President Donald Trump has refused to say what he will be doing on Inauguration Day. But while the possibility of his shunning President-elect Joe Biden s swearing-in ceremony -- as well as no sign of an invitation for Biden and his wife, Jill, to the White House before Biden s swearing-in -- may earn Trump headlines, it will do nothing to stop one sacred tradition: The White House s dedicated residence staff will be moving the Bidens into the White House and the Trumps out on January 20, whether Trump likes it or not. The President is making the job of the dedicated residence staff harder than necessary. We know that at least four residence staffers tested positive for the coronavirus as the President and many of his aides refused to follow Covid-19 protocols, including mask-wearing. I grew to know many people who worked on the residence when I was researching my book, "The Residence," and it was difficult to watch them be made so vulnerable to one President s irresponsible whims. There are nearly one hundred people who make the White House run every day, including butlers, florists, housekeepers, cooks, ushers and engineers. They deserve a president who will help them -- or at least not stand in their way -- when they do what they do best and help facilitate the peaceful transfer of power happening in a few weeks. Every piece of what happens on Inauguration Day is the result of months of careful advance planning and is part of a long-held tradition that has either been willfully discarded or seemingly forgotten during the Trump years. For residence workers, who stay in their jobs for decades and are not loyal to any one president but to the presidency itself, the transition to the next administration typically begins about eighteen months before inauguration. This is when the chief usher prepares books for the incoming president and first lady (with the added challenge of not knowing who they will be) that include a detailed White House layout, a list of staff, and an overview of allowable changes to the Oval Office. Gary Walters, who served as chief usher from 1986 until 2007, started gathering information on the candidates during the primaries, well before a general election candidate was selected. It was particularly difficult when President Ford, President Carter, and President George H.W. Bush lost their bids for a second term. "The ownership is of the family that s there, but you have to be watching out for what s going to occur," Walters told me. Trump is the first one-term president since Bush. That in itself presents a similar challenge that Trump is only making more difficult. The current chief usher, Timothy Harleth, worked at the Trump International Hotel in Washington before he got the job. He is in an unenviable position: If he is doing his job and planning the Bidens move in -- and the Trumps move out -- of the White House, he is contradicting his boss who has, so far, refused to concede. In a normal world, the chief usher coordinates the complex move with the Operations Department, usually handles receptions, dinners, rearranging furniture for the tapings of TV interviews, and outdoor events. But former Operations Supervisor Tony Savoy told me that Inauguration Day was always the most important day of his career: They are the team that "moves em in and moves em out," Savoy said. Laura Bush says the "transfer of families" is a "choreographic masterpiece, done with exceptional speed," and its successful execution depends on the institutional knowledge and the flexibility of the residence staff. It is up to residence staffers to make the intricate move happen because it is considered too dangerous to clear professional movers into the White House. It is an all hands on deck situation. One usher told me he threw his back out moving a sofa when he moved the Bushes out and the Clintons in. Some residence staffers even sleep at the White House the night before so they can get an early start. In the six hours between the departure of the first family and the arrival of the newly elected president and his family, the staff has to put in fresh rugs and brand-new mattresses and headboards, remove paintings, and redecorate to match the incoming family s preferred style. They unpack the boxes, fold clothes perfectly, and place them in their drawers. They even put toothpaste and toothbrushes on bathroom counters. No detail is overlooked. Usually at around 9:30 a.m., the new president and first lady arrive at the White House for a coffee in the Blue Room with the departing president and first lady. Once they leave the White House for the Capitol, the residence staff moves into high gear and begins to move items in from the moving trucks parked at the entrance of the Diplomatic Reception Room outside the South Portico. One family s things are put in one truck and another s are moved in. Walters, who oversaw many moves in his 21 years at the White House, calls the process "organized chaos." But before the first family departs, a little-known scene occurs when the staff crams into the opulent State Dining Room, where they have served so many state dinners, to say goodbye to the family they served. They are often overcome by the range of emotions -- trading one boss, and in some cases a friend, for another in the span of just six hours. In many cases they have had eight years to grow close to the departing family. There is rarely a dry eye in the room -- even though many may be excited about the future. "When the Clintons came down and Chelsea came with them, they didn t say a word," Head Housekeeper Christine Limerick recalled when we talked about Inauguration Day 2001. "I ll get emotional about this now -- (President Clinton) looked at every person dead on in the face and said, Thank you. The whole room just broke up." During the farewell, residence workers present the family with a gift -- sometimes the flag that flew over the White House on the day that the president was inaugurated -- placed in a beautiful hand-carved box designed by White House carpenters. In 2001, Limerick, Chief Florist Nancy Clarke, and Chief Curator Betty Monkman gave Hillary Clinton a large pillow made from swatches of fabrics that she had selected to decorate different rooms in the house. We don t even know where Trump will be on Inauguration Day or whether he will say goodbye to the staff as his predecessors have done. With the devastating spread of the coronavirus this winter, the inauguration ceremony and parade will already be scaled back. Even if Trump does attend Biden s inauguration, no one would expect them to ride in the same limousine, for instance, on the way to the Capitol. The General Services Administration will be doing a deep cleaning of every surface in the 55,000 square foot mansion. During a normal transition -- and this has obviously been far from normal -- in December, after the election and before the inauguration, Walters would arrange for the incoming family to get a guided tour of the White House from the current first lady. It s then that the incoming first lady would be presented with a book containing the names and photographs of the people who work in the residence. The book helps the first family learn the names of everyone who works in the house. It is partly a security measure, so that if they see anyone unfamiliar, they can alert the Secret Service. The smoothest transitions take cooperation between the sitting president and his successor. The Obama family s advisers started meeting with residence staff soon after the election, and by the week before the inauguration, much of the Obamas furniture had already been shipped to the White House, where it was stored in the China Room on the Ground Floor so that it could be moved quickly upstairs. The Bushes had told Chief Usher Stephen Rochon that they wanted to make the move as easy as possible for everyone, but Rochon told me, "We want to keep it out of the sight of the existing family." He added, "Not that they didn t know it was there, but we didn t want them to feel that we were trying to move them out." No detail is overlooked. Weeks before the inauguration, the Obamas social secretary Desiree Rogers met with the florists and discussed what kind of flowers would sit on the cabaret tables, and which kind of candelabras and candlelight they would use for those few moments the first family has to enjoy their new, heady surroundings before they change for the balls. The Bidens know the house well, having served as vice president and second lady for eight years. But so far, it is unclear how their move into their new home will be handled under such unprecedented circumstances with a deadly virus raging. Walters told me his favorite moment of a new administration comes when the president calls him by his first name. For other residence staffers it s when they walk into a room when the president is in mid-conversation and the conversation doesn t stop. "There s a collective sigh," he said. "We know we have proven that we can be trusted. With Joe Biden, who will already recognize a lot of these faces, that will probably happen sooner than later.
This week, I received the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine. As a frontline health care worker, I was one of the fortunate few in the first wave of eligibility. I was so excited -- it was as if Christmas had come early. Right before I got the shot, I had a very sick patient come in to the emergency department severely dehydrated and with confusion caused by the virus. The day before, I put another patient with Covid-19 on a ventilator as she gasped for breath. When the pandemic started, I faced it with nervous trepidation. Now, I view it with unfortunate familiarity. I lost count of how many patients I have seen with the disease. But one thing I recall is that most of them have been Black. There has been a lot of discussion within my own African American community about the vaccine. Relatives, colleagues and friends have all weighed in with different opinions. Some say they will never get it. Others want to wait, and have texted me asking for my thoughts and reactions to the initial dose. A few more have received it through their own work in the medical field. The mixed response is understandable. It is not only fueled by our current political environment, but also rooted in a dark past.Communities of color have repeatedly been the subject of experimental treatments -- either unwillingly or to their own detriment. The birth control pill was first tested in poor women in a housing project in Puerto Rico. The most famous example is the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, in which the US Public Health Service studied the natural history of syphilis in 399 Black men infected with the disease over a 40 year period, where they suffered complications and deaths, and infected their wives and children. In the general public, there is also a great deal of mistrust. President Donald Trump declared the existence of a "Medical Deep State" after Pfizer released early vaccine results shortly after the election. Long before the Covid-19 pandemic, the anti-vaccine movement promoted an unsubstantiated link between vaccines and autism. These examples are all based on incredibly bad science. The foundation of the anti-vaccine argument was a study with only 12 patients. It was so poorly done that the findings were later retracted by the medical journal which published them, and the author subsequently lost his medical license. The Tuskegee syphilis experiment unethically withheld information about and treatment for a curable disease, causing unjust harm.The result is that there are now extensive safeguards in place to prevent similar atrocities. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are different. Phase 3 trials for these drugs had over 43,000 and 30,000 participants, respectively, and included individuals from diverse sociodemographic backgrounds, all of whom volunteered and underwent a careful informed consent process. This does not mean that the medical community is off the hook. There continues to be numerous examples of discrimination in health care, ranging from racial disparities in the receipt of pain medications to therapies for cardiovascular care. However, we should not view the Covid vaccine as an attempt to add to this discrimination. Instead, it can be our opportunity to level the playing field. We have been hit hard by Covid, and we must use every tool in our power to end this terrible pandemic. In a Pew poll released earlier this month, only 42% percent of Black Americans said that they would get the vaccine. The mistrust from communities of color at times seems insurmountable. However, I do not believe this is the case. Culturally competent messaging is key. It was no coincidence that the first person immunized against Covid in this country was a Black woman, or that former President Barack Obama has volunteered to get his vaccine in public. However, it is as important to see public figures get the vaccine, as it is to see individuals you know personally get it -- cousins, neighbors, your family doctor. We also must make sure that there is equitable access to the vaccine for vulnerable populations. Increasing outreach for the vaccine is useless if it cannot be obtained once available.I posted a photo documenting the receipt of my vaccine on Facebook. That post received some of the most likes and comments I have had since joining the social media platform many years ago. However, the comment that touched me the most was that of a classmate from my elementary school, which is located on the Southside of Chicago, an area with some of the worst health outcomes of the city. Even though I have not seen my classmate in over 40 years, she remarked that because she trusted me, she too was planning to get the vaccine. We may not be able to reverse community mistrust in the vaccine overnight, but we can spread the word to one person at a time. And for me, that is a great start. When you get your vaccine, please be sure to tell a friend.
Donald Trump probably could not have been a worse person to lead Americans through the Covid-19 pandemic. This is a man who "fueled confusion and conspiracies from the earliest days of the coronavirus pandemic," as PolitiFact recently documented in its annual "Lie of the Year" designation. The nonpartisan group gave its 2020 "award" to "coronavirus downplay and denial"— in which it said Trump had been the conductor of the "symphony of counter narrative" about the virus.During the course of the year, Trump mocked Joe Biden and a reporter for wearing masks to stop the spread of the virus, despite experts recommending face coverings as one of the most effective ways to save lives while treatments and vaccines were developed. In the fall, as virus cases jumped, Trump held numerous campaign rallies with his mostly maskless supporters jammed together in spite of reports tracing these events to spreading the virus. Now, as unbelievable as it may seem, Trump has checked out on even paying attention to a virus that is taking the life of an American every 40 seconds. As the Washington Post reported Saturday after speaking to numerous Trump advisers, the President has given up on dealing with Covid-19 since Election Day. Instead, Trump is almost solely focused on spewing lies to overturn his defeat by Vice President-elect Joe Biden. At this point Trump should resign and allow Vice President Mike Pence to serve as President through January 20. Despite Pence s numerous faults, at least he appears to be engaged in attempting to combat Covid, as evidenced by his effort to bolster public confidence in the new vaccine by getting his shot on live television Friday.While nothing at this point Trump does should come as a surprise, The Washington Post reporting is jaw dropping in documenting that Trump, since about the time he was declared the loser of the presidential election, abdicated his responsibility for managing the public health crisis. The Post quotes one of Trump s closest advisers as saying, "I think he s just done with Covid." "Done" despite the alarming spike in Covid cases and deaths since Election Day. To give some perspective, on Election Day (November 3), the United States was averaging 847 daily deaths over a one-week period. Where are we now? More than three times that rate, with an average of 2,630 Americans dying every day during last seven days. In fact, our nation saw a gruesome new record set Wednesday with over 3,600 Americans dying from Covid—the most lost in a day from the virus so far. Heartbreakingly, that was just one of several days in the past week where more Americans died from Covid in 24 hours than in the attacks of 9/11. Meanwhile, Trump is laser focused on one thing: Serving up lies about the election. And while Trump is no longer attending Covid briefings, he did find time on Friday to hold a meeting in the White House where he reportedly discussed imposing martial law as a possible way to remain in power. (He denied that he was considering martial law in a Sunday morning tweet.)For the most part, Trump s only Covid-related comments over the past month have been to pat himself on the back for scientists developing a vaccine. Trump also claimed that the vaccine s announcement was delayed to after Election Day to hurt him politically—yet another lie. While it s true that the virus would have caused infections and deaths in America regardless of what any President would have done, many experts believe that Trump s failed leadership played a key role in the virus causing proportionately more infections and deaths in the United States than in most other developed nations.Trump s conduct surrounding the virus, especially his lies that misled the public about the actual dangers posed by Covid, is morally reprehensible. There must be an in-depth investigation into the administration and Trump s personal actions surrounding the virus when he leaves office to learn from their failures to protect us. For now, if Trump has truly surrendered to Covid despite the record breaking number of hospitalizations and deaths, he should resign effective immediately. While we can t be certain how many lives would be saved with Pence as president for the final month of this administration, even one life saved by a change in leadership would be worth it.
