Egypt currently faces two major challenges. The first, which is existential, is related to the issue of water rights and to Ethiopia s insistence on completing construction on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) with no regard to Egypt s “right to life.” The second challenge relates to borders, and to the threat to Egypt s national security posed by the terrorist militias in Libya that are backed by Turkey. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi s recent speech sparked lively discussion (most of which does not appear in the media) among a large number of Egyptian people, discussion that is far from the calls for war that some have made, knowing that they will not pay the price of their warmongering. One side was supportive of the speech, while another posed the question: Will Egypt give priority to Libya over Ethiopia? Will the tough language the president used with Libya s Government of National Accord (GNA) result in a misplaced arrangement of Egyptian priorities? I do not think that the only priority should be to confront the threats of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and extremist groups, while ignoring the existential issue of the Renaissance Dam. Egypt s tougher stance toward Libya likely aims to influence Ethiopia, part of a strategic vision. This may be the case, provided that Egypt is not involved in a comprehensive long-term war with Turkey — which is something we do not expect in any case — and that the limit of Egyptian intervention remains the cities of Sirte and al-Jafra, which Turkey wants to invade in order to control eastern Libya s Oil Crescent region. Sisi s speech was not a declaration of war on Turkey, nor would it mean controlling Libya. Rather, it was an attempt to establish new red lines that are based on the support of regional and international parties for both sides of the conflict in Libya without direct intervention. Turkey changed the rules of the game when it brought terrorist militias from Syria to Libya, when it sought to establish military bases in Libya (despite all North African countries struggle for independence and an end to foreign bases), and finally, when it began speaking about occupying areas in eastern Libya that are rich in oil and natural gas. If Egypt is successful in stopping Turkish penetration into Libya without significant losses or getting involved in an all-out war, the result will be a message of deterrence for Ethiopia, especially since many major countries, such as Russia and France, want to limit Erdogan s influence in Libya. Even America wants to limit his presence and influence. And Italy — which Turkey tried to draw to its cause — will not deal with Turkey if doing so comes at the expense of its relationship with the European Union. Some of these countries will support any Egyptian military intervention in Libya — which should in any case be limited. The same countries, however, will not welcome any Egyptian military action, even if limited, against Ethiopia. Other countries, meanwhile, will not oppose Egyptian incursion into Ethiopia. Egypt s role is to make these countries understand the correctness of its choices and its efficiency, whether via the effectiveness of its limited military intervention in Libya or via its intensive diplomatic and political moves to push Ethiopia to review its position on the severe damage the GERD poses to Egypt s existential water interests, and to understand the use of force in the event that all political solutions fail.
Unfortunately, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) has become a constant headache for Africa. Instead of being a tool of cooperation and integration among Nile Basin countries, it became the biggest crisis facing the African continent in the 21st century. Ethiopia is insisting on deception and procrastination. It is no surprise the latest round of negotiations, sponsored by Sudan and held last week, has failed. Making negotiations fail is an Ethiopian skill par excellence, where it announces the opposite of what it does and reveals the opposite of what it conceals. It entered all the rounds of negotiations with the aim of wasting time and procrastinating in an attempt to impose a fait accompli situation on downstream countries Egypt and Sudan. Because Egypt was aware of this, it made a reservation before the beginning of the latest round of negotiations. But it answered the invitation of Sudan and didn t want to close doors in the face of goodwill and sincere efforts of sister Sudan. Headed by Sudanese irrigation minister Yasser Abbas, the negotiations, which lasted for more than a week, were an attempt to reach consensus regarding the points of contention in the technical and legal fields. However, Ethiopia stood still, kept dodging and didn t offer solutions except exert efforts to impose a fait accompli on downstream countries. At the same time, it did its utmost to blow the Egyptian-Sudanese consensus. It was a malicious approach adopted by Ethiopia since the beginning of the crisis and it started practising it with Omar Al-Bashir. It employs this approach until this very moment; sowing division between the Egyptian and the Sudanese sides, in spite of the Sudanese government s clear standpoint in refusing both the unilateral Ethiopian moves and refusing to join a bilateral agreement concerning the first fill of the GERD. The Egyptian Irrigation Ministry s statement was clear in refuting the Ethiopian standpoint which led to the failure of the latest round of negotiations in Sudan. According to the statement, Ethiopia refused to discuss the legal aspects for the three countries to conclude a binding agreement based ont inernational law. Ethiopia wanted these aspects to be guiding rules which it can amend solely. It also sought to gain the absolute right to establish projects up the Blue Nile. It also refused that the agreement include a binding legal mechanism for dispute resolution or that effective steps be taken to face drought. At the end of the talks, the Ethiopian side refused that points of contention be referred to the three countries prime ministers as a last chance for accord. This led to ending the negotiations without reaching a solution like the previous rounds held during the last nine years. This is the Ethiopian stance that has been repeated time and again throughout the last nine years. It pretends to be searching for a solution and announces its desire to reach consensus and a new round of negotiations begins extending for years on end and stops at the same point where it started. The Washington negotiations, called upon by the US and sponsored by President Donald Trump with the participation of the World Bank revived hopes for eaching a final agreement. Marathon negotiations were held in which Ethiopian delegation participated and ended with a semi-final agreement. There were some points of contention for which the delegations of the three countries agreed on accepting the mediation of the USA and the World Bank. Indeed, a legal phrasing of these points of contention was reached from the participating international parties. The Ethiopian delegation made an excuse to have a break for consultation but it didn t show up during the last round of negotiations. Egypt signed the agreement solely. This was an extremely intelligent move by the Egyptian delegation. The Egyptian signature meant agreement has been reached by international partners and there was international acceptance of this agreement. Hence, Egypt was keen on signing to confirm to the entire world its desire for peace and at the same time expose the dodging and deceitful Ethiopian stance before the world. Despite Egypt s insistence on keeping the Washington card, it entered the latest round of negotiations with good will, under the sponsorship of Sudan, to explore all available means to reach an equitable and balanced agreement regarding the GERD that ensures Ethiopia s developmental objectives and at the same time secures the interests of downstream countries. However, Ethiopia shows every time its bad intentions and that it doesn t want peace or good for the peoples of the Nile Valley. Instead of being a source of cooperation, the GERD became a source of concern and tension in the African continent. Perhaps the only benefit gained from the latest round of negotiations was showing the unified Egyptian and Sudanese stand, where Sudan reiterated its refusal to a unilateral filling of the GERD as announced by its irrigation minister Yasser Abbas who pointed out the hazards of the Ethiopian unilateral stands, with regards to the Sudanese Roseires Dam, and the dangers awaiting it in case of operating the GERD unilaterally. The Sudanese government stands are positive in their entirety, and accordingly the Egyptian irrigation minister Mohamed Abdel-Ati commended them and all the serious Sudanese efforts in this respect. The Egyptian diplomacy cleverly and wisely exposed the Ethiopian tricks before the world and revealed the aggressive Ethiopian intentions aiming at harming the Egyptian people and its water resources while Ethiopia isn t in need of more water resources. Ethiopia announced that it wants the GERD in order to generate electricity and Egypt doesn t oppose this principle since the beginning of the crisis but in the negotiations it showed the opposite and wanted to employ the dam as a gate for creating problems and disputes, pushing the region to the edge of the abyss and driving the whole African continent into a circle of conflicts and wars. This tense situation, which Ethiopia has created in the region, drove the US National Security Agency (NSA) to tell Addis Ababa that it is time to reach a deal over the disputed GERD before starting to fill the dam s reservoir. In a tweet on its official account, the NSA said that “257 million people in East Africa are relying on Ethiopia to show strong leadership, which means striking a fair deal.” The NSA s move should be the beginning of a rapid international movement against Ethiopia, especially in the UN Security Council in order to play its expected role in keeping peace and stability in Africa and finding a solution to the permanent and continuous Ethiopian headache for Africa that started nine years ago. It is also important that the African Union defuse the Ethiopian crisis before becoming exacerbated, especially that the African Union (AU) headquarters is in Ethiopia. The AU should adopt a clear and effective standpoint towards the Ethiopian bad intentions and its attempt to harm the interests of downstream countries, even if it requires freezing Ethiopia s AU membership and relocating the headquarters of the union. Ethiopia has become a state that creates disputes and instability and isn t keen on peace and security in the continent. I believe that there is no need for more negotiations and the Washington card is decisive in this respect. It all relies on the political will of Ethiopia and the Ethiopian leadership s desire to embrace the path of peace and stability for the peoples of the three countries or else insist on moving in the opposite direction and setting off a crisis that has no justification in reality.
President Donald Trump couldn t wait. His presidency is nosediving, with bad news erupting all around him. His answer was Tulsa, a campaign rally in blood-red Oklahoma, the state he won by a crushing 36 points in 2016. But Tulsa did not deliver. The event that was supposed to trumpet his return to greatness -- and the country s return to normalcy -- instead brought embarrassing scenes of empty bleachers, a dismantled stage and a familiar speech unsuccessfully trying to reignite public fears. After raising expectations with claims that a million people had requested tickets for his first campaign rally in more than three months, the vacant seats were the biggest story of the night. It was a bad omen for November, and Trump undoubtedly saw it with his own eyes as he scanned a sea of blue seats devoid of supporters on the top level of the arena that he and his campaign had said would be bursting beyond capacity; so full, they expected, that the campaign planned for a second outdoor speech to bring an additional 40,000 people unable to find a seat indoors. Instead, the outdoor speech was cancelled, the stage dismantled. The campaign absurdly tried to explain by claiming that protesters blocked the entrances. But every reporter there confirmed that was not true. Maybe Tulsans weren t dying to see Trump during a pandemic, although many thousands did come, possibly risking their lives to follow a president who showed he doesn t value the health of his supporters enough to follow the advice of health experts. They had urged him to postpone the rally. Oklahoma has seen rising numbers of coronavirus diagnoses in the runup to the meeting, and an indoor gathering of thousands -- most of them without face masks -- may be the best possible way to spread the contagion. The speech covered mostly familiar terrain, old promises, boring attacks and outrageous statements. The theatrical incitement and divisiveness genuinely energized the crowds when Trump first took to the hustings four years ago. Now it s mostly more of the same. We re used to him now. We ve heard it all before. Still, as with so much that is happening in the world today, we have to remind ourselves how abnormal it all is, to hear a president of the United States threaten violence against Americans and traffic in prejudice. Speaking of recent anti-racism protests, he warned, "our people are not nearly as violent. But if they ever were, it would be a terrible, terrible day for the other side." It s unclear who exactly "the other side" is. The speech was filled with the usual racist innuendo. He called Covid-19 the racist term "Kung-flu," dog whistled, "they want to demolish our heritage," and spoke of the brutality of gangs, claiming that if Vice President Joe Biden and the Democrats are elected, "our country will be destroyed." Does anyone really believe that? The crowds cheered when Trump attacked CNN or China, but it appeared to me that his effort to make them hate Biden didn t elicit quite so much excitement. The speech was typically self-centered, with a bizarre more than ten-minute long riff on his ultra-slow descent from the West Point ramp, and absolutely no words of compassion for the nearly 120,000 people in this country who have died during the pandemic. Instead, Trump repeated the lie that coronavirus numbers are climbing because there s more testing, shockingly revealing that, "I said to my people, slow the testing down, please." Experts say testing saves lives. Slowing the testing leads to more deaths. The White House predictably claimed he was joking. If this was the great comeback, the relaunch of Trump s campaign for re-election, it was a flop, and Trump most likely knows it. Don t be surprised if heads roll in the campaign. Instead of a showcase for the great enthusiasm Trump is supposed to engender in his supporters, it left quite a different impression. Not only did we not see the massive crowds we were promised, we saw something else, something deeply disturbing. We saw a president willing to risk the lives of his supporters in order to garner political support. Six Trump staffers organizing the event had tested positive. Every image of the crowd of tightly-packed Oklahomans holding Trump 2020 signs made one wonder how many among them was breathing in the coronavirus. How many will contract Covid-19; how many will take it home to their relatives, to their neighbors, friends and co-workers? How many will die because of this Trump rally? Instead of a triumphant relaunch, we saw a president threaten anti-racism protesters, and that started even before the rally. Instead of a president confident in his achievements, we saw a man in the midst of a string of defeats. We saw a man unable to recognize the depths of the crisis faced by his country. Trump is in freefall, presiding over the worst public health crisis in a century, the highest unemployment rate since World War II, the biggest sustained protests in decades. He is losing in the Supreme Court; his poll numbers are nosediving. And in the 24 hours before this rally, his administration launched a shambolic effort to push out a prosecutor who is investigating criminal cases targeting people close to Trump. It was a spectacularly incompetent effort, and one that succeeded in making us wonder why Trump wanted to get rid of the prosecutor; one more wound on a presidency that is bleeding its way to the finish line. If Tulsa was supposed to salve Trump s wounds and send him on his way to victory, it accomplished nothing of the sort. You cannot count Trump out, but he is certainly down.
