The year 2020 started with a vengeance. According to some pundits, the Middle East has been teetering towards World War III, with the Iranian-US conflict triggering this terrible prophecy. But let s go back a few decades and open Pandora s Box to reveal something of the strife between Iran and the US. The two states have not seen eye to eye since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979 followed by the attack on the US Embassy in Tehran when US diplomats were held hostage for 444 days. Many years later, former US president Barack Obama s efforts to appease Iran were shunned by President Donald Trump when the US exited the Iran nuclear agreement and imposed crushing sanctions on Iran. However, Trump did not retaliate after Iran downed a US drone in June last year or after it attacked Saudi oil facilities in September. More recently, the crisis became more acute. In Iraq, Iranian-backed militiamen killed an American contractor and wounded others in rocket attacks. This time, the US retaliated by ordering strikes in Iraq and Syria, killing 25 militia fighters. Iraqi protesters then rallied outside the US Embassy in Baghdad, got inside the compound and set sections of it ablaze. Using a drone strike, the US killed Qassem Suleimani, the commander of the Iranian Al- Quds Force who had played a pivotal role in attacks in many countries in the region, including Lebanon and Yemen. From the Iranian perspective, Suleimani was a heroic figure, and ironically his death united a disgruntled people and a government facing internal dissent against the US, that is until the gunning down of the Ukrainian passenger plane. Those who have been against Trump in the US were quick to reject Suleimani s assassination. On the US TV channel CNN, journalist Fareed Zakaria said that Suleimani was regarded “as a completely heroic figure, personally very brave,” while journalist Anderson Cooper, again on CNN, compared Suleimani to former French president Charles de Gaulle. Those who have supported Trump hailed his actions. US journalist Thomas Friedman writing in the New York Times pointed to Suleimani s work with Iranian proxies across several countries. “Hizbullah in Lebanon and Syria, the Popular Mobilisation Forces in Iraq and the Houthis in Yemen – these created pro-Iranian Shiite states-within-states in all of these countries. And it was precisely these states-within-states that helped to prevent any of these countries from cohering, fostered massive corruption and keeping these countries from developing infrastructure – schools, roads, electricity,” he said. A tit-for-tat conflict between Iran and the US brewed. Trump warned in a tweet that “should Iran strike any US person or target, the United States will quickly & fully strike back & perhaps in a disproportionate manner.” He even threatened to attack Iranian cultural sites, an unheard-of approach that is totally unprecedented from a developed country. Iran responded swiftly by firing a dozen missiles at two US military bases in Iraq. It threatened “more crushing responses,” but the attacks resulted in no casualties, which was a great relief. A day later, small rockets pelted the diplomatic area in Baghdad s heavily fortified Green Zone. The Iraqi parliament voted to expel US forces from the country after Suleimani s death, causing Trump to threaten to impose sanctions against Iraq. Speaking to reporters on the US president s jet Air Force One, he said that “if they do ask us to leave, if we don t do it in a very friendly basis, we will charge them with sanctions like they ve never seen before ever. It ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame.” That was not all, as at the same time, and minutes after take-off, a Kiev-bound Ukrainian 737 Boeing plane departing from Tehran Airport went down killing the 176 passengers onboard including 63 Canadians who were mostly of Iranian descent. After US and Canadian officials announced that investigations had proven that the plane was shot down by surface-to-air missiles, a statement on Iranian TV acknowledged that Iran had “unintentionally” shot down the Ukrainian passenger plane. Until a few days ago, war seemed imminent as the rhetoric and aggression surged. Then things took a surprising turn. In a speech following the Iranian missile attacks on the US bases, Trump preferred to de-escalate hostilities rather than to escalate them. He signalled that no new US strikes would follow, and in an astonishing change in tone he also said that he was “ready to embrace peace with all who seek it,” when just a day earlier he had said that “if Iran does anything that they shouldn t be doing, they re going to be suffering the consequences and very strongly.” He also called for negotiations towards a new agreement with Iran. Iran took the same approach, seemingly uninterested in a wider confrontation and satisfied with the effects of its limited retaliatory measures. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that his country had “concluded proportionate measures in self-defence,” adding that “we do not seek escalation or war.” Both the US and Iran may have realised that this is as far as things should go and that further military force would be more damaging than beneficial. A war would put pressure on Trump domestically who had earlier campaigned in the US presidential elections on a promise to remove the US from further “endless wars.” Moreover, the consensus on Suleimani s assassination was that it was illegal, and Trump may have deemed US allies unsupportive and reluctant to support another war. According to US journalist Alex Ward writing on the US news website Vox, a war would have meant “a deadly opening attack. Nearly untraceable, ruthless proxies spreading chaos on multiple continents. Costly miscalculations. And thousands – perhaps hundreds of thousands – killed in a conflict that would dwarf the war in Iraq.” “The ripple effect would likely have reached the far end of the world with skyrocketing oil prices, attacks against American and allied targets anywhere around the world, and no backing down on either side leading to disastrous consequences.” Regardless of whether the Iranian and US approaches constitute appeasement, backing down or playing things right, the world is now breathing an overwhelming sigh of relief.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry — before the Egypyian-Ethiopian-Sudanese meeting in the US — dotted all the necessary in the statement it released following the last round of talks in Addis Ababa in which Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan failed to reach an agreement over their pending differences on the rules and principles governing the filling of the reservoir and the operations of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). The fault for the failure is certainly not Egypt s. Egypt s guiding principle throughout has been that any agreement should ensure the interests of all parties. Egypt has no problem with the construction of the Ethiopian Dam as long as it does not jeopardise Egypt s water rights, which is why it has engaged in so many rounds of negotiations in recent years. In March 2015, Cairo, Addis and Khartoum signed the agreement on the Declaration of Principles, outlining 10 major principles to which the signatory parties committed themselves. Egypt s stances and demands have remained consistent with these principles in all the negotiating rounds ever since. When negotiations broke down earlier this year, seven years after they had begun, Egypt felt compelled to appeal to the international community to intervene, which President Al-Sisi did in his address to the UN General Assembly in September. When the US offered to help, Egypt accepted willingly. It then welcomed the outcome of the US-sponsored negotiations and faithfully adhered to the terms of the agreement that was reached in Washington on 6 November. There followed four negotiating rounds between the three countries technical committees, during which Egypt worked as best as it could to overcome the impasses. Afterwards, Egypt was forced to announce that the negotiations did not produce results commensurate with its demands, initiating a new phase in a process involving a life and death issue for the Egyptian people. The spokesman for the Egyptian Ministry of Irrigation said that the negotiations showed that Ethiopia had no sincere desire to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement and that Addis was actually bent on acting unilaterally in filling the reservoir and operating the dam, in violation of international law. He stressed that Egypt cannot accept this and that it remains determined to safeguard its quota of Nile waters as stipulated under previous agreements. Contrary to the Ethiopian claim, Egypt has not insisted on a specific number of years for the filling of the GERD reservoir. But it does oppose Ethiopian attempts to impose a de facto reality, to assert its control over the Blue Nile, and to fill and operate the dam without concern for the welfare of downstream nations, and Egypt in particular, the last country on the Nile before it reaches the Mediterranean. Ethiopia should not be allowed to treat the Blue Nile like the other transboundary rivers it has sought to control to the detriment of neighbouring countries. Over a year ago, Cairo, Khartoum and Addis agreed that the filling of the GERD reservoir should proceed in stages based on the annual flow of the Blue Nile. Egypt has proposed that this process should take place over six to seven years in the event of average or above average flooding levels, so as to avoid harm to downstream nations. It also proposed that, in the event of significantly lower than average flows from the Blue Nile headwaters, Ethiopia could reduce electricity production at the dam to 80 per cent of its capacity, meaning that Addis would only have to shoulder a minor burden due to the drought. Regardless of whether the next round in Washington produces positive results, or whether Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan agree to extend negotiations for another limited period, or whether they opt for an international mediator, Egypt will continue to insist on its full and undiminished rights to Nile waters, on the principle of avoidance of harm to any party, and on the need for a consensual mechanism to operate the new dam. These principles are not negotiable. No country can stand by while its main source of water is exposed to risk, jeopardising the lives of over 100 million people. Ethiopia is now trying to buy time and gain an edge over the other parties by spreading falsehoods to the effect that Egypt is intransigent. Such behaviour is indefensible and does not stand to reason in light of the constructive and flexible approach that Egypt has consistently brought to the negotiating process, to which there is ample testimony.
In an effort to show that Egypt is a land of tolerance and the cradle of Abrahamic religions, Tourism and Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Anani conducted a four-hour tour on Friday, during which he inaugurated the historical al-Fateh Mosque in Abdeen Palace and visited the St. Mark s Church in Alexandria, the oldest Church in Egypt, before crossing the street to attend the main event of the day — the unveiling of the Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in Alexandria after three years of restoration. Speeches from attendees at the event, which included Anani and the Director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Mostafa El Feki, confirmed the importance of religious tolerance in Egypt and stressed the lack of religious discrimination throughout Egypt s history, despite the presence of various religious sects living in close quarters, in an attempt to send a message to the world that Egypt is the cradle of civilization and a country of tolerance and acceptance. Perhaps this is the main message of organizing the three events in one day, but I see another goal behind opening more than just the Jewish synagogue last Friday — it represents a preemptive response to any attack on spending approximately LE65 million on the restoration of a synagogue that will not host religious rituals regularly, because there are not enough Jews in the city and in all of Egypt to justify regular religious services. Anani s response to such criticism was clear when he said: “This is a message to the world that Egypt cares about its entire heritage, whether it is Pharaonic, Islamic, Coptic or Jewish.” Those who attack costly restoration work on the synagogue forget that it is part of Egypt s heritage, and the temple not being used for prayers does not mean it should be neglected. This synagogue and the other 11 synagogues in Egypt could serve as tourist attractions that document an important part of Egyptian history. These criticisms reminded me of what happened during the tenure of Farouk Hosni as Egypt s former Culture Minister, when he began the restoration of the Maimonides Synagogue (Rav Moshe Synagogue) in Cairo. A similar attack campaign began, with critics expressing doubts about the feasibility of restoration at the synagogue and slamming the allocation of funds to such a project. But Hosni, known for his daring leadership, was not satisfied with the restoration of one synagogue, calling as well for the establishment of a museum documenting Jewish heritage in Egypt. The Minister s ambitions caused the attacks to increase, with critics saying that Egypt does not have enough relevant antiquities to justify establishing a museum dedicated to Jewish heritage. With the opening of Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue, I see it s now time to revive Hosni s idea. I have spoken with members of the Jewish community on the sidelines of the opening of the synagogue, and they confirmed that there exist rare books and other relics that could form the basis of a museum dedicated to Jewish heritage, which could be built in the basement of the synagogue located in Adli Street (Sha ar Hashamayim Synagogue). I believe that the establishment of such a museum would serve as an eloquent response to critics of the synagogue restoration project, as the museum will draw visitors to the country and place Egypt s synagogues on the global tourism map.
