“The full court in all their divine regalia assembled in the Hall of Justice where towering walls of sacred glyphs soared to the ceiling far above, a shimmering golden sea of human dreams. Osiris presided on his golden throne. To his right sat Isis on her throne and to his left sat Horus on his. Thoth, the Scribe of the Gods, sat cross-legged a short distance away, the Book of All open on his lap. Ranged along either side of the great hall were rows of chairs, gilded in the purest gold, awaiting those destined for salvation. Since time immemorial, said Osiris, commencing the proceedings, it has been determined that the souls of humankind shall follow their bodies like a shadow through their days upon the earth, then pass beyond, across the threshold of death, bearing their deeds and intentions embossed on their naked shrouds. After great deliberation, it has been determined that this is the hour of truth and, thus, the court shall now convene for a lengthy journey. Osiris then nodded to the young Horus who announced in a sonorous boom: King Mena! ” In Naguib Mahfouz s novel, Before the Throne (1983), all the rulers of Egypt, from Mina to President Anwar Al-Sadat, were summoned before the great court to recount their deeds. The novel is long, intentionally so, because it covers millennia in the relationship between Egypt s rulers and their subjects and between Egypt and its neighbours. Egyptian history has brought rulers to account for 5,000 years. The “Osirian” faith prevailed during 3,000 years of this history, Christianity for several centuries and then Islam for the many centuries since the Arab Muslim conquest. But the court was not interested in a ruler s religion but rather in the fact that he was an Egyptian who lived his whole life in Egypt and dedicated himself faithfully and courageously to protecting the Egyptian people and their welfare. The ancient Egyptian faith had the magnanimity to accept diversity in the religions that accepted monotheism and were grounded in nobility of conscience. If the verdicts passed on the pharaohs of the Old, Middle and Late Pharaonic kingdoms harked back to “Osirian” laws, since Muqawqis came to Egypt the judgements were based on the recommendations handed down by an imagined court of a later faith. The court could issue three types of verdicts: the ruler could be granted immortality and join the court, he could be pronounced guilty and condemned to a hellish afterlife, or he could be sent to the tomb of “the inconsequentials”. Many rulers were admitted to the ranks of the immortals. Either their accounts of their glories and services to the country and its people spoke for themselves, or Isis intervened, citing the testimony of one of her children and pleading sympathy for the ordeal the ruler endured in his struggle to do what was right. Naturally, she had no mercy for those who rebelled and betrayed her trust. After Sadat is admitted to the immortals in Before the Throne, Isis addresses them: “Let each of you pray to his god to bestow on Egypt the wisdom and strength to remain an eternal beacon of guidance and beauty,” after which all allowed to remain in the great hall bowed their heads in prayer. The novel bears all the hallmarks of Naguib Mahfouz s art. But we re not here to discuss the craft of this Nobel laureate or literature in general, but rather the political element in this work and, specifically, politicians in power. Its subject is the Egyptian state from antiquity to modern times. At the moment of the trial of Sadat, it brings all Egyptian leaders into the court, whether known for their might, their justice or their advocacy of integrity. Naturally, Mina, Tutankhamen and Ramses II are present. So too are Saad Zaghloul and Mustafa Al-Nahhas. Gamal Abdel-Nasser defends his place among the immortals and expresses his dismay at what came after him. This is not the only Mahfouz novel that draws comparisons between Egypt s rulers. In Qushtumur (The Coffeehouse), coffeehouse denizens have their say and Akhenaten, Dweller in the Truth speaks of relations between power and the people, a subject that is given a different treatment in Children of Gebalawi and Harafish where power turns more concrete or metaphysical. Mohamed Hosni Mubarak had been in power for some time when Before the Throne appeared in bookstores. He would leave power three decades later, in 2011. Those 30 years placed him alongside Ramses II and Mohamed Ali in terms of longevity as head-of-state, but he is the only Egyptian leader to endure nine years of actual trials after leaving power. Mubarak had many honourable virtues, not least the military ones. He was a model Egyptian soldier: courageous, capable, patriotic, self-sacrificing. He served in active combat, as a pilot in 1956, 1967 and 1968-1970, and as an air force commander in the October 1973 War. After that, Sadat chose him from among all other military commanders to serve as his vice president, during which period he trained in diplomacy, politics and political sagacity. While Mubarak, after coming to power, remained committed to implementing the peace agreements with Israel, he refused to give the Israelis room for evasion. When Taba came under contention, he did not hesitate to fight the complex and critical arbitration battle to the end. He won. Not a single centimetre of Egyptian territory remained under occupation. But Mubarak did not eliminate war as a political option. His courageous decision to participate in the war to liberate Kuwait reflected a transformation in Egyptian relations with the Gulf states. Not only had Egypt proven itself a reliable partner in war, it had acquired the diplomatic clout to serve as a mediator in the Khufous crisis between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. This was consistent with an important tenet in Egyptian strategy: Egyptian-Gulf relations needed to be strong in the face of regional and international challenges. As Mubarak stands “before the throne” he will also be able to offer abundant evidence of infrastructural development in a country in which infrastructure had deteriorated to the point of near collapse during the two decades since the June 1967, when development ground to a halt. Most likely, he will also explain his economic policies which, after a period of wavering, settled on the need for economic structural reform, which included shifting the geo-economic keel outward from the eternal Nile through the deserts to the shores of the Red Sea and Mediterranean. Naturally, he had his flaws. He hesitated too long before resolving on reform and, when he did, he was perhaps too cautious, which left many gaps in the economy. These were exploited by “money management firms” and the Muslim Brotherhood who ran them as they leveraged themselves back into politics behind the facade of the Wafd Party or the Labour Party. All this created a brew in which terrorism could and did rear its head. However, Mubarak ultimately prevailed in the round of the 1990s, making it possible to set Egypt on course to serious reform. The revolution came anyway, and now historians will have their say. But there is no doubt that Mubarak was true to his word, an Egyptian to the core, and a patriot devoted to serving his nation and its people. May he rest in peace.
Since December, Washington has been helping Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia hammer out an agreement acceptable to them all and that they would sign the final text at the end of February. In an unexpected move, Ethiopia refrained from attending the last round in a series of negotiations that started four months ago. “President Trump made a priority to try and work with each of the three significantly impacted countries to try and get a good outcome for all of them, to effectively mediate. And so we ve been working on this… many of the elements of an agreement are now moving closer to finality, but there s still work that remains,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during a joint press conference in Addis Ababa on 18 February, referring to the crisis over the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). He did not specify what work remains. He also said, “I think there s a solution that will work, but our mission is not to impose a solution on this, but rather to get the three countries to come together around a solution that each of them acknowledges works for the concerns of all three nations.” It appears that the US has been let down, by Ethiopia in particular. Ethiopia refrained from signing, claiming the need for more consultations. Egypt signed the agreement even though it did not meet all of its demands, especially concerning the amount of water it would receive during the first filling of the dam, which will be 37 billion m3 of water. Egypt s current quota of Nile waters is 55 billion m3 per year. During the negotiating rounds in December, Egypt indicated a willingness to accept 40 billion m3 in order to give Ethiopia the chance to fill the reservoir sufficiently to begin electricity production within a reasonable period of time but without causing a major water crisis for Egypt. Pompeo may have suspected that Ethiopia would refrain from signing the agreement at the scheduled time. Perhaps this is what he meant by “there s still work that remains.” But “refraining” is not “refusing” which offers the US an opening to deal with the embarrassment. Washington may be convinced that Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed really needs time to consult with others in Ethiopia where the federal system limits his powers to take major decisions and where opposition groups and other rivals may seize on any lapses or mistakes to score points in the domestic power game. On the other hand, Washington may take advantage of Ethiopia s stance in order to assert pressure on Egypt on other issues of concern to US interests in the Arab region. Perhaps this is to be inferred from Pompeo s remark that the US had no intention of pressuring any of the three parties to sign the agreement. Washington knows that Ethiopia is unlikely to sign unless Washington pressures it to do so. Egypt hopes for something more from an important ally such as Washington, especially when it comes to such a vital question as water resources. Certainly, Egypt has shown itself to be committed to the spirit of the US mediating efforts, even if all its demands have not been met. Washington will hopefully take Egypt s cooperative and constructive attitude into account during its communications with Addis Ababa over the coming months. Ethiopia was present in every negotiating round. The agreement that stood ready for its signature was built on years of technical studies and featured rules and principles for filling and operating the dam conducive to the fulfilment of Ethiopia s right to benefit from its ambitious project as soon as possible without causing significant harm to Egypt. Egypt, meanwhile, is clearly the party that made significant compromises in order to enable Ethiopia to achieve its developmental aspirations. Egypt also refrained from putting the US, as a mediator, in an awkward position, unlike Ethiopia. Fortunately, remarks by another US official have helped allay some of Egypt s concerns over certain parts of Pompeo s statement, especially the vague reference to work that still remains and the suggestion that the US mediating role is so neutral that it doesn t have the power to pressure a party that creates obstacles for no convincing reason. It was US Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin who offered the much needed clarification and reassurance. In his statement on 28 February, Mnuchin said that the US looked forward to Ethiopia concluding its internal consultations “to provide for the signing of the agreement at the earliest possible time” and stressed that “final testing and filling [of GERD] should not take place without an agreement.” He added, “We also note the concern of downstream populations in Sudan and Egypt due to unfinished work on the safe operation of the GERD, and the need to implement all necessary dam safety measures in accordance with international standards before filling begins.” Mnuchin s statement indicates that the US may be prepared to pressure Ethiopia. It tells Addis Ababa that Washington can understand the Ethiopian government s need for further consultations, but that it would not find it acceptable if that plea for time turned out to be a pretext for evading its commitments and for attempting to fill the dam and produce a fait accompli before an agreement is signed. Certainly, it is not in Washington s interests to forego its responsibilities towards Egypt, an important ally that has shown its flexibility throughout the negotiations, in contrast to Ethiopia s obstructiveness. If Ethiopia continues to procrastinate in order to impose de facto realities harmful to Egypt, Cairo will have no alternative other than to bring the matter to the UN Security Council. In this case, Ethiopia would be angered if this question is brought to the UN Security Council which could sanction Ethiopia without US opposition.