To anyone following developments in Libya it is obvious that Turkey has gone on the rampage, unrestrained by the US, influential powers in NATO, the EU and needless to say, the UN. After acquiring a foothold in western Libya, Turkey now seeks to press eastwards to conquer the rest of the country. Although it claims to back the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), the reverse is the case. The GNA is Ankara’s puppet in its current game of playing NATO policeman against Russia in the Eastern Mediterranean. The aggressiveness with which Ankara is performing this role has jeopardised peace-making efforts in Libya and raised tensions as never before in the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa. The pro-government press in Turkey has recently revealed Ankara’s plans to establish two military bases in Libya. One is the Watiya Airbase to the southwest of Tripoli and the other is a naval base in Misrata. The facade towards this end is a military cooperation pact with the GNA which has been fighting the Libyan National Army (LNA) under the command of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. Behind that facade resides Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ambition to grab as large a share as possible of Libyan oil and gas and to assert Turkish military and political hegemony over Libya. Other North African countries are acute to the dangers of the Turkish expansionist project which seeks to promote the Islamist project as its instrument and to advance the Muslim Brotherhood, the mother organisation of all extremist Islamist groups, as its partner in sowing chaos and destruction in the region. The Turkish occupation of Libya also strengthens Ankara’s hand in its various disputes with Europe. More immediately, it bolsters its position in growing tensions with Greece over oil and gas fields in the Eastern Mediterranean, and over the Greek islands that Ankara has set its sights on. The spurious Turkish-GNA maritime border agreement has furnished Ankara with another facade in order to deploy warships in the area, whether to protect Turkey’s illegal drilling activities and or to advance its other acquisitive ends. Turkish entrenchment in Libya has reached such a level that it will take concerted international efforts to halt the revival of the Turkish occupation. France has expressed its alarm at the Turkish danger on numerous occasions. Last week, a spokesperson for the French presidency harshly censured Ankara for its “even more aggressive and insistent stance... with seven Turkish ships deployed off the Libyan coast and violations of the arms embargo”. He added: “The Turks are behaving in an unacceptable manner and are exploiting NATO. France cannot just stand by.” Unfortunately, NATO appears to prefer appeasement when it comes to dealing with Turkish belligerence. NATO’s condonation (if not behind the scenes approval) of Turkey’s Libya campaign will prove the most disastrous mistake it has committed since the NATO bombardment of Libya nine years ago, which opened the doors to the hell of civil war, the proliferation of militias and the influx of terrorists. Hopefully, influential powers can take some constructive action before it is too late. The US and Russia, above all, should agree on a formula to promote a political solution to the Libyan conflict before it spirals out of control. The international community can also take advantage of the Egyptian peace initiative that Ankara sought to undermine. The Turkish regime will continue to obstruct attempts to promote a return to the political process, which runs counter to its current campaign of conquest. Whatever justifications the Turkish media advances for Ankara’s military intervention, they are nothing more than smokescreens for the true nature and ends of the Turkish designs. Unfortunately, Turkish propaganda finds willing buyers in some major international media outlets which claim to support the “legitimate” government in Tripoli. Curiously, these same media never mention the Libyan House of Representatives, which rests its legitimacy on the fact that it is the only popularly elected body in the country, and they conveniently ignore the fact that, under the UN-backed Libyan National Agreement, any sovereign agreements that the GNA concludes with foreign powers require the House of Representatives’ ratification. The international community and major powers need to draw some clear and strong red lines to put a stop to Turkish aggression before it precipitates military clashes in the Eastern Mediterranean where Ankara is deliberately cultivating war.
We are still in the midst of a historic public health crisis that requires access to health care. The number of coronavirus infections and deaths continues to grow every day. Many frontline workers still don t have the personal protective equipment they need as they courageously risk their lives to serve others and keep our country running.Families across the country have lost their incomes -- and health insurance -- and don t know how they ll pay bills or put food on the table. More than 40 million workers in the US have filed for unemployment. Now more than ever, people need reliable health care that they can afford. But the Trump administration wants to tear down the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that provided access to health care for millions of people across the country. The ACA is a literal lifesaver: 20 million more Americans now have health insurance; 135 million people with pre-existing conditions now have protections; 17 million people now have coverage under expanded Medicaid; 12 million seniors now pay lower prescription drug costs; and 2.3 million young people can stay on their parents health insurance.But if Republicans and the Trump administration have their way, millions of people will have the rug pulled out from under them in the middle of a deadly global health crisis. Republicans have been fighting the ACA from the moment it became law. Mitch McConnell -- in his own words -- sought to make former President Barack Obama a one-term president and knew that destroying the ACA could help him do it. Republicans in Congress weren t concerned about ripping coverage away from the millions of people who finally had lifesaving treatment and protections. They only wanted to score political points and hurt former President Obama s legacy. Republicans voted dozens of times to repeal the entire ACA ("root and branch" as McConnell described it), but failed every single time. When President Donald Trump took office, he continued the party s crusade to destroy the ACA and undermine the American health care system. His administration allowed insurance companies to sell nearly worthless "junk" plans to unsuspecting consumers unaware that they may not cover prescription drugs, maternity care, or mental health.And during the "repeal and replace" fight during my first year in the Senate, Republicans sought to gut the law and rip health insurance away from millions of people, and increase costs on millions more. But the American people organized, marched, and made their voices heard. Like every preceding Republican attempt to dismantle the law, President Trump s failed. But the fight continues. Trump s Justice Department is working to overturn the ACA, refusing to fulfill its traditional responsibility to defend federal laws in court. We simply cannot let them win. The ACA is benefitting millions of Americans, and its destruction would have a devastating impact on low-income communities, people with preexisting conditions, seniors, and people of color -- especially during a pandemic. People of color are more likely to have pre-existing conditions that put them at a higher risk of hospitalization or death from Covid-19. Black people are 40% more likely to have high blood pressure than their white counterparts; Latinas have a one in two risk of developing diabetes, and American Indian/Alaska Natives have a higher rate of diabetes than white people. These are not faceless columns on a spreadsheet. These are real people with families, friends, and community. There is no denying -- if this administration prevails lives will be put at serious risk.This pandemic has underscored the need for every American to have health coverage when they need it -- and they need it now. As lawyers and stakeholders continue to file amicus briefs in the latest case to overturn the ACA, we must continue to expose this repeal attempt for what it really is: heartless and dangerous. The American people must once again raise their voices once and tell Donald Trump: stop playing politics with our health care.
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile has been a controversial project that troubled waters between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan. The project draws the attention of the world to potential unrest in the relations between Ethiopia, on one hand, a key player in the Horn of Africa, and Egypt, on the other hand, a strategic country in the central pivot of the three continents of Africa, Asia, and Europe and one that maintains balance, peace and security in the Arab Region and the Middle East. Ethiopia s Violation of International Law The GERD project unilaterally launched in April of 2011 by Ethiopia on the Blue Nile, the largest tributary of the Nile (the world s longest river) was seen by Egyptians as a project that took advantage of Egypt s political vacuum immediately after the forced resignation of its president at that time. The launching of the Dam construction without consultation with Egypt was seen as a violation of the principles of international law, the 1993 agreement signed between Ethiopia and Egypt, and the 1902 agreement signed between Ethiopia and the United Kingdom, which necessitates consultation with downstream countries on Ethiopian structures that may affect the flows of Nile headwaters through the Blue Nile, Lake Tana, and the Sobat River flowing downstream to Sudan and Egypt. Ethiopia seems to see the Nile river headwaters originating within its territories as a matter of absolute sovereignty and that agreements signed between Ethiopia and Egypt or the United Kingdom (on behalf of Egypt and/or Sudan) as non-binding to Ethiopia.
Breaking news: Republicans might finally be willing to break with President Donald Trump. Following the president s performance with Covid-19 as well as his response to the Black Lives Matters protests there have been a number of stories speculating about whether the GOP will finally come undone. The drama is greatly exaggerated. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski told reporters that she is "struggling" to figure out how to vote in November ... When Colin Powell announced that he would support Joe Biden and former president George W. Bush revealed he would not support Trump, the New York Times reporters a "growing number" of Republicans were debating how far to go. The speculation about internal handwringing and possible "turning points" within the GOP never ends. It s the drama that never happens, but one the press loves to keep following. It needs to stop. The notion that there is a major fissure between the Republicans and President Trump simply masks the character of the modern party. Republicans nominated and elected Donald Trump to be President four years ago. They have stood by him, and done so even in the toughest of times. Nothing, even his "fine people" remarks after a 2017 white supremacist march in Charlottesville or his recent hardline response to mass marches over George Floyd s death at the hands of Minneapolis police, shakes this. When we look at President Trump we see the modern party before our very eyes. Stories about internal division mask this basic reality and suggest that there are greater options outside the Democratic Party than actually exist. When Trump decries those who want to bring down Confederate monuments and treats the job of governance as if it is a third rate reality show, he represents the party. When he invokes former president Richard Nixon and conservative Democrats George Wallace and Frank Rizzo while screaming about "law and order" as a response to civil rights protests, or tweets out "when the looting starts, the shooting starts," he speaks for the GOP. The story of the Trump presidency has been a story about how comfortably he sits within his party. Throughout his term, polls have shown remarkably solid support for the President within the Republican electorate, regardless of his actions. By and large, congressional Republicans have stood by him at every turn, protecting him from investigations and continuing to vote the party line on most issues. Of course, some such as Maine Sen. Susan Collins hem and haw, but that s the sum total of their profiles in courage. The saga of Sen. Mitt Romney captures where the party has gone. After launching the #nevertrump "movement" in 2016, Romney ended up going along with the President in the early years. Recently, he has received kudos for standing up to Trump that, while being well deserved, actually reveals how low the bar has moved. When Senator Romney was the only Republican to vote for conviction during the President s impeachment trial for using foreign policy to help his re-election bid, it said more about what the rest of his party now considered to be acceptable than it did about Romney. When it was a headline to see Romney march with civil rights protesters against police brutality, the moment showed how far the GOP has distanced itself from this basic call for social justice. The most realistic assessments of the President have come from George Conway, a genuine conservative married to the President s adviser, Kellyanne Conway, knows Trump well. Conway has started the Lincoln Project, launching blistering ads about the President and the entire party. He has consistently blasted former colleagues who suggest that they can distance themselves from the person in the Oval Office. These are platitudes meant to disguise the choice voters actually face in November, between a party that has gone all in with Trumpism and another that has not. Every American is free to decide which choice they prefer for the next four years, but nobody should be under the illusion that a different option is on the table.