Amid growing rifts within Ethiopia s ruling elites on whether to stay as federalists or to join the ranks of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed s centralist approach, Jawar Mohamed, the most popular Oromo activist and founder of the powerful Oromo Media Network, has become a member of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC). The move has ended speculation among Oromo nationalists and others in the ruling elites on whether Mohamed would align himself with Ahmed s new Prosperity Party. Right from the beginning, Jawar, who has led an effective campaign in exile against the former Tigrayan hegemony over the Ethiopian polity, has blatantly opposed the incumbent Ethiopian prime minister s “Medemer” philosophy that is bent on marginalising the regions power in favour of an all-powerful centralised government. His objection to Medemer (Amharic for “synergy”), which Ahmed heavily promoted in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, was the first nail in the coffin for this philosophy among his fellow Oromos, particularly as Jawar explicitly accused Ahmed of being “authoritarian” and showing early signs of “dictatorship”. Ahmed now has to face the music as the defiance coming from Jawar, given the latter s popularity in Oromia, threatens the young leader s political career. While Ahmed was a member of the now-defunct Ethiopian People s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) cabinet under former Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn, Jawar was engaging in active mobilisation among his fellow Oromos in exile against Tigrayan rule. Jawar s bold actions against the Ethiopian government under strongman former prime minister Meles Zenwai and the ineffective Desalegn also gained him publicity beyond measure among his fellow Oromos and within other nationalities that suffered under EPRDF rule. Having joined the OFC, Jawar will run for a seat in the upcoming general elections in Ethiopia slated for May this year, and if his party gains a majority he may be picked as the head of the next government, as stipulated in the country s constitution. In practice, the OFC has plans to field candidates in all 180 of the registered constituencies in Ethiopia — in other words, it will challenge the incumbent prime minister s new party across the country, particularly as the OFC is expected to form a coalition with another federalist Oromo party, the Oromo Liberation Front, once labelled a terrorist organisation under the EPRDF-led government. Ahmed has presented himself to the West as a reformist leader who has freed prisoners, tolerated dissent, and empowered women to the extent of picking a woman as president for the first time in the country s history, let alone allowing for the freedom of expression and leaving no journalist behind bars. Such a recipe has appealed much to Western circles, and it secured Ahmed the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize, even if it has fallen on deaf ears in Ethiopia itself. Decades of ethnic politics have put down roots in the Ethiopian community, and the kind of paradigm shift that Ahmed wants cannot happen overnight. It is true that the EPRDF s notion of federalism was more a matter of form than of substance, as the leaders of the regions were picked based on their allegiance to the former ruling coalition, and the regions influence in decision-making never crossed the role of yes-men. But it is also true that the regions adherence to staying as federalists can be traced back to their panic at the prospect of returning to the old days of Ethiopian history under the rule of the former emperors when they had almost no say in their country s political structure and only slight representation in the government. Above all, introducing a federal system to Ethiopia in the wake of the demise of the Marxist-led government of Mengistu Hailemariam did, except in the Eritrean case, maintain the lesser evil, namely the façade of a united and undivided Ethiopia, though one that had a restive and turbulent shape. Mohamed, on the other hand, has based much of his confidence as a potential successor to Ahmed on the fact that his defence of federalism as the administrative structure of Ethiopian politics appeals to nationalities that are afraid of losing their gains, particularly autonomous rule, in favour of Ahmed s centralised form of governance. Jawar s appeal also goes beyond his home Oromia region as he has deftly embraced people in Amhara through a reconciliatory discourse, in Afar when he visited the region wearing national dress, and even stretched hands as far as archrivals the Tigrayans, who, like Jawar, defend federalism, though for different purposes. Jawar s main objective remains in harmony with that of the Oromos: greater self-rule through which the Oromos can have wide control over the wealth that is abundant in their region and that has been used to sustain the federal republic but not the Oromos themselves. He is widely seen in the region as a messiah who can spread Oromisation in its broader sense, socially and culturally in particular. Such an ideology appeals to average Oromos who have been neglected for decades and have sustained one blow after another, particularly after their leaders collaborated with Zenawi in the guerrilla warfare against the Marxist government of Mengistu Hailemariam, dreaming at the end of an independent state just like current president of Eritrea Isaias Afwerki did with his country following the collapse of the Derg (Amharic for “committee”) regime in Ethiopia in 1991. But the Oromos request was then met with a resounding refusal, and they saw their leaders scattered in exile or labeled as terrorists, or, in the best-case scenario, being spared only to be sentenced to long terms in prison or vaguely “disappeared”. This was the time in which Mohamed was raised, and it was also the time when every Oromo bore the brunt of a ruthless campaign, both in the media and among the community, that Oromia wanted the disintegration of a happy and stable Ethiopia. No wonder, Jawar s tone looks to some as ultranationalist, something he does not conceal, particularly as the Oromos believe it is now or never if they are to flex their muscles over the political and administrative system in Ethiopia. At first, the Oromos were jubilant when one of their own reached the helm of politics in the country, and they all, including Jawar himself, did provide support for him. But Ahmed has been busy turning his dream as a seven-year-old boy into reality: getting to the palace, as he said his mother predicted he would, and embarking upon imperial-like rule. The Ethiopian nationalities, small or large, have legitimate concerns that Ahmed will turn into a dictator and that they will once again lose what they gained with sweat and blood. By joining the Oromo Federalist Party, Mohamed has reshuffled the cards, particularly as another close ally of Ahmed, his defence minister, has left him between the devil and the deep blue sea by standing alone on his new political agenda. Should Ahmed manage to win the next elections and get the popular mandate he seeks, Ethiopia will enter into a new era of “Abiyism” by introducing amendments to the 1995 constitution and changing the country s political system into a presidential one. But things will surely not be better if the other camp wins the race, because then secessionist calls could ruin an already ailing building.
As we approach the end of 2019, we need to take a look at politics in Egypt during the year and try to arrive at a cumulative analysis of the political scene. 2019 was the year that witnessed the beginning of the second term for the president after the elections in the summer of 2018. This meant that there had to be a course of action undertaken during the first year in order to inform citizens about upcoming plans, both politically and economically. The government tried throughout the year to take measures to inform citizens of the projects being implemented for the future. However, we need to differentiate between domestic aspects of politics and regional or international ones. And we also need to pay attention to the need to counter terrorism, which constitutes a major part of Egyptian politics. On the side of domestic politics, few things changed. First of all, there was a state of inactivity or even absence for the political parties, either those who support the regime or those who oppose it. Egyptian politics saw a falling back in the performance of the political parties. These are present in parliament, but they have no real existence on the ground or in the streets of the country s various cities. In parliament, the political parties did not come up with political or socio-economic initiatives but were rather more concerned to discuss bureaucratic legislation without actual contact with the public. The internal challenges that the political parties face have led to a phase of stagnation within Egyptian politics, which could lead to parliament itself losing credibility because of its non-engagement with society, with the same thing applying to the political parties since the majority of them cannot recruit new members. We can conclude that 2019 saw a state of de-politicisation, with a lot of the youth who were politicised in 2011 after the 25 January Revolution turning away from political activity. The government also had a hard time during 2019. The agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has forced it to cut what it pays out in the form of subsidies, including on food, oil and electricity. The IMF agreement has also caused inflation and a depreciation in the value of the Egyptian pound. However, it cannot be ignored that the US dollar decreased in value against the pound in 2019. In 2018 one dollar was worth almost LE18, but today it is worth almost LE16, which should be considered as an achievement for the government. However, there are still problems between citizens and the government, largely owing to the continuation of inflation. This will mean that new political strategies need to be developed and a new phase of contact begun in 2020 to explain further the economic reforms being undertaken in the current phase. Still on the domestic level, some demonstrations with limited participation broke out in 2019 due to the YouTube videos published by the expatriate figure Mohamed Ali. Those who took to the streets were very few in number, which reflects the fact that Ali does not have any significant influence in mobilising the streets, specifically since he was never part of them and has never played a role in the public sphere. However, through his stories that lack any proof and his failed attempts to make Egyptians take to the streets, he managed to create a new lobby of opposition, specifically outside of Egypt, which we may call the diaspora opposition. In my opinion, Ali is not significant enough to induce unrest in Egypt. However, he does constitute a form of negative influence on some citizens. On foreign policy, Egypt was quite active during 2019. The revival of Egypt s role in Africa through leading the African Union and using its tools of soft power to expand its influence in the continent were among the main gains Egypt managed to secure in foreign policy. The president made visits to several African countries in 2019, and he managed to renew relations that had become inactive. Such acts prove that Egypt is starting to have a longer-term vision of its presence in Africa and the range of influences it has with the African countries. The real challenge now is how these efforts can be used to secure Egypt s interests regarding the building of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in Ethiopia. Water security in Egypt is theoretically under threat, and this will be a paramount priority for Egyptian foreign policy in 2020. There are also regional issues in the Arab world that Egypt is engaged with. Libya is at the top of the list due to its proximity to Egypt as a neighbouring country and the security threats this could pose in the context of the ongoing military confrontations. Egypt s position towards the Libyan conflict did not change in 2019, and it is governed by principles that also determine its wider foreign policy. These principles are opposing any international intervention in the Libyan crisis, insisting on a Libyan-Libyan solution, and keeping up communication with all the legitimate parties in the conflict. The agreement signed recently between Turkey and the Libyan National Accord Government regarding Turkey s intervention in maritime and land security will indeed bring potential threats for Egypt in 2020. Egypt does not want to see any military escalation within the Libyan conflict through the involvement of foreign forces, and certainly it does not want to see a Turkish military presence on its western border. 2019 was rather a year for instilling and implementing existing policies than for creating new ones. This concept could be applied to the strategies used for countering terrorism, which did not really change this year, though the level of activity and the frequency of operations did increase. It is true that the threat of terrorism is not over, but there is a committed political will in Egypt to counter terrorism through policies that have been formerly developed. Perhaps the last question we need to raise here is how politics in Egypt can perform better in 2020 compared to 2019. The government is indeed required to perform a better role next year than it did in 2019. New state policies must be implemented, or at least conceptualised, in order to counter the negative effects of the economic reforms on the middle and lower classes. Bringing back the political parties to the public sphere, meaning the legal and institutional ones, could also help in creating further cooperation with civil society. A lot of decisions that have to do with foreign policy remain vague, specifically where the zones of conflict will likely be, and these will remain a challenge for foreign policy in 2020. The situations in Libya, Syria, Yemen and Sudan will have to be closely monitored in the coming year. 2019 witnessed gains for Egyptian politics, but that does not mean that a lot does not still need to be done in 2020. There are plans afoot for both political and economic reform, but these need to be more vital and better explained to citizens in 2020. *The writer is director of the Programme for the Mediterranean and North Africa Studies at the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.