I wholeheartedly agree with those experts who go beyond the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and are now calling Covid-19 a pandemic. With evidence of sustained person-to-person transmission on multiple continents, it s time to stop focusing on containment and work instead to harden our domestic healthcare infrastructure. As an emergency physician at an urban hospital in Washington, DC, this is personal. My colleagues and I will be on the front lines as American emergency agencies will soon likely experience a large and sustained surge of patients with Covid-19 concerns. The public should find comfort that health experts have been preparing for weeks. There is, however, still much work to be done. I will likely become infected in the next few months. It s just simple math that I have accepted. But I became a physician knowing the job incurred risk and that I have a duty to patients and society. Based on what we know today, my risk of getting severely ill or dying from Covid-19 is low. I am fortunate to be relatively young and healthy, but that is not the case for other medical colleagues who are likely to become infected as well. Protecting our workforce is critical. Healthcare workers who are infected or exposed without protective gear won t be able to work while contagious. Yet we need them to care for new Covid-19 cases as well as patients with all of the other diseases and traumatic injuries that will continue to occur. Heart attacks and strokes are not taking a break while the virus is here. How can we be proactive about protecting our healthcare workers? To start, we need to consider protecting our older colleagues and those with certain preexisting medical conditions. We may even need to decide that only young and healthy doctors and nurses should be triaging and caring for these patients. I m in. But is this discriminatory or putting too much risk on the young? I m not sure. As the novel coronavirus spreads, we can be certain that a number of medical staff will need to miss work because they or their families are ill. What we don t yet know is for how long. It is imperative that we fund research to determine how long the infected are contagious and when people can safely return to work so that we can keep our healthcare systems working and our economy from suffering. Telemedicine can play a major role in this outbreak by allowing providers to avoid proximate risk of infection while electronically visiting large numbers of patients daily. Even infected or exposed doctors can "stay in the fight" by performing telemedicine visits while quarantined. In addition to concerns about infection among the workforce, space in emergency departments will be an issue. Most urban emergency departments are already operating at maximum capacity every day. As a disaster medicine specialist, my biggest concern is that ERs and clinics could become overwhelmed by the "worried well" and the minimally ill. Unnecessary visits by those with mild viral illness risks not only exposure to other ED patients, but also increases the risk of illness to the medical staff. In addition, if our ambulances are busy transporting patients who are only worried or mildly ill, they will have slower response times to critically ill patients who truly need paramedic care. It is possible that people could die from health system disruption without ever having contracted the actual virus. An EMS delay of only a few minutes could mean that those having heart attacks, strokes, diabetic emergencies, opiate overdoses and trauma have a higher risk of death. Because of these concerns, the public should expect to be asked in the coming weeks to avoid health system visits unless they have significant symptoms or risk factors. I suggest that healthcare facilities explore the creation of separate care areas for patients presenting with respiratory symptoms and possible Covid-19 in an effort to keep all those possibly contagious away from those being seen for other conditions. We must ensure the public knows we are open and preventing spread from one patient to another. Don t be surprised if your local ED will need to add temporary structures such as a large outdoor tent to evaluate those concerned that they have been exposed to the coronavirus. While healthcare workers and policymakers are currently laser-focused on Covid-19, the epidemic requires a coordinated response that extends beyond the healthcare system. Elected and appointed leaders must communicate with the public clearly, honestly and often. Healthcare experts should be a key part of this communication. Meanwhile, employers large and small must enact public health measures, part of which should include requirements that sick employees stay home and guarantees that they will not be penalized for doing so. Should people wear surgical masks when they go out? Yes, if you have even a mild cough. This will minimize infected droplets from your mouth and nose. Staying home if possible is preferable. Washing your hands often is essential. But remember that masks offer minimal protection to the individual. Surgical masks (the "blue ones") are not designed to filter the air you breathe -- they are designed to catch droplets of the person wearing it, primarily to keep surgeons from contaminating a surgical site. Even the special N-95 filter masks, designed to be true virus protection and now in short supply, are effective only if properly fitted and worn over clean-shaven faces. To those in healthcare -- get fit-tested immediately, shave your beards and resist the temptation to hoard the masks at home. Hospitals will need these masks on hand and must immediately enact measures to ensure that mask theft is eliminated. I get asked several times per day, "Should I be worried?" The answer is yes, but only to an appropriate degree. This will get worse before it gets better. We don t know if it will go away when it gets warm (keep an eye on transmission in the tropics), nor do we know for sure if reinfection is possible. One thing is certain: panic helps nobody. Heed the advice of medical professionals, not social media. Trust the US CDC recommendations and be confident in the fact that every physician, nurse, EMS worker and healthcare administrator is giving Covid-19 their fullest attention.
With domestic shifts in the US, Russia, China and the European Union impacting on the international order, forecasts about what the year could bring centre on two main conclusions. The first has to do with the varying outcomes of the influence of domestic affairs on the foreign policy course adopted from one country to another. Preparing for elections this year, the US, for example, is focusing on its domestic affairs more than foreign policy issues. Most probably, US foreign policy will be employed to serve the elections, even if this means being involved in limited foreign military operations. In the case of China, domestic issues tend to reflect in a conciliatory tone in its foreign policy, as long as the matter is not related to sovereign issues (Taiwan, the South China Sea). Although there has been a change in China s foreign course during the tenure of President Xi Jinping, gradual transformation remains a major feature of Chinese foreign policy, along with the concern to secure the international conditions necessary to protect China s ascension. When it comes to the European Union, there is a host of domestic issues affecting its foreign policy, such as the rise of the populist right, increased polarisation and tensions between regions and major cities benefiting from or harmed by globalisation, the rising risk of secession, especially in Spain following Brexit, as well as varying military spending and financial policies. These issues tend to restrain the foreign performance of the European Union and end in weak coordination between member countries regarding a number of crucial foreign policy issues, such as the relationship with the US and Russia, the future of NATO and European military coordination. The second conclusion relates to the pattern of interactions between the four major powers during 2020, as Russian-US relations are expected to become more polarised and confrontational on a wide range of issues, while Russian-European relations may improve due to a combination of factors, including continued European dependence on Russian gas. China s relation with Russia may lead to more coordination and cooperation as long as it does not intensify US-Chinese polarisation. Finally, European-US relations may be further strained by a combination of factors, such as disagreement over how to deal with Russia, and the gas issue. It is in the light of these two dynamics that expectations can be drawn as to the course of the world s most powerful countries, based on domestic developments in 2019, some of which may continue to reverberate this year.
Over recent weeks, serious tensions grew within the football matrix here in Egypt. This matrix includes all the different dimensions involved, from organisational entities to professional players and managers, and finally — very specific to Egypt — security institutions. There is a process of constant adaptation from each of these dimensions in order to get the wheels in motion and the matrix eventually working. This does not mean that Egypt enjoys efficiency in administering football; rather, it means that Egypt lacks a professional set of rules and regulations to conduct an institutionalised national football domain. And there is always an eye on the consequences of any problems related to football due to the significance of the social and political zones football occupies in the public sphere. Very few activities during this time in Egypt are built on a diverse platform that connects state to society, to the media, to economic development, and finally to millions of Egyptians that are easily mobilised under a specific banner. Therefore, the contentious scene that took place over the past week, and ended Monday, 24 February, is a matter of concern, with the possibility that the truce that was struck will be short-lived, and that contention will spark up again soon. Due to how irrationally and randomly football is run in Egypt, timings and scheduling in the national league have always been a problem. Some seasons are extremely compressed, increasing the level of tension between clubs. Ahly and Zamalek are the two biggest football clubs. The Egyptian domestic league is composed of 18 teams, some with significant popularity, like Ismaily, Masry and Itihad. These clubs often complain about a lack of equal opportunities compared to the two big clubs. In turn, the two big clubs complain about a lack of objectivity in the administration of national football — that the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) routinely favours one team over the other. These squabbles turned football into a platform of polarisation. After a heavy month of difficult matches for both Ahly and Zamalek, Zamalek challenged EFA, saying that it would not play the Cairo Derby with Ahly on Monday, 24 February, as scheduled because no time was left for the team to practice and rest before another match in the African Champions League, scheduled for Friday, 28 February. According to the prevailing rules and regulations, teams who refuse to play a scheduled match and withdraw from them are considered to have forfeited the game. However, the president of Zamalek challenged EFA, saying that no one dares to deduct even a single point from Zamalek, a warning sign of the confrontation between the various actors in the football matrix in Egypt. When football enjoys a fan base that exceeds that any other social or political activity, this polarisation and escalation, played out also in the media and on social networking sites, exports more problems to society and the state. Sports media specifically has a great deal of influence over the perceptions of fans in such moments of conflict. Meanwhile, social media platforms, mainly Facebook and YouTube, are becoming ever more critical, exhibiting the growing gap between fans and club administrations, with football emerging as a potential threat to social stability. Needless to say, the media itself radicalises, if slowly, in order to secure more viewership. What will happen remains to be seen. A new confrontation may commence after Ahly and Zamalek play their African championship matches. If this happens, the state of polarisation could be expected to escalate, leading to one of two things. First, football, after attempts at de-politicising it over the past few years, could become once more a stage of ever widening confrontation. Second, and if not checked, the overall effect of growing and escalating tensions will make the financial aspect of investing in the game not so appealing, damaging the prospects of investing in sports more widely in Egypt. We are walking on thin ice. Reform, of course, is still an option. But it would have to be reform based on treating the root causes of contention, and not merely the symptoms. Ahly and Zamalek may be a starting point, but what actually matters is reforming the matrix or the whole framework by which Egyptian football is governed. Reducing polarisation and managing hate speech within the sports media is also necessary. Finally, with each important football event, Egypt demonstrates its ability to provide security at football games. But the point can easily be reached beyond which it is no longer in the interest of Egyptian security institutions to direct resources to managing public disorder at events that can just as well happen behind closed doors.
Will legalizing “Sais” (unauthorized individuals in Egypt who collect fees from residents for parking their cars on public streets) be passed unchallenged? Will we witness a law issued by the House of Representatives for a group of people who have no profession and no real work, except for violating the rights of people on (public) streets, which are considered public property protected by the law? Is maximizing the resources of the municipalities achieved through payment of LE 2,000 that they would receive in exchange for the so-called license for “Sais” workers, who will use the license to collect more than that compensation in one day? Are these individuals involved in unofficial economic activity — as they continue to claim — that should be protected and legalized by the government? Can they be trusted on the level of security? What about the citizen, his rights, and the duty to protect him from the domination of those individuals who now illegally receive payment for parking cars in public streets? What will happen when (the activities of Sais) are legalized through an enforced law? What are the MPs doing to the people? One citizen, expressing the sentiments of many others, commented: How can this happen? This is a crime of (Sais) occupying public roads, imposing (their) power, bullying residents, and vandalizing their cars if those residents do not pay them, and at best, it is begging, which is a crime in and of itself. Legalizing a crime is a crime, and a waste to the value of work and damaging to the standing of the government. Another commented that the spread of Sais workers in the streets destroys the image of the government and hurts tourism and investment. Yet another citizen remarked that there is no country in the world with thugs who park cars in the streets except in Egypt, with previously unauthorized Sais workers to be protected by the new law. There used to be ticket counters in the downtown area of Cairo, and I think in Alexandria as well, to collect fees in exchange for parking cars in a civilized way known all over the world, with revenues used to improve roads and other services. The counters are now gone, and bullying by the Sais workers has appeared (in their place). Moreover, the matter has become worse, with Sais now mandatory on every street, having spread (across Egypt s cities) like an epidemic. Now, parliament is stepping in to legalize this anomaly, giving Sais legal protection. A perilous road ahead foretells of possible clashes between citizens and Sais, quarrels that will not end soon. The Egyptian street does not need this, and therefore caution must be exercised going forward.
