this particular prerequisite in order to get the meeting." Even Ambassador Sondland, central to Trump s September 9 defense, acknowledged that he directly proposed a conditional exchange to a key Ukrainian adviser, and Ambassador Kurt Volker, the former Special Representative for Ukraine negotiations, explicitly offered a similar this-for-that exchange in a text message to the same adviser. White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney admitted publicly there was a quid pro quo (though he later walked it back). And, upon any sensible reading, Trump himself directly proposed a conditional exchange in his July 25 call with Zelensky, according to the White House s own transcript of the call: "I would like you to do us a favor though..." Do not be distracted by the "I want nothing!" defense. It has a certain simple, visceral appeal, and provides a convenient bumper-sticker slogan for Trump and his defenders. But it cannot stand up to the facts or common sense. Now, your questions Tony (Kansas): The evidence shows that Trump and Giuliani didn t care about an actual investigation of the Bidens and 2016, but only a public announcement of an investigation. How does that affect the case for impeachment? Testimony from Lt. Col. Vindman, Ambassador Sondland, and National Security Council official Tim Morrison -- and other evidence including text messages between US and Ukraine officials -- establishes that the "deliverable" Trump and Giuliani sought from Ukraine was not necessarily an actual criminal investigation of the Bidens but rather a public announcement of the investigation. This detail is compelling circumstantial evidence of the state of mind of Trump and Giuliani. Their primary focus on a public announcement indicates that their true motive was political -- ensuring the public knew Biden was under criminal investigation -- rather than corruption-busting. Indeed, as Giuliani surely knows, as a longtime prosecutor, there is good reason why good prosecutors conduct investigations almost entirely in secret: a public announcement of an ongoing investigation would tip off the targets and potential witnesses, and would seriously undermine fact-finding. The last thing any prosecutor -- or any person genuinely interested in fighting corruption -- would do is to insist on a public announcement of a corruption investigation. Jason (North Dakota): Now that the evidence in the Roger Stone trial has proved that Trump knew about the leaked emails Wikileaks dumped, could Trump be charged once he is out of office for lying on his written answers to Robert Mueller? Stone was convicted by a jury on all seven charges brought against him, including one count of lying to Congress for "testif[ying] falsely that he had never discussed his conversations" about the Wikileaks e-mail dump "with anyone involved in the Trump campaign." The evidence at trial, including phone call logs and testimony, established that Stone in fact discussed the Wikileaks email dump directly with Trump and other campaign officials including Steve Bannon. But in his written answers to Mueller, Trump claimed he "do[es] not recall discussing Wikileaks" with Stone, "nor do I recall being aware of Mr. Stone having discussed WikiLeaks with individuals associated with my campaign." There are only two possibilities: either Trump actually did not recall these conversations, or he lied in his responses to Mueller. While it seems highly unlikely that Trump forgot about conversations with a longtime adviser about a potentially crucial development in the presidential campaign -- especially given Trump s claim to have "one of the great memories of all time" -- it would be difficult for a prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump did not in fact forget. It shouldn t be that easy to evade criminal liability, but sometimes "I do not recall" can be an effective legal cover. Robert Mueller bears some blame here; by accepting written responses from Trump rather than fighting for an in-person interview or grand jury testimony, Mueller left the door wide open for this facile dodge by Trump and his attorneys. Tony (Oklahoma): How does the burden of proof in an impeachment trial compare to that of both a criminal trial and a civil trial, and is hearsay testimony allowed in an impeachment trial? In a criminal case, the prosecutor must prove a defendant s guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt," which is the highest standard of proof in our legal system. In a civil trial, the plaintiff must prove the case by a "preponderance of the evidence," meaning proof that the allegations are more likely true than not true. Article I of the Constitution broadly gives the Senate the "sole power to try all impeachments." But the Constitution does not specify any particular standard of proof necessary for conviction. In the 1999 Senate impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, Clinton s lawyers made a motion to apply the criminal "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard, but those motions failed. So no particular standard of proof applies at all -- or, more precisely, each Senator can apply whatever standard of proof he or she feels appropriate. Three questions to watch 1. Will John Bolton come forward to testify, particularly about his one-on-one conversation with Trump about releasing foreign aid to Ukraine? 2. Now that a federal judge has ruled that former White House counsel Don McGahn must testify (which the White House surely will appeal), will the House Judiciary Committee call him as a witness and seek to include his information in an Article of Impeachment? 3. How will proposed Articles of Impeachment take shape in the House Judiciary Committee?
