The one-day general strike that was supposed to shut down France last Thursday is now stretching at least into next week as President Emmanuel Macron perseveres in his efforts to drag his nation into the 21st century. This time, he s leaping onto the third rail of French society and politics, the nation s Byzantine pension system — actually 42 public and private systems that are hell-on-wheels to navigate and give French workers some of the world s most liberal (and expensive) retirement benefits. Macron has declared an all-out campaign to consolidate them into a single national system managed -- naturellement -- by the state. So, as with most major grievances of the French people, going back to the French Revolution, it s "to the barricades," or at least into the streets. The walkout began on Thursday with transport workers, really the heart and soul of French life. Transportation is nearly frozen. All but two of 16 lines of the Metro system are shut down — those two being the only lines that run automatically without conductors. Rail service across the country, including the high-speed TGV network, has slowed to a trickle. And now, the walkout has spread to schools and colleges, which are closing as their teachers strike. Even the Eiffel Tower shut down its gleaming lights that are a beacon in the night horizon of Paris. The strike will continue at least until Monday, but unions are now calling for another nationwide demonstration on Tuesday — the day the government has said it will unveil details of just what it has in mind. Until now, France and its outraged workers have been running largely on rumors of what the plan might hold. All that s been disclosed thus far is that France would embrace some form of Sweden s "points" system — with workers accumulating points throughout their working lives, which they could cash in at some still undefined moment. It would be a more equitable and simpler system, the president claims. It s not surprising that so many are afraid of losing ground. After all, while the official French retirement age is 62, as the New York Times reported, "Train drivers can retire at 52, public electric and gas workers at 57, and members of the national ballet, who start dancing at a very young age, as early as age 42." And retirement can mean a pension of up to 75% of the wage they earn while they re actively working. France has the lowest retirement age of any Western European nation. A lot of this stretches back to the post-war leadership of Charles de Gaulle, who — facing the challenges of rebuilding France and taking the leading role as Europe s statesman -- simply let a host of different unions (including those representing teachers, lawyers, accountants, transport workers and stage and screen performers) set their own level of pensions and retirement age. The result is that France is being bled white by the generosity of these plans. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that France spends at least 14% of its GDP on pensions each year — more than twice the level of the 6.8% spent in the United States. "New measures to raise the effective age of labor market exit will be needed," the OECD reported perfunctorily in April. Indeed, the French government seems to feel that rationalizing the pension system, along with other reforms Macron has in mind, could actually mean tax cuts and a boost to GDP. Of course, other such Macron economic reforms — like a steep hike in gas taxes — are what sent the "gilets jaunes" (yellow vests) protestors into the streets a year ago. Macron had only just gotten past that problem before the pension crisis arose. And it comes at a particularly parlous moment for him. On Monday, he is poised to host Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky in Paris for a landmark summit on Ukraine. That meeting, along with his contentious run-in with President Donald Trump at last week s NATO summit in London appear to be elements in the French President s carefully-crafted campaign to assume the mantle of the leading political figure in Europe, now that Merkel has announced her retirement, at the latest in 2021. The question, following the "yellow vests" movement, is how much more of this unrest he can take before his international standing starts to suffer and he loses his grip on the political party he created when he convinced people he was the answer to economic France s stagnation? Macron is not one to give up easily. Nor should he. The fact is, he s right. Too often France quite simply doesn t work. Its bureaucracy is paralyzing. I should know. It s taken me weeks and two visits to government offices simply to create a "personal page" on the French internet tax system — the only way to monitor my payments. Still, Macron may have to compromise in order to win. The French often must be led forcefully to a solution they resist but that will improve all their lives in the long run. The problem is that most still can t see beyond the fact that the long run might take them past their long-anticipated early and lucrative retirement.
Sen. Kamala Harris is gone, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has risen, Sen. Elizabeth Warren seems to have lost her momentum, and overlooking the shuffling deck from on high is former Vice President Joe Biden, who was the favorite before he was even a candidate. In many ways, voters preference for Uncle Joe harks back to a time when a party s nomination often seemed predetermined once a candidate had put decades into public service and grown his or her name recognition. You know: so-and-so has been around for x number of years — it s his turn. The election of President Barack Obama sparked a change in that model, while President Donald Trump set the whole thing ablaze. Clearly, Democrats are willing to swing the pendulum back the other way, first with the party s chosen nominee in 2016, Hillary Clinton, and now with frontrunner Biden — although the latter comes with a curious caveat. For as much as Biden, who was first elected to the Senate in 1972, touts himself as the man who can restore dignity to the White House, the truth is he is a behavioral and rhetorical wild card as well. Take his recent confrontation with a voter at a campaign event in Iowa. The man accused Biden of placing his son, Hunter, with a Ukrainian gas company "in order to get access to the president" (he was referring to Barack Obama) — an accusation for which there is zero evidence. The way Biden handled the moment was Trumpian. He called him a "damn liar" and later said, "You re too old to vote for me." He even challenged the man to a pushup contest. I repeat: a pushup contest. Such a diatribe, while entertaining for some, completely undermines the idea that Biden will restore dignity and grace to the Oval Office. When faced with a similar situation in 2008 at a voter town hall meeting, then-presidential candidate Sen. John McCain did not attack the voter who said she didn t trust Obama because "he s an Arab." Instead, McCain defended his opponent and respectfully corrected her by saying, "No ma am. He s a decent family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that s what this campaign is all about." For all of the racist and