The coronavirus epidemic is a global public health crisis, and was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization after it spread from Wuhan, China and reached the vast majority of the world s countries. While the world is struggling today to contain this pandemic that caused the death of thousands and disrupted economies worldwide, another battle has emerged that may be even fiercer. Its parties are the major global powers where the pandemic posed internal and external challenges, and they are still exchanging accusations, blaming each other for the virus. Since the beginning of the crisis, US President Donald Trump seemed to hold the Chinese authorities responsible for the spread of the virus that was first discovered in Wuhan, central China, taking every opportunity to refer to the virus as the “Chinese virus.” Even though he faced harsh criticism for racism, over time the term “Chinese virus” started gaining momentum in American circles, given that China has acted irresponsibly when they left the door open for the virus to spread all over the world . As for China, the pandemic was an opportunity to enhance its image in front of the world, and Beijing showered European countries fighting the virus with aid as part of a diplomatic campaign to win alliances and portray itself as the world s savior. However, in an unwelcome transformation, China is facing today a clear strategy to raise blame and suspicion against it from several countries, which in turn might undermine China s aspirations to become a global economic and political power. Doubt cast cloud over china Nearly four months after the emergence of the novel coronavirus, new reports appear accusing China of contributing to the spread of the virus. Some even mentioned that Beijing allowed it to spread to demonstrate the country s power to the world, while others openly insinuated that a Wuhan laboratory is the source of the virus. This controversy is no longer limited to media articles, but has also appeared in statements on the highest levels. During a press conference, for example, President Donald Trump stressed that his country has started a comprehensive investigation to find the source of the virus, a fact that was confirmed by CNN when it reported that American intelligence is investigating on this matter. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also told Fox News that Beijing is required to disclose everything they know about the spread of the novel coronavirus, particularly hinting at the responsibility of Wuhan Institute of Virology, where the virus first appeared. The main American narrative came in a Fox News report that there was a certain way through which the virus may have been leaked from a laboratory in Wuhan, where the virus first appeared in late 2019 while researchers in the laboratory were studying coronavirus in bats. Then, the narrative claims, the Chinese government covered up the incident by blaming the seafood market and refusing to allow an independent investigation. European accusations seem less severe than their American counterparts. However, regardless of how the virus started, European governments criticize China for lack of transparency, withholding information, failing to announce the true scope of the epidemic, and hampering the world s ability to respond to this pandemic in time. This position was emphasized by the French President Emmanuel Macron in an interview with the Financial Times, when he mentioned that there are gaps in China s management of the novel coronavirus crisis, and that “there are clearly things that have happened that we don t know about.” He also pointed out that in democracies that guarantee freedom of information and expression, crisis management is transparent and is subject to discussion. Thus, Europe believes that the Chinese authorities have exposed the world to dangers to public health and economic turmoil, which is not entirely separate from blaming it for being the source of the virus. However, China denies these accusations that the virus was designed in a laboratory, or that it was a natural virus but they allowed it to spread, and China s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian said “I d like to remind you that the WHO has repeatedly stated that there is no evidence showing the virus was made in a lab.” China bears legal liability With the outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan at the beginning of the year, Chinese authorities made a clear and deliberate disinformation campaign regarding the virus. Countries of the world agree that it could have been possible to save China and the world from thousands of deaths if China had acted openly and in accordance with its legal obligations as one of 194 countries included in the International Health Regulations of 2005, which requires China to provide information to the international community to aid in understanding of the situation and its potential public health impact. Article six of the regulations stipulates that “a State Party shall continue to communicate to the WHO timely, accurate and sufficiently detailed public health information available to it,” in order to prevent the spread of epidemics. There is a growing agreement among Republicans and Democrats in the United States that the Chinese government bears liability for the spread of the virus, since China withheld fundamental information for weeks, during which other countries could have adopted measures that contribute to preventing the spread of the virus. More than a month after the crisis started, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused the Chinese government of still withholding important information. These accusations became more credible in early April, when the CIA questioned Beijing s official numbers on the extent of the virus spread in China. Moreover, many people in the United States and the world want to hold China accountable judicially. For example, Director of Government Relations at the Berman Law Group and former Florida Senator Joseph Abruzzo said, “This could have been contained while Chinese officials instead attempted to put a positive narrative on the unfolding epidemic for China s own economic self-interest.” For his part, the co-founder of the group, Russell Berman, indicated that the Chinese government is a defendant in a class-action lawsuit and should pay huge compensation to the United States and the American people. Also, the British Henry Jackson Society issued a report in which it demanded that China should — pursuant to international law — pay US$6.5 trillion for hiding the initial information related to the virus, which resulted in more than 165,000 deaths so far and the loss of trillions of dollars on the economic level as a result of the lockdowns in place in most countries of the world. According to the British newspaper Express, Germany sent China a €149 Billion bill (around $160 billion) for coronavirus damages so far. The list also detailed the German losses as: €27 billion charge for lost tourism revenue, up to €7.2 billion for the German film industry, a million euros an hour for German airline Lufthansa and €50 billion for German small businesses. Australia did the same when Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton called on Chinese authorities to disclose information about the source of the virus. He also mentioned that the virus has killed 60 Australians, that hundreds of infected people are in critical condition, and that all of those families would demand answers and transparency. He added that, “It s not too much to ask […] So I think it is incumbent upon China to answer those questions and provide the information so that people can have clarity about exactly what happened because we don t want it to be repeated and we know this is not the first instance of a virus being spread from the wildlife wet markets.” China may lose its status as a superpower Many assumed that the chaotic response to the virus in the West might allow China to advance in creating a vacuum in global governance, as this pandemic demonstrated the failure of the American administration to provide any meaningful international response. It also reflected the European Union s preoccupation with domestic response only, which may provide an opportunity for the Chinese authorities to exploit the situation. In addition, these conditions provided an opportunity to China to rewrite the narrative of the novel coronavirus outbreak, in an attempt to distance itself from criticism of its initial attempts to cover up the outbreak, and to pretend to be ready to save the world based on its successful experience in controlling the virus. But these attempts proved to be premature, and it may negatively impact China, leaving it in isolation and removing trust in it — the trust that China needed decades of gradual progress to build within the international community until it rose to the rank of the second superpower in the world. This may also significantly affect the reforms that lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese people out of poverty and helped China ascend to the global stage. All these achievements and their results would not have been achieved without the engagement and support of the international community. Indeed, this trust was undermined as accusations against China grew regarding the coronavirus pandemic, and these accusations may end the leading role China played in the world for nearly 30 years. The consequences of China s handling the pandemic are already beginning to appear. In Britain, prominent conservative figures are calling to rethink Britain s efforts to strengthen ties with China, and these calls are demanding that the British government not allow Huawei to obtain rights to build infrastructure for 5G technology — which the United States has always been against, accusing the company of spying for the Chinese government. Similarly, European and Australian governments rushed to prevent Chinese companies from buying assets cheaply amidst economic meltdowns, and Japan explicitly allocated $2.2 billion to help Japanese companies move supply chains out of China. Finally, at a time when many expected that the “post-Corona world” might be led by China, global developments show that such an assumption was premature, and the reality is that the coronavirus crisis demonstrates a rapidly changing situation in the world. When China appeared as a savior of the world, and its diplomatic and media campaign began to bear fruit, its plan backfired. Today, China is facing an unprecedented historical challenge that will not only affect its global image and reputation, but may also go beyond that and China becomes required to pay hundreds of billions of dollars in compensation to the world. Perhaps the coming days will be darker for China s interests, especially as countries are looking for the source of the virus. Here, the most important questions are: Will the Arab countries join the list of claimants for compensation of trillions of dollars, or will they remain neutral? And will China yield to global pressure and pay those trillions that took them many years to collect, thus causing China s “economic miracle” to be set back for twenty years?
In relation to the article “Coronavirus: Spain s failed response to the pandemic” in Al-Ahram Weekly of 16 April, I would like to make some comments that I think were overlooked in your analysis. No doubt, Spain has been particularly affected by the Covid-19 epidemic. For weeks, our infection rates and deaths have been painfully high. Covid-19 hit Spain early. Our country s high level of economic openness, and its leadership position in international tourist flows (82 million tourists in 2018), may explain this. However, the quick expansion of the pandemic was due to some cultural and social characteristics of Spanish society, which also conditioned the way we faced the pandemic. These include a mild climate that favours social activities outdoors even during the months of January and February and the essential role of the family and respect for the elderly. Twenty per cent of the Spanish population is over 65 years of age. We rank sixth in the world in life expectancy, partly because of the quality of the healthcare sector and our people s trust in it. When Covid-19 hit us, it was clear that it was the elderly who were being more affected. Given the high mortality rate observed, many went to the hospitals as soon as symptoms appeared. Indeed, for two weeks we had our ICU units and our hospitals crowded with more patients than available beds or ventilators. And many had to sit or lie in lines waiting in difficult conditions. It is true that other healthcare systems that do not admit old people in ICU units have seen more success in avoiding oversaturation. We resorted to building temporary hospitals in sports or convention facilities to accommodate all those who needed care. And because of this generous policy, we have had many cases of men and women over 70, 80, and even 90 years old recovering after weeks of having occupied an ICU bed. As Spaniards, we feel both happy and proud of this. And I don t think you can call that a “failed response.” As the pandemic became known, and as early as February, Spain started following the guidelines established by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and took measures accordingly. On 14 March, only two days after the WHO had declared a global pandemic, the Spanish government decreed a state of alarm that included the strictest policies of confinement and social isolation. Along with them came measures to supply the necessary materials and equipment to face the epidemic, the adoption of a social plan to try to mitigate the negative effects of the stoppage on citizens, and compensation and stimulus measures for economic actors. After a huge financial effort, the quantity of material and sanitary equipment multiplied. Protective equipment for health professionals, such as masks and gloves, was purchased. There were large numbers of donations of ventilators and other equipment. Yes, we might have done some things wrong in this process, but the pandemic was something new to everybody and the demand for some of the sanitary goods required was high on the world market, and they were sometimes difficult and expensive to acquire. But the government was always transparent about this, just as, painful though it was, it decided to be straightforward in informing people about the numbers of infected people and of deaths. And it did so inform them with absolute transparency. So much so that sometimes the numbers were corrected upwards when new facts were discovered. We have counted not only people who have died in hospitals, but also those who have passed away in nursing homes, and even at home, not having had the chance to go to a hospital. We have shied away from the semantic dispute of whether they had died with coronavirus or of coronavirus. This has been a tragedy, and we have tried not to forget any of our citizens who have suffered or have passed away. They have all been counted as victims, our victims, of the pandemic. I think we can say, taking into account today s perspective, that it certainly was not a “failed response” considering that no hospitals have been saturated, the number of patients cured is higher than the newly infected ones, and pharmacies have had access to the medicines required. Many industrial companies, such as Seat, have halted their usual production and, with the collaboration of all their staff, have adapted their production lines to the mass manufacture of the necessary products to face the pandemic, such as masks, protective equipment for professionals in the healthcare sector, chemical products used for hygiene purposes, medications, respirators and so on. Also, a plan has been approved aiming to create a social and economic shield to limit the consequences of the economic slowdown and to lay the foundations for a fast and vigorous recovery while protecting, at the same time, the most vulnerable, families, workers and companies. EVOLUTION OF THE CRISIS: After more than a month and a half and despite the rapid increase in the number of infected people at the beginning of April, there are signs that we are stabilising the evolution of the epidemic. According to the health authorities, we have reached the peak of contagion. From 15 to 25 March, the average increase in those affected was 20 per cent. As of Sunday 26 April, and despite the heartbreaking death toll, the growth rate of those infected was 0.8 per cent, which confirms that the curve of contagion has been flattened thanks to the effectiveness of the measures adopted since 15 March. Last but not least, since 24 April the number of patients who have recovered per day (3,105) is higher than those who have been infected (2,796). The Spanish government just last week delivered to the Autonomous Community more than 750,000 rapid test kits for Covid-19, reaching three million units since the beginning of the crisis. SOCIAL MOBILISATION: In addition to the measures adopted by the authorities, the social reaction to the Covid-19 epidemic must also be highlighted. The first reaction of solidarity was the daily tribute of the Spanish population to the health professionals who were in “the front line of the battle” every day at 8:00 pm. Another form of solidarity has been the immediate offer of aid and donations made by large companies, SMEs, sports clubs such as Real Madrid or Barça, athletes, writers, singers and anonymous citizens to support the fight against the pandemic. An example of such solidarity and effectiveness is the Amancio Ortega Foundation, the founder of the Zara brand, which during the month of March donated a large amount of medical supplies, including 1,450 ventilators, three million test kits and three million masks. We should also not forget the role of the army, which has deployed 7,000 soldiers throughout the country. Members of the military have set up several field hospitals and have contributed to the construction, working against the clock, of a hospital in a convention centre near Madrid that was set up in 18 hours by the Military Emergency Unit (UME) with the help of dozens of volunteers.