The title of today s column is inspired by “The Gulf Moment in Contemporary Arab History” by the Emirati researcher and political science professor at Emirates University, Abdul-Khalek Abdullah. Initially presented in a seminar in 2009, it was published as a research paper by the University of London in 2010. It subsequently appeared in book form in 2017, and then in an Arabic edition in 2018. It posits that the moment of the six states that comprise the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — started when they began to come into their own after Egypt faded from the regional scene following the death of Gamal Abdel-Nasser. Then, after a three-decade period of confusion and lack of direction (1970-2000), the Gulf arose to embrace a new historic moment. Their state-building processes were complete or nearing completion, oil prices stood at over $100 a barrel and surplus wealth had accumulated, modern technologies and processes had poured in and were taking root, education and health met the highest international standards, and military might was expanding. This latter moment would face a major test in second decade of this century, a point at which the “Arab Spring” delivered a debilitating blow to the Arab immune system. Abdul-Khalek Abdullah s thesis came up again for discussion in the Sixth Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate, hosted by the Emirates Policy Centre on 9-11 November. This year s conference was given the title “Old Power s Competition in the New Age” and the discussion in question occurred during the session on “The Gulf Region: Capabilities and Possibilities.” The Arab region and the Gulf are far from where they stood a decade ago when Professor Abdullah first introduced his concept and when many think tanks were contemplating the Gulf s rising star. During the past two years oil prices have plunged to half their level in 2009. Tests of military balances have resulted in brutal Iranian interventions in the region, active Turkish aggression and territorial occupation in Syria, and Israeli territorial expansion with the annexation of East Jerusalem, the Golan and, probably soon, more parts of the Palestinian West Bank. Also, divisions within the GCC have turned the “Gulf moment” into something less like a state of strength and more like a state of precariousness in which Qatar plays the Trojan horse. Meanwhile, the “US ally” is acting like a spectator who popped over to this region carrying invoices for services rendered and demanding pay. To conference participants from Egypt or the Levant, talk of difficult times in contemporary history, of states of frailty that court setbacks and defeats, or even of allies who proved not up to expectations in both responsibility and courage, was hardly new. But there was another note to the general sense of disappointment in Abu Dhabi, a notion that this difficult time had something to do with Egypt being “absent” or, in the words of one participant, “paralysed” or “semi-paralysed”. In Abdullah s original book, the “Gulf Moment” began 20 years after Egypt s Nasserist moment. There followed 30 years of confusion and lack of direction (as though the 1973 War had not occurred, Egypt had not recuperated Sinai and brought the first shrinkage in the Israeli empire, and Egypt and Israel had not signed the peace treaty that brought the first application of the principle of land for peace and that ushered in a new regional order). Then, since the beginning of this century, some decades after the Gulf countries won their independence and were now some phases into their modernisation processes, the Gulf soared to a new status in international and regional relations. If circumstances in the Middle East and the Arab region, in particular, had been propitious for the rise of the “Gulf Moment” around the turn of the millennium, the second decade of the 21st century showed little mercy for the region. It opened with a first wave of the so-called Arab Spring which culminated in an Islamist fundamentalist hegemony, as manifested in Muslim Brotherhood control in Egypt and Turkey, and the rise of their Shia counterparts in Iran, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen. The assault was vicious. It precipitated civil wars and threatened to wipe out entire national states across the region. The conflagration could have been even more horrifying than it actually was. Fortunately, the “Gulf Moment”, with its constituent parts, managed to buffer the GCC countries from the gale force hot and sandy winds of that “spring”. It then helped make resistance possible, as was first manifested in the 30 June 2013 Revolution, which brought the first major retreat of that wave. Soon followed an upsurge in genuine and radical reform processes in many Arab countries, foremost among which were Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as well as Jordan, Morocco, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman. As for the UAE, its drive to catch up with the modern age had begun well before this. More recently, before this decade drew to a close, a new wave of “spring” arose. This one, however, has conferred a stamp of “maturity”, in Lebanon and Sudan; stamps of the approaching delivery of the nation state into the modern age, not only intact but also with a system of government transformed from a sectarian/ethnic based quota system to a fully-fledged democratic civil state. To a certain extent, the “Gulf moment” was accompanied by an “Egyptian moment” that was different from its predecessors in modern Egyptian history. This one emanated from the age we live in, an age governed by different