Islamophobic vitriol that hovered over that year s general election, McCain s interaction with that voter pierced through the darkness to remind voters what it means to be presidential. Biden s interaction, on the other hand, reminded voters what it means to be mean — not that we needed it. A one-off is easy to ignore but these lapses are not a rare occurrence for Biden. I was at the Human Rights Campaign s LGBTQ town hall event in October when the 77-year-old went drifting into some bizarre verbiage about "gay bathhouses" and "round-the-clock sex." Back in August, Biden said "poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids," which is precisely the kind of well-intended racist sentiment that would have sent liberals into a frenzy had a Republican said it. He called 54-year-old Kamala Harris "kid." Just imagine what the headlines would look like if Trump had done the same. I m not trying to draw a false equivalency here. I recognize these two rivers likely diverge when it comes to intent. Still, it feels as if Democrats grant Biden a much longer rope with regards to error while keeping their opponent chained to a far shorter leash. And that s the Democratic voters prerogative. But with every gaffe, Biden chips away at his own claim that he s a better choice than Trump because he can restore decorum. Calling a misinformed voter a liar and challenging him to a pushup contest reeks of the machismo present in Trump s thinly-veiled exchange about penis size with Sen. Marco Rubio in 2016. Rubio said, "He s always calling me Little Marco. And I ll admit he s taller than me. He s like 6-(feet)-2-(inches), which is why I don t understand why his hands are the size of someone who is 5-(feet)-2(inches). And you know what they say about men with small hands? You can t trust them." Days later, Trump responded to the jab during a debate and said, "If they re small, something else must be small. I guarantee you there s no problem. I guarantee." It might be perfect dialogue for a cheesy, R-rated comedy, but it s painfully disappointing for two men vying to be President of the United States. The same can be said about Biden s exchange with that voter from Iowa. For those who are used to Trump s crass behavior and vile rhetoric, there might be a desire among some voters to see a candidate sling some mud. And that s fine. But you can t do that while claiming to be the candidate who can clean things up. Biden needs to decide what kind of campaign he is going to run, and Democrats need to remember there is a difference between beating Trump at his own game and restoring the dignity of the White House they believe his presidency has tarnished.
Gary Cohn is a Democrat and a robust supporter of trade, immigration and climate action. So why did he go to work for a president who pitched his candidacy in ferocious opposition to all three? "I thought that I could potentially sway him," the Wall Street veteran told me on the latest episode of my podcast, "The Axe Files." Cohn said his decision to accept Donald Trump s invitation to become director of the National Economic Council was rooted in his faith that "fact-based" reason would prevail. "In my mind, having a seat on the inside and trying to influence was better than being on the outside and trying to get to a more positive outcome on, you know, climate, on trade, on immigration." Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs executive, did align with Trump on deregulation and tax reform, and helped orchestrate the controversial tax cut bill of 2017 that Trump claims as a principal achievement. But on other issues the two clashed, with Cohn quitting in protest in 2018 after the President imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from China and other countries. Listening to Cohn describe how he and a cadre of now-departed advisers tried to steer Trump away from his worst impulses and key positions, I had two reactions: One was that there is no one left in the White House to push back, a fear Cohn echoed in our conversation. "There was a group that was willing to tell the President what he needed to know, whether he wanted to hear it or not ... None of us are there anymore," he told me. "So I am concerned that the that the atmosphere in the White House is no longer conducive -- or no one has the personality -- to stand up and tell the President what he doesn t want to hear." Cohn s hope that Trump, like past presidents, would be willing to moderate some of his positions in light of facts and governing realities was a colossal misreading of the man, and reflected hubris and wishful establishment thinking. Trump s refusal to yield to his advisers and abandon his vivid, signature positions has a lot to do with why he retains the fierce loyalty of his base, even in the face of impeachment and the chaos that reigns around him. Trump s approval rating has held steady and remained in the low 40s throughout the impeachment inquiry. His unwillingness to be "swayed" on trade, immigration and climate and an array of social issues -- or to curb his smash-mouth politics -- may alarm his opposition. But to his loyal supporters, they are emblems of authenticity upon which Trump will stake his claim in 2020. It is a base only, base always strategy, risky in a country that grows more diverse and metropolitan by the day. But Trump is gambling that in the older, whiter, less-educated industrial states that matter -- Pennsylvania, Michigan and, particularly, Wisconsin -- he can replicate his 2016 formula and eke out another victory.
In addition to the number of the supporters of the Waliyas, the nickname given to the Ethiopian national football team, at the Addis Ababa Stadium in their tough game against Cote d’Ivoire on 19 November, the scenes of the crowd’s jubilant celebrations after Ethiopia’s 2-1 win had something else worthy of scrutiny. The emblem that used to define Ethiopia’s national flag, in other words the yellow star with its radiant rays standing for unity in diversity raised by late prime minister Meles Zenawi, had suddenly disappeared, sparing only the three traditional colours of the flag of red, yellow and green. It seems the fans wanted to show a departure from the Ethiopia of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). Now, they are embracing a brand new Ethiopia, after three of the four major parties of the coalition that used to run the country since 1991 have officially buried the front, with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front’s (TPLF) total rejection of the newly formed Ethiopian Prosperity Party. Posing as federalists, the TPLF branded the merger a sham and one that had ruined the very fabric on which Ethiopia’s polity had been based some 30 years ago. As the cards are stacked against them, prominent TPLF member Getachew Reda, once a government spokesperson, said in a defiant tone moments after the burial of the EPRDF that “we will cross that bridge when we come to it.” Earlier, he said that Tigrayans would again carry arms if there was a need to do so. Fears are mounting in this small region that the Ethiopian federal government may use force to subjugate what was once the powerhouse of the country. A defiant Tigray is not, however, the