Hardly had the new year begun when the clouds of war began gathering over the East Mediterranean and Gulf waters. On 2 January, the Turkish parliament approved the deployment of Turkish forces in Libya in the context of the highly controversial memorandum of understanding on security and military cooperation signed on 27 November in Istanbul between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and head of the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), based in Tripoli, Fayez Al-Sarraj. Late in the evening of 2 January, an American drone targeted Iranian General Qassem Suleimani, commanding officer of the Quds Force, an elite military formation that has carried out foreign military operations in Arab countries, to provide advice, training and assistance to pro-Iranian armed militias like Lebanon s Hizbullah, Iraq s Popular Mobilisation Forces, and the Houthis in Yemen. This elite force has been engaged in proxy wars against Sunni regimes, particularly Saudi Arabia, throughout the last three decades. Until his assassination, Suleimani seemed untouchable, He had been everywhere across the Middle East, especially in Syria and Iraq, ascertaining and deepening the Iranian presence and role in leading Arab powers. His role had been amplified many-fold by Arab paralysis that provided Iran with enough space to expand regionally. The assassination was a very serious blow to the Iranian regime, not because its regional strategy will change, but because Suleimani demonstrated Iran s political reach in the Middle East. Taking him out means the United States has raised the stakes in its confrontation with Iran, a confrontation that had gotten worse with US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the nuclear accord between the P5+1 group and Tehran), a withdrawal that US President Donald Trump announced in May 2018. Ever since, the present US administration has imposed severe economic and financial sanctions on Iran in the framework of its strategy of “maximum pressure” so that Iran would accept to renegotiate the nuclear accord of 2015, and stop its “malign activities” — quoting American terminology — across the Middle East and the Gulf. The Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, said last week that his country lost $200 billion because of this strategy. On 3 January, Iran s Supreme National Security Council convened in an emergency meeting presided over by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He vowed “forceful revenge”. The whole Middle East is on heightened alert for Iranian retaliation, and the American response, if any. On the other hand, the United States has deployed 3,000 additional troops in the region on top of 750 Special Forces that were dispatched to secure the US Embassy in Baghdad, after its outer perimeter was stormed by pro-Iranian militias last week. Last Saturday, the US president warned Iran against retaliation. He said: “Let this serve as a warning that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have targeted 52 Iranian sites… and Iran itself, will be hit fast and very hard.” However, this stern warning will not prevent Iran from some sort of retaliation to save face before its Middle Eastern proxies, within Iran s Islamic Revolutionary Guard, and before Iranian public opinion. Farther west, the decision by the Turkish parliament to deploy Turkish forces in Libya has inflamed not only North Africa but also the East Mediterranean, pitting Turkey against a host of Arab and regional powers, Egypt foremost. The presence of those forces a few hundred kilometres to the west of Egypt s borders with Libya, and the establishment of a permanent military base to house the Turkish troops, amount to a casus belli from the standpoint of Egyptian national security interests. The same day parliamentary approval was given to the Turkish government to send forces to Libya, Egypt s National Security Council met, presided over by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. According to a statement released by the Egyptian Presidency, the meeting agreed on a set of measures, not elaborated, to defend the nation against any attempt to attack Egyptian security interests. Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry released a statement in which Cairo called on the international community to shoulder its responsibilities and work for the preservation of peace and security in the Mediterranean area. The statement reiterated Egypt s right to defend its national security interests. International reactions to the Turkish move were both ambiguous and ambivalent. The common denominator was that there is no military solution to the ongoing armed conflict in Libya, and to call on the Libyan warring parties to resume negotiations to carry out the United Nations peace plan. The two superpowers are reluctant to antagonise the new Turkish Sultan, Erdogan, who has successfully — at least so far — blackmailed both Washington and Moscow. He is supposed to receive Russian President Vladimir Putin on 8 January to talk about the situation in Libya. Ten days ago, and in an attempt to justify beforehand the sending of forces to Libya, he had said that his country cannot stand by while “foreign mercenaries” are fighting in Libya in support of the Libyan “National Army”. He had also talked about what he termed “old geography”, in reference to the Ottoman occupation of Libya for three centuries which, apparently, gives him the right to intervene militarily in the old Libyan colony of his predecessors centuries ago. He even claimed, ludicrously and stupidly, that there are one million Libyans today who have Turkish ancestry — a claim answered with disdain by Libyans on Twitter. Whether the Turkish army would be effectively deployed in Libya remains to be seen. If it happens, Egypt will not stand idly by. It is its national security interests that will be directly challenged by a wayward Turkish government that has destabilised the Middle East for the last 10 years. It is a government, like the Iranian regime, that has Arab and Muslim blood on its hands. To show its military preparedness to deal with future threats from Libya, the Egyptian navy held manoeuvres on 4 January, to demonstrate its amphibious capabilities. The message is one of deterrence. The year 2020 seems, from the very beginning, challenging and interesting to watch. It is probably the denouement of the last decade that ended with the demise of 2019.
It wasn t just me, or at least that s what I assume, that thought our feelings while following the Golden Globes ceremony were all positive – similar to our experience with football, where we consider every victory achieved by Mohamed Salah as a victory for us all. Though he plays at the English Premier League, Salah has become our representative even though his home country didn t help him much at the start. Whenever he did play with our national team, Salah encountered a lot of mistrust and even legal troubles forcing him to make a strongly worded speech against them. Everyone is aware that had Salah continued to play football in Egypt, amid the old regulations of the Egyptian Football Association and the struggles and hits below the belt they exchange, he would have often ended up on the bench. The global opportunity saved him from this painful fate, and despite that Salah remains the joy of Egyptians, and indeed all Arabs. They regard Salah as their football ambassador to the world. We have a precedent in scientist Ahmed Zewail, the Noble prize laureate – could he have accomplished anything in Egypt? He would have been chased on accusations of thinking out of the box, and he might have been excluded from a dispatch or a post, given instead to the son of a university professor. Magdy Yacoub is another clear model of the Egyptian genius searching for a healthy work environment. All these successes made by Egyptians across different fields such as sport, art, science and medicine is due to the availability of an environment suitable for creativity. I am absolutely proud, as an Egyptian, that we have three stars who are compassionately eager to publicize their identities, and I don t mean the passport they hold, which is often American. My point is that they cherish their genes and declare them with every success they achieve. Ramy Youssef was preceded by Rami Malek, and Mena Massoud; Malek when he received the Oscar for the Best Actor last year for the movie “Bohemian Rhapsody” (2018), and Massoud after his movie “Aladdin” (2019) made one of the highest revenues in 2019. When Massoud came to Egypt at the invitation of the El-Gouna Film Festival in September, he spoke in the Egyptian dialect, and chose Abdel Halim Hafez as an influential figure he wanted to play in a drama work through his new company. The emotional connection with these wonderful people is the depth of the story. We watched Ramy Youssef ascend to the stage at the Golden Globes ceremony with the music of Hani Shenouda, which composed 40 years ago in the Arabic note Longa playing in the background. Youssef embraced the golden award and expressed his happiness with “Allahu Akbar” (God is great). His series “Ramy”, which the Egyptian actor stars in, is about an Arab Muslim who lives abroad and wants to become part of his new society, far from looking at as a threat. These three stars deserve our hospitality so they remain at the forefront of our attention. We must search for an attempt to involve them in a festival officially bearing the name of Egypt, by which I mean the Cairo International Film Festival – and this is a proposal to Mohamed Hefzy (the president of the festival), I hope that he will start from now communicating with our Egyptian stars so they illuminate with their presence our hearts thirsty for joy!