When US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo proclaimed at the Munich Security Conference: “The West is winning!”, he was referring to the battle for world hegemony. One was reminded of a Francis Fukayama s declaration, in the early 1990s, of the “The End of History.” Yet, the reverse is unfolding in the world around us today. The US is withdrawing from many parts of the world and Western countries, as a whole, are shutting their doors to other peoples in the world, and in many ways the West is becoming unravelled due to political and ethnic divisions. The EU is a salient example. This major landmark of Western political and economic capacities faced a debilitating blow with the UK s decision to leave it and follow another path to development, whether in the framework of the Commonwealth, the transatlantic bond or a renewed quest for empire. The Egyptian diplomat Gamal Abul-Hassan wrote in Al-Masry Al-Youm: “In 1970, Asia (including Japan) contributed 19 per cent of the global GDP, or global world product (GWP), and the West 56 per cent. Today, after only three generations, Asia contributes 43 per cent and compared to the West s 37 per cent. This is the most important transformation in the world today. It is a transformation that occurred after around three centuries of Western global hegemony, militarily, economically and culturally. The world in which we live today is more diverse and pluralistic. It is therefore more competitive, which makes for a greater likelihood that the competition will escalate into an open conflict between global poles.” The abovementioned numbers could be somewhat misleading. The West benefited greatly from the economic booms in countries that were defeated in World War II (such as Japan) and the Korean War (South Korea). Then once they attained prosperity, the new ratios of shares in the GWP did not necessary impact on the West s “cultural hegemony” or its unqualified lead in aerospace and technology in general. Nevertheless, the numbers do speak of new power balances in the world. Pompeo s remark was actually more of a response to the US s predicament than a defence of the “West” and its global status. The predicament arises from the US s strategic reorientation. Washington is in a state of withdrawal, not just militarily from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, but from the world. It is reformulating its existence in Japan, Europe and South Korea. It is no longer interested in defending common interests with its allies. It is interested in defending US resources from alliances and mutual defence pacts. The US is closing itself off to the “outside”. It is building all sorts of walls, and not just the wall with Mexico and South America. It is changing immigration laws to make the visa process more heavily selective in favour of whites and Christians. It withdrew from the Paris climate accord even though the US is primarily responsible for global warming and now ranks second to China in generating greenhouse emissions. Washington s insularism has been challenged by the “globalised” outlook of the Democratic Party, which is growing vociferous these days due to the primaries and the nominees eagerness to best each other in attacking Trump s policies. But the US is not just caught between the president and the opposition. It is also caught between rival outlooks among strategic thinkers. In its latest issue, March/April 2020, Foreign Affairs featured three recent strategic assessments of US foreign policy and republished one dating from April 1973 when the Vietnam War was still in progress and the Cold War was at its height. The latter article is called, “The Case for Strategic Disengagement.” Written by Earl Ravenal, it epitomises the debate that prevailed in the US nearly half a century ago and helps give perspective. The other three articles epitomise the US s confusion today. One writer, Stephen Wertheim, argues in favour of the US s withdrawal from world leadership. Beneath the title, “The Price of Primacy: Why America Shouldn t Dominate the World,” he voices not only the prevalent cost-conscious conservative outlook but also the more progressivist view that world domination jeopardises US values. Thomas Wright, beneath the title, “The Folly of Retrenchment: Why America Can t Withdraw from the World,” argues precisely the opposite: that withdrawal will expose these values to risk. Graham Allison takes a different tack. His article, “The New Spheres of Influence: Sharing the Globe with Other Great Powers,” takes us back to distant eras when the greatness of powers was measured by their hegemony over other countries and regions, or their “spheres of influence”. He reminisces on the Monroe Doctrine that proclaimed the entire Western Hemisphere — the whole of North and South America — as the US s “sphere of influence” historically, geographically, and of course militarily. He also reminds us of other geopolitical concepts, such as political realism, when he acknowledges that, indeed, “something about geopolitics had changed”, but insists that what mattered now was to identify what exactly the change was so that the US could adjust to it. Throughout history, the world was divided into spheres of influence. In antiquity, you had the Hellenic world versus the Persian Empire and the Eastern Roman versus the Western Roman Empires. Moving through the medieval to the modern eras, you have Portugal versus Spain in the Old and New Worlds, the European powers versus each other in the Napoleonic era, France versus Britain in the colonialist era, and the US versus the USSR in the Cold War era. What about today? Do we not have Washington versus Beijing and Moscow? The US, despite its decline from the fourth largest contributor to GWP after World War II to seventh today, still dominates the world of technology and it holds a near monopoly on the realms of space and the internet. Yet, China is the world s largest exporter and second largest importer, and its Belt and Road Initiative places it at the hub of a major international bloc. Russia is not about to revive the USSR because with the collapse of the Soviet bloc Russia shrank back into its earlier borders and its population shrank to half that of the USSR. However, Moscow remains a major military and nuclear power, and it is continuing to build these strengths. It also understands how to operate in a tripolar world. Graham Allison advocates neither a US-centred globalisation for a US retrenchment, but rather a division of spheres of influence. Is this so different from Trump s outlook?
Joe Biden is banking on South Carolina to save his sinking candidacy. Once deemed the front-runner of the crowded 2020 Democratic presidential primary field, he now has to prove he is up for the country s top spot as other contenders are gaining steam. Coming off two poor performances in both Iowa and New Hampshire and a very distant second-place finish in Nevada, the campaign has set its sights on the Palmetto State with the hope that a more diverse electorate can pump life back into his lackluster candidacy. But his poor and underwhelming performances thus far have many wondering what s going on with his campaign. Interestingly, we ve seen this before. Think back to 2016 and Jeb Bush s candidacy in a crowded Republican presidential primary field: The pundits hailed Jeb has the front-runner, polling showed he was the candidate to beat, and the establishment wing of the party threw their support his way both financially and physically. He had high name recognition and a huge war chest, leading many operatives to believe he would be the candidate on the ballot in the general election. Yet his campaign imploded after disappointing finishes in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. While the losses in Iowa and New Hampshire dealt his campaign a blow, his team still believed they had built a firewall in South Carolina. When he finished in a shocking fourth place, they knew it was time to end his campaign. There is one notable difference between the two campaigns though: fundraising. Jeb s campaign and his affiliated super PAC had one of the largest political war chests in the field, and still his campaign fizzled out quickly. While the first quarter fundraising reports for 2020 are not public yet, we do know that Biden had his highest fundraising quarter in the fourth quarter of 2019 ahead of the early state contests, raising $22.7 million. Despite this record, he still trails behind rivals Sanders ($34.5 million) and Buttigieg ($24.7 million). This should be a warning sign for his campaign to step up the fundraising efforts if they plan to win South Carolina and are hinging his candidacy on a first-place finish there. With Nevada s caucus in the rearview mirror, Biden has a lot of work to do ahead of the South Carolina primary. Nevada was the first early state contest to boast a more diverse electorate, and Sanders encroached upon Biden s once significant lead among non-white voters, according to new Washington Post-ABC News polling. In South Carolina, Biden holds a holds a slight lead over Sanders — but the gap is tightening as the primary approaches. Most concerning is the firewall Biden says he has built is hinged on minority support. The Biden campaign has boasted about his support among minority communities throughout his bid, specifically African American voters. And while he does still hold a lead among non-white voters, that support dropped significantly from 51% in January to 32% in February, according to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll. If Biden is unable to pull off a first-place finish in South Carolina and if Buttigieg or Klobuchar finish above him, he should consider pulling the plug ahead of the Super Tuesday contests. Him staying in the race is splitting the moderate and independent vote between three candidates, which will only hurt the party as it fails to quickly coalesce around one centrist candidate. What s more, Biden s entire campaign strategy has been focused on a general election candidacy, playing to the centrist and independent voter bloc. This strategy appears to be failing, given the split in that critical vote. It would be time for Biden to step aside to prevent another four years of a Trump presidency. I got on the Biden train very early on — January 2019 to be precise — as a disaffected Republican who is now a registered independent. I believed that his high name recognition, ability to speak to a bipartisan audience, and his centrist platform could make him a viable candidate among moderate, independent and disaffected Republican voters. I still believe that Joe Biden would be the best candidate to run against Trump in a general election, but it s time to realize that the momentum for his candidacy just isn t there. For Democrats to beat Trump, they cannot nominate a self-proclaimed socialist such as Bernie Sanders, who doesn t have the ability to transcend partisan politics and win in critical battleground states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan where Democrats lost to Trump in 2016. Biden knows this and it is why he continues to stay in the race. However, the rise of Klobuchar and Buttigieg must be giving him some heartburn due to their ability to reach the same type of voters — even though it can be argued their general election viability (against Trump) isn t as strong as Biden s. Biden is currently trying to portray himself as the next "comeback kid" on the campaign trail, invoking Bill Clinton, who lost both Iowa and New Hampshire and then went on to win the presidency in 1992. Will that narrative be enough to breathe life back into his campaign? Sometimes the candidate can have all the right things — staff, resources, campaign framework, name recognition and likeability — and still not be the right candidate for the moment. That s something that Biden may have to come to terms with if he doesn t win in South Carolina.
