With mass protests roiling Lebanon and Iraq, unsettling developments in Syria and Yemen, and the latest episode of the continuing soap opera that calls itself Israeli politics, little attention is being given to the plight of the Palestinians. One consequence of this neglect is that both Israel and the Trump administration feel they have been given a free hand to accelerate the oppression of the beleaguered Palestinian people. Two reports passed my desk this week, both of which make this point and require our attention. First, as a result of the loss of US aid to UNWRA, the agency reported that it has been forced to make drastic cuts in its programmes and personnel. I will quote freely from the UNWRA report in order to fully establish the magnitude of the loss. In Gaza, “in order to protect food assistance [UNWRA] provides to one-half of the population, other critical programmes were cut.” These included: all housing subsidies for those still rendered homeless from the 2014 war; drastic reductions in the “cash for work programme” (cut by 59 per cent) and the community mental health programme (cut by 40 per cent). In addition, UNWRA was forced to end all repairs to the refugee camps water and sanitation systems and to end “programmes supporting students whose education was impacted by conflict”. In the West Bank, funding was slashed by 67 per cent, resulting in: ending the community mental health and mobile health clinic programmes; ending the “cash for work programme for 90,000 refugees”, and limiting food assistance to only 30 per cent of eligible refugees. In addition, as a result of cuts to educational programmes, average class size in the West Bank has been expanded from 30 to 50 students. Even more desperate were the cuts to UNWRA programmes serving refugees in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. All of this has been compounded by the Trump administration s decision to cut funding to American non-governmental organisations that provide important development and humanitarian support to Palestinians throughout the occupied lands. In addition to being denied essential services by these cruel decisions, Palestinians living under military occupation have been forced to endure continued acts of repression and brutality at the hands of the Israeli military and vigilante settler groups, both of which operate with impunity throughout the West Bank. This brings me to the second report— a weekly cataloguing of human rights violations compiled by Mondoweiss. While these Israeli behaviours are reported only occasionally in the press, seeing them collected, in full, each week presents a horrifying picture of life under Israeli military rule. Because this last week witnessed the celebration of Jewish holidays, there were a number of incidents directly related to hostile measures taken to allow Israelis to visit holy sites in the West Bank. For example, on 17 October, busloads of Israeli settlers, escorted by Israeli army personnel, entered Nablus without permission to pray at the site Jews believe to be the burial place of the Prophet Joseph. Since Nablus is within Area A, it is supposedly under full control of the Palestinian Authority. As Palestinians gathered to protest this incursion, they were fired on by Israeli soldiers. Four were shot and wounded with live ammunition, 17 were injured by rubber bullets and 34 were hospitalised suffering from smoke inhalation. The Israeli occupation forces also used the holy days to close Hebron s Ibrahim Mosque to Muslims for two days, giving Jewish worshippers full access to the mosque. They also closed several major arteries in the West Bank to allow for settlers to travel freely and to hold a “settlers marathon race”. During this same period, the Israeli military invaded at least 14 Palestinian villages, shot and injured nine young men, and detained over four dozen. These raids included a number of home invasions, which resulted in extensive property damage and theft, and an attack on a wedding party that witnessed beatings and injuries to some of those present who objected to the soldier s behaviour. A continuing reality of daily life in the West Bank are attacks by settlers on Palestinians farming their land located near Israeli settlements and outposts. The most notorious of these occurred in the village of Burin where settlers have engaged in numerous attacks disrupting villagers harvesting their olive crop. This past week, settlers uprooted olive trees, set fires that consumed hundreds of acres of farmland, and beat Palestinians who attempted to stop this vandalism. Settlers also attacked and beat Israeli volunteers who had come to assist and protect the Palestinians of Burin during the harvest. Settler attacks occurred not only in villages but on roads as well, harassing Palestinians on their way to work. These assaults and the Palestinians response to them prompted a bizarre warning issued by the military to some villagers cautioning them against taking action to resist the settlers vigilante behaviour. This was most likely prompted by a warning made by the Palestinian mayor of Sebastia who threatened to shoot or arrest settlers who might break into the town during the Jewish holidays, or the story of an elderly man who confronted Israeli settlers stealing his olive harvest and was beaten so badly that he had to be hospitalised. The above is only an excerpt of the many instances of abuse encountered by Palestinians during the week covered in the report. Also mentioned were: the shootings by Israeli snipers of 73 Palestinian protesters during the weekly “March of Return” protests that took place at five locations along the Gaza border; a number of home demolitions done either as an act of collective punishment or to limit Palestinian population growth in Jerusalem; continued repressive actions designed to increase Israel s control of Jerusalem; unprovoked attacks on Palestinian fishermen operating within the three mile limit allowed to them by the Israeli authorities and the announcement of the construction of 251 new Jewish-only settlement units on Palestinian land. What is most concerning about all of these horrors is how little coverage they receive not only in the US press but in the Arab world s press as well. With events in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen dominating the news, the plight of the Palestinians has taken a back seat. When news related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict receives coverage at all it is driven by the drawn-out drama of Israel s dysfunctional political system. Accounting for this, to be sure, is some weariness with the century old plight of the Palestinians and some justifiable frustration with the Palestinian leadership, which has lost its ability to inspire confidence. But, while all of this may be true, it is imperative that the Palestinian people not be forgotten. In this context I am reminded of a moving moment in Arthur Miller s powerful play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman, the salesman in question, is a tragic figure who has done little to earn the support of his two sons. As he nears his final breakdown, his wife speaks to her sons about the respect owed to their father. She says: “… he s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He s not to be allowed to fall in his grave... Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person.” And so, my dear readers, I urge you to consider that as you focus on all of the other conflicts unfolding across the Arab world. Do not forget what is happening to the Palestinian people under occupation. Put aside your weariness and your frustrations and give attention to what they are enduring every single day. “Attention must be paid” before it s too late.
former White House chief of staff John Kelly told a conservative audience about this piece of advice he gave President Donald Trump before leaving his job: "I said, whatever you do -- and we were still in the process of trying to find someone to take my place -- I said whatever you do, don t hire a yes man, someone who won t tell you the truth -- don t do that. Because if you do, I believe you will be impeached." Kelly s comments drew a decent amount of attention right after he made them -- at a conference in Sea Island, Georgia sponsored by the Washington Examiner -- but got lost the second Trump tweeted "something very big has just happened!" just before 9:30 p.m. ET Saturday night. That tweet -- and Trump s subsequent Sunday morning announcement that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was dead -- overwhelmed all other news. But we shouldn t let the constant churn of covering Trump roll right over what Kelly said and why it s both telling and damning about this President. (Worth noting: Trump denied that Kelly had told him any such thing; "If he would have said that I would have thrown him out of the office," Trump said in a statement. "He just wants to come back into the action like everybody else does.") Consider carefully exactly what Kelly is saying here: If the President of the United States is allowed to do what he wants, he will act in ways that will lead to his impeachment. Which is remarkable! And terrifying! And potentially accurate! Following Kelly s departure, Trump named a loyalist -- Mick Mulvaney -- to the chief of staff post. Mulvaney, by his own admission, allowed Trump to be Trump -- with all the good and bad that comes with it. That includes Trump s coordinated pressure campaign against the Ukrainians -- run by his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani -- to force that government to look into debunked allegations regarding Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. House Democrats are currently conducting an impeachment investigation to determine whether the President abused his office for personal, political gain. Yes, Kelly s comments are incredibly self-serving. He is essentially saying "I told you so!" when it comes to Trump s behavior and what would come from it. But ask yourself this: why would Kelly lie about his observations about the President? He s no Democrat and, unlike scorned former Trumpers like Michael Cohen and Anthony Scaramucci, hasn t spent his time after falling out of favor with the White House savaging the President. Kelly is a highly decorated Marine with a distinguished record of serving the country for the bulk of his adult life. Would he really risk all of that by making up lies about his conversations with the President? Seems unlikely. Especially when you consider that Trump, who is saying Kelly never said anything like this, has said more than 12,000 false or misleading things since coming into office in 2017. What s more important to consider is that someone who spent lots and lots of time with Trump -- and who has, throughout his life, interacted with leaders of all stripes -- believed that if left to his own devices, the President would commit an impeachable act. There s nothing more damning than a judgment like this one coming from someone who knows Trump well and has seen how the President goes about the day-to-day elements of the job. In short: When someone who has lived the life -- and done the jobs -- Kelly has, we would all do well to listen to him when he offers an opinion on the character of this President.