A decades-long war Why? Because the war between the United States of America and Iran has been underway for more than 40 years. None of this is a secret. It s just that most Americans don t know they ve been at war with Iran. It s been out of their sight and, so, out of their minds. Friday s drone strike that took out Soleimani is but merely one more bump on a well-worn, long, and winding road of a conflict that s been killing people for generations. It is a war with an origin story that dates all the way back to 1953. That s when the Iranians believe America truly picked this fight. For, in 1953, the US staged a coup d etat in Iran to take down a popular, secular and nationalist prime minister, only to put an indulgent monarch, known as the Shah, in charge. It s that American coup that led to the 1979 revolution that placed an ayatollah on the throne and the rule of the mullahs still in power today. The very same mullahs that the now-dead General Soleimani served. When the Iranians revolted against the Shah, they overran the US Embassy in Tehran, taking dozens of American diplomats and Marines hostage, parading them on international television, as seen in the 2012 Hollywood movie "Argo." That is when this war began. Not with this week s drone strike. In 1983, Iran blew up a Marine barracks at the US Embassy in Beirut, killing dozens. President Ronald Reagan abandoned Lebanon and it appeared Iran had chased the US out of the region. That same year an Iraqi man called Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis car-bombed the US Embassy in Kuwait. Though he escaped, with Iran s help, he was sentenced to death in absentia in Kuwait for the bombing. It s believed he then went on to help hijack passenger planes. Western intelligence agencies also accuse him of involvement in the hijacking of a Kuwaiti airliner in 1984 and the attempted assassination of a Kuwaiti prince. Do you want to know who was in the same convoy as General Soleimani on Friday when that drone missile struck? It was that same car-bomber, al-Muhandis. Al-Muhandis, also known as Jamal Jafaar Mohammed, was twice elected to the democratic Iraqi Parliament the US created after the fall of the dictator Saddam Hussein. He was Soleimani s number one man in Iraq. In Parliament. Right under the noses of the US military. It was CNN who revealed al-Muhandis identity. At first, an unwitting US government did not believe CNN. But when the US government checked, and confirmed the bomber of their embassy was, in fact, in parliament, al-Muhandis fled Baghdad for the border crossing to Iran. Al-Muhandis was there to greet Soleimani on Friday at Baghdad airport in Iraq -- a country the Iranian general virtually ran and controlled. Soleimani s plane had just landed and he was with al-Muhandis in the convoy leaving the airport when the drone struck, killing them both. A killer, but not a terrorist Make no mistake, Soleimani was a killer. A calculating, patient, sophisticated killer. He was, most surely, plotting the deaths of many Americans. But, despite what President Trump says, he was no terrorist. He sponsored them. He trained them. He armed them. But Soleimani was a military man to his bootstraps. He fought in the horror of the 1980s Iran-Iraq war. The modern world s version of World War I; chemical gas attacks, suicidal human wave assaults, and a bloodletting we should hope the world never sees again. Soleimani rose up the ranks of the military until he came to head, arguably, the most elite special forces outfit in the region, if not the world, called the Quds Force, which translates as the Jerusalem Force. Iran has two armies, navies and air forces. One, to protect the country. The other, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Force (IRGC), to protect the country s religious revolution. And among the IRGC the Quds are the elite of the elite. Its members speak multiple languages. They are spies, soldiers and technical experts. In Western terms, they are a hybrid of Green Berets, SAS commandos and Delta Force operators all fused into one. And Soleimani was their commander. For more than 20 years. And he ran rings around all of us: Americans, Arabs, Israelis, Brits. Let us be very, very clear: this man was opposed to America and absolutely everything it stands for. He ached to destroy Israel itself, to take it out of existence, and he was opposed to the current balance of power in the Middle East. His entire life was devoted to bringing all of it, and us, down. If you doubt Soleimani s significance, his very assassination should tell you differently. Washington understood his value, that is why President Trump ordered the drone strike. Soleimani did more to shape then re-shape the region than any king or prince or sultan or president or prime minister. The man, quite simply, was a force of history. He just wasn t on our side. Will his assassination alter Iran s strategic ambitions? No. Will it slow them down? Maybe.
The 2019 Nobel Prize in Economics was awarded last month to three of the world s leading economists “for their experimental approach to alleviating poverty.” This experimental approach is gaining popularity in the MENA region, and holds the potential to impact the lives of millions of people. In 2018, nearly 23 percent of young job seekers in MENA were without a job. Slow economic growth in the region further limits employment opportunities for youth. And a recent report by the International Monetary Fund cites unemployment and lack of economic opportunities as drivers of unrest in several countries in the region. The experimental approach practiced by this year s Nobel winners, known as randomized evaluation, breaks down these overlapping issues and sheds light on answers to specific questions. And we have lots of questions: Are there enough quality jobs available? Do job seekers skills align with the skills employers are looking for? Can employers accurately assess the quality of candidates? Are young people well informed about economic opportunities when making educational choices? Governments, NGOs, and other practitioners around the world invest lots of resources into labor market programs in an effort to connect people with jobs. Often times we rely on intuition and assume that these programs work. Randomized evaluations can help us test these assumptions, sometimes with surprising results. In 2007, I started working with 2019 Nobel laureate Esther Duflo and other colleagues toevaluate the effectiveness of a career counseling program for young, college-educated job seekers in France. The program intended to improve employment rates for those who received the intensive job search counseling. We found that the program helped participating job seekers find work sooner, but it did not translate into a long-term increase in their employment rates. What s more, the program actually created worse employment outcomes for those who did not receive the counseling. Particularly in places with more competitive job markets, those who did not get access to the program were worse off—presumably since their peers who got the program were now more able to outcompete them for a limited number of job openings. This highlights why randomized evaluation is so important: Sometimes policies and programs have unintended effects. We re expanding our efforts to bring this experimental approach to address such issues in the MENA region through a new partnership between the American University in Cairo (AUC) and J-PAL, the organization founded by the Nobel laureates. A great deal of this work is focused on the labor markets sector. One example of this new research in the region is a study that looks at how young people in Egypt search for jobs. Throughout Egypt, there is high youth unemployment, and yet there are also many unfilled job vacancies. Our research focuses on job fairs. While they are a way to connect young people with many available quality jobs, attendance to job fairs tends to be very low. There are several potential reasons for this low attendance. It could be because of high transportation costs to travel to the fair. It may also be because youth have misperceptions about the types of jobs available at the fair. To better understand and address these potential barriers, Adam Osman, Mona Said, and I, in partnership with Egypt s Micro Small and Medium Enterprise Development Agency (MSMEDA), designed a randomized evaluation. Some youth were given information about what type of job opportunities are available at the job fair, some were given small amounts of cash to offset costs of attending the job fair, and some received both information and cash. We re now analyzing the results; the government will be able to use this data to inform their decisions about how to make job fairs more effective. J-PAL and our partners have 18 additional ongoing and completed studies evaluating various types of programs and policies throughout the region that address other important social issues. Our partners, including AUC, Community Jameel, and the Sawiris Foundation, are helping make this work possible. We are working with the Sawiris Foundation on a number of exciting projects, including a study in Upper Egypt on capital assistance to sustain self-employment projects showing large impacts for women. We are also working with Egyptian partners to adapt and test programs proved to be highly efficient elsewhere. The 2019 Nobel prize recognizes the innovation, importance, and urgency of this work. This is an important start, but there is so much more to learn. Governments and other organizations in MENA seeking to reduce poverty can look to this important research to inform their decisions about which policies and programs to implement and fund. Of course, policy changes driven by research alone will not completely solve the problem of unemployment and slow economic growth. But evidence from randomized evaluations gives us a rigorous framework to find solutions to some of our most pressing challenges.
Former Vice President and current Democratic front-runner Joe Biden is a good guy. In fact, that s his primary argument for why he deserves the presidency: He s America s Uncle, a literal regular Joe who wants to bring respectability back to the Oval Office, uniting the warring houses of red and blue in the common goal of mopping up the toxic sewage pouring out of President Donald Trump s White House. It s a heartwarming aspiration, on the face of it. But Biden s statement Monday that he d be open to choosing a Republican running mate -- as offhand or pandering as it may have been -- underscores just how much of his appeal is rooted in made-for-TV fantasy like "The West Wing," rather than modern political reality. In an Exeter, New Hampshire, town hall, Biden told the crowd he s willing to keep the option open, even if he couldn t name a worthy cross-the-aisle veep candidate offhand. "There are some really decent Republicans that are out there still!" he said. "But here s the problem right now: They ve got to step up." Here s the real problem: "Decent" Republicans have had countless opportunities to "step up," beginning long before Donald Trump was elected. But those who stepped up to criticize him have fallen in line, rendering their criticism hollow. They could have condemned the racist "birther" slurs Trump used to slander his predecessor, Barack Obama. They could have rejected his public history of gross misogyny and alleged sexual misconduct. Their leadership could ve called out the lies and xenophobia embedded in his campaign rhetoric, and that still define many of his policies as president today. Rare exceptions aside, the mainstream GOP has remained aligned in its support of Trump. But rather than stepping up, they ve knelt down -- to pledge fealty to a President who has embraced some of the viewpoint of white nationalists, elevated kin to the highest of offices, drained America s coffers into the pockets of his fellow billionaires (and his own, of course), corrupted our essential civic institutions and sold out long-standing foreign policy norms and goals. Naturally, Biden made clear that he expected his running mate, regardless of party, to be in lockstep with his priorities. "We could disagree on tactics, but strategically we d have to be in the exact same page," he said. But how could such strategic alignment even be possible given the that the singular priority for most of today s Republican Party seems to be defending their leader s use of the powers and resources of the US government in a concerted political attempt to destroy Biden himself? Biden s persistent bright-eyed attempts to push bipartisanship aren t evidence that he s a relic of the past, because the past was never particularly bipartisan. Contrary to Biden s cheery anecdotes of Senate collaboration with former segregationists, legislative compromise comes from genial backslaps and warm hugs less often than a campaigning candidate would like to admit; more often it has emerged from one dominant party slamming through its preferred agenda, and the other grinding it into a more acceptable shape. History shows successful bipartisan executive leadership a lot less often than Hollywood likes to. The only "unity ticket" ever to win the White House came about in 1864 in the throes of the Civil War, and it arose from Abe Lincoln s Hail Mary decision to join with Andrew Johnson, Democratic governor of Union-occupied Tennessee, to run for reelection under the hastily created and short-lived National Union Party banner. The true inspiration for Biden s bipartisan framing might be most evident in a fundraising pitch his campaign sent out in September under the name of Richard Schiff -- the actor who played White House communications director Toby Ziegler in Aaron Sorkin s seminal political drama, "The West Wing." "During this dark Trump era, it is easy to find yourself wishing we could be led by President Bartlet instead," wrote Schiff. "Sadly, President Bartlet is just a TV character. But luckily, Joe Biden is real, and he is running for president." Joe Biden as Jed Bartlet? It makes sound campaign sense, given how "The West Wing" has become such a beloved text for Democrats (and a handful of independents and Trump-averse conservatives) seeking hope -- or escapist relief -- in the post-Obama era. As the New York Times wrote on the very day Biden made his willingness to consider a "unity ticket" known, the show has become "something more than just a nostalgic drama ... For many in the Trump era, the show is an idealistic alternative reality, an escape from the vitriol and ill-will that they see coursing like poison through contemporary politics." West Wingers are drawn to the way that the series portrays politics as a pragmatic arena inhabited by passionate idealists. But they also delight in the way it embraces a noble version of bipartisanship, in moments such as President Bartlet s decision to voluntarily cede his office to the Republican House Speaker when his daughter is kidnapped by terrorists; his hiring of staunch right-winger Ainsley Hayes as deputy White House counsel; his nomination of a conservative justice to the Supreme Court as a complement to his choosing a liberal judge as the court s first female Chief Justice; and Bartlet s presidential successor Matt Santos naming his Republican presidential opponent as his new Secretary of State. But on "The West Wing," bipartisanship works because its left and right politicians are true believers who strategically want what s best for the nation, even if they "differ in tactics." Disagreements invariably end in begrudging compromise, or with one party -- whichever one is in the wrong -- shamed or exhausted into submission by a rousing monologue. There is no self-dealing or double-dealing; no collusion, no obstruction. That s not our world. We exist in a timeline where "The West Wing" has been preempted by "The Celebrity Apprentice," and bipartisanship is both a myth and a trap. Joe Biden may actually believe he s a Bartlet pair, all the way down to the initials; or he may be cynically seeking to fly "West Wing" nostalgia all the way to the White House. In either case, for a 77-year-old Democratic frontrunner for president to blithely suggest that he might put a Republican a heartbeat away from the Oval Office is disheartening at best -- and disqualifying at worst. Let me end this piece with a "West Wing" quote, a parable famously told by the show s beloved White House chief of staff, Leo McGarry: "This guy s walking down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep, he can t get out. A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, Hey you, can you help me out? The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along, and the guy shouts up Father, I m down in this hole, can you help me out? The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by. Hey Joe, it s me, can you help me out? And Joe jumps in the hole. Our guy says, Are you stupid? Now we re both down here. Joe says, Yeah, but I ve been down here before, and I know the way out. " The point being: We don t need a president who jumps into the Republican hole. We need one who ll dig us free of it.