It s not often this gets said: Move over, Celine Dion. Only in an election year would the best show in Vegas be a Democratic presidential debate. But this was no Cirque du Soleil -- more like Future Stars of Wrestling. Elizabeth Warren -- and pretty much everyone else -- aggressively went after an apparently flummoxed Michael Bloomberg, making his much-anticipated debut Wednesday -- just a few days before the Nevada caucuses. The candidates also came hard at each other this time, on a night of fireworks and faceplants; several CNN commentators described it as a "free-for-all" -- and they were not wrong. But with the eyes of much of the nation on him, and his self-funded star on the rise, it was billionaire Bloomberg, who was the target of choice for his fellow candidates. The nearly unanimous verdict on his performance from a diverse panel of CNN Opinion commentators? "It was a horrible night." Or, in the words of David Axelrod, a "disastrous debut." Some, like SE Cupp, were at least relieved that at last the gloves were off. "Well it s about time," Cupp wrote. "It took, evidently, Michael Bloomberg on the debate stage for Democrats to realize that this primary can t be a group effort and a love fest forever." Scott Jennings didn t mince words: "Finally, this debate has revealed what I thought was probably true -- these Democrats running for president really seemed to hate each other." Errol Louis assessed a winning strategy in Warren s pugnacity and preparation; likewise, Patti Solis Doyle saw a "thrilling tactical moment" when Warren "gutted Bloomberg on his non-disclosure agreements in cases of alleged sexual harassment." Tara Setmayer thought much of the anti-Bloomberg energy was misplaced -- suggesting Sanders, as an emerging frontrunner, deserved the target on his back, if the Democrats really want a candidate who can win against President Donald Trump. Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg sniped at one another over experience and drew mixed reviews. "What more could President Donald Trump ask for" than a divided opposition, Frida Ghitis wondered. Debate coach Todd Graham delivered a rather stern report card: no one got an A, but Sanders drew the highest grade (B+) He "handled himself well when placed center stage," Graham wrote, and shone when talking about policy in moral terms. Don t miss these insights from Nevada writers: The intelligence world was in chaos this week after Trump s decision to appoint US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell as acting director of national intelligence. A staunch loyalist with no intelligence background and a reputation for alienating people, wrote David Andelman -- Grenell replaces outgoing acting director Joseph Maguire. Andelman called Grenell a "catastrophe-in-waiting" unqualified to hold a post so central to America s national security, and implored Trump to reconsider. "Most alarming" were reports that Trump s dissatisfaction with Maguire -- who had briefed a bipartisan committee in Congress that Russia was back at its election interference efforts -- contributed to his departure and Grenell s appointment, Andelman wrote. Admiral William McRaven spoke out strongly on Maguire s behalf in the Washington Post, praising his long experience and record of service and concluding that Maguire "was dismissed for doing his job." He warned: "As Americans, we should be frightened -- deeply afraid for the future of the nation. When good men and women can t speak the truth, when facts are inconvenient, when integrity and character no longer matter, when presidential ego and self-preservation are more important than national security -- then there is nothing left to stop the triumph of evil." Bloomberg faces other uphill battles as both a primary candidate and a prospective Democratic nominee. Arick Wierson, who was Bloomberg s media advisor when he was New York s mayor, sketched out suggestions for next steps, and noted that his abysmal debate showing has raised the stakes for Bloomberg in the South Carolina debate. As the controversy over sexual harassment, toxic workplace culture and non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) grew louder, Kate Andersen Brower wrote that these issues were part of why Bloomberg didn t make the cut as a VP prospect for Barack Obama in 2008. Brower noted that in 2020, if Bloomberg faces Trump, voters would have the right to ask: "Can t (we) do better than two billionaires who are accused of demeaning women?" On Friday, Bloomberg said women covered by three NDAs who had made complaints against him can be released from those agreements if they contact his company. David Love urged Democrats to think twice before casting their lot during the primary with an oligarch of their own; for Love, a potential choice between the moderate Bloomberg and the progressive Sanders posed a moral dilemma for democracy. In his view, "It s not a stretch to say that when it comes to the role of wealth in determining the elections, the contrast between Bloomberg and Bernie Sanders is one with moral stakes." The Revs. William Barber and Liz Theoharis, co-chairs of the Poor People s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, also offered moral arguments this week, but not on behalf of a particular candidate. Both parties need to give more attention to the 23 million poor and low-income voters in America, they wrote. "They and other poor Americans rarely hear a politician call their name and speak to their conditions. In the more than 20 debates leading up to the 2016 elections, there was not a single hour dedicated to poverty or economic insecurity." Don t miss these smart takes on CNN s town halls with candidates this week: On Thursday, all eyes were on Judge Amy Berman Jackson s courtroom, where longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone faced sentencing after being convicted of crimes including lying, obstruction and witness tampering. Prosecutors had recommended seven to nine years. Then Trump tweeted and Attorney General William Barr intervened, undercutting his own prosecutors to suggest a lighter sentence. James Schultz, formerly of the Trump White House counsel s office, insisted that Barr had done the right thing inserting himself into the process. "The reality is the sentencing recommendation of seven to nine years for Stone was a ridiculous overreach," he wrote. Michael Zeldin noted that: "Trump s encroachment into DOJ territory, especially in such a public way, was unprecedented." "Indeed," argued Frida Ghitis, "Stone s sentencing turned into a microcosm of the battle to save the rule of law in this country ... On Thursday, in Judge Jackson s courtroom, the rule of law fought back." In sentencing Stone to over three years in federal prison, Michael D Antonio observed, Jackson "demonstrated genuine fairness ... Now it will be up to the President to either honor the decision or commute the sentence of his friend and show that it is he -- and not the system -- that is corrupt." Trump s rush of surprise pardons and commutations this week read like a casting call for Lifestyles of the Rich, Famous and Felonious: Among others, former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. (failing to report a felony in a bribery case), once-junk bond king Michael Milken (racketeering and securities fraud), Rudy Giuliani s ex-New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik (tax fraud and lying to the federal government). And then there was an actual former "Celebrity Apprentice," disgraced ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (public corruption). After Tuesday s spate of high-profile pardons, Paul Callan marveled, "there s reason to wonder if the role (of acting pardon attorney of the US) should be offered to Geraldo Rivera -- or Kim Kardashian West. When President Barack Obama pardoned 78 people in December 2016, the White House announcement simply listed those given pardons and commuted sentences, along with details of their offenses. But when Trump used his powers to give clemency to 11 people, the press secretary s statement was larded with the often-famous names of those vouching for the pardoned," implying that Trump s mercy favors those with special connections. "In also showing mercy late last year to two officers accused of war crimes, one convicted of murder, President Trump again dismissed the justice system" -- both civilian and military, asserted LZ Granderson. "What we have been witnessing recently is not in the spirit of the Constitution s Article II, Section 2, but in the spirit of authoritarianism. For it is one thing for a president to commute a sentence if she or he feels the individual has paid their debt to society, but it s totally another if the president intervenes with the belief there wasn t a debt to begin with." What does it mean to be redeemed? James A. Gagliano -- lifelong lover of the NFL s Atlanta Falcons, a team lit up (and then laid low) by legendary quarterback Michael Vick -- made the case directly to Trump that Vick, who was sentenced to 23 months on dog-fighting charges in 2007, should be pardoned. Gagliano recalls Vick s post-prison rehabilitation efforts on and off the field and his emotional welcome back to the Georgia Dome to be recognized as one of the best Falcons players of all time. "Vick s tale is one of against-long-odds achievement, meteoric ascension to the pinnacle of his profession and losing it all," reflected Gagliano. "It is also a story of forgiveness, second acts and deserved redemption ... Michael Vick made good on his second chance. He s back working in football as a television analyst. He s a family man. He has acknowledged his failures and atoned for them. He has blamed no one else but himself ... here s hoping you ll give this pardon request some serious consideration, Mr. President." On Thursday, the New York Times published an op-ed by Sirajuddin Haqqani, identifying him only as the "deputy leader of the Taliban," in which he argued: "I am convinced that the killing and the maiming must stop." Peter Bergen, who has covered Afghanistan for CNN for over 20 years, was shocked by what the Times didn t say about Haqqani -- that the FBI considers him a "specially designated global terrorist" and that both the FBI and State Department are offering a reward for information leading to his capture. Haqqani leads a network whose members have kidnapped multiple Americans, including a Times reporter, noted Bergen, who opined: "President Trump sees himself as elected to get out of America s endless wars. But there is a big difference between fighting an endless war and instituting a persistent presence in Afghanistan to safeguard both American interests and those of the Afghan people ... Haqqani s tepid assurances in the Times that the Taliban, going forward, will be just a normal bunch of Afghan politicians don t mesh well with the FBI s continued assessment that he is one of the world s most wanted terrorists." The Times said in a statement from a spokesperson: "We know firsthand how dangerous and destructive the Taliban is. The Times is one of the only American news organizations to have maintained a full time team of reporters in Afghanistan since the start of the war nearly 20 years ago. We ve also had multiple journalists kidnapped by the organization. But, our mission at Times Opinion is to tackle big ideas from a range of newsworthy viewpoints. We ve actively solicited voices from all sides of the Afghanistan conflict, the government, the Taliban and from citizens. Sirajuddin Haqqani is the second in command of the Taliban at a time when its negotiators are hammering out an agreement with American officials in Doha that could result in American troops leaving Afghanistan. That makes his perspective relevant at this particular moment." US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States will sign a peace deal with the Taliban on February 29 provided there is a weeklong reduction in violence in Afghanistan, slated to begin Saturday. Don t miss -- Raul Reyes: Trump s cruel siege of sanctuary cities is an empty show -- Julian Zelizer: Republicans in 1980 were just as divided as Democrats today. Here s how they came together and won -- Thomas Foster: A museum of women s history is long overdue -- and so are many others -- Lance Gould: Cheating makes the Astros, for better or worse, America s team -- Kate Williams: The truth about Wallis Simpson, the woman accused of stealing a king AND... Jane Austen s most annoying heroine steals the screen We can all admit it: Emma Woodhouse is for many Jane Austen s most irritating leading lady -- even her creator thought so. But director Autumn de Wilde s new film, "Emma," starring Anya Taylor-Joy in the title role, made a convert out of an initially reluctant Holly Thomas. She praised the film s ability to break out of staid tropes of the Austen adaptation canon in favor of a fresher take on feminism, romance and well ... men: "The purest cliche of an Austen fan, I have tended to give the over-examined Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice, or the long-suffering Elinor Dashwood (the Sense half of Sense and Sensibility ) more credit ... But the most recent Emma flagged something lacking in those characters ... It s just refreshing to see a woman born out of classic literature whose flaws mean that she sidesteps several romantic cliches ...Taylor-Joy might wear Empire line dresses, but she doesn t dab away delicate Regency tears. She sobs gutted, 21st century ones." Forget about Colin Firth s Mr. Darcy and his rumpled white shirt by the lake, Thomas urged us, and consider Johnny Flynn s Mr. Knightly, who is kind even as he explains to Emma how ridiculous she is: "In the real world, a young woman is far more likely to debate a friendly mansplainer than win over an aloof-but-secretly-decent aristocrat. Mr. Darcy has a lot to answer for in terms of expectation management of straight, single women who meet apparently indifferent men. Men like Mr. Knightly, who demonstrate excellent morals and an inability not to speak the truth from the outset, are a far better bet than ones who, in all likelihood, are not hiding a wealth of martyrdom behind their brush-offs." That s wise advice for your week ahead.
