It s not often this gets said: Move over, Celine Dion. Only in an election year would the best show in Vegas be a Democratic presidential debate. But this was no Cirque du Soleil -- more like Future Stars of Wrestling. Elizabeth Warren -- and pretty much everyone else -- aggressively went after an apparently flummoxed Michael Bloomberg, making his much-anticipated debut Wednesday -- just a few days before the Nevada caucuses. The candidates also came hard at each other this time, on a night of fireworks and faceplants; several CNN commentators described it as a "free-for-all" -- and they were not wrong. But with the eyes of much of the nation on him, and his self-funded star on the rise, it was billionaire Bloomberg, who was the target of choice for his fellow candidates. The nearly unanimous verdict on his performance from a diverse panel of CNN Opinion commentators? "It was a horrible night." Or, in the words of David Axelrod, a "disastrous debut." Some, like SE Cupp, were at least relieved that at last the gloves were off. "Well it s about time," Cupp wrote. "It took, evidently, Michael Bloomberg on the debate stage for Democrats to realize that this primary can t be a group effort and a love fest forever." Scott Jennings didn t mince words: "Finally, this debate has revealed what I thought was probably true -- these Democrats running for president really seemed to hate each other." Errol Louis assessed a winning strategy in Warren s pugnacity and preparation; likewise, Patti Solis Doyle saw a "thrilling tactical moment" when Warren "gutted Bloomberg on his non-disclosure agreements in cases of alleged sexual harassment." Tara Setmayer thought much of the anti-Bloomberg energy was misplaced -- suggesting Sanders, as an emerging frontrunner, deserved the target on his back, if the Democrats really want a candidate who can win against President Donald Trump. Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg sniped at one another over experience and drew mixed reviews. "What more could President Donald Trump ask for" than a divided opposition, Frida Ghitis wondered. Debate coach Todd Graham delivered a rather stern report card: no one got an A, but Sanders drew the highest grade (B+) He "handled himself well when placed center stage," Graham wrote, and shone when talking about policy in moral terms. Don t miss these insights from Nevada writers: The intelligence world was in chaos this week after Trump s decision to appoint US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell as acting director of national intelligence. A staunch loyalist with no intelligence background and a reputation for alienating people, wrote David Andelman -- Grenell replaces outgoing acting director Joseph Maguire. Andelman called Grenell a "catastrophe-in-waiting" unqualified to hold a post so central to America s national security, and implored Trump to reconsider. "Most alarming" were reports that Trump s dissatisfaction with Maguire -- who had briefed a bipartisan committee in Congress that Russia was back at its election interference efforts -- contributed to his departure and Grenell s appointment, Andelman wrote. Admiral William McRaven spoke out strongly on Maguire s behalf in the Washington Post, praising his long experience and record of service and concluding that Maguire "was dismissed for doing his job." He warned: "As Americans, we should be frightened -- deeply afraid for the future of the nation. When good men and women can t speak the truth, when facts are inconvenient, when integrity and character no longer matter, when presidential ego and self-preservation are more important than national security -- then there is nothing left to stop the triumph of evil." Bloomberg faces other uphill battles as both a primary candidate and a prospective Democratic nominee. Arick Wierson, who was Bloomberg s media advisor when he was New York s mayor, sketched out suggestions for next steps, and noted that his abysmal debate showing has raised the stakes for Bloomberg in the South Carolina debate. As the controversy over sexual harassment, toxic workplace culture and non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) grew louder, Kate Andersen Brower wrote that these issues were part of why Bloomberg didn t make the cut as a VP prospect for Barack Obama in 2008. Brower noted that in 2020, if Bloomberg faces Trump, voters would have the right to ask: "Can t (we) do better than two billionaires who are accused of demeaning women?" On Friday, Bloomberg said women covered by three NDAs who had made complaints against him can be released from those agreements if they contact his company. David Love urged Democrats to think twice before casting their lot during the primary with an oligarch of their own; for Love, a potential choice between the moderate Bloomberg and the progressive Sanders posed a moral dilemma for democracy. In his view, "It s not a stretch to say that when it comes to the role of wealth in determining the elections, the contrast between Bloomberg and Bernie Sanders is one with moral stakes." The Revs. William Barber and Liz Theoharis, co-chairs of the Poor People s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, also offered moral arguments this week, but not on behalf of a particular candidate. Both parties need to give more attention to the 23 million poor and low-income voters in America, they wrote. "They and other poor Americans rarely hear a politician call their name and speak to their conditions. In the more than 20 debates leading up to the 2016 elections, there was not a single hour dedicated to poverty or economic insecurity." Don t miss these smart takes on CNN s town halls with candidates this week: On Thursday, all eyes were on Judge Amy Berman Jackson s courtroom, where longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone faced sentencing after being convicted of crimes including lying, obstruction and witness tampering. Prosecutors had recommended seven to nine years. Then Trump tweeted and Attorney General William Barr intervened, undercutting his own prosecutors to suggest a lighter sentence. James Schultz, formerly of the Trump White House counsel s office, insisted that Barr had done the right thing inserting himself into the process. "The reality is the sentencing recommendation of seven to nine years for Stone was a ridiculous overreach," he wrote. Michael Zeldin noted that: "Trump s encroachment into DOJ territory, especially in such a public way, was unprecedented." "Indeed," argued Frida Ghitis, "Stone s sentencing turned into a microcosm of the battle to save the rule of law in this country ... On Thursday, in Judge Jackson s courtroom, the rule of law fought back." In sentencing Stone to over three years in federal prison, Michael D Antonio observed, Jackson "demonstrated genuine fairness ... Now it will be up to the President to either honor the decision or commute the sentence of his friend and show that it is he -- and not the system -- that is corrupt." Trump s rush of surprise pardons and commutations this week read like a casting call for Lifestyles of the Rich, Famous and Felonious: Among others, former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. (failing to report a felony in a bribery case), once-junk bond king Michael Milken (racketeering and securities fraud), Rudy Giuliani s ex-New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik (tax fraud and lying to the federal government). And then there was an actual former "Celebrity Apprentice," disgraced ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (public corruption). After Tuesday s spate of high-profile pardons, Paul Callan marveled, "there s reason to wonder if the role (of acting pardon attorney of the US) should be offered to Geraldo Rivera -- or Kim Kardashian West. When President Barack Obama pardoned 78 people in December 2016, the White House announcement simply listed those given pardons and commuted sentences, along with details of their offenses. But when Trump used his powers to give clemency to 11 people, the press secretary s statement was larded with the often-famous names of those vouching for the pardoned," implying that Trump s mercy favors those with special connections. "In also showing mercy late last year to two officers accused of war crimes, one convicted of murder, President Trump again dismissed the justice system" -- both civilian and military, asserted LZ Granderson. "What we have been witnessing recently is not in the spirit of the Constitution s Article II, Section 2, but in the spirit of authoritarianism. For it is one thing for a president to commute a sentence if she or he feels the individual has paid their debt to society, but it s totally another if the president intervenes with the belief there wasn t a debt to begin with." What does it mean to be redeemed? James A. Gagliano -- lifelong lover of the NFL s Atlanta Falcons, a team lit up (and then laid low) by legendary quarterback Michael Vick -- made the case directly to Trump that Vick, who was sentenced to 23 months on dog-fighting charges in 2007, should be pardoned. Gagliano recalls Vick s post-prison rehabilitation efforts on and off the field and his emotional welcome back to the Georgia Dome to be recognized as one of the best Falcons players of all time. "Vick s tale is one of against-long-odds achievement, meteoric ascension to the pinnacle of his profession and losing it all," reflected Gagliano. "It is also a story of forgiveness, second acts and deserved redemption ... Michael Vick made good on his second chance. He s back working in football as a television analyst. He s a family man. He has acknowledged his failures and atoned for them. He has blamed no one else but himself ... here s hoping you ll give this pardon request some serious consideration, Mr. President." On Thursday, the New York Times published an op-ed by Sirajuddin Haqqani, identifying him only as the "deputy leader of the Taliban," in which he argued: "I am convinced that the killing and the maiming must stop." Peter Bergen, who has covered Afghanistan for CNN for over 20 years, was shocked by what the Times didn t say about Haqqani -- that the FBI considers him a "specially designated global terrorist" and that both the FBI and State Department are offering a reward for information leading to his capture. Haqqani leads a network whose members have kidnapped multiple Americans, including a Times reporter, noted Bergen, who opined: "President Trump sees himself as elected to get out of America s endless wars. But there is a big difference between fighting an endless war and instituting a persistent presence in Afghanistan to safeguard both American interests and those of the Afghan people ... Haqqani s tepid assurances in the Times that the Taliban, going forward, will be just a normal bunch of Afghan politicians don t mesh well with the FBI s continued assessment that he is one of the world s most wanted terrorists." The Times said in a statement from a spokesperson: "We know firsthand how dangerous and destructive the Taliban is. The Times is one of the only American news organizations to have maintained a full time team of reporters in Afghanistan since the start of the war nearly 20 years ago. We ve also had multiple journalists kidnapped by the organization. But, our mission at Times Opinion is to tackle big ideas from a range of newsworthy viewpoints. We ve actively solicited voices from all sides of the Afghanistan conflict, the government, the Taliban and from citizens. Sirajuddin Haqqani is the second in command of the Taliban at a time when its negotiators are hammering out an agreement with American officials in Doha that could result in American troops leaving Afghanistan. That makes his perspective relevant at this particular moment." US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States will sign a peace deal with the Taliban on February 29 provided there is a weeklong reduction in violence in Afghanistan, slated to begin Saturday. Don t miss -- Raul Reyes: Trump s cruel siege of sanctuary cities is an empty show -- Julian Zelizer: Republicans in 1980 were just as divided as Democrats today. Here s how they came together and won -- Thomas Foster: A museum of women s history is long overdue -- and so are many others -- Lance Gould: Cheating makes the Astros, for better or worse, America s team -- Kate Williams: The truth about Wallis Simpson, the woman accused of stealing a king AND... Jane Austen s most annoying heroine steals the screen We can all admit it: Emma Woodhouse is for many Jane Austen s most irritating leading lady -- even her creator thought so. But director Autumn de Wilde s new film, "Emma," starring Anya Taylor-Joy in the title role, made a convert out of an initially reluctant Holly Thomas. She praised the film s ability to break out of staid tropes of the Austen adaptation canon in favor of a fresher take on feminism, romance and well ... men: "The purest cliche of an Austen fan, I have tended to give the over-examined Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice, or the long-suffering Elinor Dashwood (the Sense half of Sense and Sensibility ) more credit ... But the most recent Emma flagged something lacking in those characters ... It s just refreshing to see a woman born out of classic literature whose flaws mean that she sidesteps several romantic cliches ...Taylor-Joy might wear Empire line dresses, but she doesn t dab away delicate Regency tears. She sobs gutted, 21st century ones." Forget about Colin Firth s Mr. Darcy and his rumpled white shirt by the lake, Thomas urged us, and consider Johnny Flynn s Mr. Knightly, who is kind even as he explains to Emma how ridiculous she is: "In the real world, a young woman is far more likely to debate a friendly mansplainer than win over an aloof-but-secretly-decent aristocrat. Mr. Darcy has a lot to answer for in terms of expectation management of straight, single women who meet apparently indifferent men. Men like Mr. Knightly, who demonstrate excellent morals and an inability not to speak the truth from the outset, are a far better bet than ones who, in all likelihood, are not hiding a wealth of martyrdom behind their brush-offs." That s wise advice for your week ahead.