sole pain in the neck for Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed because objections to his unionist approach have come from his own fellow Oromos. Against all the odds, Lemma Megerssa, Ahmed’s hand-picked defence minister, also explicitly said that the merger of the EPRDF into the Prosperity Party was wrong and that even if it was right it was not the appropriate time to do it. He even uttered his objections to the Medamer philosophy that the Ethiopian prime minister has embraced and detailed in a book he has released. But nationalist Megerssa did not utter his objections out of a federalist inclination, but rather an ethnicity based one. He said that the questions raised by the Oromo people, who had entrusted their leaders with finding appropriate responses to them, should have received appropriate responses first before thinking of the merger. The Ethiopian minister of defence opposes the dissolution of the Oromo Democratic Party (OPD) and holds the view that this is the party that the Oromo people have entrusted their woes and demands to and not any other. But what are those demands? Are the Oromos not satisfied with one of their own assuming the highest executive position in the nation for the first time in modern history? In practice, the Oromos are now having golden moments unparalleled in the history of the country. In the past, they decried the Tigrayans’ hegemony over the political structure and the security apparatus, while now, to the dissatisfaction of other ethnicities, the Oromos are accused of replicating the Tigrayans’ experience when they were in power. Concurrently, another no to the merger has come from the man whose actions while in exile helped Ahmed to assume office. Political activist Jawar Mohamed, who was the victim of a recent smear campaign branding him an extremist Muslim who wants Sharia-based rule in Ethiopia, spoke of a new entity that would gather all the country’s pro-federalism parties together. Some speculate that he and the outspoken critic Megerssa may form a new coalition that would be a killer blow to the overambitious Ahmed’s political career. Ahmed’s Prosperity Party is widely seen as a back-door policy to tighten his grip on power, just as godfather of modern Ethiopia Meles Zenawi did with the EPRDF. But unlike quick-witted Zenawi, who managed to surf gracefully in dangerous waters, the present Ethiopian prime minister is flying blind, given the rising opposition from within his own entourage. In tandem with the political earthquake rocking the country, Ethiopians last week welcomed the State of Sidama, Ethiopia’s officially tenth region – except that less than two per cent of the 2.4 million people who form the region’s population unanimously voted for statehood. Seemingly, Sidama statehood may have a domino effect on other nationalities in southern Ethiopia. Eleven of the 12 southern nationalities have already submitted official requests for holding local referenda for statehood. They are Wolaytta (from which Ethiopia’s former prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn hails), with its 2.4 million people; Gurage (1.8 million people); Gamo and Kembata Tembaro (one million people each); Bench-Maji and Hadiya (900,000 and 800,000 people, respectively); Dawro Zone (700,000 people) Gofa (1.3 million people that submitted a request in May this year); and South Omo (800,000 people that also submitted their request in April this year). Out of all these southern nationalities, the Wolaytta’s quest for statehood remains the next challenge. Historically speaking, Wolaytta was an influential independent kingdom until its annexation by the Ethiopian emperor Menelik II in the 1890s in his successful expedition to enlarge the Empire. That annexation is branded as “one of the bloodiest campaigns of the whole process of expansion,” as Ethiopian historian Bahru Zewde has put it. It was so because the once-powerful kingdom ferociously resisted its subjugation and inflicted huge damage upon Menelik’s invading armies. Though Wolaytta was one of the nine regions of Ethiopia in 1991, the same year the now-defunct EPRDF took over, the then transitional government decided to merge the ethnicity into the larger Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region. Just a few months after Abiy Ahmed took over as prime minister, ethnic-based conflicts took the lives of scores of people drawn from the Wolaytta in Hawassa, the capital of the newly formed State of Sidama. The atrocities and the burning alive of people have given rise to a now-prominent youth grouping called the Yalaga, a group of Wolaytta youths who want to restore the glory of their ancestors. Since assuming office 19 months ago, Abiy Ahmed has taken long strides towards reforming Ethiopia, drafting his own model of Perestroika E Glasnost (Restructuring and Openness), a policy once adopted by the last leader of the former Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev. Ahmed’s policies are internationally celebrated because the West as usual fails to understand the core of the problems and the intertwined nature of Ethiopian society. Ahmed has been regionally welcomed with much cautiousness, but he is locally looking vulnerable. This is due to the mounting cracks within the ruling elite and the uncertainty overwhelming the 112 million people of Ethiopia who have failed to get a clear-cut answer to the question of where Ethiopia is heading. The writer is a former press and information officer in Ethiopia and an expert on African affairs.
Many British citizens from the north of country to the south are wondering where their country is heading. The ripple effects of the vote to leave the European Union, the so-called Brexit, still have not run their course, clouding the atmosphere with uncertainty and doubts about the future of the United Kingdom and its political and economic prospects. For decades, the British capital of London has taken pride of place as the world s most important financial centre, even preceding the status of New York. But the last few years after the Brexit vote have been troubled and have led to the loss of over one trillion pounds sterling of assets from the United Kingdom. Even the British bank Barclays has moved 166 billion from the UK to Ireland as a result of concerns about the post-Brexit period. Many international and British corporations have either downsized or moved their operations away from the UK, with companies such as Panasonic and Sony moving their headquarters from the UK to Holland. Others have cancelled plans for investment, such as Nissan and Toyota, which may close their UK facilities by 2023. In short, the economic situation looks worrying. Then there is British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who instead of calming growing post-Brexit fears and the panic over possible economic stagnation and recession has announced that he will be targeting billionaires and big corporations in the United Kingdom. These, he says, have bankrolled the ruling UK Conservative Party to the tune of 100 billion pounds sterling ($126 billion). Corbyn has accused British billionaires of bankrolling his opponents, as 48 out of the 151 UK billionaires have donated