US President Donald Trump delivered his third State of the Union Address 5 February, in which he praised the might, glory and economic prosperity of the United States. A few days later, across the Atlantic, the Munich Security Conference opened its 56th Annual Conference, with no less than 35 heads of states and governments, in addition to foreign ministers, ministers of defence and senior officials from across the world, in attendance. The state of the West was the major theme. However, Middle Eastern questions took centre stage. For the last one hundred years, or more, the Middle East has been one of the major battlegrounds for the great powers. It still is. Developments in northern Syria were a major discussion point, insofar as they touch on the Russian role in the Levant and in the larger region. Meanwhile, the ongoing confrontation between the United States and Iran was looming as each country tried to gain support and rally allies behind their respective positions. Last but not least, how the international community will deal with the complex security environment in North Africa, in light of the standstill in the Libyan conflict, was another flash point at the Munich Conference. The conclusions of the conference this year were not as rosy as the overly-optimistic picture President Trump depicted in his State of the Union address. Does the State of the Region differ from one year ago? Will it be different one year hence? If we take the situation in Syria as a starting point, the main parties have remained locked in their respective positions, save the Syrian government, supported by Russia, that has been gaining ground in face of fierce resistance from Turkey and Turkish-backed armed groups, some of which are included on the United Nations list of terrorist organisations. The steady advances of the Syrian Army in northwest Syria has put a serious strain on Russian-Turkish cooperation in Syria — a development that was quickly seized upon by the United States. The US State Department sent Ambassador James Jeffrey to confer with Turkish officials in a sign of solidarity with Turkey. Even though Turkish-Russian relations are being tested as never before in the last few years, still the two countries have strategic interests in common, at least in the medium term. That was proven when the Turkish foreign minister, after his meeting with his Russian counterpart last Saturday in Munich, said that differences between the two governments on one issue does not mean that the two would sacrifice their larger strategic cooperation in other important areas. He stressed that Turkey will not change its mind on installing Russian S-400 air defence systems. The next few weeks will be a litmus test of how resilient Turkish-Russian relations will prove to be. In Libya, these relations are being tested again. The two governments are supporting two opposing warring camps. Russia is providing political and material support to Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, whereas Turkey has deployed military advisers in Tripoli to shore up the besieged internationally-recognised government of Fayez Al-Sarraj. Last week, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution calling for a permanent ceasefire in Libya. But Haftar said that he is not going to abide by this resolution, and he would keep on attempting to enter Tripoli, and this regardless of international warnings that this would lead to a bloodbath. Furthermore, even if he succeeds in taking control of the capital city, there is no way he would be able to keep control over Tripoli in face of the forces that would challenge him. In the Gulf, the US-Iran standoff does not look like it is going to end anytime soon. At the Munich Security Conference, the Iranian foreign minister opened a window of opportunity, however limited, by emphasising that his government would be willing to roll back its decisions to increase uranium enrichment beyond the limits set by the Iranian nuclear accord of July 2015, if the E-3 — referring to the three European powers that are parties to the nuclear deal with Iran (Great Britain, France and Germany) — would honour their economic commitments towards Iran, as stipulated in the nuclear accord. Needless to say, these three European powers face a quandary on how to keep Iran in the accord by providing it with some economic incentives, and trying to square this with the American “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran. This dilemma will remain unresolved until the Trump administration and Iran reach a compromise through third-party mediation. The Omanis seem to be working on a formula that would satisfy the minimum requirements of both without the Iranians losing face. Last week, the Omani minister of state for external affairs met with the Iranian foreign minister in Munich, in their second meeting in the last few weeks. In a year of presidential elections in the United States, President Trump needs a foreign policy success, and getting Iran to compromise would be considered as one. That could be possible if the Iranians reach the conclusion that President Trump has a strong chance of being re-elected. If not, they would prefer to wait for a new US administration. Regional and Arab powers, including Egypt, have been entangled in a regional stand-off without clear signs that the raging conflict could be settled politically. The entrenched pattern of alliances that has existed for the last 10 years has failed to find the grand political bargain that could put the region on a more constructive and peaceful path. Nothing on the horizon seems to indicate that this status quo will change soon. On the other hand, the regional power that has gained from the status quo has been Israel. The Trump administration, that has failed to come up with policies that favour the long-term interests of peace and security in the Middle East, has copied the textbook of the Israeli extreme right as to the future of the West Bank and the ultimate geographic borders of the Jewish state. The US “Peace Plan” that was announced 28 January at the White House is the biggest strategic prize that Israel has ever received from any great power — even from past US administrations. The State of the Region will, probably, be on hold, with tactical gains here and there for entangled parties on the regional chessboard, at least until the swearing-in of the new American president.
Please, Mr. President, re-think this one. Richard Grenell, as close a friend and ally as he might be, is very much the wrong man at the wrong time as acting Director of National Intelligence. He is a catastrophe-in-waiting who will be in a position he is totally unqualified to hold, one that is central to America s national security. True, Ambassador Grenell has demonstrated in his years as Ambassador to Germany a clear ability and willingness to defend and promote the Trump agenda. But the role of the DNI, as defined by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Protection Act of 2004 that created the position, requires this individual to "establish objectives and priorities for the intelligence community and manage and direct tasking of collection, analysis, production, and dissemination of national intelligence." Indeed, the DNI s office is specifically mandated to be situated outside not only the offices of any of the 17 disparate intelligence agencies it oversees but even specifies that it "shall not be located in the Executive Office of the President." There are good reasons for this and that have motivated the choice for the office by every president since it was created in the wake of 9/11—widely seen as a byproduct of the toxic lack of coordination between intelligence agencies. The DNI must be seen as a neutral arbiter among America s vast intelligence community that ranges from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and National Security Agency (NSA) to the FBI, DEA and intelligence units of the Departments of State, Energy, Homeland Security and Treasury. The skill set required for the job is also quite clear. He or she must be a mediator, bringing often-conflicting people and ideas together to reach a consensus or at least a viable menu of choices for the president s final decision on life-or-death matters. But above all, this individual must be deeply conversant with the arcane language and practices, sources and methods that make up the core mission of the intelligence communities. Some DNIs have come from the community itself. The most recent and effective, Dan Coats, served for years as a leading member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Armed Services Committee. Rick Grenell brings none of this to the table. Trained largely as a spokesman and advocate, from his first arrival in Germany as ambassador Grenell managed to alienate much of the nation where he was designated as the leading American representative. Two days after his arrival, Grenell, with no diplomatic or managerial background, tweeted to his new hosts: "As @realDonaldTrump said, US sanctions will target critical sectors of Iran s economy. German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately." This was only the launching point of a string of intemperate comments that were taken as public threats—an effort to burn rather than build bridges. Yet Germany is not only one of America s most valuable trading and security partners, it also is a most valuable intelligence ally as well—the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) has cooperated closely with the CIA for decades. Grenell spent considerable effort in Berlin warning that Germany s use of Huawei technology in 5G telecom networks would mean the "US won t be able to maintain the same level of cooperation with German security agencies." Grenell does have one key attribute for a DNI—the President s full and utter confidence. The problem is that he may very well be even more ignorant of intelligence matters than the man he will be advising. And, while the position is seen as determinedly non-partisan, Grenell is very much a polarizing figure, which no doubt is one attribute that appeals especially to the President. Coupled with a long history of nastiness and misogyny that nearly torpedoed his Senate confirmation as ambassador to Germany, his is a resume that bodes ill for this most sensitive of administration positions. The DNI is supposed to present to the president the best and most objective analysis of the world each day and options, especially in moments of crisis, for presidential action. It is the National Intelligence Council, over which the DNI presides, that is responsible for the PDB — the President s Daily Brief -- which, as its job description states, "organizes the Intelligence Community daily intelligence reporting to the President." In 1965, I was offered a job (which I ultimately declined) on the recently-formed PDB desk, then located at the CIA. At the time, I was a young college journalist and my background was what they were seeking— an ability to report objectively and accurately on the news (often highly classified) for a single key reader, the president. There is nothing in Grenell s background that suggests any sense or understanding of the nature or value of objectivity. My overwhelming concern goes even more deeply to the heart of the inevitable crises that will ensue in any Trump presidency. When there is a menu of choices for any specific action, will Grenell reflexively skew his advice to the most extreme, or the most measured and reflective of the ultimate goal? This was the problem when Trump suddenly authorized the assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. As The New York Times reported in January: "Some Pentagon officials were shocked that the president picked what they considered the most extreme option and some intelligence officials worried that the possible long-term ramifications were not adequately considered, particularly if action on Iraqi soil prompted Iraq to expel American forces." The function of the DNI should be to offer sober analysis deeply rooted in the vast trove of facts that our $60-billion-a-year intelligence machine can muster. Richard Grenell hardly seems to be the individual tailored to fill that role.
The vision Egypt presented at the Munich Security Conference meeting last weekend focused on vital issues at the core of regional security and international peace. It drew particular attention to the critical situation in North Africa where ongoing crises have been further perpetuated by the actions of countries such as Turkey which, driven by expansionist and material ambitions, has insinuated itself into Libya in ways that aggravated the already grave threats to northeast Africa. In his extensive contributions at the international forum, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri addressed the many challenges posed by the spread of terrorism and extremist groups, political instability, impediments to development, the impacts of climate change and illegal migration, and other dangerous phenomena. He also outlined Egypt s guiding principles in its efforts to remedy such problems, such as the need for a comprehensive, multi-pronged approach to the fight against terrorism that includes a drive to renovate religious discourse in tandem with a range of social and developmental projects. He also emphasised the importance of African solutions to African problems, a principle that Egypt had advocated throughout its chairmanship of the African Union. The foreign minister drew attention to the need for concerted efforts to cut off funding for terrorist groups and for serious measures to bring countries that support terrorist groups to account. In this context, he called for efforts to safeguard state institutions in countries in the process of political transformation, so as not to give extremist groups the opportunity to fill the institutional vacuum. Addressing another dimension of the challenges, he urged an effective collective strategy that would enable countries of the region to optimally manage their natural resources. Closer cooperation between these countries on the management of shared water resources was particularly necessary in order to deal with the combined challenges of water scarcity and population growth. While the foreign minister and other Egyptian officials have mentioned such ideas before, the situation in the Middle East and North Africa is growing increasingly worrisome as conflicts that beg for a resolution are perpetuated by the machinations of certain regional powers set on asserting themselves into the picture to the detriment of all others. For example, there is strong and abundant evidence that Turkey has been transferring jihadist mercenaries from Syria to Libya to support the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) in flagrant breach of international agreements calling for an end to attempts to provide shelter for terrorists and mercenaries and facilitate their movements across borders. One of the main reasons that Turkey has been able to get away with this is the fragmentation of the international front against terrorism due to the prevalence of self-serving agendas over the common welfare. This should not be allowed to continue. The facilitated movement of mercenaries to Libya to join forces with the terrorist groups that have already proliferated in the Sahel and Sahara region has created an extremely perilous situation in North Africa and raised the spectre of the resurgence of the Islamic State group. The need to cut off funding sources for terrorism and to restrain the ambitions of powers determined to advance their agendas by supporting radical Islamist forces is a priority for Egypt, which is why its views have attracted considerable interest in international forums. The international community, today, needs to see the bigger picture in North and East Africa. As developments in the region have made palpably clear, it does not serve the welfare of the international community to leave state institutions helpless in the face of extremist and terrorist movements, opening paths for ruthless militia groups to seize control of key government organs, ruin economies with their violence and tyranny, and endanger the welfare of all in a region whose oil and gas resources and strategic straits and maritime routes are vital to the global economy and where waves of illegal migrants and refugees have been of mounting concern to countries north of the Mediterranean. Egypt s appeal for an effective strategy for the collective management of natural resources, and water resources above all, is significant in that it comes at a time when Egypt has been working in the negotiations over Ethiopia s Grand Renaissance Dam project to safeguard its rights to Nile waters. Egypt strongly believes that the cause of peaceful coexistence is best served when countries that share watercourses work together to optimise the utilisation of this vital resource.