The current exceptional stage in Egyptian-French relations offers an opportunity to advance ties between the two countries to the level of a new "qualitative alliance". The objective is entrenching stability and security in the Mediterranean in the face of common regional challenges and similar internal battles the two countries are involved in vis-a-vis opposing parties in the region. Thus, this alliance is characterised with a special nature, reflected in President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi s visit to France 6 December, which was unprecedented in timing, form and content. Egyptian-French relations have great significance due to the two countries regional, political and civilisational weight, and the nature of interests shared by both in the light of challenges regarding terrorism and other Mediterranean matters, especially Turkish intervention in the Eastern Mediterranean and crises facing countries such as Libya, Syria and Lebanon, as well as immigration, organised crime and the Palestinian cause. Continuous compatibility Regarding the terrorism issue, Egypt kept suffering for decades from extremist groups terrorism and kept alerting countries providing a safe haven to extremism about its dangers. Such Egyptian alarms increased after 2013. When terrorism struck badly and heavily in France s heart in 2020, Paris adopted a security standpoint more in tune with the Egyptian stance on the terrorism issue, distinguishing it from human rights issues, which had dominated French discourse towards Arab countries and the Mediterranean frame. France became one of the European countries most interested in the Egyptian point of view. A new bill discussed recently by the French cabinet — including “enhancing the supervision of religious societies and their funding and criminalising hatred via internet” as well as measures to combat extremism by closing 400 societies, mosque and sports halls and different sites — is but an indicator of the impact of terrorism on French national security. Hence, the two countries views have converged regarding the characteristics and essence of the battle in the heart of the Arab world and Europe; namely, the confrontation between “nationalism” and “fundamentalisms”. All this points to the necessity of cooperation between the two countries on this issue, which won t reverberate only in the security sphere, but will also contribute to deepening military cooperation and bringing intellectual and strategic visions more closely into line. In this specific context, Egyptian-French relations constitute a regional centre of gravity, anticipating changes that might take place on the international arena towards this issue. Egypt needs to widen the distinction between necessities of combating terrorism and human rights principles, within in the European frame and the Western frame as a whole, and France can help Egypt in this regard. France needs Egypt with regard to its security expertise in combating terrorism, to help the French interior and in kareas that France dedicates more attention to in Africa. Refusing intervention No indicator on the compatibility in the two countries policies during the last two years has been more clear than their stance towards the Turkish issue represented in Turkish antagonistic policies in Libya and the Eastern Mediterranean. Cairo and Paris both hold a similar vision towards Ankara as the prime supporter of extremist forces through vision, facilities, financial and media backing and illegal intervention from the highest level, represented in the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, himself. All this has reinforced compatible Egyptian and French policies and convergent interests, and has even transcended them, reaching the “red lines” delineated by both countries towards Turkey. These “red lines” are connected to challenges and dangers originating from Turkey on the national security of both countries. All this has led, as presidential spokesman Bassam Rady pointed out, during the visit of El-Sisi to France, to “big spheres of mutual understanding between the two countries that amount to having identical stances regarding the refusal of foreign intervention and refusal of dealing with militias and the transfer of foreign fighters from Iraq and Syria to Libya, as well as the equitable and transparent division of all wealth [in Libya]”. Mutual interests Concerning the Mediterranean and Libyan issues, France needs Egypt as much as Egypt needs France, especially in light of changes in the Italian and German positions towards Turkey, or Turkish unclear stances towards some Southern Mediterranean countries, with probabilities of developments in Turkish military intervention in Libya or probabilities of a military clash – even by mistake – with Ankara in the Eastern Mediterranean. In this context, the significance of the Egyptian-French alliance is boosted by probabilities of a Russian retreat from confronting Turkey within the frame of regional disputes, as it has been witnessed in Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh. There remains one main issue for both countries; namely, the Palestinian cause. Each has historical commitments towards the Palestinian people in spite of transformations occurring in the Arab region. French President Emmanuel Macron has announced that ongoing efforts are being made in order to develop an alternative to what is called the “Deal of the Century”. He reiterated his refusal of Israel s annexation plans, and his support for the two-state solution, which was welcomed by the Palestinian Authority who considered it a “perception from the world that the deal aims to liquidate the Palestinian cause”. If US President Donald Trump s administration has gone to great lengths to ignore Palestinians rights, both Egypt and France — driven by new Arab stances and supported by an announced stance of the Biden administration towards the Palestinian cause — can correct the course through searching for a joint vision that combines the main historical logics of Palestinian rights, and efforts exerted in order to reach a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Finally, the current exceptional stage in Egyptian-French relations remains in need of a strategic vision based on intellectual, cultural and historical commonalities reflected in their noticeable compatibility on regional issues of mutual concern.
Better late than never, I guess.On Tuesday, six weeks after Joe Biden bested Donald Trump in the election and a day after electors cast their ballots and, again, proclaimed Biden the winner, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell finally recognized him as the incoming president of the United States. It s sad that "leader of the Senate recognizes reality" is even newsworthy, but here we are after four years of Donald Trump. Let s be clear: McConnell doesn t get applause for foot-dragging, for belatedly doing the normal thing. It s not even the right thing -- "doing the right thing" implies some sort of moral courage. He simply, finally acknowledged the real outcome -- plain for all to see for weeks now -- of the American democratic process. For one of the most powerful people in the country, that should be the baseline. It is time for other delinquent members of his party to do the same. The sitting President has used his final weeks in office to falsely claim that the election was rigged and that he was the real winner, claims that have failed spectacularly in dozens of court cases brought by his team and his sympathizers. Nevertheless, a stunning (and embarrassing) number of elected officials on the right have backed him up, with more than half of House Republicans signing on to an amicus brief requesting that the Supreme Court hear a case demanding to overturn the election -- a brazen attack on American democracy -- coming, literally, from inside the house.Now, with the Electoral College votes cast and the transition in full swing, for this benighted group of insurgents there is little hope left to cling to that the courts might subvert the will of the American people and do Trump s bidding. Which doesn t mean Republicans have stopped doing Trump s bidding. In the same speech in which he finally recognized Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the President-elect and vice president-elect, McConnell also lavished praise on the notoriously narcissistic President, speaking for several minutes about "the outsider who swore he would shake up Washington and lead our country to new accomplishments, both at home and abroad" doing "exactly that." Trump was such a great President, McConnell said, "It would take far more than one speech to catalog all the major wins the Trump administration has helped deliver for the American people." It was a humiliating display from a grown man, the kind of fawning obsequiousness that is uncomfortable to watch. Only after this bout of bootlicking did McConnell -- ostensibly the leader of his party now, but somehow still servile to a President in the twilight of his power -- turn to the matter at hand: a new president he had spent weeks refusing to recognize. Some other Congressional Republicans seem to be grudgingly following suit. The President did not. He continues to tweet his blatant lies about widespread voter fraud and a stolen election.His behavior, and that of his Republican toadies in Congress, stands in sharp contrast to remarks Joe Biden delivered to the nation just a few hours earlier, after his victory was decisively affirmed. He said "this is the time to heal America," and called on all of us to "Let this grim era of demonization in America begin to end here and now." It was the right request, and the right tone. But this grim era hasn t just been about discord, division or even demonization. It s been about who is willing to flat-out lie to citizens, who fuels the spread of misinformation and falsehoods and who is willing to exploit hyper-partisanship, ignorance or both -- all for political advantage and power. Both sides are guilty of divisive rhetoric. But only one has consistently lied to the American people, enabled a dangerous wannabe autocrat, refused to recognize reality when it s inconvenient and attempted to steal an election that came off just the way it was supposed to, and against some steep odds during a pandemic: free and fair. Biden is right that we need healing. But it s not both sides who have equally done damage -- only one of them has a lot of compensating to do. The Senate majority leader and the rest of his GOP have a new opportunity to do better. They can push to return to the reality-based community. They can reject partisan lies and attempts by the outgoing President -- or any member of their party -- to foment distrust in the electoral process and doubt that Biden and Harris will soon take their seats as the duly elected President and vice president.These are not outrageous expectations. And yet, if recent history is any guide, McConnell and his party will fail to meet them. Democrats need to call this out loudly and consistently. Media outlets need to point at the bad actors, and avoid "both sides-ing." And voters need to hold them accountable -- starting just days from now in Georgia.