more than 50 million to the Conservative Party since 2005 alone. He has called their wealth “obscene” and has vowed to tax these billionaires, saying it would take a man on the UK minimum wage 69,000 years to make one billion. While there may be some truth in the last calculation, this kind of communistic propaganda is a new low for Corbyn s Labour Party because it instills hate among the public towards success and entrepreneurship. He is comparing the years a minimum-wage worker would take to become a billionaire, while neglecting the fact that an average worker might not even get a job at the minimum wage if it wasn t for those billionaires with their “obscene” wealth as he calls it. In his speech on 21 November, Corbyn introduced communist-style plans to nationalise the UK water, post, railways and energy companies, while introducing pay raises for public-sector workers. If Corbyn had not been delivering his speech in English at a conference in the UK city of Birmingham, one might have thought this was a speech by some developing world dictator of the 1960s or 1970s. But the reality was that this speech was made in the United Kingdom in 2019, which breaches the boundaries of sanity. The desperate tones adopted by the Labour leader reflects his and his party s panic over the gains of the Conservatives in the opinion polls before December s elections, with the Conservatives now leading by 19 per cent over the Labour Party. Such polls can be accurate, but there is no way of knowing the effects such speeches about increasing taxes on the wealthy and increasing benefits for the impoverished through acts of nationalisation may have on the average voter. Some voters may feel desperate enough to vote for the Labour Party and its eccentric leader, who appears desperate enough to become prime minister even if this is at the cost of a collapsing British economy. Most countries that suffered from socialism in the 1960s in the Middle East, Africa and Asia have now become robust and competitive capitalist economies. However, at the same moment in the West there are still some who are apparently still preaching socialist-communist dreams of equality and shared wealth that always fail when it comes to implementing them in reality. Some of them claim that China, potentially the largest economy in the world and second only to the United States in terms of GDP, is a communist economy, but this is a fallacy and twists the facts. While the Chinese Communist Party still survives and controls the country as the single party, with many aspects of communism still lurking in China, the country s main drive to the great economic successes that it is now enjoying has been due to its introduction of a capitalist economy. This has allowed the influx of hundreds of billions of dollars to flood the Chinese economy and the establishment of millions of commercial companies and manufacturing plants in China over the past few decades. More millionaires and billionaires have emerged in the exponentially growing Chinese economy than in most other countries in the world, and yet China has not declared war on them as Corbyn has on the British billionaires. There are 476 billionaires in China, which is only second to the United States, and that is not counting the 4.4 million millionaires and the over 150,000 that appear in China every year. These people employ millions of Chinese citizens and other nationalities worldwide and have helped to cement China as the world s biggest exporter and next in line to becoming the biggest economy in the world, with some analysts already calling the 21st century the Chinese century. China did not attain this success by following Karl Marx s failed theories, proven wrong time and time again, but it did so through capitalist economic plans that transformed China from being a near failed state in 1980 to the economic giant that it has become in 2019. The failed dreams of the communist economies of the former Soviet Bloc are apparently still lurking in the minds of many, and the latest victim to be claimed by communism is Venezuela, at one time the most stable and robust economy in Latin America. Venezuela is now hammered with failure and astronomical inflation rates reaching 344,509 per cent in February 2019, unprecedented in the history of economics. Venezuelans have late president Hugo Chavez and incumbent President Nicolas Maduro to blame for this resounding failure. Should Corbyn find his way into 10 Downing Street in Britain and become the country s next prime minister, given his history of controversy, including befriending the leaders of the terrorist groups Hamas and Hizbullah, there is a good chance of his carrying out his twisted election promises and initiating a war on whomever he deems as being too rich or too successful in Britain. Such acts of government crackdown on the rich have always spelled the beginning of a long and agonising road to a failed economy. Corbyn should drop these childish dreams and act like the political leader of a great country and not as a communist student union leader. The country that introduced capitalist economics to the world through the work of Scottish economist Adam Smith (1723-1790) appears to be on the verge of an economic breakdown, and this will become certain if Corbyn is allowed to carry out his wild promises on a British economy that even if it can survive the onslaught of the post-Brexit era will not be able to survive a prime minister whose chief concern is to target the successful.
A critical reading of the history of Arab thought during the past two decades reveals a missing or perhaps even a deliberately concealed truth, which is that this body of thought has been the victim of ideological affiliations that have exerted such a force over the Arab intellect as to compel it to read what has been happening in our societies through doctrinal blinkers. These have filtered out complexities and prevented the insights necessary to understand the laws governing the development of Arab societies. The result has been a cognitive gap between intellectual perceptions and a thorough understanding of our societies and the causes for their advance or decline. This gap has been aggravated by a tendency to ignore the voices of the masses, whose day-to-day struggles nevertheless shape the components of our lives. Arab intellectuals have given insufficient attention to learning directly from the masses and have too often ignored their aspirations. Modern Arab thought has run the full spectrum from the reformist outlooks of the 19th century through the liberal and Arab nationalist and socialist orientations of the 20th. Much of this thought has failed to promote the realisation of the ideological visions that informed it, though it has left behind it a rich legacy of ideas even if this has remained confined to the ivory towers of the intelligentsia and has not influenced the outlooks of the masses. Some Arab intellectuals have stood up to the Western challenge by saying, correctly, that the scientific, philosophical and cultural achievements of Western civilisation had their roots in Arab Islamic civilisation. Had it not been for the scholars who transmitted Arab science and philosophy to