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.
President-elect Joe Biden has allowed the world, or at least the rational, democratic (with a small d) part of it, to breathe a sigh of relief. With the designation of Antony Blinken as Secretary of State and Jake Sullivan as National Security Adviser, suddenly it seems that order and rationality are on the cusp of being restored to American diplomacy.Biden s other brilliant moves? Adding John Kerry as special envoy for the environment and Avril Haines as Director of National Intelligence. As it happens, Haines was also an advocate for Gina Haspel as Director of the CIA under President Donald Trump. If Biden keeps Haspel -- the first woman and one of the rare occupants of that job to came up through the ranks -- it would be a clear demonstration of his determination to return the agency to its non-partisan, apolitical essenceMost of these appointments are long anticipated choices that could go a long way toward assuaging fears that have only deepened in the last four fraught years of diplomacy-by-tweet -- and which Trump has further intensified since his election defeat in a misguided effort to assure that his ill-considered toxicity will linger long after he leaves office. Though reversing many of these moves -- from denigrating much of the NATO alliance to advising the President on pulling troops out of hotspots like Afghanistan and Iraq -- will be among Blinken s earliest and most critical challenges, none is more essential than restoring a feeling that America can, once again, be a pillar of constancy in the world. Blinken already has a long and distinguished resume, which proves he is up to the task. From Democratic staff director to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the early 2000s to Deputy Secretary of State under the Obama administration, he assimilated a view best described by Laetitia Garriott de Cayeux, one of his colleagues during the Biden-Harris campaign, as "power by example vs. example by power." This, she explained in an email to me, is a deeply held feeling that America does not need to flex its muscles to demonstrate leadership.Blinken has also been known to cite the fabled 8,000-word "long telegram" that the great American diplomatic thinker George Kennan, then chargé d affairs in Moscow, sent back to the State Department in 1946. The central observation: "At [the] bottom of Kremlin s neurotic view of world affairs is traditional and instinctive Russian sense of insecurity." Clearly in the declining days of the Trump administration that could describe America s allies as well as many of its enemies -- unsettled and unnerved by four years of lurches that marked Trump s foreign policy as it ping-ponged from one self-imposed crisis to another. As tone deaf as his two predecessors, Rex Tillerson and especially Mike Pompeo, were to the nuances of global affairs, Blinken will bring perfect pitch. It will be left to him to carry out the bulk of Biden s principal early priorities -- restoring American membership in the World Health Organization, the COP-21 Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear agreement (JCPOA) and the Open Skies Agreement, but above all restoring America s leadership role in the NATO alliance where the value of its members can be demonstrated by unity of purpose rather than simply commitment of dollars or euros. There are many other priorities as well, which will include reversing the most ham-fisted of Trump-era blunders, especially a host of ill-conceived and poorly administered red lines around the globe. North Korea continues to build its nuclear arsenal and capacity to deliver a weapon to American targets. The Taliban are on the cusp of resuming control in Afghanistan as Trump announces plans for a precipitate US troop withdrawal -- and just as Iranian militias are building up their reach in Iraq and Syria. Many terrorist groups that were expelled from the Middle East have pitched up to find new homes across Africa, just as Trump vowed to withdraw American forces from a continent where he had little interest and whose strategic value he barely understood.Finally, China has built an all but unassailable position in the South China Sea. But that is only a corner of the ambitions of its leader Xi Jinping, whom Trump has shown little ability to check. China s principal goal is to become a true global superpower, a nation that the world will need to respect and court. So, an early Biden-Blinken priority must be to move America back into the leadership position in Asia -- one that China assumed with the recent signing of a 14-nation trade pact from which it had been frozen out under President Barack Obama. With Trump withdrawing America from the TPP, a slightly different pan-Asian trade partnership, the door was open to China to fill the vacuum. But reentering some international agreements will hardly be enough to restore American influence abroad to an even keel and reassure America s allies that Trump was simply a short toxic detour. Certainly, the close personal ties the president-elect and his secretary-of state-designate have built over a lifetime of travel and diplomacy will go a long way toward that end. Indeed, Pompeo s last swing through Europe and Middle East should have served as a warning to any who might have any reservations about embracing Blinken as a breath of fresh air. Trump s top diplomat managed in 10 days to infuriate Turkey s leadership, enrage Palestinians with a visit to the West Bank, and confuse the French from President Emmanuel Macron on down. Blinken will face a colossal task of restoring morale and rational discourse to American diplomacy, while rebuilding a decimated and demoralized diplomatic corps. He can begin to do so by using competence and experience as qualifications for important positions -- rather than unquestioned loyalty to a president and a determinedly self-centered agenda.Biden s naming of a veteran foreign service officer like Linda Thomas-Greenfield rather than a political lackey to the newly elevated cabinet-level post of UN ambassador is also an important symbolic move in the direction of restoring professionalism to the nation s diplomatic ranks. The Biden-Blinken universe represents a return to a world where America may not be the center of the universe in every instance, nor needs to be. At the same time, the president-elect s new national security and diplomatic team represents a determination to make the nation a shining example of democracy, standing on the foundations of a long and deeply rooted historical tradition.
Donald Trump seems to have spent most of the year working on his reelection rather than the duties of the presidency. Now that he has lost, it appears he has really checked out. On Saturday morning, Trump joined an online meeting of G20 leaders at 8 a.m. ET to discuss Covid-19 and other issues of concern. How did Trump approach this vitally important conference? He began tweeting about 13 minutes into the opening session, spewing more baseless claims about voter fraud in an effort to overturn the 2020 election. And by 10 a.m. Trump departed to go play golf, skipping a special side conference that was focused on the coronavirus crisis that s exploding in many countries -- including our own. Beyond Trump s non-stop efforts to erode US democracy with lies about voter fraud, the dangerous blocking of the start of President-elect Joe Biden s transition until the General Services Administration makes a determination that he won the election means the incoming administration can t start the process of working with all of the federal agencies, including the Covid-19 vaccine team, to prepare for battling this deadly virus and putting in place a vaccine distribution plan. As Biden recently warned about Trump s actions, "More people may die if we don t coordinate." Appealing to Trump to do the right thing for the good of Americans is a fool s errand. Trump only cares about Trump. We need to make his incentive something that benefits Trump personally. So here s an offer to Trump: Resign today and American taxpayers will cover the cost of unlimited golf between now and January 20, the day Biden is sworn in -- or "Freedom from Trump day," as I refer to it. Yes, I know, many of you are saying, "Don t we already pay for Trump s golf?!" Fair point. Exact numbers are hard to confirm, but given that it can cost millions every time the President takes a trip -- and that Trump had already spent 266 days during his Presidency at a Trump golf course by May of 2020 -- it s clear that Trump s love of golf has cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars for the federally-funded security and transport needed to get him to his favorite courses. After all, Trump doesn t just golf in the United States -- he likes to play in places like his resorts in Scotland and Ireland too. I hope Trump takes a moment from tweeting unfounded conspiracy theories to check out Golf Digest s top 100 golf courses outside the US. (In reality, I m betting Trump has read Golf Digest more than his daily intelligence briefings.) There, Trump will be treated to an eye-popping buffet of magnificent golf courses that he can visit at our expense while we wait for Biden s inauguration. Trump could begin at the top-rated golf course in the world, Royal County Down Golf club located in Newcastle, Northern Ireland. This course, founded in 1889, is located between Dundrum Bay to the east and Mountains of Mourne to the south and is famous for its "gorse-covered dunes in golden bloom." As Golf Digest notes, "There is no lovelier place in golf." From there, Trump could jet over to New Zealand to play the world s second-highest-rated golf course, Tara Iti golf club. For golfers, this must be the eighth wonder of the world, with a course that took two years of "gently re-sculpting the sandy soil into hummocks, punchbowls and sand dunes that look like they were formed by wind and vegetated by nature." It s breathtaking -- and it could be Trump s at no cost to him if he simply signs that resignation paper. (Of course, he might have to wait until New Zealand lifts its coronavirus travel ban -- but perhaps if he books now he can get a credit for later.) But wait, there s more. Trump could then skip over to South Korea to play the ninth-ranked golf course in the world, South Cape Owners club, located on the picturesque Namhae Island. This course not only features a view of the ocean from every tee, but it could also feature a very special golfing partner. That s right: the man Trump exchanged "love letters" with, the one and only dictator of North Korea: Kim Jong Un. Trump already asked Kim to play golf in their February 2019 summit, as noted in Bob Woodward s recent book, "Rage." In fact, Trump said to Kim, "Let s go play a round of golf" and "Let s go to a movie together." Well, now they can do both, and we US taxpayers will foot the bill if Trump accepts our offer. Trump is the "Art of the Deal" guy, so he might say I want more than free golf, how about a pardon?! I can understand Trump s desire for one considering the potential criminal investigations he is facing upon leaving office. But all we are offering is golf -- take it or leave it. I think most Americans -- or at least the 51% of voters who cast a ballot for Biden -- would agree Trump can gleefully enjoy all the taxpayer-financed golf, diet Cokes and burgers he can handle between now and January 20. In exchange, all he has to do is resign right away. It s a win for all involved. This could save American lives from Covid-19, save our democracy from Trump s assault and provide Trump the freedom to focus on what he does best: Golf and tweeting. What do you say, Mr. President? PAID CONTENT
President Donald Trump is conducting an all-out assault on our democracy. There is no other way to look at this. The President lost the election and his legal team has failed to produce evidence of voter fraud. So now President Trump is attempting to convince state legislatures to overthrow the results. Voters made their decision, and yet he wants to force a different outcome. His attorney, Rudy Giuliani, is spewing the kinds of conspiracy theories that even conspiracy theorists shy away from. This is dangerous stuff. When some writers, such as Barton Gellman, writing in the Atlantic, predicted this would happen, too many people shrugged off the warning.None of this should come as a surprise. In February, Congressman Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, warned the Senate at the end of the President s impeachment trial: "We must say enough—enough! He has betrayed our national security, and he will do so again. He has compromised our elections, and he will do so again. You will not change him. You cannot constrain him. He is who he is. Truth matters little to him. What s right matters even less, and decency matters not at all." Confronted with all of the testimony and evidence as to how Trump abused presidential power, Senate Republicans didn t take Rep. Schiff up on his warning. With the exception of Sen. Mitt Romney, who voted to convict Trump, the rest of the party stood by the President. Sen. Susan Collins assured voters that "I believe that the President has learned from this case. The President has been impeached. That s a pretty big lesson."By now it should be clear that the only lesson President Trump learned from the impeachment process was that almost every elected Republican would support him regardless of what he did. He could use public policy for his self-interest, he could intimidate opponents and spread disinformation, and, yes, he could threaten our democratic institutions. When President Trump took steps that were a dangerous use of presidential power—spreading false information about Covid-19 and other issues, dangling foreign aid as leverage for his personal interest. (He denies that was his intent.) failing to clearly separate his business concerns and his role as President and making supportive messages to White extremist groups, the GOP did not do a thing. Indeed, even now some elected officials, such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have openly stood by Trump s efforts to attack the election results. Republicans have offered a number of excuses for their silence. According to Sen. McConnell, "We re going to have an orderly transfer from this administration to the next one, what we all say about it is, frankly, irrelevant." The GOP will own this moment for decades to come. When historians look back to understand what happened when the incumbent president recklessly attempted to overturn an election in the middle of a devastating pandemic, where every day of the transition counts in terms of saving lives and moving us back to normal, they will see that most of the party didn t do anything. It s the story of the Trump presidency.As I argued in "Burning Down the House," the Republican pursuit of partisan power has come to overwhelm the basic concerns for governance and the health of institutions. President Trump has exposed a party that is willing to abandon all guardrails in its effort to preserve the ability to push through court picks, deregulation and tax cuts. There is no effort from Republicans to hold the President accountable. Right now, presidential power runs amok -- in ways that are fundamentally different than what we have seen from Democratic and Republican predecessors -- and the GOP cooperates. The party that allegedly hates big government sits by as the President wields virtually unlimited power against the nation s citizens. The party won t be able to shake this legacy easily. There is no going back to normal after what we have seen and there can t be Republicans who say that the party itself is fundamentally different from what President Trump offered the nation. He is the Republican Party, and they stand with him. The only saving grace is that so far state officials are not playing along. After its recount, Georgia certified the election results. "Numbers don t lie," said state Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. On Friday, the state s Republican governor, Brian Kemp signed the paperwork that officially grants the state s 16 electoral votes to President-elect Joe Biden. And following their meeting with the President Friday, a group of seven Michigan Republicans announced that they learned nothing that would alter the election outcome, meaning Biden beat Trump. The math also is preventing small challenges from impacting the overall victory for Biden.There is no going back. Even when this anti-democratic campaign fails, the fact that it happened and the fact that one of our major parties allowed it to happen, is what matters the most. The only way to begin a reformation of the party would be for Republicans to take a stand now. They are the party that can put the brakes on this runaway President. While Senators Romney, Ben Sasse, and Lamar Alexander have called for a transition to the Biden presidency to begin, this is not enough. The party needs to acknowledge the Biden presidency, they need to denounce President Trump s actions and, yes, they need to threaten action if he doesn t stop this right away. Given the record, don t bet on it. Stopping Trump will require action from Democrats, the courts and state legislatures who still believe that our democratic institutions are worth preserving.