On Wednesday, I will testify before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. Though I am no longer a public servant, it remains an honor to serve the public, and I am proud to heed the call of our Senate leaders to tell the public about the methodology of the agency I led, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), to secure the 2020 presidential election. I joined the Department of Homeland Security in March of 2017. I believe, then and now, that the Russian Federation attempted to interfere in our 2016 election to disparage Hillary Clinton to the advantage of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, as laid out in the 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment. Russia attempted to advance its candidate of choice and to corrode public faith in American democracy through cyberattacks and a coordinated disinformation campaign. Our democratic institutions are facing targeted, calculated threats from without, and from within. This is why we prioritized election security as the primary focus of CISA. I made that mission clear at my confirmation hearing when I took an oath to defend the Constitution from enemies foreign and domestic. Our task was to work with state and local election officials to secure from hacking their election infrastructure, including the machines, equipment and information systems. It was also central to our mission, and is still central to my own values, to protect the American public from disinformation warfare. This is why on November 12, CISA joined an election security community statement assuring people that "there is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised." Today, this statement remains true, and I will continue to clarify and correct this onslaught of false information alleging systems interference where none has occurred. Our initial strategy to secure the 2020 election centered on defensive measures against the kind of three-pronged Russian attack that was activated in 2016, targeting systems supporting elections, political candidates and public perception. Across the nation s security agencies, there was unanimous agreement that we could not let it happen again. Our planning was not just focused on preventing a repeat of the Russian 2016 efforts. We worked with partners in the intelligence community to anticipate diverse tactics that Russia, Iran, China and non-state cyber criminals could attempt to disrupt the election. We prepared for efforts that included a disinformation component, or what is known as a "perception hack," in which the malicious actor either falsely claims a cyberattack that never happened or claims that an insignificant incident wreaked much more damage than it actually did. In these scenarios, which include the current false claims of voter fraud, those on defense are caught playing catch-up, trying to disprove a negative. Disinformation targeting elections is one of the hardest problems that remains before the US government. While there are multiple ways to tackle disinformation, we viewed it as a "supply and demand" problem. Some government agencies sought to disrupt the supply of disinformation, but we worked to minimize demand by making the American people more critical of information they encountered in social and news media, and therefore more resilient to it. Ours was an effort to inoculate people from false information. One innovation in our efforts to counter perception hacks was a program called "Rumor Control." The idea was simple. We would share our scenario planning efforts with American voters in a straightforward, digestible way. In doing so, we could preempt disinformation campaigns and perception hacks by providing facts to help American voters make their own decisions. We were looking to protect the public from misleading disinformation before it took root and became perceived as true. This, and other measures to counter disinformation were successful in maintaining voter confidence and squelching false information before it spread. But these efforts must be fortified and properly funded to defend our information ecosystems from more aggressive, coordinated attacks in the future. As Election Day came and went, we continued to monitor networks across the country and work with our partners, with them reporting any suspicious activity to us. As I said in a news briefing, Election Day was "just another Tuesday on the internet." Normal sorts of scanning and probing were happening, but we did not see any successful attacks or damaging disruptions. Unfortunately, as we moved on from November 3, we began to see wild and baseless claims of domestic origin, about hackers and malicious algorithms that flipped the vote in states across the country, singling out election equipment vendors for having ties to deceased foreign dictators. None of these claims matched up with the intelligence we had, based on reporting from election officials or how elections actually work in this country. To address this scenario, we once again took to Rumor Control, to correct public perception by highlighting facts about security controls and checks in place that would prevent such attacks. Before, during and after the election, our team held regular briefings with congressional staff, political campaigns, and state and local election officials. I personally led member-level, unclassified phone briefings for both chambers of Congress. This was a continuation of our commitment to transparent, non-partisan work. All authorities and elected representatives have a duty to inform themselves of these facts, and to reinforce them to the American people, as our team did, in the face of false allegations that election machines have been used to change millions of votes across the country. These claims are not only inaccurate and "technically incoherent" according to 59 election security experts, but they are also dangerous and only serve to confuse, scare and ultimately undermine confidence in the election. To understand CISA s relationship to the issue of fraud, it is important to define a key distinction between two issues that are often conflated, sometimes intentionally: the security of elections and election-related fraud. My team at CISA had lead responsibility for working with state and local election officials to secure from hacking the election infrastructure, including the machines, equipment and systems supporting elections. We also led a centralized, interagency effort among the National Security Agency, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, FBI and others at the federal level to combat the pernicious effects of disinformation campaigns on our elections. The FBI, state and local law enforcement are responsible for investigating voter fraud and other criminal election activity. In order to maintain American resiliency, Congress and the incoming administration must continue to reinvent, fortify and fund the American defense on the battlefield of disinformation through both centralized and regionalized interagency cooperation. Rumor Control was part of CISA s collaboration with the FBI, and I urge the transition team and the FBI leadership to expand this program in order to remain resilient against increasingly aggressive threats from foreign state actors and private domestic interests. It is also critical going forward for CISA to designate and embed field personnel in each FBI field office. CISA is currently piloting that concept in a Southeastern US field office. I urge Congress to support and fund expansion of these critical FBI-CISA programs. Moving forward, CISA should also augment its partnerships with the NSA Cybersecurity Directorate leadership by assigning a senior representative to Fort Meade to advise and consult. Elections in this country are, and should continue to be, run by state and local officials as prescribed by state legislatures in accordance with congressional oversight. But they cannot do their jobs if they do not have adequate support, including a stable stream of funding from Congress so that election officials can work with state legislatures to craft budgets they can depend on to complete the critical transition to paper ballot systems, institute post-election audits, and to implement other appropriate infrastructure and personnel investments. As foreign and domestic interests attack our democracy for political and financial gain, attempting to infiltrate American public opinion and confidence in our most sacred institutions, our elected representatives must now show true leadership in defending the people by defending the truth. PAID CONTENT
The two of us, as emergency physicians, will be among the earliest recipients of vaccines against SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19. We have both been asked how and why we made the choice to get our shot. We, like many fellow health care providers, were initially concerned about political pressure being put on the US Food and Drug Administration. Ultimately, though, four reasons, based on our years of experience in emergency medicine, public health and clinical trials, informed our decision to trust the vaccine -- and get vaccinated.The terms "Operation Warp Speed" and "Emergency Use Authorization" convey a haste that could be interpreted as in conflict with safety. History provides examples of vaccines and pharmaceuticals that had negative consequences, so this concern is not unreasonable.However, these vaccines development did not cut corners. Moderna s and Pfizer s compressed timeline reflects unique partnerships between industry, government, and academia, high levels of funding, and decades of previous research on mRNA vaccines, as well as countless individuals working day and night given the nature of the crisis. Authorization may be expedited, but both organizations followed the requisite orderly progression from Phase 1 to Phase 3 trials. The careful scientific design and rigor has given us a great deal of confidence in the final product. Despite prior political pressure applied to the process, two federal advisory boards (the FDA and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) as well as a separate advisory board in New York have evaluated Pfizer s results, and approved the vaccine through the Emergency Use Authorization process. They will follow the same process for the Moderna vaccine.Pfizer s Phase 3 results have additionally undergone external peer review and been published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Each of these independent reviews was incentivized to identify problems, not to gloss them over. It s also tremendously unlikely that all of them missed a problem related to safety and efficacy. They work! It would not be appropriate to expend massive political, financial, and public goodwill to provide an ineffective vaccine across the population. Reassuringly, the ample publicly available data supports that these vaccines are highly effective in preventing Covid-19 disease. We love to see consistency of results in science: The fact that the two mRNA vaccines -- Pfizer s and Moderna s -- have such similar success rates (over 90% protection against symptomatic Covid-19) is very reassuring and allays concerns that one or the other study was spurious or mistaken. Individual scientists or study groups can certainly make mistakes and be subject to bias, especially when under pressure, but each of these studies was done independently, on slightly different populations, and came to the same conclusions. We still don t know the long-term efficacy of the vaccine. Will we need to be vaccinated again in the following year? Perhaps, but right now, we need whatever protection the vaccine can afford us to get on top of the pandemic. And even if the vaccines effectiveness falls short of the current estimates, the new Covid-19 vaccines promise to be far more effective than most years flu vaccines. Side effects are real, but minor, and certainly not as bad as the disease We are the first to admit that there will be temporary, minor side effects, such as low-grade fevers, muscle aches and fatigue, especially after the second dose of the vaccine. In fact, we have purposefully scheduled our own vaccines for days when we do not have to work clinically. These side effects are, however, neither dangerous nor long-lasting. Even the worst possible reaction -- anaphylactic allergic reactions -- are both rare and treatable. Administration sites will be on the watch for such events. As ER docs, we are much less worried about vaccine side effects than from the known harm from getting Covid-19. There is no evidence (or biological plausibility) behind some of the wilder claims that we ve heard and seen online about the vaccine causing long-term, hidden harm. These allegations mirror the talking points of the anti-vaccine movement. More importantly, they simply are not based in scientific reality.The mRNA just serves as a blueprint for a little piece of protein that stimulates the immune system, is quickly broken down by the body, and it is physically impossible for it to be incorporated into our underlying genetic material. People with autoimmune disorders were included in the trials, and no increased flares were observed; there is also no potential for their increasing autoimmune disorders, long-term. (If anything, the risk of catching SARS-CoV-2, which causes massive interferon release, should be more concerning to those at risk of autoimmune disease.) We are disheartened by these allegations, but also committed to overturning them with scientific truth. Most side effects of vaccines show up within days, or at most a few weeks. Trial participants have been monitored for two months or longer. These products are safe, both for us and for our families and patients. From our perspective, the likelihood of harm from Covid-19, in both the short and long term, far outweighs the small potential risks from the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. It is not a magic bullet -- but it s better than getting Covid It is critical that no one overpromises on the vaccine. It does not cure -- it prevents, and even then, it only reliably prevents infection after the second dose has been received. We don t currently know how effective it is in preventing asymptomatic transmission. Infection transmission prevention measures (such as masks) must continue for months to come. It is also not fully clear how the logistics of vaccine deployment will play out from state to state. But at the end of the day, in a year in which we have lost on many fronts, the consistent reported efficacy of these first Covid-19 vaccines is an incredible good fortune. Vaccines are, perhaps, the greatest miracle of modern medicine. Over the past century, they have had a major role in transforming the life expectancy of the global population, thanks to the acceptance, rather than skepticism, of the general public. And they will continue to help us if we let them.As ER doctors, we have been firsthand witnesses to the horrible effects of this virus. Getting to herd immunity via a devastating down payment of mass illness and deaths is not an option our society can or should bear. Vaccines -- and these vaccines, in particular -- provide a much safer route, with more consistent and long-lasting immunity. All of this is why we are eager to take our place in line to get our shots -- to protect ourselves, our patients and our families. It is important to acknowledge the privilege that we have of being able to trust science without the backdrop of sustained experiences of discrimination and systemic harms. The abuses of big pharma and the corporatization of medicine in the United States have driven a wedge between the general population and medical advances, and all the more so for groups who are marginalized or discriminated against.People who have been guinea pigs for science, whose past contacts with health care have been deeply embedded with racism and bigotry, cannot be expected to trust the medical research complex overnight. "Trust us; it s safe" is a thin promise in the context of people s life experiences. Simply because some health care professionals see the vaccine as a beneficial preventive measure doesn t mean that everyone can see it that way. We believe that the vaccines should be distributed with full consciousness at every level of the inequities embedded in health care and in the pandemic itself. We must commit to fighting for equitable access to other Covid resources for vulnerable communities, concurrent with vaccine recommendation, to mitigate pandemic impact on all possible fronts.
On Friday, The Wall Street Journal had the audacity to publish an op-ed arguing that incoming First Lady Jill Biden should not use the title "Dr." in the White House. The piece, written by Joseph Epstein, a man who has not earned an advanced degree (though he was given an honorary one), argues that it would be "fraudulent" and "comic" for Dr. Biden to use the Doctor of Education, or Ed.D., title that she has earned. As a woman who holds a Ph.D., I was seething before I finished his first paragraph. But I wasn t surprised. It s commonplace for women with expertise in this country to be expected to deny it -- which is exactly why it s so important that Dr. Biden use her "Dr." title in the White House, prominently and with pride. Epstein gives away his sexism immediately by opening his op-ed with the advice that "no one should call himself Dr. unless he has delivered a child." In other words, part of his problem appears to be that Dr. Biden is not a man. Epstein also argues that it has become easy to get a doctorate degree these days. He makes this inaccurate and offensive claim despite never having managed to earn one himself. Yet he devotes the most paragraphs to making the claim that honorary degrees are given out to undeserving celebrities -- even though Dr. Biden is not using her title because she has received an honorary degree. She earned an actual one. I can only guess, therefore, that his nonsensical argument is intended to generally cast aspersions on the incoming first lady. It is the sort of attack which is depressingly familiar to many female academics -- including me. In 2018, when Dr. Julia Baird earned her Ph.D. and changed her title on Twitter, she ignited a firestorm of complaints -- mostly from men. The discussion that ensued among academics revealed that women are routinely ridiculed for using the titles they earn, while the expertise of men doesn t seem to meet with the same level of skepticism and censure. One man who holds a Ph.D. responded, "I had no idea doctorate-shaming was even a thing!"Further evidence of the phenomenon of minimizing female expertise comes from the medical community for which Epstein seems to reserve his respect. A 2017 study found that when men introduced female medical doctors at a professional event, they used their titles 50 percent of the time -- but when men introduced fellow male doctors, they used their titles over 70 percent of the time. This is all part of a broader phenomenon, of course, that denies women the respect and authority we have earned. As Cornell philosopher Kate Manne writes in her 2020 book "Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women," when women make claims, their credibility is questioned much more than that of men. In fact, Rebecca Solnit wrote an entire book entitled "Men Explain Things to Me" after suffering through a man explaining one of her other books to her at a party. Scores of female academics have taken to Twitter to describe similar experiences of men explaining their own publications to them. I had this experience at an academic conference in 2016, when I sat next to one of the most senior practitioners in my field at a lunch, who proceeded to tell me about a New York Times piece I had written about my work the previous weekend. America needs to stop lecturing and start learning from women who have expertise. By using her "Dr." title in the White House, Dr. Biden would show by example that women shouldn t deny their rightful authority. She would also show other women and girls what s possible for them. Indeed, I don t recall ever meeting a woman with a Ph.D. until I went to college.In 2017, Dr. Biden spoke at the commencement ceremony at Hofstra University, where I teach. The president of our university told her that one of my colleagues, a university administrator, had just earned her graduate degree but was not planning to walk in the ceremony. Dr. Biden insisted that my colleague put on a robe and go up to the stage with her classmates because it was important to recognize all the work that had gotten her there. Given the misogyny we re up against, this is a message that other women clearly need to hear. And Dr. Biden is uniquely positioned to send it from one of the most powerful places on earth, simply by using her rightful title.