Europe, the West would never have achieved the breakthroughs that led to the European Renaissance, not just in the sciences, but also in the humanities and in the ethics of freedom, equality and the openness to others. Such values formed the core of the Arab Islamic civilisation. Yet, the Arab cultural elites failed to appreciate that implanting these ideas and value systems, as they had evolved in the West, into culturally and developmentally different Arab societies could only produce a truncated and deficient version of modernity, especially given prevailing tribal or sectarian-based systems of government. Marxist thought, despite its theoretically rich and enlightening legacy, failed to establish the foundations of genuine social change on the basis of the principles of social justice and class equality in the Arab region. It collided with authoritarian regimes that were for the most part subordinated to Western influences and propped up by allies among the business classes, tribal leaders, rural oligarchies and corrupt bureaucracies. The fate of socialist activists in the Arab world was thus often marginalisation and repression, while wealth remained concentrated in the hands of an elite that continued to control the institutions that shaped political, cultural and social life. Simultaneously, the army and security apparatuses were transformed into instruments to support and perpetuate the power of the ruling classes, while over 75 per cent of the Arab peoples became poor and marginalised. The Arab socialist thinkers failed to readjust and rectify their approaches, despite their noble aims and the huge sacrifices they made in the pursuit of their ideals. They were unable to look beyond the theoretical principles of Marxist or socialist thought or to draw on the experiences of other countries, among them China, which incorporated a grasp of the realities of their own societies and histories. Arab socialists, by contrast, did not attempt to study Arab economic, cultural and social history. They did not attempt to study the Arab Islamic heritage in terms of its impact on the masses. They remained confined to their own circles in urban centres and never thought to step into the streets to engage with the masses and learn from their experiences. Despite the fact that a common Arabic language and culture and a shared national struggle against foreign domination lent the Arab nationalist movements a remarkable momentum during the national liberation struggles, enabling the banner of Arab unity to prevail, these movements were adversely affected by the ambiguity surrounding the concept of Arab nationalism. There was never a consensus over the definition of the term or for realising its aspirations on the ground. The Arab defeat in the June 1967 War with Israel delivered a debilitating blow from which this body of thought would never recover. Liberal thought in the Arab world also remained confined to the intelligentsia and never gained ground among the broader masses, primarily because of its focus on political rights and its blindness to questions of social justice for the popular classes that make up the vast majority of the Arab populations. It failed to address the fact that these classes still live in the framework of a traditional legacy shaped by sectarian, ethnic and tribal affiliations and values, and they suffer from the poverty that has too often resulted from the policies of Arab governments. Regarding the region s religious heritage, in theory each generation receives the scriptures in its own historic context and interprets them within the framework of contemporary conditions. However, the Arab world has been afflicted with a stagnation of religious thought since the Middle Ages as the result of the closure of the bab al-ijtihad in the early Ottoman era. Ijtihad licenses Islamic jurists to exercise independent reasoning, in contrast to taqlid, or conformity to tradition, in areas where the Quran and the hadith, or Prophetic traditions, are not unambiguous. In the modern era, this stagnation has led to the political exploitation of religion and religious sentiments. Islamist groups rely on the interpretations of mediaeval jurists to justify their political projects, while official religious institutions perpetuate the ambient intellectual stagnation. The result has been the reproduction of generations of imams and jurists who adhere to the injunction to “obey the ruler” without question and the obstruction of attempts to renovate religious thought. Against this backdrop of a crisis in Arab thought, the problems of democratisation, civil society and human rights gained prominence in Arab political discourse in the 1980s. As Arab intellectuals grew engrossed in such questions, they tended to overshadow other issues, such as economic, social and cultural rights and the underlying question of citizenship. It is precisely here that we find the crux of the crisis in the gap between the intelligentsia and the people that exploded with the Arab Spring Revolutions in 2011. These brought unprecedented hopes and promises, even if the upheavals and frustrations that followed them ushered in new rounds of already timeworn questions. Arab intellectuals were also left with the possibly even greater problem of how to address their ongoing subordination to Western modes of thought.
Human rights are based on the principal of equality, meaning “all rights to all people”. They also infer equality between countries, all of which have equal rights and duties towards their people and other countries. When Europeans invaded Africa, they found people who are different in looks, colour, creed and with different values and traditions. They assumed these are not “humans” and decided to own their land and resources. The record of Europe in Africa is not very honourable. With European countries competing to control Africa, the UK was the “pioneer”, and now that Europe is advocating equality and “human rights” all over the world, I am confident that they are now willing to correct their behaviour and pay their debts to Africa. PIONEER OF THE INVADERS: France and Portugal had started their exploits in Africa. Britain had conquered southern Africa and penetrated parts of the western coasts of the continent. These incursions were met with resistance prompting the British parliament in 1854 to ask the government to stop its campaigns in Africa. Until 1875, the size of the British possessions in Africa did not exceed 640,000 square kilometres, some of which had been purchased from Denmark and some had been exchanged with Holland against lands in Sumatra and Southeast Asia. Britain also exercised strong influence in Zanzibar which had been separated from Muscat by the governor of India in 1861. France, meanwhile, appropriated a small part of the North African coast in Algiers, Senegal, Guinea coast, the Gulf of Gabon and some areas on the southern coast of the Red Sea. The Portuguese had appropriated land that did not exceed 100,000 square kilometres. In the 1870s, the European powers were involved in heated competition to conquer and divide the African continent among themselves. Germany joined the race after its victory in the 1870 war with France. At