Here s what that means: the Republican-controlled state legislature would try to overrule the popular vote and submit a separate set of Trump electors to select the next president in the electoral college.The good news is that there are many practical hurdles to achieving such an outcome. The bad news is that Ellis statement translates to an official endorsement by the Trump campaign of a desperate strategy to stay in power by ignoring the results of the election and the clear will of the people. It is an admission that they care more about partisan power than democracy itself.As Michigan-based Politico reporter Tim Alberta tweeted, "This system of certifying has always been ripe for exploitation by partisan hacks. Now the stars have aligned -- a demagogue president, a party bereft of integrity, and an activist base that believes 244 years of democratic norms are expendable if it means 4 more years of power." The Washington Post s center-right reporter Robert Costa saw confirmation of a strategy he s been hearing from sources close to Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani: "they know they can t catch up (in the vote count). What they want -- in MI, PA, NV, other states -- is for the vote to *not* be certified. Their end game: try to force it to the House. Giuliani talking about this privately," Costa tweeted. Achieving this is unlikely for a number of reasons -- one of which is that each of these states has a Democratic governor, who could override a runaway Republican state legislature. In the case of Michigan, the state constitution makes it clear that "all 16 Michigan electoral votes automatically go to the presidential candidate winning the popular vote" -- which was Biden -- and GOP legislative leaders have pledged not to change the law in an attempt to put Trump in power, despite pressure from the president s allies.Against this backdrop -- if you put reason, law and ethics aside for a moment -- the crazy-quilt of failed legal challenges asserting massive but unspecified fraud that has resulted in a 1 for 25 loss in court starts to make a little more sense. Because one clear commonality in each contested state has been a desperate attempt to block certification of the state s votes -- or to throw out votes from the major population centers, which in many cases -- not coincidentally -- are predominately African-American. We saw that dynamic in the Wayne County deadlock, where the chair of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers, Republican Monica Palmer, said she would be fine certifying the county s votes, absent the city of Detroit. More baseless claims about mass voter fraud were thrown out of a Michigan court last week, when a judge blocked Trump s attempt to stop certification of Biden s win by declaring accusations of widespread election fraud "incorrect and not credible." Not deterred by legal reasoning, facts or judicial decisions, Trump simply blurted out fantasies of a Michigan victory, declaring on Wednesday: "The Great State of Michigan, with votes being far greater than the number of people who voted, cannot certify the election. The Democrats cheated big time, and got caught. A Republican WIN!" While Wayne County s canvassers reversed themselves in the face of massive "feedback" from voters, President Trump highlighted his autocratic impulses by firing his director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, Chris Krebs, for the sin of doing his job and telling the truth, when he said "there is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised." Trump s baseless and failed legal claims of mass voter fraud depend on denying that reality. As a result, telling the truth is a firing offense. None of this is normal or consistent with the character of our democracy. When Trump carried Michigan in 2016 by just over 10,000 votes, there was not this kind of skullduggery by Democrats. There certainly should not be with a Biden vote total 14 times larger. But this is evidence of a deeper rot -- the elevation of hyper-partisan self-interest over the national interest. The fact that it is being pursued -- however fruitlessly -- by members of a party who consider themselves super-patriots shows just how much that term has been perverted. Because you can t be a real patriot in America if you don t support democracy -- which the dictionary defines as "government by the people, especially rule of the majority." Unfortunately, there has been a move to secure minority rule by Republicans -- as I explained in a recent Reality Check -- that sets the stage for this would-be travesty.Republicans who naively believed that Trump would be chastened by his impeachment and that voters would be able to cast the final vote on his fitness for office (as South Dakota Senator John Thune argued, "the American people -- not Washington politicians -- should choose whether the president remains in office") must now confront the fact that Trump and his team, through Washington politicians and a contested electoral college decision, want to bypass the American people on the path to reelection. This is a time for choosing. Republicans have coddled Trump by making excuses for why he is the first president in our history to refuse to concede that he lost an election. Now, Republicans need to decide whether they will condone an outright attempt to overturn the election. This is far more than a question of being a good party member. This is a test of whether you believe in our country more than a cult of personality. It s a question of whether mindless hyper-partisanship will overwhelm any remaining sense of principle. This should not be a tough call: It s Donald Trump vs. Democracy. Which side are you on?
The recent visit by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to Athens is but another episode in the close and amical relationship between the two countries over recent years. The bilateral relations between Egypt and Greece have steadily grown until the two countries have become a power bloc in the Eastern Mediterranean reinforced by diplomatic, military, financial and cultural ties. During his visit to Athens, Al-Sisi met with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou. He confirmed the ever-strengthening ties between the two countries in statements made during the subsequent press conference, in which he said that “there is a consensus” between Egypt and Greece to stand up against regional threats, including by standing together against the transfer of jihadist fighters and weapons to militias in Libya. Egypt reiterated its position that unilateral violations of security in the Eastern Mediterranean region should be confronted. The two leaders agreed on the global dimensions of the problem of terrorism and on the need to effectively face it. Officials from the two countries then participated in the 24th round of joint discussions covering multiple issues of cooperation and of regional and international interest. The visit confirmed the fact that Greece and Egypt have been working closely together over recent years on all levels. Two characteristic events in this cooperation have been the signing in August of the maritime demarcation agreement establishing Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) and the creation of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF). The EEZ agreement partially demarcated national EEZs in the Mediterranean southeast of Crete and northeast of the Matrouh governorate in Egypt. According to Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri, the agreement “permits Egypt and Greece to go ahead with maximising the benefits from the riches available in the exclusive economic zones of both countries, particularly promising gas and oil reserves.” The agreement is also the explicit result of the joint will of the two countries to overcome unfounded territorial claims in the Mediterranean by revisionist and aggressive state actors. The EMGF creates a new financial power bloc that can cooperate effectively with the European Union. Much has thus already been done in terms of the rapprochement between the two countries, but specific additional steps could further enhance and deepen the strategic cooperation of these two pivotal countries in the Mediterranean. First, on a diplomatic level Greek-Egyptian cooperation could unfold further in various fields. In Libya, the necessary political solution to the present conflict and the restoration of essential government functions and state institutions throughout the country requires the dissolution and removal of the militias still active there. As Egypt has consistently stressed, any eventual solution to the Libyan crisis must be based on the outcomes of the Berlin Conference and the Cairo Declaration on the conflict in the country. Moreover, the EEZ agreement signed in August between Egypt and Greece is only a partial demarcation agreement, and it needs to be completed with a new and fuller one. This could coincide with an EEZ agreement between Greece and Cyprus, such that the three states would have cooperated on the delimitation of EEZs in the region. Second, on an economic level Greek investment could be increased in Egypt, as could the amount of bilateral commercial relations. More importantly, Greece could promote the idea of a customs union between Egypt and the European Union, a much more logical step than the EU’s customs union with Turkey. This would be a considerable upgrade of the 2004 EU-Egypt Association Agreement as well of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. A potential customs union of this sort would open up a growing market of over 100 million people to European companies and investments, and it would also greatly benefit the economic prospects of Egypt itself. Greece could act as an intermediary state with the EU bureaucracy and decision-making institutions in order to promote such a customs union, in which the evolution of the EMGF and energy cooperation would also be fundamental not only for economic gains, but also for regional stability. Third, on a military level Egypt and Greece could upgrade their cooperation, especially in the naval and airforce fields. Exchange programmes for officers and administrative personnel, joint exercises, the temporary stationing of military forces in each national territory, and joint naval patrols could all help to create further bilateral bonds. Another idea would be to create areas of enhanced NATO cooperation with powerful actors such as Egypt. Greece as a NATO member could also help to promote Egypt as a valuable partner in both Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean region. In this context of enhanced bilateral and regional cooperation, Egypt and Greece can now work to reap the fruit of a power nexus that should prove to be hegemonic in the Eastern Mediterranean region and help to safeguard the stability and prosperity of all the actors involved.