It may be easier to find a needle in a haystack than to find justice anywhere on the globe. Flaunted throughout history as a virtue and a pillar for a stable and secure society, it has never been given its due. Moreover, it has receded to the realm of rarities, to be another dream of humanity. Like Democracy, it has become a flimsy concept — inaccessible, unattainable, an impossible dream. Corruption constantly elbows justice and it has always been so. Both are controlled by humans. We watch with dismay the spread of corruption as the US presidential voting process unfolds. Who would have imagined all the deception, the cheating, the lies, manoeuvres and dirty tricks by the mighty, the powerful, the wealthy, the strong over the weak? What say you when a billionaire distributes $1 million in one voting centre among a staff of 50-60 personnel. Why? In order to alter or discard names of legitimate candidates. What it means and how it can be allowed and accepted causes us to lose hope that justice, the bulwark of the remarkable American constitution, has become murky with the passing of the years. Where then do we find justice? If not on this earth, then we have to look up to the heavens. It has been said that justice favours the weak. That is utter nonsense. Prisons are filled with the poor, the minorities, the migrants, the helpless. Up to five per cent of prisoners in the US have been wrongly convicted. The situation is not very different in other countries and a lot worse in many. The wealthy have access to power and influence and the best possible legal representation. Do they experience better treatment and consideration than the poor, powerless and without influence? You can bet on it. Every courthouse has a statue or a plaque of Lady Justice. Since ancient times she has been portrayed as an elegant lady holding a set of scales in one hand and a sword in another. It is an allegorical personification, partly deification, of the impartial and moral force in the judicial system. Its origin goes back to the ancient Egyptian goddess Maat, the Greek goddess Themis, also known as Justitia by the Romans. We are all familiar with that noble image of a proud lady holding a set of scales in one hand and a sword in another. The scales are typically suspended from one hand upon which is measured the evidence of support and opposition. The sword represents authority and conveys the idea that justice can be swift and final. A snake under her foot symbolises evil and lies. The book is the law, from which justice is administered. All great symbols, but the most telling of all is the blindfold. Yes, Lady Justice is blind. Objective and impartial, she is ready to act without fear or bias, regardless of power or wealth, race, gender, religion, politics, etc. It’s a catchall for all things that differentiate people. Lady Justice does not care who comes to her. She cares about the relation to the law, and the law only. Here is the rub. Is justice really blind? Well, not really, not at all. It is dispensed by humans, not gods. Humans are influenced by wealth, social standing, class and ideology. Regardless of all the oaths, promises, strength and dedication, humans possess emotions that should be but are not always controlled. Errors in judgement favour the wealthy, with the best possible legal representation. The poor, the powerless, become invisible to justice. There are generally five legal systems practised worldwide: civil law, common law, customary law, religious law, and mixed law. Civil law originated in the Roman legal system. France and Germany are such examples. Common law relies more on precedent judicial decisions with a judge or jury moderating between two opposing parties. This is the US legal system. Customary law is based on patterns of behaviour that have come to be accepted as rules of conduct, usually unwritten, passed down through generations. Religious law emanates from texts written in holy books such as Sharia in Islam. Mixed legal systems use two or more of the above systems. Unfair treatment before the law is a major contributor to instability and violent extremism. Up to four billion of the world’s population do not benefit from the proper rule of law or equal access to justice. The number could be higher when the Lady’s blindfold is removed, which is at most times. Is there any place in this world, whether rich or poor, where you can be protected by the fair administration of the rule of law? For the past 10 years Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden have headed the list of a fairly equal form of justice, followed by the Netherlands, Germany, and Austria. The UK ranked 12th, the US 20th. The Lady needs some brushing up in the US. A newly released report finds 2.4 million individuals incarcerated in the US. Australia, Canada, Wales, and Germany, for example, provide a policy of options such as fines, community service, probation or treatment. However, for the second year in a row the 2019 index scores have found more countries declined rather than advanced the rule of law. Lady Justice is neither blind nor objective. Temptation has no mercy. God alone has no partiality or bias. Only God can deliver justice. “This is a court of law young man, not a court of justice.” Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr (1841-1945)
Chairman of the Palestinian Authority (PA) Mahmoud Abbas paid a visit to Cairo 30 November where he had a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. The day before he met Jordan s King Abdullah in Amman. The two summit meetings came after the PA agreed to resume security cooperation with Israel earlier halted by the Palestinians. The main objective of the tour by Abbas was to discuss with the two Arab leaders the way forward in light of the election victory of President-elect Joe Biden and how Egypt and Jordan could help the Palestinians in reengaging with both the new US administration and the present Israeli government with the aim of resuming peace negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis that ended in April 2014 during the second Obama administration. The main obstacle and reason for the cessation of negotiations was Israeli settlement policies in the West Bank. On the other hand, how the three parties — Egypt, Jordan and the PA — could approach the future Biden administration on reviving the two-state solution and the best means to encourage the next US administration to readopt this solution. The two summits were all the more necessary as well as significant in light of the normalisation of relations between Israel and other Arab countries without corresponding Israeli concessions as far as the Palestinian question is concerned. In both Amman and Cairo, Abbas found listening ears and support for the PA. Moreover, the question of inter-Palestinian reconciliation was brought up. In the last two months Fatah, the main force within the Palestine Liberation Organisation, and Hamas had agreed on a roadmap to achieve such reconciliation with an agreement that Abbas, in his capacity as chairman of the PA, would call for presidential and legislative elections in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and in East Jerusalem as soon as conditions in the occupied territories and Gaza would allow. The four years of President Trump in the White House have not advanced the cause of peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Although the White House announced last January a peace plan to solve the Palestinian-Israeli question, the Palestinians and most Arabs have not been convinced that this was the best and only alternative to peace and security in the Middle East. The best bet is that the Biden administration would not push hard for the implementation of the Trump peace plan. Given the national security team that President-elect Biden announced 10 days ago, the likelihood is that the United States will push for the resumption of peace talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis with the help of the International Quartet that includes the US, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations. Working with the Quartet is a promising proposition inasmuch as all the parties that comprise it believe in the two-state solution, save the US during the Trump years at the White House. Arab countries and leading European powers, which have traditionally played a significant role in promoting peace in the Middle East, whether in the southern tier of Europe or in the north, including Germany, could work together to advance the cause of peace in the region aided by the Biden administration. An example of such coordination took place in Amman on Thursday, 24 September. Jordan hosted a meeting that was attended by France and Germany, on the one hand, and Egypt and Jordan on the other. A representative of the European Union was also present. The meeting stressed the importance of the two-state solution as a means to end the Arab-Israeli conflict. Moreover, it called for the resumption of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations that should be “serious and effective”. Furthermore, the meeting rejected the idea of annexation as referred to in the Trump peace plan. In addition, the four countries and the European Union emphasised that settlements and the expropriation of Palestinian land and possessions are in violation of international law and undermine the two-state solution. The interesting elements above could be a blueprint for a joint Arab-European Declaration or a joint declaration by the Arab League and the European Union to coincide with the official inauguration of the Biden administration next month. It goes without saying that the Israeli government and political parties of the extreme right would do everything possible to undermine any genuine and serious moves by the Biden administration to push the two-state solution through direct negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Accordingly, I was not surprised by the move in Israel to dissolve the Knesset in a first reading. If the Knesset finally adopts a law for its dissolution, then Israel will see its fourth general elections in less than two years. If dissolved, and the Israelis are called to elect a new Knesset, the odds are that the extreme right in Israel would gain more seats than it presently has. If this comes to pass and the present Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is chosen for the sixth time to be premier, then we should expect a lot Israeli manoeuvring to forestall any serious American plan to advance the cause of peace in accordance with UN resolutions. Also, we should expect the Israeli government, whether the present one or any future one headed by Netanyahu, to overdramatise the “existential threat” that Iran of the Ayatollahs poses for Israel. With normalisation agreements between Israel and some Gulf countries, this time around the pressure on the new US administration would be greater than when Israel had acted alone in Washington circles during the Obama administration to block the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed in July 2015 between the P5+1 and Iran concerning Iranian nuclear activities. As a matter of fact, President-elect Biden said last week that some Arab countries should join any new negotiations with Iran to revise the JCPOA. The overall situation in the Middle East is quite complicated but a determined Biden administration with clear objectives and political determination could move things forward in order to stabilise the region. It will be a question of priorities and the hierarchy of interests that Washington will want to stress. The Palestinian-Israeli question should be on the American list of priorities in the Middle East. Positive American engagement in this regard could have an important impact on other issues related to peace and security in the Middle East.
Egypt has experienced some extremely critical and challenging times since the overthrow of a regime that had set out to monopolise power and render society hostage to theocratically oriented Islamist organisations. The interim government and then the government that came to power following the presidential elections in 2014 had the arduous task of rebuilding the state while contending with the war against terrorism, severe economic hardship and declining resources, and concerted propaganda campaigns orchestrated by foreign powers and political forces determined to turn the clock back to conditions that the overwhelming majority of the Egyptian people adamantly opposed, as they still do today. In the tumult that prevailed after the January 2011 Revolution, political party life and the activities of civil society organisations, whether involved in development work or rights advocacy, were thrown into such anarchy that the government had to intervene to regulate the sector, as other countries do. Only then could civil society play an effective role in the development process and broader segments of the public could contribute through civil society organisations. Political forces in the post-January Revolution period wanted to see more transparency in the operations of civil society organisations when it became clear that political money was involved in turning their activities towards the realisation of spurious agendas. Indeed, it was such factors that had enabled reactionary forces to rise to power in 2012. Reorganisation was clearly necessary and the new NGO law was introduced to serve this purpose. Since Law 149 of 2019, more commonly known as the NGO law, was first drafted, the government has responded to many of the observations registered by civil society representatives and incorporated them into the recently ratified bylaws to this law. “The law and its bylaws reflect the faith of the state in the vital role of NGOs in the realisation of development in diverse fields by building a strong and sustainable partnership between the state and civil society that will enable them to achieve their goals in a framework of transparency and respect for the values of human rights,” a government spokesman said. The bylaws have abolished penalties depriving NGO workers of their right to freedom of movement, restricting penalties to fines in the event of violations. They uphold the constitutionally stipulated right to establish an NGO through the submission of a notification to the relevant authority, by which act the applicant establishes the legal identity of the organisation. On the other hand, the law prohibits NGOs from engaging in political, party political or syndicate activities, or making their premises available for such purposes. A week after the new bylaws were ratified, a court ruling lifted the assets freezes and travel bans on the staffs of 20 NGOs involved in the foreign funding case that has been ongoing since July 2011. This, too, is an important step in reaffirming the government’s intent to facilitate the operations of NGOs. Now that the investigations into them have been concluded, the NGOs will be able to resume work as long as they remain in conformity with the new law. The Ministry of Social Solidarity reported that, by October 2017, the number civil society associations and NGOs in Egypt had risen to more than 48,000, of which some 30,000 were active. The majority are based in Greater Cairo and Alexandria although plenty are to be found in all parts of the country, including the more remote peripheries. Also, according to the ministry, 12,000 NGOs spend in the neighbourhood of LE 10 billion a year on social work. There are 96 international NGOs currently operating in Egypt. In the Sustainable Development Strategy (SDS), or Egypt 2030, civil society organisations and NGOs have a major part to play in the realisation of sustainable development goals. The SDS sees them as indispensable in the fight to eliminate poverty, to totally eliminate hunger, to upgrade and develop healthcare and educational services, to promote gender equality and other such areas that are crucial to improving the quality of life of the Egyptian people.