the same time, France began settling and colonising parts of north Africa. Italy went into Eritrea. The king of Belgium, who was intrigued by the discoveries of Livingstone and Stanley in the Congo Basin, decided to send an expedition to occupy that basin. The success of the expedition aroused the concern of the European powers who feared that this might encourage individual adventurers. This led them to expedite the apportionment of the African continent among themselves. For years after that Africa became the scene of intrigue and military exploits. Portugal occupied Angola and Mozambique, Germany occupied Tanganyika and Cameroon, and Britain the Niger Basin and then the Nile Basin. The US contributed to the invasion of Africa, not as an occupier but as an enslaver. Africa was the source of slaves who build that emergent nation, and they only obtained their freedom after a gruelling civil war. All the countries above, without exception, exploited Africa, abused its resources and exploited its people. Even the River Nile, the pure and eternal African wonder of the world, they considered their own. In November 1884, the colonial powers met at a conference in Berlin to determine and outline their spheres of influence in Africa. The conference was attended by Germany, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, the United States, France, Britain, Italy, Holland, Portugal, Russia, Sweden, Norway and Turkey. In a series of acts, protocols, agreements, treaties, declarations and exchanges of notes, collected in three volumes by Hertslet (1967), participant powers delineated their spheres of influence, which eventually became the borders of modern African states as we know them today. Foremost among these agreements are: the Rome Protocol, 15 April 1891; the Addis Ababa Convention, 15 May 1902; the London Convention of 13 December 1906; the Rome Convention of 1925; and the July 1993 Cooperation Framework. Two agreements between Egypt and Sudan were struck in parallel: the 1929 Convention; and the 1959 Convention. THE COLONIAL RESOURCE-GRAB: Africa does not need European resources. The reverse is the case. Africa has vast stretches of cultivable land and it has agronomists and other scientists who work in international organisations and Western nations. It is rich in basic minerals. There are abundant sources of iron in Mauritania and Zambia, of aluminium in Guinea, nickel in Mozambique, chrome in West Africa and natural gas in Egypt. But Africa does need two things: the transfer of the technology and knowhow to enable African countries to optimise the utilisation of their resources, especially in such fields as healthcare, fighting epidemics, education, modernisation of agriculture, industrialisation and exports; and investment, in particular in order to support infrastructural development, an area in which Egyptian expertise can contribute greatly. Egypt, as chair of the African Union, underscored these realities and drew up the necessary plans for the development of the African continent and its people. It convened numerous conferences and meetings towards these ends, the most recent of which was the third G20 Africa Summit in Berlin to bolster the business climate and spur investment in the continent. WHERE EUROPE CAN MAKE AMENDS: One of the foremost areas in which Europe and Africa can and should work closely together is water resources. Africa, like other regions in the world, is grappling with the problem of both the availability and quality of fresh water. The continent s needs in this regard call for numerous hydraulic projects to harness water for electricity (such as the electricity generating project that Egypt has been working on in Tanzania), to put cultivable land to work, to prevent water loss due to evaporation, to make potable water available to millions and to serve other crucial developmental needs. The Bahr Al-Ghazal, the main western tributary of the Nile, is an area that merits closer attention due to the huge amounts of water that are lost in the vast marshes known as the Sudd wetlands. It is a region that offers plenty of scope for canalisation and other hydraulic projects to conserve and harness the lost water. Another area where enormous amounts of water are lost is at the source of the White Nile in the Great African Lakes. The Lake Victoria basin receives more than 110 million m3 a year, but only about 30 million m3 of this exits the lake into the White Nile. Only 33 million m3 of water makes its way through the White Nile from the Equatorial plateau into the approximately 700 km2 of Sudd wetlands. It is here in this region where the Bahr Al-Ghazal, which flows 160 kilometres eastward from Al-Riqq, joins the White Nile at Lake No. Only six per cent of the more than 500 million m3 of rain that falls on the Bahr Al-Ghazal basin makes its way into Lake No. Surely hydraulic projects in these areas would offer an excellent opportunity for Nile Basin countries to overcome longstanding differences between upstream and downstream countries (Egypt and Sudan) by working together to persuade Europe to fund much needed water conservation projects. Perhaps Lake Victoria could be the starting point, it being the largest of the African Great Lakes (69,000 km2) and the main source of the White Nile. There has been a proposal to construct a dam to help conserve the waters lost from this lake. This could be the focus of a cooperative project that brings together Nile Basin countries and Europe in an endeavour that could greatly augment available water resources in the White Nile, which would be shared equitably in accordance with an international agreement. I know that such an idea has been mooted before, but it never got off the ground because of a number of conflicts of interests and ambitions. However, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, who has the resolve and discernment to rise above petty differences and look towards the future, has ushered in a new phase for Africa based on mutual understanding and cooperation, and it is this spirit that should encourage the governments concerned to re-examine their positions for the sake of the collective benefit to be had from preventing the loss of enormous quantities of Nile waters. PAYING COLONIAL DEBTS: For centuries, European countries colonised, exploited and enslaved the peoples of Africa. Today, they should repent, by which we mean they should remedy their wrongs by contributing to the development of this continent. There is plenty of scope for this through any number of development projects to which Africa s European partners could contribute. They should simultaneously bear in mind that they, too, stand to gain, as development of Africa is the key to stemming the flows of migrants escaping prevailing hardship and strife in Africa. The key to success here is European political will combined with a convergence of opinion among the African countries concerned. Fortunately, Egypt s chairmanship of the African Union has worked to raise international awareness, mobilise global public opinion and alert international organisations and European governments to their responsibilities. The question now is whether Europe will pay its debts to Africa.