When faced with an ever-changing and faceless adversary, how is public policy to respond? The pace at which the COVID-19 pandemic is developing continues to leave policy-makers struggling with this question. There exists more than just a deadly connection between the virus and the equally pervasive pollution that plagues our towns and cities, and devastates our natural habitats, on land and at sea. Beyond the countless deaths caused by both, clear lessons can be taken from this crisis and act as a guide now and in the future as we tackle others. Global pandemics, climate change and pollution may move in accordance with set patterns, but they cannot be contained by national frontiers. Any international response must look to include everyone, for any individual nation left behind creates a potential weak link for all. For this reason, we applaud the European Union s Green Deal for its scope, ambition and success in bringing on board the entire EU bloc. The wider Euro-Mediterranean area, with its own unique and acute challenges regarding health and the environment, must follow a similarly comprehensive model, whilst never forgetting that the asymmetry that exists between resource and capacity distributions will require different kinds of commitment from all players involved. Just as health professionals have led the fight against COVID-19 and epidemiological experts have influenced decision-making, this current pandemic must represent a new norm. Scientists and the research they conduct needs to be at the heart of policy development. They have already demonstrated the deadly link between pollution and COVID-19 that needs to be considered when we plan our response. Long-term exposure to harmful particulate matters caused by pollution, namely PM10 and PM2.5, leads to adverse outcomes amongst citizens with common respiratory diseases. COVID-19 has been proven to specifically trigger respiratory diseases putting these patients in one of the groups most at risk.Preliminary empirical evidence based on 3,000 recorded cases across Italy identified a significant correlation between long-term exposure to particulate matter and the spread of COVID-19 contagions and deaths. Similar evidence has been put forwardby a Harvard study on around 3,000 US counties. The Mediterranean is no exception andthe need for a regional approach is essential if it is to combine two of the lessons that have been reinforced during the current crisis: the importance of being united in both commitment and a reliance on scientifically driven solutions.Fortunately, progress here is already being made as the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) is providing the space and the forum to first agree and then act on the region s most pressing environmental priorities with integrated, long-term strategies. Warming 20% faster than the global average, according to the first-ever scientific report on the impact of Climate change in the Region developed by MedECC with the UfM support,the Euro-Mediterranean region has now also unfortunately become one of the epicentres of the COVID-19 outbreak. Around 94% of primary and secondary particulate matter emissions emanatefrom human activity and in particular from our choices regarding heating, transportation, energy sources, heavy industry and agricultural production.If we want to create resilient societies after the pandemic, we must attainstrong fiscal support for green investment – dematerialisation, digitalisation, energy efficiency – startingwiththe most severely hit and more polluted areas that are disproportionately home to the least affluent communities. Air pollution is estimated to cause around 7.2 million deaths per year, 1.6 million of which are from pneumonia. But these figures also reflect a cruel link between environmental degradation and injustice: about 90% of pollution-related deaths occur in regions with low or middle incomes. Just as COVID-19 has reminded us that our region is only as strong as its most defenceless citizens, our resolution to tack pollution must recognise the same.
In last week s column, I cautioned that in the face of the severe economic dislocation currently experienced by so many families across the United States, we could expect to see the emergence of a number of political and social movements. Shocks to the system always result in such reactions. Sometimes these will be spontaneous, while in other instances they are fomented. And sometimes they are inspired by what Abraham Lincoln called “our better angels,” while others are led by those who prey on the fear and anxiety created by the dislocation. We may have seen the beginning of one type of response this past week as right-wing media figures and organizations called for demonstrations in state capitals. They were demanding an end to the emergency lockdown measures that had been ordered to control the spread of the Coronavirus. The protesters carried signs decrying the lockdowns, playing on themes of freedom and individual rights: “You can t quarantine the Constitution;” “My rights don t end where your fear starts;” “My rights Trump your fear.” Signs supporting President Donald Trump and “Make America Great Again” were also prevalent. For his part, President Donald Trump encouraged these protests issuing, in rapid succession, a number of tweets reading “Liberate Minnesota,” “Liberate Michigan,” and then, ominously “Liberate Virginia, and save your great second Amendment. It is under siege” — targeting only states led by governors who are Democrats. This was a classic Trump and Republican tactic — shifting the blame to the “establishment” and decrying lost freedoms at the hands of those in government. In this instance, however, such an approach seemed ironic since Trump now heads the federal government, and he, himself, has issued orders promoting lockdowns. The President also took another page from his tried and true playbook by preying on his supporters fears and resentments. In just the past week, he incited against China (which he holds singularly responsible for the virus), Muslims (whom he suggested were being accorded special consideration not given to Christians and Jews), immigrants (whom he charged were taking jobs from Americans) and, of course, Democrats (who were accused of threatening individual freedoms). It appears, in all of this, that the president and his party want to repurpose the tactics they used with some success after the great recession of 2008-2009. Back then, they also incited against foreigners (focusing on immigrants, who the party claimed brought crime and stole jobs from citizens); Arabs and Muslims (who were said to be threatening American values and security); Blacks and Latinos (whom the GOP claimed were receiving unfair advantages) and the Democrats efforts to expand health care coverage (which they charged would place health care in the hands of big government bureaucrats). These tactics worked, creating the mass movement that ultimately gave rise to Trumpism. In the process, Republicans were able to turn many white middle-class voters, who felt ignored, betrayed, and anxious about their futures, into a base of support for economic policies that went against their own self-interest. During the last decade, while Republicans were spreading this divisive message of fear, Democrats failed to find an effective response. They did project high-minded slogans — “We re Stronger Together.” They advocated complicated policy goals — immigration reform focusing largely on the undocumented, and a trillion-dollar, job-creating infrastructure program. And they intensified and updated their fundraising and social media strategies. In all of this, they succeeded in energizing what had become the Democrats support base of minority, young, and educated women voters. But they failed to erode the support for Trump and Trumpism. In fact, the way Democrats went about approaching these issues may have served to exacerbate the national divide. Three examples are worth noting: During the entire debate over immigration reform, I pressed the White House and Democrats to expand the discussion to include immigrants from other regions of the world. For example, official tallies show that there are tens of thousands of Irish, Polish, and other Europeans who are undocumented. Why are they not, I asked, included in our discussion? My appeal fell on deaf ears and the issue continued to be presented as if only Latinos had a stake in addressing this concern. In 2014, following the Democratic Party s devastating losses in the November mid-term elections, the party s pollster made a presentation to a DNC executive committee meeting. His upbeat message was that, despite the losses, there was good news in that election because we maintained the support of the party s base — minority, young, and educated women voters — we just didn t win enough of them. The solution he proposed was to expend more resources to expand turnout amongst these “critical base vote groups.” When I asked what were we doing to reach white middle-class voters in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin — where we had lost significant support — he responded: “We aren t going to throw money away going after folks who aren t ever going to support us.” I replied that if that was to be our approach we were being as divisive as the Republicans. Reflecting this same mindset, recall Hilary Clinton s dismissive comment in which she referred to Trump supporters as “a basket of deplorables.” That expression provided Republicans with a hammer with which to pound home what they said was Clinton s elitism and contempt for the white middle class. We can see in the protests against the Coronavirus lockdowns the unfolding of a strategy that once again preys on the same fear and resentment. Those who are organizing these rallies know exactly what they are doing. And many of those who are demonstrating are most likely hardcore haters — the waving of Confederate flags and some of the signs and paraphernalia being distributed at these events make that clear. But they are only the vanguard — the messengers of a strategy designed to reach a larger audience of Americans who feel threatened by economic ruin, ignored by elites, and are frightened for their future. What is required is a counter-strategy that speaks to the “better angels” of all voters. It should be a message that is inclusive and respectful and speaks to every component group in society that is hurting. It should reflect an understanding of their hurt and even their anger at losing their jobs and the resentment they feel at living isolated from their families and friends. It should be as value-based and as challenging as Franklin Roosevelt during the Depression or Winston Churchill during World War II. It should be both explanatory and visionary, continuing to explain why the burdensome closures are needed and coupling this with a positive vision of the future, contrasting it with the dystopia that awaits us if these precautionary measures aren t sustained. And finally, this response should be both personal, and universal, identifying a victim or hero whose personal story can be elevated to a larger-than-life narrative that inspires hope, promotes empathy, and renews confidence in government. I firmly believe that those who are being preyed on with anger, fear, and resentment will respond to a message that speaks to them with concern for their families, empathy for others in need, and concern for the common good. But to win their support, they must be addressed with respect by messengers they can trust. It s a tall order to be sure — but the crisis in which we find ourselves and the expected reactionary response we see already unfolding before us demand more than just business as usual. While we can t set a timetable for when a vaccine and/or cure will be found, given the work of medical researchers, I feel certain that this will be done. What s not certain is the type of society and government we will have when this crisis is over. That is the challenge we face.
Watching President Donald Trump wrestle with this epic crisis reminds me of the old fable about the Scorpion and the Frog. You ll remember that the scorpion asks the frog for a ride across a river, only to sting the frog when they are midway across. When the startled frog asks why the scorpion would repay his kindness so cruelly and kill them both, the scorpion shrugs. "It s my nature." Trump could have made this unparalleled and agonizing trial for our country an occasion for personal triumph — if he were only able to take the personal out of it. But that is not his nature. This moment of extraordinary pain and crisis calls for steadiness and sobriety; empathy for the widespread pain and suffering of others; absolute transparency; a willingness to listen and learn; and rigorous, disciplined attention to detail. None of these qualities are within his nature. Many governors across America have enhanced their popularity simply by doing their jobs during this deadly outbreak of the coronavirus. Even in a polarized nation, it might have been the same for Trump if, from the start, he had leveled with the country about the nature of the threat, followed expert advice and made the case for the painful and decisive steps required to save lives. But that s not his nature. Instead, the President spent six weeks dismissing the threat and offering false assurances as public health experts frantically warned what was to come. Trump ostensibly feared that an acknowledgment of the severity of the virus and the draconian steps required to protect Americans would tank the stock market and the economy, which he had hoped to make the springboard to his re-election. So he insisted on an alternative storyline. At the end of January, the President issued what we now know was a porous ban on travel from China, assuring that this would protect the nation against the invasion of what he later branded the "Chinese virus." US cases would not surpass 15, he said in February, even as some public health experts warned of a potential pandemic. "Miraculously," he suggested with a flourish, the virus could just fade away with a change in the weather. As Covid-19 had begun its deadly march across the nation, Trump was accusing Democrats and the media of politicizing the disease in what amounted to a Coronavirus "hoax" to damage him. While some governors were mobilizing against the threat, the President sent the nation and federal bureaucracy the opposite signal, delaying the necessary steps, which cost the nation valuable time to gird for the battle and deepened the crisis. Since the day he finally recalibrated, appearing at the podium in the White House briefing room in March to declare war on Covid-19, the President has spent most of his briefing time spinning his administration s uneven and tardy response (which he rated a 10 out of 10) rather than giving the American people the sober and accurate assessment they need. He has denied making dismissive statements about the virus which the entire world heard and has refused to acknowledge where he and his administration have fallen short. Truth and accountability are not his nature. Americans of all stripes are bound together by a common calamity, hungry for a unifying leader who will rise above partisanship. But that is not Trump s nature. He has suggested that governors, desperately asking the federal government for more testing supplies, were acting out of political motivation. Trump is who Trump has been from the beginning of his long career in the public eye: a super narcissist and shameless self-promoter, unwilling to accept responsibility or the truth and unable to think about anyone but himself. If he had been more in this historic moment, it would have done so much to strengthen his brand and his prospects of reelection -- not to mention comfort his wounded country. But it is no surprise that he could not. It s just not his nature.