In our youth, we envied Lebanon for its democracy, its picturesque nature and the coexistence of its various sects with each other. The Lebanese civil war broke out in 1975. Syria stepped in to occupy, allegedly to defend it. The Palestinians swarmed it with the pretext of resistance. Lebanon emerged with deep wounds that are yet to heal, even after the Taif Agreement. Despite efforts by the late Rafik al-Hariri in the reconstruction and development of Lebanon, political decisions remained in Syria s hands. The repeated Israeli invasion of its territory since 1978, southern Lebanon s occupation, the Sabra and Shatila massacre, and Operation Grapes of Wrath did not weaken the will and patriotism of the Lebanese. However, lurking predators of this beautiful country chose to activate the 1943 constitution, and thus the Lebanese became slaves to sectarianism and political affiliation. The rulers were separated from the people. Financial and political corruption spread. Against the Maronite thieves there are their Shia, Sunni and Orthodox counterparts, including the Alawites, Protestants, and Syriacs. This corruption infiltrated the citizen. He sees violence in every spot, whether the Parliament, government or its Prime Minister, and even with their excellencies. A Lebanese is used to living under all circumstances, which is why he has accepted these increased restrictions on speech and the growing immunity of those in big positions who turned the concept of virtue into vice. Revealing their mistake has become a crime, exposing sins became a disaster, and condemning those who disregard people s destinies became a betrayal to national unity. The rulers became reassured that the people had forgotten their rights and duties. Forgetfulness became inevitable. The pressing need for jobs and bread has turned the citizen to a laborer, or rather a slave to those who would hired them even if the job was of a janitor or bailiff. The Lebanese who once prided themselves on their education, have now neglected their educational qualifications to seek jobs and food for their children from anywhere, though this also turned up to a bitter choice. Gradually, the citizen became a slave to their leader, be they a sect leader, an MP, or a minister. The bigshot corrupt people succeeded in tying the Lebanese to the chain of employment, education and securing a future abroad. A Lebanese s hope for their child is to have them emigrate to a better life. Even now the rulers and the people have become living “temporarily” in their homeland; neither are they family nor is this their country. The most radical protests from the Lebanese against their rulers were simple jokes in the cafes on immunity of these top people against criticism. But if the protesters came from a sect other than their own convicted of corruption, they criticize it in their homes and mock it among the members of their sect only. But suddenly the dream came true and demonstrators from all sects united under one flag. They stepped on the sects and revolted against the injustice and its people. The public dropped down all foreign influence and the Lebanese powers relying on it. The Lebanese were finally united in hunger, as they sought food and water from the leaders of each sect or party leader. The people suddenly became aware of their rights and unity. They remembered that they were once united, divided under the pretext of sectarian representation. Slogans calling for no solution but the departure of all rulers because the people are the decision-makers have dominated the scene. The Lebanese exposed their prime minister, who spent millions of dollars on a bikini-model. They degraded him, for had it not been for French President Emmanuel Macron, he would still be imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. The demonstrators stepped on pictures of all leaders and MPs in the largest uprising against corruption. The demonstrations served as public courts against those who stole railway tracks to recover land they had sold to the state to build compounds and private pools. They stole the land of the people twice. They destroyed agriculture to encourage import because its profits are higher. They destroyed national industry and closed the factories to make the Lebanese boast international brands, when once they were proud of their own clothes. Without any preparation, coordination or prior arrangement, the Lebanese realized that their homeland is being stolen through sectarian traps, and realized that they are one people in their demands and aspirations, whether personal or national. Awaking from their long slumber and slavery, the Lebanese noticed that they had no public hospitals or public schools, and even the national university is closed. Perhaps the Lebanese uprising will not win, yet half a victory or even a quarter is enough. But the real victory is that Nasrallah could not exercise his influence like in May 2007, when he occupied Lebanon. The patriarch did not even appeal to Christians to defend the Church. The March 14 bloc has withstood the anger. If the people are angry, they will not be silenced by any guns, influence or slogans. The current rulers – wallowing in their luxurious palaces overlooking private ports with their golden yachts- do not know a solution to the crises plaguing their homeland. Even if they knew it, they ignore it for fear that this will affect their political, sectarian and religious influence. The primary solution is that the rulers change their priorities, their tone of speech and give up their arrogance. “Fear God for Lebanon,” the call of the late Anwar Sadat after the assignation of Kamal Jumblatt, remains valid even now. They were betting that the revolution in Lebanon is impossible. But the homeland deserves to blow up this impossibility. Otherwise it will be overthrown by those who rule it. The revolution was impossible in this country of many sects; now it is a present fact at a level of a million-man protest. Without realizing the demands of the people, this revolution, this uprising, whatever its name will be, will continue.
I live in a neighbourhood in Cairo that hosts plenty of schools and colleges. On my way home a few days ago I shared a conversation with a number of university students who were also on their way home after finishing their classes. While walking home together, I heard them talking about politics. I respectfully asked to intervene, which they gracefully allowed me to do. I was attracted when I overheard the diversity in the conversation. And I was also alerted to the fact that there are many young Egyptians who do follow politics and understand the domestic and regional issues that the country is involved in. In just a few minutes of conversation with the students, I heard comments about internally contentious politics and the videos of the expatriate contractor Mohamed Ali, the economic reforms, the issues with Ethiopia and the matter of terrorism in Sinai. Here we have to pause to make several points. First of all, there are many young men and women talking about politics in Egypt, without their taking part in any violent actions or in any particular political organisations. Second, the level of political awareness within Egyptian society is definitely increasing, even among young people who do not necessarily subscribe to any political agendas. The experience of talking to these students led me to believe that it is necessary to adopt long-term policies on some of the political issues the Egyptian state is facing and explaining these to the younger generations that constitute the majority of Egyptian society. There are two points that need to be taken into consideration here. The first is how the state communicates with young people about politics, and the second is the need to develop long-term strategies to reach solutions to various political challenges. Both issues must be dealt with in parallel in order to resolve contentious issues within society. The state has been organising annual youth forums over recent years, in which meetings are held between representatives of the country s young people and the president. Although a fruitful process of interactions has taken place during these meetings between the highest executive of the state and the country s young people, long-term strategic plans may be of more use than episodes of regular interaction. There are many benefits to holding regular platforms for conversation, but there must also be a comprehensive platform where such meetings can result in positive results. Producing direct benefits from the politically aware youth of the country, and not merely communicating with them, could be of much greater benefit. Each one of the youth forums should thus come up with a list of recommendations that should be monitored by the state in order to see to it that they are acted upon. In this way, the state could make the best use of its interactions with the country s young people, with the latter being highly important owing to the demographics of Egyptian society. Egypt s current negotiations with Ethiopia over water security are part of another issue that is no less important for the country s young people. There are many concerns about the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) that Ethiopia is building on the upper Nile. Water security is indeed a strategic issue for Egyptian national security. It has become of paramount importance for today s young people, many of whom exhibit keen political awareness. It is also one of the main issues that require a long-term strategy from the Egyptian state in terms of both implementation and monitoring. Water security is also an issue that takes up a lot of space in public perceptions. Therefore, the course of action that the state should follow should take into consideration the effect of such concerns on politics in Egypt, particularly among the country s young people who have views on how the future should be formulated on domestic and regional issues. The expatriate contractor Mohamed Ali is another phenomenon that intersects with Egypt s young people, posing a threat that should not be ignored. Ali is causing arguments within the country s youth, and the allegations that Ali makes in his videos without providing any evidence to support them is one of the burning issues among popular public opinion. We need to ask how the questions concerning such issues are being manufactured. Because of the complete lack of evidence backing up any of his allegations, Ali lacks any form of credibility. However, the idea that YouTube videos could lead to threats of violent mobilisation should also be taken into consideration. There are also research questions that could be asked as to why such a figure can have an effect within the Egyptian public sphere. Although this effect is minimal, it exists nonetheless. Long-term strategies to counter such false information need to be developed. Several actors from civil society have already proposed solutions, but the state also needs a comprehensive strategy to deal with this issue once and for all. Once more, there is a dual track here, one side having to do with how to objectively discredit false information, and the other with the credibility of the state institutions that deal with political matters. In other words, the state institutions must develop a new relationship of trust with the country s young people by developing and adopting long-term strategies on various issues. Finally, there is the generation gap between the decision-makers in the Egyptian state and the country s young people who have political awareness on the ground. This gap could be bridged by adopting new policies to counter various political and social challenges. There are problems within Egypt that require the development of long-term policies that will not necessarily immediately yield results in the short term. However, these policies will eventually be reflected in practical decisions over longer timeframes depending on the overall political context. Regardless of the political contentiousness, there are many long-term strategies that Egypt must develop.
President Donald Trump stood in front of the microphone in the White House Diplomatic Reception Room and strafed the world with a barrage of lies and nonsensical, self-serving claims. We ve seen it before, but the spectacle Trump served on Wednesday when he bragged and boasted about his great achievement in Syria was even more grotesque than usual, because he sought to paint what has been a calamity for America s Kurdish friends -- and for US standing in the world -- as a great personal triumph. The "Alice in Wonderland" factor may have been lost on Trump s most devout followers, probably the intended audience for this spectacle of deceit, but the fact is that much of what Trump said wasn t just incorrect, it was the exact opposite of the truth -- contradicted even by the administration s own experts in remarks made recently and months earlier. In announcing that Turkey has agreed to a "permanent" ceasefire and taking credit for the possible end to the carnage he helped spark, Trump claimed, "We have done (Turkey and the Kurds) a great service," by removing US forces. Trump repeatedly lied about the American mission, which he said has lasted 10 years and was supposed to last 30 days. All of that is false, except for the great service to Turkey, which managed to gain everything it wanted from the US without making any concessions. Turkey has paid no price. The Kurds have lost the security and self-rule they enjoyed, and America has lost its credibility and influence in the Middle East, a vital region. Observers are openly asking who will trust America after this debacle. The low-cost, low-risk, high-return US mission had lasted a few years, and it never had a time limit. Turkey had long wanted the small American force to leave, seeking a free hand to remove the Kurds -- something the US sought to prevent until Trump s sudden and chaotic reversal. Trump didn t just give that to Erdogan, he wrapped it up as a nice gift, with acclaim for the Turkish autocrat and a prized invitation to visit the White House next month. The President s version of events was so divorced from reality that, only moments before he praised Erdogan, his own envoy to Syria, Amb. Jim Jeffrey, told Congress that the US has seen evidence of war crimes in a Turkish invasion he called "a tragic disaster." Trump lifted all the sanctions the US imposed on Turkey after it launched an invasion of Syrian territory that had been under control of the Kurds with US support -- until Trump agreed to remove US forces following a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan two weeks ago. The Turkish assault that followed Trump s abrupt withdrawal announcement forced hundreds of thousands of Kurds to flee their homes, prompting accusations of ethnic cleansing by Turkey and its allied Arab militias. Trump lied about the fate of ISIS, saying prisoners who were being guarded by the Kurds, are "under very, very strict lock and key," adding that a few who escaped had been "largely recaptured." Secretary of Defense Mark Esper just told CNN s Christiane Amanpour that more than 100 escaped, and Jeffrey told Congress, "We do not know where they are." Trump sought to throw sand in the eyes of his audience, pretending the past couple of weeks have been a triumph of US foreign policy. The precise opposite is true. According to the president, "People are saying, "wow, what a great outcome, congratulations. " It is, indeed, a great outcome for Vladimir Putin, who now becomes the dominant power broker in the area; for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, whose rule over all the Syrian territory has now become the official plan in a new Turkey-Russia agreement; for Iran, whose Syrian ally now gets to stay in power; for Turkey, who got to crush Syrian Kurds; and for Hezbollah, whose patrons now have the upper hand. His predecessor s Syria policy was disastrous, as many of us noted. It took Trump to unravel the one element that worked, and make a worse mess of the situation. In a moment of phony modesty, Trump said "It s too early for me to be congratulated," and proceeded to praise himself. It s not too early to note, as the Kurds and many others have, that Trump just authored a shameful, disastrous chapter in US foreign policy. No amount of lies and bluster can hide that fact.