After years of investigation and months of delay, Israel s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit formally indicted Binyamin Netanyahu for crimes ranging from his violation of public trust to bribery and fraud. Israel s apologists will argue that the fact that a sitting prime minister has been charged with crimes against the state and people presents compelling evidence of the country s democracy and commitment to the rule of law. This is the very point that Mandelblit made in announcing the indictments: “The public interest requires that we live in a country where no one is above the law.” However, this is only partially true since it appears that in Israel the principles of democracy or the rule of law only apply to Israeli Jews or the interests of the state itself. In fact, Netanyahu s entire sordid career is evidence of the selectiveness of Israel s sense of justice. In the past the Netanyahu household has been charged with some of the pettiest forms of corruption imaginable. For example, his wife was found guilty of taking the empty bottles from beverages consumed at official state functions and keeping the money she received for turning them in for recycling. The Netanyahus were also known to bring three weeks of dirty laundry on two-day official state trips and sending it to the hotel in which they were staying for a night so that the cleaning bill would be charged to the state s budget. This is the sort of past petty thievery for which the Netanyahus were famous. Looking at the recent indictments, it is clear that the prime minister has graduated to bigger and better forms of fraud and corruption. What s striking, however, is that all of the crimes with which he is charged are focused on feeding his ego or his appetites. In some instances, they were favours done for a businessman in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts, in others they were the corrupt deals he made with various media tycoons in which he promised them benefits in exchange for their guaranteeing him positive coverage in their news outlets. There is no doubt that in all of these cases Netanyahu s behaviour has been clearly criminal and reprehensible and, as described by the attorney general, a breach of the public s trust. But what I find so striking and disturbing is that these crimes pale in significance when compared to what Netanyahu has done to the Palestinian people and the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace — crimes for which he will not be called to account. After Oslo, Netanyahu organised a back-door lobby to mobilise US Congressional opposition to the peace accords. This was the first time an Israeli lobby worked in the US to oppose their own government. He should have been charged with treason. Back in Israel, during the same period, he organised with Ariel Sharon and a few others a smear campaign of incitement against Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The campaign was so virulent and threatening that many Israelis, including Rabin s wife, held Netanyahu responsible for Rabin s assassination. Netanyahu should have been charged with incitement. In 1996, he was elected prime minister on a platform dedicated to ending the peace process and he did everything he could to slow down, distort, and ultimately sabotage the Oslo peace process. Even the agreement he signed with the Palestinians at Wye so encumbered the process that by the end of his first term in office, peace was on life support. He should have been charged with destroying the prospects for peace and putting at risk the lives of millions. During his last three terms in office, he incited violence and hatred against Palestinians, both those who are citizens of Israel and those living under occupation. This has fuelled extremist settler movements that have engaged in daily acts of violence, destruction of property and murder. He also encouraged soldiers in the Israeli army to murder defenceless Palestinians and supported them when they were charged with crimes. In addition, as he did with Rabin, he has falsely accused his Israeli opponents of being too close to the Arabs and accused the Palestinian citizens of Israel of being enemies of the state. He should have been charged with hate crimes. During his time in office he has expanded settlements on stolen Palestinian land and the demolition of Palestinian property; overseen a number of devastating assaults on Gaza resulting in the indiscriminate massacre of thousands of innocent civilians and the destruction of Gaza s infrastructure; instituted and maintained a cruel blockade of Gaza s population, as an act of collective punishment, in which, for long periods of time, food, medicine and other essential items were restricted or severely regulated, resulting in death, disease and impoverishment of millions of innocents. He should have been charged with war crimes. The list could go on, but this should suffice. The bottom line is that, to be sure, Netanyahu is a criminal. But in today s Israel he can t be found guilty of his most serious crimes — treason, incitement, destroying peace, hate crimes and war crimes. Instead, he will be asked only to answer for his narcissistic appetites and corruption.
Last Friday, the Egyptian national under 23 team won the U23 African Cup of Nations and qualified for the Olympics to be held in Tokyo in summer 2020. The win created a wave of happiness for Egyptian football fans who were frustrated after the national team was knocked out in the 16th round of the African Cup of Nations in summer. Moreover, the performance of the Egyptian Olympic team was more than satisfactory; the players had both zeal and passion to win the tournament. Egyptian youth managed to make millions of Egyptians happy, and recreate the charisma of Egypt s National Team in the African continent. At this point, a comparison needs to be made. While the Egyptian first team could not qualify for the finals of the African Cup organised in Egypt, the Olympic team managed to win the tournament, also organised on Egyptian soil. Here we must recognise the idea of investing in youth, and understand that there is a new generation of Egyptian youth more capable and more empowered in comparison to previous generations. This fact poses the question, how can we invest in youth? More than 30 per cent of Egyptian society is composed of youth under 30 years of age. From a demographic perspective, youth are the most influential and crucial faction within society. Two African tournaments were organised in Egypt this year, one that saw the exit of the first team, and another that saw the Olympic team winning the title. Regardless of the technicalities of football between both tournaments, there are profound meanings and more lessons to be learned behind these events. The main idea is the generation of youth and the capacities that they can exhibit. Whoever saw the game last Friday would know that more than 70,000 Egyptians were there and they went home jubilant. This is, of course, besides the millions that watched the match on television screens and slept satisfied. There is a generation of youth in Egypt capable of great accomplishment, and prepared to prove themselves as providers of happiness within this nation — something the older generation failed to do during the tournament of last summer. And now the question becomes, how can the state develop the capacities of youth in a more significant manner, in order to witness what we witnessed in football in more than one dimension? The core idea is that there is a new generation of youth that is exhibiting talent and professional skill. However, if these talents are not empowered and utilised, it will indeed be a loss of potential for Egypt. There are some sectors that require more attention from the Egyptian state regarding youth. The concept is to create a mechanism that transforms experience from one generation to the next, and to adopt a long-term strategy for developing and aiding youth who are capable of achieving success. The Egyptian state undertook the idea of youth forums, where youth selected according to certain criteria get to interact with the Egyptian president himself. The idea is both nationalist and noble, but implementing it in the ground does not necessarily mean that it achieved its objectives. Youth forums are a platform that could generate lots of capacities that have been hidden from sight in previous times. How to transfer this dialogue into an actual process that materialises the outcomes of strategic plans is the question being posed within the context of investing in youth in Egypt at the current moment. Some modification needs to be introduced on the mechanism of youth forums, and each forum must come out with a list of recommendations that the state will aid in implementing. Youth forums are not a mere process of dialogue (despite how important this dimension is); youth forums are supposed to be a path for Egypt s youth to implement ideas that they were not able to implement before, and hence create a difference within society. It could also be a good idea if the Egyptian state designed programmes of public service for university students. The idea of national collective action needs to be used in a manner that generates an identity. The lack of a national identity is one of the main problems that Egypt s youth face; one which could only be resolved with this youth s direct participation in social reform projects. An agenda for public service in fields like education, medical care, raising awareness and envisioning long-term development projects, needs to be quickly developed in order to have a structured process regarding investing in the youth sector in Egypt. Winning the U23 Africa Cup of Nations and qualifying for the Olympics was not a work of magic; it was a process that took over 18 months where a coherent work team was focused on a specific target. Perhaps there are other fields where youth could be active that do not get the same attention that football does. If we are talking about the development of a society, with its different demographic factions, plenty of variables need to be taken into consideration. At such times, keeping a focus on youth and their empowerment seems the most viable solution on both the political and social levels.