On Saturday, President Trump delivered a commencement speech at the US Military Academy at West Point, New York, honoring the graduating cadets for their service while touting the "colossal rebuilding" of the armed forces under his presidency. "To the 1,107 who today become the newest officers in the most exceptional Army ever to take the field of battle, I am here to offer America s salute. Thank you for answering your nation s call," he said. What wasn t immediately apparent from his speech -- which Trump delivered with the help of a teleprompter -- was the growing disconnect between the President and the US military. Not since President John F. Kennedy ignored his top military officers advice to invade Cuba and deploy nuclear weapons against the Soviets during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis has there been such a split between an American president and the Pentagon. Consider that Trump s top military adviser General Mark Milley publicly said it was a "mistake" for him to have appeared in an infamous photo op with the President after a walk from the Rose Garden at the White House. The photo op, which culminated in Trump holding up a bible outside St. John s Church, was made possible by first violently dispersing peaceful protesters outside the White House two weeks ago. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff issued the apology in a video commencement address to the National Defense University on Thursday and said, "I should not have been there. My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics." Trump s Defense Secretary Mark Esper also tried to distance himself from that photo op. The former US Army officer publicly broke with the President and said he did not support Trump s calls to invoke the Insurrection Act and use active duty troops to quell the protests that had broken out after George Floyd s killing. CNN reported that Esper s statement went over "poorly at the White House, where his standing was already viewed to be tenuous." Around the same time, Esper s predecessor, retired General Jim Mattis, broke his long silence and launched a personal attack on the President he served for two years. He said, "Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership." To top it off, four former chairmen of the joint chiefs, going back to the administration of President George H. W. Bush, all took the extraordinary step of publicly breaking with the President to condemn the use of violence against peaceful protestors. For good measure one of those former chairmen, retired General Colin Powell, told CNN s Jake Tapper that Trump lies "all the time." Many other retired four-star generals and admirals have spoken out against Trump. There is a widespread perception that Trump is quite popular within the US military. But many active duty personnel have soured on him, and Trump s chairman of the joint chiefs and his defense secretary have publicly distanced themselves from the President -- as have some of the nation s most revered retired generals and admirals. President Trump has long thrilled to the power of the US military, which he celebrated in Saturday s West Point speech. But he is now in the unusual position of being the Commander in Chief of a military that is turning away from him. This article was updated to clarify the scope of the President s photo op, which began at the White House and culminated outside St. John s Church.
The current Egyptian political order began in 2014, a year after the 30 June Revolution that overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood regime. The new order rectified and supported the process of transition and change that was launched by the January 2011 Revolution. As it struggled to overcome enormous challenges at home, complicated and aggravated by the repercussions of regional crises, the government, under the leadership of President Abdel- Fattah Al-Sisi, who was elected in June 2014, set into motion the largest comprehensive modernisation process that bolstered Egypt s ability to confront the diverse threats and dangers that loomed over the country. Terrorism was at once the most dangerous and complex threat during this period. Directly targeting the home front, the danger was spearheaded by the Muslim Brotherhood, which sought to avenge itself against state and society for the 30 June 2013 uprising that erupted when Egyptians found themselves prey to a scheme that sought to uproot the nation state founded in 1952 and to put their country and society at the service of a radical ideological organisation with a ruthless and fanatically militant universalist vision. This threat naturally had to take the highest priority especially when it became clear how closely connected it was to major terrorist threats that were on the rise elsewhere in the region, most notably the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq and the proliferation of Al-Qaeda affiliates in Libya and elsewhere in the Sahel and Sahara. To complicate matters further, all these countries fall in the spheres of concern of Egyptian national security, which compelled the government to act quickly at the regional and international levels to promote effective and unconventional responses that would achieve crucial gains while sparing the country additional burdens. It should be added that successes in this domain have worked to increase the confidence and respect of Egypt s regional and international partners, especially those most concerned and influential in transnational threats such as terrorism. These successes naturally extended to other related phenomena such as arms smuggling, money laundering, human trafficking and organised crime. The Egyptian government applied a strategic vision that enabled it to act effectively within its regional spheres of national security and that incorporated the international geopolitical centres most connected with these spheres. At the African level, the post-2014 order began under very difficult circumstances as Egypt s membership in the African Union (AU) had been frozen in 2013. As soon as he came to power, President Al-Sisi immediately set into motion a plan of action to reinstate Egypt s AU membership. His first visit abroad after his election was to attend the AU Summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, which immediately worked to bolster Egypt s continental relations. As he followed through with a range of bilateral exchanges, he reoriented the Egyptian political compass southward, reviving Egypt s African role in a new modernised edition. Egypt went to great lengths in order to reactivate and innovate frameworks of inter-African cooperation. An early important landmark in this regard was the Egyptian Agency for Partnership for Development in Africa, established in 2014 as an umbrella organisation for the promotion and organisation of Egyptian-African collaborations. These efforts were soon crowned by Egypt s election as chair of the African Peace and Security Council in 2016 which, in turn, opened new horizons for Egypt to play a prominent role in conflict resolution and peace-building in Africa. Another qualitative shift in Egyptian-African relations began in 2019 when Egypt assumed the chair of the African Union. Egypt s African drive experienced numerous critical successes during this period. For example, the African Free Trade Agreement went into effect under Egypt s AU chairmanship. Cairo organised the first coordinating summit in Niger in July 2019 to formulate and develop “the foundations of partnership and cooperation between the African Union, the regional economic blocs, and the member nations” towards the realisation of the principles of African integration and mutual dependency. That summit also launched the second working plan (2021-2030) for the comprehensive African infrastructural development programme which accords particular attention to the development of a continental electricity grid and the creation of an African-wide common energy market. In addition to this remarkable success, Egypt took the lead in representing Africa in major international forums with the aim of expanding opportunities for partnerships and networking between Africa and important loci on the international investment map. The most important milestones in this regard were the Chinese-African Summit in June 2019, the G20 Summit in Japan in June 2019 and the G7 Summit in France in August 2019. On top of these international summits came two that will be forever associated with Egypt in the history of the continent because of Cairo s success in pioneering them: the first Russian-African summit in Sochi in October 2019 and the first British-African investment summit in London in January 2020. The new Egyptian strategic vision accords considerable importance to African security and defence. In this regard, Egypt has initiated numerous dynamic cooperative mechanisms along the linkages between Egyptian national security and African security, starting with the AU police training centre to train security forces for the Sahel and Sahara countries. Egypt followed through by hosting the headquarters of the African Centre for Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Development and then the permanent headquarters for the Sahel-Sahara Regional Counterterrorism Centre. The Aswan Forum for Peace and Development, which was held in December 2019, lay the cornerstone for an annual event, sponsored by the Egyptian presidency, dedicated to the advancement of peace and sustainable development in Africa. In the first forum, the Egyptian president launched “Silence the Guns 2020”, an initiative developed by the AU Peace and Security Council in 2019 during Egypt s chairmanship of the African Union and that Egypt was keen to get off the ground in the framework of its commitment to conflict resolution and peace-making throughout the continent. The strategic projects and plans that President Al-Sisi has inaugurated during the past six years share a common thread, which is the conviction that Egypt and its national security interweave in many significant ways with Africa and the Middle East, in which Egypt stands at crucial junctures, and with the international centres with which it is essential to work in order to generate a robust security climate. In this framework, Egypt has dedicated great efforts to promoting effective cooperation with all regional and international powers in order broaden the scopes of common interests that serve the welfare of all parties, out of the belief that such processes contribute in crucial ways to safeguarding Egypt s vital interests at home and abroad. Accordingly, the Egyptian presidency s action plan in the African sphere during the past six years was complimented by projects and agendas in other directions. Within the neighbouring Mediterranean sphere, for example, Egypt announced its strategic partnership with Greece and Cyprus in December 2015. Over the following years this first successful step towards promoting collaboration along the northern axis continued to evolve until it culminated in the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum. Launched in 2019, the seven-country forum is the most important regional grouping in the field of energy as well as cooperation in other fields. Cairo, as a pioneering spirit and the headquarters of that forum, has become the centre of increasing international attention, and many other countries, including France and the US, have been inspired to ask to join the forum. Nevertheless, 2016 stands out as the most important year in the evolution of Egypt s international profile under the post-2014 order. That was the year in which Egypt acquired a seat on the UN Security Council, enabling it to truly reap the fruits of its efforts and visions concerning many major world problems. The attention and respect that Egypt acquired in the fight against terrorism poised it to head the UNSC Counterterrorism Committee, which is responsible for formulating and following through on the international community s comprehensive strategy for fighting terrorism around the world. The work that Egypt performed as chair of this committee during the peak of the terrorist peril, which had begun to rear its head more widely and fiercely than ever before, earned Cairo greater trust and respect among its partners in the committee and the international community as a whole, many among which grew increasingly convinced by the Egyptian outlook on this issue. Egypt s success here led to other important and related posts and activities. It was unanimously elected as a member of the Human Rights Committee for the 2017-2021 term. In May 2018, it took part in the international conference on Libya that convened in Paris and brought together 20 states and four international organisations including the Arab League with the purpose of developing a roadmap for a political solution to the Libyan crisis. Egypt s presence in that forum underscored both how crucial the Libyan situation is not just to Egypt but to the whole of North Africa and how influential a role Egypt can play in that crisis. Egypt, represented by President Al-Sisi, subsequently participated in the Palermo Conference in 2018 and the Berlin Conference in January 2020, taking its place along other major international stakeholders in the processes of developing solutions to lead Libya out of the vicious cycle of war and towards a healthy and stable political future. The foregoing is only a segment of Egypt s record of international relations and activities, but it is a strong indicator of how Al-Sisi s government worked to elevate Egypt s regional and international status and strengthen the bonds of mutual trust and cooperation between it and many other nations and international organisations. However, if the strategic vision that Al-Sisi set into motion in 2014 had the power to safeguard and secure Egypt s strategic security at many levels, we ultimately have to underscore, if only briefly here, another essential component in the national security equation: the largest ever military modernisation and development drive in the history of modern Egypt. Any comprehensive concept of national security will provide for a major element of hard power to take its place alongside the soft power components of strategic strength. This is not to suggest that the Egyptian army was not as central to the protection of our national security before the revolution as it was after 30 June 2013. However, the sheer magnitude and multiplicity of the threats and challenges that faced Egypt as well as the rest of the region and the world during the past decade imposed new and unfamiliar burdens on our armed forces. This is what made President Al-Sisi accord the highest priority in his first six-year plan to the development of the Egyptian Armed Forces in accordance with the latest concepts of comprehensive power. This meant not only upgrading the structures, equipment and capacities of our army in order to render it as effective a safeguard as possible for Egyptian national security, but also equipping it to undertake new functions in the framework of protecting and promoting the comprehensive development and modernisation programme that is unfolding on the ground in Egypt at present. Under today s conditions, active deference is a guarantee for sustaining the building processes that lead to success.