President-elect Joe Biden inherits a deeply divided America. But he also inherits a Democratic Party that is divided on how to tackle a wide array of issues, from immigration to health care, criminal justice to defense. Can they come together to confront a possible Republican Senate? Can they deliver on their mandate without further alienating the voters they lost? In this week s "What Comes Next," David Axelrod, former adviser to President Barack Obama, and Jess McIntosh, a Democratic strategist, tackle those questions in our discussion. But first, here s Axelrod s op-ed on what comes next for the Democratic Party. --SE Cupp If you re a Democrat, this is a time of great relief but not necessarily much joy. Sure, you captured the big prize, defeating a president with autocratic tendencies whose continuation in office many feared -- with good reason -- posed an existential threat to the institutions, norms and rule of law that form the foundation of our democracy. Joe Biden won the support of more than 80 million Americans, marking the seventh time in eight elections that Democrats have claimed the national popular vote. He added five states Hillary Clinton lost in 2016, including two -- Arizona and Georgia -- where Democrats had not won at the presidential level since the 1990s. All good news. But beneath that glittering top line, Republicans had an unexpectedly good Election Day. Encouraged by polling that proved too rosy, Democrats had high hopes of seizing a US Senate majority, enlarging their edge in the US House of Representatives and taking control of a half dozen or more legislatures across the country -- critical in a year when the states will be redrawing legislative and congressional maps for the next decade. None of that happened. While Biden won the presidency, it was Donald Trump who had the coattails. Mired in scandal, controversy and an epic pandemic, Trump, nevertheless, won over 74 million votes -- over 10 million more votes then he received in 2016. While it wasn t enough to save the embattled president, Republicans swept along in his wake narrowed the Democratic advantage in the US House by at least 12 seats so far, captured control of two more state legislative chambers in New Hampshire and are favored to maintain the majority in the US Senate, pending two critical runoff elections in Georgia on January 5. Unless Democrats can pull off two upsets in Georgia, many of Biden s appointments and much of his agenda will be at the mercy of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans, quickly testing the incoming president s oft-stated hope for a new era of bipartisan cooperation. Trump soon will be gone, but he has turbocharged a realignment, decades in the making, that leaves us a more deeply divided country and raises challenges for both parties. Buoyed by significant gains among suburban voters, and strong showings in cities, Biden won many of the most populous and prosperous metropolitan areas by even larger margins than Hillary Clinton. But Trump commanded more than 80% of the nation s counties, dominating rural areas and small towns across large swaths of the country. Those divisions, and the constitutionally-mandated system by which we elect presidents and apportion senators and members of Congress, means that Democrats may have the most voters, but Republicans, by activating their base, can maintain legislative power and remain competitive in future Electoral College races for the White House. For Democrats, the sobering reality is that, despite his seven million vote-lead nationally, Biden captured the presidency by a combined 43,692 votes across three battleground states. Without his narrow wins in Georgia, Arizona and Wisconsin, the race for electoral votes would have been tied. And, looking back, Biden was likely the only Democrat running in 2020 who could have pulled it off. White-haired, White and male; steeped in the working-class culture of his native Scranton, Pennsylvania; moderate in tone and politics and enormously empathetic because of his own horrific life struggles, Biden was a difficult target for the race-baiting, reactionary president. While Trump may have wounded Democratic candidates down ballot with his caricature of the party as a hotbed of "the radical left, "socialists," and mob-coddling advocates of "defunding police," he failed to brand Biden, who exit polls say carried moderate voters by 30 points, nearly three times Clinton s margin over Trump four years ago. That shift was reflected in the suburbs, where burgeoning turnout and shifting allegiances made the difference in the battleground states. Weary of chaos, and comfortable with Biden, White men with a college degree, who heavily favored Trump over Clinton in 2016, were nearly tied this year. White women with a college degree favored Biden by nearly double digits, according to CNN exit polls. These gains more than offset losses among some groups on whom Democrats were counting. African-Americans still supported Biden in overwhelmingly numbers, but Trump made small but measurable gains with Black men. Moreover, Democrats, who counted Latinx voters among their base, learned that Hispanic-American communities can t be treated as a monolithic or an automatic vote. They are rich and varied in their perspectives and experiences, and bucked the Democratic Party in places like Miami-Dade County in Florida and parts of South Texas. The decline among Asian-Americans was also noticeable. But the biggest concern Democrats should have is over the hardening of opposition in large swaths of America that may send us into perpetual gridlock. It s too easy and self-defeating for Democrats in this big, diverse country to write off these Republican-won voters or regions, and too facile to explain their loss solely in terms of the issue of race, despite Trump s relentless and unabashed race-baiting and nativism. Many of the small towns and rural communities between the coasts where Republicans have built their fortress have been battered and depleted by the same economic change that has benefited burgeoning metropolitan areas, where Democrats have prospered electorally. Trump s anti-trade, anti-immigrant, anti-environmental, law-and-order jeremiads have found an audience in these communities, exploiting and inflaming a sense that Democrats are disdainful of their values and alien to their economic interests. If Democrats are seen only as a coalition of economic and cultural elites and minorities -- with little connection to the rest of the country -- the party may still win narrow national victories, as they did in 2020, but will struggle to win and maintain governing majorities. Democrats need an expansive, authentic economic message for these changing times that speaks to the experience of tens of millions of Americans, rural and urban, who feel that the system devised over time by experts from Wall Street to Washington DC is rigged against them. Biden s emphasis on boosting jobs and wages, reducing inequality and undergirding the middle class is a step in the right direction. Yet in pursuing other bedrock commitments, Democrats need to pay some attention to how their words and plans are heard and how their actions are read across the whole country. Take climate change, which is an existential crisis that demands urgent action. But if you work on an oil field, extract natural gas or coal from the ground or lay pipeline for living, the moral argument about the next generation comes hard up against anxiety about the next paycheck. In pursuing climate action, those concerns should be honored and addressed, not dismissed. Systemic racism is a brutal reality that millions of our fellow Americans confront in different ways on a daily basis. Black Americans have faced uniquely unconscionable hardships, brutality and withering economic barriers from the beginning of the republic to this day. It is a legacy we, as a country, must confront and redress. But people in struggling rural communities and aging industrial towns who aren t subject to racial discrimination but have been caught in the switches of a changing economy need to know Democrats are fighting for them, too. And then there is immigration, an issue Trump has relentlessly exploited to divide and inflame. This is a nation of hard-working immigrants whose arrival on our shores, generation after generation, has enriched our country. Now, as they seek to fix a broken and shamefully inhumane system, Democrats should also assure there are rules and accountability to address concerns of blue-collar workers who fear that a surge of immigrants will undercut their jobs and wages. As Trump has proven again, presidents define their parties. For Democrats, that task now falls to Biden, who will take over amid a raging pandemic that has wreaked havoc on our economy in a country whose trust in institutions has been shaken to the core. With divided government, Biden will have to deal not only with implacable Republicans but his own fractious coalition, mediating between a left averse to compromise, minorities demanding their rightful place at the table and suburban moderates who are an increasingly important element of the Democratic base. Gone but not forgotten, Trump will likely launch the resistance from Day One, and will be abetted by a right-wing media ecosystem long on conspiracy theories and short on facts, stoking the red-blue divide. Biden may have been the only Democrat in the race who could have defeated Trump in 2020. But now the oldest president in history faces a Herculean task, not only in leading the country, but growing his party for the future
President Donald Trump went down to Georgia on Saturday to pretend to care about democracy. Only hours earlier he had pressured the state s governor, Brian Kemp, in a phone call, to ignore the democratic outcome of the presidential election and find a way to turn the state s Electoral College vote in his favor, democracy be damned.It s not surprising, then, that his speech started with a lie -- "We won Georgia" -- followed by a relentless assault on the truth, in keeping with his destructive disinformation campaign against America and its democracy.Crowd members holding up "Save America" signs, gathered side by side, most without face masks, even though Covid-19 cases are out of control. Like previous Trump campaign gatherings, this one is likely to result in more infections, more hospitalizations, and very likely, more deaths. But if that was on anyone s mind in the crowd, it was quickly pushed aside. The Saturday night event in South Georgia, officially an effort to drum up support for Republican senators in the January run-off elections, looked and sounded much like the campaign rallies that preceded the November election. The big difference is that the national election is over now, everywhere except in the minds of Trump s most devoted backers, who are listening to the mind-boggling concoctions about a large scale international conspiracy, perhaps including North Korea and a long-dead Venezuelan president, to deprive Trump of a second term. The conspiracy, to be real, would have had to enlist Attorney General Bill Barr, Republican governors and election officials across the country and a plan so complex that it denied victory to Trump while allowing Republicans to gain seats in the House and deprive Democrats of a majority in the Senate.The Senate, as it happens, could still end up being controlled by Democrats, even if a true majority is out of reach. But that would require that Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock both win their races next month -- coincidentally scheduled for the day before Congress formally counts the vote of the Electoral College -- which would create a 50-50 tie in the Senate. With Biden as president, Vice President Kamala Harris would become the tie breaker, so Democrats would be in control of the agenda. Current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would no longer run the show. That s why Republicans desperately wanted Trump to focus his remarks on the Senate run-off. It was not to be. Trump, not surprisingly, used the overwhelming majority of the speech to tout his accomplishments, promote unfounded claims that the election was stolen, and utter outlandish predictions about what Democrats will do once they run the country. "They want to go into a communistic form of government," Trump absurdly remarked. Ahead of his speech, the first since the election he lost by more than seven million votes, Republicans in Georgia and across the country were anxious about what exactly the President might say. The outcome of the runoff election will go a long way in determining how successful the Biden administration is in enacting its agenda at home and abroad. Republicans feared that Trump would all but forget to urge voters to go to the polls, and double down on his campaign of intimidation against Republican officials in Georgia. Their fears, as it turns out, were well founded. Trump did tell the crowd to vote for Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, but he also fulminated against Gov. Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, strongly suggesting that elections in Georgia cannot be trusted. "For whatever reason," he mocked, "your secretary of state and your governor are afraid of Stacey Abrams."The spectacle of Trump disparaging Kemp is barely believable for anyone who has watched Kemp over the past few years desperately trying to ingratiate himself to Trump. The President has called him a "moron," and on Saturday he told the cheering crowds, "Your governor should be ashamed of himself." It was a cringeworthy line for the Republican establishment, because it could be interpreted as supporting the argument of some of Trump s most fervent backers in the state, people like attorney Lin Wood, who have been telling Republicans to boycott the "fraudulent election." Trump has sparked a Republican civil war in Georgia. In the face of death threats, Republican officials are pleading with him to cool the temperature. But Trump is shoveling more coal into the boiler, making demands that range from pointless to illegal. The state has already conducted a full hand recount of the ballots, and the absentee ballots were already matched to the signatures -- twice -- before being tallied. Now Trump wants Kemp to call a special session of the legislature and push them to choose Electors who will ignore the popular vote and support him. That demand is part of the most direct assault on the country s democracy in its history. Even if he got his way, and Georgia s 16 electoral votes, that would still leave him far from victory in an election he lost by more than seven million votes and a margin of 306 to 232 in the Electoral College. Since the November election, Trump and his crack team of lawyers and backers have made ever more bizarre claims about what exactly led to his loss. More than 30 lawsuits have been thrown out of court by a variety of judges, including some named to the bench by Trump -- and just this Saturday a federal appeals court threw out yet another lawsuit in Georgia.Trump suggested the Supreme Court could still pull victory out of the jaws of defeat for him. The event probably boosted Trump s spirits. Whether it helped the Republican cause is questionable. What is certain is that it was one more hammer blow in Trump s ongoing battering of American democracy.
On Monday, 23 November, US President-elect Joe Biden, speaking from Wilmington, Delaware, announced his national security appointments, including the next US secretary of state. Antony Blinken, a former deputy secretary of state during the Obama administration, was chosen as the successor of Mike Pompeo, the present secretary of state. The post of national security adviser went to Jake Sullivan. Avril Haines was tapped as director of national intelligence, the first woman to hold the position. The president-elect chose a Latino — also a first — to lead the Department of Homeland Security. Elevating the position of the permanent representative of the United States to the United Nations in New York to a cabinet-level post in the Biden administration, the president-elect picked up a veteran American diplomat, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, to fill this important post. On the other hand, former US secretary of state in the second Obama administration, John Kerry, was appointed as a climate envoy. Biden had called leading European officials on the same Monday and reassured them of American commitment to traditional alliances and multilateral diplomacy — a commitment that is a far cry from the kind of diplomacy that the Trump administration adopted in the period from 2017-2020, if we could call its policies on the international scene, and particularly towards traditional American allies after World War II, “diplomacy”. All the appointees to these important posts in the next US administration had worked in the Obama administration, the first and the second, from 2009 till 20 January 2017. They are known for their commitment to multilateralism, free trade policies and an active US role in the world. Some experts and commentators said, after these announcements, that the Biden administration is a third Obama administration. In introducing his national security team, Biden said that the appointments reflect “the fact that America is back, ready to lead the world, not retreat from it”. He added that the United States is “once again [sits] at the head of the table” and is ready to “confront our adversaries and not reject our allies. Ready to stand for our values.” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, nominated for the post of the US permanent representative to the UN, stressed the above by saying, “America is back, multilateralism is back, diplomacy is back.” Dennis Ross, the former chief negotiator of the US in Middle East peace talks, has commented that this is a national security team of “professionalism and competence”. Antony Blinken promised that a Biden administration would place an emphasis on “leadership, cooperation and democracy”. The nominee for the post of secretary of state, was a former speech writer for former US President Bill Clinton and national security adviser to Biden as vice-president and a deputy national security adviser to Obama. From an Arab and a Middle Eastern perspective, Blinken knows well the Arab world and the Middle East, and will hit the ground running in dealing with Middle Eastern and Arab questions, crises and officials. Known for his personal and ideological attachment to American political values and American leadership, he is expected to stress human rights issues and the question of democracy in dealing with the region. A few days ago, he called out a leading Arab country for human rights abuses. In a recent Intelligence Matters podcast, Blinken said the United States had to rebuild alliances to tackle the “democratic recession” enabled by President Trump, something that let “autocracies from Russia to China… exploit our difficulties”. He has been clear about the importance of promoting democracy and human rights in American foreign policy, and a former Obama official has expressed his belief that Blinken would be “visibly tougher on Russia and more receptive to the idea of ideological competition with China, ranking up a few notches the democracy and human rights dimension of foreign policy”. Last January, Blinken talked to the Hudson Institute, a leading American think tank, and dealt with American leadership and the promotion of democracy around the world. He said: “At the very moment… democracies most need leadership and I would argue leadership from the United States… Unfortunately, we have a president (Trump) who, by embracing autocrats and dismissing democrats, seems, to many, to suit it up for the other side.” Blinken added: “It is a long way of saying that if we renew our democracy at home, if we revitalise our alliances with democracies in the first instance around the world, that creates a foundation for us to act, I believe, more effectively with lots of challenges.” I personally believe that the elements of the foreign policy of the future Biden administration are to be found in the quotes above. Needless to say, the world has changed from the Obama years in office. The United States itself has changed in the last four years under the incumbent president, for whom around 74 million Americans voted in the 2020 elections. In elaborating and executing its foreign policy, the Biden administration will take, probably, these changes into account in order to have a strong foreign policy based on a large domestic consensus. There is no need, speaking of the United States and the Middle East, to repeat the foreign policy of Obama s second term vis-à-vis the upheavals that the region witnessed from 2011 onwards. It would be a departure from past policies if the national security team that the president-elect chose would review what went wrong in American foreign policy in the Middle East in the last decade (the Obama and Trump administrations combined) and try new approaches to solve old and persistent challenges. However, the most challenging job would definitely be how to promote democracy and human rights questions without stirring unnecessary confrontations with allies and strategic partners of the United States. The other challenge would be how to deal with the negative legacy of the Trump administration when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict and the future of the Palestinian question; in other words, sticking to the status quo or working with both the Palestinians and the Israelis to promote security and peace. Related questions, no less important, will be how to deal with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as Iran. What will be the strategic priorities of the Biden administration in the Middle East and the dynamic interrelations among them? I would argue that a more pro-active American policy towards the Palestinian question, a more neutral American position, would be helpful in promoting democracy and human rights issues in the Arab world. The new national security team in Washington has raised hopes and high expectations of a break with the Trump years and “America First” dogma. Hopefully, the world would become safer for democracy, security and peace in the next four years. Something that will require blending realism with ideals in American foreign policy.