In the recently held United Nation s Climate Action Summit, more than 70 countries committed themselves to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, however, major emitters have not yet done so. According to UN estimates, if our world is to avoid the climate catastrophe, we need to cut greenhouse emissions 45% by 2030, reach carbon neutrality by 2050, and limit temperature rise to 1.5 ˚C by the end of the century. But the question remains: who should pay the price of climate change? The problem is that climate change economic impact took its toll on poorer countries. Oxfam, a globally renowned aid and development charity, estimates that between 1998 and 2017, low-income countries reported climate-related disaster losses of $21bn, or an average of 1.8% of GDP.
The political fire on the streets of Lebanon is neither destructive so that it will consume the country, nor is it magically purifying so that Lebanon will emerge as a phoenix from the land of Phoenicia. Rather, it is a release of a long-simmering anguish in the Lebanese soul. This is healthy and could be the beginning of a new promise. Still, the anguish is deep, and it will not go away by protests, a change in government, or even fresh elections. The anguish stems from Lebanon s perpetual search for its meaning, and its perpetual failure to actualise any particular one. The meaning is the core. The state of Lebanon, founded almost a century ago, materialised the Maronite Christians long struggle for true independence from any regional lordship, be it Egyptian, Syrian, or Ottoman. The Maronites success, at the beginning of the 20th century, was in carving for themselves a place in the then crumbling Ottoman empire to be their political entity, recognised by their neighbours and protected by the Western powers that were then drawing the new lines in the sand. That entity was intended to be Maronite, not only in political leadership and social feel, but crucially in its identity. This meant the new state was anchored on the Maronites conviction of the notion of “Lebanon”and on their role in the Middle East. “Lebanon” in the Maronite psyche transcends the tangibility of the land; it is rooted in a religious view that this land, with “its sacred mountains”, embodies a certain manifestation of the Christ idea. And within that deep-rooted conviction lies a sense of martyrdom: of the suffering of Maronism at the hands of others (who, in this view of history, were the surrounding Sunni Muslim lordships, or at times, the ascendant Druze: their neighbours in the mountains). With regard to the role,the Maronites saw themselves as educators, intellectual leaders, cultural visionaries – basically, a bridge between the Arab-ness of the the Middle East and the West-ness of Europe. These convictions about the identity, the notion of Lebanon, and the role in the region were at the core of the political project that the Maronite Church led and which came into being in 1920, with the creation of the modern state of Lebanon. The materialisation of the state fuelled the ambitions. The Maronites, and with them in general the Eastern Christians who had surrounded and found refuge in the Maronite political project, were, indeed, the luminaries of some of the most progressive cultural projects in the Arab world at the time. And the largest among those were not even in Lebanon, but at the heart of the Arab world, at the centre from which the rays emanate to the rest of the region: Egypt. There, whether in education, journalism, theatre, or later cinema, Christian, and especially Maronite Lebanese, were leaders, directors, and true makers of those bridges of the imagination connecting Arab-ness with West-ness. It is not surprising that when the centre of gravity of Arab-ness moved from Egypt to the Arabian Peninsula, particularly to Saudi Arabia, the kings there turned to the Christian Lebanese for advice, not only on education and culture, but crucially on how to beautify the garb of the desert with sophistication and joie de vivre. To the Maronite mind, this was the role, the competitive advantage. The problem was that the political entity (the state that came about in the 1920s) turned out to be neither Maronite, nor even Christian. The tumult of the post-First-World-War Middle East meant that the Maronite dream had to accommodate itself within a bigger entity that included Sunni and Shia Muslims, along with the Druze. The notion of Lebanon, as per the Maronite view, got diluted. This was because neither the Sunnis, nor the Shias or the Druze have ever agreed to sign up to that notion of Lebanon. Actually, for some – including groups of the most prominent Sunnis who agreed to be part of the modern state of Lebanon – their identity was Syrian. Syria here is not a country, as much as another notion: the concentration of Sunni Islamism in the Levant. Those Muslims, and others, came into the new political creation that is Lebanon, with their own heritages, ambitions, hesitations even, and crucially with a vastly different view of what Lebanon ought to be, ought to mean. The existing together of all of those factions turned out to be tolerable – not because the different parties found love and harmony – but because there was a match between what Lebanon had to offer and what the Middle East, in the period from the 1930s to the 1960s, needed. Amidst multiple grand confrontations (between Arab Nationalism and the West, between Arab Nationalism and other interpretations of Arab-ness, and between Arab Nationalism and Islamism), the Middle East needed a ground to think, to talk, and to play. And Lebanon – primarily because of the Maronite competitive advantage – had what it took to meet those needs. Whether it was the permissive cafes of Al-Achrefieh and Ras-Beirut, or cabins and villas in Junieh and Al-Batroun, or the grand halls of the American University of Beirut, Lebanon was open for the talking, the thinking, and the playing. Lebanon rode the high, destructive waves that the Middle East was generating – with skill and luck. Its value was rising, for all around it. It was becoming not only the place for business to be conducted and pleasures to be sought; it became the place where the Arab imagination could be enriched or manipulated, especially as everywhere else around it, the minds, souls, and imaginations were gradually being closed down. Money rolled in. Laughs echoed high in the sumptuous rooms of the palaces in the mountains and the high-ceiling salons of Beirut s elegant apartments. The rulers of Lebanon intentionally set aside the differences of their histories, their identities, and their interpretations of what Lebanon is. Who would want to bring to the fore such abstractions at such good times? But times change. And after riding the high waves, Lebanon found itself under them. Lebanon was the victim of its success. The seductress who all had wanted became the one they actually fought to have. And gradually, the beauty that was showered with the gifts of admirers found itself at the very midst of their fights. The land of milk and honey became one of rivers of blood. But it was not “the wars of others in Lebanon” (as some Lebanese thinkers characterised the civil war from 1975 to 1990). The wars of the others brought to the fore that which the Lebanese had not wanted to discuss, to sort out, when the going was good. And what came to the fore was ugly. The blood that filled the cities, towns, and villages in those 15 long years was the price of a long failure of leadership, failure of politics, failure to pause and reflect and attempt to give a serious and sustainable answer to the fundamental question of: how to bring harmony, at least real conciliation, between very different understandings of the identity of Lebanon. The sad thing was that the war ended not because the fighters had come to accepting the others and their understandings of what “Lebanon” is. It ended because all were exhausted, and because geo-politics created a demand for the war in Lebanon to end. The US was willing to hand over Lebanon to Syria s Hafez Al-Assad in return for his acquiescence to what, at the time, were key American interests in the Middle East. And in the wake of the 1991 war to liberate Kuwait, a resurgent Saudi Arabia was willing to intervene. Saudi cajoled and effectively bought-off almost all of the combatants. The weapons were put down, and almost overnight, the war-lords, many of whom had not only killed “others” but had also killed and slaughtered among their own sects, became the faces of “peace”. With time, they entrenched themselves as the pillars of Lebanon s post-civil war political economy. Of course, those war-lords were the least qualified to try to reconcile the different ideas about the notion of Lebanon. Actually, some of the most qualified were consumed by the war, either literally or emotionally. The war consumed more than that. The blood that was spilled, the crimes that were committed, and the cruelty and barbarism that were unleashed left their shadows not only on the country s politics, but also on the prevailing psyche. But as always, every now and then, history offers an opportunity. The assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri struck the pride and stirred the dignity of many people. It ignited a flame which released an energy of renewal. New knights came to the illuminated bush; and some old warriors approached in what seemed to be repentance for old sins. It was a rare moment as the politics of Lebanon attempted to both: put forward a pragmatic way for the country to reinvent its system of governing (and of governance) and find a new meaning of Lebanon that brings together the different understandings and convictions of that notion. The potential of 2005 did not reside with one camp against another; was not in one view versus another. The potential was in the chance of change, of transcending the stronghold of the legacy and mindset of the war and what it has ushered in. Crucially, it was in bringing together the different components of Lebanon (all of them, by now, had established their presence, understandings,and traditions, as quintessentially Lebanese) to one table, on one premise: never to repeat the past and to forge a serious, sustainable basis for a truly one-Lebanon. But the flame of 2005 was put out by Lebanese, from all sides, from all sects. Not only did the country s extractive political economy remain in place; all the sins and ugliness that were there before remained as well. The statues of the grieving Virgin, dotted throughout the country s sacred mountains, were the true representatives of the psyche of Lebanon. If today s fire is neither the birthplace of the phoenix, nor a force of destruction…what is it, then? It could be a new flame, another hand history extends to Lebanon. It could mark the beginning of a journey. And for the journey to be successful, it must not be aborted in simple milestones (say, merely a new government). The journey must go all the way, where the different travellers arrive at the same shore: a single understanding of what Lebanon means. The often invoked mantra of “living together” has proven a mere first step. Lebanon not only deserves more than “living together”; it cannot function without finding an answer to its identity question. But two perils haunt that potential journey. The first is: succumbing to delusions of power. No one single identity, one single interpretation of Lebanon, can succeed in marginalising the other, either by weapons or rhetoric or by self-proclaimed righteousness. The second is moral infantilism. There are forces in Lebanon that have a strong tendency to see themselves as perpetual victims, to scope history from their narrow perspective, and with that goes a lot of doctoringof the truth. They also tend to see many of their killers as martyrs. Believing in this false history keeps them in a comfortable zone of fantasy. In turn, this keeps them from embarking on a journey of transformation. Lebanon is a special place – in terms of history and geography. But its dilemma goes far back. The dilemma was not in the past few years, and not in the period since the end of the civil war. It has been for the century that s the life of the modern Lebanese state.Those who love this beautiful country should hope that the current flame illuminate a new path, a journey towards a true salvation: where the Lebanese agree on what Lebanon is.