Some 4.5 billion people around the world are still living in either partial or complete lockdown, or in self-isolation in the framework of governmental efforts to contain the global coronavirus pandemic. Governments have been fully-mobilised to reach this challenging goal, though the German government announced Friday, 17 April, that it had successfully brought the pandemic under control after the numbers of those infected is less than those cured of Covid-19. In other European countries that have been heavily affected by the pandemic, like Italy and France for example, it seems that the curve will be flattened very soon, if it has not already reached this stage. Denmark decided to resume schools and other commercial activities gradually while remaining vigilant. On the other side of the Atlantic, the US administration of President Donald Trump opted for an early resumption of work, leaving it to state governors to make the decision according to the prevailing situation in each affected state. Initially, President Trump, in one of his daily briefings, said that he is the one who has the authority to decree a return to normal life; however, this claim was widely disputed. The US president had to make a U-turn under pressure from both Democrats and Republicans. The politics of fighting the coronavirus, nationally and internationally, has become a serious challenge in its own right — a situation that has hampered, so far, a concerted international effort to formulate a common action plan to deal with the virus. In countries that will go to the polls sometime this year, like the United States that will see presidential and congressional elections, the politics of the fight against the pandemic has had two results. The first is the political manipulation of national efforts to bring the pandemic under control, and the second is the exacerbation of political divisions. The United States is a case in point. Both congressional Republicans and Democrats have not succeeded to pass a second financial rescue plan for small businesses which were allotted $250 billion in the CARES law. On the other hand, President Trump, in a highly problematic appeal, asked his followers to “liberate” three states — Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia — from their respective governors, who are all Democrats. Democrats accused him of fomenting a “civil war” in America. In response, he doubled down on his unprecedented demand. Some pundits offered an explanation for such a grave appeal. With 22 million Americans filing for unemployment benefits, the US president is afraid to lose the November elections to the candidate of the Democrats, most likely former vice president Joe Biden. So, he is pulling all the stops to have a good chance of re-election. Not only national politics has fallen hostage to the virus but also international relations, too. A case in point is rising tensions between the United States and some Western countries and China, that stands accused of wilfully manipulating official information concerning the extent of the pandemic, and the numbers of those affected and those who died because of Covid-19. The Central Intelligence Agency is investigating the matter and the cause of the coronavirus. The late announcement by Chinese authorities on Friday, 17 April, that there had been a number of virus-related deaths that were not reported immediately, has given ammunition to Western leaders who have accused China of being responsible for the pandemic and of not sharing information in a transparent way. President Trump is one of those leaders who has gone as far as accusing the World Health Organisation of collusion with the Chinese government. Of course, Beijing insists that it shared with the world all information concerning the coronavirus as hit the country. These differences among two permanent members on the UN Security Council have impeded international efforts to pass a resolution by the council on the coronavirus. This paralysis has demonstrated the lack of political will within the council to overcome any differences of opinion as to the origin of the virus in order to formulate guidelines to fight the pandemic, and earmark enough funds to help the international economy and trade navigate successfully this situation, unprecedented since the Great Depression of 1929. Henry Kissinger, former US secretary of state and former national security adviser under the Nixon and Ford administrations, predicted that generations to come will pay the price of this pandemic. This is, probably, the reason why the world badly needs an international mobilisation to coordinate policies and raise enough financial resources to help the most affected countries to cope with the catastrophic financial cost of fighting coronavirus. In the last few days, international officials have warned that Africa could be the next place where the pandemic will ravage many poor communities and countries. They estimate that African countries will need billions of dollars to deal with the coronavirus. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have jointly earmarked the sum of $52 billion for Africa, a quarter of what is needed. On the other hand, G-20 member countries have agreed on a deferment plan for the poorest countries which are heavily indebted. The foreign debts of the emerging and developing countries stand at $11 billion, and the interests due on this staggering amount of debt is $3 billion for 2020/2021. Given these figures the question of debt forgiveness should be looked into with the hope that creditor countries and international economic and financial institutions could come up with an ambitious and far-sighted plan in this regard. If not complete forgiveness, then partial, that would cover half the foreign debts incurred by developing countries, particularly the poorest amongst them, could cushion not only the indebted governments from insecurity and instability, but also the international system as a whole. In a belated move, 13 countries released a joint statement Saturday, 18 April, in which they stated, “it is vital that we work together to save lives and livelihoods”. The group committed to coordinate with other countries on “public health, travel, trade, economic and financial measures in order to minimise disruptions” and “to recover stronger”. The group includes Britain, France, Indonesia, Mexico, Morocco, Peru, South Korea, Turkey, Canada, Brazil, Italy, Singapore and Germany. The group of 13 emphasised the need for global cooperation to ease the economic impact of the coronavirus. This is a statement of political will to cooperate in order to mitigate the destabilising consequences of the pandemic. However, it lacks specifics, which is the most important part.
At no time should the United Kingdom regret Brexit as its two largest trading partners, the European Union and the United States, are courting her and stand ready to take thee for better or for worse. The truth is that the EU will never leave the UK in the wilderness. The former is even willing against all odds and contrary to the conviction of Boris Johnson to extend the 2020 deadline on withdrawal negotiations for an extra two-year period. The Trump administration makes similar courteous attempts to lure the UK in sealing a free trade agreement, as it believes the UK could serve as gateway to Europe. Today, the UK is in a challenging situation having to choose between the two giants. Failure to reach an agreement with the European Union will have far-reaching negative repercussions on the British economy, as nearly 50 per cent of UK exports go to European markets, which makes reaching a preferential agreement with the EU indispensable. On a different note, the UK does not hide its interest to conclude a comprehensive free trade agreement with the US, because this means an open market for its goods and services also to Canada and Mexico, which form with the US a broad free trade agreement (USMCA). Furthermore, in light of the outbreak of the trade war between the US and China in the summer of 2018, Mexico is about to become a potential alternative to China and a likely destination for American companies. The UK s attachment to the US camp means its assimilation into new production chains to compensate potential losses in European value chains. It is not easy for the UK to win over both of these partners, as they are often in stark contrast to one another. The sharp disparities and inconsistencies between the EU and the US will force the UK eventually to choose one over the other. The two differ in laws, standards and rules, which are even in some instances inconsistent with one another. Trade disputes between the two giants are multiple in front of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) dispute mechanism. The latest of these conflicts started recently by France aimed at imposing a tax on the profits of giant technology companies like Google and Amazon. Such an attempt forced the US into threatening to retaliate in turn by imposing high tariffs on French wines. Moreover, the two differ in the levels of protecting the privacy of Internet users and personal data. As it is becoming more conservative, the EU raises the echelon of protection. This will force companies focused on personal data, such as Google and Facebook, to change their business models in the future, a trajectory they dread taking. These problems and others are minor when juxtaposed with the problem of genetically modified food. While the European consumer continues to refuse to import or market such foods, the US does not distinguish between the quality of genetically modified and unmodified food, as the former is widely distributed on the shelves of American supermarkets. The US considers the rejection of the EU — based on the precautionary principle — as an unjustified barrier without scientific evidence. The precautionary principle is inconsistent with the rules of the WTO, which stipulates the use of technical rules based on valid scientific evidence and not based on the principle of precaution. Given the UK s need for both trading partners, the challenge to the British prime minister in manoeuvering between the EU and the US is formidable. He must prove his ability to obtain the best deal from both partners, which is not easy. If together with the EU he agrees to extend the withdrawal negotiation period to secure a balanced deal, this will hinder the conclusion of an FTA with the US, which means the UK will lose the balancing “Trump card” to mitigate the repercussions of its exit from the EU and the ensuing possible disadvantages. Furthermore, the EU will stand in the face of any manipulation by the UK prime minister and will not tolerate his endeavours to converge with the US at the expense of the union and its member states. Alternatively, while the UK is attracting the interest of both giants as well as many others, having signed to date over 40 free trade agreements, Egypt seems indifferent to the UK s potentials as a self-determining and autonomous state. While this seems understandable today, as countries turn their full attention to fighting Covid-19, Egypt is not among the first countries to have signed an FTA with the UK when the time was more propitious and the UK approached Egypt to sign an agreement. The agreements between the UK and its partners aim at maintaining preferential treatment and ensure smooth sailing and continuity of trade relations. While grappling with its agreement with the EU, the UK cannot alter, in the transitional phase, the terms of the agreements with its partners from the ones applied within the EU. This will only be possible after the transitional period expires, whether in a year or three, if extended after January 2021. The million-dollar question is why Egypt should be interested in signing swiftly an agreement with the UK. British investments in Egypt total around $5.4 billion, which represents 41 per cent of total foreign direct investment inflows, meaning the UK ranks first globally in terms of FDI in Egypt. Furthermore, trade exchange between Egypt and the UK stands at over $3 billion yearly, facilitated largely by the EU Association Agreement with Egypt. If Egypt does not sign an agreement with the UK, WTO regulations will apply, granting Egypt the treatment of a most favoured nation. Egypt will lose its preferential treatment and will have to pay tariffs on its exports to the UK. Acknowledging mutually beneficial relations between the two countries, Egypt and the UK must expedite the signing and ratification of an FTA, if the former wants to extract the maximum benefit from its relation with the UK and ensure continuity of trade between the two countries on the same preferential grounds prevailing between Egypt and the EU. Today s agreement with the UK will be confined to trade in goods; however, we must anticipate in light of the increasing importance of trade in services that we will eventually negotiate a full-fledged agreement after the transitional period. It is of utmost importance to start promptly closer cooperation with the UK to boost our services sector, thus enabling us to enter African markets from a position of strength within the framework of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). Egypt should follow the lead of other African countries, which were unhesitant to sign FTAs with the UK, such as Morocco and South Africa, to lay the groundwork for trilateral cooperation between Egypt, the UK and Africa. This falls jointly within the scope of the two governments policies towards Africa. The UK can be instrumental in supporting and developing the necessary infrastructure for manufacturers and investors. Egypt should lure British manufactures to cooperate with it to penetrate new African markets and compensate for the possible loss of EU markets. Egypt should attract the UK as a leading economy after Brexit, so that the UK continues to invest in Egypt and accedes jointly in African markets, in order to benefit from AfCFTA.
The announcement by credit rating agencies Standard & Poor s (S&P) and Moody s of maintaining Egypt s outlook at stable, keeping their ratings unchanged, could not have come at a more opportune time. As Minister of Finance Mohamed Maait said earlier this week, the credit rating reflects the confidence of international institutions and credit rating firms in Egypt s ability to deal adequately with the Covid-19 crisis. It goes to show, like the minister said, that the economic, monetary and fiscal reforms adopted since November 2016 helped strengthen the economy to cope with internal and external shocks. Economists agree: if it had not been for the role of reforms in stabilising the economy, things could have been much worse. All indices are looking good. Unemployment fell to 7.5 per cent, its lowest level in 30 years, in the second quarter of 2019 compared with 13 per cent six years ago. Foreign reserves recorded more than $45 billion compared to $17 billion three years ago. The country s budget deficit came in at 8.2 per cent of GDP for fiscal year 2018-19, compared to 10.9 per cent in 2016-17 and 12.5 per cent the previous year. Egypt welcomed 13.1 million tourist arrivals in 2019, and revenues from the sector grew to $13.3 billion, compared to $11.6 billion in 2018. According to the minister of tourism and antiquities, the number of tourists who visited Egypt in January and February this year was the highest in the history of tourism in Egypt. This indicated that 2020 would have been very promising for the country s tourism industry. The devastating effect of the global lockdown and social distancing measures could have far reaching repercussions on the economy. Remittances, which represent 10 per cent of GDP, are expected to be affected by the drop in oil prices and employee dismissals. Tourism, which makes up five per cent of GDP, has ground to a halt. And the slowdown in global trade will reflect on Suez Canal revenues. But although the government is aware that the virus is a threat to gains made throughout the past three years, it is not dwelling and is acting proactively to contain its effects. The rolling out of measures to help those most affected and easing the burden on industries are part of a comprehensive stimulus package to boost the economy in times of crisis. S&P, which has affirmed its “B/B” long- and short-term foreign and local currency sovereign credit ratings for Egypt, said the stable outlook reflects its expectation that the fall in Egypt s GDP growth will be temporary, and the rise in external and fiscal imbalances will remain contained. It also said it expected external and government debt metrics to gradually decline from 2022. Moody s has kept Egypt s credit rating at B2 with a stable outlook. It said that ongoing fiscal and economic reforms will support gradual but steady improvement in Egypt s fiscal metrics and raise real GDP growth. The ratings are reassuring to investors, especially at a time when growth forecasts are being slashed. The International Monetary Fund has calculated a two per cent GDP growth in fiscal year 2020 and only a slightly higher 2.8 per cent for the following year. And despite these forecasts being a far cry from the 5.6 per cent expected in the current fiscal year, Egypt remains much better off than the negative forecasts for most of the Middle East and North Africa oil importers, as per IMF figures. While the exact impact will depend on the duration of the crisis and when the virus can be contained, the government is doing the right thing in prioritising human life, regardless of the cost. As the IMF said in its April 2020 Regional Economic Outlook report, “In the current circumstances, the immediate priority should indeed be to save lives, protect the most vulnerable and safeguard critical economic sectors, including through outright support to the financial sector, as needed. Fiscal policy should accommodate urgent spending needs, particularly to support emergency services and enhance healthcare infrastructures.”