For decades, successive governments in Ethiopia have dragged Egypt through the mud, saying they wanted “exclusive” rights over the River Nile and not heeding the well-being of other riparian nations, mainly upstream ones. This narrative, regrettably spread by Ethiopia in drifting away from Egypt, a country whose help has been crucial in helping Ethiopia to establish sectors like banking and aviation and modernise others like medicine, has stained the image of Egypt among the peoples of the Nile Basin. This has been so even though Egypt has usually lent a helping hand to the peoples of Africa in general and the Nile Basin in particular. Egypt has successfully implemented major water and irrigation projects, including the digging of wells and the construction of small dams for rainfall harvesting in countries like South Sudan, Sudan, Kenya and Uganda, so that African countries can make the most of their rainfall and develop their irrigation schemes. It has also embarked on another journey that will stand forever as a symbol of the country s unyielding commitment to a better and more prosperous Nile Basin. In 2018, a consortium of giant Egyptian companies including the Arab Contractors and El-Sewedy Electric reached a deal with the Tanzanian government under its reformist President John Magufuli to establish a mega-project in Tanzania. When this project, the Stiegler s Gorge Dam, goes online, it will transform the lives of Tanzanians by providing access to electricity for millions in this East African country, officially categorised by the World Bank as a “middle-income country.” It will regulate the flow of the mighty Rufiji River to help Tanzania advance the agricultural projects needed to maintain higher growth rates in this country of roughly 60 million people. Before the Egyptian companies concerned were selected to finalise this mega-project, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi paid a visit to Tanzania in 2017, the first by an incumbent Egyptian president in 50 years, which set the stage for political harmony between the two countries. The Julius Nyerere Hydropower Plant at Stiegler s Gorge, named after Tanzania s historic leader, will have a 2,115-Megawatt capacity, a bit higher even than Egypt s Aswan High Dam, creating a colossal man-made lake behind it of 34 billion cubic metres of water. The dam stretches over 1,200 square km and is 134 metres high, some five metres lower than the Great Pyramid of Cheops at Giza. The cost of this rock-fill dam amounts to roughly $3 billion, compared to $4.8 billion, the cost of Ethiopia s controversial Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which has caused the Eastern Nile Basin region to sit on a powder keg. The project is expected to be operational in a couple of years, particularly as the Egyptian companies concerned are plugging away to finish it on schedule in 2022. What matters the most about Tanzania s Stiegler s Gorge Dam is the political will shown by Egypt to finish the project first on time and second by strictly committing itself to the highest-possible construction standards. In November this year, the Egyptian ministers of housing and electricity attended a historic event in Tanzania in the presence of Tanzanian Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa pertaining to the diversion of the Rufiji River in order to construct the main dam and in testimony to the pace at which Egyptian companies are proceeding with the construction work. Located in Morogoro southwest of Dar Es-Salam, the commercial capital of Tanzania and the largest city in the country, the project includes the building of a 600-metre tunnel to divert the Rufiji River s water, three tunnels to provide the necessary water to operate the power plant, four saddle dams for rainfall harvesting and 400-kilovolt transmission lines to be merged with the national power grid in Tanzania and bringing the benefits of the dam to the country s 17 million families. Stationed at the site of this mega-project are some 6,000 workers, almost half of them Tanzanians in order to ensure the transfer of know-how. El-Sewedy Electric boasts long experience in erecting power projects in Africa, and its experience is being passed on to Tanzanian engineers. After the dam has regulated the flow of the Rufiji River, its reservoir will empower Tanzania, originally an agriculture-driven economy, to follow up on its plans for further agricultural production and to maintain its status as a well-performing economy in the East Africa region. The dam will also help the country realise its vision of becoming the largest exporter of cashew nuts in the world, as it aspires to double its production of these over the next four years, particularly as the crop is cultivated near the commercial capital of Dar Es-Salam. The smooth construction of the Stiegler s Gorge Dam is a reminder that Ethiopia could also have constructed its GERD Dam project without causing so much fuss, whether downstream or upstream on the Nile. Initially, Ethiopia was to establish a similar dam to that being built in Tanzania at a somewhat more affordable cost instead of using “humanitarian assistance funding” to speed up the building of the GERD. Under the initial calculations, the project would have generated the electricity necessary for those who are still living in the dark in this landlocked nation without inflicting harm on downstream peoples in Sudan and Egypt, whether on a larger or a smaller scale. But unlike in the case of Tanzania, Ethiopia has rejected repeated calls from Egypt for the co-implementation of the project, citing issues of “sovereignty”. Also unlike in the Tanzanian case, a consensus on the project has not been Ethiopia s top priority. The Horn of Africa nation has been adamantly rejecting calls for a fair compromise, and it has chosen confrontation rather than cooperation on the dam and has falsely tried to present itself as a “victim” of so-called Egyptian monopoly over the Nile. In reality, when the Stiegler s Gorge Dam is finished, the Nile Basin region will be disabused of the notion, unfortunately long held by short-sighted Ethiopian governments, that Egypt only works to keep the upper hand as far as the Nile waters are concerned. The wall of anti-Egyptian sentiments will fall when the Tanzanians see their long-awaited dream of an uninterrupted new power supply coming true, this time through the dedicated and cost-effective work of their brothers in Egypt. The writer is a former press and information officer in Ethiopia and an expert on African affairs.
If you re President Donald Trump, when Attorney General William Barr tells you it s over -- then it s over. Barr s statement to the Associated Press Tuesday that "to date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have affected a different outcome in the election" should be a death-knell for Trump s effort to conjure a false narrative that the election was stolen from him.The fact that the announcement comes from Barr makes it hit particularly hard for Trump. Over his nearly two years in office, Barr has repeatedly distorted the truth to benefit Trump, and he has used the Justice Department to intervene selectively in politically-charged cases to the benefit of Trump s political allies. Barr even took pains to amplify Trump s pre-election claims of potentially massive voter fraud. In a June 2020 interview with NPR, Barr opined (without evidence) that mail-in ballots present "so many occasions for fraud there that cannot be policed. I think it would be very bad." And in Congressional testimony just weeks later in July 2020, Barr tried and failed again to conjure the demon of massive fraud in mail-in ballots. Yet part of the beauty of the Justice Department is that ultimately, it follows facts, not wild conspiracy theories. And even though Barr changed the rules and instructed prosecutors specifically to investigate potential instances of voter fraud (and potentially announce those findings publicly) immediately after the election, they apparently found nothing of note. Trump s increasingly desperate legal team, headed by Rudy Giuliani, immediately disputed Barr s conclusion: "with all due respect to the Attorney General, there hasn t been any semblance" of an investigation.Let s break that down. In one corner, we have Giuliani and the rest of Trump s legal team, who have continually had their cases thrown out of court for complete lack of evidence. "Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here," wrote a Trump-appointed federal judge last week in a stinging rebuke to the campaign s efforts to undo Pennsylvania s vote count certification. In the other corner, we have Barr and the entire Justice Department looking for fraud and finding nothing. Take your pick. Throughout his tenure, Barr can, and has, bent the truth and diminished the Justice Department by using it for transparently political purposes. But facts are facts. It s one thing to twist them; it s another thing altogether to fabricate them where they simply don t exist. If Barr and the Justice Department couldn t provide support for Trump s conspiracy theory, then nobody can. Now, your questions: Bonnie (Connecticut): I thought the Constitution states a president has pardon power except in cases of impeachment. Shouldn t President Trump therefore lose the power to pardon? No, but the confusion here is understandable. Article II of the Constitution provides that the President "shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment." On this point, the Constitution -- venerable document that it is -- is ambiguous. Read one way, it could appear to say that after the President is impeached by the House, he loses the power to issue pardons. But read another way, it says that the President can issue pardons for criminal offenses but not for impeachment. The latter reading is correct. There is no provision anywhere in the Constitution, statutes, or case law that strips a President of any power upon impeachment by the House (though of course, if convicted in the Senate, the President loses office and all of its powers). It would be anomalous for the President to lose only one power -- the power to pardon -- upon impeachment alone, and no serious legal authority has argued for this interpretation. Indeed, former President Bill Clinton issued many pardons after he was impeached in 1998. Rather, the clause in Article II means that while a President can pardon an official (or any person) for a crime, he cannot pardon an official out of impeachment. In other words, the President does not have power to un-impeach. For example, if a federal judge committed bribery, the President could pardon the judge from a criminal bribery charge, but the President could not rescue the judge from impeachment. Indeed, no President has ever pardoned or even attempted to pardon an official from an impeachment.Greg (Colorado): Given that the Constitution grants the president the exclusive right to grant pardons for federal crimes, can a president reverse pardons issued by a prior president? Probably not. The Constitutional pardon power is exceptionally broad: the President "shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment." There is no precedent for a court or Congress to overrule or reverse a Presidential pardon. At most, a President might, in certain narrow circumstances, be able to reverse his own pardon before it becomes official. In 2008, President George W. Bush pardoned convicted felon Isaac Toussie but then, upon learning that Toussie s father had made large donations to Republican political groups, rescinded the pardon the very next day. Administration officials claimed the pardon had not yet been finalized because Toussie had not yet received formal notice of the pardon. There is only limited and distant precedent for a President to revoke a prior President s pardon. Former President Ulysses S. Grant revoked several pardons issued by his predecessor, former President Andrew Johnson, in some instances claiming (like Bush) that the pardons were not final because no formal notice had been made to the recipients. In the 140-plus years since Grant, no President has even attempted to rescind a pardon issued by a prior President. Paul (California): Once Sen. Kamala Harris becomes vice president, how is her vacant Senate seat filled, and what happens in the interim if her absence gives Republicans a majority?Under California law, the governor has the power to select a replacement for an empty Senate seat. California is among the majority of states -- 37, to be precise -- that fills vacancies immediately by gubernatorial appointment. In the other 13 states, the seat remains vacant until the state can hold a special election to fill the vacant seat. The current governor, Gavin Newsom, is a Democrat, and is virtually certain to appoint a fellow Democrat to fill Harris s seat. Given the narrow margin in the Senate (currently 50-48 in favor of Republicans, with two runoffs pending in Georgia), Newsom likely will be prepared to make his appointment immediately upon Harris resignation from her Senate seat to take the vice president position.