A TV host at the MBC Masr channel, Yasmeen Ezz, asked me which of the ministries that I had anticipated would change in the recent cabinet reshuffle did not change at all. I immediately answered: the Ministry of Health! While answering the question on the “Hadith al-Masaa” show, I said that had the decision-makers seen that Health Minister Hala Zayed deserved a second chance, then this is their constitutional right, no doubt. But it is also the right of the people to see the ministry change its performance, even if the minister stays the same. To put it clearly, this change can come in the way they work, the way they deal with the ministry s issues, and how they handle patient issues; these matter more than changing the minister. A change there is required all the time, and it remains and lasts with the practical outcomes directly reaching the citizens! No one can deny that Zayed is following the comprehensive health insurance program with apparent seriousness. She heads to Port Said (northern Egypt) where the program begins, then travels to Luxor in southern Upper Egypt and later South Sinai (eastern Egypt) in no time! She must be credited for this effort, as well as her efforts in the “100 million healthy lives” initiative – which seeks to declare Egypt free of Hepatitis C by the next year! The problem is, the ministry is broader than just these two accomplishments. The minister hardly sees other programs and initiatives despite their importance, and how millions benefit from them and in the future! It s fortunate that the president gives these two projects personal attention, and that he doesn t stop following new ways of making them achieve their ultimate goal! Presidential impetus, it can be said, is sufficient enough to accomplish these projects in due form, and so the minister should give more attention to other projects – such as doctor retention, which was raised during the previous period and still remains an issue. There is also the issue of public hospitals and the extent to which they are ready to receive poor patients; the issue of young doctors complaining about a host of problems standing in their way; and the lack of public spending on health, determined by the constitution as a percentage of the gross national product and bent to the government! And still, there are many other issues. If we look to an expanded investigative report published by al-Akhbar newspaper a few weeks ago, we find that while it monitored good performance in two issues: health insurance and Hepatitis C, it detected poor performance in seven other areas, mentioned one after the other! The citizens are waiting for a change in the ministry s performance, as the minister hasn t changed!
For the past few years, Russia has been playing with some asymmetric advantages -- on- and offline. While investing in costly conventional assets to increase its military edge, such as a new hypersonic weapon, Russia has also mobilized aggressive assets in cyberspace. Its cyberwarriors have penetrated some of the United States most critical pieces of infrastructure, from election systems to nuclear power plants and electric grids -- as well as private homes. In addition to hacking into key infrastructure, Russia has also used its cyberwarriors to engage in a sophisticated information warfare campaign with a broad target audience -- the American people. And while President Donald Trump promulgates Russian propaganda about the 2016 election -- giving Russia s information operations a major boost -- he has also given members of his team the authorization to chip away at Russia s online operational advantages, as well as those of other foreign countries. Though Trump may continue to spread Russian conspiracies in the year to come, we must hope he also continues to prioritize offensive cyber operations as part of a key strategy to deter Russian aggression. Prime time coverage Senior US government officials have publicly stated under oath that Russian efforts to interfere in our elections are ongoing. Despite efforts to punish and deter foreign election interference, we have not succeeded in changing the cost-benefit calculation for the actors involved in directing or participating in these attacks. As we head into an election year, we should expect countries such as Russia to kick their operations into high gear. 2020 is prime time for Putin -- his internet trolls and bots have endless, divisive content to amplify online, unless we figure out a way to stop them. Cyberspace force Defending our interests from cyberattack -- and also deterring them before they happen -- is a complex undertaking, and the Trump administration has thankfully streamlined the resources we have available. The administration elevated Cyber Command (CyberCom) to a unified combatant command in 2018 with a mission to integrate and conduct "full-spectrum cyberspace operations, electronic warfare, and information operations, ensuring freedom of action for friendly forces in and through the cyber domain and the information environment, while denying the same to our adversaries." In other words, CyberCom s mission expressly fits within the Defense Department s larger cyberstrategy, which specifically calls out persistent campaigns by Russia to influence Americans. The United States has engaged in information operations and overt public diplomacy in the past, using both civilian and military assets. But by giving CyberCom the ability to integrate and conduct these operations online, the administration took an important step to modernize our information operations and protect our democracy. And Trump s decision to delegate decision-making authority to the Pentagon for offensive cyber operations has probably made the approval process faster because decisions do not necessarily have to be vetted through an interagency process and get the sign-off from the President each time. With the authorities and resources available to launch calibrated attacks for both defensive and deterrent purposes, our cyberspace force has gone to work and may up the ante in the run-up to the 2020 election. Since the 2018 midterm election, the administration has engaged in offensive online operations aimed at influencing specific target audiences -- namely Russians involved in interfering in our elections. CyberCom reportedly took the Internet Research Agency -- a Russian troll farm that the administration has accused and sanctioned for interfering in our 2016 elections -- offline to prevent it from spreading disinformation during the midterms. And The Washington Post reported that CyberCom also engaged in calibrated online information operations -- known as cyber psyops -- sending direct messages to Russians working at the agency, telling them Americans know who they are and are tracking their work. We don t know whether any of those targeted stopped working at the Russian agency, but new reporting suggests CyberCom may be broadening its target list to include members of the Russian security apparatus and Russian oligarchs. Leveling the playing field While stepping up online information operations, the administration has also tried to level the playing field in other ways, including through offensive cyber operations against Russian electric grids. Our cyber operations are likely intended to send a warning that the United States is poised to inflict damage on these grids if necessary, including if Russia takes action against our own infrastructure here at home. And since Russia has placed itself in a similar position with respect to our key infrastructure, the risk of engaging in a tit-for-tat escalatory cycle is high. US cyber operations against specific Russian targets are a drop in the bucket when compared to the information warfare campaign that Russia has and is engaging in against Americans. But they are an important step toward signaling to Russia that its actions have consequences -- and that its asymmetric advantages may be eroding. If integrated into a broader deterrence strategy and properly calibrated, these cybercampaigns are an appropriate step toward modernizing the tools in our toolkit -- and better protecting American national security interests.
Some interpreters of the Holy Quran say that the city of Iram, “which had lofty pillars, the likes of which had never been created,” is the city of Alexandria in Egypt. Others say that it was a tribe or city in the Arabian Peninsula. Iram was a city with lofty pillars and towering buildings; the New York of its age. This city s inhabitants deviated from God s path. God s punishment, as mentioned in Surah Al-Fajr, was the destruction of the entire city. Several legends surround Iram, to the extent that the “lost city” became a source of interest for historians. Years have passed and big cities were constructed from Baghdad to Timbuktu, all of which are civilisational layers and astonishing monuments that capture hearts and minds. These civilisations remnants stood as a witness to what innovators had achieved in bygone eras, which is not easy to accomplish nowadays. The new generations of cities, with their architecture resembling the “lofty pillars” of Iram, were not fortunate. Invasion and wars led to the destruction of many of them. The Mongols were behind one of the worst civilisational catastrophes and one of the biggest instances of destruction of human heritage. Again, years passed and the Islamic world became half-safe until terrorists came… the new Mongols. Palmyra (Tadmor in Arabic) was one of the beautiful remnants of ancient civilisation that fell into the hands of the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group. Its ancient Roman amphitheatre was a symbol of joy and sophistication, but it became the backdrop of execution verdicts. Supported by a number of extremist groups and perhaps international parties, IS began what it called “cultural cleansing.” It carried out an operation of destruction against the fabulous civilisational monuments; deeming them “idols.” The word Tadmor in Aramaic – the old Syriac language – means “the invincible city.” It was the capital city of the Tadmor Kingdom, one of the prestigious kingdoms of the Levant. It was also an important city along the Silk Road between Asia and Europe, and it flourished in the first century BC, rivalling Rome. Mr. Khaled Al-Asaad, author, historian, researcher and curator of Tadmor monuments, was fluent in the old Tadmorian language and conducted several distinguished studies. When IS entered Tadmor, the curator, who was over 80, refused to leave the city. He insisted on remaining to protect what he could of this magical historical city. The terrorists drove the elderly archaeologist to the heart of the archaeological site and a rabble was gathered. The criminals asked the scholar to guide them to the hoard of gold in “Ali Baba s cave”. He replied: “There is no gold here. Here, there are monuments; pillars, arches, temples and amphitheatres.” After a brief discussion, the man was slaughtered. IS bombarded Tadmor Castle with mortar shells and homemade rockets, then it headed to the Triumphal Arch, which dates back to 200 BC, and demolished the great hallway leading to it. It also transformed the National Tadmor Museum into a prison and chose the Roman Amphitheatre as the site for carrying out execution verdicts. The entire city of Tadmor seemed as if it were the new Iram, “which had lofty pillars.” However, its destruction was at the hands of humans, who struck out against believers who had not committed any sin. There is another “Iram” eastward… the city of Mosul. The ancient city and its museum were damaged in unimaginable ways. The Al-Nouri Mosque was demolished along with its minaret, which had survived for eight centuries. Following in the footsteps of their spiritual ancestors, the Mongols, IS burned down the Mosul library and destroyed thousands of books and manuscripts. They also demolished the statue of the great Abbasid poet Abu Tamam. Mosul became the ruins of a civilisation. The destruction was coming from every place and every direction. In one month of the conflict, the US-led coalition forces in Iraq dropped more than 4,000 bombs. The UN estimates the weight of the debris to have been more than 8 million tonnes. The criminals attacked the grave of the Prophet Jonah, may peace be upon him, and desecrated the Shrine of the Forty in Tikrit, which includes the remains of 40 soldiers of the Caliph Omar Ibn Al-Khattab. The Green Church in Tikrit, which was built 1,300 years ago and endured the Mongols, did not withstand the new Mongols. The city of Timbuktu in Mali is also a new Iram and without sin. In 2012, a terrorist organisation calling itself Jamaat Ansar Al-Din ("Defenders of the Faith") controlled the north of Mali. A terrorist named Abu-Turab, head of the Hesbah (the moral brigade), received permission from his superiors to demolish Timbuktu s Islamic monuments. The Yahya Mosque along with 10 other archaeological shrines and historical buildings were demolished. In the 14th century, the city of Timbuktu was a centre of science and trade, and in the 21st century it was transformed into a hub of ignorance and poverty. The UNESCO filed a lawsuit before the International Criminal Court, accusing terrorists of destroying world heritage. Abu-Turab was tried in the Hague and he said: “I was a miscreant. I am really remorseful and I really regret all the damage that my actions have caused”. Timbuktu will not benefit from the imprisoning of Abu-Turab for nine years, for he has transformed a glorious history into a heap of dust. The Hague Convention for the protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflicts guarantees trial for the attackers. However, international law does not go beyond the moral role of condemnation, while the landmarks of civilisation have exited history. There is no use in dialogue with the new Kharijites, for with the death of every one, another one is born. After every extremist passes away, another emerges. Using force is the solution. There are ways out of economic and political crises, but the crisis of state collapse has no way out. In contemporary conflicts, a moment of collapse can wipe out tens of centuries. The most important fact of the 21st is: the present is history and the state is civilisation.