While much of the world has been preoccupied with the President s refusal to acknowledge his 2020 election loss to Joe Biden, Donald Trump has been moving building blocks in a way that, if successful, could have a significant impact on America s security abroad and safety at home.On Monday, the Pentagon issued a "warning notice" to theater commanders to begin a further, substantial drawdown of US forces from both Afghanistan and Iraq by January 15, five days before Trump will leave office.This follows Trump s preparatory move, a takedown of the upper reaches of the Pentagon at a critical and most sensitive moment in national security -- the interregnum between two administrations. Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper last Monday and named Christopher Miller, the former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, acting secretary in his place. Miller s new chief of staff will be Kash Patel, who tried to discredit investigations into the Trump campaign s contacts with Russia while he was an aide to former House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes. Retired Army Col. Douglas Macgregor, who has made racist and xenophobic comments and called for the use of deadly force at the US-Mexico border, will serve as Miller s senior adviser. The shake-up also involved replacing James Anderson, who resigned from the Pentagon s top policy role on Tuesday, with retired Army Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata, who, according to CNN s KFile, has made a number of Islamophobic tweets, some of which he later deleted, and who once labeled President Obama a "terrorist leader." What do these new appointees all have in common? Each of them is likely willing and prepared to implement Trump s military goal of withdrawing US troops around the world. While Trump, who spent years slamming US involvement in "endless wars," has announced drawdowns in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, thousands of US troops are still deployed in the region. Trump wanted all American forces out of Afghanistan by the end of the year, and sources told CNN s Jake Tapper that the White House may have directed the Defense Department purge because Esper and his team were pushing back on a premature withdrawal there.Still, if the warning notices are carried through, some 2,500 troops would still be left in each theater -- though Trump s goal had been zero troops by the time he left office. It was unclear whether leaving such a small number of American troops in bitterly contested areas could endanger the safety of those still deployed. Miller issued a memo to the Defense Department just after midnight Saturday that read, "Ending wars requires compromise and partnership. We met the challenge; we gave it our all. Now, it s time to come home." Macgregor, on the other hand, made his views apparent when he told Tucker Carlson in 2019 that the US should withdraw troops from Afghanistan and Syria immediately. Even before the latest Pentagon reshuffle, the US timeline to withdraw troops from Afghanistan was wildly inconsistent. US military leaders have stressed that a withdrawal there would be contingent on certain conditions, including the Taliban breaking ties with al Qaeda and making progress in peace talks with the Afghan government. Both of these conditions have not yet been met, and prematurely withdrawing US troops would not only destroy the credibility of our country, but also remove any incentive to achieve these goals. The situation in Afghanistan is fraught. In a quarterly report to Congress on October 30, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction reported that the "average daily enemy-initiated attacks in Afghanistan were 50% higher this quarter (July-September) than last quarter" and "above seasonal norms." The Department of Defense believes the Taliban "is calibrating its use of violence to harass and undermine" the Afghan government while keeping these attacks "at a level it perceives is within the bounds of the [US -- Taliban] agreement, probably to encourage a US troop withdrawal and set favorable conditions for a post-withdrawal Afghanistan." A US troop withdrawal could pave the way for the Taliban to return promptly to power. This would only create a bigger headache for the Biden administration. The last time the United States ousted the Taliban from power, after they had been found to be harboring al Qaeda leaders as they were planning the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it took an invasion force of about 2,500. But over time, that force peaked at 100,000 US troops in 2011.Trump has also expressed a desire to move American forces out of Syria and Iraq, although concrete plans have often conflicted with the President s own messaging. After Trump announced the US would withdraw from Syria in October 2019, a new wave of troops poured in, leaving the total number in Syria largely unchanged. In August, Trump announced all US troops would leave Iraq "shortly," and about three weeks later, a top military commander said the US would be cutting the number of troops there in half, to about 3,000. Now, with the new brass in charge at the Pentagon, Trump could have a clearer path to achieving his goals. In Iraq and Syria, "an abrupt US pullout removes one of the more major forms of direct and indirect pressure on the countless militia groups controlled by Iran," Phillip Smyth, a Soref Fellow at The Washington Institute, and one of America s leading experts on Mideast militias, told me in an e-mail exchange. "Ideologically and in terms of long-term goals, Tehran wants US forces out, and they want to use any pullout as an example of the US as a paper tiger." An American withdrawal, Smyth points out, "would enable Iran to use its militias to fill the vacuum left by departing U.S. forces. Smyth has tracked the emergence of around 20 new front groups, and all have demanded US pullout of Iraq. History shows us that transitions in US governments can be a vulnerable time. The bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, took place on December 21, 1988, as George H. W. Bush was preparing to take over from President Ronald Reagan. And in his final weeks in office in December 1992, Bush, preparing to turn over the presidency to Bill Clinton, ordered 25,000 American troops into Somalia -- which led less than a year later to the deaths of 18 American soldiers in the Black Hawk Down incident. Now, the US focus on Trump s refusal to concede the election and Biden being sidelined from national security briefings could encourage anti-US forces inclined to profit from any perception of American weakness or hesitation.The costs of pulling US troops out of volatile regions prematurely could drag the US back into war all over again. This would be a horrific burden on the Biden administration, especially given the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout. This is not the time for the US to let its guard down and abandon conflicts that will only pose a new threat to our national security -- even if it is being done largely to fulfill Trump s campaign promises rather than because he wants to leave his successor with a toxic legacy to clean up.
President Donald Trump vowed over a week ago to unleash an imposing barrage of legal challenges to the result of an election that is, and should universally be recognized as, over and done. In a statement last weekend, he vowed that, on Monday, November 7, "Our campaign will start prosecuting our case in court to ensure election laws are fully upheld and the rightful winner is seated."Well, last Monday has come and gone. Turns out, all Trump s attorneys have delivered is a ridiculous mishmash of lawsuits that run the gamut from weak to entirely meritless to downright frivolous. Trump and his attorneys are humiliating themselves, and they re damaging our democracy in the process. There s no delicate way to put this: Thus far, Trump, his campaign and their surrogates have gotten absolutely pummeled in the courts. One of the great things about our legal system is that it requires actual proof — not tweets, not public statements, not viral videos — but actual verifiable evidence. And the Trump campaign s efforts to, well, trump up evidence of voter fraud have failed spectacularly. In one case filed in Georgia, the Trump campaign alleged that 53 ballots had been counted even though they had been cast after the deadline. But both of the Trump campaign s witnesses testified they did not actually know when the ballots had been received, and two other witnesses confirmed that the ballots had been received on time. That case was quickly dismissed. In another case in Michigan, the Trump campaign claimed that certain late-arriving ballots had been counted improperly. Their "evidence" was a Republican election observer who claimed that an unnamed poll worker showed her a Post-it note of unknown provenance alleging improper ballot counting. That s not evidence, that s hearsay piled up on hearsay. That case, too, was quickly tossed out.Last week, the Trump campaign somehow managed to lose or voluntarily drop nine different cases in one day. Indeed, the Trump campaign and its surrogates have even begun to pull back their own lawsuits, giving up on their case in Arizona and dropping their appeal of a loss in Nevada. And, on Monday, voters in four states dropped their lawsuits seeking to contest election results in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Even the lawyers are jumping ship; multiple firms have now abandoned the Trump campaign s effort to dispute the election results. The Trump campaign won one minor case in Pennsylvania, and they still might get lucky and win another here or there -- among the many they have scattered across the country. But even if they end up with a few victories, it will likely be to no avail. Given President-elect Joe Biden s Electoral College margin of 306-232, even if Trump miraculously reversed the outcomes in, say, Pennsylvania (with its 20 electoral votes) and Georgia (16 electoral votes), Biden still wins. And Biden s margins in those states, and other key swing states, run to the tens of thousands of votes. Trump s lawsuits thus far haven t even come close to proving (or in some cases have not even alleged) voter fraud on anything near that scale.Judges so far have gotten it right. They ve tossed out the preposterously infirm lawsuits nearly as quickly as pro-Trump attorneys have filed them. As a result, our judiciary has rightly prevented the bogus "massive fraud" narrative from taking any further hold than it already has gathered from the wild pronouncements of Trump and his enablers. It s tempting to have a laugh at the losing string of Trump campaign lawsuits. But those bringing these lawsuits deserve derision for their stubborn, pathetic attempts to conjure massive fraud where no such thing exists. However, they also are doing something more insidious: They are undermining public confidence in our election system and our democratic process. Now, your questions Tim (Delaware): Could Republican state legislatures appoint their own slates of presidential electors to vote for President Donald Trump, even if their states voted for Biden? This won t happen, for both legal and political reasons. Legally, Article II of the Constitution does grant state legislatures the power to determine the manner of choosing presidential electors. But every state has long had laws on the books assigning presidential electors based on the popular vote of that state (most states assign electors on an all-or-nothing basis; Nebraska and Maine appoint electors based on the popular vote in each congressional district). While state legislatures could change the manner of appointing their electors, they would need to do so by (1) passing a new law, and (2) doing it before the election for which the new rule would become effective. As a matter of basic fairness and as a legal principle, it would be nearly impossible for a state legislature to change the rules of appointment after the voters have cast their ballots in a given election. As a political matter, it is very unlikely that state legislatures would even seriously consider appointing a slate of electors, after the election, contrary to their states popular votes. No state legislature of either party has shown any serious inclination to even consider such a precipitous, politically self-destructive move. Don t lose sleep over this one.Gordon (Texas): If the Senate ends up split 50-50, who controls the majority and the agenda? Republicans currently hold a 50-48 advantage over Democrats for the upcoming Senate session, which will begin in January 2021, with two Georgia runoffs pending. If Democrats win both those Georgia runoffs, the Senate will be split 50-50. Article I of the Constitution provides that the vice president breaks a tie vote in the Senate: "The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the US Senate, but shall have no vote, unless they be equally divided." (This is, interestingly, the only specific duty of the vice president outlined in the Constitution, other than succeeding to the presidency upon death or resignation of the president). With Kamala Harris soon to take office as Vice President, the Democrats would then hold the tiebreaker advantage. Tim (Texas): Are there any legal requirements to become a justice on the Supreme Court? There are no age, residency or nationality requirements to become a Supreme Court justice, unlike many other of our highest public offices. For example, the US Constitution requires that the president must be at least 35 years old, be a "natural born citizen" of the United States and have 14 years of residency in the country. A US senator must be 30 years old, with nine years of US citizenship and must reside in the state he or she represents. And a US representative must be at least 25 years old, with seven years of citizenship and must reside in the state he or she represents.The Constitution does not even specify that a Supreme Court justice must be a lawyer. Two justices who served in the 1940s and 1950s, James Byrnes and Robert Jackson, studied law but did not hold formal law degrees (though Jackson was awarded a degree the same year he was confirmed to the court). Three questions to watch 1. Will the Trump campaign get any traction in its ongoing effort to contest election results? 2. Will the incoming Biden administration take legal action to compel the General Services Administration to turn over transition funding? 3. Will we begin to see Trump issue pardons during his final weeks in office?