Protests in Lebanon have recently started up against poor economic conditions, quickly turning into a rejection of the entire ruling political class, with harsh slogans raised against the sectarian system and corruption in government and politics. Setting aside those trivial comments from a few ‘dull and unchivalrous’ Egyptians about the “beautiful” female protesters of Lebanon, to compare these protests with their counterparts in the Arab world must come from the perspective that the sectarian system is socially deep-rooted in Lebanon.
With a single stroke, President Donald Trump has effectively brought a newly resurgent and potent triad—Syria, Russia and Iran—to the very doorstep of their declared enemy, Israel, and given aid and comfort to Israel s longtime and persistent foe, Hezbollah, in Lebanon. The ceasefire and agreement with Turkey that Trump vaunted Thursday as "a great day for civilization," had already been demonstrated to be a potentially epic challenge to one corner of the world—Israel. It was a reality only highlighted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo breaking off from Vice President Pence s group in Ankara and taking a plane directly to Jerusalem to reassure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Friday morning. Suddenly, with not even a token American force remaining to monitor or check military activities of Russia, Iran or the Syrian army main force of President Bashar al-Assad, the entire map of the Middle East was being redrawn, and Israel left with few viable defenders. When the United States had even a minimal military presence in Syria, it was able to act as some restraint on aid that Iran was seeking to channel to this terrorist force, which continues to operate out of Lebanon, targeting Israel at every opportunity. In late August, anti-tank rocket attacks launched from Lebanon into northern Israel by Hezbollah led to the Israeli army responding with attacks on targets in southern Lebanon. Such effective shadow-boxing had been held in check by the apparent ability of Israel to interdict Iranian efforts to supply Hezbollah with arms and munitions through Syria. Now, with Syria reclaiming a large swath of the northeastern stretch of its country that had been held by the Kurds and their American allies, and with Russian forces moving as a backstop into the vacuum left by the US departure, Israeli efforts could become exponentially more complicated. At the same time, there is ever more leeway now for Syria, Russia and Iran to work their malevolence on a Lebanese government that is striving desperately to carve a middle road in the region. Hezbollah and Iran share a common religion—Shiite Islam—which has only opened up a host of problems for Hezbollah s principal host, Lebanon, as it tries to remain reasonably neutral in the Middle East and avoid a return to the decades of bloodshed during its civil wars of the 1980s. Hezbollah would like nothing better than a destabilized Lebanon bordering Israel s northern frontier. "Americans can t be trusted at all since they break promise with anyone who depends on them," said Seyed Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary general of Hezbollah, in a speech to his followers in Beirut on Wednesday, adding that the Kurds "fate awaits anyone who trusts Washington." Trump s new bond with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan—"a tough guy who deserves respect" and "my friend" as Trump described him after Wednesday s truce talks in Ankara, is also likely to have done little to reassure Israel. Turkey, which has moved into northern Syria with some impunity has demonstrated that it is no friend of Israel. Erdogan, accusing Israel of genocide against Palestinians in Gaza, has called it "a terrorist state." Until now, it has been possible for Israel largely to ignore Turkey s impact on the Middle East, and its efforts of rapprochement with both Russia and Iran. But that may no longer be possible. On Tuesday, Erdogan is planning to travel to the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The American withdrawal and Wednesday s ceasefire can have few positive results for Israel, where Trump s actions "have stirred discomfort within Netanyahu s conservative cabinet," according to Israeli media reports. Amos Harel, military correspondent for the liberal Haaretz daily, said Trump s moves have "forced Israel to rethink its Middle East strategy." After his session with Pompeo, Netanyahu was only somewhat more circumspect. "We hope things will turn out for the best," he told reporters. Indeed, Netanyahu is facing a Wednesday deadline to cobble together a new coalition government after the recent national elections and has still not managed to do so. In short, any number of nations in the region are beginning a frantic reassessment of just what this new map of the Middle East promises—beyond the immediate prospects of a new round of chaos and destruction, with the United States on the sidelines. Somehow Washington must find a way to channel to players like Israel and Lebanon military aid and diplomatic reassurance that can help neutralize an increasingly dangerous situation.
A series of major events has shaken a number of Arab countries recently, threatening their individual national security as well as collective Arab regional security. The most recent was the Turkish invasion into northern Syria, targeting Syria s Kurdish citizens. The invasion should come as no surprise to anyone. Ankara had been preparing for it for months in the framework of a US-Turkish understanding in accordance with which the US would withdraw its forces from border areas, leaving its allies, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), exposed and vulnerable. Then the US and Turkey would create a “safe zone” in which would be collected the remnants of the Islamic State (IS) group. The US president s subsequent statements about Washington s continued support for the Kurds could not cover up that agreement and its consequences, no matter how much verbiage was given to the need for Turkey to adhere to its obligations to keep civilians out of harm s way, not to attack the Kurds, and to take custody of some 32,000 IS prisoners and their families and to prevent them from making a terrorist comeback. Shortly before this development, Iran staged a direct drone and missile attack against Saudi oil installations. This was not the first incident of its kind. Not long before that came similar attacks against the Emirati Fujairah Port, against oil freighters in the Gulf and against Abha airport in Saudi Arabia. Houthi claims of responsibility did not exculpate Iran of using those weapons itself or by proxy. All available evidence shows that Iran was behind those attacks either directly or through the provision of money, arms and training. These incidents occurred after the US opened a door to interact with the terrorist Houthi group. Despite US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo s condemnation of Iranian behaviour as “a declaration of war” and despite Iran s downing of a US drone over international waters, the bottom line in the US response to Iranian actions was that they did not take place on US territory. Thirdly, after many years of negotiation and despite numerous appeals on the part of research centres and assessment teams concerning the potentially detrimental impacts of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on Sudan and Egypt, Ethiopia has once again moved to ignore Egypt s historical rights to the Nile, a transboundary watercourse. The US response to Ethiopia s attitudes was feeble and failed to appreciate Egypt s vital interests. How strikingly this contrasts with all the encourage Washington has given Israel, recently, by relocating the US embassy to Jerusalem and condoning the annexation of Jerusalem and the Golan and Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank. The foregoing developments and many others show that all regional powers bordering the Arab world — Iran, Turkey, Israel and Ethiopia — have tried in one way or another to exploit the “immune deficiency” that has afflicted the Arab region since the outbreak of the so-called Arab Spring in order to gobble up territory, expand their sway and augment their interests at the expense of Arab countries. If this tells us anything, it is that we need to thoroughly revise Arab strategies that have long been based on the existence of special relations with the US which would work to help us strike a balance with hostile regional powers, to build bridges with them or to deter their ambitions in our region. Actual practice has put paid to such thinking. Washington, under Donald Trump, is in a process of withdrawal. It is recoiling inward for fear of those “endless wars”, as Trump just put it a few days ago. The once mighty deterrent power has shrunk into a soft power that betrays its allies at every turn. Arab strategies also depended on special relations with other international powers, such as Japan, Germany, France and the UK, because of oil. But when it came to the crux, the reactions of those powers were not commensurate to the nature or magnitude of the crises. At best they made some ineffective stabs at mediating or other types of diplomatic action. But mostly, they were waiting for the US to shake itself out of its current mood as they struggled to contend with their own problems having to do with China, Brexit or the future of the EU. Lastly, our strategies were also informed by a belief that international law and UN bodies such as the General Assembly and Security Council had some special force when it came to settling disputes between the Arabs and their regional neighbours. Again, realities have proven that the force of law and these bodies carry little weight in the face of hostile powers bent on exploiting the current weakness of the international order in order to use military force for the purposes of blackmail and winning privileges and gains to which they have no right. These adverse developments are coming at time when Arab countries are working to implement radical reform programmes to set their countries and societies more firmly and dynamically on the path to progress and development. They do not need confrontations and tensions that obstruct the realisation of these goals and aspirations. Striking an appropriate balance between domestic and external challenges is not impossible once we come to the conviction that is pointless to wait for the US “Godot”. There are options available. Above all, formulating a new strategic revision should take place within an Arab framework and be based on what already exists, such as the quadripartite coalition and joint military manoeuvres, the most recent of which was the “Red Wave” joint exercises in the Red Sea. A feasible strategy must also be based on a clearer understanding of the contemporary global order in which the US is finished as the world s sole superpower, leader of globalisation and main driver of major technological developments in the world. The world has shifted to a tripartite order, headed by the US, China and Russia. The first is on its way out, the second is keeping its feet planted in the Middle East and the third is growing closer to this region s heart and has close relations with all parties. It should be stressed, here, that Russia, at present, holds the keys to the situation in the Levant and the complex weave of political and ethnic/sectarian relations that shape the Syrian crisis. Therefore, President Vladimir Putin s forthcoming visit to Saudi Arabia may offer hope for new opportunities. Perhaps the Russian proposal for a regional security conference will open the door to Arab action, especially when security and development are brought together into a single package. The details of such a concept are not the sort of thing to be bandied about in the press. They need to be studied and discussed soberly in political and diplomatic frameworks whose priorities are stability in the Middle East, preventing foreign intervention in the domestic affairs of Arab nations, the preservation of territorial unity and integrity, halting the arms race and pressing the fight against terrorism. The starting point is to condemn Turkish and Iranian military interventions in the region and to establish relations based not just on nonaggression but also on good neighbourliness, mutually beneficial exchanges, a halt to antagonistic propaganda and ceasefires on all battle fronts, whether in Yemen or in Syria. An Arab summit is needed in order to set this in motion and its main focus would be to consider how to forge a new and serious Arab strategy.