The United States acknowledges that the east-west railroad network marked the beginning of the development of the Midwestern United States, followed by the west and the west coast, with the railroad becoming the star of the American economic renaissance. Russia also recognizes that extending railroad lines to Siberia represented the most significant conquest in Russia s long history, since the days of the Czars and throughout the Soviet era. Before the arrival of the railroad, Siberia had been too cold and inhospitable for human settlement. Even in Saudi Arabia, there exist those who ask: How, in the era of rockets and planes, does Saudi Arabia decide to restore life to the railways — not only to link the cities of the Hijaz, but also linking Jeddah on the Red Sea, and extending to the eastern region of the Arabian Gulf. Is this a setback?!. Likewise, we have proposed establishing a national project to connect all of Sinai via railway network, which will allow us to finally end the separation of Sinai — by land — from the Nile Delta. Such a railway network does not only revolve around economic goals, though those goals are certainly critical. Most importantly, a railroad network linking Sinai with the rest of Egypt ends forever the region s isolation and solves the problems inherent in commuting from East Delta to Sinai. It would help us to forget that the Sinai peninsula is a triangle of land located between the Gulfs of Suez and Aqaba. Sinai, no longer an isolated peninsula, would be opened. The central Sinai region is the most sensitive, because the enemy — any enemy from the east — can launch its weapons east of our borders, reaching the coast of the Suez Canal within 6 hours at Umm Khushayb. The weak point in this is central Sinai, a region with which the majority of Egyptians are unfamiliar. North Sinai is well-known around the world, and South Sinai is famous internationally for vacation spots along the Red Sea like Sharm el-Sheikh and other touristic attractions. Central Sinai, however, is the most beneficial region, economically and in terms of human capital. I admit that we have neglected central Sinai frequently for decades — its oases, olive trees, agricultural wealth, and mining resources. Ask the scholars about the mineral and marble wealth in this area – even the soil there is rich with clay needed to manufacture cement. ■ ■ Do not ask, however, how much this vital project will cost. Instead, ask about its impact, and Sinai will become a land opportunity. The western area of Sinai on the Gulf of Suez is our most important source of oil, but central Sinai is the real treasure, and studies have confirmed that. This will not be achieved now through the implementation of scattered projects here or there, but rather through a single national project that incorporates and achieves all these goals — railways.
The second decade of the 21st century showed little mercy for Egypt, its Middle Eastern environment and the world. It opened with the tumultuous events called the “Arab Spring”. Egypt s share of this “season” was the January 2011 and June 2013 Revolutions, in between and after which development ground to a halt, infrastructure deteriorated, and terrorist groups were spurred into action under Muslim Brotherhood rule and remained a severe threat that only began to subside as this decade drew to a close. Elsewhere in the region, “revolutions” led to civil wars and intensive foreign intervention. In the process, oil prices soared and then plummeted, rocking the Egyptian economy in both cases. Regional powers, such as Iran, Turkey and Israel, grew more aggressive in their interventions and expansionist designs, while the Palestinian cause encountered major setbacks. Ethiopia grew less cooperative in the management of Nile waters and initiated construction of its Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. The world as a whole was not much better off. The influence of international organisations and multilateral agreements waned as nationalist trends gained ground over pro-globalisation outlooks. Xenophobic ultra-right movements proliferated as they fed on and furthered racist stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims as religious fanatics, terrorists and illegal migrants. Meanwhile, the trade war between the US and China and political rivalry between the US and Russia hampered global economic growth and undermined the efficacy of the UN and other international organisations. Nevertheless, the halfway point in this decade brought some positive developments in the form of sweeping reform drives in Egypt and other Arab countries in response to difficult challenges in the region. As we cross the threshold into this century s third decade, the cumulative changes of the second will carry with them Egyptian and Saudi developmental visions that were formulated in 2015 with their sights set on 2030. In a study published in the November 2019 edition of The Egyptian File, published by Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, Hoda Youssef, an economic researcher for the World Bank, described the state of the Egyptian economy at the end of this decade as follows: “Although the economic reform programme that the Egyptian government initiated in 2016 in collaboration with the IMF succeeded in achieving stability and boosting confidence in the economy, it had negative social and economic impacts. While the targeted social protection measures that were taken to counter these impacts managed to alleviate the effects on some of the targeted sectors of society, the measures were inherently limited and restricted to their range of coverage. In addition, they failed to address the harm the middle class suffered due to the erosion of its real income levels. It is therefore necessary to proceed to the second generation of reforms which focus on structural problems, remedy the foundations of the economy and clear the way for private sector participation so that the improvement can be felt positively and tangibly across all social classes, age groups and professional categories, as well as across all geographical areas. This entails unleashing Egypt s export potentials as a basic engine of growth, and establishing rules for competition and equal opportunity for businesses in a manner that ensures that rules apply equitably to all companies, regardless of whether they are owned by the private or public sector. Above all, it is essential to invest in human capital which is the sine qua non for the efficacy of all other reform processes.” Actually, Egypt accomplished much more during the second half of the outgoing decade. It succeeded, firstly, in routing terrorism, and secondly, in building an extensive infrastructure linking the Nile to Egypt s Red Sea and Mediterranean coasts through a network of roads and transportation facilities. It followed through on a moderate foreign policy based on upholding the peace with Israel, resolving Egyptian-Ethiopian differences through peaceful means, working to promote regional stability and forging a large network of cooperative relations with other Arab countries focused on the regional and international benefits to be had from serving the processes of domestic development in Egypt. In this framework, the delineation of maritime borders between Egypt and Saudi Arabia has cleared the way for the development of the Red Sea region and Sinai. In like manner, the maritime borders agreement between Egypt and Cyprus has made it possible to exploit offshore oil and gas resources and to found the Easter Mediterranean Gas Forum which regulates the processes of natural gas production, liquidation and use in Egyptian industries. Egypt will also enter the third decade of the 21st century with its balance of trade tipping in favour of exports and the highest growth rates in the Arab region and Africa, a trend that is expected to continue during the coming decade due to the newfound wealth of fossil energy resources on top of growing renewable energy resources. Egypt will also enter the next decade spurred not only by the upswing in exports but also by other drivers of nationwide development: encouraging the capital accumulation needed for 100 million Egyptians; stimulating the human resource factor through education, health and culture; advancing the legislative revolution needed to ensure Egypt s advancement on the ladder of business practices; and restructuring the Egyptian administrative map to enable “decentralisation” and “local government” to take the lead in driving investment and mobilising local and national resources. This Egyptian dynamism at the turn of the third decade of the 21st century will face difficult domestic challenges and just as difficult external challenges. Egypt will be crossing the decade threshold with a population that has crossed the 100 million mark (of which 10 million live abroad). It is expected to climb another 20 million by 2030. This population is afflicted by three harsh realities. Some 32.5 per cent of it are poor, 26 per cent are illiterate and there is a sharp economic growth disparity between northern and southern Egypt. To address this triple challenge, the current economic growth rate of around 5.6 per cent will need to rise to eight per cent. The dilemma, here, is that economic growth frequently brings inflationary pressures which affect the middle class which, in turn, requires remedies to safeguard against the political consequences. With regard to external challenges, firstly, the countries that have been the most violently shaken by the Arab Spring revolutions remain weak, weary, fragmented and plagued by chronic instability. Iraq and Syria stand out foremost in this regard. As a result, they are likely to remain vulnerable to further Iranian, Turkish and Israeli interventions. Secondly, although the Egyptian-Ethiopian water crisis that persisted throughout the outgoing decade appears likely to be resolved, the 2020s may usher in quite a number of other crises due to Israel s undermining of all opportunities for a peaceful settlement to the Palestinian cause, Iranian revolutionary expansionism in the Gulf region and Turkish designs in the Levant. Thirdly, the possibility of war between Iran and the US, due to the collapse of the 2015 Iranian nuclear agreement, could precipitate a larger war in the region. The global environment will continue to pose equally tough if not tougher challenges to Egypt in the coming decade. As a consequence of global warming, there has emerged a rival to the Suez Canal in the Artic Circle. While the construction of the second Suez Canal and the development of the Suez Canal Corridor give Egypt a competitive edge, the repercussions of climate change, apart from the damage they inflict in Egypt, will affect the levels of international trade that passes through Suez. Secondly, although the ongoing US-Chinese trade war has abated somewhat as we enter the new decade, it could resurge, especially in light of the decline in the European role following Britain s exit from the EU and the repercussions of Brexit. No less demanding a challenge will come from the increasingly fast-paced changes in global technologies related the fourth industrial revolution. Egyptian economic capacities and its international economic standing will come under heavy pressures unless Egypt takes quick action to catch up and keep pace with the technologies required to enhance its competitiveness. Lastly, the surge of “identity” politics, the rise of extremist and ultranationalist trends and the decline in the role of international organisations and multilateral agreements will make the world that Egypt has to deal with in the next decade more difficult, complex and puzzling. This said, Egypt has just emerged from the difficult and complex circumstances of the outgoing decade with its head held high. Armed with the abovementioned drivers and resolve, Egypt will be much better poised to deal with the new challenges.