While the world was closely following the nail-biting US presidential elections between incumbent President Donald Trump and former vice-president Joe Biden, things were heating up somewhere else on the planet: in the northernmost part of Ethiopia in Tigray. Out of the blue, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, ordered a “war” in this “defiant” region. As in the case with similar incidents in the history of conventional modern warfare, he said he had ordered a “military intervention” into Tigray as a response to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front’s (TPLF) attack on the Federal Northern Military Division located in Mekele, the capital city of Tigray, a story which US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has seemed to uphold. Hours after the attack on the Ethiopian federal forces, Pompeo said he was “concerned” over reports of the TPLF’s attack on the northern division. Back in the old days, when Abiy Ahmed and Debretsion Gebremichael, president of the TPLF, were pictured “in harmony” together, events showed that this “honeymoon” could not last much longer. In a bid to solicit support, particularly among his fellow Oromos and the Amhara, both arch-rivals of the Tigrayans, Ahmed allowed a “rift” to grow between the federal government of Ethiopia, on the one hand, and the people of Tigray, on the other. Though TPLF-ruled Ethiopia was not a land of milk and honey, the situation, at least in terms of containing growing ethnic dissidence and promoting economic achievements, was far better than it is in Ethiopia today. But Ahmed tolerated quasi-official, and sometimes official, media campaigns that “devilishly portrayed” Tigrayans as the sole cause of Ethiopia’s plight. He also turned a deaf ear to frequent internal fighting between Tigray and its neighbours, particularly the Amhara. Under Abiy, the cracks have grown wider even among his fellow Oromos, who have burnt his book “Medemer,” which contains both the 42-year-old leader’s picture and his “ruling philosophy.” Ahmed’s really intolerable sin remains a “delay” in the Ethiopian general elections because the Covid-19 pandemic will not allow the government to “safely” conduct them, according to a government statement, though in fact Ethiopia’s overall cases, including deaths, barely equate to a single day of new infections in the United States, which successfully held its presidential elections. They barely equate, either, to a similar African case, that of Egypt, which held both its Senate and House of Representatives’ elections following strict anti-Covid-19 measures. Plainly, Ahmed’s government does not seem to be fearing for the lives of the people of Ethiopia, particularly after the TPLF itself revealed the pretext by successfully holding its own elections, which the government did not endorse. Apparently, Ahmed’s political career and future would have been on the cusp of “premature” termination had the general elections been held on time. In other words, his philosophy, best summarised in the Prosperity Party (PP), would have been a fairy tale for bedtime. Militarily speaking, was Ahmed aware of facts on the ground before ordering the offensive in Tigray? The answer may not be satisfactory for the Ethiopian premier. First of all, the Northern Military Division that was stationed in Mekele as a means of deterrence of any possible Eritrean military intervention in Ethiopia after the two-year border war between the two nations in 1998-2000 is believed to be home to roughly 80 per cent of the Ethiopian National Defence Force’s (ENDF) finest heavy artillery. By simple maths and if the TPLF’s side of the story is correct, if this division has been defeated and is now under the control of the TPLF (or even if it is false, but if the TPLF has managed to have the upper hand there), the ENDF as a whole will face fierce military resistance that may not favour the federal forces and will surely last for a long time. Second, has the Ethiopian army prepared for a Tigray war or even readied itself in case one breaks out? Berhanu Jula Gelalcha, Ethiopia’s deputy chief of defence staff, has the answer. “Our country has entered into a war it didn’t anticipate… it is an aimless and shameful war,” he said. Another proof that this “aimless and shameful war” has not been prepared for, at least technically, is the fact that the Ethiopian prime minister has ordered three top military officers who were laid off a long time ago to go back on duty. The three are Yohannes Gebremeskel, a Tigrayan who is known for his vehement critique of the TPLF, Abebaw Tadesse, a former commander of the central command who hails from the Agew/Qemant small ethnic group (in Gondar in northwestern Ethiopia, which is usually on bad terms with the Tigrayans), and Bacha Debele, an Oromo who was a commander of the Eastern Corps, better known for its ruthless quashing of the Oromo rebellion against the Meles Zenawi government in Ethiopia in 2002. The aim of the order is clear: the ENDF is lacking in the kind of “seasoned” leadership that can handle combat, particularly an expectedly lengthy one. On the other side of the fence, the Tigrayans seem to have mastered the war’s technicalities. After three decades in power, they have swept all top-level military and intelligence posts. Plus, they have experienced warfare, either because they have experienced it in real combat conditions during the war with Eritrea, or because they have frequently fought due to repeated “skirmishes” with Eritrea after the border war ended or with their neighbouring ethnicities, particularly the Amhara. The TPLF has also prepared its own forces in anticipation of this moment. President of the TPLF Debretsion Gebremichael clearly put it this way, when he said that “we have prepared our military of Special Forces, not to be in need of a war, but if the worst comes to defend ourselves.” It is estimated that Tigray has some 250,000 highly-trained Special Forces and militias that, being led by seasoned Tigrayan military leaders and intelligence officers, may shift the balance in their region’s favour. Ahmed considers the TPLF to be a “rogue” element within the country that must be “eliminated” for what he loves to call “stability” to be brought about, in effect bringing to an end the last hub of dissidence that categorically rejects his political dominance and sees him as a “former prime minister” as his “legitimate” mandate ended on 5 October this year. The now PP-dominated Ethiopian House of Federation has authorised the formation of a pro-Ahmed puppet administration in Tigray, removing the one headed by once a friend and now a foe, Debretsion Gebremichael. To think that this would make things as easy as rolling off a log is really a sheer act of imbecility. To stay ahead of the game, the incumbent government is desperately seeking help from Tigray’s archrivals in both Oromia and Amhara. Shelling can be heard from the latter’s border with Tigray, while some of the Ethiopian military’s total of 24 fighter jets continue to hover over Mekele’s skies, intimidating millions now that the government has postponed the elections for their “safety.” The Ahmed-led government may be looking for a quick victory, relying on generous Israeli support, as it has leaked “used-to-be-confidential” information on collaboration between the Ethiopian Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) and Israel on the “sharing of information and technology transfer” with the “bright” goal of “maintaining” stability in the Horn of Africa. But no matter how the war ends in Tigray, the only certain truth is that Ethiopia will never be the same again.
On Thursday, 12 November, the Central Bank of Egypt s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) meets to decide on the direction of interest rates. In its last meeting, around six weeks ago, the MPC unexpectedly cut interest rates by 50 basis points down to 8.75 per cent for the overnight deposit rate, 9.75 per cent for the lending rate, and a similar rate for the CBE s main operation and discount rates. Some economists support the idea that the MPC could cut interest rates to boost economic growth through lowering the cost of the private sector acquiring credit, especially that a new Covid-19 wave, with its repercussions of economic slowdown, is imminent. Egypt s economic growth is expected to record 3.3 per cent in the current fiscal year 2020/2021, down from 3.5 per cent in FY2019/2020, according to Fitch Solutions. In its monthly roundup, Fitch pointed out that weak prospects for a rebound in key sources of revenue such as tourism and remittances will put the brakes on growth. Meanwhile, a handful of observers believe the CBE has room to manoeuvre another rate cut, ruling out the risk of outflows from pound denominated debt held by foreigners. Egypt offers investors in its Egyptian pound denominated sovereigns one of the highest yields among emerging markets. No wonder that foreign holdings of Egyptian debt more than doubled to $2.1 billion between May and mid-October, signalling increased appetite for risky emerging markets assets and improving confidence in the Egyptian economy. Accordingly, the pound gained almost three per cent since June and is expected to remain stable till the end of the year. However, others warned that while cutting interest rates works in favour of the government because it means a lower cost of debt, they urged the CBE to keep rates unchanged to prevent the risk of investors dumping domestic debt. Moreover, they warned of how lower interest rates would affect a large segment of society that depends on yields on savings instruments, such as deposit certificates, for an income. The CBE lowered interest rates by 3.5 per cent so far this year and last month cancelled 15 per cent-yielding certificates of deposits. The MPC bases its decisions on two main factors: inflation rates and the rate of GDP growth. When both are low, the MPC cuts rates to stimulate the economy. The CBE, as well as a number of investment banks, expects inflation to fall on the lower end of its 6-12 per cent target range in the fourth quarter of 2020 due to weak demand. Annual urban inflation inched up to 4.5 per cent in October, compared to 3.7 in September and 3.5 in August, its lowest level since 2005. A sharp drop in inflation figures could result in consultations with the IMF, which would most probably result in more interest rate cuts. Under the $5.2 billion stand-by facility Egypt finalised with the IMF earlier this year, the government should have consulted with the IMF executive board when the inflation rate dipped below four per cent in September. Meanwhile, the most recent news on the economy is positive. The American rating agency Standard and Poor s (S&P) recently affirmed Egypt s B sovereign credit rating with a stable outlook, despite the risks related to Covid-19. “The weakening of external and government debt metrics will be temporary, and gradually improve from 2022, supported by higher GDP and current account receipts (CARs),” S&P said. Egypt s foreign currency reserves and access to debt markets are expected to cover financing needs and upcoming maturities for the coming 12 months, the rating agency added. Egypt s foreign reserves stood at $39.22 billion in October buoyed by a $5 billion Eurobond sale and a $750 million green bond offering, and $8 billion in IMF support. This is a blessing given that the fallout from Covid-19 will mean lower tourism revenues and lower remittances, two main hard currency earners for Egypt. S&P forecasts receipts to improve by 2022.