US President Donald Trump delivered his third State of the Union Address 5 February, in which he praised the might, glory and economic prosperity of the United States. A few days later, across the Atlantic, the Munich Security Conference opened its 56th Annual Conference, with no less than 35 heads of states and governments, in addition to foreign ministers, ministers of defence and senior officials from across the world, in attendance. The state of the West was the major theme. However, Middle Eastern questions took centre stage. For the last one hundred years, or more, the Middle East has been one of the major battlegrounds for the great powers. It still is. Developments in northern Syria were a major discussion point, insofar as they touch on the Russian role in the Levant and in the larger region. Meanwhile, the ongoing confrontation between the United States and Iran was looming as each country tried to gain support and rally allies behind their respective positions. Last but not least, how the international community will deal with the complex security environment in North Africa, in light of the standstill in the Libyan conflict, was another flash point at the Munich Conference. The conclusions of the conference this year were not as rosy as the overly-optimistic picture President Trump depicted in his State of the Union address. Does the State of the Region differ from one year ago? Will it be different one year hence? If we take the situation in Syria as a starting point, the main parties have remained locked in their respective positions, save the Syrian government, supported by Russia, that has been gaining ground in face of fierce resistance from Turkey and Turkish-backed armed groups, some of which are included on the United Nations list of terrorist organisations. The steady advances of the Syrian Army in northwest Syria has put a serious strain on Russian-Turkish cooperation in Syria — a development that was quickly seized upon by the United States. The US State Department sent Ambassador James Jeffrey to confer with Turkish officials in a sign of solidarity with Turkey. Even though Turkish-Russian relations are being tested as never before in the last few years, still the two countries have strategic interests in common, at least in the medium term. That was proven when the Turkish foreign minister, after his meeting with his Russian counterpart last Saturday in Munich, said that differences between the two governments on one issue does not mean that the two would sacrifice their larger strategic cooperation in other important areas. He stressed that Turkey will not change its mind on installing Russian S-400 air defence systems. The next few weeks will be a litmus test of how resilient Turkish-Russian relations will prove to be. In Libya, these relations are being tested again. The two governments are supporting two opposing warring camps. Russia is providing political and material support to Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, whereas Turkey has deployed military advisers in Tripoli to shore up the besieged internationally-recognised government of Fayez Al-Sarraj. Last week, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution calling for a permanent ceasefire in Libya. But Haftar said that he is not going to abide by this resolution, and he would keep on attempting to enter Tripoli, and this regardless of international warnings that this would lead to a bloodbath. Furthermore, even if he succeeds in taking control of the capital city, there is no way he would be able to keep control over Tripoli in face of the forces that would challenge him. In the Gulf, the US-Iran standoff does not look like it is going to end anytime soon. At the Munich Security Conference, the Iranian foreign minister opened a window of opportunity, however limited, by emphasising that his government would be willing to roll back its decisions to increase uranium enrichment beyond the limits set by the Iranian nuclear accord of July 2015, if the E-3 — referring to the three European powers that are parties to the nuclear deal with Iran (Great Britain, France and Germany) — would honour their economic commitments towards Iran, as stipulated in the nuclear accord. Needless to say, these three European powers face a quandary on how to keep Iran in the accord by providing it with some economic incentives, and trying to square this with the American “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran. This dilemma will remain unresolved until the Trump administration and Iran reach a compromise through third-party mediation. The Omanis seem to be working on a formula that would satisfy the minimum requirements of both without the Iranians losing face. Last week, the Omani minister of state for external affairs met with the Iranian foreign minister in Munich, in their second meeting in the last few weeks. In a year of presidential elections in the United States, President Trump needs a foreign policy success, and getting Iran to compromise would be considered as one. That could be possible if the Iranians reach the conclusion that President Trump has a strong chance of being re-elected. If not, they would prefer to wait for a new US administration. Regional and Arab powers, including Egypt, have been entangled in a regional stand-off without clear signs that the raging conflict could be settled politically. The entrenched pattern of alliances that has existed for the last 10 years has failed to find the grand political bargain that could put the region on a more constructive and peaceful path. Nothing on the horizon seems to indicate that this status quo will change soon. On the other hand, the regional power that has gained from the status quo has been Israel. The Trump administration, that has failed to come up with policies that favour the long-term interests of peace and security in the Middle East, has copied the textbook of the Israeli extreme right as to the future of the West Bank and the ultimate geographic borders of the Jewish state. The US “Peace Plan” that was announced 28 January at the White House is the biggest strategic prize that Israel has ever received from any great power — even from past US administrations. The State of the Region will, probably, be on hold, with tactical gains here and there for entangled parties on the regional chessboard, at least until the swearing-in of the new American president.
Please, Mr. President, re-think this one. Richard Grenell, as close a friend and ally as he might be, is very much the wrong man at the wrong time as acting Director of National Intelligence. He is a catastrophe-in-waiting who will be in a position he is totally unqualified to hold, one that is central to America s national security. True, Ambassador Grenell has demonstrated in his years as Ambassador to Germany a clear ability and willingness to defend and promote the Trump agenda. But the role of the DNI, as defined by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Protection Act of 2004 that created the position, requires this individual to "establish objectives and priorities for the intelligence community and manage and direct tasking of collection, analysis, production, and dissemination of national intelligence." Indeed, the DNI s office is specifically mandated to be situated outside not only the offices of any of the 17 disparate intelligence agencies it oversees but even specifies that it "shall not be located in the Executive Office of the President." There are good reasons for this and that have motivated the choice for the office by every president since it was created in the wake of 9/11—widely seen as a byproduct of the toxic lack of coordination between intelligence agencies. The DNI must be seen as a neutral arbiter among America s vast intelligence community that ranges from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and National Security Agency (NSA) to the FBI, DEA and intelligence units of the Departments of State, Energy, Homeland Security and Treasury. The skill set required for the job is also quite clear. He or she must be a mediator, bringing often-conflicting people and ideas together to reach a consensus or at least a viable menu of choices for the president s final decision on life-or-death matters. But above all, this individual must be deeply conversant with the arcane language and practices, sources and methods that make up the core mission of the intelligence communities. Some DNIs have come from the community itself. The most recent and effective, Dan Coats, served for years as a leading member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Armed Services Committee. Rick Grenell brings none of this to the table. Trained largely as a spokesman and advocate, from his first arrival in Germany as ambassador Grenell managed to alienate much of the nation where he was designated as the leading American representative. Two days after his arrival, Grenell, with no diplomatic or managerial background, tweeted to his new hosts: "As @realDonaldTrump said, US sanctions will target critical sectors of Iran s economy. German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately." This was only the launching point of a string of intemperate comments that were taken as public threats—an effort to burn rather than build bridges. Yet Germany is not only one of America s most valuable trading and security partners, it also is a most valuable intelligence ally as well—the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) has cooperated closely with the CIA for decades. Grenell spent considerable effort in Berlin warning that Germany s use of Huawei technology in 5G telecom networks would mean the "US won t be able to maintain the same level of cooperation with German security agencies." Grenell does have one key attribute for a DNI—the President s full and utter confidence. The problem is that he may very well be even more ignorant of intelligence matters than the man he will be advising. And, while the position is seen as determinedly non-partisan, Grenell is very much a polarizing figure, which no doubt is one attribute that appeals especially to the President. Coupled with a long history of nastiness and misogyny that nearly torpedoed his Senate confirmation as ambassador to Germany, his is a resume that bodes ill for this most sensitive of administration positions. The DNI is supposed to present to the president the best and most objective analysis of the world each day and options, especially in moments of crisis, for presidential action. It is the National Intelligence Council, over which the DNI presides, that is responsible for the PDB — the President s Daily Brief -- which, as its job description states, "organizes the Intelligence Community daily intelligence reporting to the President." In 1965, I was offered a job (which I ultimately declined) on the recently-formed PDB desk, then located at the CIA. At the time, I was a young college journalist and my background was what they were seeking— an ability to report objectively and accurately on the news (often highly classified) for a single key reader, the president. There is nothing in Grenell s background that suggests any sense or understanding of the nature or value of objectivity. My overwhelming concern goes even more deeply to the heart of the inevitable crises that will ensue in any Trump presidency. When there is a menu of choices for any specific action, will Grenell reflexively skew his advice to the most extreme, or the most measured and reflective of the ultimate goal? This was the problem when Trump suddenly authorized the assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. As The New York Times reported in January: "Some Pentagon officials were shocked that the president picked what they considered the most extreme option and some intelligence officials worried that the possible long-term ramifications were not adequately considered, particularly if action on Iraqi soil prompted Iraq to expel American forces." The function of the DNI should be to offer sober analysis deeply rooted in the vast trove of facts that our $60-billion-a-year intelligence machine can muster. Richard Grenell hardly seems to be the individual tailored to fill that role.