Unfettered by global condemnations and warnings, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has launched an invasion on a sovereign state, targeting Syria s Kurdish population in a ferocious attack. Through his “Fountains of Peace” Operation, Erdogan hopes to crush Kurdish resistance fighters, especially the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) fighters and Syrian Kurdish fighters who are members of the Syrian Democratic Army. But this is only part of Erdogan s grand plan for Syria, since he has greedy ambitions for hegemony in the region extending to Syria and northern Iraq and not ending there. The operation is a desperate attempt by Erdogan to regain the momentum of his Islamist expansionist ambitions that were reversed by the fall of the Islamist regime in Egypt in June 2013 and then the fall of some of his staunchest allies including former Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir. A pattern of anti-Islamist sentiment has grown in the region, with countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates banning the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood. Moreover, the Libyan army led by Khalifa Haftar is closing in on liberating the capital Tripoli from the clutches of the Muslim Brotherhood-led government and its allied jihadist militants despite the military and financial support it receives from Turkey and Qatar. Erdogan has had to gamble militarily in Syria in order to try to break the cycle of defeats he has been suffering across the region. That has been made even more pressing because of domestic disgruntlement against his tyrannical rule following years of oppression and iron-fist policies. Destroying the Kurdish resistance has always been high on Erdogan s agenda, and the latest invasion of Syria by Turkey is an attempt to finalise the problem once and for all by occupying the Kurdish-populated north of the country in order to quell any possible rebellion and calls for independence emanating from the region. As a result, Erdogan is committing his latest genocide against the Kurdish population in Syria through a new operation that carries a name that has nothing to do with its true aggressive nature. It is similar to the “Olive Branch” Operation carried out by the Turkish army in 2018, which ended up in the massacre in Afrin in Syria that saw the deaths of some 500 civilians. Early Turkish army reports indicate that the invasion in its first day left over 270 Kurdish fighters killed, and indications of a massacre can be found in reports that over 40 civilians were also killed directly as a result of shelling or even murder either by Turkish forces or allied Syrian militant groups. Hevrin Khalaf, a Syrian Kurdish politician and leader of the Future of Syria Party, was killed in the bombing. This brave woman had been an advocate of democracy in Syria and had resisted the Turkish invasion. Women and children were reportedly killed and injured during the first hours of the incursion. Over 100,000 civilians have also fled northern Syria, causing a new human catastrophe in the war-torn country. Moreover, an estimated 100,000 members of the terrorist Islamic State (IS) group including women and children are held in Kurdish-controlled camps in the region. Among them are about 12,000 foreign fighters of various nationalities whose countries have refused to permit them to return home. These terrorists are now on the verge of escaping as fighting breaks out with the Turkish invaders. The Kurdish fighters have declared that they will prioritise defending their homes and territory rather than guarding the prisoners, which signals another catastrophe in the making. Should these IS fighters flee, they will likely either join their terrorist comrades in Syria and Iraq or attempt to reach Libya or Egypt in case they decide to fight on in the region. This is what Erdogan hopes to attain as he has used the services of IS to serve his vile ambitions over the past five years. Other IS members may choose to return to their European countries of residence, which would spell disaster for European security. This danger has caused European Union members to condemn the Turkish attack and demand an immediate halt to it, particularly as the fallout from this operation will be felt in European cities later on. France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Norway and Holland have frozen weapons exports to the Turkish regime in an attempt to force Erdogan to yield to demands to cease his military operation. Similarly, the members of the Arab League have condemned the Turkish attack on northern Syria and have vowed to issue a series of sanctions against the Turkish state even if they have not yet indicated what these will be. It goes without saying that the Arab states resolutions unfortunately leave a lot to be desired in terms of a truly decisive stance against Turkish ambitions for hegemony. Prior to Erdogan s military campaign, US President Donald Trump committed one of his worst mistakes thus far by announcing the complete withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria where they had been part of the International Coalition to fight IS. Many considered Trump s move to be a stab in the back for the Kurds, who had fought side by side with the US in combating IS and had managed through enormous sacrifices to assist in destroying its so-called caliphate. Turkey has not spared the remaining US troops in its blind shelling of the region, even as the Pentagon has announced it might retaliate if this occurs again. The United States has also declared that it is mulling over imposing sanctions against the Turkish regime if it does not cease its hostilities despite the US abandonment of the Kurdish fighters. Meanwhile, Erdogan has praised his invading troops, labelling them “Muhammadan forces” in an attempt to paint the atrocities being committed by his marauding army in religious colours. As usual, the genocidal operation has been applauded by Erdogan s Islamist allies in Qatar and by Muslim Brotherhood members and media across the region. However, Erdogan s attempts to portray himself as a leader for the Muslims or a modern form of caliph will always fall on hard ground. His expansionist ambitions have been met by realities that he appears unable to understand, namely that in the 21st century and regardless of how much force he can muster the Turkish army s capabilities remain limited in the face of regional powers including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. This is not even to mention the forces of the three global powers of the United States, Russia and China, all of which will mean that Erdogan s dreams of a new Ottoman caliphate are simply delusions. Erdogan s real concern should not be ruling over the rest of the Muslims across the world, but ruling the rest of the Turks in fact, since they are growing weary of his mad adventures. Erdogan s days as Turkey s president are numbered regardless of the draconian measures he uses to instil fear into the hearts of Turkish citizens. “Aggression unchallenged is aggression unleashed” wrote the Roman writer Phaedrus (15 BCE - 50 CE), a saying that seems to describe how the international community has treated Erdogan s repeated war crimes. Until Erdogan s aggression is met firmly, the world will need to brace itself for the next genocide to take place in Syria or elsewhere, as the Turkish president drives the region into wars that sooner or later will have global repercussions.
What was President Donald Trump thinking when he abruptly announced that he had agreed to reverse years of US policy in Syria and withdraw American forces, clearing the way for Turkey to launch an attack on what had been loyal US allies, handing a long-sought victory to America s foes, including Iran and Russia Indeed, Trump s decision came as a shock to America s Kurdish friends in Syria, who reportedly found out about America s betrayal from a tweet. "You are leaving us to be slaughtered," a Syrian Kurd leader told a US diplomat. Americans on the ground knew it. They knew many would die. Some Green Berets there said they felt "ashamed." US allies worried that if Trump (meaning the United States) can suddenly betray its friends without warning, they could be next. The decision, made after a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, caused an easy-to-foresee chain reaction of disasters so egregious, that even many of Trump s most loyal Republican backers were appalled. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has bent and broken rules and norms to defend Trump, warned that a sudden withdrawal of US forces, "would only benefit Russia, Iran and the Assad regime." Sen. Lindsay Graham called the move, "the biggest blunder of [Trump s] presidency." Rep. Liz Cheney called it a "shameful disaster." Late on Monday, Trump announced new economic sanctions against Turkey for its "destabilizing actions in northeast Syria." If nothing else, this is an acknowledgment that the removal of US troops was a grievous mistake. But that in no way excuses it; rather, it highlights how disastrously incoherent, chaotic and contradictory the policy is. Trump s Syria decision is so harmful, that it is imperative we find out what was behind it. What exactly did Trump and Erdogan say to each other on that phone call? Why did Trump agree to stand back and allow Erdogan s forces -- the Turkish army and Islamist militias -- to make their move? These are compelling questions that demand an answer. Congress should require that Trump turn over a complete transcript or recording of the call with Erdogan. In fact, we also need to find out what exactly Trump has discussed with Putin on this issue. The transcripts don t need to be released to the public. Maybe a joint committee of Congress or even a panel of judges can hear the evidence. But the steps and reasoning that led to this catastrophic self-inflicted wound on American security and standing in the world must be scrutinized. If Trump refuses, we will know he has something to hide. American presidents enjoy a great deal of latitude, particularly on foreign policy. Trump, like his predecessors, has a right to make the wrong strategic decisions. He has a right to make stupid mistakes. God knows previous US presidents have made them before. But presidents must make these decisions, even foolish ones, based on what they think is in the best interest of the United States. Trump s order to clear the way for a Turkish attack on US allies does not meet that most basic test. There is no reason to expect that America will gain absolutely anything from this costly policy reversal. It goes against every geopolitical objective of the Unites States. Trump s claim that this was a move to "end endless wars," is baseless. This force was already a low-cost mechanism for ending endless wars, for preventing new ones and for keeping existing ones from getting worse. Even if he wanted to withdraw, why do it without preparation? To be sure, President Obama made terrible mistakes in Syria, but this small force, built over the course of half a decade, achieved impressive results. The Syrian Kurds were a force multiplier. They did most of the fighting against ISIS, losing thousands of men and women warriors. (Yes, women are an integral part of the Kurdish forces that Turkey views as a terrorist organization.) America s low-cost presence was a success story, helping to bring a measure of stability to northeastern Syria, curtailing Iran s advance and blocking Tehran s efforts to build a continuous land bridge to the Mediterranean -- aimed partly at threatening Israel -- and limiting Russia s advances The chances of war between Iran and Israel are now greater. The strength of Russia is enhanced as its ally Assad recaptures more of Syria, and emerges more beholden to Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. And then there s ISIS. If Obama s withdrawal from Iraq helped bring ISIS to life, Trump s withdrawal from Syria may just bring it back from near-death. The stain will not soon wash away. America s betrayal left the Syrian Kurds -- who have been trying to develop a working democracy -- with no other choice but to get help from Assad, the Syrian dictator who slaughtered civilians using chemical weapons and starvation tactics. America has betrayed its friends before, but it was always in the face of a profound moral dilemma. A moral compromise to avoid something worse, or to gain something different. But there was no dilemma here. Why did Trump do it? The President already told us, before becoming president, that he had "a little conflict of interest" with Turkey, where he has substantial business concerns, including not one but two Trump towers. But maybe that has nothing to do with it. Maybe it was just arrogance, carelessness, hubris. Under normal circumstances, we might shake our heads at Trump s decision; call it a horrible mistake and make the best of it. But these are not normal circumstances, and this is not just any poor tactical move. This foreign policy travesty demands answers.