As I sit to write this piece four days after the election, Joe Biden is leading in enough states to make it clear that he will win enough electoral college votes to become the 46th president of the United States. What was also clear is that Republicans will likely retain control of the Senate and the Democrats, while still the majority in the House, have lost some of the seats they had picked up in 2018. We are a deeply divided country. That much should be clear. If this were a normal election year, that might be the end of the story. Alas, it is not. In 2020, nothing is normal and this crazy election is not going to be over for a while. Donald Trump is not now nor has he ever been psychologically able to accept the reality of losing or being second best. Even when he doesn’t win or isn’t the best, he has been prone to create “an alternate reality” in which he convinces himself: that he really has won; that he was a victim of someone else’s cheating; that someone else is responsible for the setback; or that he is the victim of a conspiracy. In a very real sense, Donald Trump has been preparing the ground for contesting a loss ever since he was first elected president in 2016. Not able to accept that Hillary Clinton had won more popular votes, he charged that millions of his opponent’s votes were fraudulent. He even appointed a partisan presidential commission to validate his claim. Despite the fact that the commission was comprised of his supporters, it disbanded after several months, unable to prove any widespread cheating. Nevertheless, Trump has continued to make this same charge about fraudulent 2016 votes. For the past three months Trump has been claiming that Democrats were going to try to steal this year’s election. He made the groundless accusation that hundreds of thousands of mail-in votes were going be used to “stuff ballot boxes” or that votes for him were going to be tossed out in order to elect his opponent. Recognising the danger posed by the growing pandemic, legislatures in several states, with bipartisan support, had approved plans to provide voters with a mail-in option. Polls show that Democrats, apparently more concerned with the health risks of in-person voting, took advantage of this option. At the same time, a sizable majority of Republican voters waited until election day to cast their ballots. Because in-person votes were counted first, on election night, as expected, Trump was in the lead. But as the mail-in votes were slowly counted, Biden’s totals eventually eclipsed Trump’s, putting Biden in the lead. In response, Trump angrily tweeted “STOP THE COUNT” and in some cities his supporters stormed polling places echoing this demand. The president’s lawyers filed a number of lawsuits demanding, among other things, that many legally cast mail-in votes be disqualified. And on Thursday, Trump delivered shocking remarks from the White House calling into question the integrity of the entire election. A number of Republican governors and senators were so stunned that they felt compelled to quickly reject the president’s behaviour. What’s clear is that President Trump will not accept losing, will not concede, and will use every available path to challenge the outcome. He and his supporters are continuing to call the election fraudulent and calling on supporters to “go to war” to protest the vote. The misinformation they are spreading on social media is flagrantly false. It is designed cast doubt on the entire process and to incite anger, causing confusion and unrest, with the possibility of violence. The uncertainty created by all this will only lead to deeper division, casting a pall not only over this election, but the very foundations of our democracy. We will in all likelihood not see a peaceful transfer of power. That much is clear. What is also clear is that when Joe Biden is sworn in as president, he will inherit this division and the dysfunctional political system that has spawned it. Gone are the days when despite differences Republicans and Democrats worked together to solve pressing problems facing the nation. When Newt Gingrich was elected speaker of the House of Representatives, he ushered in an era of hyper-partisanship that worked to stymie then President Bill Clinton’s every move. When Barack Obama was elected president, then-minority Senate leader Mitch McConnell declared that he would do everything in his power to ensure that Obama was a one-term president. After McConnell became majority leader, Republicans routinely blocked Obama’s appointments and refused to pass compromise legislation. At the ceremony announcing his last Supreme Court nominee, Trump noted that it is the responsibility of a president to fill vacancies in federal courts. He chided Obama for being irresponsible, noting that when he entered the Oval Office in 2017, there were over 100 court vacancies. What Trump didn’t acknowledge was that the reason for these unfilled judgeships wasn’t because Obama hadn’t named replacements, but because McConnell wouldn’t let the Senate approve them. What’s clear is that unless Democrats can win the few Senate seats that remain to be contested in January 2021, Biden will confront the same obstructionism. To succeed, Biden may have to play by the rules Republicans have created. To get things done, he will be forced to issue executive orders, by-passing the Senate where it is possible to do so. This was what Obama was forced to do. He will also need to use executive orders to undo the damage to our regulatory and immigration systems by President Trump’s excessive use of executive orders. At the same time, not only President Biden and Democrats, but Republicans as well, will need to deal with the reality that Trumpism will remain a potent force in American politics. When the Republican Party funded and organised the Birther Movement and the Tea Party to counter Obama’s appeal, they ushered in a wave of race-based populism. This may have served the Republicans’ short-term goal of taking control of Congress in 2010, but the angry beast they created back then devoured them first. Across the country, fearful of alienating this base, more traditional conservative Republicans felt forced to take increasingly hardline uncompromising stances. When Donald Trump first entered the 2016 presidential contest, the Republican establishment dismissed his candidacy, certain that a more traditional Mitt Romney-style conservative Republican would win the nomination. They were wrong. And despite their initial disgust for Trump’s xenophobia and bigotry, crude and vulgar language, and his shocking incitement to violence, they eventually fell in line, once again fearful of angering his supporters — the very base they had helped to create. As a result of their complicity, new and more virulent movements have taken root in this base, from the QAnon conspiracy cult to the xenophobic and racist Christian Patriot churches, and militant groups like the Proud Boys, the Boogaloo Bois, and a host of armed militias that have sprung up nationwide. All of which have received varying degrees of endorsement from the president. The fact that Donald Trump won the votes of over 70 million Americans means that while he has lost the election, his appeal will remain. Republicans will either make a concerted effort to tame this phenomenon or they will see not only the continued drift of their party toward extremism, but the danger of violence in cities across the US. This too is clear. It seems clear that, as Donald Trump said a few weeks ago, “This will not end well.” Far from being over, this election may very well continue to play out for weeks to come. Trump and the Republican Party have been telegraphing their strategy for over a month now. They will continue to challenge to validity of the vote in court. They will demand recounts. They will incite their followers to demonstrate at vote-counting facilities. In the end, many Americans will lose faith in the electoral process and America’s democracy will be tarnished in the eyes of the world. That much is clear.
As I sit to write this piece four days after the election, Joe Biden is leading in enough states to make it clear that he will win enough electoral college votes to become the 46th president of the United States. What was also clear is that Republicans will likely retain control of the Senate and the Democrats, while still the majority in the House, have lost some of the seats they had picked up in 2018. We are a deeply divided country. That much should be clear. If this were a normal election year, that might be the end of the story. Alas, it is not. In 2020, nothing is normal and this crazy election is not going to be over for a while. Donald Trump is not now nor has he ever been psychologically able to accept the reality of losing or being second best. Even when he doesn t win or isn t the best, he has been prone to create “an alternate reality” in which he convinces himself: that he really has won; that he was a victim of someone else s cheating; that someone else is responsible for the setback; or that he is the victim of a conspiracy. In a very real sense, Donald Trump has been preparing the ground for contesting a loss ever since he was first elected president in 2016. Not able to accept that Hillary Clinton had won more popular votes, he charged that millions of his opponent s votes were fraudulent. He even appointed a partisan presidential commission to validate his claim. Despite the fact that the commission was comprised of his supporters, it disbanded after several months, unable to prove any widespread cheating. Nevertheless, Trump has continued to make this same charge about fraudulent 2016 votes. For the past three months Trump has been claiming that Democrats were going to try to steal this year s election. He made the groundless accusation that hundreds of thousands of mail-in votes were going be used to “stuff ballot boxes” or that votes for him were going to be tossed out in order to elect his opponent. Recognising the danger posed by the growing pandemic, legislatures in several states, with bipartisan support, had approved plans to provide voters with a mail-in option. Polls show that Democrats, apparently more concerned with the health risks of in-person voting, took advantage of this option. At the same time, a sizable majority of Republican voters waited until election day to cast their ballots. Because in-person votes were counted first, on election night, as expected, Trump was in the lead. But as the mail-in votes were slowly counted, Biden s totals eventually eclipsed Trump s, putting Biden in the lead. In response, Trump angrily tweeted “STOP THE COUNT” and in some cities his supporters stormed polling places echoing this demand. The president s lawyers filed a number of lawsuits demanding, among other things, that many legally cast mail-in votes be disqualified. And on Thursday, Trump delivered shocking remarks from the White House calling into question the integrity of the entire election. A number of Republican governors and senators were so stunned that they felt compelled to quickly reject the president s behaviour. What s clear is that President Trump will not accept losing, will not concede, and will use every available path to challenge the outcome. He and his supporters are continuing to call the election fraudulent and calling on supporters to “go to war” to protest the vote. The misinformation they are spreading on social media is flagrantly false. It is designed cast doubt on the entire process and to incite anger, causing confusion and unrest, with the possibility of violence. The uncertainty created by all this will only lead to deeper division, casting a pall not only over this election, but the very foundations of our democracy. We will in all likelihood not see a peaceful transfer of power. That much is clear. What is also clear is that when Joe Biden is sworn in as president, he will inherit this division and the dysfunctional political system that has spawned it. Gone are the days when despite differences Republicans and Democrats worked together to solve pressing problems facing the nation. When Newt Gingrich was elected speaker of the House of Representatives, he ushered in an era of hyper-partisanship that worked to stymie then President Bill Clinton s every move. When Barack Obama was elected president, then-minority Senate leader Mitch McConnell declared that he would do everything in his power to ensure that Obama was a one-term president. After McConnell became majority leader, Republicans routinely blocked Obama s appointments and refused to pass compromise legislation. At the ceremony announcing his last Supreme Court nominee, Trump noted that it is the responsibility of a president to fill vacancies in federal courts. He chided Obama for being irresponsible, noting that when he entered the Oval Office in 2017, there were over 100 court vacancies. What Trump didn t acknowledge was that the reason for these unfilled judgeships wasn t because Obama hadn t named replacements, but because McConnell wouldn t let the Senate approve them. What s clear is that unless Democrats can win the few Senate seats that remain to be contested in January 2021, Biden will confront the same obstructionism. To succeed, Biden may have to play by the rules Republicans have created. To get things done, he will be forced to issue executive orders, by-passing the Senate where it is possible to do so. This was what Obama was forced to do. He will also need to use executive orders to undo the damage to our regulatory and immigration systems by President Trump s excessive use of executive orders. At the same time, not only President Biden and Democrats, but Republicans as well, will need to deal with the reality that Trumpism will remain a potent force in American politics. When the Republican Party funded and organised the Birther Movement and the Tea Party to counter Obama s appeal, they ushered in a wave of race-based populism. This may have served the Republicans short-term goal of taking control of Congress in 2010, but the angry beast they created back then devoured them first. Across the country, fearful of alienating this base, more traditional conservative Republicans felt forced to take increasingly hardline uncompromising stances. When Donald Trump first entered the 2016 presidential contest, the Republican establishment dismissed his candidacy, certain that a more traditional Mitt Romney-style conservative Republican would win the nomination. They were wrong. And despite their initial disgust for Trump s xenophobia and bigotry, crude and vulgar language, and his shocking incitement to violence, they eventually fell in line, once again fearful of angering his supporters — the very base they had helped to create. As a result of their complicity, new and more virulent movements have taken root in this base, from the QAnon conspiracy cult to the xenophobic and racist Christian Patriot churches, and militant groups like the Proud Boys, the Boogaloo Bois, and a host of armed militias that have sprung up nationwide. All of which have received varying degrees of endorsement from the president. The fact that Donald Trump won the votes of over 70 million Americans means that while he has lost the election, his appeal will remain. Republicans will either make a concerted effort to tame this phenomenon or they will see not only the continued drift of their party toward extremism, but the danger of violence in cities across the US. This too is clear. It seems clear that, as Donald Trump said a few weeks ago, “This will not end well.” Far from being over, this election may very well continue to play out for weeks to come. Trump and the Republican Party have been telegraphing their strategy for over a month now. They will continue to challenge to validity of the vote in court. They will demand recounts. They will incite their followers to demonstrate at vote-counting facilities. In the end, many Americans will lose faith in the electoral process and America s democracy will be tarnished in the eyes of the world. That much is clear.
President Donald Trump is on his way out of the White House, but he s not done just yet. After nearly four years of relentless law-bending and norm-smashing, Trump now enters his final two-plus months in office entirely unrestrained. He won t have to face the voters again, so he can indulge his basest instincts for payback and self-preservation. Get ready for a Constitutional stress test like we ve never seen before.Here are three main areas where Trump could still wreak havoc with the law before he leaves office: Pardons. It won t be anything new for Trump to issue a rash of pardons in his final weeks in office, right up to his very last day. Prior presidents commonly have issued pardons during their final days in office, including some historically dubious ones. On his final day as president, for example, President Bill Clinton pardoned his own half-brother Roger Clinton and the fugitive billionaire financier Marc Rich (which prompted a federal criminal investigation, but ultimately no charges). Who might Trump pardon? Michael Flynn could be first in line. Flynn continues to fight in federal court (joined by William Barr s Justice Department) to have his case thrown out. Flynn s attorney reportedly briefed Trump on the case directly -- underscoring just how politically charged it has become -- and asked Trump not to issue a pardon, apparently hoping to win in the courts first. However, with Trump on his way out, Flynn may want to rethink that strategy. Should the federal judge on Flynn s case reject Flynn s effort to dismiss, it would leave him exposed to potential jail time. A Trump pardon is Flynn s only sure protection. Trump also might pardon others who were convicted by Robert Mueller s team, including Paul Manafort and George Papadopoulos. Both have already served their time, but Trump might seek to symbolically undermine Mueller s work by pardoning them.