The Border Patrol will be sending elite tactical teams into "sanctuary cities" like New York and Chicago to help with immigration arrests. One hundred agents are being deployed to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), including members of a unit that functions as the Border Patrol s SWAT team, according to news reports. Members of this unit carry stun grenades and receive Special Forces-like training, such as sniper certification. More agents are expected to be sent to Atlanta, Boston, Houston, San Francisco and other cities, according to the New York Times. The escalation of the Trump administration s war on sanctuary cities using these kind of tactics is alarming and unprecedented in its nature and apparent scope. The move is rooted in fear mongering and holds more potential to harm communities than to keep them safe. It is a political ploy that turns Border Patrol agents and immigrants into pawns for the President s benefit. Any debate over "sanctuary cities" is complicated by misconceptions about them. Not only is there no single definition of a sanctuary city -- these vary by locality -- the term is misleading. Generally, sanctuary cities are places that limit the participation of local agencies in federal immigration enforcement. For undocumented immigrants, such cities are not a haven from the law. Sanctuary policies are simply a way for some localities to say to the feds, "You do your job (immigration enforcement) and we ll do ours (protecting our communities)." Many police chiefs support sanctuary policies because they help them develop trust with immigrant communities. This trust is important when the police need people to report crimes, or come forward as witnesses. Now Trump is retaliating against sanctuary cities by sending in the Border Patrol. A Customs and Border Protection spokesman confirmed to the New York Times, which first reported the news, that the agency will be deploying officers to work in cities "in order to enhance the integrity of the immigration system, protect public safety, and strengthen our national security." But sending Border Patrol officers to work with ICE in cities undermines our immigration system. Congress has mandated that the Border Patrol protect our borders, while ICE handles interior enforcement. This distinction is important, as border agents are not trained to operate in large urban areas. Placing members of the Border Patrol s elite SWAT teams in densely populated cities sounds like a recipe for disaster. Sending Border Patrol agents to sanctuary cities is also a misuse of resources. With agents being deployed to the interior, that means fewer of them along the border, where smugglers, traffickers and cartels are active. (Indeed, according to US Customs and Border Protection s own history page, an earlier, somewhat similar effort in the 1950 s was a bust: "In spite of the major successes in repatriation, many deportees simply turned around and recrossed the seriously undermanned border.") Instead, agents repurposed away from the border will be backing up ICE officers in routine arrests, which lately have included record numbers of undocumented immigrants with no criminal record. This will sow fear in immigrant communities and militarize metropolitan Immigrant advocates have denounced this new policy from the Trump administration. Yet they re not the only ones expressing concerns about it. The former Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, Gil Kerlikowske, called the move a "significant mistake." John Sandweg, the former head of ICE under Obama, said the policy was "dangerous" and "insulting to ICE agents who are more than capable enough to take care of any threats out there and have and do." The timing of this policy is problematic as well. It is surely no coincidence that Trump is sending Border Patrol agents into cities as the 2020 election approaches -- and cracking down on sanctuary cities happens to be one of his signature issues. Similarly, the increased presence of ICE and Border Patrol agents comes as immigrant communities are being urged to participate in the 2020 Census. This raises legitimate questions about whether the President is commandeering law enforcement officials to act in furtherance of his political interests. The President and his allies are fond of saying that sanctuary cities refuse to turn violent criminals over to immigration authorities. In fact, sanctuary cities do hand over immigrants to ICE, provided the agency secures a warrant from a judge. And despite Trump s grisly anecdotes, sanctuary cities are not hotbeds of crime. A 2017 analysis by the Center for American Progress found that sanctuary cities had on average 15% lower crime rates than non-sanctuary cities. Another study found that two-thirds of the cities that had the highest jumps in murder rates in 2016 were not sanctuary cities. These findings are in addition to studies that show immigrants, including the undocumented, commit crimes at lower rates than the native-born. Sending Border Patrol agents into sanctuary cities is inefficient, unnecessary, and potentially dangerous. The Trump administration s latest immigration move is nothing but an empty show of force for his base.
Setting its precarious health risks aside, the coronavirus will most certainly impact the global economy. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the outbreak of the coronavirus to be a global health emergency, though it has refrained from naming it as a pandemic thus far. But keeping track of confirmed cases or deaths from the virus or even lockdowns and quarantined cities has been extremely difficult as the numbers and the facts have been changing at whirlwind speed. The full global economic impact of the virus will depend on how well and how fast China can contain the outbreak. While China s recent measures to impede the outbreak have been hailed by many, they are also bringing the Chinese economy to a halt. The Chinese government has enforced a quarantine system barring 100 million citizens from free movement in a bid to halt the spread of the virus. Flights from and to China have been cancelled. Public transport has been shut down; hotels, restaurants and even streets remain empty; and the lunar new year public holiday has been extended for several days to prevent people from returning to work, even if they may of course not have wished to go in the first place. Upon the reopening of the stock markets, trading was suspended almost immediately as stocks plummeted. However, the global selloff that might have been expected did not materialise, and media outlets, economists and stock-market gurus urged investors not to panic. As with all crises, such as during the outbreak of the SARS virus in 2003 or after the events of 11 September 2001, the markets rebound quickly. However, Mohamed Al-Erian, chief economic adviser to the European insurer Allianz, advised against “buying on the dip,” or purchasing stocks after they had declined in price. When it comes to the reaction to the spread of the coronavirus, the banks may not be able to “ride to the rescue” soon enough, he said. Should the crisis stretch out for a longer period, possibly for several months, China s GDP will likely decline sharply. To confront this emergency, the Chinese government has injected $22 billion into the markets in the hope of boosting the economy and adjusting the downward trend. Even so, the manufacturing sector will likely be hit hard. International companies operating in China have already shut offices and stopped production, among them Apple, Ikea, General Motors and Starbucks. Kaho Yu, a Chinese economic expert, said that “business interruptions and closures are likely to be especially devastating for many small and medium-sized enterprises.” Now we come to the global effects of the coronavirus outbreak. In 2003, when the SARS pandemic hit China provoking a global economic loss of $40 billion, China s share of the global market stood at a miniscule four per cent. Today, it stands at 16 per cent, and this will make the ripple effect across the globe more profound. Tourism will suffer immediately in China and across the world. According to the US outlet CNBC, 163 million Chinese tourists in 2018 accounted for nearly a third of travel sales worldwide. Should the travel restrictions as a result of the outbreak of the coronavirus continue, the hospitality industry as a whole will face massive losses. According to the US financial service Bloomberg, “from Tokyo to London, hotels, casinos, airlines and retailers are already recording a downturn and are bracing for weeks, if not months, of plummeting spending after China curbed outbound travel and governments tightened border controls.” The Diamond Princess, a luxury cruise ship, has been quarantined off the Japanese coast after one passenger who docked tested positive. The latest numbers say that 61 passengers on the ship have tested positive, and these numbers have kept climbing. During the SARS outbreak in 2003, China was still mostly the maker of low-value trinkets and cheap toys and clothing. Today, China has evolved into a main supplier of parts and components to many international industries. In addition to being an integral part of global supply chains, China also makes cars for General Motors, smart phones and computers for Apple and mobile phone chips for Qualcomm. With flights in and out of China restricted and factories halting production, China s production role in global supply chains will be drastically affected and production lines across the globe will come to a halt. According to the New York Times, “all of this could play havoc with businesses that depend on China for components, from auto factories in the American Midwest and Mexico to apparel plants in Bangladesh and Turkey… A single part of an advanced product like a smart TV may be made of dozens of smaller components, with each of these assembled from other pieces.” With factories remaining idle in China, and customers across the globe not buying what they need, Chinese factories will have to “slash orders for imported machinery, components and raw material – computer chips from Taiwan and South Korea, copper from Chile and Canada, factory equipment from Germany and Italy.” All this will affect global markets. Oil prices have already gone down by about 15 per cent, with Saudi Arabia contemplating a cut in its output to keep the price of oil from collapsing. It is suddenly dawning on us all that the world is extremely small and that what happens at one end of the globe can have far-reaching consequences the world over, whether these are health risks or damaging economic fallout. No one knows how long the coronavirus outbreak will last, how far it will spread, or how many lives it will claim. It is impossible to calculate the extent to which the virus will disrupt China s economy, but whatever happens in China will definitely resonate across the world.
“Si vis pacem, para bellum” said Roman author Publius Renatus, meaning that “if you want peace, prepare for war.” This has been the simple, yet deep, motto adopted by the Egyptian army for decades. After the signing of the peace treaty with Israel in 1979, some believed that the Egyptian army would scale back its readiness after the state of war with Israel was over. But the opposite took place during the 1980s and afterwards when modernisation and the shift from Soviet-camp weapons to Western-made ones took place, especially after the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979 and the frictions with Libya during the rule of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. These frictions reached their height in 1977 in a four-day war that ended with a decisive Egyptian victory. The reliance on mostly Western equipment continued through the 1980s to recent years due to the cordial relations with the United States up until 2013 when then US president Barack Obama temporarily banned weapons exports to Egypt following the dispersal of the Muslim Brotherhood encampment in Rabaa Square in Cairo. Following this short feud, the Egyptian leadership decided on a weapons diversification policy that favoured Russia and France. The diversification policy worked, and an assortment of defensive and offensive state-of-the-art weaponry was purchased from both countries that included fighter jets, frigates, aircraft carriers and air-defence systems such as the Russian S-300 system. As a result of this policy, more friendly countries including China, Germany, Italy, South Korea and others offered Egypt cutting edge weaponry that resulted in a massive overhaul of the Egyptian armed forces capabilities. These were manifested by the recent ranking of the Egyptian army as the ninth most powerful army in the world, according to the website the Global Firepower Index, which meant that it has overtaken the Turkish army that until recently held that spot. The Egyptian army s surpassing some of its own suppliers, including Germany and Italy, may come as a surprise to some, especially those who had not foreseen its ability to win the war on terrorism in Egypt. During wars, armies may gain experience, but they also tend to lose the quality of their equipment as losses keep piling up. But the Egyptian army rose up the ranks with new purchases and new locally manufactured equipment along with massive military bases established around the country such as the Mohamed Naguib Base on the north coast and the Berenice Base in the south-east overlooking the Red Sea. Since his service as minister of defence, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has brought about a massive reform and modernisation programme for the Egyptian army. A policy of diversification of arms purchases coupled with the renovation and upgrading of the local industry in Egypt has helped the country to move ahead of its regional counterparts by leaps and bounds and in record time. The introduction of Egypt s Rapid Deployment Force (RDF) was a major step in the right direction of modernising the army to face mounting challenges, especially in countering terrorism in Egypt and around the region. Formed in 2014, the force rivals the best in the world and parallels those of the NATO countries and Russia in terms of its mobility and capabilities. It is comprised of mainly airborne troops, highly efficient commando units, highly trained mechanised infantry, armoured corps, air-defence and anti-tank units and special reconnaissance units benefitting from an air-shield provided by fighter jets. The RDF was instrumental in crushing terrorism in Sinai backed by hostile regimes like those in Turkey and Qatar. It has also seen combat action on the border with Libya in order to secure Egypt s western borders and quell any attempts at infiltration by terrorists from the West. MILITARY PURCHASES: Massive military purchases have enhanced the Egyptian army s capabilities and ranking worldwide. The purchase of two French Mistral helicopter carriers and FREMM frigates and corvettes along with a number of German frigates and submarines have joined South Korean and Russian-made naval units and made the Egyptian navy a force to be reckoned with regionally and globally. The division of the navy into two separate fleets, one in the north in the Mediterranean Sea and the second in the south in the Red Sea, has also enhanced the navy s capabilities and expanded its reach. Moreover, the inauguration of the 160,000-hectare Berenice Military Base on the Red Sea in January 2020, following that of the Mohamed Naguib Base on the Mediterranean in 2017, has added depth and unprecedented deployment capabilities to the Egyptian army, which earlier relied on smaller bases. Egypt s growing naval power to counter mounting threats in the Mediterranean, especially from the Turkey of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, could not have been completed without a major overhaul of the air force. Egypt s already powerful air force has acquired a number of new purchases, including French Rafale fighter jets, Russian Mig-29 fighters and a large number of attack helicopters including the Kamov 50/52 and the Mi-24 to add to its already large fleet of fighter jets. A major deal with Italy may soon enhance both the air force and the navy further in the coming period. These acquisitions were introduced into the Egyptian army in record time, and they have been used during many military manoeuvres and exercises, including the Kader 2020 exercises last month. Egypt has also conducted numerous joint military exercises with allied and friendly countries, including the US, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom, Greece, India, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, all the while seeing all its branches displaying their growing capabilities as a result of the recent military reforms. Some may consider these military expenses to be a waste of money that should have been spent on development projects instead, but the truth is that without these military expenses the excellent security status that Egypt is now enjoying in a region filled with turmoil and perils would have been impossible. The aim of Egypt s ramping up its military might is not to engage in regional wars, but on the contrary is to subvert the possible ignition of such wars by others, especially by regimes such as those in Turkey and Iran. Moreover, these purchases and reforms have been coupled by equally large economic reforms and massive development projects in the country, all of which are becoming more apparent to observers as changing the face of Egypt. While the Global Firepower Index is an indicator of the improvement in the military status of Egypt and thus of the country s overall development given the other parametres the Index uses to provide a proper assessment, there are still discrepancies in the economic numbers that are better than indicated in the Index. Nevertheless, it is still eloquent testimony of growing Egyptian military power and Egypt s position as a key player in turbulent times in the region. More importantly, Egypt has maintained its position as a force for peace in the region, solidifying its peace treaty with Israel with a number of economic deals as well as countering hostile regimes seeking to spread mayhem across the region and the continent. Egypt is also lending a hand to African countries to help them to quell terrorist attacks by training African special forces to meet the growing rise of terrorism, especially in the Horn of Africa, the Sahel region, and West Africa. On 9 February, President Al-Sisi called for the formation of a unified African force to counter terrorism in the region and stated his country s willingness to hold a summit for African leaders in Cairo to produce a charter of the use of a unified force for that purpose. Despite the massive renovation of the Egyptian military over recent years, the reforms are far from over, however, and the military will see more acquisitions and developments in the coming years. History has shown that regardless of the signing of pacts, international coalitions and deals, only a standing army can thwart the greedy ambitions of others, including by the type of foreign interventions that have exacerbated the situations of Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Syria over recent years. Foreign interventions and civil wars have ripped these great nations apart owing to their lack of a unified and mighty army to defend their sovereignty and interests from foreign attacks.