“Once we OPEN UP OUR GREAT COUNTRY, and it will be sooner than later, the horror of the Invisible Enemy, except for those who lost a family member or friend, must be quickly forgotten. Our Economy will BOOM, perhaps like never before.” — Tweet from @realDonaldTrump, April 8, 2020. Along with the childish exaggeration and capitalization and the gross insensitivity to those who have lost loved ones, this tweet is dangerously naïve in its assumption that after the coronavirus runs its deadly course we ll all just get back to our “normal lives.” In addition to the profound structural changes that this pandemic is already producing in our social, economic, and political spheres, equally concerning will be the psychological impact of the trauma and general unsettledness resulting from all these changes. It is our reaction to this shock that will ultimately shape how we view our lives, understand our world, and deal with challenges in the post-pandemic order. We ve seen this repeatedly play out in human history, including here in the United States. During the last century, the impact of two World Wars and the Great Depression resulted in severe social and economic dislocation – which only later spawned profoundly transformative movements. Both World Wars, for example, fueled intense xenophobia and nativist movements that caused enormous suffering for millions of immigrants and their descendants. As massive numbers of young men went off to fight in these cataclysmic conflicts, women entered the workplace to fill the jobs left vacant. At the same time, Black Americans migrated north in search of employment. New industries and cities grew as the wartime economy flourished to meet the needs of a burgeoning military. When the wars ended and “Johnny came home,” many were shaken by trauma, lost, and unable to return to normalcy. Those who were able to go back to work ended up displacing the women and Black Americans who had filled those jobs – thus planting seeds that would later grow into the women s movement and the northern civil rights movement. At the same time, the dislocation brought on by rapid urbanization, especially in the South, gave rise to a uniquely American form of religious fundamentalism. The trauma brought on by the Vietnam War also had a severe impact. The pain of loss in that war still haunts the lives of survivors and their families and, for a time, psychologically damaged returning veterans swelled the ranks of the urban homeless and addicted. In addition, the controversy fomented by this unpopular war created a deep divide in American society. On one side stood flag-waving “patriots,” while on the other we saw the emergence of a counter-cultural movement that challenged and transformed American cultural mores. These divisions have continued to haunt the “Vietnam generation” until the present day. We needn t, however, go back to last century s World Wars, the Great Depression, or the War in Vietnam and the transformations brought on by these unsettling “shocks to the system.” Instead, we can look to the impact of the more recent Great Recession of 2008-2009 as a case in point. In late 2008, a sudden financial collapse wreaked havoc on the American economy. Banks were closing, major industries were in danger of collapse, and the financial markets were plummeting and in disarray. In a matter of just a few months, middle-class Americans saw their pension funds depleted, unemployment doubling, and one-in-five homeowners threatened with foreclosure. The immediate impact was in evidence in our polling. Up until that time, when asked what we call the “American Dream” question – “Will your children be better off than you are right now?” respondents would answer “Yes” by a margin of two-to-one. Now, the tables had turned and by the same two-to-one margin Americans were answering “No.” What was fascinating was that in the November 2008 election, voters responded not by recoiling in fear but with hope for the future by electing Barack Obama as president. Republicans, however, sensing an opportunity, preyed on the vulnerabilities of the traumatized middle class. They launched, funded, and organized the “Birther Movement” and the “Tea Party” exploiting racial resentment (their “go to” tactic since the days of Richard Nixon s “Southern Strategy”) and fear of immigrants and minorities, especially Arabs and Muslims (which they had cultivated in the wake of 9/11), and the mistrust of government (that ironically grew as a result of the dishonest and failed wars led by the Bush Administration as well as its disastrous bungling of Hurricane Katrina). It might very well be said that the seeds of “Trumpism” were planted in this period. But what is important to remember is that while the GOP planted the seeds, it was the traumas from 9/11 through the Recession of 2008/9 that created the fertile ground enabling them to grow and bear their bitter fruit. In the midst of this current crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, we are witnessing yet another traumatic shock to the system. Signs of unsettling dislocation are everywhere: unemployment is skyrocketing; schools, businesses, and churches are closed; many small businesses are shuttered, never to reopen; a “wartime gig economy” of individuals providing needed services is flourishing; candidates for elective office have been forced withdraw or alter how they reach voters, elections are being postponed, and political conventions canceled; city centers have become ghost towns with many workers, obeying lockdown orders, now teleworking from home; essential services are strained to the breaking point; and the government is taking on massive new debt in an effort to forestall economic collapse. Millions are living in forced isolation and the strains and fears of the illness and economic uncertainty are taking a toll. One day we may discover an effective way of treating this virus and/or a vaccine to protect us from it. At that point, the lockdowns will end, and we may return to work. But will we, as some naively predict, go back to living as we did before? Or will the changes we are now experiencing, transform the way we conduct our lives? There have been a number of thoughtful essays about what the future will hold for our economy and our social and political institutions. They are fascinating and the discussion they are prompting us to have is an important one. But aside from the structural changes that may occur, what concerns me here is the impact that this trauma will have on our collective psyche. While we cannot predict where this will lead us, we can be certain that the shock and fear created by the pandemic are once again plowing fertile ground for future social and political movements. How long it will take for them to ferment; how many of them will emerge; what their messages may be; who will lead them; and how effective or long-lasting their impact will be – this we cannot predict. But what we should know is that we will not just go back to where and how we were before the pandemic
Recently, the ongoing concern about the coronavirus pandemic taking over the world and the damages it may cause in the near future has led to the inability to control societies and individuals; our minds and hearts became preoccupied with this. However, our obsession with the virus has overshadowed our thinking to the point that it invaded our minds before our bodies to an illogical degree, and even limited the role of the majority of us to just staying at home. That is why I found it my duty to draw your attention, dear reader, towards a very important topic that has always gripped me and occupied my mind, until it became one of my top priorities and goals, something I aspire to offer to help contribute to the progress and advancement of nations and societies: The youth and their potential. I have often been asked about the reason for my keen interest in the youth, and why I exert most of my efforts towards discovering, generating, and developing their potential energies. My answer was always somewhat different each time, depending on the situation and to whom it was addressed, but the heart of what I say has always been the same. My vision is that the youth are the most important pillar on which society is built. Their potential represents a generation with broad knowledge, full of renewal, eager for achievement, and waiting for the opportunity to show the world its creativity and capabilities. Indeed, youth is a fundamental stage in a everyone’s life, starting from realizing the nature of oneself and building personality, defining intellectual, ideological, professional and social identity, until reaching maturity and many years of progress, achievement and contribution to building society and preserving its continuity. Therefore, the youth represent the backbone on which humankind has depended at all times, as they are link between the old and the new. Just like a relay race where the youth receive the baton from the previous generation to complete the mission until it is time to hand over the baton again to the younger generation that comes after them. Obviously, I do not deny the importance of the role of the previous or later generations, but it is just like what happens on the race track, as the youth represent the runner who is holding the baton, the one who the crowds encourage and cheer for until he finishes his distance. As it appears, the predecessor received his share of contribution and attention, and the successor will be waiting to play his role. It is very often the case that the stage of youth is accompanied by the qualities of juvenility, modernity and activity. This really gives it a great importance in my view, because renewal is what gives something new to the spirit, which is what humanity is in constant need of to make revolutions that change its course, in order to achieve progress and sustainable development. The biggest proof of this is that currently, the biggest companies in the world — companies such as Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, and Disney, which have radically changed our lives — were founded by people who were in the prime of their youth. They have been successful and contributed to making our lives different the better, which allowed us to make progress on the path of development. In this context, an important question arises: How do we define the stage of youth, and for how many years does it extend? Some say it spans from the age of 15 to the age of 25, while others say it extends into one’s thirties. However, I think it is unfair to restrict the spirit of youth to a certain period, because this stage is not associated with age. Rather, we can call people young when they have certain qualities such as liveliness, activity, peak of giving, productivity and intellectual creativity, and this, in my view, is what makes it the most important stage of life — in my opinion, the dominant stage. Therefore, we need to exert tremendous effort to take care of the youth, to try to embrace their potentials, invest their creativity, and push them to more contribution depending on what each of them excels at. If we want to talk about the ways and methods to build strong, intelligent youth, we will find ourselves facing many fields and domains that will need many more articles. Therefore, I will very briefly touch on two important domains: The Educational Domain: The stage of youth usually begins while a person is still pursuing their education, and here we should mention that choosing the one’s college major is of vital importance, and requires the person to be very careful. How often do we see young people who give up before completing their education, and are unable to move forward because they did not make the right choice? How often do we see young people who finished their education and began their professional life, only to find themselves working in a field completely different from their academic specialization, either because they could not use what they have studied, or because they lost the desire to work in the field they studied in? There are many reasons that may contribute to such problems, such as trying to satisfy the desire of one’s parents or society when choosing a major, or hastiness and not thinking carefully when choosing a field of study. Such important decisions must be studied carefully and cautiously, while making the true desire of the young person the foreground, apart from the desires of others or society’s stereotypes about each major, not forgetting to consider all possible options. However, I am not encouraging the youth to make this important decision by themselves without seeking advice from their parents, experienced people or advisers. Rather, I am calling on them to be honest with themselves when choosing, not paying attention to the pressures imposed on them, but taking advice and listening to the opinions of those around them who have sufficient experience on this matter. The Professional Domain: The importance of the professional field lies in the fact that a young person starts becoming productive and puts their mark on their community or the world when they enter this stage. There is no doubt that the youth around the world — and especially in the Arab world — suffer from unemployment, which is an unjustified waste of our most important fortune. We cannot blame anyone in particular for this problem, or even suggest a solution that is limited to a specific category of people. Such a problem falls on the youth themselves when they decide to sit idly by and wait for job opportunities to come to them without persistence and searching for what they aspire to. It also falls upon communities and governmental bodies that do not invest and employ these potentials as they should. By this, we find that creating opportunities to employ the potentials and experiences of the youth in a way that fits their ambition, while also providing supervision, support and care, is what leads to continuous creativity, and satisfactory results in changing all aspects of society for the better. This will contribute to the development of our youth, and thus the development of our societies. Based on that, dear reader, I must draw your attention to the necessity of giving the youth the confidence they deserve and treating them as people who are able to take care of themselves and their society. Confining the youth to certain tasks, forcing them to stay away from responsibility, and forcing them adhere to the ways of older generations cannot produce a generation characterized by innovation and creativity. What we need to do now is to provide an appropriate platform through which the youth can demonstrate their achievements and experiences to the whole world. But unfortunately, there is no Arab platform that unites the potential of Arab youth. That is why you see many of our young people dream about traveling abroad to study or work — because they find it a better opportunity to improve their lives. And as a result, we lose many indispensable young talents and capabilities. Giving the youth confidence and support is what enables us to see positive outcomes, greater impact and more creativity from our youth, all of which drives our societies forward. Finally, I call on our youth — and the world’s youth — to seize this stage of their lives and to be honest first of all with themselves, and then with those around them. I also call on them to look within themselves in an attempt to recognize what really sets them apart from others, to begin to develop their experiences and skills, and to offer whatever they can to their societies, which need them, especially in these times. I also call on those responsible for the youth to pay attention to them, listen to their opinions and ideas, and try to use them appropriately. The problems and challenges facing our societies may be many, and getting rid of them may not be easy, but with continuous and honest work, we can overcome them in order to advance our nations and the whole world. Just as the idea of change and determination begins with the individual, bringing about change requires collective efforts to make it a reality. The key to the success of this change is the youth, who must not forget that God has created each of us with something special. Trust yourself and do not let daily events affect you. Choose your friends carefully, because friends are mirrors to each other. Stay away from negative people and always look for the positive. You should know that successful people work hard and with determination to achieve their goals.