For many mixed status immigrant families -- like mine -- this post-election period is a time of growing anxiety and fear about what else Donald Trump may do to harm immigrants before he leaves the White House. It s not an unwarranted fear. It s been reported that the administration has recently been in constant communication with groups that advocate for harsher immigration policies.And Trump s track record also gives us good reason to worry about what could come. From his first moments in office, Trump has used executive action to advance his racist anti-immigrant agenda. During his first week as President, he issued a sweeping travel ban, which mostly included Muslim majority countries and refugees. And there was another executive order making undocumented immigrants, which mostly consist of people of color, immediately deportable. He has moved to take away humanitarian protections or Temporary Protective Status from 300,000 immigrants from Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti and El Salvador. Living under this administration has put my family s life in limbo. It meant waking up every day fearing that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), now emboldened to be indiscriminate, could show up to the home of my parents, who were undocumented, and separate us. Trump s constant efforts to dismantle DACA has held back my brother, Jonathan, one of the hundreds of thousands of young people who benefitted from the program, from planning for the future and pursuing his dream of opening a martial arts academy for children and youth. It also meant that I feared my citizenship application could be backlogged for a long time or denied because of my activism. Under the Trump administration, those of us working with immigrant communities increasingly knew of immigrants who were denied their citizenship, and earlier this year the Justice Department officially created a section in its immigration office to strip away citizenship from naturalized immigrants who the Trump administration claimed "illegally obtained naturalization," but lawyers and critics have rightfully been concerned about it being abused by the administration. I grew up in the United States undocumented, first arriving in 1998 at 13 when my parents fled poverty and violence in Quito, Ecuador. They risked everything. They wanted to make sure I would not only survive here, but also get a chance to pursue dreams unattainable in the place they left behind.But after more than 20 years of living in this country, I became a US citizen. My citizenship application was approved, and I was able to petition for my parents, who after waiting for more than a year, were granted green cards this month. This was a bittersweet moment for our family because though I could petition for my brother, the immigration system only allows a limited number of visas for sibling petitions per year and our application would take 13 years or more to be processed. My story is similar to the stories of millions of immigrants who are here to stay and whose lives were at stake during this election. And while families remain anxious about what the current administration will do on its way out, we are hopeful about what President-elect Joe Biden will do to fix America s unjust immigration system on his way in. But we need to hear more about his agenda to help diminish any fear coming over the immigrant community during Trump s last weeks in office. I voted in my first presidential election this November. My vote for Biden was a vote for my immigrant parents, for my brother and for all of the other immigrant families impacted by Trump s hateful agenda of deportation, detention and family separation. And many young undocumented immigrants who couldn t vote nevertheless played a big role in the months leading up to Election Day, mobilizing their communities to vote for Biden. Voters have given him a mandate to address the needs of working-class people, including immigrants, who have been hit the hardest by the pandemic and are struggling for survival after four years of Trump. At United We Dream Action, I was proud to help launch and run the largest electoral program ever led by immigrant youth this year. We drove record turnout among low-propensity Latinx, youth, and first-time voters in numerous battleground states, including Arizona, Florida, Texas, Colorado, Minnesota, Michigan and North Carolina. Several of these states were crucial for defeating Trump and carrying Biden across the finish line to victory.Now, we re calling on him to use the transition period to prepare and announce a series of pro-immigrant executive actions that will happen on day one of his presidency. Ideally, we wouldn t have to rely on Biden s executive power to grant basic human decency for one of the most marginalized groups in this country. The policy changes that would protect immigrant communities permanently and provide a pathway to citizenship can only be done through Congressional action, but Republicans unwavering embrace of Trump and his policies would certainly make legislative action challenging if they hold on to the Senate after the Georgia runoff election. Nonetheless, the immigrant justice movement will keep up the pressure on Congress for action. The hope for legislative action, however, cannot be used as an excuse for a Biden administration to not take executive action to provide immediate relief for immigrants. We simply can t wait. With the stroke of his presidential pen, Biden can do many things to empower and protect immigrants, including several measures he has supported during the campaign trail like reversing all of Trump s anti-immigrant executive orders; halting all deportations (Biden has said that he is in favor of doing this temporarily, but it needs to be a lasting measure); closing for-profit immigrant detention facilities; immediately releasing all immigrants from detention centers -- where unsanitary conditions and overcrowding have created the perfect storm for Covid-19 outbreaks -- so that they can reunite with families, friends or be part of non-profit community programs that help to keep families safe while they follow the legal process for their case.Immigrants, mostly of color -- because of systemic racism and an immigration system built to criminalize them -- are being held indefinitely in these facilities for minor violations like driving without a license. Under Trump, detention centers are filled with immigrants who have been criminalized for seeking refuge in this country, living here without papers, traffic stops, and other minor violations. Biden has promised to reinstate the DACA program, but he should also expand it and implement other measures to protect immigrants from deportation and family separation. Other important measures will require bipartisan support but are just as important for Biden to start talking about now. For one, creating a pathway to citizenship for all, including undocumented workers who are keeping this country running—like farmworkers, meatpacking plant workers and home health aides -- during the pandemic. We need the new administration to act in a way that makes clear that there is no relief for essential workers without immediate relief for undocumented immigrants -- the two are inextricably linked and cannot be separated. That s why Biden should immediately push both Republicans and Democrats in Congress to ensure that future Covid-19 relief bills include help for undocumented immigrants who pay billions of dollars in taxes. The fact that the first relief bill left out millions of immigrants was shameful. We are a crucial part of ensuring that the entire country is on the road to recovery. And if finding funding is an issue, diverting billions from a cruel and unjust immigration enforcement system to fund federal Covid-19 relief efforts is a great start.Just as Trump and his Republican enablers have been unapologetic in moving their anti-immigrant agenda, Biden should immediately pursue every executive and legislative path possible to advance justice for immigrants. But we need Biden to be much more than the anti-Trump President. We need him to be the President who rebuilds and leads an America where all people, including immigrants, can live freely and with dignity -- an America where all immigrants become equal partners in making this multi-racial democracy better for everyone.
Five years after terror attacks in Paris killed 130 innocent civilians, Europe is still suffering at the hands of Islamist extremists. The recent attack in Vienna, claimed by Isis, demonstrated the determination of those who seek to spread their intolerance across the world. The gunman, who shot dead four people and wounded more than a dozen others, had been jailed last year for trying to travel to join the group in Syria. It is clear that the group s poisonous, transnational ideology of hate knows no bounds. The violence will continue until we have an honest conversation about the relationship between violent extremists and their non-violent sympathisers. For too long, the so-called peaceful Islamist groups have provided legitimacy and political cover for those who commit atrocities in the name of Islam. The Muslim Brotherhood (MB), for example, has been creating the mood music for terrorist attacks in different parts of the world, including Europe. The MB has laid the ideological foundations for scores of Muslims to turn to violence in defence of Islamist ideology. The argument goes that, because Western societies are hostile to Islam and to Muslim communities, Islam is under attack . Consequently, it is suggested by some, Muslims have the right to defend their religion through violence, even against innocent civilians. In doing so, they facilitate attacks by Isis and the tragic events recently witnessed in Vienna become inevitable. For those of us who have had to live with the MB, this should come as no surprise. In Egypt, we have sadly seen that some are still tempted by the lure of the MB, which aims to distort and sully Egypt s image. In the twelve months following the June 2012 elections, Egypt entered into the dark tunnel of political Islam. Egypt was fast becoming another Taliban state. It s no secret that the MB and their benefactors in the Middle East haven t forgiven Egypt for the upheaval which led to their removal from power in the summer of 2013. For that reason, the MB and its allies have become hysterical in their attempt to undermine Egypt s progress and invent a fictitious narrative to suit their ends. Al-Jazeera and other media outlets have dedicated significant airtime to concocting an alternative reality in Egypt of non-existent upheaval. Yet the threat posed by the MB is as great today as it has ever been. They do not believe in the notion of a civil nation state that the West takes for granted. Their dream of Caliphate rule and pursuit of the strictest application of the most conservative version of Islam is simply anathema to human civilisation. The MB s highest spiritual guru, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, has justified suicide attacks against civilians, saying: It s not suicide, it is martyrdom in the name of God . Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Bin Laden s successor in the caves of Tora Bora, was a Muslim Brotherhood member. The truth is that the MB is bad news for the entire world, not just for my country. Violence has never been far away from the Brotherhood since attempts in the 1960s to establish an armed military wing. Sayyid Qutb, widely regarded as the godfather of modern Salafi jihadism, was a leading MB figure during that period. According to his twisted teachings, jihad was a personal, individual responsibility, and it was incumbent on all Muslims to establish true Islamic rule in their own countries, including through violence if necessary. It s perhaps no surprise that the violent dogma and ideology of groups like Daesh come directly from this line of thinking. It s also no surprise that when Sir John Jenkins (the then-British ambassador to Saudi Arabia) was tasked with reviewing the Muslim Brotherhood in 2014 on behalf of the UK government, he concluded that the Brotherhood is prepared to countenance violence – including, from time to time, terrorism – where gradualism is ineffective . He also wrote that aspects of Muslim Brotherhood ideology and tactics, in this country and overseas, are contrary to our values and have been contrary to our national interests and our national security . The Muslim Brotherhood s attempts to disrupt Egyptian politics have long been known. What is less talked about is how they have sought to inject their brand of conservative, literalist Islam into Britain and the West at large. In Jenkins report, he wrote: Much about the Muslim Brotherhood in the UK remains secretive, including membership, fund raising and educational programmes. But Muslim Brotherhood associates and affiliates here have at times had significant influence on the largest UK Muslim student organisation, national organisations which have claimed to represent Muslim communities (and on that basis have sought and had a dialogue with Government), charities and some mosques . It is time for Britain, and the rest of the Western world, to speak out against the Muslim Brotherhood. Back in 2015, David Cameron said Jenkins findings revealed the Brotherhood s highly ambiguous relationship with violent extremism . But in the five years since, not enough has been done in the way of acting on these words.
The Houthi militia in Sanaa issued on 25 November a court ruling stipulating that 91 Yemeni politicians and media figures are to be executed, including myself. The ruling has no value per se, and from an ethical point of view, it is an advantage because it is only natural to stand on the opposite side of any bigoted group and be against the rule of any fascist militia. In reality, the Houthi militia kills Yemenis on a daily basis, and after six years of destruction, there is not a single household that has not experienced lasting grief and great devastation because of this militia. The aim of this court ruling is to seize people s properties, which have been plundered as well. I rather seek to discuss the issue in a more holistic manner given the importance of what is going on. The ruling confirms the reality of the Houthi group as the most bigoted of all extremist groups in Yemen. I also want to raise the question here with regards to a circle of international analysts and media figures who consider their overt or covert support of this group and its practices as wisdom and moderation. How would the latter, and the international mediators, as a minority of supporters, explain to us and to the world the continued madness and extremism of such an unruly militia, while advocating that it can accept a peace dialogue? What is happening is a complete collapse that Yemen is facing due to a subversive group that has taken control of the decision-making spheres, and is practicing a frightening fascist approach together with a systematic repression that reinforces the fragmentation of Yemen on all levels, in such a way that makes it impossible for us to regain the safety of this country for decades to come. This confirms that the loose international attitude towards a terrorist group is a blessing for the continuation of an approach that cannot be dealt with through diplomacy only, should our goal be to make it disappear in order to make room for peace. What if the world had dealt with the rise of Nazism and fascism in Europe with the same logic that the current international analysts adopt towards the situation in Yemen? And what would the situation be like if we insisted on the necessity of dealing with ISIS in Iraq and Syria with the logic of diplomacy and had the Islamic State sign a joint statement for sharing power? There is no intimidation here (nor a personal goal). It is an objective vision that many representatives of the international community ignore, either intentionally or because of a lack of knowledge, but the danger is there and it is increasing. The Houthi group is ignored, and it continues to grow and proliferate, not only militarily but also ideologically, to the extent that it has become a modus operandi that inspires every extremist group. The world s and the sub-region s belittling of what is happening in the Houthi-controlled areas raises both sadness and anxiety and reminds us of the emergence of the Arab-Afghan extremism, or even the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, which the international community dealt with in the beginning with disdain and even protectionism, and sometimes sympathy, by providing refuge to many of its leaders by the time the extremist movement would only attack its opponents from among the people of its country. The matter then developed into international terrorism targeting international communities which previously supported it or contributed to supporting it through their blessed silence. And here we are, creating a new hatchery in Yemen that some international analysts overlook, and see its danger as only pertaining to a part of Yemeni geography, and that it will be an obedient and cooperative militia, repeating, hence, the same mistake they made when initially dealing with Al-Qaeda and ISIS. Yemen, today, is another laboratory for a new face of extremism and terrorism that is much more sophisticated, and even more cohesive than the experiences of Al-Qaeda and ISIS. A little logic shows the features of development and danger. Seven years ago, we and the international community were looking after the grievances of a county in the far end of Yemen, called Saada, advocating that it was entitled to obtain development opportunities. Then it became a militia that wanted partnership in all forms of governance, then it overthrew the state and killed its institutions. And now we are also talking about an armed movement that wants to liberate the Arabian Peninsula and announce (the idea of the Quranic march) that goes beyond Yemen s jurisdiction to an extremist caliphate that is fighting infidelity everywhere. Do take note of the daily focus on showing the Houthi militia as being part of the so-called axis of resistance (to Israel and America), and not just as a rebel group against the Yemeni government. This is an issue that is growing every day and is gaining supporters and advocates in the whole region, not just in Yemen. That is why when the Houthi group in Sanaa issued rulings against President Trump and dozens of world and Arab leaders over the past months, some reacted with much contempt and trepidation, and still do. While sarcastically claiming, how could the Houthi group, isolated in the mountains of Yemen, threaten these leaders and their countries? They forget, out of ignorance, how the extremist organisations have created terrorism through fatwas and rulings, and the extent to which the idea has grown among followers who then form their own organisations, prosecute others, and destroy all their opponents. Like extremist movements around the world, organisations proliferate through dedicated individuals who are able to harm without necessarily being positioned under one organisational umbrella. Terrorism succeeds, rather, whenever and wherever it becomes a widespread idea. Al-Qaeda s leadership ended in the caves of Afghanistan, which are more complex than Yemen, but its idea is flourishing everywhere, including in the countries of Europe or America and among the circles that are far from illiterate laymen to students in international universities and schools. These are poisonous winds that do not stop at a limit once they are unleashed from their bottles. They find it helpful to look weak in the beginning, and their prosperity is then consecrated through those who advocate their quintessential purity without fear, as they have specific grievances and seek to undermine their small surroundings, which in this case are parts of Yemen that are resistant to it. Then the world wakes up to a new nightmare of terrorism. In this regard, the matter in Yemen is crystal clear, and not a speculation (even if international analysts hate it), as the Houthi group is moving at an accelerated pace to be the most important laboratory for the graduation of regiments of young fighters who will rule the planet and carry out the Quranic march according to what they claim, and their supporters will not be Yemenis only, nor will their arena be Yemen alone. It will be larger than Arabia and its Gulf. This is what is happening now in Yemen, and if it is left unaddressed, it will worsen every day and its dangers shall increase, the most prominent of which is the promotion of hate speech and bigoted logic, in which all others see a project for corpses to be trampled upon, in order to rule the region, because the world makes through its silence a disaster that goes beyond compromising peace and wisdom in Yemen. Yes, it is a project that can be defeated now, if we change the strategy of confrontation, and if international vigilance takes place, and before that, the region s vigilance against the danger of what is happening in Yemen in terms of collapse and destruction, whose repercussions will affect everyone. The project will be defeated if this international vigilance occurs, while rigorously addressing the danger of the Houthi militia project in Yemen and stopping it, and with the Yemenis continuing to resist, ending their conflict, and rallying around the project of a civil democratic state with courage and bravery.