So far, 2020 has brought a dose of sobriety for the Democratic Party: the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump gained little viewership, while the President s approval ratings hit a personal record high. Even more troubling is the turnout in last week s Iowa caucuses. One would expect the prospect of voting out Trump to bring record-shattering numbers of energized Democrats to the polls. Instead, the turnout was lower than expected, an ominous sign for what s to come. This shouldn t be surprising. It s becoming clear that the fault lies neither in the White House nor in the American public, but in a troubling undercurrent at the heart of the Democrat-led resistance to the Trump administration. Unless we acknowledge and address this, we re looking at a repeat of 2016. In nearly every other use of "the resistance" -- from World War II to "Star Wars" films -- the term refers to individuals battling actual tyranny while actually risking their lives. People saving Jews in Nazi-occupied France didn t advertise their bravery. Harriet Tubman didn t walk around the South soliciting accolades. For them, being discovered meant being literally slain. For them, there were consequences. Conversely, Democratic resistance leaders have often accommodated Trump while simultaneously casting themselves as martyrs in primetime passion plays, appropriating historic tragedies and pretending they live in a dictatorship. In 2018, after Trump held a press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, lawmakers and commentators compared the meeting to the Japanese slaughter of two thousand Americans at Pearl Harbor. Others went further, likening the Trump-Putin meeting to the Nazi pogrom of Jews on Kristallnacht. Last year, California Rep. Eric Swalwell invoked the Holocaust after the Trump campaign issued a memo telling television producers Swalwell and other members of Congress weren t trustworthy. It was pure trolling, malicious yet toothless. But that didn t stop Swalwell from comparing himself to Holocaust victims by referencing Pastor Martin Niemöller s "First they came for the..." poem about vulnerable groups targeted by the Third Reich. The need to explain why a powerful member of Congress in the greatest democracy in the world has nothing in common with Holocaust victims is one of the more depressingly unnecessary exercises of the past three years. The Niemöller poem resurfaced this week, when prominent Resistance member Benjamin Wittes tweeted "First they came for Comey, and I said nothing." Anne Frank huddled in an attic, then died in a Nazi concentration camp. James Comey was fired from the FBI and is currently raking in millions from book sales and speeches. Apparently to some people, those two situations are comparable. The performances aren t limited to Twitter. Last month, during Trump s impeachment trial, New York Rep. Jerry Nadler publicly called the President "a dictator" from the Senate floor. Again, it s hard to explain just how absurd and insulting this is, especially for someone like me, who came to the US as a refugee from an actual dictatorship. But perhaps the most telling encapsulation of these theatrics is the video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tearing up Trump s State of the Union address. The problem with Pelosi s gesture is that last June, she and the rest of the House leadership bankrolled Trump s dark vision for America by approving the Senate s emergency funding border bill. Other than curtailing the amount toward building Trump s wall, the bill had nearly everything the president wanted. The House Democrats couldn t stop ICE s predations on vulnerable immigrants and asylum seekers. They couldn t negotiate delivering basic sanitation supplies to the camps. They couldn t even bring themselves to censure Iowa Rep. Steve King, who has a track record of spewing the same talking points as white supremacist terrorists. But they sure could preen during the State of the Union. Over the past three years, the US courts, human rights groups, media organizations and countless ordinary Americans have stood up to the White House s attempts to circumvent our democracy. But those actions stand in stark contrast to the cynical choreography of prominent resistance champions. And if words matter, and gestures matter, and actions matter, the answer to Trump requires a sober commitment to avoid meaningless words, gestures and actions. I remember the awful helplessness of living in refugee camps and praying for America to grant asylum to me and my family. Our living conditions were nothing like the horror today s asylum seekers are going through, but still, they gave me an appreciation of true versus empty acts. And it didn t take long to realize that the people who helped us the most, bragged the least while the ones who did little, bragged the most. Comparing America to a dictatorship didn t aid a single child in the camps. Ripping up the State of the Union speech didn t help the families huddled in terror of ICE raids, or millions of individuals deprived of food stamps by the Trump administration, or Jews and Muslims fearful of getting gunned down by terrorists. If tearing up pieces of paper is the best that powerful American Democrats can do, is it any surprise to see low voter turnout? If tearing up pieces of paper is the best we can do, we re in for a depressing November.
Egypt has taken great strides towards restructuring government in a manner geared to giving a great boost to the economy and investment. These strides clearly fall in the framework of a comprehensive plan that seeks bolster local and foreign investors confidence in the Egyptian market and to advance a national vision for sustainable development. With its sights set on achieving sustainable development targets, the government focused firstly on building a sturdy foundation for the economy. The economic and administrative reform programme that the government set in motion in 2016 was instrumental in restoring overall economic stability. Previous steps helped pave the way. Above all, reforms in energy subsidies and the more efficient targeting of subsidised goods were crucial to the necessary process of deficit reduction. At the same time, the government gave high priority to steering investments towards infrastructure development, and specifically, transportation networks, electricity grids and other major projects which, combined, have worked to improve of Egypt s competitivity and its credit ranking. Last week, Minister of Planning Hala Al-Said announced that the government was especially keen to bring a new public planning law to fruition. Noting that the last public planning law dated back to the 1970s, she stressed the need for legislation to keep pace with the evolution of government, modernisation and new outlooks on planning strategies. A central aspect of the new bill is its focus on decentralisation and promoting the role of local government at the governorate and municipal levels in planning, which is in keeping with the general universal trend towards indigenising development goals in practical and measurable ways. The bill, which is expected to be submitted to parliament soon, aims to lay a uniform foundation for the exercise of local governance across the country to better enable local governing bodies to contribute to the design and implementation of development policies from the ground up. Accordingly, it also aims to promote effective coordination in economic, social and urban planning, and to lay the foundations for broad-based community participation in the planning, execution and follow-through stages. Naturally, all such processes are crucial to activating the Sustainable Development Strategy (SDS): Vision 2030. The new bill calls for the creation of a Supreme Council for Sustainable Development headed by the presidency and explicitly obliges ministries to submit biannual progress reports on projects and plans earmarked for government allocations. Provisions such as this provide a form of cement to the decentralised system under the law which gives local government bodies unprecedented leeway in designing development plans and policies. Another important feature of the bill is its focus on steering investments towards those governorates that lag behind others in development. The text of the public planning bill reflects a qualitative leap in the approach to national planning in Egypt. Without a doubt, this will bear fruit in the form of higher levels of confidence in the government and in its ability to attract local and foreign investments and facilitate steering funds towards local development projects in all parts of the country in a manner consistent with sustainable development aims. Such progress would have been unattainable were it not for the huge inroads made in restructuring the public sector and the major infrastructural development projects that have been achieved during the past six years, despite the diverse and formidable challenges Egypt encountered at many levels along the way.
Why don t the Egyptians celebrate the anniversary of ex-president Hosni Mubarak stepping down from power on February 11, 2011? Wasn t it the day they wished for when they took to the streets on January 25, 2011 to bring down the regime and demand bread, freedom and social justice? Hadn t we dreamed of that day to bring down Mubarak s succession scheme for which the constitution was amended? Did they perhaps feel disappointment after Mubarak stepped down? Has the Muslim Brotherhood hijacking the revolution spoiled that dream? Are we now approaching a return to the Mubarak era?! Why doesn t Mubarak celebrate the anniversary of his ouster? Does he not wish to hear about it? Do his sons celebrate that they became freer with less responsibilities? Is it impoliteness to gift him a bouquet of flowers on this occasion? Is it a painful occasion? Moreover, why do the people not celebrate this occasion officially? Why does the political regime not celebrate the anniversary of Mubarak s fall from power? Wasn t it the outcome of the January 25 Revolution?! Was Mubarak stepping down a bad omen for Egypt, or have we moved now to a different era both politically and economically and enjoyed greater freedoms in the process? Do we fail to celebrate because the media is mostly owned by Mubarak-era men, or is it because the 2011 revolution itself failed to provided a project for renaissance in the country? Do we not celebrate Mubarak s ouster in light of the bloodshed and acts of terrorism that have sparked hatred against the revolution and its defenders? Do the people still regret the Mubarak era? The most important question is: have we changed for the better or not? The answer is that we have become a proven military power, with the great Egyptian army recently ranked ninth internationally in terms of strength, coming before Iran, Turkey, Israel, Germany, and others. We have our own arms, our independence, and more foreign currency reserves in the Central Bank of Egypt. Residents of the slums now live in better conditions, and millions of them have moved to live in more formal housing. Furthermore, the number of roads and bridges that have been constructed surpass those constructed in half a century, and the quality of this infrastructure has also improved. Politically and economically, Egypt s standing is better now. Then why we don t celebrate this qualitative leap? Do we avoid talk of the revolution and Mubarak s ouster and declare our hate for the revolution and the revolutionaries? How do you see Mubarak s fall today, after nine years? Do you see it as the best day in Egypt s history, or the worst? Do we still remember the face of General Omar Soliman as he announced Mubarak s statement on stepping down after thirty years in power? Was Soliman himself aware at the time of our destiny or how the situation would come to evolve in Egypt? Were we hit by the confusion on the face of the spy chief during the announcement, especially when he said: only Allah blesses and helps? Shall we rejoice getting rid of the Muslim Brotherhood and the succession scheme and move to the future, with national projects being launched at unprecedented rates?! Finally, is the day of Mubarak s ouster a day of pride for Egyptians, or is it a day that the people should shy away from? In other words, should we celebrate February 11 officially or reject it?