Addis Ababa claims that Egypt is an intransigent country that refuses to allow Ethiopia to exploit its own water resources and build dams with the aim of achieving development and generating electricity for the poor Ethiopian population deprived of services. Furthermore, Ethiopia claims that under the previous regime, relations between the countries witnessed a lack of cooperation, provoking internal unrest, while the truth is that Ethiopia realised great gains during this period, as Egypt turned a blind eye to the construction of the Tekeze Dam on Atbara River, in addition to the construction of the Tana Belestunnel on the Blue Nile in order to generate electricity and cultivate vast areas of Ethiopian lands. Egypt also agreed that the Nile Basin Initiative would fund feasibility studies of four major Ethiopian dams on the Blue Nile (Karadobi, Beko-Abo, Mandaya and Border) with a total capacity of 140 billion cubic metres, or nearly three times the annual yield of the Blue Nile, in order to expand agricultural land by about one million feddans. In 2008, Egypt agreed that the World Bank would fund the feasibility study of Border Dam with an estimated capacity of 14 billion cubic metres. It is worth noting that after the Egyptian revolution in January 2011, Border Dam was replaced by GERD (the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam) after increasing its capacity to 74 billion cubic metres, and Ethiopia undertook unilaterally the design and construction of GERD without notifying downstream countries or consulting them about its negative impacts and risks. This Ethiopian behaviour towards Egypt in regard to GERD has been always characterised by seizing opportunities and evading any obligations imposed by international law, while no other country in the world pursued this approach except Turkey by building the Ataturk Dam during the period of Iraq s preoccupation with its war with Iran, a dam that deprives Syria and Iraq of most of their historical water share. Similarly, Ethiopia took advantage of turmoil and internal struggles in Egypt amid the 2011 revolution and laid the foundation stone of GERD, announcing the beginning of its construction even before performing the required studies. In spite of this, Egypt willingly entered negotiations over the dam with Ethiopia and accordingly an International Panel of Experts (IPoE) was formed in order to assess Ethiopian studies of the dam and share the results with the countries immediately concerned (Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia). Ethiopia requested that the experts report be consultative and not binding. By the end of May 2013, the IPoE issued its final report which stated that there are many important observations to make regarding the constructional design as well as the hydrological, environmental and socio-economic studies of the dam, which should be started over. In order to consider the recommendations of the IPoE, two meetings of the water ministers of the three countries were held during the months of November and December 2013 where both Ethiopia and Sudan agreed that it would be sufficient to form a committee of national experts from the three countries with the aim to supervise the implementation of the IPoE s recommendations, while Egypt called for the participation of international experts in the committee to ensure impartiality. Unfortunately, the two meetings failed to achieve their objectives and Egypt was forced not only to waive its demand, but also to accept the Ethiopian request "not to conduct dam safety studies through the committee." Meetings continued to select an international consultant to conduct the required studies without any results on the ground, even after the three countries signed the Declaration of Principles in March 2015. In 2016, the three countries agreed to contract two French consultancy firms (according to Ethiopia s desire). The consultant submitted the inception report, but Ethiopia rejected it and suggested to form a scientific committee that comprises academics from the three countries in order to work instead of the consultant! Egypt went along with the Ethiopian request, which intended to exclude the participation of any international experts who might condemn the Ethiopian side for the massive repercussions of GERD on Egypt and Sudan. The scientific committee did not succeed to reach any agreement between the three countries, and Egypt announced the failure of negotiations and resorted to request international mediation. The United States with the World Bank agreed to supervise the negotiations with a view to reaching an agreement concerning the filling of the dam and its operation. Subsequently, serious scientific and technical negotiations took place through several sessions where dam filling and operation rules were agreed upon. However, disagreements emerged on both operational rules and how to settle disputes that may arise during the filling or operation of the dam, as well as the means of coordination and application of the rules agreed upon in this agreement. The United States and the World Bank drafted a compromise agreement regarding these differences, to be discussed during the last round of negotiations. Egypt initialed the agreement, while Ethiopia was absent from this meeting under false pretences. It then refused to continue negotiations under US and World Bank supervision. Ethiopian behaviour of assuming absolute sovereignty over its resources, including shared international rivers, is a public policy applied with neighbouring countries Kenya and Somalia, a clear example being the case of the Omo River shared between Ethiopia and Kenya where Ethiopia had constructed a series of dams to generate electricity, cultivate large areas of sugar cane, and build sugar factories without taking into account the interests of Kenya. The Omo River has historically flowed into one of the most beautiful African lakes, Lake Turkana in Kenya, a habitat for rare wild animals and a source of fish wealth, drinking water and agricultural water for local people. The river dried up, which drove its local population to migrate. Similarly, Ethiopia built a series of dams on the Ganale Dawa River, which is the source of the Juba River that flows into Somalia and into the Indian Ocean, causing great problems for the citizens of Somalia, taking advantage of instability in this sister country. In recent weeks, Ethiopia revealed its true direction after nine years of fruitless negotiations by declaring that any upcoming discussions should include allocating an Ethiopian water share from the Blue Nile, through the application of the rules stipulated in the Cooperation Framework Agreement, which is also called the Entebbe Agreement, neglecting the fact that both Egypt and Sudan are not part of this agreement and have concerns about it. Furthermore, Ethiopia has no hydrological relationship (from far or near) with the countries of the Equatorial plateau. Last, but not least, Ethiopia recently announced the reduction of the number of turbines in the GERD to 13 instead of 16, so that the capacity of the power station is less than 5,000 megawatts, thus reducing the maximum water discharge of the dam by about 20 percent, which will have negative impacts on Egypt and Sudan. It is worth noting that this new power capacity could have been produced through the construction of a smaller dam of no more than two-thirds of the current dam s capacity, which confirms that the real goal is to build the largest possible dam to block water from Egypt until it has to agree to a compulsory water share for Ethiopia. After all the previously mentioned encounters, and after the fact that Ethiopia has unilaterally announced that it will start filling GERD this coming July, what guarantees does Egypt have as to the seriousness of any further negotiations with Ethiopia?
A succession of international appeals has urged the need to see the universal challenge posed by the Covid-19 pandemic as an invitation to allow reason to prevail in order to bring to a halt the futile warfare in Libya, Syria, Yemen and other conflict zones in the Middle East. If asolidarity is what ordinary societies need now more than ever to fight the lethal virus and then struggle to resume normal life, war torn societies will require even greater collective resolve and more determined steps to achieve peace before it is too late. Most recently, the UN secretary general and his Middle East envoys called on all concerned parties “to engage, in good faith and without preconditions, on negotiating immediate halts to ongoing hostilities, sustaining existing ceasefires, putting in place more durable and comprehensive ceasefires, and achieving longer-term resolutions to the persistent conflicts across the region”. The appeal needs to be followed through immediately with practical steps undertaken by the UN in coordination with major powers in order staunch the bloodshed and halt the squandering of vast sums of money and resources on conflicts in the Middle East. In this regard, the Arab Coalition s recent ceasefire initiative in Yemen is a step in the right direction. Channels for dialogue, negotiation, mediation and other peaceful means to reduce tensions and resolve disputes may not always be immediately within reach, but the perpetuation of the pandemic and the spectre of the total collapse of health and security systems in societies already afflicted by conflict do offer a platform for international groups and mechanisms to set to work to reach peaceful settlements on new foundations that prioritise humanitarian concerns in the available options. Without effective communication across the divides of conflict, no effective challenge can be mounted to halt the spread of the mysterious virus and it will be impossible to share already scarce resources in societies torn by civil war and strife. There are urgent priorities that need to be observed in conflict zones. These include enabling medical and relief teams to reach internally displaced persons, refugees, civilian communities under siege and other intended beneficiaries among the victims of the destruction and deprivation caused by war. Another urgent priority is the need “to facilitate the safe, voluntary and dignified return of refugees and internally displaced persons to their homes through urgent, effective and meaningful measures”, as the UN envoys to the Middle East called for in their recent message. The need to rise above narrow disputes and conflicts may be a difficult goal to attain in a short time, but the key players in the conflicts in this region have the power to bring conflicting parties to the negotiating table and to encourage them to reach out to each other in order to work together in what has been described the “real battle” for humankind. The longer international powers continue to ignore ongoing conflicts in the Middle East on the grounds that they are too preoccupied with the fight against Covid-19 at home, the greater the risks that this failure will rebound against them. This applies, in particular, to Europe in the event of a massive health crisis in the Middle East which could trigger higher rates of refugees fleeing the claws of death due to the lack of effective health barriers against the lethal virus in their already crisis-gripped societies. Today, the world has the best available opportunity to put an end to the decade of bloodshed that has ravaged Yemen, Libya and Syria, even if some remain blinded by the pursuit of partisanship and narrow interests, preventing them from rising to the responsibility of the real battle against a relentless enemy that threatens all humankind.