America delivered its verdict on Donald Trump last week, and it was devastating for him. He became one of the select few incumbent Presidents to lose his bid for a second four years in office, the first since President George H.W. Bush was defeated by Bill Clinton in 1992. But Trump was not swept from office in an anti-Republican rout -- his party did exceptionally well in other races across the United States. His defeat was a clear statement that the nation, speaking through voters in states controlling a majority of electoral college votes, finally had enough of Trump himself. "Donald Trump defeated Donald Trump," wrote David Axelrod. "Trump s political demise wasn t caused by the coronavirus but by the underlying and familiar deficiencies of character and leadership of America s first reality show president." Yes, Trump s polarizing approach to politics was rewarded with record support from GOP voters, but, Axelrod added, "for the president who placed his bet on the politics of division and practiced it with a relentless ferocity, the math just didn t add up. He not only inflamed his own base but a larger coalition of Americans, determined to end his stormy, divisive rule." The winner, Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr., campaigned as the opposite of Trump, a uniter who would seek common ground with Republicans. "Character proved to be the clearest contrast with the incumbent president he dislodged with a decisive defeat," John Avlon wrote. "Now his success will be our country s success, and by leading with character he might help our nation rediscover the central importance of character, not only within the presidency, but within ourselves." By his side will be Kamala Harris: the first woman, and the first woman of color, to be vice president. Arick Wierson wrote, in a letter to his 4-year-old daughter, that "Today, millions of young girls like you across this great land will go to bed knowing that this country has a place for you, no matter where you want to go in life." He added, "That a woman of color will soon be first in line to the presidency won t mean that people won t put up obstacles in front of you based on your sex or race as you go through life. But Harris broke new ground today." A brazen attack on democracy Donald Trump has governed as no other American President has. And in defeat, he continued to break virtually every norm. With no evidence, he charged in a speech from the White House Thursday evening that the election was a fraud and that Democrats were stealing it from him. Republicans launched a volley of lawsuits that appeared to have virtually no chance of overturning the election result. "At its core, the President s speech was an attack on our democracy and the legal voting systems long established in every one of our states and territories," wrote Anne Milgram. "The President screaming that the polls and voting were fraudulent -- without any evidence of fraud -- was the political equivalent of someone falsely screaming Fire! in a crowded movie theater. The goal was to create confusion and undercut the outcome of the election." The vote counting made it clear that Trump has lost, wrote Joshua A. Douglas. "It is now time for leading Republicans, such as Sens. Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham, as well as former President George W. Bush, to speak up. They must demand that Trump cease his dangerous language that casts doubt on the legitimacy of the election and -- unless he has real evidence -- end his baseless lawsuits that seek only to further undermine people s faith in the outcome." Trump was on the golf course when CNN and other networks called the election Saturday, and there was no immediate way to tell how he reacted. But Michael D Antonio pointed out, "The one certain fact about Trump in his moment of defeat in his race against former Vice President Joe Biden is that he is not feeling good at all. Presidents are rarely denied when they pursue a second term -- it has happened four times in the last 100 years -- which means Trump cannot escape the label he hates most of all: loser. Losers are, in Trump s view, undeserving of respect, admiration, and affection." Candidates who lose presidential elections routinely concede, noted Julian Zelizer. Trump chose not to, and he vowed to continue challenging the results. "The good thing is that it doesn t ultimately matter," wrote Zelizer. "A formal concession after an election is not embedded in our Constitution -- it is a norm." Biden will become the 46th President on January 20 whether or not Trump concedes. Trump will then be an uneasy new member of the normally convivial club of former Presidents, wrote Kate Andersen Brower. In 1980, today s senior living former President, Jimmy Carter was soundly defeated by Ronald Reagan. He took it hard, Brower wrote. Ultimately, "Carter, like Gerald Ford before him and George H.W. Bush after him, accepted the humiliating loss. We suspected that Donald Trump would not be so graceful about accepting defeat. But he is turning out to be the first president who will be dragged kicking and screaming into the Presidents Club." If those county names now mean something to you, you may have spent long hours last week watching CNN s John King at the Magic Wall, zooming in and out on the geographic boundaries of America s 3,000-plus counties to make sense of the election results. It wasn t exactly the outcome most people expected, based on pre-election polls: These, on average, correctly gave Biden the edge over Trump, but they also predicted he would lead a wave of Democrats into office with him. Democrats actually lost seats in the House and thus far have failed to flip enough Senate seats to guarantee a majority. When the counting is over, Donald Trump will wind up with far more votes than any Republican presidential candidate ever, and more than he received in 2016. That is a bitter pill for his critics who had hoped for repudiation, as Frida Ghitis wrote, of his pattern of exploiting "racism and xenophobia, one of the ugliest aspects of his presidency and his campaign. But the millions who voted for Trump were not all gullible or racist." "Tens of millions of Americans have seen and heard something else from Trump that appeals to them...The issues on which he promises to fight for the people are worth noting. Ignore for a moment what he has done, and listen to what he has promised, what he said that resonated with voters -- except for the racist parts," Ghitis observed. "Democrats and many in the media assumed, wrongly, that a message of Orange Man Bad would result in a landslide," wrote Republican Doug Heye. "All they had to do was repeat anti-Trump rhetoric over and over -- and surely voters would agree. But issues matter. Talk from Democrats of packing the court, the Green New Deal, various proposals on universal health care, not to mention violence surrounding protests, likely scared people who voted for Trump in 2016, in part because they didn t like Hillary Clinton, to vote for him again in 2020." Progressives "wanted a moral victory," Van Jones wrote. "We wanted an overwhelming repudiation of horrific policies -- like separating migrant children from their parents at the border -- and hurtful rhetoric. We did not get that." Still, Jones found reasons for hope, most notably the Biden victory. "It s easier to be a parent this morning," he wrote after the race was called. "It s easier to be a dad. It s easier to tell your kids that character matters. The truth matters. Being a good person matters. Joe Biden will be our next president and Donald Trump will not." Why did the vote counting stretch for so long after Election Day? Officials in many states were overwhelmed by the flood of mailed-in ballots from voters wary of in-person voting, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Some states started the counting of these votes before Election Day, but legislators in Pennsylvania couldn t reach agreement on a bill to do so. Trump had railed against the use of mail-in ballots, and as Paul Begala noted, observers believed that "the GOP legislators were more interested in pleasing Trump than in helping their fellow citizens count the votes efficiently." Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro argued for patience as the count continued. "Voters can have confidence that if they followed the law, their vote will be counted -- and no matter who wins, that the final vote count will be legitimate. This is a commitment made in every state, in every county, in every city and town across America: in states that lean Democrat and in states that lean Republican, on the West Coast and the East Coast, from Hawaii to the heartland. That s our American tradition, and that is our law." Covid-19: now what? The day before the election, Elizabeth Yuko marked the seven-month anniversary of her long-term case of Covid-19. "As I watched the election results trickle in Tuesday night and the counting continue through the week," she wrote, "it became evident that no matter who wins, public health has suffered a major loss. The close race indicates that a substantial number of voters opted to support someone whose dangerous messaging on Covid-19 will only make the pandemic worse -- never mind making any progress in slowing its spread." With the presidential race dominating the news, many people may have missed the sharp rise in the spread of infections. On Friday, the US set an alarming record of more than 125,000 new reported infections in a single day. It came a few days after Trump accused doctors of exaggerating the number of Covid-19 cases so they could make more money. That shocked Dr. Janice Blanchard, a professor in George Washington University s emergency medicine department. "Back in March, Trump compared doctors to warriors fighting a medical war," Blanchard pointed out. "Now, just like the insults he previously hurled upon those who died on battlefields, labeling them as losers and suckers, he is disparaging those of us who risk our lives in the fight against Covid-19." On Friday, Bloomberg News reported that White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who had said, "we are not going to control the pandemic," had contracted the virus himself. Sometimes an actor wears a role so compellingly that he is forever associated with it in the public s memory: such was the case with Sean Connery, the film world s first James Bond, whose death at the age of 90 was announced on October 31. From the time he appeared in "Dr. No" in 1962, he embodied the spirit of the British secret agent with a license to kill. "Connery s do-it-all-and-do-it-often work ethic was obscured by the James Bond image, which helps explain why he was so desperate to get out from under one of the most spectacularly successful tentpoles in movie history," wrote Gene Seymour. "He was the first Bond and, to this day, the most definitive because he carried the cruel mouth and short, black hair that Ian Fleming used as physical descriptions of his British secret service agent years before the film adaptations." "After leaving the Aston Martin in the garage for Moore and others," Seymour added, "Connery s stature kept growing as did the nature of his roles, whether as a swashbuckling Moroccan insurrectionist in 1975 s The Wind and the Lion, or as a gracefully aging Robin Hood in 1976 s Robin and Marian. He could also dial down his own magnetism to great effect as in 1990 s The Russia House, an adaptation of John le Carre s novel about a semi-retired publisher reluctantly pressed into undercover duty in the Glasnost-era Soviet Union." When Seymour saw Connery s character in that film "fumbling desperately with a spy gadget," he was tempted to "cry to the screen, Oh, come on! You know how to use that! "
When this article appears, Americans will have cast their votes, whether by reporting to the polls or through mail-in ballots. Judging by the number of the latter, voter turnout is already high. It has been a long time since the get-out-to-vote appeals have been so strident. This is a natural product of a polarisation so intense that it appears to threaten US national unity. Conjuring up memories of the post-Civil War period a century and a half ago, Democratic candidate Joe Biden has said that, if he wins, he will make the return to unity the highest priority for his administration. This climate is not the making of the Donald Trump era alone. During his last year in office, president Barack Obama was aware that some of the most crucial setbacks for his administration were due to the inability to bridge the deep chasm between Democrats and Republicans in Congress, which increasingly forced him to resort to executive orders which can only be overridden by a two-thirds congressional majority. If division has deepened, the period following the announcement of the results, which could take some time given the more than 60 million mail-in ballots that will have to be counted, will reveal how much further it will deepen, especially given expectations that the results will be heatedly contested. However, what concerns us here is the impact of the US elections on the Middle East, and the Arab region in particular. As divided as the US is at present, between right and left and Republicans and Democrats, Washington s general foreign policy trends are indicative of a determination to pull out of the Middle East. This inclination had already begun to show during Obama s second term, by which time it was clear that his administration s policies towards the “Arab Spring” and in support of the “moderate” Muslim Brotherhood as the engine that would ostensibly steer the Arab and Islamic worlds to a blissful democratic paradise, had collapsed utterly. On top of its newfound disappointment in existing regimes, Washington watched as the spring breezes shifted to hot gusts of civil discord and strife aggravated by the widespread incompetence of post-revolutionary, post-jubilation political elites. The net result of the policy was a series of civil wars, massive bloodshed and destruction, and deeply divided states, all of which prepared the perfect soil for the spread of religious extremism and terrorism. Donald Trump, in his first term, said he wanted to get the US out of the “endless wars” and to shed allies who cost the US so much without giving anything in return. He felt it was safe to withdraw from the region because the interests closest to heart, such as oil and Israel, were no longer in danger. The US was self-sufficient in oil and now that it had become a major producer again, rising oil prices no longer bothered it at all. As for Israel, it was now wealthy, technologically equipped and militarily superior. Also, Trump had dedicated a good amount of his first term to girding Israel with a “deal” that would give it a better chance to make peace with its neighbours. But despite the Democrats and Republicans common desire to withdraw from the Middle East, the US is still here in the region and it is impossible to predict what the next president will do, whether he is Trump for another four years or Biden for his first four. US strategic thought on this region is in a muddle. The articles and studies on the directions, US policy towards the Middle East should take in general, or towards specific issues and countries, are sharply divergent and conflicting. The titles alone tell us this. Kenneth Pollack sees only two mutually exclusive alternatives: “Fight or Flight: America s Choice in the Middle East,” whereas Tamara Cofman Wittes and Mara Karlin frame the problem as “How to Do More With Less in the Middle East: American Policy in the Wake of the Pandemic.” Martin Indyk strikes a contrast with a pessimistic take: “Disaster in the Desert: Why Trump s Middle East Plan Can t Work”, while Steven Cook chips in with a fatalistic sounding “No Exit: Why the Middle East Still Matters to America.” Such outlooks reflect a considerable degree of bewilderment and dismay at being caught in this dilemma of withdrawal versus involvement. It is a dilemma that largely functions in ideological frameworks that are generally aloof to strategic substance such as regional or ideological balances or other more concrete factors weighed by military analysts who see the region more in terms of maritime outlets or of the size and locations of the spheres of influence of rival world powers such as China, Russia or even Europe. Of course, there are other perspectives on this region such as that which believes that the US has an inescapable role to play here after terrorists from this part of the world reached the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Washington. The Covid-19 pandemic may be the first global disaster in decades not to have triggered an accusing finger directed at the Middle East. On this occasion, fingers turned to China and Asia which, ironically, were once the horizons towards which Obama and then Trump thought the US should set its sails. Yet, perhaps, the main problem of the Middle East is not how baffled the US gets when it looks at it, but how this region perceives itself. For some time, the mirror was shaped by the long-lasting Arab-Israeli conflict. At other times, an Arab nationalist lens determined what was and was not authentic in it. There were also times, occasioned by both calls to revolution and calls to moderation, when little distinction was made between this region and the Islamic world. Today, a new phenomenon is in progress, one that might dispel Washington s confusion and give regional authenticity a fresh boost. It is the crystallisation of the nation state in the sense of a geopolitical entity with borders, a distinct identity that sets it apart from other states, and particular interests and concerns that make friends and enemies easier to identify than ever before. In this framework, “regional security” is contingent on the security of its component states, which entails neutralising existing or potentially hostile acts or threats against them. This can be achieved through the implementation of policies that aim to strengthen the autonomous power of the state and through regional alliances that work to safeguard the state and deter threats. The consolidation of the nation state that we see in progress in this region helps explain the intense and diverse activity in deals between countries of this region not just with the US, but also with China, Russia and Europe, with each country acting in accordance with its perception of its interests whether in the acquisition of arms or in trade deals, setting oil prices or welcoming tourists.