The self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) under the command of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar retreated in the last three weeks from its positions around Tripoli and lost control of the largest airbase in the western part of Libya, Al-Watiya. Last Thursday, 4 June, his forces retreated from another stronghold after the city of Tarhuna fell to the forces of the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA). The official spokesman of the Tripoli government said that with the fall of Tarhuna, the forces of the GNA “liberated” all of the western part of Libya from the forces loyal to Haftar. Moreover, Fayez Al-Sarraj, president of the government in Tripoli, promised that the intention of his government is to retake control of all of Libya, implying that their next move is to advance towards the east where the seat of the interim Libyan government is located in Benghazi. In other words, his forces will get nearer to Egyptian borders, and probably in the presence of Turkish military “advisers”. If this happens, it would constitute a major escalation in the conflict with uncalculated regional consequences. On Thursday, 4 June, Al-Sarraj was in Turkey where he conferred with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Turkish government promised that it would continue providing assistance and aid to the government in Tripoli to safeguard recent successes achieved by its forces in the war against the LNA. Furthermore, it announced that it would start exploration for gas and oil in the territorial waters of Libya in conformity with the agreement it signed last November with the GNA in Tripoli on the delimitation of an exclusive Libyan economic zone in the Mediterranean. While Al-Sarraj was in Turkey, Haftar and the speaker of the Libyan parliament were conferring with senior Egyptian officials in Cairo. After two days of talks, the Egyptian President, Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, announced in a joint press conference in their presence that the talks held by the Egyptian government had led to agreement, translated to a document dubbed the “Cairo Declaration” that dealt with an “initiative” aiming at reaching a political solution for the Libyan conflict in accordance with the Security Council resolutions and the decisions and conclusions of various international meetings on the situation in Libya, namely, the Berlin Summit and other meetings in Paris, Palermo and the United Arab Emirates. The major highlights of the “initiative” include the reunification of the economic, financial and political institutions in Libya, the fair and transparent distribution of national wealth, and the demobilisation of the various militias operating in Libya, in addition to the exit of foreign mercenaries brought by Turkey, principally from Syria, to fight with the forces of the GNA. The Egyptian president said that the two Libyan officials have called for a ceasefire in Libya to become effective at 6:00am on Monday, 8 June. There is talk of setting up a presidential council, representative of the three Libyan regions, coupled with the drafting of a “constitutional declaration” that sets forth the next steps in the smooth transition towards a stable national government, representative of the Libyan people. In a nod to the Berlin Declaration of 19 January, the Egyptian president emphasised the importance of complementarity among the three tracks that had been incorporated in this declaration; namely, the economic/financial, the military/security and the political tracks. In this context, he called on Libyan parties to discuss the military aspects of the conflict and how to secure a total ceasefire in the context of United Nations-sponsored 5+5 talks. Furthermore, he proposed an international meeting in Geneva under the auspices of the United Nations and attended by the European Union, the Arab League, as well as the African Union, to provide an international framework for the political process whereby the Libyan parties would reach a political solution for the Libyan conflict. What was striking in the joint press conference was the insistence of the Egyptian president on how dangerous the present situation in Libya is from the standpoint of the national security interests of Egypt. He warned against any attempts to settle the Libyan conflict through the use of military force, stressing that Egypt is closely watching developments on the battlefields in Libya. Some observers would interpret this as a warning to the Tripoli government not to get nearer Egyptian borders with Libya. Similarly, the warning is also addressed, without naming it, to Turkey. Still, I firmly believe that Egypt should never get involved militarily in the Libyan quagmire. Our absolute priority should be to defend our western borders against intrusions and infiltrations from the Libyan side of the border. The Egyptian president was right, of course, in sending out a warning, so that neither the Tripoli government nor the Turkish government misread Egyptian intentions. The New York Times in its edition dated Saturday, 6 June, quoted Emadeddin Badi, who is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, as saying that there is “clearly more conflict still to come, but everybody — domestically and externally — is going to recalculate their position”. I tend to agree with this assessment. Needless to say, everyone hopes that the warring parties in Libya would reason that there could never be a military solution in Libya and, consequently, they opt for a political solution that would guarantee the territorial integrity and independence of Libya. However, the recent military gains by forces loyal to the Tripoli government could encourage these forces to push for launching a major attack against the forces of Haftar throughout Libya. The open question is whether Turkey would oblige or not. The Egyptian warning against military escalation in Libya could, hopefully, be a wake-up call for both the Tripoli and the Turkish governments, in this respect, against such a grave miscalculation. Maybe Russia could play the role of a buffer between the two Mediterranean powers, if need be. The day the Cairo Declaration was out, the spokesman of the forces of the Tripoli government announced that these forces are advancing towards Sirte, a major stronghold for Haftar forces, as well as Gafra Airbase. Going to press, indications are that the defences of the forces loyal to Haftar would be overpowered. The balance of power on the Libyan battlefields has shifted dramatically to the advantage of the Tripoli forces, a development that would make it difficult to persuade the Tripoli government to negotiate with the defeated party — at least for the time being. *The writer is former assistant foreign minister.
At some point in the lead up to the criminal trials of the four former Minneapolis police officers who face charges relating to the killing of George Floyd, the defendants likely will seek to move the venue -- the geographical location -- of the trial. Motions to change venue are commonly made by defendants in high-profile, high-stakes cases, but are rarely granted. If and when the defendants in the Floyd case make such a motion, the court must deny it. A change of venue could diminish the number of African American individuals in the jury pool and would likely badly undermine public confidence in the ultimate verdict. Under Minnesota court rules, a criminal case should be tried in the county where the conduct occurred, barring extraordinary circumstances. But the Minnesota rules permit a judge to move a case to another county if "a fair and impartial trial cannot be had" in the county where the conduct occurred, where pre-trial publicity has made it reasonably likely that a fair trial cannot be held, or "in the interests of justice." The judge can decide to move a case to any of Minnesota s 87 counties, but not outside the state. Justice demands that the Floyd case not be moved out of Hennepin County, encompassing Minneapolis where the charged murder occurred. Most importantly, a transfer of the case from Hennepin County to another county will almost certainly result in a jury pool with a lower percentage of African Americans -- potentially far less. Hennepin County is Minnesota s most populous county and also has the highest percentage -- 13.6% -- of African American residents. Only one other county in Minnesota is even over 10% African American population, and 47 counties are below 1%. Even Wright County, which borders Hennepin County, has only 1.6% African-American population. Simply put: it is almost unimaginable that the American public will accept as fully legitimate a verdict from a non-representative jury pool in a county where the charged crime did not even occur. Further, the rules do not support a transfer of venue. While there has been an extraordinary amount of pre-trial publicity about the case, there is no logical reason to believe the impact has been any different on potential jurors in Hennepin County than those in any other county. Anybody with an internet connection or cable tv -- in any county in Minnesota, or anywhere in the country -- has been exposed to coverage of this case. The transfer of venue rule seems grounded in antiquated notions of local, paper-based media where word spread slowly based on geography. That simply does not apply to the modern world. And if the case remains in Hennepin County as it should, the law provides important procedures designed to root out potential jurors who may be unduly predisposed for or against any party. While the law does not require that a juror has never heard anything about a case -- realistically, all or nearly all potential jurors will have heard plenty about the Floyd case -- it does give lawyers for all parties the opportunity to question potential jurors to determine whether they have formed strong opinions and are incapable of deciding the case based solely on the evidence at trial. With the world watching, the Minnesota courts must get it right. Moving the case out of Hennepin County would be a serious mistake, and a step away from true justice. Now, your questions: Patrick (Oregon): Is there a possibility that federal criminal charges will be filed against the officers involved in the death of George Floyd? Yes, federal charges are both possible and likely here. The Justice Department announced that it has opened an investigation and "has made the investigation a top priority and has assigned experienced prosecutors and FBI criminal investigators to the matter." There is no prohibition against both the federal government (through the Justice Department) and a state government (through state or local prosecutors) charging the same person with crimes relating to the same conduct. The Supreme Court confirmed just last year that this type of dual approach to prosecution -- sometimes called "separate sovereigns" -- is constitutional. The most likely federal criminal charge here is deprivation of civil rights. Prosecutors must prove that somebody acting under "color of law" (police officers certainly qualify) willfully deprived a person of his constitutionally protected rights -- here, that means Floyd s right to be free of unreasonable seizure by the police. Given the strength of the evidence, I expect the Justice Department to file such charges against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin (who kneeled on Floyd s neck while Floyd said he couldn t breathe) and potentially the other officers at some point. Page (Arkansas): Does the legal concept of "qualified immunity" mean the charges against the officers could be dismissed? No. "Qualified immunity" is a legal doctrine that makes it extraordinarily difficult to sue a public official (including a police officer) for money damages based on the officer s on-the-job conduct, unless it was already "clearly established" by law that the officer s actions were unconstitutional. The Supreme Court may soon take up a case that could limit or eliminate the qualified immunity doctrine. But qualified immunity has nothing to do with criminal charges. There is no such thing as a qualified immunity defense to a murder charge, or any criminal charge. So while qualified immunity could pose a barrier to potential civil lawsuits filed by the Floyd family against the individual officers -- though the family could sue the police department or the city, rather than the individual officers -- it will have no bearing on the criminal case. Russ (Canada): Does the President have legal power to deploy military troops to respond to protests or to provide police services in the states, even if a governor does not request aid? Yes. Under the Insurrection Act of 1807, the President has authority to deploy federal troops in certain delimited circumstances: (1) where requested by a state governor, (2) where necessary to "suppress" unlawful "obstruction" or "rebellion," or (3) where required to prevent interference with enforcement of federal or state laws. While a request from a governor is necessary under the first of those provisions, it is not necessary under the second and third. Thus far, however -- despite his statement that "If the city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residence, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them" -- Trump has not actually deployed federal troops domestically beyond Washington DC in any significant manner.