In a year that has witnessed a lot of political changes, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also had much better years in his long political career. This year’s events have not only brought Erdogan’s megalomaniac ambitions in the Mediterranean and the Middle East to a halt but may also have witnessed the end of his honeymoon with Europe as well. The EU has finally answered French, Greek and Cypriot calls to take a stand against the Turkish president’s provocative actions in the region and the destabilisation that has followed them with its ripple effects on the Old Continent’s stability. After nearly two years of deliberation and debate, the EU has sent an ultimatum to the Turkish president demanding that he stop his provocative actions in the Mediterranean, especially against EU members Greece and Cyprus, and his political feud with France. Sanctions against Turkey have been postponed by the EU several times, with these being seen as a last resort because of the strong economic ties between the EU and Turkey. Erdogan had earlier perceived the European hesitation as a form of weakness or inability to carry out serious sanctions against the Turkish state. But on 19 November during a teleconference among EU foreign ministers, it was decided that the EU would take more severe measures against Turkey during the next EU summit to be held on 10-11 December. The date was set after a series of provocations by Erdogan last week, the latest of which was his visit to occupied Northern Cyprus where he delivered a speech. Erdogan called for peace talks with the parties in the Cyprus conflict and for what he called a “two-state” solution. This has been categorically rejected by all the parties, however, including the United Nations. The aim of a unified Cyprus has been clearly established in diplomatic discussions worldwide. The provocative visit put the nearly five-decade-old conflict in Cyprus back in the news headlines and was met by disdain from European leaders as well as by protests even by some Turkish Cypriots themselves. The protesters fear that Erdogan is wagering their future and involving them in his political, if not soon to be military, conflicts. Many of the protesters believe that their future lies in the reunification of Cyrus. Northern Cyprus is only recognised by Turkey and no other country as a separate state that declared its independence nine years after the Turkish invasion in 1974 that took control of nearly 38 per cent of the island. The conflict and the Turkish involvement in Cyprus have remained issues that have prevented the acceptance of Turkey as a member of the EU. And the recent visit to the island by Erdogan seems to have been a straw that has broken the camel’s back. In response, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borell said that “we consider the recent actions and statements by Turkey related to Cyprus contrary to the United Nations resolutions and further igniting tensions.” Should the EU sanctions against Turkey to be discussed in December be implemented, they will become the latest blow to the already ailing Turkish economy, which had a trade balance with the EU amounting to 138 billion Euros in 2018. Restricting Turkish exports to the EU will send a message to the Turkish regime that its days of getting away with murder are over. Furthermore, Turkish radical groups across Europe are being hunted down at present, with the notorious ultranationalist Turkish group the Grey Wolves being a particular target. The Grey Wolves, established in 1968, have been involved in a number of terrorist attacks, assassinations and high-profile attempted assassinations, including on former Roman Catholic pope John Paul II in 1981 by Mohamed Ali Agca, a member of the group. The group is characterised by its mix of ultranationalist ideology and radical Islamist beliefs. It is believed to be a militant wing of the Turkish Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which is a close ally of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP). Other similar groups targeted by EU countries such as Germany include the German Democratic Idealist Turkish Associations Federation (ADUTDF) and the European Turkish-Islamic Cultural Associations Union (ATIB). France and Austria have already banned the Grey Wolves, while the German Bundestag is mulling taking similar action. The group has long been a pro-Erdogan militant Turkish group in Europe, referred to by observers as “Erdogan’s European guard”. Even so, many European countries have looked the other way when it has come to the Grey Wolves’ criminal and terrorist record, even though the group has targeted Turkish dissidents in Europe and particularly the Kurds. The latter have been massacred by the Grey Wolves, for example in the Maras massacre in 1978 when up to 185 Kurds were killed and up to 3,000 more injured. European governments are now paying the price for overlooking the menace posed by such groups. Erdogan now presents one of the most bizarre diplomatic situations for the EU since its inception, as it is now faced with a fellow NATO ally and a potential member taking hostile action against it. The situation is quite different from that presented by Russia. Russia, as the successor state of the former Soviet Union, has been on a collision course with the European powers since the 17th century. It was a reliable ally during World War II, when it was instrumental in winning the war against the Axis powers. However, the expansionist ambitions of Stalin that followed and the establishment of client states and puppet regimes across Eastern Europe led to decades of conflict that remained in effect even after the fall of the former Soviet Union. Erdogan’s tomfoolery is becoming increasingly irritating to many, and thanks to EU complacency he apparently feels he has the upper hand in controlling the pace of EU-Turkish relations and can dictate whatever he wants and EU leaders will eventually comply. Should they not do so, Erdogan has threatened to raise the issues of refugees in the Eastern Mediterranean, or the importance of Turkey in NATO, or to start cosying up to the Russians. His latest comments about Europe show that he is now trying to mend relations with the EU provided that it complies with his demands on Cyprus and his illegal exploration for gas in the Mediterranean. Erdogan said this week that the Turks do not see themselves as anywhere else but in Europe. The statement is bizarre, however, since less than a month ago Erdogan was accusing several European leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron, of being the descendants of “mass-murdering colonialists” who should not tell Turkey what to do. He said in October that Muslims were being treated in Europe like the Jews were 80 years ago and that “Islamophobia” is a cancer that was spreading on the continent. But he has since shifted his rhetoric to appease the Europeans, and now he wishes his country to join this group of “mass-murdering colonialists and Islamophobes,” as he has called them. Europe, the Middle East and the Mediterranean, not to mention countries such as Armenia, have long paid a high price to appease the Turkish tyrant, and the end result has been waves of terrorism, extremism and instability in many countries in the region. If the Europeans do not live up to their promise of sanctioning the Erdogan regime this December, the price may be much higher in the form of a military conflict that will be the natural result of years of political complacency. It is high time that Europe sends a message to Erdogan in the hope that this will avoid wars that could still be triggered by the Turkish tyrant at some time in the future.
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) held in power in Ethiopia for nearly 30 years since it led the overthrow of the military dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991. After TPLF leader Meles Zenawi assumed the premiership, he and his fellow TPLF leaders ousted all political, military and intelligence leaders and began to establish a new order. Towards this end, they dismantled the former Ethiopian army and turned the TPLF’s military wing into the core of a restructured army with TPLF commanders at the top of the military hierarchy while other TPLF figures assumed key civilian posts. Tigrayan leaders continued to perpetuate their control over government. One of the best-known examples of this situation is Tedros Adhanom, the current director of the World Health Organisation and long-serving minister of health under Zenawi. Before that he was a member of the TPLF leadership, which has fed the current Abiy Ahmed government’s attacks against him for allegedly working to support the recent TPLF insurrection. The Tigray people represent less than 10 per cent of Ethiopia’s population of 110 million. The TPLF’s attempts to sustain their hegemony over the public sphere were numerous and diverse, but perhaps the most important realm of control — apart from the military and intelligence services — is the economy. The leverage this sector offered Tigrayan government leaders and their front came under three main headings: natural resources, agricultural land and foreign aid and loans. The revenues received under these same headings opened the gates to corruption among the Tigrayan elites while access to such revenues was long denied to Ethiopia’s other ethnic groups. For many years, Addis Ababa received an average of $3.5 billion a year in aid and facilitated loans. The amount came to half the entire annual national budget in the Zenawi era and in subsequent years in which the Tigray elites monopolised decisions over how this money was spent and how it was distributed among federal states. China alone was the source of more than 60 per cent of the loan grants obtained by successive governments. While the loans may have infringed on Ethiopian sovereignty, this did not prevent the taint of corruption from spreading among government elites throughout the long period of Tigrayan rule. The same Tigray elites also reaped billions from long term contracts leasing extensive swathes of prime agricultural land in the south (about four million hectares) to foreign investors. Such ubiquitous forms of economic hegemony precipitated mounting anger and uprisings among Ethiopia’s other ethnic groups and regions, some waves of which engulfed the capital as well. With Zenawi’s sudden death in 2012 and the rise of Hailemariam Desalegn to the premiership, this power was partially broken. Desalegn, a member of the Wolayita ethnic group and born in the south, was the first non-Amhara and non-Tigrayan to occupy that post. He was subsequently forced to step down against the backdrop of violent demonstrations initially spurred by ethnic grievances and that broadened to include a range of other economic and political demands. Abiy Ahmed took over after having succeeded Desalegn as chairman of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). As Ahmed stepped into his new post against that backdrop of upheaval, it was only natural that he would initiate some political reforms. These began with some high-profile dismissals and replacements in key government offices that were cautiously welcomed at home while celebrated abroad by world powers that turned a blind eye to what would soon reveal itself as a process of political/ethnic score-settling. It quickly became clear that the Tigray had been singled out by the new government and that the Tigray leadership was not going to put up with the new equations. Indeed, Tigray militants went so far as to attempt to assassinate Abiy Ahmed. The government accused the former TPLF security chief of masterminding the assassination attempt, but he had already fled to the Tigray region before the federal government could serve an arrest warrant for him. The Tigrayan regional government refused to hand him over to federal authorities, of course, but his former deputy was arrested while trying to flee from the police in Addis Ababa. The conflict between Addis Ababa and the Tigrayan regional government quickly spiralled, especially after Ahmed moved to dismantle Tigrayan networks of economic domination. The major step towards this end was to privatise the major public sector companies that had monopolised communications, the sugar trade and foodstuffs industries. Control over all these erstwhile Tigrayan fiefs shifted to the new ruling elites to which the prime minister, a member of the Oromo ethnic group, belonged. However, this economic move was among the developments that shifted the Ethiopian crisis to a new plane, opening the floodgates to long seething economic resentments and political/ethnic rivalries. Before long civil unrest and ethnic strife had spread through most of Ethiopia’s regions, leading to the internal displacement of millions of people in the past two years alone. Some observers have described the crisis as a series of regional ethnic cleansing drives. Such a characterisation may be facile, but there is no denying the levels of widespread violence and killing, and the resultant social animosities and rifts that will be difficult to mend. This unfolding nightmare now raises the spectre of the even more dangerous dimension of sectarian strife. It has already struck Orthodox Christians, hundreds of whom have been killed in various parts of the country. Muslims have also been targeted by similar hate campaigns. So far there appears no way to break the cycle which is on the verge of a fully-fledged civil war.
After the tragedy of the events of the disaster of the Lady of Karm village in Minya, I found myself remembering more than 30 years spent abroad before I decided to return home. I choose to live in Minya governorate and built a house and took a loan to start a project in my new city. One day, there was a rumor about a romantic relationship between a Muslim woman and a Christian man working for me. The rumor spre