The People s Republic of China celebrated 1 October the 70th anniversary of its founding. President Xi Jinping presided over the celebrations that included an 80-minute military parade that displayed the new-found might of the People s Liberation Army (PLA) and the unveiling of very powerful and long-range missiles. For example, the DF-41 has a range of 15,000 kilometres, which makes it the longest-range missile in the world. Also on display was the DF -17, a nuclear-capable glider that could reach the United States. The parade showed, too, the formidable advances that China has achieved in unmanned systems and electronic warfare. The top leadership of the State and the Communist Party were assembled atop the rostrum at the “Gate of Heavenly Peace.” Among the top leadership figured two former heads of states. President Xi waved at his own portrait that was put beside a banner reading, “Carry out Xi Jinping s Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics.” In his remarks, President Xi referred to China s “century of humiliation” stressing that, “no force can shake the status of our great motherland, and no force can stop the Chinese people and the Chinese nation from marching forward.” As to the role of the PLA, the Chinese president emphasised that it “will serve its purpose in safeguarding the sovereignty, security and development interests of the country, and world peace”. He called on the ruling Communist Party and the country to unite and continue fighting for the realisation of what he described as the “Chinese Dream” and the nation s rejuvenation. He promised that the Chinese government would uphold the “one country, two systems” idea and it would protect the long-term stability of Hong Kong and Macau. As to Taiwan, he said that Beijing would stress the goal of “peaceful reunification” with the island state. It was interesting to see President Xi wearing a Mao suit instead of the normal dark suit. The message couldn t be clearer. It was a reaffirmation of the foundational legitimacy of the Chinese Revolution. It is interesting as well to note that President Xi, accompanied by a group of very senior Chinese officials, visited the mausoleum of the founder of the People s Republic, Mao Zedong on 1 October. It was the first time since the end of the Cultural Revolution that a Chinese head of state paid an official visit to the Great Helmsman, Mao Zedong. The Chinese president wanted to make clear that the revolution still lives on, stronger than ever. In fact, the whole celebrations were meant to highlight the progress that China has achieved and the military might it has developed. The use of the expression “no force” could impede China going forward was meant as an implicit warning to any international power, or a group of like-minded powers, that would try to enter into confrontation with China to slow its resurgence on the world scene as a great power. At the forefront of these powers, the United States is first. The celebrations of the founding of the People s Republic comes amidst a host of domestic, regional and international challenges facing a rising China. Domestically, the rates of growth of the Chinese economy have stalled while the tariff war between China and the United States has started taking a toll on the economy. And no one can predict when this trade confrontation will end. It is a war of nerves between Washington and Beijing that gets more complicated by the day due to the unstable political situation in Washington in light of the impeachment inquiry that the House of Representatives with its majority of Democrats has launched. Some people believe that the weakened American president would settle for less than he aspired to in terms of a global and fair trade agreement with China. If this proves true, the big winner would be President Xi. On the domestic front, the deteriorating political situation in Hong Kong poses one of the greater challenges that President Xi has to face. It was no coincidence that the Hong Kong demonstrations took a violent turn 1 October. The issue is not Communist Party rule, but rule by China and the Chinese president. Hong Kong has started to look like a trap for President Xi. Hong Kong experienced some of the most widespread scenes of violence in many years. One student protester died of a gun shot by a policeman, the first victim since the youth demonstrations began in Hong Kong in June. The police said the shooting came in self-defence as the victim was wielding an iron bar at the policeman. Whatever the reason, with the death of the 18-year-old student, the situation has become almost explosive. The executive authority in Hong Kong invoked emergency powers to prohibit demonstrators from wearing masks. However, the students defied the order. The last time Hong Kong experienced living under emergency powers was in 1967 when the British had to deal with students demonstrating in support of the Cultural Revolution on the mainland. What an irony. Professor Ho-Fung Hung, a professor of political economy at Johns Hopkins University, commented on the massive demonstrations in Hong Kong that coincided with national celebrations on mainland China. “It is a dark turn,” he said. He believes the student movement and the conflict have “passed the point of no return, and the use of live ammunition is adding fuel to the fire”. Regionally and internationally, the United States is leading a strategy of containment against China with support from strategic partners, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region, while deliberately challenging the Chinese navy in the South China Sea to uphold the principle of freedom of navigation in international waters. Will the strategy of containing China succeed in preventing the gradual and inescapable rise of China as a superpower in the second half of the 21st century? The odds are not great. Maybe it would be better for the United States to accommodate the rise of China and enter into a functional strategic cooperation with Beijing to serve their best mutual interests in North East Asia, Southern and Central Asia and the Gulf plus the Arabian Sea, and the approaches of Bab Al-Mandab at the southern entrance of the Red Sea. Such a path forward will guarantee peace and security for decades to come.
Arab states have been through the toughest time of all. For the first time since their establishment, many of those states have been shattered by corruption, political differences, and foreign intervention, not to mention terrorism. The only institution that would have been capable of tackling such difficult files, which is the Arab League, is practically lost and became inactive, to say the least. It has been rather hard for any of the Arab states to singlehandedly solve any of the region s multiple issues,nor could the Arab League. Currently, we have several bleeding nations and Yemen comes at the top of them. The story of the Yemeni conflict has turned into a timebomb that could at any time explode at the doorsteps of the Gulf of Aden. In Libya, the issue is bigger than securing the unity of the Libyan territoriesandmaintaining the country s oil wealth.It s rather containing the impact of terrorism which has been threatening the neighbouring states with a clear international collusion. Despite the fact that countries such as Iraq and Syria have degraded the terror threat since the spectre of terrorism has retreated, the two countries have been struggling to get through the rehabilitation process which calls for Arab support, if not intervention. There are various regional and international powers that have been looking forward for the collapse of Damascus and Baghdad to create a new order that achieves their interests.Thus, Arab support would have been of great value for the two states. The dilemma of the Arab League which has been paralysed due to internal Arab conflicts has been a headache to its secretary-general, Ahmed Abul-Gheit. He explained to the present writer that the aggravation of internal conflicts among Arab states has side-tracked the League s role, benefiting some regional powers such as Turkey and Iran, and super powers such as the United States and Russia, in addition to Israel. The latter has been getting greedier and more voracious to control Arab territories as has been the case in the occupied West Bank, the Golan Heights and Jerusalem. We are currently facing a grave risk that calls for a strong and unified Arab stand. All parties have been paying dearly for the deterioration of the inter-Arab ties and regional polarisation has been high on the agenda of most Arab states. In most cases, Arab countries are looking forward to a foreign ally instead of calling on its natural Arab allies. The gap has been increasingly wide and the roads took each and every one of us to a different direction. Thus,it became easy to devour Arab lands. We are unable to see the path to saving their countries: Arab cooperation. Several Arab states have been paying hundreds of billions of dollars to maintain their security and pile up the most expensive weapons. If those billions were invested in the region s economy instead of war or to enhance trade exchange among Arab states, it would have created a strong bloc of an Arab nation. If those billions were used to develop industries, the banking system or to make better use of our natural resources, we would have been in no need to pile up all the machinery of the West to protect us from our neighbours. If we invested in strengthening our institutions like the Arab League, the Maghreb Union and the Gulf Cooperation Council, we would have been able to overcome the internal difficulties and differences that made the three institutions no more than a toothless lion. The Arab League would have played the role of the honest broker, capable of settling the Arab nation s problems and giving no room for the intervention of foreign parties that play to their interests. The super powers have been working to promote the ongoing conflict in the region to get the most out of its resources. The president of the United States, Donald Trump, has not moved a finger against Iran which shot down a US drone, saying almost nothing but vicious rhetoric that kept the Iranian threat all over the place. The silent and sometimes blindfolded presence of the US in this region has encouraged Tehran to enhance its operations in a number of Arab states. Turkey has also been extending its influence in Libya in support of some terrorist groups there, which is very much the same situation in Damascus where the Turkish support of terrorist groups in Adlib has become obvious. In Iraq, both Turkey and Iran are playing a leading role. What has been going on in Iraq is echoed in Yemen, but Arabs have not learned the lessons yet. The best possible and cheapest yet effective solution to the Arabs dilemma is to go back to their natural allies; to their Arab neighbours, to try to find out solutions to their problems. They should become a unified bloc politically, economically and socially. They should try to get rid of the US, the Russian, the Turkish and the Iranian umbrella in favour of their own. Only then will Arab states become a regional power that is hard to defeat and harder to fight.