The vision Egypt presented at the Munich Security Conference meeting last weekend focused on vital issues at the core of regional security and international peace. It drew particular attention to the critical situation in North Africa where ongoing crises have been further perpetuated by the actions of countries such as Turkey which, driven by expansionist and material ambitions, has insinuated itself into Libya in ways that aggravated the already grave threats to northeast Africa. In his extensive contributions at the international forum, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri addressed the many challenges posed by the spread of terrorism and extremist groups, political instability, impediments to development, the impacts of climate change and illegal migration, and other dangerous phenomena. He also outlined Egypt s guiding principles in its efforts to remedy such problems, such as the need for a comprehensive, multi-pronged approach to the fight against terrorism that includes a drive to renovate religious discourse in tandem with a range of social and developmental projects. He also emphasised the importance of African solutions to African problems, a principle that Egypt had advocated throughout its chairmanship of the African Union. The foreign minister drew attention to the need for concerted efforts to cut off funding for terrorist groups and for serious measures to bring countries that support terrorist groups to account. In this context, he called for efforts to safeguard state institutions in countries in the process of political transformation, so as not to give extremist groups the opportunity to fill the institutional vacuum. Addressing another dimension of the challenges, he urged an effective collective strategy that would enable countries of the region to optimally manage their natural resources. Closer cooperation between these countries on the management of shared water resources was particularly necessary in order to deal with the combined challenges of water scarcity and population growth. While the foreign minister and other Egyptian officials have mentioned such ideas before, the situation in the Middle East and North Africa is growing increasingly worrisome as conflicts that beg for a resolution are perpetuated by the machinations of certain regional powers set on asserting themselves into the picture to the detriment of all others. For example, there is strong and abundant evidence that Turkey has been transferring jihadist mercenaries from Syria to Libya to support the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) in flagrant breach of international agreements calling for an end to attempts to provide shelter for terrorists and mercenaries and facilitate their movements across borders. One of the main reasons that Turkey has been able to get away with this is the fragmentation of the international front against terrorism due to the prevalence of self-serving agendas over the common welfare. This should not be allowed to continue. The facilitated movement of mercenaries to Libya to join forces with the terrorist groups that have already proliferated in the Sahel and Sahara region has created an extremely perilous situation in North Africa and raised the spectre of the resurgence of the Islamic State group. The need to cut off funding sources for terrorism and to restrain the ambitions of powers determined to advance their agendas by supporting radical Islamist forces is a priority for Egypt, which is why its views have attracted considerable interest in international forums. The international community, today, needs to see the bigger picture in North and East Africa. As developments in the region have made palpably clear, it does not serve the welfare of the international community to leave state institutions helpless in the face of extremist and terrorist movements, opening paths for ruthless militia groups to seize control of key government organs, ruin economies with their violence and tyranny, and endanger the welfare of all in a region whose oil and gas resources and strategic straits and maritime routes are vital to the global economy and where waves of illegal migrants and refugees have been of mounting concern to countries north of the Mediterranean. Egypt s appeal for an effective strategy for the collective management of natural resources, and water resources above all, is significant in that it comes at a time when Egypt has been working in the negotiations over Ethiopia s Grand Renaissance Dam project to safeguard its rights to Nile waters. Egypt strongly believes that the cause of peaceful coexistence is best served when countries that share watercourses work together to optimise the utilisation of this vital resource.
The Border Patrol will be sending elite tactical teams into "sanctuary cities" like New York and Chicago to help with immigration arrests. One hundred agents are being deployed to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), including members of a unit that functions as the Border Patrol s SWAT team, according to news reports. Members of this unit carry stun grenades and receive Special Forces-like training, such as sniper certification. More agents are expected to be sent to Atlanta, Boston, Houston, San Francisco and other cities, according to the New York Times. The escalation of the Trump administration s war on sanctuary cities using these kind of tactics is alarming and unprecedented in its nature and apparent scope. The move is rooted in fear mongering and holds more potential to harm communities than to keep them safe. It is a political ploy that turns Border Patrol agents and immigrants into pawns for the President s benefit. Any debate over "sanctuary cities" is complicated by misconceptions about them. Not only is there no single definition of a sanctuary city -- these vary by locality -- the term is misleading. Generally, sanctuary cities are places that limit the participation of local agencies in federal immigration enforcement. For undocumented immigrants, such cities are not a haven from the law. Sanctuary policies are simply a way for some localities to say to the feds, "You do your job (immigration enforcement) and we ll do ours (protecting our communities)." Many police chiefs support sanctuary policies because they help them develop trust with immigrant communities. This trust is important when the police need people to report crimes, or come forward as witnesses. Now Trump is retaliating against sanctuary cities by sending in the Border Patrol. A Customs and Border Protection spokesman confirmed to the New York Times, which first reported the news, that the agency will be deploying officers to work in cities "in order to enhance the integrity of the immigration system, protect public safety, and strengthen our national security." But sending Border Patrol officers to work with ICE in cities undermines our immigration system. Congress has mandated that the Border Patrol protect our borders, while ICE handles interior enforcement. This distinction is important, as border agents are not trained to operate in large urban areas. Placing members of the Border Patrol s elite SWAT teams in densely populated cities sounds like a recipe for disaster. Sending Border Patrol agents to sanctuary cities is also a misuse of resources. With agents being deployed to the interior, that means fewer of them along the border, where smugglers, traffickers and cartels are active. (Indeed, according to US Customs and Border Protection s own history page, an earlier, somewhat similar effort in the 1950 s was a bust: "In spite of the major successes in repatriation, many deportees simply turned around and recrossed the seriously undermanned border.") Instead, agents repurposed away from the border will be backing up ICE officers in routine arrests, which lately have included record numbers of undocumented immigrants with no criminal record. This will sow fear in immigrant communities and militarize metropolitan Immigrant advocates have denounced this new policy from the Trump administration. Yet they re not the only ones expressing concerns about it. The former Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, Gil Kerlikowske, called the move a "significant mistake." John Sandweg, the former head of ICE under Obama, said the policy was "dangerous" and "insulting to ICE agents who are more than capable enough to take care of any threats out there and have and do." The timing of this policy is problematic as well. It is surely no coincidence that Trump is sending Border Patrol agents into cities as the 2020 election approaches -- and cracking down on sanctuary cities happens to be one of his signature issues. Similarly, the increased presence of ICE and Border Patrol agents comes as immigrant communities are being urged to participate in the 2020 Census. This raises legitimate questions about whether the President is commandeering law enforcement officials to act in furtherance of his political interests. The President and his allies are fond of saying that sanctuary cities refuse to turn violent criminals over to immigration authorities. In fact, sanctuary cities do hand over immigrants to ICE, provided the agency secures a warrant from a judge. And despite Trump s grisly anecdotes, sanctuary cities are not hotbeds of crime. A 2017 analysis by the Center for American Progress found that sanctuary cities had on average 15% lower crime rates than non-sanctuary cities. Another study found that two-thirds of the cities that had the highest jumps in murder rates in 2016 were not sanctuary cities. These findings are in addition to studies that show immigrants, including the undocumented, commit crimes at lower rates than the native-born. Sending Border Patrol agents into sanctuary cities is inefficient, unnecessary, and potentially dangerous. The Trump administration s latest immigration move is nothing but an empty show of force for his base.
Setting its precarious health risks aside, the coronavirus will most certainly impact the global economy. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the outbreak of the coronavirus to be a global health emergency, though it has refrained from naming it as a pandemic thus far. But keeping track of confirmed cases or deaths from the virus or even lockdowns and quarantined cities has been extremely difficult as the numbers and the facts have been changing at whirlwind speed. The full global economic impact of the virus will depend on how well and how fast China can contain the outbreak. While China s recent measures to impede the outbreak have been hailed by many, they are also bringing the Chinese economy to a halt. The Chinese government has enforced a quarantine system barring 100 million citizens from free movement in a bid to halt the spread of the virus. Flights from and to China have been cancelled. Public transport has been shut down; hotels, restaurants and even streets remain empty; and the lunar new year public holiday has been extended for several days to prevent people from returning to work, even if they may of course not have wished to go in the first place. Upon the reopening of the stock markets, trading was suspended almost immediately as stocks plummeted. However, the global selloff that might have been expected did not materialise, and media outlets, economists and stock-market gurus urged investors not to panic. As with all crises, such as during the outbreak of the SARS virus in 2003 or after the events of 11 September 2001, the markets rebound quickly. However, Mohamed Al-Erian, chief economic adviser to the European insurer Allianz, advised against “buying on the dip,” or purchasing stocks after they had declined in price. When it comes to the reaction to the spread of the coronavirus, the banks may not be able to “ride to the rescue” soon enough, he said. Should the crisis stretch out for a longer period, possibly for several months, China s GDP will likely decline sharply. To confront this emergency, the Chinese government has injected $22 billion into the markets in the hope of boosting the economy and adjusting the downward trend. Even so, the manufacturing sector will likely be hit hard. International companies operating in China have already shut offices and stopped production, among them Apple, Ikea, General Motors and Starbucks. Kaho Yu, a Chinese economic expert, said that “business interruptions and closures are likely to be especially devastating for many small and medium-sized enterprises.” Now we come to the global effects of the coronavirus outbreak. In 2003, when the SARS pandemic hit China provoking a global economic loss of $40 billion, China s share of the global market stood at a miniscule four per cent. Today, it stands at 16 per cent, and this will make the ripple effect across the globe more profound. Tourism will suffer immediately in China and across the world. According to the US outlet CNBC, 163 million Chinese tourists in 2018 accounted for nearly a third of travel sales worldwide. Should the travel restrictions as a result of the outbreak of the coronavirus continue, the hospitality industry as a whole will face massive losses. According to the US financial service Bloomberg, “from Tokyo to London, hotels, casinos, airlines and retailers are already recording a downturn and are bracing for weeks, if not months, of plummeting spending after China curbed outbound travel and governments tightened border controls.” The Diamond Princess, a luxury cruise ship, has been quarantined off the Japanese coast after one passenger who docked tested positive. The latest numbers say that 61 passengers on the ship have tested positive, and these numbers have kept climbing. During the SARS outbreak in 2003, China was still mostly the maker of low-value trinkets and cheap toys and clothing. Today, China has evolved into a main supplier of parts and components to many international industries. In addition to being an integral part of global supply chains, China also makes cars for General Motors, smart phones and computers for Apple and mobile phone chips for Qualcomm. With flights in and out of China restricted and factories halting production, China s production role in global supply chains will be drastically affected and production lines across the globe will come to a halt. According to the New York Times, “all of this could play havoc with businesses that depend on China for components, from auto factories in the American Midwest and Mexico to apparel plants in Bangladesh and Turkey… A single part of an advanced product like a smart TV may be made of dozens of smaller components, with each of these assembled from other pieces.” With factories remaining idle in China, and customers across the globe not buying what they need, Chinese factories will have to “slash orders for imported machinery, components and raw material – computer chips from Taiwan and South Korea, copper from Chile and Canada, factory equipment from Germany and Italy.” All this will affect global markets. Oil prices have already gone down by about 15 per cent, with Saudi Arabia contemplating a cut in its output to keep the price of oil from collapsing. It is suddenly dawning on us all that the world is extremely small and that what happens at one end of the globe can have far-reaching consequences the world over, whether these are health risks or damaging economic fallout. No one knows how long the coronavirus outbreak will last, how far it will spread, or how many lives it will claim. It is impossible to calculate the extent to which the virus will disrupt China s economy, but whatever happens in China will definitely resonate across the world.