While reporting from Israel/Palestine has focused on Israel s difficulties in forming a new government and on measures being taken by Israelis to deal with the Coronavirus pandemic, the story behind the story is the role anti-Arab racism has played in these developments. Anti-Arab racism, which defined Israel s founding and shaped its seven decades of existence, is now presenting the country with a challenge that will determine its future. Racism is the reason why the Blue and White bloc led by Benny Gantz was ultimately unable to form a government, thereby giving Benjamin Netanyahu yet another term as Prime Minister. While the Gantz-led anti-Netanyahu forces won a majority of seats in the Knesset, 15 of those 61 seats were held by the Arab-led Joint List. After Gantz was given the nod to form a government, Netanyahu intensified his campaign of anti-Arab incitement against Gantz claiming that partnering with the Arabs was akin to making an alliance with “terrorist supporters.” In doing this, he was taking a page from the playbook he and the late Ariel Sharon used in the mid-1990s to incite against then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. They called Rabin s government an illegitimate “minority government” because he relied on Arab Knesset Members to reach a majority. They also called Rabin a terrorist supporter and denounced the peace accords he reached with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. It soon became clear that Gantz did not have the votes he would need to form a government since 10 of the Jewish members of his putative coalition refused to consider forming a government that relied on Arab support. Seven of this group were from the YisraelBeiteinu party – which has called for “transferring” Israel s Palestinian Arab citizens to the West Bank – while the other objectors were from Gantz own party. After still more twists and turns, Gantz surrendered to Netanyahu, agreeing to form a coalition government with Netanyahu as Prime Minister. While all the terms of the coalition have not yet been nailed down, one early concession made by Gantz has been to accept Netanyahu s demand for Israel to formally annex the Palestinian territories Jordan Valley and the settlement blocs that Israel has built on occupied Palestinian lands. There are two new arguments being made by pro-annexation Israelis. The first is that because Donald Trump may not be reelected in November, Israel must act by summer s end to ensure U.S. support for the move. The secondis that with the new coronavirus wreaking havoc across the Middle East, fortifying the West Bank s Jordan Valley is important to protect Israel from disease and chaos that may occur in neighboring Jordan. This latter argument is both explicitly and implicitly racist, in that it makes the case that, to ward off complications that come from next door, Israel must annex the West Bank, thereby consolidating its repressive Apartheid-like hold over a Palestinian Arab population that is roughly equal in numbers to Israel s Jewish population. To understand the future being envisioned by Israel s right-wingers, one need only look at the recent policies being pursued by Netanyahu s interim government toward Israel s Arab citizens, who are 20 percent of its population, and the more than 4.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. At the end of March, Israel opened drive-through coronavirus testing stations throughout the country. None, however, were initially placed in Arab communities. When Israel finally established lockdowns to control the spread of the virus, the lockdowns did not include Arab population centers. So while Israel s Palestinian Arab citizens are on the front lines fighting the pandemic – about one-fifth of all Israeli doctors and one-quarter of all nurses are Arab – their communities are horribly underserved. Experts therefore dismiss reports indicating low infection rates among the Arab population since these most likely are the result of a lack of testing. According to an Israeli press account, as of early April, only 6,500 Arab citizens of Israel had been tested as opposed to over 80,000 Israeli Jews. The situation confronting Palestinians in occupied territories is, of course, significantly worse owing to the persistence of the occupation. The Israeli military continuesviolent nightly raids on Palestinian towns and villages – more than 200 in the last month alone. These raids are accompanied by beatings, shootings, and arrests of scores of Palestinians. Added to this are the unchecked incidents of settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank. These have also accelerated in recent weeks – with 20 especially violent attacks occurring last month. There are also reports from Israeli human rights groups of Israeli troops confiscating medical supplies and materials that were intended to build a needed field hospital in the West Bank. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority, which is already reeling from economic shortages, will now face the additional hardship of the tens of thousands of Palestinian laborers who have been forced to give up their jobs in Israel and return to their West Bank homes. The conditions to which they were subjected while in Israel had become deplorable as a result of the coronavirus lockdowns. They were denied wages, food, and medical care. And, as they have returned to the West Bank, the number of cases of individuals infected by the virus has risen in the territories. All of this has placed an unbearable burden on cash-strapped Palestinian medical services. Early on, when Israel imported 100,000 Coronavirus testing kits, the Israeli press reported that they sent a few thousand to the West Bank and only a few hundred to Gaza! The result, of course, is that while the virus will spread, and probably already has in the occupied lands, the reported numbers will be low because of a lack of testing. And then there s the problem of capacity. The entire West Bank has about 200 ventilators and Gaza has around 80 ICU beds, 72 percent of which are already in use. The Trump Administration has only added insult to this injury. This week, they rejected an appeal from Congress to send emergency medical support to the Palestinian Authority. At the same time, they found the funds to purchase one million surgical masks and other supplies for the Israel military. In the end, the confluence of anti-Arab racism and the coronavirus pandemic will have consequences. The pandemic knows no boundaries. While the Israeli right wing imagines that annexing and fortifying the Jordan Valley will seal off Israel from disease and chaos, in reality they are sealing their own fate. They are serving to hasten Israel s march to becoming a full-fledged apartheid state, and because the coronavirus does not discriminate, Israel s callous disregard for Arab human life will only ensure that the disease will continue to spread and take an ever-increasing toll on both Arabs and Jews alike.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has had an interesting relationship with President Donald Trump. Longtime friends, who ran against each other for president in 2016, Christie was the first major elected official to endorse Trump shortly after the then-governor of New Jersey dropped out of the race. So, when I sat down with Christie (virtually, of course) for the latest episode of "The Axe Files" podcast, I asked him why the President was so insistent on downplaying the burgeoning threat of Covid-19 for six critical weeks and why the Trump Administration was so slow in responding. "He always believes that by sheer force of will he can change circumstances," Christie told me. "And I think that he was like, OK, if I just go out there, talk this thing down, it ll come down. I think that s what he felt at the beginning. And if he took certain steps like closing travel from China, which he did early on -- one of the real aggressive things he did early; one of the only aggressive things he did early -- I think he thought he could do it. "I think what he s learned in this circumstance is there are some things when you re President of the United States that are beyond your own will to fix." Christie, who was driven out as Trump s transition director days after the election in an out-of-the-blue dismissal he says was engineered by the President s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, also blamed the absence of a strong and experienced White House staff for the delays and early mistakes that set the country back in its efforts to blunt the assault of the coronavirus. He painted the portrait of an insular palace guard who has prevented the President from getting the blunt advice he needs and will trust. "In the end, you need a lot of people to deal with a crisis like this. And if you re doing it right, you have to delegate authority and trust them. And I think that the President s been ill-served in that regard." After dismissing the severity of the threat until mid-March, the president took a U-Turn and assumed the mantle of wartime leader—taking the lead role at daily briefings, carried live in all or part on cable news networks. There is no doubt that this President delights in an audience, the bigger the better. It s ostensibly one of the reasons he has been so reluctant to cede the stage at these daily events, the starting time of which he now heralds each day by Tweet. Last Friday s briefing, which ran for over two hours, seemed for a while as if it might stretch all the way to Easter Sunday. Even in the midst of an epic crisis that threatens the lives and livelihoods of millions, Trump simply cannot refrain from boasting about the enormous TV audience his marathon Covid-19 briefings have commanded. Notwithstanding the fact that anxious people are tuning in for news about the virus, what Americans often get is an orgy of lies, distortions, score-settling and self-praise that may do Trump more harm than good. Christie says he s urged the President to curb these appearances. "What I ve advised him to do is to spend a little less time out there because nothing good can happen after about a half an hour," Christie told me. "One of the things I ve advised him, and he s done it on occasion ... is to speak off the top, take a few questions off the top, then leave the vice president and the experts to take care of the rest of it ... because if you re off stage, they re going to ask those people substantive questions. If you re on stage, they re going to ask you questions that go all over the place." Yet Christie says Trump s uncontrollable penchant to brandish the ratings of his pandemic briefings is only natural for a president who built his following as a reality show star. "A lot of the way he judged his success or failure on his television show, as [is true] with most of the people who participate in that world, is by their ratings. Let s face it, that was a major part of his career for the 10 years before he decided to run for president." And, once again, Christie blamed the absence of a strong and trusted staff to persuade the President to change his approach. "Part of what you need to do, if you had a more experienced and more aggressive staff, is you try to prevent the principal from putting himself in positions where those less attractive parts of their character are shown. ... And I think again, here, with the exception of Kellyanne Conway, I don t think there s anybody in that circle who has both the experience and the type of relationship with the President where they could tell him, no, you shouldn t be doing this." Christie, now an ABC commentator, still talks with Trump, and his insights into the President were candid and plausible. But they also beg a larger question. Every organization reflects the person on top. Donald Trump s staff reflects him. More hard-nosed and experienced staffers are long gone, either expelled for their candor or worn down by the mercurial policy shifts and bombast of a president who insists he has all the metrics he needs between his ears to make fateful decisions. Smarter than the generals, smarter than the public health experts, he runs the show. Just watch the energy that doctors Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx, both experts in their fields, have expended in navigating the President s mind-boggling pronouncements, even as they battle heroically to stop the surge of Covid-19. Their restraint is as admirable as their dedication and rigor. And one can only hope that the virus is subdued before they run afoul of the commander-in-chief. The presidency exposes anyone who occupies the Oval Office, particularly in times of crisis. The problem is that we have a reality show president who has run headlong into a grim reality for which he was ill-equipped and unprepared. You can t spin a pandemic, Mr. President. And the numbers that matter
Albeit described by The Washington Post as “old, inarticulate, uninspiring and gaffe prone”, Joe Biden is today the likely winner of the Democratic Party nomination for the upcoming US presidential elections. According to The Financial Times, polls in March 2020 even show Biden beating Trump by seven percentage points in a presidential race. What would a Biden presidency mean for the liberal international order? Would it make a difference, as far as the status quo in US foreign policy is concerned? Let us turn to Biden s recent article published by Foreign Affairs for answers. Biden s Foreign Affairs article is good news to liberals, among whom Princeton University s John Ikenberry is the most outspoken. In his paper, Biden calls for the restoration of US “leadership”. An ambiguous and much contested term, US leadership, to Biden, as to liberals, means commitment to the liberal international order. This means commitment to key alliances such as NATO, multilateral economic institutions such as the World Trade Organisation and the now gone Trans-Pacific Partnership, and confronting key “illiberal” powers, such as Russia and China and, albeit within the parameters of the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran. Today, this also means gradual withdrawal from the Middle East and the “forever” war on terror. With the exception of commitment to economic multilateralism, Biden s foreign policy outline sounds familiar to anyone who has read Trump s 2017 National Security Strategy. Furthermore, it remains unclear how economic multilateralism would be restored under a potential Biden administration. In his article, Biden says, “I will not enter into new trade agreements until we have invested in Americans and equipped them to succeed in the global economy.” In other words, the state will interfere in the “free market”, arming citizens with what they need to compete, and then open “free trade”. A subtle form of economic nationalism under a Biden administration will apparently save the free market by letting the US, in Biden s words, “sell the best to the world”. This is the foreign policy of liberal nostalgia, which simply overlooks the contradiction between the desire for multilateralism and the reality of economic nationalism. In its pursuit of the latter, in however subtle a form, it represents a foreign policy that Trump would applaud. What explains this continuity in US foreign policy? In some areas, for example in US foreign policy towards the Middle East, particularly towards Iran, US foreign policy remains continuous due to domestic considerations. The Israeli lobby, as Professor Stephen Walt of Harvard University and Professor John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago argued in their book, The Israeli Lobby and US Foreign Policy, plays a major role here. Continuity in US foreign policy in the wider liberal order, however, cannot be reduced to domestic considerations: it is due to a lack of imagination to go beyond liberal principles that, for at least for a century now, proved morally bankrupt. Liberal principles, particularly in the neoliberal age that accelerated in the 1980s onwards, lack moral purpose beyond material accumulation and improvement in hedonistic lifestyles. In the age of the nation state, this causes a contradiction that historians of liberalism and empire are all too familiar with. On the one hand, liberal principles call for “free trade” and the reduction of the government role in political economy. On the other hand, liberal principles reduce international politics to a Darwinian struggle for economic and political competition between governments. In the age of the nation state, where each “people” looks to their national government to provide material improvement, endless accumulation and competition result in “total wars” as seen with World War I and World War II. In short, in the age of the nation state, liberal principles are highly problematic: they result in conflict and violence, only to be tamed by the sheer destructiveness of nuclear weapons as seen during the Cold War. Liberals argue that in the post-1945 order the US engaged in the formation of multilateral institutions that allegedly mitigated the disaster of pre-1945 laissez faire. But the contradiction under liberalism remained. Resurfacing under Trump, it once again challenged these institutions, as seen with Trump s recent challenge to the WTO. Biden s image of peace, like Trump s, is based on the false premise that a “fair deal” for America can save its liberal nostalgia and once again open up free trade. What this premise fails to recognise is that liberalism itself became bankrupt a long time ago. What America faces today is a challenge of imagination: the challenge to imagine a post-liberal alternative; that is, to look forward to a new future, rather than backward to a glorious past. Neither Trump nor Biden are ready to come face to face with this moral bankruptcy of liberal principles in the age of the nation state. Rather, theirs is a foreign policy of “reformation” as Thomas Wright recently wrote in The Atlantic. In an age of impending climate catastrophe and global health crisis, both of which cry for transnational cooperation, this nostalgia is dangerous. It lacks a post-liberal imagination that is desperately needed today. Thus, to answer the question raised at the start: no, it does not make a difference, as far as the status quo in US foreign policy is concerned, whether Trump or Biden is in the White House next year. The only real change can come from a more radical candidate, perhaps a democratic socialist who may challenge the moral bankruptcy of liberalism and, with fresh thinking, ultimately challenge the status quo. Whether this challenge will be successful and steer US foreign policy in a less conflictual direction is yet to be seen.