Trump signed a new executive order sparking controversy among supporters of the Palestinian cause in the US, with the toughest criticisms coming from none other than the American Jewish community. It s no secret that the right-wing in Israel and America have sought over a decade to destroy the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. Trump s executive order comes in support of that endeavor, albeit in the form of “protecting American Jews.” Under the cover of fighting against discrimination, the executive order threatens educational institutions to be denied federal funding not only if they criticize Israel, but even if it allows Israeli critics to speak in its forums. American Jewish leaders and figures have slammed the executive order as exploiting Jewish students as a tool to discriminate against fellow anti-occupation colleagues who are also minorities to be protected such as Black and Hispanic Americans, and not only Muslims and Arab Americans. However, what upset many American Jews was that the decision regarded any criticism to Israel as discrimination against American Jews, which implies that they belong to Israel and not America – that their place is in the Middle East, not the United States. It is precisely the rhetoric used by white supremacy groups, who are very hostile to American Jews by the way and consider them to be of “another nationality”. It is a discourse derived from the Nazis, which they used to propell the Jews towards the Holocaust. Several American Jews have written that what Trump is doing puts American Jews at risk, not the other way around. Yet those affiliated with the Israeli and the American Jewish right regard Trump as a wonderful tool to achieve Israel s expansionist dream and annex the West Bank. However, the majority of American Jews do not support Trump and rather find in many of his expressions a clear hostility to Jews and Semitism, despite his unprecedented support for Israel. A week before signing the executive order, in a meeting in Florida with his Jewish supporters, Trump used crude language long used against Jews that perpetuates negative stereotypes, saying: “A lot of you are in the real estate business, because I know you very well. You re brutal killers, not nice people at all. But you have to vote for me—you have no choice,” as Democratic Party candidates are not an option for them. Months ago, Trump faced firestorm of criticism from Jewish Democratic members of the Congress, after he said that any American Jew voting for Democrats is disloyal to Israel: “In my opinion, you vote for a Democrat, you re being very disloyal to Jewish people, and you re being very disloyal to Israel,” he said. It reproduces the idea of dual loyalty, or rather in this case that their only loyalty is to Israel. One of the Jewish Democratic members of the Congress said that these phrases “have been used against Jews for centuries, and encourage anti-Semitism.” Another said that if this continues, it will put an end to the cross-party consensus regarding support for Israel, which threatens Israel s long-term interests! However, what those members have warned against has begun to happen in the short term. Three Democratic presidential candidates, including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren – who top the list – have pledged to cut US military aid to Israel if the latter continues to pursue policies that will eliminate chances of a two-state solution!
The French politician Roland Dumas is perhaps the most famous foreign minister in the history of the Fifth Republic. Dumas was the life-long friend of François Mitterrand and served with him as European affairs minister and then foreign minister. I met Minister Dumas in Paris in 2008. Dumas, who was 86 years old at the time, was strikingly alert and confident. The veteran politician stood at the window of his home and pointed to the River Seine saying, “I am seeing the horizon clearly as I am seeing Paris from behind this glass. I am telling you: the Arab world has gone through tough years and will undergo tougher years. The future isn t in your region s advantage. Big players know what they want and your region doesn t want to be engaged in any match.” Ten years after meeting Dumas, the man was standing by his vision. In 2019, at 97 years old, Dumas remains a politician going his own way, clashing with Europe and the US and attacking Israel. Dumas didn t change since I met him more than 10 years ago, despite all the water that has passed under the bridge of politics. Dumas was a member of the French National Assembly during France s participation in the Tripartite Aggression on Egypt in 1956. When I asked him about his standpoint on the aggression, Dumas said: “Of course, I was against the aggression and I objected to the French government s decision when I was in the assembly. It was totally a wrongful war. However, I and those who objected ... couldn t stop it.” I said to the former French foreign minister: “You ve been close to Saddam Hussein and was a member of his defence team after his arrest. There is a prevalent idea in the Arab world that Washington insinuated to Saddam Hussein to invade Kuwait ... How do you see this theory?” Dumas replied dismissing the theory and said: “I met President Saddam Hussein more than once when I was foreign minister. He wasn t an easy man at all. However, he should have been granted a fair trial. A former US official came to visit me here in this house and asked me to join him in a committee he formed for the defence of Saddam Hussein. I participated with him in preparing the defence case. But we weren t granted the entry visa." I don t believe the story that the US ambassador was the one who suggested to Saddam that her country gave its consent to go ahead with the invasion or turning a blind eye to it. The American conspiracy narrative isn t a true narrative. Saddam possessed a great deal of guile and he was the person who propagated this narrative to defend his standpoint towards invading Kuwait. As a matter of fact, he had previously envisioned annexing Kuwait for reasons concerning oil and authority. I said to Mr Dumas: “There is another theory regarding the Israeli bombing of the Osirak-Tammouz Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981; it is based on a premise that France at the time colluded with Israel in its execution. The narrative is based on two points: the first point is that the assassination of the Egyptian nuclear scientist Yahya El-Mashad, the most prominent scientific figure within the Iraqi nuclear programme, took place in Paris. The second point is that Israel possessed detailed drawings of the reactor. This roused suspicion that maybe France had given them to Israel." Roland Dumas said: “This is untrue. France was extremely furious. Israel bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor a few days before François Mitterrand s inauguration. Mitterrand was deeply affected. France was the country that helped Iraq and constructed the reactor. There was a French engineer who got killed in the Israeli air raid. Israel didn t apologise to us and this increased our anger. We can t make such a deal. Israel executed this through coordination with other parties. As for France, it remained furious for a long time due to the raid on the reactor.” I said to Mr Dumas that another bombing occurred on Syrian sites and Israel claimed that they were nuclear sites and that was long years after the Israeli bombing of the Iraqi reactor. Was Syria on the nuclear track also, as has been propagated? He said: “There is a conspiracy on Syria. I don t know its dimensions now, but it is real and dangerous.” In June 2013, Dumas returned to this topic and talked to Arab and international media saying: “The conspiracy against Syria began before the Arab Spring. British officials visited me and told me, There is something prepared for Syria. I definitely refused to participate, but France did." Roland Dumas has spoken about Bernard Henri Lévy, who was one of the big agitators of intervention in the Arab world. He wondered, “How come a contemptible intellectual like Bernard Henri Lévy plays an important role within the French Republic?” Roland Dumas s standpoint extends to saying there is Jewish influence in French decision-making circles. In February 2015, Dumas accused Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who called for security consolidation to confront “Islamist Fascism”, of acting under probable Jewish “ nfluence." He said: “Everyone knows he is married to someone who has an influence on him,” in reference to Valls s Jewish wife. The French Socialist Party subsequently released a statement declaring that Dumas s claims were "unworthy of a socialist decorated by the Republic." Roland Dumas is still loyal to Mitterrand and his book, titled “Blows and Injuries: 50 Years of Shared Secrets with François Mitterrand,” which was published in 2011 attracted avid attention. Our discussion went in various directions, and Dumas said to me laughingly, “You have to drink the orange juice, some of the ice has melted and the juice has become hot." I still remember my meeting with Mr Dumas and I am still thinking about his vision that war in Syria is just a stage in a number of steps to isolate Iran. How is that destroying a civilisation and evicting its people from its geography to the margins of history is just a tactic or a transient step? I am still thinking about what Roland Dumas mentioned on exposing Iran to huge and continuous pressure, even if a war wasn t waged. It is the model that I may call the “No-War war” — creating the state of war without fighting. Iran stands behind the Arab world crisis and it also stands, with its failed ideology, behind a civil war in the Islamic world. However, the danger of the “No-War war” is that it is a new and fearful innovation and it can be replicated with any state, even those today counted among friends. The “No-War war” is a new model in managing international conflicts: political blockade, economic destruction and a pressing psychological war, all without firing a single bullet. It is the slow death of the state and society without aircraft or tanks. No battles and no peace, no security and no life. Victory without fighting and defeat without war.