“Si vis pacem, para bellum” said Roman author Publius Renatus, meaning that “if you want peace, prepare for war.” This has been the simple, yet deep, motto adopted by the Egyptian army for decades. After the signing of the peace treaty with Israel in 1979, some believed that the Egyptian army would scale back its readiness after the state of war with Israel was over. But the opposite took place during the 1980s and afterwards when modernisation and the shift from Soviet-camp weapons to Western-made ones took place, especially after the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979 and the frictions with Libya during the rule of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. These frictions reached their height in 1977 in a four-day war that ended with a decisive Egyptian victory. The reliance on mostly Western equipment continued through the 1980s to recent years due to the cordial relations with the United States up until 2013 when then US president Barack Obama temporarily banned weapons exports to Egypt following the dispersal of the Muslim Brotherhood encampment in Rabaa Square in Cairo. Following this short feud, the Egyptian leadership decided on a weapons diversification policy that favoured Russia and France. The diversification policy worked, and an assortment of defensive and offensive state-of-the-art weaponry was purchased from both countries that included fighter jets, frigates, aircraft carriers and air-defence systems such as the Russian S-300 system. As a result of this policy, more friendly countries including China, Germany, Italy, South Korea and others offered Egypt cutting edge weaponry that resulted in a massive overhaul of the Egyptian armed forces capabilities. These were manifested by the recent ranking of the Egyptian army as the ninth most powerful army in the world, according to the website the Global Firepower Index, which meant that it has overtaken the Turkish army that until recently held that spot. The Egyptian army s surpassing some of its own suppliers, including Germany and Italy, may come as a surprise to some, especially those who had not foreseen its ability to win the war on terrorism in Egypt. During wars, armies may gain experience, but they also tend to lose the quality of their equipment as losses keep piling up. But the Egyptian army rose up the ranks with new purchases and new locally manufactured equipment along with massive military bases established around the country such as the Mohamed Naguib Base on the north coast and the Berenice Base in the south-east overlooking the Red Sea. Since his service as minister of defence, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has brought about a massive reform and modernisation programme for the Egyptian army. A policy of diversification of arms purchases coupled with the renovation and upgrading of the local industry in Egypt has helped the country to move ahead of its regional counterparts by leaps and bounds and in record time. The introduction of Egypt s Rapid Deployment Force (RDF) was a major step in the right direction of modernising the army to face mounting challenges, especially in countering terrorism in Egypt and around the region. Formed in 2014, the force rivals the best in the world and parallels those of the NATO countries and Russia in terms of its mobility and capabilities. It is comprised of mainly airborne troops, highly efficient commando units, highly trained mechanised infantry, armoured corps, air-defence and anti-tank units and special reconnaissance units benefitting from an air-shield provided by fighter jets. The RDF was instrumental in crushing terrorism in Sinai backed by hostile regimes like those in Turkey and Qatar. It has also seen combat action on the border with Libya in order to secure Egypt s western borders and quell any attempts at infiltration by terrorists from the West. MILITARY PURCHASES: Massive military purchases have enhanced the Egyptian army s capabilities and ranking worldwide. The purchase of two French Mistral helicopter carriers and FREMM frigates and corvettes along with a number of German frigates and submarines have joined South Korean and Russian-made naval units and made the Egyptian navy a force to be reckoned with regionally and globally. The division of the navy into two separate fleets, one in the north in the Mediterranean Sea and the second in the south in the Red Sea, has also enhanced the navy s capabilities and expanded its reach. Moreover, the inauguration of the 160,000-hectare Berenice Military Base on the Red Sea in January 2020, following that of the Mohamed Naguib Base on the Mediterranean in 2017, has added depth and unprecedented deployment capabilities to the Egyptian army, which earlier relied on smaller bases. Egypt s growing naval power to counter mounting threats in the Mediterranean, especially from the Turkey of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, could not have been completed without a major overhaul of the air force. Egypt s already powerful air force has acquired a number of new purchases, including French Rafale fighter jets, Russian Mig-29 fighters and a large number of attack helicopters including the Kamov 50/52 and the Mi-24 to add to its already large fleet of fighter jets. A major deal with Italy may soon enhance both the air force and the navy further in the coming period. These acquisitions were introduced into the Egyptian army in record time, and they have been used during many military manoeuvres and exercises, including the Kader 2020 exercises last month. Egypt has also conducted numerous joint military exercises with allied and friendly countries, including the US, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom, Greece, India, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, all the while seeing all its branches displaying their growing capabilities as a result of the recent military reforms. Some may consider these military expenses to be a waste of money that should have been spent on development projects instead, but the truth is that without these military expenses the excellent security status that Egypt is now enjoying in a region filled with turmoil and perils would have been impossible. The aim of Egypt s ramping up its military might is not to engage in regional wars, but on the contrary is to subvert the possible ignition of such wars by others, especially by regimes such as those in Turkey and Iran. Moreover, these purchases and reforms have been coupled by equally large economic reforms and massive development projects in the country, all of which are becoming more apparent to observers as changing the face of Egypt. While the Global Firepower Index is an indicator of the improvement in the military status of Egypt and thus of the country s overall development given the other parametres the Index uses to provide a proper assessment, there are still discrepancies in the economic numbers that are better than indicated in the Index. Nevertheless, it is still eloquent testimony of growing Egyptian military power and Egypt s position as a key player in turbulent times in the region. More importantly, Egypt has maintained its position as a force for peace in the region, solidifying its peace treaty with Israel with a number of economic deals as well as countering hostile regimes seeking to spread mayhem across the region and the continent. Egypt is also lending a hand to African countries to help them to quell terrorist attacks by training African special forces to meet the growing rise of terrorism, especially in the Horn of Africa, the Sahel region, and West Africa. On 9 February, President Al-Sisi called for the formation of a unified African force to counter terrorism in the region and stated his country s willingness to hold a summit for African leaders in Cairo to produce a charter of the use of a unified force for that purpose. Despite the massive renovation of the Egyptian military over recent years, the reforms are far from over, however, and the military will see more acquisitions and developments in the coming years. History has shown that regardless of the signing of pacts, international coalitions and deals, only a standing army can thwart the greedy ambitions of others, including by the type of foreign interventions that have exacerbated the situations of Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Syria over recent years. Foreign interventions and civil wars have ripped these great nations apart owing to their lack of a unified and mighty army to defend their sovereignty and interests from foreign attacks.
So far, 2020 has brought a dose of sobriety for the Democratic Party: the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump gained little viewership, while the President s approval ratings hit a personal record high. Even more troubling is the turnout in last week s Iowa caucuses. One would expect the prospect of voting out Trump to bring record-shattering numbers of energized Democrats to the polls. Instead, the turnout was lower than expected, an ominous sign for what s to come. This shouldn t be surprising. It s becoming clear that the fault lies neither in the White House nor in the American public, but in a troubling undercurrent at the heart of the Democrat-led resistance to the Trump administration. Unless we acknowledge and address this, we re looking at a repeat of 2016. In nearly every other use of "the resistance" -- from World War II to "Star Wars" films -- the term refers to individuals battling actual tyranny while actually risking their lives. People saving Jews in Nazi-occupied France didn t advertise their bravery. Harriet Tubman didn t walk around the South soliciting accolades. For them, being discovered meant being literally slain. For them, there were consequences. Conversely, Democratic resistance leaders have often accommodated Trump while simultaneously casting themselves as martyrs in primetime passion plays, appropriating historic tragedies and pretending they live in a dictatorship. In 2018, after Trump held a press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, lawmakers and commentators compared the meeting to the Japanese slaughter of two thousand Americans at Pearl Harbor. Others went further, likening the Trump-Putin meeting to the Nazi pogrom of Jews on Kristallnacht. Last year, California Rep. Eric Swalwell invoked the Holocaust after the Trump campaign issued a memo telling television producers Swalwell and other members of Congress weren t trustworthy. It was pure trolling, malicious yet toothless. But that didn t stop Swalwell from comparing himself to Holocaust victims by referencing Pastor Martin Niemöller s "First they came for the..." poem about vulnerable groups targeted by the Third Reich. The need to explain why a powerful member of Congress in the greatest democracy in the world has nothing in common with Holocaust victims is one of the more depressingly unnecessary exercises of the past three years. The Niemöller poem resurfaced this week, when prominent Resistance member Benjamin Wittes tweeted "First they came for Comey, and I said nothing." Anne Frank huddled in an attic, then died in a Nazi concentration camp. James Comey was fired from the FBI and is currently raking in millions from book sales and speeches. Apparently to some people, those two situations are comparable. The performances aren t limited to Twitter. Last month, during Trump s impeachment trial, New York Rep. Jerry Nadler publicly called the President "a dictator" from the Senate floor. Again, it s hard to explain just how absurd and insulting this is, especially for someone like me, who came to the US as a refugee from an actual dictatorship. But perhaps the most telling encapsulation of these theatrics is the video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tearing up Trump s State of the Union address. The problem with Pelosi s gesture is that last June, she and the rest of the House leadership bankrolled Trump s dark vision for America by approving the Senate s emergency funding border bill. Other than curtailing the amount toward building Trump s wall, the bill had nearly everything the president wanted. The House Democrats couldn t stop ICE s predations on vulnerable immigrants and asylum seekers. They couldn t negotiate delivering basic sanitation supplies to the camps. They couldn t even bring themselves to censure Iowa Rep. Steve King, who has a track record of spewing the same talking points as white supremacist terrorists. But they sure could preen during the State of the Union. Over the past three years, the US courts, human rights groups, media organizations and countless ordinary Americans have stood up to the White House s attempts to circumvent our democracy. But those actions stand in stark contrast to the cynical choreography of prominent resistance champions. And if words matter, and gestures matter, and actions matter, the answer to Trump requires a sober commitment to avoid meaningless words, gestures and actions. I remember the awful helplessness of living in refugee camps and praying for America to grant asylum to me and my family. Our living conditions were nothing like the horror today s asylum seekers are going through, but still, they gave me an appreciation of true versus empty acts. And it didn t take long to realize that the people who helped us the most, bragged the least while the ones who did little, bragged the most. Comparing America to a dictatorship didn t aid a single child in the camps. Ripping up the State of the Union speech didn t help the families huddled in terror of ICE raids, or millions of individuals deprived of food stamps by the Trump administration, or Jews and Muslims fearful of getting gunned down by terrorists. If tearing up pieces of paper is the best that powerful American Democrats can do, is it any surprise to see low voter turnout? If tearing up pieces of paper is the best we can do, we re in for a depressing November.
Egypt has taken great strides towards restructuring government in a manner geared to giving a great boost to the economy and investment. These strides clearly fall in the framework of a comprehensive plan that seeks bolster local and foreign investors confidence in the Egyptian market and to advance a national vision for sustainable development. With its sights set on achieving sustainable development targets, the government focused firstly on building a sturdy foundation for the economy. The economic and administrative reform programme that the government set in motion in 2016 was instrumental in restoring overall economic stability. Previous steps helped pave the way. Above all, reforms in energy subsidies and the more efficient targeting of subsidised goods were crucial to the necessary process of deficit reduction. At the same time, the government gave high priority to steering investments towards infrastructure development, and specifically, transportation networks, electricity grids and other major projects which, combined, have worked to improve of Egypt s competitivity and its credit ranking. Last week, Minister of Planning Hala Al-Said announced that the government was especially keen to bring a new public planning law to fruition. Noting that the last public planning law dated back to the 1970s, she stressed the need for legislation to keep pace with the evolution of government, modernisation and new outlooks on planning strategies. A central aspect of the new bill is its focus on decentralisation and promoting the role of local government at the governorate and municipal levels in planning, which is in keeping with the general universal trend towards indigenising development goals in practical and measurable ways. The bill, which is expected to be submitted to parliament soon, aims to lay a uniform foundation for the exercise of local governance across the country to better enable local governing bodies to contribute to the design and implementation of development policies from the ground up. Accordingly, it also aims to promote effective coordination in economic, social and urban planning, and to lay the foundations for broad-based community participation in the planning, execution and follow-through stages. Naturally, all such processes are crucial to activating the Sustainable Development Strategy (SDS): Vision 2030. The new bill calls for the creation of a Supreme Council for Sustainable Development headed by the presidency and explicitly obliges ministries to submit biannual progress reports on projects and plans earmarked for government allocations. Provisions such as this provide a form of cement to the decentralised system under the law which gives local government bodies unprecedented leeway in designing development plans and policies. Another important feature of the bill is its focus on steering investments towards those governorates that lag behind others in development. The text of the public planning bill reflects a qualitative leap in the approach to national planning in Egypt. Without a doubt, this will bear fruit in the form of higher levels of confidence in the government and in its ability to attract local and foreign investments and facilitate steering funds towards local development projects in all parts of the country in a manner consistent with sustainable development aims. Such progress would have been unattainable were it not for the huge inroads made in restructuring the public sector and the major infrastructural development projects that have been achieved during the past six years, despite the diverse and formidable challenges Egypt encountered at many levels along the way.