Did you know that one out of five Egyptians is a girl below the age of 17? Today, the country comprises around 19 million girls and this number is expected to grow to 21 million Egyptian girls by 2030. Why does this matter? Because in Egypt, girls are more vulnerable to illiteracy, more likely than their brothers to never attend school, to leave school early, or to skip school. And that matters for the future of Egypt. Egypt has successfully prioritized gender equality within its Sustainable Development Strategy 2030 and the National Women Empowerment Strategy is paving the way for a more equitable society. There are some clear positive trends in terms of reducing inequalities between boys and girls, such as the educational attainment levels for males and females in the 15-19-year-old age group, which are much closer than they used to be for older generations. In fact, for the 15 to 19 age group, the proportion of girls who had completed secondary education in 2015 was higher than that of boys (10.7% and 9.2%, respectively).
The 74th Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations opened Tuesday, 24 September, amidst rising tensions in the Middle East and the Gulf. Two dates preceded the inauguration of this session that would have an impact on future developments in these two regions. On 14 September, Saudi oil installations came under direct attack in a brazen escalation of an already tense security situation in the Gulf. On 17 September, Israel held its second general election in less than six months — a first in the history of the Hebrew state — that saw the Blue and White Party garnering 34 seats while the Likud gained 32. It was political gridlock at a time when the world is awaiting the announcement by the White House of its “Deal of the Century” to reach a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Once, former President Hosni Mubarak said “I do not like working amid pressure”, in response to calls for demonstrations that began to increase in 2005 and the emergence of the Kefaya (Enough) movement in the streets in reaction to increased prices, increased unemployment, rigged elections, and efforts to amend the constitution to start implementing the succession agenda. Three decades earlier, on January 17 and 18, 1977 specifically, Sadat backed away from the government s decisions to raise prices, as he saw a reduction of Arab support and increased American pressure to attract him to negotiations with Israel. President Mubarak s regime couldn t escape from the abyss, while President Sadat managed to pass the crisis peacefully and temporarily, until his regime fell because of arrest campaigns on September 5, 1981, which was criticized by both opponents and supporters, including his wife Jehan Sadat. People are the source of legitimacy, and one of the major disasters that toppled other leaders in Latin America, Asia, Africa and elsewhere was simply that leaders assumed that their legitimacy was found in foreign capital. Of course vanity alongside the above was also one of the most important factors that toppled some of these systems. To sum up, politics is the art of the possible, knowing when to put pressure and when to back down, bargain, negotiate, leave something in exchange for giving an alternative, and so on. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in his political approach pointed out that the poor endured a lot for their country and for the implementation of the economic reform program, and sometimes he even pointed out that this endurance was also for his sake. He praised this endurance a lot. Therefore, the president acted intelligently when he realized that the people are the source of legitimacy, and that satisfying those who bear a lot to pass the economic crisis is a must. All this was behind the reduction in fuel prices and some food commodities. External pressures were some of the constraints disregarded when prices decreased. Amid the war on terror and attempts by some countries to blockade Egypt economically in the hope of a fictitious return to the Muslim Brotherhood s activities, reducing the prices of some goods was a commendable deed. The internal criticism by government supporters on the decision to cut prices, because of the timing, was not right at all. The price cuts came after two weeks of calls to demonstrate and take to the streets because of dissatisfaction with rising poverty, prices and more. But all of this is countered by the fact that people are the source of legitimacy, and statesmanship requires passing crises at the moment of their eruption, like extinguishing a fire with a large amount of water. Justifying the price cuts with the reason that a committee from the Petroleum Ministry discussed the pricing of fuel and found it necessary to reduce it, and the explanation that the foreign currency exchange rate decreased against the Egyptian pound was a major reason for lowering prices, had not been received positively. Honesty and satisfying those who are the source of the legitimacy of any political system ,the people, is not degrading or discouraging, but is actually one of the secrets to the survival of political systems, keeping it young and strong. The political leadership s awareness of the movements on the street, both in realizing what delights them, as well as responding in a timely manner, will constitute as long as it exists a significant weight on its side in front of its source of legitimacy.
Our subject is climate change. It is not one we are particularly fond of but the mainstream media is obsessed with it, inundating us with headlines and articles, so here we go again to examine the issue one more time. The United Nations held a climate change conference in New York, which was attended by, among others, a 16-year-old Swedish teenager, Greta Thurnberg, who hypnotised the world by her articulate, highly emotional diatribe on the state of our planet. “How dare you,” she reprimanded her elders for allowing such disregard for the Earth s health. Something must be done to save it, warning her listeners, “We will be watching you.” Was she able to convert you by her eloquence and conviction? Her thesis is that members of this and previous generations have been sinfully negligent in their use of greenhouse gases, endangering her future and her generation. While her listeners were aghast, the media was buzzing with glee. How influential was the voice of a girl so young. We watched her over and over as she called for her generation to strike against such a crime. Millions of students around the world, from Austria to Tanzania, swarmed the streets of their cities, calling for action against greenhouse gases. The very inactive, suddenly became active. Who can move four million kids, usually stuck to their smart phones to heed such a call or even care about it? Only a leader can do that. Obviously, she is one. Her dramatic delivery came naturally as she is the daughter of an opera singer mother, an actor father and grandfather. She has been an activist since age eight. She would stand in front of the Swedish parliament with signs calling for climate control. More often than not she would be joined by her schoolmates. Would you call this a normal behaviour by a teenager? Critics descended upon her calling her “a nuisance with a simplistic approach and unscientific attacks”. Australian denier Andrew Bolt said “she was freakishly influential for a girl so young with so many mental disorders.” Even Emmanuel Macron, a climate advocate, ascribed that “such radical positions antagonise society.” While her fear is understandable, she does not know what solutions to put forward, nor do most scientists. Cut, decrease, limit, diminish, cry the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, finally finding an issue which may lead to success. Some 200 scientists were gathered a few, or none are climatologists supporting the consensus on anthropogenic climate change, caused by human activities. Greenhouse gases emitted by humans alter the Earth s energy balance and its climate. Hundreds of atmospheric scientists worldwide, beg to differ. They have a variety of reasons, none include greenhouse gases. A consensus of 25 scientists believe the projections are likely to be inaccurate due to the inaccuracy of current global climate modelling. All the models are wrong. More than 38 scientists believe that the observed warming is more likely to be attributable to natural causes than to human activities. Then there are those who argue that the cause of global warming is unknown, what courage to admit that they do not know. Nobel laureate of 1998 Kary Miller is one among many who ascribe to the possibility that rising temperatures could be natural or man-made. Others believe that the effects will be few and negative. Our limited space does not permit the listing of these august scientists, far superior to UN random picks. We cannot fail to mention 10 recently deceased scientists who all stood against mainstream scientific assessment of global warming, among them New Zealand s renowned meteorologist and professor of atmospheric science August “Augie” Avir (1940- 2016). The UN issued a 12-year ultimatum on climate change, a misleading statement, ringing once again their alarm bells, before the world as we know it is lost. Environmental Scepticism is the belief that claims by environmentalist scientists are false or exaggerated. However, we must not dismiss their findings altogether but demand further discussion and more proof than the existing evidence. The popularity of scepticism was enhanced by Bjorn Lomborg s 2001 book The Skeptical Environmentalist. Lomborg approached environmental claims from a statistical and economic standpoint were overstated. However, countries like China, the US, India, 10 of them are feebly trying to reduce greenhouse gases, just in case it is not science fiction as Amitar Gosh claimed in 2016. Richard Millar of Oxford University in his article on the Carbon Brief website writes, “We have a little more breathing space than previously thought”, and the Natural Geoscience publication wrote, “Fear of global warming is exaggerated.” Even The Times front page admitted the world is warming slower than predicted. Media coverage was a clear spin in what they were trying to put across. Mainstream scientists had a vested interest in alarm. Remember Obama s solar energy factories that shutdown at a loss of $50 billion. Many more such investments have not come to fruition. Carbon Capture, a book by Howard Herzog states that “the best way to remove carbon dioxide from the air is not to release it into the air in the first place.” It is not even funny. What Natalie Nahowald wrote, “It is monumental but not impossible,” sounds better. We must first find the tools before we can actually put them to use. Can we? Not only we can but according to non-sceptics, we must. “Nature goes her own way, and all that to us seems an exception is really according to order.” Goethe, Johann Wolfgang (1749-1842)
It still dominates large sectors inside and outside the country: a fear and perhaps panic about the issue of demonstrations. These feelings confirm that we have not yet been able to co-exist with demonstrations or consider them to be a normal occurrence that impact all societies. Jordan witnessed for months the famous Fourth Circle sit-ins protesting high prices and the lifting of subsidies on some goods. Those protests did not bring down the regime. The Jordanian state dealt with the sit-ins in a way that caused them to seem normal, without resorting to hysteria about conspiracies and treason. In one of my visits to Morocco last year, I saw a demonstration in front of the parliament in which tens of thousands took part in Hirak al-Rif (The Rif Movement). They chanted slogans that criticized the king–an uncommon event in the Moroccan political system. However, the authorities deliberately sanctioned the protest, because they had a more important message: Yes, I will tolerate demonstrations, even if some of their slogans exaggerate. In fact, there are many examples of dealing with demonstrations as such in Arab (not European) countries. There are “good” paths for expressing feelings of anger, rejection or unrest. These paths are distinct from incitement, vandalism and demolition. In other words, there is someone inside these regimes who considers engaging opponents a necessity and moves them towards reformist, rather than revolutionary, goals. There are those who say that Egypt is targeted and that there is incitement against it from outside its borders. This is partly true, because inflammatory speeches have indeed been made outside the country s borders. But it is also certain that there is a natural, internal source inside the oldest democracies rejecting some or many of its policies and wanting to protest and perhaps demonstrate. So shall we push that source toward other instigators on the same side? People have the right to object to demonstrations in a country that suffers from many economic problems and needs to consolidate values of work and production. However, those same people must have the integrity to reject the demonstrations of supporters and opponents, and not sanction some and ban others. We should not panic because of a demonstration. Nor should we treat every demonstration as part of a conspiracy. The day must come when we distinguish between the mass of people, which includes supporters and opponents, that refuses to demonstrate and a minority that may see a solution in protest. If we open the door for people to express what is inside of them, the vast majority of them will not go for extremist options and inflammatory messages from across borders, because they will find a place for themselves in the political system–a much different scenario than abounding calls for sabotage and instigation, which have no place anywhere.