There is a reason CNN has been warning to expect "Election Week" rather than "Election Night." America is living it right now. And that s why we all need to stay calm and count every vote. The sun rose after Election Day on a country still deeply divided -- with President Donald Trump outperforming polls and securing Florida s prized 29 electoral votes early in the night. But the fundamental facts of the 2020 campaign remain in place. This is a Coronavirus Election -- and that means states are still processing an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots. The 2020 presidential race is far from over. Either Biden or Trump could still win -- though Democrats have reason to believe that the outstanding mail-in ballots in major population centers would disproportionately favor their candidate. Republicans have reason to feel confident because they upended the polls and expectations, making inroads to the Hispanic population in particular -- and they appear to have stopped momentum for a Democratic Senate pick-up spree, despite some Democratic gains. But all of this is hypothetical until all the ballots cast are counted. Joe Biden is leading in the popular vote, as expected, and as of 8:30 a.m. on November 4 there are nine states which have not been called because they are still counting votes -- From Alaska to Nevada and Arizona in the West to Wisconsin and Michigan in the Upper Midwest, to East Coast states from Georgia to North Carolina to Pennsylvania and Maine. Not all these states will break one way, but in many of them, the bulk of the outstanding votes are mail-in ballots from major population centers -- big cities, small metros and suburbs -- where Democrats are expected to have an edge. In general, the mail-in votes cast have shown a decided tilt toward Democrats. This is not unexpected, as CNN s Marshall Cohen explained in a pre-election article, titled "How to spot a blue or red mirage in early election results." It may prove to be a variation on the theme we ve seen in recent years, known as the "Blue Shift," when absentee ballots break toward the Democrats, as we saw in the 2018 midterms (a phenomenon that CNN s Harry Enten chronicled almost a month after the polls closed in that election). The morning after the midterms, early results showed Democrats picking up 26 congressional seats. When all the votes were counted, they gained 40 seats. But Democrats aren t guaranteed a win in situations like this. In 2018, two Florida statewide races were too close to call -- prompting Trump to tweet: "An honest vote count is no longer possible-ballots massively infected. Must go with Election Night!" Republicans won those seats when all the outstanding ballots were counted. Now, President Trump is reverting to his autocratic instincts, falsely declaring, "Frankly, we did win this election" and stating that he wanted to go to the Supreme Court with his insistence that "we want all voting to stop." Don t get numb to how dangerous, dictatorial and fundamentally unlawful Trump s demand is. Even Trump ally Chris Christie condemned the comments, saying, "There s just no basis to make that argument tonight. There just isn t. All these votes have to be counted that are in now." Thankfully, we are still a nation of laws, though Team Trump will, as they have indicated for weeks, challenge the outstanding ballots in court and claim that the full counting of votes is evidence of Democrats trying to "manipulate the results" and "steal the election" -- as they already did in a post-election tweet. That is the opposite of true -- any attempt to stop the full and fair counting of ballots would be more credibly characterized as an attempt to "steal" the election. Counting all the ballots is not fraud. Outstanding questions remain about why the US Postal Service, run by a Trump mega-donor, defied a court order to account for 300,000 missing ballots, amid accusations of a slowdown in delivery. That s why we are still in the middle of election week in an instant gratification society that is unaccustomed to waiting for the process to work. The heightened emotions are understandable -- there is a lot at stake -- and many Democrats were expecting a battleground state blowout that decidedly did not materialize. We may have the third presidential election this century where the winner of the popular vote does not win the electoral college, benefiting the Republican, which would be lawful but deeply destabilizing. We may see a decisive though narrower than expected Democratic win in both the popular and electoral vote. Regardless, the world is watching. The strength of our democracy hangs in the balance. And the rule of law demands that we count every eligible vote cast.
My Jewish husband grew up in 1970s Germany. When asked to give up his seat on public transit for senior citizens, he would often hesitate, wondering whether those individuals played passive or active roles during the Third Reich. While perhaps unfair, younger generations judged Germans who lived through the Nazi era as though they were complicit and could have changed the course of history. Similarly, we will all be judged by what we do -- or do not do -- at this moment in American history. This is not in any way to compare the atrocities of the Holocaust with what we are seeing in the US today, but there are similarities to this moment and the rise of Nazism in the 1930s. Today, we stand at a precipice, yet unlike Germans in the lead-up to World War II, we have the chance to vote a rising authoritarian out of power.For four years, President Donald Trump has increasingly threatened our country and our future. He has assaulted, undermined, and weakened our democracy, using hatred and disinformation to divide Americans, sow confusion, and incite domestic unrest. He has repeatedly aligned himself with America s adversaries and alienated our allies. Amid an unprecedented public health crisis, he has demonstrated a wanton disregard for human life, intentionally misled us, and denied science as Americans die in record numbers. He s explicitly threatened Americans exercising their First Amendment rights, including his political opponents and the media, issued statements widely viewed as calls to arms and incitement to violence. Trump has a clear record of fanning the flames of hatred, including equating neo-Nazis with peaceful protestors in Charlottesville, using racist epithets, repeating anti-Semitic tropes, and fueling xenophobic conspiracy theories, which I have argued contributed to the worst anti-Semitic attack in American history. At the first 2020 presidential debate, Trump had a chance to demonstrate to the American people where he stood on the issue of racially motivated violent extremism, which his own FBI director recently warned is one of the greatest threats facing Americans.Instead of denouncing this virulent form of hatred, Trump pointedly refused and instead encouraged a far-right extremist group to "stand back and stand by." He later tried to walk back his remarks, after they were celebrated by the far-right. Less than three weeks later, Trump repeated the same offense at a presidential townhall when he legitimized a QAnon conspiracy theory, and refused to denounce this dangerous movement that has infiltrated the Republican Party. The threat posed by Trump to our democracy has become even clearer in the lead-up to the election. In July, he suggested the illegal postponement of the election. Despite constitutional term limits, Trump has asserted he s entitled to more than two terms as president. He s refused to commit to the peaceful transfer of power if he s defeated, and questioned the validity, without proof, of mail-in ballots, which he himself previously used to vote. He has baselessly repeated claims of voter fraud, as the Justice Department has loosened its 40-year policy on launching an investigation on voter fraud during an election cycle, and indicated he expects the Supreme Court to rule in his favor if the election is litigated. All of this comes at the end of a presidential term that was rife with illegality, impropriety, and his impeachment by the House.Now, on the eve of the election, reports indicate that Trump plans to prematurely claim victory if it looks like he is close to 270 electoral votes on election night. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and Trump have denied that the claims are true, but Trump and his team have signaled their plans to litigate the counting of mail-in ballots after Election Day. But if the President is indeed planning on do this, it would improperly disregard postmarked mail-in ballots in states like Pennsylvania. According to the Pennsylvania secretary of state, there may be as many as 10 times the number of mail-in ballots in 2020 than there were in 2016 in this critical swing state, which can legally accept mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day until November 6. The dubious legal groundwork for this position was recently laid by Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who served on the Republican legal team that stopped the presidential election recount 20 years ago. Though some of us have become numb to the daily outrages, we cannot forget this simple fact: Trump s behavior is that of an authoritarian. What may feel like a tumultuous and frenetic daily news cycle is the clear erosion of our democracy during Trump s presidency.As this monumental election comes to a close, it s important to remember what s at stake and how future generations will view the choice facing Americans at this critical crossroads. Will we choose the path of authoritarianism and hatred with Trump, or will we choose decency and democracy with Joe Biden? While we cannot know the outcome at this point, we do know that history will judge those who abandon their values and allow rise of bigotry and hate. Your children and grandchildren will someday ask whether you stood up for your values or whether you were a passive bystander, and a vote for Biden must be part of your answer. It s the only decent choice.