Why don t the Egyptians celebrate the anniversary of ex-president Hosni Mubarak stepping down from power on February 11, 2011? Wasn t it the day they wished for when they took to the streets on January 25, 2011 to bring down the regime and demand bread, freedom and social justice? Hadn t we dreamed of that day to bring down Mubarak s succession scheme for which the constitution was amended? Did they perhaps feel disappointment after Mubarak stepped down? Has the Muslim Brotherhood hijacking the revolution spoiled that dream? Are we now approaching a return to the Mubarak era?! Why doesn t Mubarak celebrate the anniversary of his ouster? Does he not wish to hear about it? Do his sons celebrate that they became freer with less responsibilities? Is it impoliteness to gift him a bouquet of flowers on this occasion? Is it a painful occasion? Moreover, why do the people not celebrate this occasion officially? Why does the political regime not celebrate the anniversary of Mubarak s fall from power? Wasn t it the outcome of the January 25 Revolution?! Was Mubarak stepping down a bad omen for Egypt, or have we moved now to a different era both politically and economically and enjoyed greater freedoms in the process? Do we fail to celebrate because the media is mostly owned by Mubarak-era men, or is it because the 2011 revolution itself failed to provided a project for renaissance in the country? Do we not celebrate Mubarak s ouster in light of the bloodshed and acts of terrorism that have sparked hatred against the revolution and its defenders? Do the people still regret the Mubarak era? The most important question is: have we changed for the better or not? The answer is that we have become a proven military power, with the great Egyptian army recently ranked ninth internationally in terms of strength, coming before Iran, Turkey, Israel, Germany, and others. We have our own arms, our independence, and more foreign currency reserves in the Central Bank of Egypt. Residents of the slums now live in better conditions, and millions of them have moved to live in more formal housing. Furthermore, the number of roads and bridges that have been constructed surpass those constructed in half a century, and the quality of this infrastructure has also improved. Politically and economically, Egypt s standing is better now. Then why we don t celebrate this qualitative leap? Do we avoid talk of the revolution and Mubarak s ouster and declare our hate for the revolution and the revolutionaries? How do you see Mubarak s fall today, after nine years? Do you see it as the best day in Egypt s history, or the worst? Do we still remember the face of General Omar Soliman as he announced Mubarak s statement on stepping down after thirty years in power? Was Soliman himself aware at the time of our destiny or how the situation would come to evolve in Egypt? Were we hit by the confusion on the face of the spy chief during the announcement, especially when he said: only Allah blesses and helps? Shall we rejoice getting rid of the Muslim Brotherhood and the succession scheme and move to the future, with national projects being launched at unprecedented rates?! Finally, is the day of Mubarak s ouster a day of pride for Egyptians, or is it a day that the people should shy away from? In other words, should we celebrate February 11 officially or reject it?
I was recently invited by the Asian-African Legal Consultative Organisation (AALCO), in my capacity as a member of the United Nations International Law Commission, to participate in its 58th annual session held in Dar es Salaam in the United Republic of Tanzania. This was a high-level meeting attended by Egypt and most African and Asian UN member states. AALCO, with its headquarters in New Delhi, was founded in 1956 as an outcome of the historic Asian-African Conference held in Bandung, Indonesia, in April 1955. As a founding member of AALCO, Egypt has throughout the years supported the organisation and its mission. It has played host to some of its annual high-level sessions, and an Egyptian secretary-general has exercised that high function for a period of two full terms. Cairo has been chosen as a major location for one of AALCO s five Regional Arbitration Centres in Africa and Asia. Over past years, AALCO has played, with Egypt s participation, a positive role in enhancing legal cooperation among its member states and coordinating their positions in the field of international law. By the same token, it has fostered and strengthened the spirit of Asian-African identity that had given birth to the organisation. In its active involvement in the law-making process, AALCO has made valuable contributions in the fields of diplomatic law, the law of treaties, the law of the sea, human rights and international humanitarian law, international criminal law, and environmental law, among other areas. At the recently held AALCO session in Dar es Salaam, a variety of international legal issues of concern to member states were debated over four days of meetings. In reviewing the world situation, the participants declared that respect for and observance of international law was a prerequisite for international peace and security. They considered multilateralism as the solution for many crises emanating from unilateralism and protectionism. They condemned violent extremism and terrorism, as well as flagrant violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. A call to reform global governance structures was also issued. There was agreement on the need to settle disputes between states through peaceful means to be chosen by the parties themselves. In that context, the transboundary effects of climate change and environmental harm raised the importance of the pacific settlement of environmental disputes. The delegations further considered that unilateral sanctions imposed by states were an illegal exercise of extra-territorial jurisdiction and a violation of state sovereignty and of non-intervention in the internal affairs of another state. On the issue of Palestine, the participants condemned the violations of international law by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. They stressed the need to recognise East Jerusalem as the capital of the sovereign state of Palestine and condemned all measures to alter the legal status of Jerusalem, emphasising that such measures had no legal effect. They called for the settling of the conflict by peaceful means only and reaffirmed their unwavering support for the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people. In relation to the law of the sea, the meeting underlined the principle of freedom of navigation in international waters and straits. It was observed, however, that such freedom should not be used as a pretext to challenge the maritime boundaries of another state. Support was further expressed for current efforts to create an international legally binding instrument for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity. With regard to international law on cyberspace, the delegations stressed the importance of peacefully using cyberspace and the need to exert all efforts to tackle the threat of cybercrime. In that context, they supported national, regional, and international efforts to enhance cybersecurity, including the elaboration of a comprehensive international convention on combating cybercrime. On international trade and investment, the participants called for the reform of the World Trade Organisation and the development of mechanisms for the settlement of investment disputes, including the establishment of a permanent international investment court. Finally, wide support was expressed for the work of the United Nations International Law Commission in the field of the codification and progressive development of international law. I strongly believe that at a time when international law is facing tremendous challenges in today s world, it is of paramount importance for AALCO members to be actively involved in the formation of rules of international law that reflect their vital interests and legitimate concerns.
The Egyptian Nobel Prize-winning novelist Naguib Mahfouz sculpted characters not just in his novels but also in the minds of his readers. Cinema also helped him. No Arab novelist has had more films made based on his novels. As a result, his written words and the films that different filmmakers have made of them allowed Mahfouz to imprint his characters deep in the Arab imagination. There is a kind of dictatorship in talent. Mahfouz did not leave his readers with options about how to think about his characters. They are free to judge, of course. But they are also given all the details, from the externals (decisions, actions, choices and how they are made and carried out) to the internals (the why of what happens, typically delivered gradually in Mahfouz s trademark internal monologues). Although these internal expositions are difficult to portray in moving pictures, filmmakers have been faithful to this Mahfouz-esque way of revealing the layers of his characters. Mahfouz did not even leave readers with words and phrases they were familiar with, even if they were native Arabic speakers with adequate exposure to Egypt s different verbal registers. He invented “speaking flows” for his characters, not just styles of talking that actors could adopt in portraying the characters in films. These flows were intended to show in all their rawness how his characters thought. Many of Mahfouz s characters became synonymous with certain themes, transcending collections of phrases and coming, in the Arab collective consciousness, to encapsulate certain meanings. Certain characters, as Mahfouz formed them, become associated with certain emotions, say melancholy for a lost era (in the novel Miramar for example), or suppressed anger coming to the surface as pleasure-seeking nihilism (in Chatter on the Nile). Whereas for many of his international readers, Mahfouz was the creator of a universe of Egyptianness that they could sail into, stopping at different constellations, the Cairo Trilogy, for example, or even black holes of grief (such as Autumn Quail), for his Egyptian and probably also many Arab readers, Mahfouz was a creator of characters that are primarily understood as concentrations of themes. His success was colossal, and yet at the moment when Mahfouz had all the freedom he could wish for in order to write what he wanted in the way that he wanted he stopped making characters. In fact, he banished them completely from his writings. This freedom was important to him, but it had been long in coming. Mahfouz began writing seriously in the 1940s when his favourite political party, the Wafd, was in open disagreement with former king Farouk. During the rule of former president Gamal Abdel-Nasser in the1950s and 1960s, Mahfouz was careful about what he wrote. While he published arguably his deepest socio-political work in these decades, he did so without antagonising the powers that be. By the 1970s and early 1980s, age was taking its toll. The Nobel Prize for Literature came in old age. With it came a financial windfall for a man with two daughters who, like all Egyptian men of his generation, was concerned about the cost of finding “al-gehaz” (their dowries). With the Nobel Prize also came Mahfouz s untouchability by any censor or critic. Who would dare criticise the work of the only Arab author ever to achieve such a prestigious international accolade? Freedom also came after a knifing in the neck. Asked what he thought of the 22-year-old who attempted to kill him in the 1990s because he had heard Muslim sheikhs denounce his writings as heretical, the 82-year-old Mahfouz said he wished the young man in question had read his work and thought about it for himself. In these precious years until his death roughly a decade after the attack, Mahfouz stripped his ideas from his characters. He soared away from his beloved Cairo, with its political, societal and emotional complications. Instead, he flew inside himself, seeing in the internal what is external, connecting his own world of ideas with what he imagined was a cosmos of ideals. In these years, Mahfouz wrote of the beyond and of what many critics saw as an old man s reflections on death. But his beyond was more than abstractions abut the end of life, for Mahfouz s words were as much about beginnings as they were about endings. He consistently chose to label many of his writings of this last period “dreams”. But their coherence, direction and subtle confidence were far from the vagueness, circularity and beguiling fluidity of dreams. Mahfouz s “dreams” were intentional dives into an ocean of meanings, out of which he selected, put together and then put forward what he wanted his readers to think of as his last words. His insistence on making these dreams devoid of any key characters, including himself, could not be anything but intentional. In contrast to his works over the previous six decades, in this last period Mahfouz pushed ideas and ideals to the forefront, allowing them to penetrate his readers minds without any coating of the flesh of characters or circumstances. Just before waving goodbye, or perhaps au revoir, the old man made sure that his last thoughts, his last words, carried nothing but their innate meanings. This direct aim at meaning might have been a reflection of where Mahfouz found himself in this last stage of his life. Perhaps, freed from the shackles of navigating society s politics and norms and freed from the need to create for a living, he had found an easier way to long-sought meanings. Instead of unfolding meanings through the protracted journeys of complex characters in novel form, he found that going directly towards the desired ends paid off more quickly and effectively. Some think of these last works by Mahfouz in a Roman Catholic sense, seeing in them his admission of an earlier sin of omission. It was as if those last words were his way of saying what he could not have said in the earlier six decades. However, this is not true. Mahfouz had earlier been cautious, but that was not the point. What he had said in the previous six decades and in the long journeys of characters whose lives he had laboriously laid out in front of us in his novels had been necessary for Mahfouz himself and was also necessary for those who read his later work to arrive at understanding the new direct routes he was taking. In a way, the long journeys had been a process of growth for Mahfouz that was necessary for the directness that was to follow. An old saying says that books take on lives of their own after publication. This will happen to Mahfouz s last collections of reflections and dreams. Although these later works are now generally treated as separate from his novels, I think they will come to be seen as the seal of his literary output. Perhaps in his own way, Mahfouz was following the Islamic schools of gnosis that have sought to subtly educate before raising the eyes to heaven with the mantra “O Omniscient, I have been informed.”