Black Lives Matter in the time of Covid-19 The chaos currently gripping the US has divided Egyptians, despite that causes closer to hand — like the Palestinian struggle — share with the Black Lives Matter movement a common horizon Black Lives Matter, Covid-19, coronavirus, United States, rights, equality, racism, Egypt Recently, the phrase “Black Lives Matter” has created a great deal of controversy amongst Egyptians and on Egyptian media. Misunderstandings and varied views regarding this movement currently gripping the US make a discussion of its parameters direly due. Despite the fact that the “Black Lives Matter” movement was founded in the US in 2013 as a result of the shooting of African American teen Trayvon Martin, it has currently escalated to unprecedented heights after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police. Police violence against African American citizens has been a volatile issue for years in the US, but this incident taking place amidst the Covid-19 pandemic along with two other recent instances were the match that lit the fire of the current unrest. Racism in the US has been pinpointed by many as a historically sustained pandemic. But how do we as Egyptians position ourselves towards all of this? Egyptians, whether on social media or in the street, are quite divided. Some can only see the current protests in light of the limited violence, looting and rioting, arguing that “Black Lives Matter” is a violent exclusionary movement and that blacks should go back to their original homelands (of course, this group is completely clueless regarding the history of slavery and dispossession that brought blacks originally to American/Native American soil)! Others, on the other hand, are quite empathetic, but feel that Egyptians’ empathy with the “Black Lives Matter” movement is trend-oriented and shortsightedly ignores other oppressive struggles closer to Egyptians, such as the Palestinian struggle. This group draws attention to all the violence Palestinians face on a daily basis at the hands of the Israeli occupation, which cannot be denied. What we need to understand, though, is that whether it is the “Black Lives Matter” movement or the Palestinian struggle, it is the same issue: standing up against violence and racist hatred. The current support Arab-American groups and Palestinian-American groups are showing towards the “Black Lives Matter" movement in the US is proof of this. This undermines the empty argument that “Black Lives” is a reverse racist, exclusionary movement, since “All Lives Matter.” In reality, claiming and naming a particular black position now is the only means to overcome the systemic racism ingrained in the American political system, which normalises racism that is against the rights of all American citizens and humans in general. As citizens, African-Americans in the US have a very distinct history of dispossession that needs to be taken into account. The majority of African-Americans in the US did not leave their original homelands of their own accord but were abducted, sold into slavery and forcibly moved to build the US capitalist economy under the worst of conditions. In the Declaration of Independence, the American Forefathers stated that “All men are created equal” and that everyone has the right to “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Sadly though, actuation of these ideals was continuously questioned by the institution of slavery that supported American capitalism. Abolitionists in the past rose to argue that blacks should have equal rights and that the practice of racist laws such as the ones denying blacks education and fining any whites teaching slaves to read had to be stopped. The Civil War took place to acquire the rightful freedom of blacks and end their economic oppression by whites, but Jim Crow laws of racial segregation remained in the US till the 1950s. These laws prevented African-Americans from being educated in the same schools as whites, riding the same transportation, or even using the same washrooms (social distancing at a whole new level). The Civil Rights movement headed by figures like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X called for the end of segregation and the inclusion of blacks into the American Dream, and some gains were won, but curiously enough both of these leaders were assassinated. Though outright laws of segregation ended, white supremacist practices remain and are still practiced by groups such as the KKK, which has chapters all over the US. That is why Floyd’s murder and his plea to police officers, “I can’t breathe,” is an actual description of suffocation that African-Americans have been experiencing long before the lung failures resulting from Covid-19. A suffocation that has led to the sudden grasp for breath, that is literally taking place now. Writers like Dr Cornell West have long been analysing the dire conditions of poverty and injustice that have led to this current situation and have anticipated its outcomes. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery are all points in a circle of institutionalised injustice and violence that has robbed African-Americans of their humanity for years. The Covid-19 pandemic has only starkly placed this injustice before our eyes as we compare the numbers of African-Americans and minorities killed by this disease as a result of misguided funding directed to black communities. This is why the current protests are calling for redirection of funds to develop African-American communities rather than criminalise and police them. This uprising is gaining momentum, moving actually and digitally to encompass the parameters of all such injustice, undermining mainstream capitalist funded media framing of the movement as violent. Nations face demise and decay when their central creeds and belief systems become blatantly questionable. The various major crises in American history have been shaped by this kind of crisis of identity. The men who crafted the US Constitution were above all shaping a dream of equality and freedom, and this has for a long time shaped how Americans like to define themselves, irrespective of the realities of racism, which were always relegated to the sidelines as isolated incidents practiced by a minority. The current chapter of unrest in American history will not end until the real problems of systemic racism and discrimination are addressed. A digital uprising is already being organised and movements like “In Defense of Black Lives,” which stress capitalist economic oppression suffered by blacks, are joining forces. Political leaders like Andrew Cuomo, Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama have all expressed the need to face the realities of systemic racism. As Egyptians, we need to look in the mirror and realise our own blackness and attempt to understand the historical context. *Somaya Sami Sabry is an associate professor of American and cultural studies at the English Department of Ain Shams University.
Whether invoked by a neo-conservative in the George W Bush administration or denied by a liberal in Obama’s, America is an empire. However, for decades the reach and influence of this empire were checked by the existence of other empires. The 30 years since the end of the Cold War and the defeat of the former Soviet Union have been a unique moment in history when America became the world’s sole empire. Now that moment is coming to an end, and geo-strategists are busy thinking about the multitude of scenarios in which the American empire could interact with today’s rising power, China, which is determined to become an empire and very likely will become one. Yet, what is happening inside America today still merits close attention, for it has a major influence over how America will interact with China and the rest of the world. American politics are becoming much more polarised than at any point since the end of the Civil War and the period of the Reconstruction of the South that followed in the second half of the 19th century. This polarisation transcends the Republican and Democratic Parties descending into wars of words to discredit each other. Today’s polarisation has become socially entrenched and in terms of opposing (and not just different) views of what America means and what its social order ought to be. The polarisation stems from different identities and ways of living, rather than from political positions or economic interests. This is important, because it means political contestation in America is no longer based on seeing the other as intellectually wrong, but rather on seeing the other as belonging to a different moral (and spiritual) place. When societies arrive at this point, politics typically become paralysed. The public space becomes increasingly empty. If one faction sees the other as intellectually, morally and spiritually corrupt (or at best utterly mistaken), it will not only not discuss with it. It will also try to cut its links with anything that has to do with it. This is already happening in different parts of the US today, not only geographically, but also culturally. The result is that the common social space – to which the nation as a whole used to come to debate, discuss and find compromises – initially loses its centrality and then gradually disappears. The diminishing importance of American newspapers, traditional centres of excellence (for example, top universities), national TV networks, and culturally unifying threads (think of the great American novel that captures the national mood and sentiment) are all cases in point. Some might say that the extreme bipartisanship in the US Congress today is the most glaring example. As political contestation becomes increasingly polarised, representing not only different viewpoints, but also different convictions, ways of life, and identities, the other could well become more than just “different” or even “wrong”. It could become “evil”. American political rhetoric has often combined the sacred with the secular. More than in any other Western country, God has always had a central presence in America’s politics. (It is important to emphasise that the most influential of the country’s Founding Fathers, the initial architects of the American project at its birth-moment, saw God in grander hues than those gleaned from anthropomorphic understandings.) As articles of faith and views stemming from what is “good” and what is “evil” take centre stage in any highly polarised polity, demonising the other quickly follows. As a result, the centre becomes diluted, and power is fragmented. The traditional nodes of power in America get marginalised in favour of powers that traditionally were on the margins. We are already seeing this as far-right (and to some extent also far-left) groups that were always on the fringes are now at the centre of the two American political parties. The rest of the world should care about this because what happens in America has always affected how it deals with the world outside. And at this moment when China’s rise is bringing American global hegemony to an end, the effect of the inside on the outside is particularly important. The situation is historically unique. Never before in modern history (at least in the past three centuries) has a single empire ruled supreme in the world. There are no precedents for how America will behave at this moment of global transition. America’s internal dynamics accentuate the uncertainty. The acute polarisation concerning what constitutes American values, frame of reference and way of life could translate into acute differences as to what its national interests are, what its role in the world is and what it is willing to do to defend those interests. The increasing polarisation is unlikely to lead America to over-aggressive or over-acquiescent positions with regard to China. But the diverging views that result from polarisation could well lead to confusion and chaos, or at least to weakened decision-making processes. Previous foreign policy mistakes have cost America dear, but serious mistakes in delicate geo-political situations (such as dealing with China at this moment in history) are of a different order of magnitude. They will have serious consequences for the whole world. This is because the interaction between America and China in the coming decade will affect international trade, the functioning of the most important international institutions, the development of revolutionary technologies, the global economy, and of course politics in different parts of the world. Dousing the demon of acute polarisation in American society will benefit many parts of the world and not just America. As for those who have always looked with admiration at the intellectual rigour of the original American project, they are now looking at today’s American politics with surprise and wistfulness.
Across the world, countries have imposed social distancing regulations to avoid overwhelming the health care capacity during the corona pandemic — the so-called “flatten the curve.” Such a policy can make a lot of sense. The first peer-reviewed cost-benefit analysis of the US shows just that. It looks at moderate social distancing, an approach similar to Sweden’s. Here, social interaction is reduced about 40 percent, allowing schools and work to stay open but dramatically reducing contacts in all other public areas. Had this been done across the US, it would have cost $7 trillion more in lost GDP, but more than half the death toll would have been avoided compared to a scenario in which no regulations were put in place. The social benefits of saving these lives add up to about $12 trillion, meaning each dollar in cost achieves $1.70 in social benefits. The study uses rather optimistic assumptions, especially assuming away a second wave of infections, meaning the real social return is likely lower. A long-term lock-down policy during which schools and work are also shut down, however, would cost much more but save fewer additional lives. This would likely leave society worse off. But most of the current conversation has been focused on the response in the rich world. That, despite the fact that four-fifths of the world’s population lives outside the rich world, and many large nations, including India and Indonesia, have engaged in dramatic and strict corona policies. Is this the right decision? For the poorer countries, the benefits of corona policies are sharply lower, as documented by researchers at Yale University. First, poor countries have substantially fewer old people who would benefit from social distancing. Second, poorer countries already have low hospital capacity, so flattening the curve will help little and still see hospitals overwhelmed. Third, poorer people face several challenges and die from many other, preventable causes. This means that they value any risk reduction from corona much less. Together with the National Planning Commission in Malawi, Copenhagen Consensus and the African Institute for Development Policy have just conducted what is likely the first cost-benefit analysis on corona policies for a developing country. Its findings are stark. Models show that along with limiting corona deaths, moderate social distancing will also improve treatment of some diseases like HIV but reduce the effectiveness of other treatments, such as those for malaria and tuberculosis. It will also lower the number of traffic deaths but increase the number of malnourished children. In total, the studies find that the policy can avoid almost 7,000 deaths in a country of 19 million people. That is encouraging. However, there are significant costs. While a corona epidemic inevitably creates an economic cost, moderate social distancing will have a somewhat higher economic impact. The total economic loss for Malawi runs to $6.7 billion, almost equivalent to an entire year of GDP. Malawi has shut down its schools to help tackle corona, but this is also very expensive. About six million school children will learn less and end up less productive in their adult lives. Given that the productivity increase for a year of extra schooling is estimated at 12.2 percent, the total loss over the coming generations for Malawi is worth $5.2 billion today. Put bluntly, moderate social distancing and school closures can save 7,000 lives at the cost of $12 billion in lower life quality for its future. Is that worthwhile? Many well-meaning people will argue that lives should be saved at any cost. But clearly, that doesn’t happen. Malawi each year sees 22,000 people die from HIV, almost all of whom could have been saved with enough resources. One study estimates that effective policies to increase nutrition for HIV-infected people could save 7,000 lives for $3 million. For the amount Malawi would spend on saving one life through corona policies, it can save 4,000 lives through smart HIV policies. Moreover, most of the saved lives from corona are older people, whereas most of the lives saved from HIV, malaria, tuberculosis and child nutrition are much younger. It turns out that just in terms of life years saved, moderate social distancing will likely lose more life years than it will gain. And it will cost $12 billion. Therefore, the new analysis shows that in Malawi, each dollar spent on moderate social distancing to tackle corona will deliver just four cents of social benefits. Faced with the specter of corona, initial frenzied action is understandable. And moderate policies in rich countries are likely justified. But for the majority of the world, the benefits are smaller and the costs are higher. Malawi should, of course, continue a series of sensible low-cost social distancing measures like cocooning the elderly, no large gatherings and handwashing. It should keep health services for tuberculosis, malaria and vaccinations running. It should provide masks for health personnel. But crucially, Malawi — and likely many developing nations — should not shut down its schools or economy to tackle corona, because the damages will vastly outweigh the benefits. Bjorn Lomborg is President of the Copenhagen Consensus, Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and Visiting Professor at the Copenhagen Business School. His upcoming book is "False Alarm".