The leaders of five African nations were supposed to meet with President Emmanuel Macron of France on 16 December at the invitation of the French president, but the summit was postponed after a terrorist attack against an army base in Niger — one of the five countries in the G5 group that includes Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania — that left three soldiers and 14 terrorists dead last week. This was not the first deadly attack on military targets in the G5. In fact, terrorist groups operating in this vast stretch of land have increased their attacks which have grown in sophistication from a military point of view, whether we are speaking of the types of weapons used or tactics. The French president called for the summit with the G5 leaders after the French army lost 13 soldiers when two of its gunships collided 26 November when they were providing support for French soldiers on the ground fighting terrorists in northern Mali. It was the worst military setback for France since the attacks against the French military in Lebanon in the mid-1980s. Two weeks later, a French soldier was badly hurt 7 December in a mine explosion in a region known as Liptako, which straddles Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. He had to be evacuated to France. France has been fighting terrorist groups in the Sahel for the last five years. Military operations initially began with Operation Serval during the presidency of Francois Hollande. Serval was followed by Operation Barkhane with 4,500 French soldiers deployed in a war theatre whose surface is so vast that it approximates that of Europe. President Macron said after the collision of the two French gunships in November that he needs to confer with the leaders of the five Sahel countries to hear clarifications. In a press conference held 4 December in London, where he was participating in the NATO summit on the occasion of its 70th anniversary, the French president declared that he neither can nor wants to deploy French soldiers in the Sahel region when there is “persistent ambiguity [on the part of G5 governments] as to the [growing ] anti-French feelings”. He was referring to the change in popular sentiment with regards to the presence of French troops. He added that the G5 leaders should reiterate before their respective public opinion that they want French military help, and take political responsibility for that. He reiterated that he needs clarifications in this regard, in order for France to keep its troops in the Sahel region. He made it clear that these clarifications are a “necessary condition” to maintain the French deployment. At the outset, public opinion in the Sahel received French troops as liberators, but this sentiment gradually gave way to a certain hostility that has been fuelled against the background of inter-ethnic rivalry in the region, on the one hand, and the stoking of religious feelings by terrorist groups against the French, on the other. Add to that the lack of economic and social development, in addition to poor governance, if not the complete absence of state authority, and the result is an unpredictable and dangerous mix. France has lost 4,100 soldiers since 2013. French public opinion needs to see progress in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel to justify the continuation of Operation Barkhan. However, the situation on the ground is not promising. After six years, terrorist groups have intensified their attacks against both French and other military targets. For instance, they are still operating in the northern parts of Mali in the same time that they have started operating in the heart of the country. Also, their attacks in Burkina Faso and Niger have increased in both frequency and lethality The overall situation has become all the more critical after the defeat of the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq. An unspecified number of its fighters have joined terrorist ranks in the Sahel region with their hardened experience in fighting and planning and carrying out terrorist attacks against regular army units. France has called for more help in terms beefing up the national armies of G5 countries. This will need time and money and both are in short supply until further notice. Needless to say, if the status quo remains the same, the chances of defeating terrorism in the Sahel in the foreseeable future are not bright. Terrorist groups have greater mobility and have the element of surprise on their side. The fact that poverty is rampant does not make the fight against these groups easier. The greater threat is that fragile states in the Sahel, like Mali for instance, could face serious problems regarding national unity if terrorist groups succeed in exercising complete control over some parts in the north. The battle against terrorism in the Sahel should be seen by European countries and by NATO as an extension of the fight against Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. France, alone, will not be able to win this battle in the Sahel without concerted military assistance from its Western partners, including NATO allies. Moreover, G5 governments should receive outside help, military, economic and financial, to enable them to face the pressures from terrorist groups that are following a strategy of slow attrition on state authority in the Sahel with the ultimate aim of supplanting them, even if this will take decades. Political instability in North Africa, particularly in Libya, gives them space to operate and time to recruit and train new recruits. The political stabilisation of Libya, according to the United Nations initiative adopted by the Security Council summit of September 2017, will be a great step forward towards creating the necessary conditions for defeating these terrorist groups in the Sahel. Neither Arab, African nor European countries can afford losing the battle against terrorism in the Sahel. It should be seen as an extended battle, geographically and strategically, in the fight against international terrorism. The present selective approach of dealing with terrorist groups according to political considerations and geographic locations is not the surest way of defeating Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group.
Without a joint statement on the form and substance of issues between Egypt and Ethiopia, the ministers of water resources drawn from Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan finalised their meeting in Cairo dated 2-3 December. The filling and hydraulic operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) with that of Egypt s High Dam remain unsettled. Having finished the meeting, Ethiopia rushed, as usual, to accuse Egypt of stalling negotiations by tabling a set of “unreasonable” requests. Some Ethiopian media outlets quoted an Ethiopian source as saying his country put forward in the Cairo meeting a balanced and reasonable proposal based on the principle of equitable and reasonable utilisation of Nile waters. Again, Ethiopia has failed to recognise the fact that equitable has nothing to do with fair. Equitableness means all parties are treated the same way, paying no heed to their needs or requests. But fairness pertaining to the utilisation of water, based on international criteria, requires taking into account many factors, the most important of which is the availability of alternative sources of fresh water to a given downstream nation. Without a fair share of the Nile that would consider the growing demands of population, whether for potable water or for different irrigation projects necessary for ensuring the food security of the people, Egypt would suffer the most now and in the near future. Initially, after the US Treasury Department invited the three eastern nations of the Nile for a meeting in Washington DC to discuss the standoff, Ethiopia said it would engage in the upcoming meetings with a new spirit of openness and transparency to reach a binding compromise. But Ethiopia s actions do not make the grade as they are derailing the whole process. Ethiopia sees Egypt s fair request of linking the operation of GERD with that of the Aswan High Dam and the release of at least 40 billion cubic metres during the process of filling the dam as “non-cooperative” and “non-adaptive”. Satirically enough, Ethiopian officials have dubbed Egypt s request of a linkage between GERD and the Aswan High Dam as “unscientific”! So, was it scientific to construct a huge gravity dam on a deep gorge in the African Great Rift Valley region known for its volcanic nature? And was it adaptive to obstinately aim to produce a huge volume of electricity while knowing that the Ethiopian national power grid will not be able to process it, whether for local consumers or for the so-called goal of turning Ethiopia into a regional power hub? Turning into a regional power hub is, in reality, Ethiopia s and other nations right at large. The question is the efficiency of the national power grid, at the present time, to process the would-be generated power, roughly standing now after downsizing the dam s electricity output installed capacity to some 5,200 megawatts against 6,450 megawatts initially. Technically speaking, outages occur either by a lack of power sufficient for local consumption or because of an overloaded power grid. The latter is the current situation of the Ethiopian national power grid. Amid the failure of the Cairo meeting to settle the pending issues, Ethiopia has, however, employed a void rhetoric, broadly circulated under late prime minister Meles Zenawi, that Egypt contributes nothing to the Nile and wants to deny Ethiopia the right to use the waters that flow from the Ethiopian highlands. Officially speaking, the Egyptian administration, under President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, has embraced a new policy towards Ethiopia that the latter has, like other riparian nations, the full right to utilise the Nile without harming Egypt s water rights. In practice, Egypt does not oppose Ethiopian endeavours to build the GERD, despite the fact that Ethiopia may have used other means to generate power other than damming the lifeline of Egyptians. Egypt s objection is to manipulating with the only source of fresh water it is entirely dependent on. Things are looking up after the United States, the broker of a compromise between the three nations, had again invited them for a sub-meeting in Washington DC on 9 December, which resulted in a joint statement that had two major points worthy of deliberation. First, the ministers agreed that the “strategic direction of the next two technical meetings (in Khartoum and Addis Ababa) should be the development of technical rules and guidelines for the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam”. Second, the ministers of foreign affairs of the three nations would reconvene in Washington on 13 January 2020 for “finalising an agreement” in that respect. This means there is no time to waste and that Ethiopia needs to depart from the policy it has been following for eight years; namely, buying time till July of next year, the date in which Ethiopia should, theoretically, start filling the GERD reservoir. It also means that top international players are finally aware of Ethiopia s intransigence during the course of negotiations. That is why the US set a deadline for Ethiopia to implement the “technical rules and the guidelines for the filling and operation of the GERD”. Failure to reach an agreement by mid-January 2020 would mean no agreement would be reached soon. This is not taking a dim view on current talks; rather, it is an assertion of reality. It would take the three nations some time to agree on a third party, after triggering Article X of the Declaration of Principles on inclusion of international mediation into the debate. And given the current Ethiopian policy of “no deal-good deal”, it will not be foreseeable to reach any agreement before the start of the next rainy season in Ethiopia. While delivering his acceptance speech as a Nobel Peace Laureate, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed made a touching remark in Amharic that he graciously translated as “For you to have a peaceful night, your neighbour shall have a peaceful night as well.” For this peaceful night of Egypt, a far neighbour of Ethiopia, it is a must for Ethiopian officials to take up the slack, because sweet words will never make peace a reality. Ethiopia s neighbour in Egypt needs firm assurances that its share of the Nile, which hardly suffices basic needs now, will never be infringed upon. The Egyptian people have based their life around a narrow strip of their vast country because it is the only part blessed with a renewable source of fresh water.
Things have quickly changed in Libya during the past week, and between the warring parties, matters have escalated. The military confrontation around Tripoli is not new; anyone who follows the Libyan file will know that the Libyan National Army (LNA) has been engaged in military confrontations with militias of the West to secure its presence in Tripoli. Haftar, the head of the LNA, said in a recent conference that the “Zero Hour” has come, and it is time for the LNA to occupy the heart of the capital. However, such an action must be analysed within the overall context of the Libyan conflict, on domestic, regional and international levels. The beginning of the present escalation was the signing of agreements between Libya and Turkey. The Presidential Council lead by Fayez Al-Sarraj signed agreements with Turkey concerning the Turkish maritime presence in the east of the Mediterranean, and in Libyan regional waters, while another agreement concerned military cooperation between Turkey and the Presidential Council. These agreements changed a lot strategically within the Libyan interior. First of all, military balances within the Libyan conflict are still in a state where no one side can supersede the other by military confrontation. Therefore, no side was capable of settling militarily the conflict since it began in April. What we are witnessing in Libya is a recurrent phase of military conflicts that lead to nothing, whether politically or militarily.
The signing 26 November of two Memoranda of Understanding between Turkey and the Prime Minister of the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) Fayez Al-Sarraj, has highlighted the problems caused by Turkish revisionism and meddling in other countries. The first MoU concerns the delimitation of their respective national Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) in the Eastern Mediterranean, while the second deals with future security cooperation and monitoring the coasts of Libya in the south of the Mediterranean. The agreement has led to multiple reactions from various sides. Egypt rightly denounced the agreement between Turkey and the GNA calling it “illegal and not binding or affecting the interests and the rights of any third parties”. Greece and Cyprus rejected the agreement as a blatant violation of international law. Greece and Egypt agreed jointly to accelerate the process of the delimitation of their adjoining EEZs. The parliament of Tobruk, in turn, expressed its strong reaction against the proposed memorandum. The European Union condemned the signing of the memoranda, while the US and Russia regard it as counter-productive for the stability of the region.
We live in a world that raises slogans of freedom of worship, but tear them apart on daily basis with increasing hatred, sectarian attacks and persecution. This is wrong and I believe such sectarian violence should come to an end some day. Yet, the latest annual accounting from Open Doors USA revealed that the world is only increasing persecution against Christians with 245 Million persecuted people this year compare