The reprehensible habit of female genital mutilation (FGM) has taken another life; a 12-year-old girl forced into a clinic to cut off part of her body to preserve – as they claim – her honor as she grows older and becomes a woman. The poor girl died in their hands, a victim of ignorance as many girls before her. And others will be, as long as there those among us who promote this habit in small mosques, sensational books and unfortunately on television channels, all in the name of religion which has nothing to do with this urge to amend the creation of God – glorified and exalted be he – and discriminate against the human body. Whoever understands the verses of the Holy Quran will never find anything that suggests the permissibility of this practice, and it is inconceivable that the Holy Prophet would say otherwise. It is true Egyptian law has set severe penalties for those who perform FGM, such as imposing prison sentences for who responsible for the operation. Truth be told, the National Council for Women and the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood are making a great effort to confront this painful crime. But all this means is that unfortunately, Egypt continues to occupy an advanced position in the world regarding FGM operations – nearly 80 percent of married women in Egypt who are between the ages of 15 to 49 years have undergone the operation. UNICEF has said that Egypt is the world leader in FGM operations, alongside Somalia, Guinea, Djibouti and Mali. Egypt s Dar al-Iftaa recently stated that FGM is forbidden in Islam, and is an act of aggression on women and their rights, stressing: No to female genital mutilation. I wonder: Where is the enlightened media in Egypt in the face of this habit, which passes the limits of brutality and humiliation? Where are the campaigns – especially with photos – devoted to religious, social and medical awareness against this habit? Where is the urgency to explain its seriousness and its incompatibility with true religious teachings? It is an attack on and modification of God s creation and a criminal act against children who can t decide in this case, and no one has the right to cut out parts of their bodies against their will. What happens to girls who fall victim to FGM and suffer from it for life is saddening. This silence about the procedure being carried out throughout the country, many of them by doctors – unfortunately – is a kind of torture that takes place in the dark, sometimes revealed by the sudden death of young girls.
The “deal of the century” has come a long way since its first use as a throw-away campaign gambit by a US presidential candidate, or as a means to criticise and ridicule that aspirant to the White House. At last it has become an official “conception” under the heading “The American Plan for Peace in the Middle East” and the “opportunity of the century”, at least according to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. This now fully-fledged US project inspired former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk to write an article for Foreign Affairs with the title, “Disaster in the Desert: Why Trump s Middle East Plan Can t Work.” Little was known about the “deal” when the Indyk article appeared in the magazine s 15 October edition. Analysts had to piece together official preludes, leaks here and there, and snatches of overheard conversations in order to portray either castles in the sand or looming catastrophe. As it turned out, the project in its completed form echoed many of the speculations that had been bandied about in cyberspace and fleshed them out. But Indyk, in his article, had put his finger on the crux of the US project that was unveiled in Washington on 28 January in the presence of the Israeli prime minister. Not a single Palestinian or other Arab representative was on hand. One was reminded of the Egyptian saying many decades ago regarding the negotiations to end the British occupation of Egypt: they were about “George V talking with George V.” Under such conditions, when there are no real negotiations, the focus turns to how the absent party will react. But before turning to that, let s begin with the following excerpt from the Indyk article. “In July 2019, Jason Greenblatt, then US President Donald Trump s envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, attended a routine quarterly UN Security Council meeting about the Middle East. Providing an update on the Trump administration s thinking about the peace process, he pointedly told the surprised audience that the United States no longer respected the fiction of an international consensus on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. “Greenblatt went out of his way to attack not some extreme or obscure measure but UN Security Council Resolution 242, the foundation of half a century of Arab-Israeli negotiations and of every agreement Israel has achieved within them, including the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. He railed against its ambiguous wording, which has shielded Israel for decades against Arab demands for a full withdrawal from occupied territory, as tired rhetoric designed to prevent progress and bypass direct negotiations and claimed that it had hurt rather than helped the chances for real peace in the region. “The indignation was calculated. Guided by his boss Jared Kushner, the president s son-in-law and senior adviser on the Middle East, Greenblatt was trying to change the conversation, to start a new, realistic discussion of the subject. UN resolutions, international law, global consensus — all that was irrelevant. From now on, Washington would no longer advocate a two-state solution to the conflict, with independent Jewish and Palestinian states living alongside each other in peace and security. “Greenblatt s presentation was part of a broader campaign by the Trump administration to break with the past and create a new Middle Eastern order. To please a president who likes simple, cost-free answers, the administration s strategists appear to have come up with a clever plan.” In sum, the plan took everything the Arab-Israel peace process has been based on since Resolution 242 and tossed it in the dustbin of history. This includes its subsequent interpretations in the Egyptian-Israeli peace talks in Camp David in 1978, the Madrid Peace Conference and even the Oslo Accords, the outcome of direct talks between the Palestinians and Israelis, and that seemed an extension of the UN partition resolution of 1947, albeit modified to take into account changes resulting from subsequent Arab-Israeli wars. Now, according to the plan, the present and the future are to be based on new foundations. A new adversary is to supersede the old Arab-Israeli enmity. It is Iran that is wreaking havoc in the region. No Arab country, including Palestine, has been spared the effects of Islamist radicalism, its terrorist manifestations and their consequences in the form of refugees fleeing violence and civil warfare. The Trump plan, or “deal”, proceeds from the premise that the Palestinian-Israeli question should be placed in perspective amidst everything that has happened in the region during the past two decades, including chapters that have surpassed the “Arab Spring” in violence, war and revolution. The Palestinian reaction was anticipatable: burning flags and photos. The “deal” gave the Palestinians another four years of waiting after which the time will come to talk again, taking into account the “interests” accumulated over time. The Arab anger at the “deal” is understandable. Even in the US and in Israel a large body opinion believes that it puts peace on hold, giving violence and radicalism more time to reap the fruits of trading in the Palestinian cause. The American presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who is Jewish, stressed that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is about a land and a people under occupation and that the Trump plan does nothing to address this. Elizabeth Warren, another Democratic presidential candidate, recalled the two-state solution and relevant laws and resolutions. The rest of the Washington community in the liberal and resolutely anti-Trump think tanks together with the EU made similar comments. None of them are US presidents. Nor do any of them possess the key to the basic law of the Arab-Israeli conflict, namely creating de facto realities. Unfortunately, Israel has succeeded in creating many of these: a society, a state, a culture, a robust economy based on advanced technology. Recently, Israel has also become a petroleum country by dint of offshore fields of natural gas and — who knows? — may be oil as well. The only de facto reality that the Arabs can claim is that the Palestinians are still present on the land. There are more than six million of them, including 1.7 million Palestinians inside what used to be known as the “Green Line”. How should the Arabs handle the US peace plan, or the Trump deal, which has departed so radically from the terms and principles that have been accepted for decades? We could do as before: reject it and threaten intifada or even “revolutionary” action. The pros and cons of this would have to be carefully weighed. Of course, it is also the reaction the Israelis and international community expect. Alternatively, we could think about how to take advantage of the one Arab de facto reality — the continued Palestinian presence in Palestine — and incorporate that in a counter proposal. Simply put, we should not behave as the Israelis, or more precisely, the Israeli and US right, expect us to. We have a choice. Either we can look at the US administration s deal as the end of the world or we can see it as a new beginning for the creation of realities on the ground, realities that favour Palestinians. Ultimately, what we have is just a list of points for negotiation and for exploring avenues to a genuine peace for the Arabs and for the Israelis, too. The writer is chairman of the board, CEO and director of the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies.
Maybe the fiasco of the late reporting results from the Iowa caucus this year will have a positive legacy -- the end of the caucus process and the invitation to another state to start the delegate selection process. The caucuses are an embarrassment to the Democratic Party and the United States. This is no way to pick a nominee. It s not just that the Iowa caucus is unrepresentative demographically -- more than 90% white. It s far more white than a national party that prizes its diversity. The problem is even more fundamental. Consider the secret ballot, a foundational value in democratic systems. The caucus is a public process, so that neighbors must advertise their choices in public. This is just wrong. But the problem is much worse. The caucuses -- especially in this cursed year -- demand hours of commitment. This limits the number, and kind, of people who can attend, despite Iowa Democrats allowing satellite caucuses this year. Many people who work at night still cannot attend. People who care for children or other relatives cannot attend. People who have other commitments cannot attend. Those who cannot attend tend to be lower income, of course, and those people are supposedly the base of the Democratic Party. It s madness to effectively exclude them from the caucus process. Then there is the 15% viability threshold. Typically, candidates who don t draw 15% in the first round don t receive any delegates. Why? (The Republican caucuses in Iowa have no such rule.) Especially in a first contest, there is no reason to exclude the lesser candidates. And the multiple rounds add to delays. One of the worst reasons to do anything is ... that s the way we ve always done it. That s pretty much the only justification for continuing to have (a) a caucus (b) in Iowa. It s time for a change -- in the process and in the location.