Scenes emerging from the US states of Minnesota, California and many others of riots and violent protests have dominated the TV news despite the prevailing daily dose of gloomy news of the Covid-19 pandemic around the world. A police officer in Minneapolis was caught on film kneeling on the neck of African-American man George Floyd for over eight minutes and enough for the poor man to die horribly at the scene. The policeman, named Derek Chauvin, ignored Floyd’s pleas and cries of “I can’t breathe” until he died as a result of Chauvin’s knee choking him. The video then went viral, unleashing massive protests in Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Seattle among 13 other US cities now under mandatory curfews. The governor of Minnesota took unprecedented measures and issued a state of emergency, calling on the state’s National Guard to quell the riots. US President Donald Trump also vowed to involve the American military should the riots continue. At least seven other states have called on their National Guards to curb the growing violence of rioters mingling with peaceful protesters. These hooligans have committed acts of vandalism and the arson of public and private property across many states, exacerbating an already tense situation and overshadowing the death of Floyd by exacting vengeance on the whole of society. Violent groups have capitalised on the situation and have been reported as being involved in acts of violence during the protests. Dozens of shops, restaurants and private businesses have either been burned, looted or vandalised by rioters who have violated curfews and clashed with police, resulting in the killing of a federal police officer in California and the injury of many others. The events following the death of Floyd are reminiscent of many others that have occurred over past decades in the US. One of the most infamous took place in 1992 when a court acquitted four police officers accused of assaulting the African-American man Rodney King and brutally beating him. One of the most violent riots in US history then took place in Los Angeles, resulting in 63 deaths, 2,383 injuries and more than 7,000 fires. It also resulted in damage to 3,100 businesses as the riots cost nearly $1 billion in financial losses during the course of six days. Unfortunately, history seems to be repeating itself as a result of the horrific death of Floyd at the hands of the US police. This cycle of violence seems to be beyond the control of any US president, whether he be Donald Trump, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton or George Bush. The deeply rooted racial issues in the US were not resolved by the existence of an African-American president such as Obama, and certainly they will not be resolved by Trump. The race issue requires a more extensive outlook and more protection laws, and it seems to have been overlooked in the recent past when Obama was elected as the country’s first black president. Many believed at that time that the majority of the nation had changed and that racism in the US was a practice of the past. But events have proven otherwise. In fact, the rise of the far-right and of alt-right groups in the US has been a clear signal that racism is far from over in the United States and that it must be tackled on all levels, especially within government departments and the authorities that deal directly with citizens such as police departments across the country. The bottled-up hatred between large sections of Americans towards others also manifests itself in such riots, which emerge to destroy property as a result of a single horrific death. These events are not caused by racial-segregation laws, which were abolished in the US educational system in 1954, but they are an indication that large numbers of Americans still view themselves in terms of ethnicity first and citizen second. Floyd has meanwhile joined the countless black and non-white victims of police brutality and abuse in the US. While there have been measures to reeducate the police forces, which have had positive results in some cases, racism still lingers within police forces across the United States. A bad apple can spoil an entire basket, and the killing of Floyd should not be seen as necessarily tainting the entire police force of Minnesota. Yet, it does taint the efforts and sacrifices that this police force has been making to tackle racism, along with similar ones made elsewhere. It is imperative that bad examples such as Chauvin be weeded out early before they cause nationwide disasters. Chauvin had had 18 complaints filed against him in his 19 years in the police department, and he was disciplined as a result of two of them. These cases included deaths and shootings, and yet he was still awarded a medal of valour in 2008. There is no doubt that a police officer’s job is not easy and involves his placing his life at risk every day. But this cannot be a reason for officers to take the law into their own hands or to overstep their roles as the protectors of the public or enforcers of the laws, turning them into executioners. The video of Chauvin kneeling on the neck of Floyd causing his eventual death is a scene that cannot be allowed to take place again in the United States or anywhere else in the world. Chauvin has now been arrested and charged with third degree murder, and the escorting officers patrolling with him have also been suspended from their work. Chauvin violated proper police conduct in his act, but alas he is not the only case of such violations that have taken place in recent years. Countless other cases have also been reported in the US of police brutality, many of them involving a white policeman and a minority victim who has been mistreated, abused, humiliated and sometimes even killed during the process of apprehension or arrest. In many cases, police officers are trigger-happy and fire upon suspects at the slightest of excuses. The threats to the US status in the world are numerous. Some of them are military, such as those from its global rivals such as Russia, or economic, such as from China, or security based, such as from the likes of terrorists such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State (IS) group. But none of these can defeat the United States militarily, as it is more than capable of defending itself from countries like Russia, China, North Korea or Iran. China, despite its exponential growth, cannot overshadow the United States. Even with continued attacks and threats by global terrorist groups, none of these can ever manage seriously to affect the power of the United States. The real threat to US unity and welfare comes from within because the race issue still has not been resolved after over two centuries of the country’s history. Race and racial identity remain a major cause of problems in the US today and ones that are deeply rooted within US society. It is high time that US-based human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch shift their focus inwards towards America’s own human rights violations and racial issues before dictating what other governments should do in their own countries. The United States today is at a crossroads, and the divisions in US society are becoming ever clearer and more visible to everyone. They cannot be hidden by the language of political correctness any longer.
I am a black American man who has been privileged to serve in law enforcement for 40 years. Today, if a young person of color asks me what they should do if a police officer stops them, I answer: Put your hands on the steering wheel where they can be seen, cooperate and comply. And should they answer me back, as they likely would today -- Even if I did all that, we are still getting murdered -- I would have nothing to tell him or her. With my decades of experience, I would have nothing to say. Black Americans -- mostly young men, but women as well -- are being killed by American law officers not for anything they did but for who they are. The killings are not accidents, statistical freaks or mistakes in judgment. They are products of American history. Until there is a plan for reform to address these failures of policing -- most immediately embodied in the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd -- I will continue to have nothing to say to the young people of color who ask me what to do, how to prevent their own deaths at the hands of police. And I fear that under President Donald Trump, no plan will ever be devised, that we will be left with nothing but the darkness in which we now find ourselves. The need for a better America cannot be disputed. Ahmaud Marquez Arbery was out for a jog -- unarmed -- in Glynn County, Georgia, when two local white men, Travis McMichael and his father, Gregory, a former local law enforcement officer, were recorded on the cellphone of a third local white resident, William "Roddie" Bryan, gunning him down. Only months later, after a local radio station obtained Bryan s cellphone video, posted it on its website, and the video went viral, did officials announce that a grand jury would decide whether to bring charges. Just two days later, Georgia Bureau of Investigation officers arrested the McMichaels on charges of felony murder and aggravated assault. Bryan was arrested May 21, charged with felony murder and false imprisonment. The men have not been asked by a judge to plead and attorneys for them have told reporters they committed no crimes. A DOJ spokesperson has confirmed that the department s Civil Rights Division was assessing evidence to weigh whether federal hate crime charges were appropriate. The timeline of this case, including the long suppression of charges, spans 74 days. But its true history, the history of violent racism in America, is much longer, dating to the 19th century and the Jim Crow era of the early 20th century, when lynchings and the refusal to prosecute them were routine. In Louisville, Kentucky, in March, Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old EMT -- working on her city s hard-hit front line of the Covid-19 pandemic -- was shot to death in her home by three Louisville Metro police officers. In plainclothes, they broke in deep in the dead of night and, her family says, without identifying themselves. Taylor s boyfriend opened fire on the unknown men. His fire was returned, and Taylor took the brunt of it, struck eight times. As it turned out, the warrant, concerning drug charges, was served in connection with two people already in police custody. Taylor s only "offense" was having had a prior relationship with one of them. The FBI has opened an investigation into her death. It took seconds to put eight rounds into Breonna Taylor. As with the Arbery slaying, the history behind this blink of an eye is much longer, bringing to mind the fate of Fred Hampton, a 21-year-old Chicago activist, Black Panther and founder of the Rainbow Coalition. He was shot to death on December 4, 1969, in a predawn raid on his Chicago apartment by Cook County State s Attorney tactical officers, Chicago police officers and FBI agents. The coroner s jury ruled justifiable homicide, but the consensus among historians is that Hampton was targeted for assassination by the FBI, acting in this case as latter-day Nightriders. On May 25, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin and three other officers arrested George Floyd in connection with a "forgery" incident -- passing an allegedly counterfeit $20 bill. Chauvin restrained Floyd by kneeling on his neck, ignoring his repeated appeals for his life ("I can t breathe") and bystanders pleas that the officers were killing the man. Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. The asphyxiation of Floyd is proving to be a tipping point in the long history of American racism. Videos of police violence against black people have become commonplace. Most record fast-moving, violent incidents. But the record of the last minutes of Floyd s life shows a man being slowly, deliberately deprived of the breath of life. It is a lynching. Floyd s death took place in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, which our President likes to call the "invisible enemy." In contrast, Floyd s killing was intensely, obscenely visible, and the response to that visibility has been intensely visible as well in dozens of American cities. Meanwhile, under the Trump administration, the Justice Department has essentially abandoned in-depth investigations into unconstitutional policing practices, according to a CNN report. During President George W. Bush s first term, the DOJ launched 12 investigations of law enforcement agencies for practices that violate the Constitution. President Barack Obama s Justice Department opened 15. Trump s Justice Department, according to legal experts and DOJ records, has opened only one. While federal authorities are involved in investigating what happened to Arbery and Taylor, no systemic investigation of policing practices in any of these locations seems likely to happen under Trump s administration. Meanwhile, there is no shortage of video coverage of the peaceful demonstrations and protests and violent riots and looting that have followed what happened in Minneapolis. What we lack is a plan to address the events themselves, just as we lack a plan to address the Covid-19 pandemic -- which, of course, impacts people of color with greater frequency and consequence than it does white people. The virulence of the disease is rooted in the same social and economic conditions as the virulence of law enforcement attitudes and policies toward communities and individuals of color. As we have no plan for Covid, so we have no plan for addressing police violence against this same population. And if the record of Trump s Justice Department is a barometer of what s to come, we may never have a plan under his leadership. In 2015, I was asked by President Obama to serve on the President s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which was a response to a number of serious incidents between law enforcement and the communities they serve and protect. Ours was not a "commission" but a "task force," charged with identifying the problems and quickly formulating plans to correct them. In 90 days, through hearings with some 140 witnesses, we formulated 59 recommendations with 92 action items in the areas of building trust and legitimacy, policy and oversight, technology and social media, community policing and crime reduction, training and education, and officer wellness and safety. We created a plan, a political, policy, strategic, tactical and moral GPS. Under former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the work of the task force and its recommendations were essentially discarded. Needless to say, Attorney General William Barr has not resurrected them. Were someone in the federal government to stumble across what we did, they would find themselves with a leg up to creating what we need now even more desperately than what we needed in 2015: a plan, a map, a GPS. But we are left with none. The consequences of this dire absence should be as obvious to us in 2020 as they were to the writers of the Book of Proverbs millennia ago: "Where there is no vision, the people perish..." The problems we face at this moment are part of our long history. But the complete absence of leadership -- political, moral, policy, strategic -- strikes me as genuinely unprecedented. What s the plan now, America?
President Donald Trump s announcement that his administration will designate Antifa as a terrorist organization is surely unconstitutional because it would effectively criminalize joining an American domestic ideological group. Thanks to the First Amendment, the US government has historically avoided designating domestic groups on both the left and right as terrorist. Belonging to such groups is consistent with the legitimate exercise of your First Amendment right to freedom of speech and belief — whether you are a white supremacist or an environmental activist. Of course, should an American citizen commit a crime in service of her extremist beliefs she can be prosecuted for that crime, but she can t be prosecuted for merely belonging to the group, no matter how objectionable its views might be. The situation is quite different when it comes to terrorist groups based overseas. If you look at the National Counterterrorism Center s list of designated terrorist groups, you will see that all the groups that are listed are based outside the United States. Joining such designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations is not protected by the First Amendment and is prosecuted as a crime. In recent years scores of Americans, for instance, have been convicted of joining ISIS or attempting to join the terrorist group, which can carry a sentence of up to 20 years. If Trump succeeds in designating Antifa it potentially opens the door for American citizens to be charged for merely holding their beliefs — even if they are extreme and at times, militant. close dialog It also begs the question why analogous extremist right wing groups are not similarly designated by the Trump administration, since violent right-wing extremists in the US kill far more Americans than leftist terrorists. According to data gathered by New America, a research institution, since 9/11 right-wing terrorists in the United States have killed 110 people for political reasons, while Antifa supporters have killed exactly no one for political reasons. Meanwhile, those motivated by black nationalist ideology have killed 12 people. In other words, the threat posed by lethal right-wing terrorists since the 9/11 attacks is almost 10 times greater than that posed by leftist terrorists. To its credit, the Trump administration designated the Russian Imperial Movement, a white supremacist group based in Russia, as a terrorist organization in April. Yet there is no indication that the Trump administration will effectively criminalize being a member of an American right-wing extremist group. And for good reason: The First Amendment is the first for a reason, and it allows Americans to hold extremist beliefs of all flavors without fear of prosecution — including Antifa supporters.