Egypt s modern history has never been a walk in the park for many people, and it has unfortunately been marred by various invasions, wars, periods of ebb and flow, and times of recession. However, the Egyptian people have withstood the test of time for millennia and have kept the natural borders of the oldest state in the world intact while maintaining their unique civilisation. This story of determination and endurance is the story of the modern Egyptians. The years following the 25 January 2011 and 30 June 2013 Revolutions in Egypt, with the latter ending in the ousting of Islamist rule, have not been easy, and they have been perhaps the hardest the nation has faced since the end of the Egyptian-Israeli wars and the signing of the Camp David Peace Treaty in the late 1970s. In fact, many Egyptians believe that the current existential war facing Egypt is much more ferocious than the wars of the 20th century. The Muslim Brotherhood terrorist organisation and its affiliates such as the Islamic State (IS) group and Al-Qaeda dreamed of ruling the country for over eight decades and managed to stay in power for only one year, however, and its dream of establishing a dynasty or a caliphate that would last for five centuries, according to its rhetoric, was thwarted by the Egyptian army in June 2013. Today, the organisation is acting like an injured animal and fighting a ferocious war against Egypt while operating from abroad. The Brotherhood has made a pact with the devil in the shape of the Turkish and Qatari regimes, which have provided it with huge financial, political and media resources along with arms for its militias. As a result, Egypt faces the most ferocious terrorist wave in its history, but thanks to the dedicated sacrifices of its patriotic armed forces and police the country has managed to repel this wave and turn the tide of battle. However, Egyptian heroes still fall every day, the last time being on 27 September, when four Egyptian army officers and soldiers were killed and 10 others were injured in an attack on one of the security checkpoints in North Sinai. Such sacrifices have not been in vain, as the Egyptian army continues to pound terrorist hideouts across the county and has managed to kill 118 terrorists in Sinai, the Western Desert and near the southern borders with Sudan in the recent period. The Egyptian army has made sure that all who get involved in acts of aggression against the country will be punished severely, and operations continue to uproot the remnants of the Brotherhood terrorist group and its allies. On the political front, Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan has attempted to rally the international community against Egypt by claiming that an investigation must be conducted into the death of his ally, the ousted former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, who died in prison. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry has responded with strongly worded statements against the Turkish regime since the beginning of the crisis in June 2013. It has exposed the barbaric activities of that regime, which has imprisoned 75,000 political prisoners in terrible conditions amidst the threat of torture in Turkish prisons. The ministry has reminded the world of the war crimes committed by the Turkish regime in both Syria and Iraq against Kurdish populations, with these still ongoing today. The Egyptian state is caught up in a cold war with the Turkish regime, and relations between the two countries will not mend as long as Erdogan remains in power. On the domestic front, Egypt faces an unprecedented media campaign orchestrated by a treacherous contractor operating from Spain and backed by Muslim Brotherhood and other turncoats. It is the most ludicrous attempt yet by these elements to whip up dissatisfaction with the government led by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, propagated for weeks by the terrorist-backing Aljazeera TV network and the Turkish Anadolu News Agency. Much to the dismay of these organisations, the Egyptian nation has stood firm against calls for chaos coming from abroad. Meanwhile, the diplomatic conflict with Ethiopia is ongoing as the Ethiopian government has been refusing demands for negotiation over the flow of the Nile River after the completion of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam that threatens the water supply to Egypt. As Egypt acquires 95 per cent of its water needs from the Nile, any tampering with the Nile s flow will affect the livelihood of over 100 million Egyptians. This means that Egypt cannot sit idly by, and that it must place all options on the table to prevent a catastrophe that could affect its water resources as a result of the Ethiopian government s lack of proper appreciation of the gravity of the situation for Egypt. During his speech to the UN General Assembly in New York delivered in September, President Al-Sisi stressed that Egypt would not allow the Dam to be operational without the proper steps being taken by Ethiopia to ensure that Egypt s share of Nile water is untouched. Egypt is thus facing an existential war from various sources, and it has been fighting gallantly to preserve its interests and force its enemies to revise their strategies. The question is how far patriotic Egyptians will be willing to go in order to guarantee Egypt s future. The answer is simple: they will go as far as is necessary, no matter how great the costs. The outcome will be, as it has been over millennia of history, that Egypt will prevail.
The 74th Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations opened Tuesday, 24 September, amidst rising tensions in the Middle East and the Gulf. Two dates preceded the inauguration of this session that would have an impact on future developments in these two regions. On 14 September, Saudi oil installations came under direct attack in a brazen escalation of an already tense security situation in the Gulf. On 17 September, Israel held its second general election in less than six months — a first in the history of the Hebrew state — that saw the Blue and White Party garnering 34 seats while the Likud gained 32. It was political gridlock at a time when the world is awaiting the announcement by the White House of its “Deal of the Century” to reach a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Compared to last year, the two regions were still mired in conflicts without any political solution on the horizon. This year and one day before the start of the 74th Session, the UN secretary general announced the good and encouraging news that the Syrian government and other Syrian stakeholders in Syria had finally agreed on the establishment of the Constitutional Commission that would be tasked with supervising the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2254 of December 2015. In this respect, the foreign ministers of the Small Group on Syria (Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and the United States) met 26 September and welcomed the establishment of the said commission. They reaffirmed that there can be no military solution to the conflict in Syria — only a political one. They expressed their support for the efforts of the secretary general s special envoy to Syria, Geir Pedersen, to implement UNSC Resolution 2254. Otherwise, things have remained the same, save in Libya where a dangerous military stalemate has persisted since April. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom, France and Germany (the E3) released a statement in New York in which the three powers blamed Iran for the attacks of 14 September in Saudi Arabia. The United States already singled out Iran. It vowed to continue its strategy of maximum pressure against Tehran till the day Iran ceases what the US administration has called “its destabilising behaviour” that threatens the Middle East, as well as freedom of navigation in the Gulf and global energy supplies. The US administration even turned down a peace proposal by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani before the General Assembly convened. These positions vis-à-vis Iran went hand-in-hand with the deployment of more American forces to the Gulf and the deployment of additional American-made Patriot anti-missile systems to provide deterrence against Iran and defend Saudi Arabia against further attacks. In this regard, US President Donald Trump and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met on the sidelines of the 74th Session with leaders from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and highlighted the importance of regional coordination to confront challenges in the region, including Iran. In parallel, the ongoing war in Yemen was one of the questions that galvanised the attention of the world body. After four years of destruction and mayhem that have caused one of the worst humanitarian disasters after World War II, United Nations efforts have yet to bear fruit. Yemen has become a quagmire for all sides in the war. No one side has the military capacity to impose its will on the battlefield. The key to the peaceful resolution of the conflict lies probably outside Yemen itself. If the Americans, the Saudis and the Iranians could agree, at least, in principle, as a first step, on a modus vivendi in the Gulf and in Arabia, the chances are that this war could come to an end. However, the political will to reach this understanding has not materialised yet. The Yemen donors met in New York to review the level of funding necessary to continue providing humanitarian assistance to the Yemeni people. The situation in Libya, which has worsened since the 73rd General Assembly, was the subject of intense discussions and figured prominently in the remarks of some heads of state who delivered remarks before the General Assembly. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, for instance, reaffirmed Egypt s support for the efforts of Ghassan Salame, the UN special envoy to Libya, and criticised regional intervention in Libya. He said that the Security Council had approved in a special meeting in September 2017 a plan for a political solution in Libya. He stressed that Egypt had adhered to this plan while insisting on the need to fight terrorism and terrorist groups within Libya. The US administration has insisted that all actors in the Libyan conflict should respect the arms embargo in Libya and warned that terrorism, sooner or later, will end up being exported beyond Libyan borders. It has renewed its call for a ceasefire, stressing that the only way forward is the implementation of the UN plan for the reunification of Libyan state institutions. American officials welcomed the meeting that Germany will host in a very short time in an attempt to push Libyan leaders to sincerely implement the UN plan for Libya. Needless to say, Arab countries, including Egypt, have stressed the importance of reaching peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis, emphasising that peace between the two sides would unlock opportunities for regional cooperation across the Middle East. The Egyptian president was more emphatic in this regard when he made a clear and an unambiguous linkage between the establishment of an independent Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and the creation of what he termed as a “security and an economic system” in the Middle East. It is interesting to note, in this context, that this is the first time that Egypt has made such a linkage. On the other hand, and as far as Egypt is concerned, the 74th General Assembly saw the Egyptian president bring up differences between Ethiopia and Egypt concerning the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. He stressed — and emphatically at that — that Nile waters for Egypt are a question of “survival” and a matter of right. The internationalisation of the Egyptian-Ethiopian water crisis has added another sensitive question before the UN General Assembly, in addition to the host of complex conflicts above. How Middle Eastern allies of Egypt will deal with it is another question. It is difficult to predict how the Middle East will look one year from now when the next ordinary session of the UN General Assembly convenes. Judging from the meetings that took place in New York in the last two weeks and the positions expressed, we should entertain a guarded optimism that, maybe, the political will necessary among great and regional powers to carry out UN resolutions pertaining to regional conflicts will grow stronger and irreversible, so that peace and security becomes the norm across the region.
The agreed title of a production of a biography TV series about the life of the late Pope Shenouda III is Pope of the Arabs. I want to say that the title ‘Pope of the Arabs’ is not worthy of the prestige and majesty of the great Holy See. The Arabs have never had a Pope! I wonder if the name came from inside the church or from outside just to prove some proposal by political party or another organization. I am