On 31 January 2020, the United Kingdom left the European Union. We lost a member of our family. It was a sad moment for us, for European citizens – and, indeed, for many British citizens. Nevertheless, we have always respected the sovereign decision of 52 percent of the British electorate, and we now look forward to starting a new chapter in our relations. Emotions aside, 1 February turned out to be historic but also undramatic. This is largely thanks to the Withdrawal Agreement that we negotiated with the UK, which enabled us to secure an orderly Brexit . One that – at least for now – minimizes disruption for our citizens, businesses, public administrations – as well as for our international partners. Under this agreement, the EU and the UK agreed on a transition period, until the end of 2020 at least, during which the UK will continue to participate in the EU s Customs Union and Single Market, and to apply EU law, even if it is no longer a Member State. During this period, the UK will also continue to abide by the international agreements of the EU, as we made clear in a note verbale to our international partners. So, with the transition period in place, there is a degree of continuity. This was not easy given the magnitude of the task. By leaving the Union, the UK automatically, mechanically, legally, leaves hundreds of international agreements concluded by or on behalf of the Union, to the benefit of its Member States, on topics as different as trade, aviation, fisheries or civil nuclear cooperation. We now have to build a new partnership between the EU and the UK. That work will start in a few weeks, as soon as the EU27 have approved the negotiating mandate proposed by the European Commission, setting out our terms and ambitions for achieving the closest possible partnership with a country that will remain our ally, our partner and our friend. The EU and the UK are bound by history, geography, culture, shared values and principles and a strong belief in rules-based multilateralism. Our future partnership will reflect these links and shared beliefs. We want to go well beyond trade and keep working together on security and defence, areas where the UK has experiences and assets that are best used as part of a common effort. In a world of big challenges and change, of turmoil and transition, we must consult each other and cooperate, bilaterally and in key regional and global fora, such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, NATO or the G20. It is perhaps a cliché but the basic truth is that today s global challenges – from climate change to cybercrime, terrorism or inequality – require collective responses. The more the UK is able to work in lockstep with the EU and together with partners around the world, the greater our chances of addressing these challenges effectively. At the very core of the EU project is the idea that we are stronger together; that pooling our resources and initiatives is the best way of achieving common goals. Brexit does not change this, and we will continue to take this project forward as 27. Together, the 27 Member States will continue to form a single market of 450 million citizens and more than 20 million businesses. Together, we remain the largest trading bloc in the world. Together, at 27, we are still the world s largest development aid donor. Our partners can be sure that we will stay true to an ambitious, outward-looking agenda – be it on trade and investment, on climate action and digital, on connectivity, on security and counter-terrorism, on human rights and democracy, or on defence and foreign policy. We will continue to live up to our commitments. We will continue to stand by the agreements that link us to our international partners, such as our Association Agreement with Egypt, and we will continue to develop multilateral cooperation frameworks around the world. The European Union will continue to be a partner you can trust. A steadfast defender of rules-based multilateralism, working with our partners to make the world more secure and fair.
Last week, I wrote an article entitled “Berlin Promise” on the summit meeting that brought together the heads of states and governments with the secretary general of the United Nations, the secretary general of the Arab League and the chairman of the African Commission. The article was written four days before this important summit on Libya met on Sunday, 19 January, in Berlin. I argued that the summit held promise for the Libyan warring factions and for the international community. And that, once convened, there would be a pre- and a post-Berlin reality. These arguments stemmed from the fact that the situation on the ground in Libya has reached such a critical stage that it has become imperative for the international community to intervene, in light of the sad fact that the warring parties in Libya have failed either to successfully implement the UN Peace Plan in Libya, or to achieve a decisive military victory on the battlefield that would ultimately push the victor and the vanquished to reach a peace agreement, sparing the Libyans further bloodshed and destruction and likewise North Africa, the Mediterranean basin and Sub-Saharan Africa major and intractable threats to their security. From a diplomatic point of view, the Berlin Summit was a success, regardless of the scepticism of many. It was the most important and significant international gathering on Libya since the Security Council meeting on the same question in September 2017. The presidents and heads of governments of the five permanent members of the Security Council were present, the United States being represented by Secretary of State Michael Pompeo. On the other hand, other countries involved in the Libyan conflict were present. Egypt, Algeria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates also participated, plus the host country Germany that chaired the summit. The head of the Libyan Government of National Accord, Fayez Al-Sarraj, and Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar were in Berlin but were not invited to participate. Each of them met, separately, with some leaders in attendance outside the conference hall. By the time the summit got under way, the ceasefire that was announced one week earlier had been observed to the satisfaction of everyone present in Berlin and, in fact, proved that the Berlin track holds promise for the future. In Berlin, the participants reaffirmed their commitment to a political solution to the Libyan conflict, emphasising that there would never be a military solution in Libya. Furthermore, they reaffirmed the utmost importance of respecting the arms embargo as mentioned in Security Council Resolution 1970 of March 2011. In the meantime, they reaffirmed their opposition to the deployment of foreign fighters in Libya. The agreement to set up three parallel tracks to carry out the UN Peace Plan was unprecedented. The Berlin Summit agreed on a financial-economic committee, a military-security committee and a political one. The avowed purpose has been to facilitate the work of UN Envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame, in helping the warring factions and other political forces in Libya implement the peace plan. The paramount concern, for the time being, is the consolidation of the ceasefire and turning it into a permanent truce. In this context, a 5+5 military committee has been established: five officers from each side of the armed conflict to meet regularly to monitor the shaky ceasefire as well as the shipment of armaments and the presence of mercenaries and alien fighters in Libya. In fact, this mission is one of the most delicate ones, and its success or otherwise will determine the fate of the comprehensive and detailed Berlin Declaration. In the next few days, the three committees are supposed to meet in different places, and in parallel, so the momentum gained in Berlin would be preserved, and the warring parties feel the weight of the interests of great, Arab and regional powers present in Berlin, realising fully that the Berlin process is, probably, the last chance, to prevent Libya and the regional neighbourhood from sliding into an open-ended conflict that would present grave dangers to international peace and security. To this end, the Security Council met three days after the Berlin Summit and urged the Libyan adversaries to respect the ceasefire, on the one hand, and has lent its support to the Berlin Declaration, on the other. As far as the political committee is concerned, it will be composed of 13 members from each side of the Libyan conflict, chosen by the National Assembly in Benghazi and the Government of National Accord in Tripoli, respectively. The United Nations, through Salame, would choose another 14 Libyans, to complement the committee with more neutral and hopefully unbiased Libyans whose presence is certainly important as a buffer between warring sides who have shown, so far, no serious inclination to save their country from territorial disintegration. This committee is supposed to meet before the end of January in Geneva. Judging from the reactions of the participants in Berlin, it seems that all concerned are committed, for the time being, to the Berlin Declaration. A case in point is the official Turkish position. Be it the Turkish president or his foreign minister, Turkey announced that it would respect the ceasefire agreement as long as Haftar s forces abide by the ceasefire. It is a big if. No one can say for sure what is the endgame of the self-styled Field Marshal whose true commitment to the Berlin track remains to be seen. Of course, the same is true of the internationally-recognised Government of National Accord. Haftar s regional backers seem hesitant as to the course they should take in the weeks and months to come in Libya. Here is an idea. Why don t you stand at equal distance from the two warring factions in Libya? I believe this could be a significant strategic shift that would compel these factions to lay down their arms and start, seriously, to negotiate a way out of this Libyan quagmire. As far as Egypt is concerned, the Berlin Declaration has met all its interests in Libya. And it remains one of the Arab powers that stands to gain the most, from a strategic point of view, from the implementation of the declaration. Its diplomacy should be reoriented as a result.
US President Donald Trump will finally unveil his long-awaited “Deal of the Century,” or roadmap for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Underlining the event, Trump invited the Israeli prime minister to the White House. Trump s peace plan has already been rejected by Arabs and Palestinians and caused much dismay in the Arab world, angered that the deal is heavily in Israel s favour. The relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and the recognition of the city as Israel s capital as planks of the US president s Middle East policies only added to distrust of his “Deal of the Century.” Above all, mediation for or acceptance of any agreement needs the presence of both sides of any conflict. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, who does not consider Mr Trump s administration credible and qualified to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and was absent from the decision-making process. Thus, the Trump plan is null and void. Among pre-conditions envisaged in the “Deal of the Century” are: disarmament of Hamas and the whole of the Gaza Strip; permanent military presence of Israeli forces at the borders with Jordan; permanent annexation of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories; and other concessions in favour of Israel. Now, let us look at Palestinians and the condition under which they live. Palestinian aspirations, and the freedom movement that once inspired freedom fighters across the world, are history now. The world s image of Palestine is one of extremism, violence and terror, poverty, and the desperation of besieged people who are neither welcome by other nations nor — by being locked in by Israel — enjoy freedom of movement. It is fair to say that the shattered dream of a "two-state solution" and the disintegration of Palestine into a hundred pieces is not necessarily the result of Trump s imposing policies, or Netanyahu s attempts to take advantage of the current situation. Futile wars of recent years between Israel and Lebanon, and Israel and Gaza, provoked and supported by Iran which only served the Islamic Republic s interests, made the life of the ordinary Palestinian that much harder and more complicated, and strengthened the presence and power of extremist and jihadi groups. It is said that the unveiling of Trump s “Deal of the Century” is partly aimed at boosting his re-election campaign (to gain American Jewish votes), realising his election pledges, muddying his impeachment process in Congress. and diverting attention from Netanhayu s indictment on corruption charges. I think these reasons are not sufficient. I think the most important reason for inviting Netanhayu to Washington to unveil the so called “Deal of the Century” is to take advantage of the atmosphere created by Iran s threats against Israel and the region as a whole. Iran has, over the past two weeks, launched the most serious security threat in its history against Israel and Middle East countries. Iran s missile attacks against US bases in Iraq, along with its threats against countries that would allow the US to use their territory for undermining Iran s interests (meaning the Gulf countries) alerted the whole region and put these countries in a difficult situation. Security is the most important concern of the countries of the region, but Trump has repeatedly talked of the security of Israel only. Palestinian aspirations are considered an Arab issue. This is a sacred ideal, but in the face of Iran s threats, perhaps Trump could — with the cooperation of other countries — shrewdly conjure up an agreement that would pave the way for his “Deal of the Century.” The “Peace and Prosperity Workshop” for Palestinians held in Bahrain back in summer was received coldly by Arab countries. The US administration had hoped that the rich countries of the Gulf region would be persuaded to invest in Gaza and the West Bank. Jared Kushner s economic plan for attracting $50 billion at the Bahrain conference did not bear fruit. High level delegations from Arab countries were absent from the conference. Israel did not send its officials and Mahmoud Abbas kept to his position of boycotting any gathering initiated by Trump and his administration. Before committing themselves to any participation in economic programmes, rich countries of the Gulf region first and foremost wanted to know the political arrangements of Trump s “Deal of the Century.” Arab countries are not prepared to accept Trump s position on Jerusalem and the unilateral annexation of the Golan Heights to Israel. On the other hand, serious threats from Iran and concern over their national security might put them in a position where they find themselves obliged to submit to Trump s pressure for participation in the “Deal of the Century,” and even give some concession towards it. Perhaps the dream of an independent Palestine will never materialise. But the end of this dream does not mean more security for Israel and the end of tensions in the region. The disintegration of this dream would confront the region with more crises and more challenges. It would encourage antisemitism and the growth of more extremist groups in Palestinian areas. The only peace agreement that would bear fruit is the one in which Palestinians and their representatives are part of. To reach that goal, peace negotiations should be brokered between Hamas and Fatah. The only peace agreement with Israel that would be sustainable is the one in which Arab countries that have a stake and influence in the region are included in negotiations and bless it with their support. They have repeatedly said that they favour the late King Abdullah s roadmap for peace and recognition of Israel. In the absence of such a framework, their participation in such gatherings and their cooperation with the US is not out of support for Trump s plan, but because threats from Iran have forced them to do so. Iran s change of position toward its Arab neighbours could have been a key factor in the annulment of Trump s “Deal of the Century,” but it is most unfortunate that Iran itself is the main factor for its fruition.