modes of international relations and new and different regional circumstances. But, if there are differences between the Egyptian moment and the Gulf moment, this is not the time to quibble between them. Instead, current realities dictate an urgent need for a new “Arab moment”, one that creates a new regional balance of powers and revives the immune system of the Arab order in order to safeguard it against the evils of the decade that is about to end. The key to the new “Arab order” is reform. Profound reform. This is what is in progress in Egypt which is shedding the shackles of an ancient bureaucracy and stretching its limbs from the narrow confines of the Nile Valley through vast desert expanses to the coasts in the framework of a policy outlook that has shifted from the management of poverty and its multifarious aspects of underdevelopment to the management of the wealth that lies both below the sands and above. In the framework of this decentralisation, reform is unleashing untold energies through the inclusion of broader segments of society and striking new and more powerful combinations of soft and hard strength. The Saudi process is no less important. There, reform means engineering a rapid breakthrough from an old world that had defied progress and modernisation to the current age in all its political, economic and cultural dynamics. The UAE appreciated the virtues of modern technologies early on in its “old era”. According to all known theories of progress, the newcomers to the latest levels of advancement stand to benefit once they excel in the skill to ride the highest waves. Whether for a single state or a group of them, reform is the key to ensure that the moment is not a narrow fleeting one fought over by prowling wolves and serpents, but rather a moment that opens its arms to the whole ancient nation. Unfortunately, there was not enough time in the conference in Abu Dhabi to get to that point. Still, this is a conversation with sequels.
As had been expected by analysts and economists, the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) decided Thursday to cut interest rates for the fourth time this year. The committee cut the overnight deposit rate, overnight lending rate and the rate of the main operation by 100 basis points to 12.25 per cent, 13.25 per cent and 12.75 per cent respectively. The discount rate was also cut by 100 basis points to 12.75 per cent. The decision came on the back of inflation reaching new lows. Annual headline inflation fell to 4.8 per cent in September 2019 and fell further to 3.1 per cent in October 2019, the lowest rate since December 2005, according to the CBE. With this latest cut the CBE is progressively returning to pre-2016 interest rates. Across the year, the CBE has cut rates by 4.5 per cent. In the months following the floatation of the pound and the $12 billion loan agreement made with the International Monetary Fund in 2016, interest rates were increased by seven per cent. Now, economists believe the interest rate cuts will positively affect investment, providing impetus to revive economic activity in addition to reducing the government debt service bill significantly. Experts have also ruled out that interest rate cuts could affect foreign investment in the domestic debt market, especially after the monetary easing by the US Federal Reserve in late October, and considering the continued strong yield on the pound against the dollar. Businessmen have long called for the reduction of interest rates. Reducing the interest rate will have a positive impact on the long run, encouraging companies to expand their investments, which eventually affects employment, increases production and thus increases the supply of various goods, which would accordingly reflect in a decline in prices. A decrease in interest rates lowers the cost of borrowing and makes it cheaper to set up projects or expand existing ones. By cutting rates, depositors may also find it more worthwhile to invest, such as in the stock market or setting up new projects. But while interest rates are important for investment, they are not the only factor in an investment decision. Though the government has already done a lot to attract investment, including floating the currency, introducing value added tax and various new laws to facilitate investment. Egypt ranked 114th among 190 countries surveyed by the World Bank s annual Doing Business Report this year, six places higher than last year. It also introduced regulatory reforms that have facilitated various aspects of doing business. These include starting a business, getting electricity, protecting minority rights and ease of paying taxes. For example, it takes 5.5 procedures and 12 days to start a business in Egypt, compared to six and 19 on average for the Middle East and North Africa. Nonetheless, challenges remain. The Doing Business Report showed Egypt still underperforms in the areas of trade across borders and resolving insolvency. And foreign direct investment remains below targets, coming at around $6 billion in 2018-2019. More needs to be done to encourage domestic and foreign investment if Egypt is to realise GDP growth targets of around six per cent for the current fiscal year, and creating some 700,000 jobs needed annually amid a growing population.
As sinners, we always ask God for forgiveness. Nobody is void from sin if his life doesn t exceed one day on earth. Pope Shenouda III in his article Forgiveness assured us that God is merciful and forgiving by nature because he knows our human weakness. The prophet David says, for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:14).