Many parents and others taking care of children are being asked to do the impossible right now. We must raise our kids in the most terrifying of times. Homeschool them amid the chaos and in many cases work from home while doing it. There is no end in sight and we are not okay. This is what parent burnout looks like in a pandemic. Just weeks ago, we may have been masters at juggling it all, of managing days filled with schedules that were bursting at the seams. Our cars were clocking miles to and from dozens of activities -- virtually all of us unaware it was about to come grinding to a halt. Now, here we are, weeks into quarantine, and it s already feeling a bit like the movie "Groundhog Day." Waking up to a new day and a newly minted attempt at routine to keep some semblance of sanity. Every working parent is between some kind of rock and another kind of hard place right now. I know well that I m one of the very lucky ones to have resources and support. Many of us, myself included, have discovered a shift in priorities that would have never happened without this dark and scary time. We are reevaluating things and seeing what happens when you dedicate time to stillness, uncertainty and family togetherness. But none of that quells the parenting burnout. If there s one thing I ve learned from the countless remote catchups or cocktail hours I ve had on Zoom or FaceTime with girlfriends and what I hear from so many other people on social media and from other parts of life, it s that I am not alone in that. We ask each other how we re holding up or if we completed the daily activities sent by teachers. Others wonder if their children will get a grade or need to repeat next year, some breaking the news to their kids that school is over for the rest of the year. And a sea of stressed parents are doing what we all felt was way outside our job description: acting as schoolteachers. Just over one month ago, I was hosting my HLN show "On the Story." On March 16th, in the interest of keeping HLN employees safe, we temporarily went to taped programming beginning at 10 a.m. to ensure the least amount of people were coming into the CNN center in Atlanta. The way my colleagues have rallied under difficult circumstances is remarkable. I was given everything I needed to work remotely and am now ensconced in what I affectionately call my basement bureau. Now I appear on air with Robin Meade with my kids screaming upstairs while I am barefoot, wearing yoga pants and a bright top to look like I am put together. Spoiler alert: I m not. Then I hurry back upstairs to help my son with his Zoom classes to keep his mind enriched and engaged with his schoolwork. Then, I sneak back into my closet office to write my script for the next day or work on interviews I need for my pieces. No small feat and not executed with anything close to perfection. Just the other day, I did my first virtual interview. I was planning on recording John DeGarmo, a foster care expert on the how Covid-19 is affecting foster children. Sadly, this crisis will likely drive more children into foster care as parents who get sick from or succumb to the disease will be unable to care for their children. DeGarmo noted that while virtually everyone is suffering from stress and anxiety caused by this pandemic, it s likely worse for foster children who may already be coping with dislocation and trauma. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, I could have never conceived of running my own interviews on my laptop in my dining room but there I was -- even logging in early to make sure everything was working right before DeGarmo joined me, since it was my first time doing it. My 4-year-old son chose that time to have one of the many meltdowns that have come with this crisis. I ve had my fair share too. And from the hall I began screaming for him to stop: "Mommy has an interview to DOOOOOOO!!!" Yes, I know he doesn t know what an interview is, but there I was, screaming. That was when I realized that I wasn t alone on the call -- DeGarmo had joined as well. The man who was there to help me tell viewers what children without parents are facing right now had just heard me yelling at my own. Gulp. "Please don t take my children away," I said, only half-joking. He gave me a reassuring laugh and said, "That s parenting in a crisis." He gave me grace, and I was actually able to accept it. It s guaranteed that if you re parenting right now, you have your own version of this story -- of something that you couldn t do right but had to do anyway. I hope that there is someone there to see your burnout and offer you grace too. If there isn t, I want you to know that I see you. There is no supreme act of juggling that could bring all of this into balance. You are doing your best. Bottom line, this crisis -- even as it s gutting us -- has the potential to produce (among the people who are lucky enough to be able to rally) a generation of children defined by their resilience. Helicopter and lawnmower parents are powerless right now to do anything about their children s disappointment about canceled graduations, proms, birthday parties and more. That s terrifying and exhausting, but it should also give us perspective. We cannot shield our children from this crisis, but it s quite possible that because we can t, they will grow and stretch in uncomfortable but meaningful ways. In the meantime, give yourself grace. Remember that you re being asked to do the impossible.
With the coronavirus still wreaking havoc across the country, the Democrats have made the difficult decision to delay the party convention until August. But with Bernie Sanders decision to suspend his campaign on Wednesday and presumptive Democratic nominee former Vice President Joe Biden noting that a virtual convention may be required, a live, in-person convention is no longer necessary. Some party leaders have suggested this is a potential major missed opportunity, but their argument may be flawed. While once providing the most exciting moments in politics, conventions have become a boring, widely ignored event. And if Democrats are strategic about it, canceling a convention could prove to be a strong talking point for the party. Conventions used to be where journalist H. L. Mencken said "one lives a gorgeous year in an hour," as a presidential contender s hopes could rise out of seemingly nowhere, like Ohio Gov. Warren Harding at the Republican convention in 1920, who was in 6th place after the first ballot, but thanks to several smoke-filled room negotiations, won on the 10th ballot. Or conventions could mark the end of a candidate s presidential dreams, like Ohio Sen. Robert Taft in 1940, who was in second place after the first ballot at the GOP convention, but could not consolidate support and lost to Wendell Willkie after six ballots. But no convention has made it past a first ballot since 1952, meaning that the horse trading for the nomination that marked past conventions has stopped. And the last time a convention s delegates made a significant choice on their own was in 1956, when Adlai Stevenson added excitement to the Democratic convention by leaving it to the delegates to choose his vice president, who turned out to be Estes Kefauver. In the years since, though, primaries and caucuses have become the standard method of selecting nominees. By the time party leaders arrive at the convention, the nominees are determined. Now, there are two practical reasons to have a convention -- beyond trying to give a boost to the candidate before the election. First, if no candidate gains a majority during the primary season, the convention delegates would be called on to select the nominee. And while this could happen again, it will likely not happen 2020, since Biden is now the presumed nominee. The second reason is if the presumptive nominee must be replaced due to death, disability or scandal. But this could be handled in other ways, since a candidate could just as well need to be replaced after the convention. This has happened before -- and that example could serve as a model for the Democrats today, should it happen again. In 1972, Missouri Sen. Thomas Eagleton, slated to be George McGovern s running mate, bowed out after the July convention due to revelations that he had undergone electroshock therapy. In that case, the convention was not reconstituted. Instead, the Democratic National Committee held an emergency meeting in August and ratified the new running mate, Sargent Shriver. An official convention meeting wasn t needed to make that change. Conventions today amount to several days of political theater -- and not particularly exciting ones at that. While the candidates may want the convention bounce, polls indicate that the bounce is often a momentary uptick that usually dissipates within days. The value of the convention as a campaign rallying point is, at the very least, overstated. The broadcast networks used to devote four days worth of "gavel to gavel" coverage (all-day coverage) to the convention. But that has been cut back, since viewers are just not interested in watching the spectacle, outside of the presidential nominees speeches. And the ratings of the conventions have wavered over the years. According to Nielsen ratings, Donald Trump s speech in 2016 received an estimated 6 million fewer viewers than John McCain s in 2008. Despite the decreased importance of the conventions, President Donald Trump has insisted the Republican National Convention will take place in Charlotte at the end of August, saying there is "no contingency plan." This gives Democrats a unique opportunity to provide a marked contrast. By skipping a convention and instead holding a smaller event with social distancing procedures in place or even an entirely virtual event, Democrats can show that Biden is willing to listen to scientific authority when American lives are at risk. In short, they may be able to gain some needed popular support by taking people s health more seriously than their Republican counterparts.
Much is still unknown about Covid-19, but one thing is certain: Owning a gun does not make you any safer from it. But that didn t stop the Trump administration from caving to the firearm industry by treating gun store workers just like the real frontline responders-- police, doctors, nurses-- in new advisory guidelines issued to state and local officials that designate who should be allowed to keep working during the pandemic. It is both shameful and nonsensical for the federal government to deem gun stores essential, a special privilege that millions of other shuttered small businesses can only dream about. The argument for keeping grocery stores and pharmacies open during a pandemic is self-evident. People need to be able to access food and medication in order to preserve public health, so it s worth the risk of allowing people to congregate -- while observing social distancing. This calculus clearly doesn t apply to firearm sales. In fact, when you examine the evidence, it s clear that allowing gun stores to stay open in a time of self-quarantine and heightened stress will likely send more people to the hospital just when our medical system is already under unprecedented strain. We only need to look back to the 2008 financial crisis for indications that the economic conditions created by coronavirus could be deadly. Researchers estimate that 4,750 more Americans died by suicide during the Great Recession than would have been expected otherwise, and they attribute some of this increase to rising unemployment. Given that this week s unemployment numbers already dwarf what we saw then, there is good reason to believe that the risk of suicide will rise, and that s even more true for people with easy access to a gun -- about half of all suicide deaths are with a firearm, according to CDC data analyzed by the Pew Research Center. All told, an average of 22,926 people die by gun suicide every year. But firearm suicide is not the only form of gun violence that needs to be considered when factoring in whether to keep gun stores open. At least 4.6 million American children live in homes with unsecured guns, and many of those children are now confined to those homes, with lots of free time on their hands -- and lots of new worries. Recently, a 13-year-old in New Mexico was killed when his cousin allegedly shot him with a gun that the cousin said he brought home to "protect" himself during the pandemic. In addition, parents -- especially parents who own guns -- should be aware that research has shown a link between social isolation and suicide in young people. Those victims of domestic violence who are now staying inside with their abusers around the clock are also at greater risk. Cities across the country are seeing dramatic spikes in domestic violence calls. For instance, as coronavirus cases increased in Tennessee, the Nashville YWCA reported a 55% increase in calls during the first two weeks of March when compared to last year during the same time. And again, the combination of more domestic violence incidents and more guns in circulation is cause for alarm. When a firearm is present in domestic violence situations, women are five times more likely to be killed, according to a study. The first step to reducing these types of gun violence is ensuring that every gun in every home is securely stored. That s why the organization I represent, Everytown for Gun Safety, is aggressively promoting our Be SMART program, which encourages gun owners to keep their firearms locked, unloaded, and separate from ammunition. Unfortunately, such common sense efforts to prevent avoidable tragedies are being undermined by the gun industry, which jumped at the opportunity to exploit the pandemic for every last cent. On the marketing front, they ve been using time-tested fear tactics to drive up gun sales. These days, the National Rifle Association s social media feeds read like something out of a dystopian fantasy novel. According to the gun lobby, we live in "a dangerous world" of "gun-grabbing politicians" and "reported prisoner furloughs," a world where "the 2nd Amendment is often all we have." In a new low, the NRA is using this deadly Covid-19 pandemic to advance its radical agenda and sell more guns. And while the group argues that closing gun stores violates the Second Amendment, there s nothing in the Constitution that says the Second Amendment is a super-right above other rights, or that requires gun stores to be singled out for special treatment during the most serious public health emergency of the last century. On the political front, lobbyists for the gun industry have leaned hard on public officials to let gun stores stay open, and the Trump administration folded like a house of straw. This should come as no surprise -- in 2016, the NRA spent more than $30 million on President Donald Trump s election effort, making the organization the single largest independent outside spender to his campaign. In the years since, Trump has faithfully followed the gun lobby s lead and refused to take major action to prevent gun violence. Luckily, the Trump administration s guidelines for essential businesses that should stay open during the pandemic are only advisory, and state and local officials are free to do what s best for their residents. They should consider that with every additional day that gun stores stay open, the number of unsecured guns in American homes will rise. The risk of those guns falling into the wrong hands is one we simply can t afford. It s time for America s lawmakers to hold gun stores to the same rules as other nonessential businesses, so our nation s doctors and nurses can focus on what is truly essential: fighting the coronavirus.