I was recently invited by the Asian-African Legal Consultative Organisation (AALCO), in my capacity as a member of the United Nations International Law Commission, to participate in its 58th annual session held in Dar es Salaam in the United Republic of Tanzania. This was a high-level meeting attended by Egypt and most African and Asian UN member states. AALCO, with its headquarters in New Delhi, was founded in 1956 as an outcome of the historic Asian-African Conference held in Bandung, Indonesia, in April 1955. As a founding member of AALCO, Egypt has throughout the years supported the organisation and its mission. It has played host to some of its annual high-level sessions, and an Egyptian secretary-general has exercised that high function for a period of two full terms. Cairo has been chosen as a major location for one of AALCO s five Regional Arbitration Centres in Africa and Asia. Over past years, AALCO has played, with Egypt s participation, a positive role in enhancing legal cooperation among its member states and coordinating their positions in the field of international law. By the same token, it has fostered and strengthened the spirit of Asian-African identity that had given birth to the organisation. In its active involvement in the law-making process, AALCO has made valuable contributions in the fields of diplomatic law, the law of treaties, the law of the sea, human rights and international humanitarian law, international criminal law, and environmental law, among other areas. At the recently held AALCO session in Dar es Salaam, a variety of international legal issues of concern to member states were debated over four days of meetings. In reviewing the world situation, the participants declared that respect for and observance of international law was a prerequisite for international peace and security. They considered multilateralism as the solution for many crises emanating from unilateralism and protectionism. They condemned violent extremism and terrorism, as well as flagrant violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. A call to reform global governance structures was also issued. There was agreement on the need to settle disputes between states through peaceful means to be chosen by the parties themselves. In that context, the transboundary effects of climate change and environmental harm raised the importance of the pacific settlement of environmental disputes. The delegations further considered that unilateral sanctions imposed by states were an illegal exercise of extra-territorial jurisdiction and a violation of state sovereignty and of non-intervention in the internal affairs of another state. On the issue of Palestine, the participants condemned the violations of international law by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. They stressed the need to recognise East Jerusalem as the capital of the sovereign state of Palestine and condemned all measures to alter the legal status of Jerusalem, emphasising that such measures had no legal effect. They called for the settling of the conflict by peaceful means only and reaffirmed their unwavering support for the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people. In relation to the law of the sea, the meeting underlined the principle of freedom of navigation in international waters and straits. It was observed, however, that such freedom should not be used as a pretext to challenge the maritime boundaries of another state. Support was further expressed for current efforts to create an international legally binding instrument for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity. With regard to international law on cyberspace, the delegations stressed the importance of peacefully using cyberspace and the need to exert all efforts to tackle the threat of cybercrime. In that context, they supported national, regional, and international efforts to enhance cybersecurity, including the elaboration of a comprehensive international convention on combating cybercrime. On international trade and investment, the participants called for the reform of the World Trade Organisation and the development of mechanisms for the settlement of investment disputes, including the establishment of a permanent international investment court. Finally, wide support was expressed for the work of the United Nations International Law Commission in the field of the codification and progressive development of international law. I strongly believe that at a time when international law is facing tremendous challenges in today s world, it is of paramount importance for AALCO members to be actively involved in the formation of rules of international law that reflect their vital interests and legitimate concerns.
The Egyptian Nobel Prize-winning novelist Naguib Mahfouz sculpted characters not just in his novels but also in the minds of his readers. Cinema also helped him. No Arab novelist has had more films made based on his novels. As a result, his written words and the films that different filmmakers have made of them allowed Mahfouz to imprint his characters deep in the Arab imagination. There is a kind of dictatorship in talent. Mahfouz did not leave his readers with options about how to think about his characters. They are free to judge, of course. But they are also given all the details, from the externals (decisions, actions, choices and how they are made and carried out) to the internals (the why of what happens, typically delivered gradually in Mahfouz s trademark internal monologues). Although these internal expositions are difficult to portray in moving pictures, filmmakers have been faithful to this Mahfouz-esque way of revealing the layers of his characters. Mahfouz did not even leave readers with words and phrases they were familiar with, even if they were native Arabic speakers with adequate exposure to Egypt s different verbal registers. He invented “speaking flows” for his characters, not just styles of talking that actors could adopt in portraying the characters in films. These flows were intended to show in all their rawness how his characters thought. Many of Mahfouz s characters became synonymous with certain themes, transcending collections of phrases and coming, in the Arab collective consciousness, to encapsulate certain meanings. Certain characters, as Mahfouz formed them, become associated with certain emotions, say melancholy for a lost era (in the novel Miramar for example), or suppressed anger coming to the surface as pleasure-seeking nihilism (in Chatter on the Nile). Whereas for many of his international readers, Mahfouz was the creator of a universe of Egyptianness that they could sail into, stopping at different constellations, the Cairo Trilogy, for example, or even black holes of grief (such as Autumn Quail), for his Egyptian and probably also many Arab readers, Mahfouz was a creator of characters that are primarily understood as concentrations of themes. His success was colossal, and yet at the moment when Mahfouz had all the freedom he could wish for in order to write what he wanted in the way that he wanted he stopped making characters. In fact, he banished them completely from his writings. This freedom was important to him, but it had been long in coming. Mahfouz began writing seriously in the 1940s when his favourite political party, the Wafd, was in open disagreement with former king Farouk. During the rule of former president Gamal Abdel-Nasser in the1950s and 1960s, Mahfouz was careful about what he wrote. While he published arguably his deepest socio-political work in these decades, he did so without antagonising the powers that be. By the 1970s and early 1980s, age was taking its toll. The Nobel Prize for Literature came in old age. With it came a financial windfall for a man with two daughters who, like all Egyptian men of his generation, was concerned about the cost of finding “al-gehaz” (their dowries). With the Nobel Prize also came Mahfouz s untouchability by any censor or critic. Who would dare criticise the work of the only Arab author ever to achieve such a prestigious international accolade? Freedom also came after a knifing in the neck. Asked what he thought of the 22-year-old who attempted to kill him in the 1990s because he had heard Muslim sheikhs denounce his writings as heretical, the 82-year-old Mahfouz said he wished the young man in question had read his work and thought about it for himself. In these precious years until his death roughly a decade after the attack, Mahfouz stripped his ideas from his characters. He soared away from his beloved Cairo, with its political, societal and emotional complications. Instead, he flew inside himself, seeing in the internal what is external, connecting his own world of ideas with what he imagined was a cosmos of ideals. In these years, Mahfouz wrote of the beyond and of what many critics saw as an old man s reflections on death. But his beyond was more than abstractions abut the end of life, for Mahfouz s words were as much about beginnings as they were about endings. He consistently chose to label many of his writings of this last period “dreams”. But their coherence, direction and subtle confidence were far from the vagueness, circularity and beguiling fluidity of dreams. Mahfouz s “dreams” were intentional dives into an ocean of meanings, out of which he selected, put together and then put forward what he wanted his readers to think of as his last words. His insistence on making these dreams devoid of any key characters, including himself, could not be anything but intentional. In contrast to his works over the previous six decades, in this last period Mahfouz pushed ideas and ideals to the forefront, allowing them to penetrate his readers minds without any coating of the flesh of characters or circumstances. Just before waving goodbye, or perhaps au revoir, the old man made sure that his last thoughts, his last words, carried nothing but their innate meanings. This direct aim at meaning might have been a reflection of where Mahfouz found himself in this last stage of his life. Perhaps, freed from the shackles of navigating society s politics and norms and freed from the need to create for a living, he had found an easier way to long-sought meanings. Instead of unfolding meanings through the protracted journeys of complex characters in novel form, he found that going directly towards the desired ends paid off more quickly and effectively. Some think of these last works by Mahfouz in a Roman Catholic sense, seeing in them his admission of an earlier sin of omission. It was as if those last words were his way of saying what he could not have said in the earlier six decades. However, this is not true. Mahfouz had earlier been cautious, but that was not the point. What he had said in the previous six decades and in the long journeys of characters whose lives he had laboriously laid out in front of us in his novels had been necessary for Mahfouz himself and was also necessary for those who read his later work to arrive at understanding the new direct routes he was taking. In a way, the long journeys had been a process of growth for Mahfouz that was necessary for the directness that was to follow. An old saying says that books take on lives of their own after publication. This will happen to Mahfouz s last collections of reflections and dreams. Although these later works are now generally treated as separate from his novels, I think they will come to be seen as the seal of his literary output. Perhaps in his own way, Mahfouz was following the Islamic schools of gnosis that have sought to subtly educate before raising the eyes to heaven with the mantra “O Omniscient, I have been informed.”
The reprehensible habit of female genital mutilation (FGM) has taken another life; a 12-year-old girl forced into a clinic to cut off part of her body to preserve – as they claim – her honor as she grows older and becomes a woman. The poor girl died in their hands, a victim of ignorance as many girls before her. And others will be, as long as there those among us who promote this habit in small mosques, sensational books and unfortunately on television channels, all in the name of religion which has nothing to do with this urge to amend the creation of God – glorified and exalted be he – and discriminate against the human body. Whoever understands the verses of the Holy Quran will never find anything that suggests the permissibility of this practice, and it is inconceivable that the Holy Prophet would say otherwise. It is true Egyptian law has set severe penalties for those who perform FGM, such as imposing prison sentences for who responsible for the operation. Truth be told, the National Council for Women and the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood are making a great effort to confront this painful crime. But all this means is that unfortunately, Egypt continues to occupy an advanced position in the world regarding FGM operations – nearly 80 percent of married women in Egypt who are between the ages of 15 to 49 years have undergone the operation. UNICEF has said that Egypt is the world leader in FGM operations, alongside Somalia, Guinea, Djibouti and Mali. Egypt s Dar al-Iftaa recently stated that FGM is forbidden in Islam, and is an act of aggression on women and their rights, stressing: No to female genital mutilation. I wonder: Where is the enlightened media in Egypt in the face of this habit, which passes the limits of brutality and humiliation? Where are the campaigns – especially with photos – devoted to religious, social and medical awareness against this habit? Where is the urgency to explain its seriousness and its incompatibility with true religious teachings? It is an attack on and modification of God s creation and a criminal act against children who can t decide in this case, and no one has the right to cut out parts of their bodies against their will. What happens to girls who fall victim to FGM and suffer from it for life is saddening. This silence about the procedure being carried out throughout the country, many of them by doctors – unfortunately – is a kind of torture that takes place in the dark, sometimes revealed by the sudden death of young girls.
Though an army may encamp against me, My heart shall not fear; Though war may rise against me, In this I will be confident. This is how psalm 27 verse 3 described peace of the heart that leads to peace of mind and act. Pope Shenouda III wrote that peace comes from faith. A heart full of faith leads to mind full of peace no matter how much problems are surrounding man. Having internal peace may be affected by s