This past week has brought tragedy upon tragedy to our nation: the death toll from Covid-19 passed a grim milestone of 100,000 deaths; the brutal killing of George Floyd ignited mass protests in Minneapolis and beyond, and seven people were shot in protests demanding justice in Louisville. But our President was mostly busy with other things: getting into a public fight with Twitter, condemning China over Hong Kong and terminating our relationship with the World Health Organization -- an entity that once looked to the United States as the world s leading institution in fighting pandemics. President Donald Trump also took time, of course, to send out a stream of new, controversial tweets. He called protesters in Minneapolis "thugs" and repeated a racist line from a Miami police chief years ago, "When the looting starts, the shooting starts." He even retweeted a video in which a supporter says, "The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat." But other than a brief tweet in the midst of another storm, Trump remained silent on the most sensitive issue of his presidency: the pandemic that is killing so many older Americans and people of color living near the edge. Understandably, with the rash of other news, the press is moving on. But we should pause for one more moment to recognize how sad and sharp a departure his silence is from past traditions of the presidency. Since the early days of the Republic until now, Americans have looked to our presidents to provide protection, meaning and comfort, especially in moments of crisis. After George Washington was sworn as commander in chief of the Continental Army, Ethan Allen s younger brother, Levi, wrote to Washington in 1776 that he had become "Our political Father and head of a Great People." Shortly thereafter, Washington was frequently referred to as "Father of Our Country." As he steered us through war, the constitutional convention, and two terms as President, the phrase caught on. He wasn t much of a speaker -- he thought his deeds spoke for him -- but he was a leader of such strong character and rock-solid integrity that he became the gold standard of the presidency. Lincoln began his presidency during great uncertainty about his leadership. He won the election of 1860 with the smallest plurality ever (39%), and his military experience was virtually nil. But over time, he kindled a special relationship with Union soldiers, many of whom called him "Father Abraham." Historians say his homespun ways, common manner and kindly empathy converted them. In his re-election, soldiers were his greatest supporters. Franklin Roosevelt was known to be self-involved in his early years, but his struggles with polio transformed him into a caring, compassionate leader. Working families and many people of color thought they had a friend in the White House. So attached did his followers become that when he gave a fireside chat on a summer evening, you could walk down the streets of Baltimore and hear every word as families sat in their living room by a radio. Historians generally agree that Washington, Lincoln and FDR were our greatest presidents. All three are remembered for their empathy and steadfastness in caring for the lives of average Americans. They continue to set the standard. In contemporary times, it is harder for any president to sustain deep ties with a majority of Americans. We are too sharply divided as a people, and the internet often brings out the worst in us. Even so, several of our recent presidents have found moments when they can unify us and make us feel that at the end of the day, we are indeed one people. In many cases, these moments have come to define their presidencies: Ask any American adult and they can generally remember one, two or even three occasions in which recent presidents connected with us emotionally, stirring our hearts. I remember with absolute clarity the Challenger disaster in 1986. One saw the plumes of the rising space craft against a bright blue sky -- and then that horrific explosion as it instantly disappeared. Ronald Reagan was one of the few presidents in our history who expressed our emotions so well in a moment of shock and mourning. For hour upon hour, the networks had replayed the explosion, and it seemed so meaningless. But then Reagan used his speech to replace that picture in our minds with a different one: the astronauts waving goodbye. They became our heroes, especially as Reagan (drawing upon speechwriter Peggy Noonan) closed with lines from a World War II poem: "We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God. " One thinks, too, of Bill Clinton traveling to Oklahoma City after the bombing there of a federal building in 1995. Clinton, like Reagan, was at his best when he captured tangled emotions and gave meaning to deaths of some of our finest citizens. He not only consoled families in private but moved the nation when he mourned them publicly. As I recall, that s when presidents were first called "Mourners in Chief" -- a phrase that has been applied repeatedly to presidents since. (Not coincidentally, Clinton s speech of mourning in Oklahoma City is widely credited with resurrecting his presidency, then in the doldrums.) One remembers, too, George W. Bush standing on the top of a crushed police car in the rubble of the World Trade Center bombing. When a first responder said he couldn t hear the President, Bush responded through his bullhorn: "I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon." One also remembers Barack Obama flying again and again to speak at gravesites where young children or church parishioners were being buried, victims gunned down in a gun-obsessed nation. Thinking about the mass shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, one s mind returns to the image of the President of the United States leading a memorial service, singing "Amazing Grace." Reagan, Clinton, Bush, Obama -- two Republicans, two Democrats -- served as our "Mourners in Chief." All four bound us together for a few moments, and we remembered who we are and who we can be. Why has our current "Mourner in Chief" gone AWOL? God knows. But his flight from responsibility is yet another sadness among this week s tragic losses.
They don t want Donald Trump to change. They like him just as he is. There is no other credible explanation for the majority of white evangelical Christians apparently undying support for a president who has repeatedly shown them precisely who he is and has long been, with his indecency, bigotry, crudeness, serial untruthfulness and immorality. And yet, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey, a majority of white evangelical Christians believe that President Donald Trump has helped their interests. He fares even better on the issue of whether he fights for what they "believe in" -- 53% answered "very well"; 28% "fairly well." Consider, against this, that the President has tweeted six times this month about a decades-old conspiracy theory targeting MSNBC s Joe Scarborough. Trump has shown himself to be a man who would disrespect the memory of dead woman just to get back at a political opponent. That woman, Lori Klausutis, died while working as an intern in Scarborough s Florida office when he was a congressman. Trump has disgustingly suggested Scarborough -- who is a Trump critic -- had something to do with her death, a widely debunked theory. Klausutis death, according to the medical examiner, was the "result of an acute subdural hematoma which occurred as a result of a closed head trauma sustained in a simple fall." The autopsy report concluded that the fall happened because Klausutis had "a sudden cardiac arrhythmia from her undiagnosed floppy mitral valve disease." Some have laid the blame for allowing this beyond-the-pale behavior on Twitter and Jack Dorsey, its CEO and founder, but this is misguided. It makes little sense to believe that Dorsey or other heads of social media platforms can do anything significant to modify Trump s behavior -- or even that they should. Sen. Kamala Harris, for one, suggested a Twitter ban for Trump months ago. That suggestion has simmered since then and received more attention after Trump s recent tweets about Scarborough and Klausutis. Still, on Tuesday, Twitter began a kind of fact-check on a Trump tweet, for the first time, about a different issue -- voting -- adding a hyperlinked line at the bottom of two of the President s tweets that allows Twitter users to "Get the facts about mail-in ballots." I get why Twitter felt compelled to do this, but it won t fix the problem. Trump will continue being indecent because his base wants him to be. Fact-checks in other media haven t stopped him; neither will this one. Trump can t be forced by fact-check to become a decent human being. Facts he doesn t like enrage him. And he either ignores fact-checks or uses them to claim that they target conservatives, as he did quickly Tuesday after Twitter gently weighed in on his false voting claims. Indeed, the moment Trump became president -- in large part because a high percentage of white Evangelical Christian voters chose him -- was the moment it became the duty of the American public to help shape his behavior while in office. And the only real slice of the public that might effectively do this -- that has any real influence over Trump -- is white evangelical Christians. Kicking Trump off Twitter would not work, even if Dorsey took that route; it would open a political Pandora s box. While Trump is the most indecent political leader of the modern era -- by a mile -- other politicians have used social media platforms to traffic in ugly speech as well, including anti-Semitism, conspiracy theories and falsehoods about their opponents. Booting Trump would make it an imperative to do the same with other politicians who cross the line. Do we really want Twitter, in a hyperpartisan era such as this deciding which politician had crossed the decency or truthfulness line? I don t. I don t trust Trump, but neither do I trust a corporation s judgment to get it right and not succumb to political pressure. Let s recall, in any case, that Trump is president of the United States of America. Most of what he says and does in public is potentially newsworthy, for good and for ill. That s why deleting his indecent tweets is also a bad option. Social media platforms are essentially stuck with Trump in the way newspapers, news websites and network and cable news shows aren t. Those other media can decline to show him live -- or have the pause before printing -- that makes it possible to fact-check his every utterance and put them into context before broadcasting or publishing them. What s more, banning Trump could put less powerful Twitter users at potential risk. Part of Twitter s allure is that it has empowered the previously voiceless like never before, allowing them to start revolutions at a moment s notice. It s a sure bet that if a man as powerful as Trump can be banned, the most vulnerable among us will eventually pay a larger price in the months and years to come, as the powerful weaponize Twitter bans against them. Dorsey can t solve this problem, no matter how many times people demand he must. White evangelical Christians can. They are one of the primary reasons Trump was elected and now has the right to rule like a toddler. Evangelical voters hold in their hands any real chance he has of being reelected. If most white evangelical Christians wanted Trump to grow up, he d have to -- or be forced to relinquish power. Which returns us to a sticky problem: Many of them appear to not mind what Trump does. What he says doesn t appear to be a deal breaker for many of them. They call his offensive statements, cheap shots and low blows "counterpunching" and don t seem to mind it. It gives many evangelicals who support Trump goosebumps to see a Republican president "fight" the liberal media and "evil" Democrats the way Trump has. While the rest of us see indecency, this hefty slice of evangelicals see manliness and a leader ordained by the Almighty. According to the Pew survey, 69% of white evangelicals think that "honest" describes Trump very or fairly well, and 61% believe that "morally upstanding" describes the President very or fairly well. This, despite evidence that proves the opposite. That s why the heartbreaking letter Klausutis widower sent Twitter to urge the social media giant to delete Trump s tweets about his late wife will not likely move these evangelical supporters. They back Trump no matter what. Indeed, it seems obvious that Trump is more important to them than their claims of wanting to be Christ-like and believing in decency and the sanctity of life. At this point, it s silly to pretend otherwise -- to buy into the lie that they support him because he is pro-life, given that his administration has demonstrated time and again that it doesn t believe all life is equal -- or out of economic angst, given the Depression-like unemployment rate. If it were just about abortion, they could relax: He has already all but ensured that the Supreme Court will be conservative-leaning for another generation. Besides that, if he had been removed from office, a white evangelical Christian and fierce abortion opponent, Vice President Mike Pence, would have become president (based on the line of succession). Not even that convinced them to leave Trump. I know it s hard for many fair-minded people to accept this truth, because it sounds so dark. I know because I ve long tried to explain it away as well. I spent nearly two decades as a parishioner in a mostly white, Southern evangelical church. I didn t want to believe this about the people I ve broken bread with -- in their homes and in my own. We have cared for each other s children. I didn t want to believe this about so many of the people I ve prayed and cried with. But it s true. Every single time Trump has done or said something untoward and forced them to choose him or their principles, they ve chosen him. Because of that, we are stuck with Trump s indecency as long as he s president. Jack Dorsey can t do anything about that. No, Trump won t change. That s why every registered voter needs to understand that if he wins in November, Trump will feel even more emboldened in his behavior.