The world is in the midst of a serious fight against a virus that has wrought havoc on the world economy with grave consequences on the political and social stability of most countries. In the wealthiest powers, for example the United States, struggling against the coronavirus has demonstrated that not every American will have the chance to find quick treatment if he is down on the social ladder. The US administration, in a rare demonstration of bipartisanship, collaborated with both Houses of Congress to pass a bill to inject $2 trillion into the economy. The Saudi government, in its capacity as the chair of the G-20 this year, had called for an emergency summit, through videoconference, 26 March to deal with the coronavirus. Group leaders agreed on a financial package worth $5 trillion for the sake of jumpstarting the world economy. The Arab world has not demonstrated yet a collective will to work as a group of nations to deal with the outbreak. Aside from bilateral contacts at the level of heads of state, no attempt has been made to call for an Arab summit to tackle the pandemic. For example, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi was on the phone with the king of Jordan and the Tunisian president separately to discuss how to coordinate bilateral efforts to better fight the pandemic. The United Arab Emirates sent aid to Iran and Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Zayed called President Bashar Al-Assad last week to assure the Syrian government that the UAE will stand by Syria and will provide much-needed assistance to the Syrian people, and more particularly Syrian refugees and displaced persons. In a war-torn Arab world, a collective response is much needed. No Arab country, save the oil-producing Gulf States, can tackle on its own the ravages of the pandemic. Millions of people are out of jobs and hence a decent income to enable each of them to secure the basic minimums for survival, let alone paying bills and rent. Maybe part of the $5 trillion promised by the G-20 will be earmarked to Arab governments that badly need a strong injection of liquidity to avoid a complete shutdown of their economies. However, this is still to be determined. Moreover, the World Bank decided to provide $160 billion to help the world economy to recover, and the International Monetary Fund has said the most fragile states in the developing world will need assistance among which figure some Arab countries that have suffered tremendously from the ravages of armed conflict, on the one hand, and the failure of revolutions on the other. The pandemic descended on the Arab world when it was least prepared to deal with such an existential threat. And despite the call by the UN secretary general to respect a ceasefire in the Arab countries that are still in the throes of military conflict, the call has not been heeded, regardless of expressions of good will in this regard. On Friday, 28 March, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar of the Libyan National Army threatened to bomb the headquarters of the Libyan Government of National Accord in Tripoli in case violations of the UN-mandated ceasefire are not stopped. The cases of Lebanon and Syria are not dissimilar from Libya. Although Lebanon has not been the scene of armed conflict, its economy was in shambles, and accordingly lacking in financial resources to deal with the pandemic. No Arab or foreign assistance has been promised thus far to the Lebanese government, though there have been press reports that the government is holding talks with the IMF to discuss the modalities of a future assistance agreement. The special representative of the UN secretary general to Syria called for a ceasefire in Syria in order to dedicate all resources, financial and otherwise, to halt the spread of coronavirus. In the case of Syria, the situation could get out of hand if the warring parties don t heed the ceasefire call. The threat in this eventuality will not be limited only to Syria but felt throughout the Levant and Iraq. The situation in Yemen is not much different. Although fighting has abated, relatively speaking, there are no coordinated efforts to face the pandemic. The Arab world is at a crossroads. Not only has it to strive to put an end to conflicts raging within it, but also to deal collectively with the pandemic now, before it gets worse. Strangely enough, no Arab country has called for an emergency Arab summit, through videoconference, to discuss ways and means of enabling Arab governments to work together to contain the pandemic before it spirals out of control. The other question, which is no less important, is a path forward once coronavirus is no longer a public health threat. One proposal in this regard will be for Saudi Arabia, as the present G-20 chair, to formulate, in agreement with other member countries in the group, a financial package for the Arab world out of the $5 trillion that the G-20 decided to set aside to ensure the recovery of the world economy. Similarly, Arab powers, including Egypt, should initiate talks with both the World Bank and the IMF to come up with a special financial assistance plan for the Arab world, with special attention to war-torn Arab countries. These moves would ensure Arab economies don t crash land under the combined weight of two deadly scourges: wars and the pandemic. Add to that the dramatic fall in oil prices which will hamper the ability of oil-rich Gulf countries — if still we can call them that — to provide direct financial assistance to their Arab “brethren”. The situation is not doomed provided there is political leadership to deal with the challenges immediately and forcefully. I would imagine a joint initiative by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE could save the day. There are no alternatives. The status quo could be highly destabilising for decades to come.
If it had not been for the coronavirus that has threatened the lives of millions of people, we certainly would never have seen several unexpected political interactions. These movements, though dictated by the urgency and the seriousness of the virus threat, signal a retreat to the safe haven of human behaviour as opposed to political manoeuvres. Who would ever have expected a long peaceful chat of cooperation between the American and the Chinese presidents, who expected Iran to extend a helping hand to Americans in their fight against the virus, or who expected medical kits to be dropped by Saudi jets over Houthi territories? Is there a light at the end of this dark COVID 19 tunnel… should we expect that? It all depends on learning the lesson of the coronavirus. President Donald Trump, who months ago launched a trade war against China, felt the need to deal with the Chinese, who managed to overcome the dilemma of COVID 19. Trump discussed means of cooperation between the two sides to fight the virus. Surprisingly, his Chinese counterpart was also willing to help by sending medical supplies to the US, saying that we are all just waves in the same sea. Moreover, Trump had put an end to the war ignited between Russia and Saudi Arabia over oil prices which threatened the international economic balance. Within weeks of this war, oil prices fell to $20 per barrel, adding greatly to the economic burden not only of Riyadh and Moscow but to that of other oil exporting countries in dire need for economic stabilisation like Venezuela, Nigeria and Algeria to be able to fight the virus. Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad had also received a call from Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed of the United Arab Emirates, who said that Damascus will not fight the virus all by itself, thereby mending wounds of several years of enmity that shattered the Arab ranks. Meantime, Saudi jets made several trips over the Houthi territories in Yemen, dropping medical kits to help people protect themselves against the threat of COVID 19. And despite the ongoing harsh sanctions imposed by the United States against Iran, Iranian officials extended a helping hand to Americans through the Swiss embassy in Tehran, offering to send a huge number of PCRs to the United States, which in return said it is willing to unfreeze some of the Iranian funds in its banks. These behaviours are human reactions to the virus spread all over the world. People are not only threatened by a death sentence, but even those who survive the fight against COVID 19 will face a new world with giant economic challenges. Rich and poor countries alike will have to face a serious downward trend in economic activities, huge debts, and the heavy burden of the social and medical consequences left behind by the virus. Countries all over the world are fighting on two fronts: COVID 19 and its consequent economic downturn. The virus has left no place for arms races or investing in conflicts around the globe to assume supremacy, or for a cold or hot war over oil prices. COVID 19, if nothing else, has managed to bring governments back to their senses and to realise that conflicts, be they big or small, should be settled peacefully. The Arab world should have also learned this lesson the hard way. They should have learned that the military fronts are not exactly the right place to solve their problems. Weakening the Arab League was not to anyone s benefit. They should have sensed the need for a means to resolve the inter-Arab conflicts by Arab states only, especially those who were not involved in such bloody confrontations like Egypt, which has been calling for peaceful settlements. Now, we have a great opportunity because everyone will be counting their losses and will be busy with making ends meet. The United States will be occupied by the economic aftershocks of the virus and China will be busy pursuing its upward development, and thus we should find our way to the end of this tunnel. Arabs should learn that the world after COVID 19 will have a variety of options, they should find the right connection to keep them away from international polarisation. Arabs should learn how to keep their environment and resources safe for the coming generations. People all over the globe will certainly be working hard to peacefully settle their differences and Arabs should not be an exception. Arabs have the means and history of great civilisations that put them in a better place and to even become the fifth conglomerate on the international arena.
During a White House briefing on March 20, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, respectfully pushed back against President Donald Trump s claim that an anti-malaria drug would successfully treat coronavirus patients. The evidence was only anecdotal at that point, Fauci cautioned. Yet, just this week, the FDA provided "emergency use approval" to prescribe the drug to coronavirus patients. On a different front, Trump said last week that he wanted the nation "opened up and just raring to go by Easter," but later backed off, in part, after Fauci called this an "aspirational projection" and presented him with the likely estimates of fatalities. As these exchanges unfolded in front of the press, it became clear that the President and the nation s foremost public health expert were battling, however politely, over who the American people should trust. While the scales may be tipping in Fauci s favor at the moment, the battle is far from won. The Covid-19 epidemic is a critical moment for the nation s public health experts. It is their credibility, no less than the political leaders , that is now on the line. And after years of declining levels of trust in experts, their handling of this crisis will either mark a restoration of the public s trust in experts -- or be the nail in their coffins. The Trump administration is known for its distrust of many experts. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the administration has sidelined independent experts advice and often created a hostile working environment for government scientists whose research conflicted with its agenda. Defenders of the administration argue that the science in question -- for example, that on climate change and the regulations designed to slow its pace -- is inconclusive and that they are merely encouraging an intellectually honest approach. Yet it is hard to find many mainstream scientists who agree with that argument. None of this is particularly surprising. Populists like Trump often detest experts. They call them "elitists" and "globalists" -- and imply that experts cannot be trusted. The irony of this moment -- with a world under siege by a lethal virus -- is that the legitimacy of populist politicians now depends on the professionalism and competence of the very experts they have denounced. Yet skepticism about experts predates the Trump administration. One survey, documented in an Administrative Law Review paper, found that trust in the US Food and Drug Administration declined from 80% in the 1970s to 36% in 2006. And the assessments of experts regarding climate change, environmental pollution or vaccines have been fiercely contested for years. In other words, there is a systemic crisis of mistrust in experts. While it has multiple causes, it can be traced principally to interaction between two factors. First, experts are called upon to provide advice on contested matters that advantage some groups, while disadvantaging others. For example, when the FDA fast-tracks approval of one drug, it can enrich a pharmaceutical company and its investors -- as well as benefit a specific group of patients. At the same time, rejection can bankrupt another company and deny the hopes of other patients. In such a scenario, those who find themselves on the "losing" side may grow distrustful of the decision makers. Second, unlike the exploratory nature of basic scientific research, government experts are tasked with formulating binding rules like "acceptable levels" of a pollutant. These are based on estimates that may reflect the state of the scientific art at one point in time -- but can quickly become obsolete. Initially, for example, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discouraged Americans from wearing masks to combat the pandemic, and yet the CDC is now set to be reconsidering that initial recommendation. In public perception, the combination of these two factors is potentially explosive. It can appear as if rules that allocate winners and losers were formulated on the basis of arbitrary cut-offs, or worse, are formulated to favor one group over another. But a crisis does not have to mean the "death" of expertise. Whatever problems beset expertise, the alternatives are worse. A key issue now is who gets tested for Covid-19. Because tests are still scarce in some places, these decisions are made by infectious diseases experts. They take calls from clinicians, decide in each case whether to prioritize testing and revise guidelines as more kits become available. This is exactly how we would want such decisions to be made. An epidemic requires careful stewardship of scarce resources (such as ventilators and N95 masks) on the basis of expert assessments of relative risk. Yet for patients waiting in a long line only to be told that they cannot be tested, the decision can appear arbitrary. Most importantly, even when experts make decisions based on the best available evidence, inescapably they will sometimes be wrong, and when they do so, they will further undermine trust. Another case in point: the FDA s restrictive guidelines that in the early days of the epidemic allowed labs to conduct tests only for patients who met specific criteria, such as having recently traveled to Wuhan. In retrospect, it appears the guidelines may have caused many people carrying the virus and complaining about symptoms to go untested, and thereby masked the degree of community spread already taking place. But before we jump to denounce this as another case of rigid bureaucracy, we should realize that while the restrictions in this case may have been too strict, we need to have a set of guidelines to assist health care workers in their decision-making during an epidemic. If, in the early days of the virus, we did not have any guidelines, doctors may have given out tests to too many people who were suffering from allergies, the flu or other potentially less severe illnesses. And we could have found ourselves with no tests at all -- and an even harder time tracking an epidemic. US public health experts are therefore entering this moment handicapped by the systemic crisis of mistrust in expertise. And, in the absence of trust, critics are ready to pounce at the slightest impression of political bias, either for the administration or against it. On the other hand, the epidemic may work in the experts favor, because in a moment of emergency we are predisposed to look to them for reassurance. And a skilled communicator like Fauci should be able to use this opportunity. His performance up till now has reminded people that, despite the misgivings evoked by the administration s clumsy messaging, there are deep wells of professionalism, integrity and competence from which to draw among American public health experts. Reliance on them is our best bet, even if they make some mistakes
In the time of fear of the Corona virus and with the suffering economic and health sectors, we need to take heed and commit to all precautionary measures, but we need also to spread hope along with awareness even if we are fed up with the curfew and social distancing. We do expect and hope that the vaccine and medicine will be discovered in order to restore our lives back. Yet, this may take longer than we think or