US President Donald Trump will finally unveil his long-awaited “Deal of the Century,” or roadmap for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Underlining the event, Trump invited the Israeli prime minister to the White House. Trump s peace plan has already been rejected by Arabs and Palestinians and caused much dismay in the Arab world, angered that the deal is heavily in Israel s favour.
ve visited the Russian Federation several times. However, this was my first visit to Saint Petersburg. It is an outstanding city intersected by 100 rivers dividing it into fifty islands. At first, the city seemed incomprehensible with its hundreds of bridges over rivers, many of which look the same. I wandered the city streets before drawing a map starting from the Hermitage Museum. It is the second largest museum in the world after the Louvre, and it is soon to be the third after the Grand Egyptian Museum. The Hermitage overlooks a river, and in the background there is a grand square. In this place, the Bolshevik Revolution broke out in 1917, ending the Tsarist era and ushering in the Soviet one. Close to the other side of the palace, the prestigious Saint Petersburg University is located with its 12 buildings and renowned academic and architectural history. In my next tour in Saint Petersburg, I saw models of long-range intercontinental missiles in a military museum. Moreover, I saw – from the outside – the famous shipyard where the well-known nuclear icebreaker Arktika was built. This icebreaker sails using two nuclear reactors and it can navigate through ice up to almost three meters thick. Moscow says that it is the most powerful icebreaker in the world. The same shipyard is building two new icebreakers operating on nuclear energy. Before, icebreakers were of a civilian nature, but some of them now are being built for military purpose. The military icebreaker has a tugboat and frigate equipped with winged Calibre missiles and it can stay in the water for two months. Close to the shipyard and icebreakers, the Russian State Museum of the Arctic and Antarctic is situated, where everything related to the exciting Arctic area is displayed. Tourists can take a voyage to the North Pole from Saint Petersburg, after arriving first at the city of Murmansk, which is called the North Pole Gate, and going on board an icebreaker. The cost of first class in this voyage is about $30,000. The Russian National Arctic Park is the most sought-after spot in “Arctic tourism” in that distant part of the world. The road from Saint Petersburg to the city of Peterhof motivated me to meditate. Here were the sites of World War II battles. While walking around the Peterhof Palace garden, I listened to the female tour guide give an explanation of how statues were uprooted and buried under the ground lest the Nazis destroy them, and how the restoration began in 1945 and continues to this day. The Peterhof Palace overlooks the Gulf of Finland. The scene is boundlessly marvellous, as if beauty is competing with itself. Within these captivating surroundings, political issues succeeded in pushing the enjoyment into the realm of ideas and taste into meditation. I remembered reading several times about what is taking place and what may take place in the Gulf of Finland; about ships, submarines and aircraft and signs of cold war in this area, then about probabilities of an ice war that all the parties are getting ready for. The North Pole, as a solid snowy region, was present in literature more than in politics. However, there is a new thing that began to emerge. The temperatures went up in 2019 – according to the American National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – recording the highest temperature degree in the North Pole throughout history. There has been unprecedented melting of ice in the Greenland Sea. By 2030, the Arctic Ocean will be iceless during the summer season. In 2018, a ship navigated through the North Pole in winter without an icebreaker for the first time. The ship was sailing with liquid gas. Russia seeks to make this a main shipping route for transferring natural gas, which will save a third or more of the time taken now. China isn t far from what s going on, for its scientists have been experimenting for years in the South Pole. There is a Chinese elite that acquired awesome knowledge in the science of ice , which witnessed huge advances following the development of the contemporary Arctic studies. China has established the Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration (CAA). In September 2019, it suggested that there should be international cooperation in the North Pole under the title “the ice and snow economy.” In October 2019, China inaugurated the first locally-made icebreaker. Japan is sceptical about China s intentions and sees that it is already building a “Snow Belt around the Silk Road” with the aim of reaching corridors and resources. In parallel with the Chinese-American interest in the North Pole, Russia has strengthened the fleet transferring liquid gas through the Arctic by adding a number of tankers. Moreover, Moscow has started with other partners to build a plant for the liquefaction of natural gas in the Gydan Peninsula in the Arctic. In May 2019, the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation announced the renewal of 19 military airports in the Arctic area after it enhanced the Arctic Air Defence system by installing missile launchers that function in -50 °C temperatures. Washington is watching all this with dissatisfaction. The US, which did not ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, does not want that the North Sea Route to be an internal Russian strait, but an international strait. Since there is no international treaty that governs the Arctic security like the Antarctic Treaty, and Washington has plans to militarise the North Pole and engage in big arctic wars if it does not succeed in getting adequate benefits. Energy experts estimate the amount of natural gas and oil in the Arctic to be more than $30 trillion, which makes everybody salivate at the prospect. Brigadier General Jeff Mac Mootry, the Dutch Marine Corps director of operations, said, “I call it Cold War 3.0.” With the talk of a “third Cold War”, the cold in Peterhof became unbearable. I left the Gulf of Finland in great astonishment: the melting of the ice was transformed from a disaster into an opportunity. The environmental crisis was changed to a field for investment. The economy was defeated by Global Warming. The supporters of life were beaten by the oil companies.
Since the year 2007, Ultras movements have been present in the public sphere and within society as a phenomenon, or a number of movements that have the power to organise collective action, or to influence public opinion. The Ultras movements were a new introduction to Egyptian society and its public sphere on various platforms. There are two main aspects that need to be addressed: the pattern of public presence is the first, and the interaction with the state is the second. Ultras movements in Egypt were intertwined with a number of factors that had an influential effect on those movements presence within the public sphere. In 2007, former virtual groupings of football fans were transformed into organised entities, to introduce a new culture and change to the one already existing within football cheering traditions. The core concept is belonging to an entity and not to a player, or a club president. In Egyptian football, this was a significant change, because the culture of cheering for was for many years governed by various traditions and practices. The concept of finding an identity through football was not present within the culture of cheering in Egypt before 2007. This transformation created some alterations in the place of football fans in the public sphere, and indeed expanded their influence as a social group. The emergence of Ultras movements, and their ability to use public space, and the increasing number of members during the years 2007-2011, attracted attention from both state and society. The police are the entity responsible for securing fans at football matches in Egypt. The increase in the use of public space by the Ultras movements, and the creativity within chants and repertoire, created a violent and contentious relation between the Ultras movements and the state. The clash and intersection with state institutions added a political dimension to Ultras movements. They became more aware of political events, and more willing to participate in events of collective action. By the time this situation was instilled in Ultras movements, the January 25 Revolution came, with all the adjustments it brought to the public sphere in Egypt, and the Ultras knew how to use those adjustments. In the 2011 Revolution, Ultras movements took to the streets in response to a political call for mobilisation (something they hadn t done before), and also relied on the mobilising capacity they possessed as a social movement and the close networking members had with each other. For example, on 28 January 2011, the internet was cut by order of the government, and mobiles did not work. The Ultras, however, because of their close networking and their regional spread, were able to communicate with each other across the geographical diffusion. Ultras movements in Egypt are organised according to a geographical catalogue. For example, Ultras Ahlawy or Ultras White Knights (the biggest two Ultras groups in Egypt) are organised in the pattern of a grapevine. As soon as decisions needed to be made for collective action, local groupings called meetings to decide issuing a call for mass participation. Movement committees in different parts of Cairo, for example (Abdeen, Helwan, Madinet Nasr, Al-Marg, and other neighbourhoods in Cairo), called for meetings to take a political decision for the first time in their history as an organised social entity. The interesting point within this scene is the fact that none of those meetings came out with tangible decisions or a concluding statement. This in return means that Ultras movements could not, at the time, reach a collective consensus over their participation in the political realm. The Ultras, however, took to the streets and dominated a slice of the public sphere during 2011, and the consecutive events that followed. At that point, the movements went through a clear phase of politicisation via participation in collective action in a time of collective tension. After the ouster of Mubarak, they were not a favourite faction of the state; their actions, pattern of presence and activities contradicted much with political will of the regime at that time. Their model of social work led to several confrontations between the Ultras and the state at a time of political instability. The concluding question is, after this brief explanation, how the matrix of football (including the Ultras movements) transformed over recent years, since 2011. What we witness today within the Ultras scene is very different to 2011, whether internally within the movements, or externally within the state. The nexus between these parties has significantly changed, and as a result, patterns of interaction have changed too. Recently, fans were allowed back into stadiums during football matches in limited numbers, ranging from 5,000 to 10,000 in African tournaments matches. The return of the fans raises more than one point for discussion and poses more than one question. Ultras movements were officially dissolved during 2019, but their culture of cheering remains present. In other words, the organisational entity no longer exists, but the mentality and the collective behaviour remain the same. Ultras movements were robbed of their organisational presence, and their mobilising capacities. However, the Ultras mentality still dictates their collective behaviour. They remain practically active within the public sphere and remain argumentative. With the return of fans to the stadiums, one must ask, what do Ultras movements signify today to both society and state? To society, the Ultras are still a platform of identity to lots of people, despite all the events that happened within these movements in recent years. To the state, de-politicising the Ultras movements is a precondition to bringing back fans to stadiums. For Ultras groups, changing the pattern of public participation is the answer for a phase of reconciliation with the state, and hence, a re-entry into the public sphere. And the final question is, are the Ultras social movements or pollical opponents to the state and the political regime? I believe that Ultras movements were politicised by accident, at a time that witnessed political mobility that Egypt did not know before. What is happening now is an attempt to remove the political dimension from factors that form the collective identity of Ultras groups, to bring them back to being social organisations committed to supporting the football clubs to whom they relate, as mere football fans. What needs to be mentioned is the fact that Ultras movements were never political entities; they never had any political thinking or political agenda. They were only politicised due to the course of specific events, and the prevailing political context. Therefore, the Ultras are mere social movements and not political opponents to the regime that seek a presence to start a political challenge.
The days of this week started with love and concluded with humanity. We have seen live examples of love, humility, and generosity in the love of Egypt. The start was on Friday, February 14th, which marked Valentine s Day, and it was a special day for the Egyptian community in Australia, which welcomed the presence of Egyptian guests in their humanitarian mission to support the poor of Egypt. The great writer and th