"He s a fool, an absolute fool," former Vice President Joe Biden said of President Donald Trump s refusal to wear a face mask. "Every doc in the world is saying you should wear a mask when you re in a crowd." Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, didn t raise his voice and smiled often. But he pulled no punches. "Presidents," he said, "are supposed to lead, not engage in folly and be falsely masculine." It was Biden s first in-person interview since the pandemic forced him off the campaign trail two months ago, and CNN aired it moments after Trump gave another one of his bizarre, conspiracy-laden, self-aggrandizing presentations on the White House grounds. The two performances had much in common: both outdoors, on a beautiful late-spring day, both candidates campaigning, dressed the part. But the content, in case anyone forgot, was a reminder of how different the two men are. Trump s statements were his by-now-familiar blend of lies, boasts, misdirection and insults. He had gathered the media for an event touting a deal to lower insulin costs for seniors. "Insulin. So many people. So necessary," he said, straying from his prepared text with chopped sentence fragments and non-sensical musings. "I don t use insulin. Should I be? Huh? I never thought about it." Older voters are telling pollsters they prefer Biden, so that s no doubt why Trump declared, "we love our seniors," and claimed he will always protect medical coverage for pre-existing conditions even as his administration is in court trying to do away with Obamacare, the program that at long last expanded Americans access to health insurance. The President repeated his latest vile distraction: He again promoted the thoroughly unfounded claim that MSNBC s Joe Scarborough, a former Republican Congressman who is fiercely critical of him, may have been involved in the death of an aide in his Florida office 19 years ago. The death of the woman, who had a heart condition, was ruled an accident. On the same day the widower of the woman pleaded for an end to the use of his dead wife s memory for political games, Trump unapologetically did it again, "Very suspicious," he said. It was another shameful performance; the kind Americans have been observing for more than three years. The kind that has put Biden ahead in the polls, which is possibly the reason Trump again claimed -- falsely -- that mail-in ballots would lead to large-scale fraud. Without mail-in ballots, millions of Americans afraid of possible infection at polling stations in the midst of a pandemic may not feel able to vote in November. Trump attacked the media, "Sleepy Joe," and gushed about what a great job he s done fighting the pandemic that on his watch has killed almost 100,000 Americans. It would have been many times worse, he bragged, if he hadn t done such a great job. But the President s approach to the pandemic is a chaotic mess of contradictions. After retweeting a post from a Fox News personality mocking Biden for wearing a face mask at a Memorial Day event, Trump this time disparaged a reporter who asked about it. Trump told the reporter to take off his mask for the follow up question. The reporter said he would keep it on and speak louder instead, "Okay, good," Trump sniffed, "you want to be politically correct." Doctors and federal guidelines urge Americans to wear masks; the President refuses to do it, and mocks those who do. Biden was asked if wearing a mask is a sign of weakness or strength. He said it s a sign of leadership. "A president s got to lead by example," he told CNN s Dana Bash. "This macho stuff is costing people s lives." Bash and Biden were sitting 12 feet apart. Bash said that they wore masks whenever they got any closer than that. Biden punched hard at Trump, but the former vice president also did a credible job of acknowledging his mistakes. After an interview in which he joked that African-American voters who don t support him aren t really black, Biden again apologized, saying there s nothing wrong with admitting a mistake, especially if he s hurt someone. "If I say something offensive, I should apologize. Biden s brand is decency. But Americans want more than that, especially now. They want a leader who will take them safely out of the current calamity. We need to reopen the economy smartly, he said, we cannot separate economic well-being from health. "There are ways to reopen rationally," to "put people in a position where they don t have to risk their lives to make a living." Biden managed to come across as simultaneously strong and polite. If Trump watched the interview, you can bet he hated it. All those references to his phony masculinity, to his lies, to his foolishness, hit the mark. Let s see how Trump vents on Twitter. Biden was smiling, but he raised the temperature in the race. Voters who watched both events saw the contrast, almost side by side. If you liked one of them, you couldn t possibly like the other.
Jorge Garcia Curbelo and Danilo Ochoa Jomarrón always imagined coming to the United States to get married and live happily ever after as an openly gay couple. They never imagined that they would be separated at the border -- or worse yet, unable to see one another for more than a year as a deadly pandemic raged across the globe. "We had a beautiful relationship in Cuba, but we were always afraid of being caught by the police and had to be cautious because of the government," Curbelo told me when sharing some of the reasons that pushed them to leave their country. While homosexuality is technically legal in Cuba, there is still a pervading sense of homophobia and discrimination against LGBT individuals, particularly outside of major cities. Jomarrón even says that he lost his job as an art teacher due to being "unfit" to work in a school -- a remnant of the Fidel Castro era that forbade homosexuals from working in the education sector but that was supposedly scrapped when laws came into force prohibiting this kind of workplace discrimination. "We wanted to have a life that we couldn t have in Cuba, where we could get married and live freely," Curbelo continued. But when Curbelo and Jomarrón arrived at the US-Mexico border a little more than one year ago in hopes of escaping this kind of persecution, US Border Patrol officers split them up, sending Curbelo to an immigration detention facility in Pennsylvania and Jomarrón to one in Georgia. It was a far cry from the freedom that they had bargained for -- and the beginning of a very long separation. "We told them that we re a couple," Curbelo continued, recalling the moment that they were separated. However, as with other LGBT couples before them, this did little to convince the border officers that they should be able to stay together. Americans across the country are now working to lift the so-called lockdown, a bid for freedom from restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. But if they truly believe in freedom for all, they should turn their attention to the refugees and asylum-seekers, like Curbelo and Jomarrón, who are sent to immigration detention facilities and spend their lives under lockdown for far too long. Over the past two months, most Americans have gotten a small taste of what it feels like to be unable to see their loved ones, part of a "new normal" that has replaced visits with video calls, as the country struggles to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. But for anyone navigating the rules of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, many aspects of this "new normal" have been a part of life since long before the pandemic. US citizens and legal residents can only visit detained loved ones during certain visitation hours, and in some facilities only through plexiglass or over video -- even if they were in the same room. It isn t "social distancing." It is just the rules. Since the coronavirus crisis began, ICE has suspended all social visitations. For refugees and asylum-seekers, trying to keep track of a loved one in the system can be even more challenging. Often, they are separated with no way to contact another detainee for months at a time. For many, it is a price they are willing to pay for the hope of someday getting to be together. However, this hope seems further and further away as the Covid-19 pandemic rages both outside and inside detention facilities, making many couples wonder what will happen if one of them gets sick and is deported -- or dies -- before they have a chance to say goodbye. Separation, before and after Covid-19 "We would call my family members to learn about each other," Curbelo continues, explaining how he and Jomarrón got news about each other while they were both in detention. "We could call people on the outside, but not other detainees," he explains, describing how guards limited his and Jomarrón s ability to communicate. "They wouldn t allow three-way calls, either." A few months later, Curbelo won his asylum case. However, when Jomarrón presented the same evidence -- both of their asylum claims were largely based on their relationship, after all -- he was denied. It is an example of the vast difference in asylum success rates from one state to another. "Jorge s case was so strong, that he was able to get asylum, even pro se," said Tahirih Justice Center supervising staff attorney Shelly Anand, referring to the fact that Curbelo, like many asylum-seekers, didn t have legal representation. Since Jomarrón s asylum was refused, the Tahirih Justice Center has stepped in to provide pro-bono legal support. "His case is parallel to our client (Jomarrón) -- so this says a lot about the jurisdiction that we re working in," she continued, referring to the low success rates in Georgia. According to Syracuse University s TRAC Immigration project, 33% of asylum-seekers in Pennsylvania were granted asylum in 2019. In Georgia, this dropped to only 5%. For the young couple, it was a nightmare. "It is a terrible feeling," said Curbelo. "I got asylum and he didn t, all because of the opinion of one judge." As soon as he could, Curbelo traveled to Georgia to visit Jomarrón and get married -- even though a wedding in an ICE detention facility was not the wedding that either of them had imagined for themselves. But if it would help them be able to reunite -- and perhaps have a real wedding someday -- it was worth it. "I don t remember it that well, honestly," he says, describing the anticlimactic experience of getting married in the detention center. "The county judge refused to do the wedding," he continued. "No one from ICE was interested in the ceremony, so it was just the lawyers, a notary, him and me." It was the first time that Curbelo and Jomarrón had been able to see each other since coming to the United States. Curbelo had to go back to Missouri, where he is staying with family members and had just gotten a job working in a factory. He had no vacation days and needed the money. Then, the pandemic struck. No one was wearing protection It immediately became clear to Curbelo how easily Jomarrón could catch the deadly disease. "No one was wearing protection," Jomarrón said, recounting what it was like to be in a detention facility as the Covid-19 raged both on. "No one had masks, or gloves or anything," Jomarrón continued, speaking to his experiences. According to the ICE website, all facilities are using personal protective equipment (PPE) in line with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention s guidelines. However, this doesn t match testimonies similar to Jomarrón s that detention centers across the country are also not requiring guards or detainees to wear masks, and generally make social distancing impossible. "The conditions in detention centers were terrible before the coronavirus," Anand elaborated, speaking to how ICE s overcrowding problem has only fueled the spread of the pandemic. "Now, they re even worse." Last week, Jomarrón was released. The Tahirih Justice Center was able to argue that his preexisting medical conditions made him more vulnerable to Covid-19, which made him eligible for humanitarian parole. He is one of more than 900 low-risk detainees that ICE has released in response to overcrowding concerns in light of the pandemic. Still, this has done little to contain the pandemic for the thousands who remain detained. As of last week, according to ICE, more than 1,200 ICE detainees have tested positive for the virus. "It is impossible to stay healthy in these conditions," Curbelo said, speaking to his own experience spending three months in ICE detention before the pandemic. "I was afraid of him getting sick; he was afraid of me getting sick," he continued, describing what it is like to not only be separated by the US immigration system, but then separated by the system amidst a pandemic. "He was afraid we might never see each other again." The Trump Factor Now, Curbelo and Jomarrón are finally able to reunite for the first time since they got married, though their future together still depends on Jomarrón winning his asylum case. However, with new regulations from the pandemic, hopeful asylum-seekers like them might not even be able to make it across the border. As President Donald Trump extends border closures and travel restrictions to contain the pandemic, the US asylum system has ground to a halt. Meanwhile, US Citizenship and Immigration Services agency is facing a significant funding shortfall, largely because it isn t processing any paperwork and has lost income from the application fees. And, so far, the government has not offered to bail it out. Some have remarked that the Covid-19 pandemic provides the perfect scapegoat for the Trump administration to complete its full-scale assault on the US asylum system, including but not limited to the "zero tolerance" policy that once separated young children from their parents at the border and the so-called "remain in Mexico" policy that currently forces asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico until their cases are heard. However, Covid-19 has not put an end to the violence, war and persecution that is pushing people like Curbelo and Jomarrón to come to the United States in the first place. "You still have thousands of people waiting to access the process," said Al Otro Lado refugee program director Nicole Ramos, describing one effect of the pandemic on the Mexican side of the border. According to Ramos, many of the asylum-seekers who have been waiting for their court date for months under the Trump administration s "remain in Mexico" policy are now being told that processing has completely stopped. The Department of Homeland Security says hearings have been suspended through June 8. Many have nowhere else to go and are now living in growing tent cities along the border -- which, like other refugee camps, make the spread of the virus almost inevitable. "It is prime for the spread of the pandemic," Ramos continued. "Now, there is a health crisis within a health crisis because of this attempt to destroy the asylum process." It is only a matter of time before the Covid-19 lockdown is fully lifted. But if left unchecked, the lockdown on refugees and asylum-seekers will extinguish the hope of those who immigrate to the United States to live a life in freedom for years to come.
Mina M. Azer
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said that Egypt has the right of international legitimacy at this point, based on the United Nations Charter, to militarily intervene in the Libyan crisis.This came during a televised speech at the Western Military Zone while inspecting Egypt s air force and commando units stationed in the Sidi Barrani air base. I wonder why did we succeed to liberate Egyptian citizens detai