By continuing to break democratic norms on judicial nominations, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has harmed the administration of the 2020 election.McConnell has boasted proudly that he has filled every federal appellate judicial vacancy in the country. After refusing to consider numerous Obama nominees, McConnell and President Donald Trump have acted with zeal to nominate and confirm dozens of federal judges that McConnell brazenly left open during the Obama presidency. Content by Mastercard Helping Women Entrepreneurs of Color Survive and Thrive in the Digital Economy The Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth s partnership with the non-profit Grameen America has helped women-owned small businesses survive — and now thrive — in Harlem. A Pew analysis of data from the Federal Judicial Center found that Trump has appointed more federal appeals judges, 53, than any president since Jimmy Carter as of July 7. Trump also appointed three justices to the US Supreme Court. A significant number of those judges are issuing restrictive rulings that have impacted how some states run the election, harming voters in the process. In at least 18 cases this year, federal trial courts ruled in favor of plaintiffs and put on hold various election rules, often due to the challenges of voting during the pandemic, only to see federal appeals courts reverse those pro-voter rulings. Twelve of those decisions included at least one Trump-appointed judge. Seven of those 12 cases were 2-1 decisions with a Trump appointee in the majority; an eighth case was a 6-4 decision by the entire Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, with five Trump-appointed judges in the majority.These cases obviously had merit given that lower courts had issued pro-voter opinions. But the appeals courts reversed -- with Trump appointees often casting one of the deciding votes. Instead of protecting the right to vote, federal appeals courts have refused to invalidate laws that force voters to jump through numerous hoops to cast their ballots. The goal of these restrictive laws seems to be to try to depress turnout among some voters and make it easier for Republicans to win re-election. Trump even admitted this idea earlier this year, saying that if it was easy to vote, "you d never have a Republican elected in this country again." To be sure, a few Trump-appointed judges have ruled in favor of voting rights plaintiffs on occasion. But the trend shows that those wishing to make voting easier have more often been unsuccessful. These decisions have involved witness signatures for absentee ballots, ballot delivery mechanisms, deadlines for returning absentee ballots and paying for voter transportation to the polls, among other things. In short, the lawsuits sought to make it easier to cast a ballot, particularly given the unique circumstances of holding an election during a pandemic. And although numerous federal district courts have agreed with plaintiffs to vindicate the constitutional right to vote, the appeals courts, increasingly filled with conservative judges, instead have unduly deferred to states on how to run the election.Of course, Trump-appointed judges are not driving all decisions. A few Clinton- or Obama-appointed judges have ruled against plaintiffs in certain cases. But in the aggregate, the ideological trends are clear. These rulings are piling one on top of another, with some courts looking at what other courts are doing to reject the plaintiffs claims, thereby creating a snowball effect for this narrow view of the right to vote. For instance, the Eighth Circuit, over a vigorous dissent, relied on restrictive rulings from the Seventh and Eleventh Circuits to reject a challenge to a new Missouri law that forbids some voters from dropping off their ballots in person, requiring them to use the mail. Even where plaintiffs have found rare success from the federal circuit courts of appeals, the Supreme Court has sometimes reversed. For example, the full Fourth Circuit voted 9-5 to suspend South Carolina s witness requirement for absentee ballots (with two Trump appointees both in dissent), but the Supreme Court reversed. Similarly, the Eleventh Circuit had ruled, 2-1, (with Trump appointee Judge Barbara Lagoa in dissent), to let Alabama counties have curbside voting even though Alabama s Secretary of State sought to ban the practice, but the Supreme Court again reversed. Trump s Supreme Court appointees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, agreed with the rulings both times.The Supreme Court last week refused to put on hold decisions from Pennsylvania and North Carolina that extended the absentee ballot deadlines, which initially seem like wins for voters who, as of now, can have their ballots arrive a few days after Nov. 3 in these states. But separate opinions from Justices Samuel Alito and Gorsuch, along with signals from Justices Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas in other cases, suggest that the Court might not rule favorably on voting rights in the future. New Justice Amy Coney Barrett did not participate in these cases. Alongside these restrictive rulings, voting rights advocates have seen some success, both in state courts and when defending states that have eased voting rules due to the pandemic. And some cases haven t been appealed. But voting rights plaintiffs have generally not done as well, especially on appeal, when challenging states that refused to alter their rules to make it easier to vote. Restrictive jurisprudence from Trump-appointed judges is one key reason. These cases, which fail to protect the constitutional right to vote, have a direct lineage from McConnell s strategy to block Obama nominees and then confirm Trump nominees. McConnell has skewed the federal courts to a conservative viewpoint that fails to protect voters. And McConnell is not done, saying that he plans to "clean the plate" of every remaining judicial nominee after the election, even if Republicans lose the Senate.The solution? Turn out to vote anyway, even if you have to jump through unnecessary hoops to do so. Use the reality of voter suppression to create a backlash against this undemocratic tactic. Protest McConnell s demolition of norm after norm. Ultimately, we must demand fidelity to a universal truth: In a democracy that values the fundamental right to vote, the voters themselves, not election rules or restrictive judicial rulings, must dictate the outcome.
When they go to the polls to cast their ballot for President of the United States, 59% of Arab Americans say they will vote for Democratic candidate Joseph Biden with only 35% supporting the reelection of President Trump. This is one of the findings of a nationwide poll of 805 Arab American voters conducted by the Arab American Institute during the second week of October 2020. Overall, Joseph Biden is viewed favorably by 74% of Arab American voters and unfavorably by only 25%, while President Trump’s favorable/unfavorable ratio is a lukewarm 48% to 51%. Even a majority (55%) of Arab American Republicans have a favorable view of Biden. One of the few positive signs for Donald Trump is the fact that he has galvanized support among Arab American Republicans and brought home some of those who, during the first two decades of this century, had stopped self-identifying with the GOP. The 40% Democrat/33% Republican split among Arab American voters represents a narrowing of the gap between the two parties. The partisan divide of 40% to 38% in 2000 had grown each election cycle since then. By 2016, it had become 52% to 26%. Today’s party identification numbers are similar to 2002 and 2004 when it was 39% to 31%. As a result, while Biden holds a significant lead over Trump in this year’s poll, the margin is somewhat less than the gap that separated Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Back in 2016, Clintons margin over Trump was 58% to 25%, with a significant number of Arab American Republicans not voting. In this 2020 poll, the Democratic candidate Joseph Biden wins among almost all demographic groups, but by a somewhat smaller margin than former President Barack Obama in 2008. Biden leads among Catholics (55% to 43%), Muslims (60% to 30%), and naturalized citizens (64% to 23%). Where Biden’s margins are largest are among younger Arab American voters (67% to 27%) and senior citizens (66% to 26%). When provided a list of 14 policy concerns and asked to identify the issues they feel are most important in determining their votes in this election, 40% of Arab Americans said their number one concern was “deteriorating race relations in the US today.” This was followed by jobs and the economy (23%), health care (21%), the environment and climate change (17%), and Social Security and Medicare (10%). On all of these issues, except for “jobs and the economy,” Biden was favored over Trump by a significant margin. The issue of deteriorating race relations looms large for Arab American voters with 70% saying they have a positive view of the nationwide demonstrations supporting Black lives and 74% holding critical views of policing practices in the US. Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the only foreign policy issue mentioned in the above list of overall concerns and was listed as a top priority by only 5% of Arab American voters. But when it comes to identifying their major issues of concern in the Middle East, 45% of Arab Americans said that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was one of their top concerns. This was followed by “meeting the humanitarian concerns of the Syrian people” and “addressing the ongoing political and economic crises in Lebanon.” By a margin of two to one President Trump was seen as having been more ineffective than effective in handling of each of these critical concerns. And by margin of 49% to 33%, Arab American voters said they believe that Biden would be better than the sitting president at improving US relations with the Arab world. Turnout will be very high in this election with slightly more than 80% of Arab Americans saying they are very likely to vote. Most Democrats say they are either voting early in person or by mail (52%), while most Republicans are waiting until election day to cast their votes (62%). Interestingly, more Trump voters (75%) are concerned that their ballots might not be counted than Biden voters (63%). The Arab American vote will be most critical in the key battleground states of Michigan (where they can be as much as 5% of the vote), and Ohio and Pennsylvania (where they are between 1.7 to 2% of likely voters).
On Friday, 23 October, the Libyan Joint Military Commission, known as 5+5, reached a promising agreement on a permanent ceasefire in Libya after five days of talks in Geneva. The Geneva Agreement built on a previous meeting of the commission in Hurghada, Egypt. The successful talks capped international and regional efforts throughout the last two months after the ceasefire the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli and the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar agreed on in early August. The international community and the United Nations had exerted diplomatic pressure to make this ceasefire permanent. The agreement announced Friday still needs the final approval of the GNA in Tripoli and that of the Libyan House of Representatives chaired by Aguila Saleh. The Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres, said that the Security Council would discuss the Geneva Agreement shortly and added that it is based on Security Council Resolutions 2510 and 2542 on the situation in Libya. Moreover, he promised to set up in the very near future a United Nations “monitoring mechanism” that would be approved by the Security Council. In this respect, the 5+5 Commission requested that the agreement be adopted in a resolution by the Security Council. The UN secretary general called on the international community to support the Libyans in carrying out the agreement, and in particular to respect the UN-mandated arms embargo on Libya. The agreement stressed that the ceasefire does not apply to groups designated as terrorist groups by the United Nations, namely Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group. Meanwhile, the commission agreed that all “mercenaries” should leave Libyan territories within three months effective the day the agreement entered into force. Furthermore, it also stipulated the freezing of all agreements pertaining to military training by foreign powers on Libyan soil. According to the agreement, a tallying of all militias in Libya would take place so its armed men would become members in the future Libyan army. In the same vein, the two sides agreed to set up a joint military force, limited in numbers, to deal with any violations of the ceasefire. In the meantime, the agreement included guiding principles for a new Libya, such as respect for human rights as well as international humanitarian law. It also stated that fighting terrorism is considered a national policy to be implemented by the future Libyan government. The Geneva Agreement won worldwide support that augurs well for the future. The Egyptian government endorsed it, stressing in a Foreign Ministry statement that “this success” comes in the wake of the results of the Hurghada meeting in September. The ceasefire agreement is a promising and serious step forward and comes after two successful meetings in Morocco between the Tripoli State Council and the House of Representatives in the last few weeks, and two weeks before the convening in Tunisia of a Forum for Political Dialogue that would include the GNA and the House of Representatives. From an Egyptian point of view, the agreement has dealt positively with its major national security concerns as far as the Libyan situation is concerned, be it fighting terrorism, or sending home “mercenaries” and the disbanding of armed militias. On 19 January, Germany had hosted the Berlin Summit on Libya with its security-military, financial-economic and political tracks. The Geneva Agreement of 23 October could prove a “historic achievement”, as the UN Mission in Libya characterised it. If everything goes as planned, drawing on the Berlin Summit Declaration and Security Council Resolution 2510, Libya should have a constitution and an elected government before the end of 2021. One can only hope.
Many people see 2020 as one of the worst years we have lived. Between political assassinations, deaths and natural disasters, we have lived through very difficult times. Only at the beginning of the year, the United States assassinated the Iranian leader Qassem Soleimani, which sparked many fears of a destructive war between the United States and Iran, and then the Ukrainian passenger plane was accidentally shot down