Now that the dust has settled after two weeks of riveting impeachment hearings on Capitol Hill, the primary lines of argument have emerged. In one corner, President Donald Trump and his supporters point to his September 9 conversation with EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland, during which (according to Sondland) Trump said, "I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo." In the other corner, we have testimony from multiple ambassadors and National Security Council officials that suggests Trump indeed conditioned foreign aid and a White House visit on Ukraine s announcement of investigations into Trump s political rivals. But the fact that both sides have a line of argument does not mean those arguments are persuasively equal or cancel one another out. The vast weight of the evidence -- supported by logic and common sense -- indicates Trump wanted a quid pro quo. And upon scrutiny, Trump s self-serving denial carries little persuasive or evidentiary weight, and provides a flimsy shield for Trump and his supporters to hide behind. The "I want nothing" defense -- no matter how many times or how loudly Trump shouts it -- is a cheap distraction and should not divert attention from the actual evidence of his corrupt intent. The timing of Trump s "I want nothing" comments is crucial to this point. Trump s September 9 conversation with Sondland happened nearly a month after the whistleblower filed a complaint, several days after the White House learned about the complaint, and on the same day Congress received notice of the complaint. As House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff put it, "he got caught." The jig was up, and Trump was in cover-up mode. Both the law and common sense tell us that a self-serving denial made after a person has been caught carries limited if any value. Criminal defendants generally are not allowed to offer evidence at trial of their own self-serving, after-the fact denials of guilt (indeed, every criminal defendant who goes to trial already has proclaimed his lack of culpability by pleading not guilty). Impeachment, of course, is not a criminal proceeding, and the rules of evidence do not apply. But it is telling that our established legal rules likely would deem Trump s self-serving denial too unreliable to use in court. The logic is so plain that even a child can understand it: once you ve been caught with your hand in the cookie jar, it doesn t make you innocent to announce, "I want no cookies!" Trump s "I want nothing" defense also is crushed by the sheer weight of the evidence to the contrary. Boiled down, that evidence establishes two facts that even the most ardent Trump supporter cannot credibly contest: (1) Trump held up foreign aid to Ukraine and a potential White House visit, and (2) Trump asked Ukraine to investigate his political rivals. The big question, then, is whether (1) and (2) are related: were the foreign aid and White House visit held up in order to get the investigations, or was it just a cosmically unlikely coincidence that both of these things happened, independent and unconnected to one another? Common sense alone answers the question, but if that wasn t enough, witness after witness testified that the foreign aid and White House visit were indeed connected to the investigations. Acting Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor testified that "by mid-July it was becoming clear to me that the meeting President Zelensky wanted was conditioned on the investigations of Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 US elections." Lt. Col. Alex Vindman, who listened to the July 25 call in his capacity on the National Security Council, described "a demand for him [Zelensky] to fulfill his—fulfill this particular prerequisite in order to get the meeting." Even Ambassador Sondland, central to Trump s September 9 defense, acknowledged that he directly proposed a conditional exchange to a key Ukrainian adviser, and Ambassador Kurt Volker, the former Special Representative for Ukraine negotiations, explicitly offered a similar this-for-that exchange in a text message to the same adviser. White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney admitted publicly there was a quid pro quo (though he later walked it back). And, upon any sensible reading, Trump himself directly proposed a conditional exchange in his July 25 call with Zelensky, according to the White House s own transcript of the call: "I would like you to do us a favor though..." Do not be distracted by the "I want nothing!" defense. It has a certain simple, visceral appeal, and provides a convenient bumper-sticker slogan for Trump and his defenders. But it cannot stand up to the facts or common sense. Now, your questions Tony (Kansas): The evidence shows that Trump and Giuliani didn t care about an actual investigation of the Bidens and 2016, but only a public announcement of an investigation. How does that affect the case for impeachment? Testimony from Lt. Col. Vindman, Ambassador Sondland, and National Security Council official Tim Morrison -- and other evidence including text messages between US and Ukraine officials -- establishes that the "deliverable" Trump and Giuliani sought from Ukraine was not necessarily an actual criminal investigation of the Bidens but rather a public announcement of the investigation. This detail is compelling circumstantial evidence of the state of mind of Trump and Giuliani. Their primary focus on a public announcement indicates that their true motive was political -- ensuring the public knew Biden was under criminal investigation -- rather than corruption-busting. Indeed, as Giuliani surely knows, as a longtime prosecutor, there is good reason why good prosecutors conduct investigations almost entirely in secret: a public announcement of an ongoing investigation would tip off the targets and potential witnesses, and would seriously undermine fact-finding. The last thing any prosecutor -- or any person genuinely interested in fighting corruption -- would do is to insist on a public announcement of a corruption investigation. Jason (North Dakota): Now that the evidence in the Roger Stone trial has proved that Trump knew about the leaked emails Wikileaks dumped, could Trump be charged once he is out of office for lying on his written answers to Robert Mueller? Stone was convicted by a jury on all seven charges brought against him, including one count of lying to Congress for "testif[ying] falsely that he had never discussed his conversations" about the Wikileaks e-mail dump "with anyone involved in the Trump campaign." The evidence at trial, including phone call logs and testimony, established that Stone in fact discussed the Wikileaks email dump directly with Trump and other campaign officials including Steve Bannon. But in his written answers to Mueller, Trump claimed he "do[es] not recall discussing Wikileaks" with Stone, "nor do I recall being aware of Mr. Stone having discussed WikiLeaks with individuals associated with my campaign." There are only two possibilities: either Trump actually did not recall these conversations, or he lied in his responses to Mueller. While it seems highly unlikely that Trump forgot about conversations with a longtime adviser about a potentially crucial development in the presidential campaign -- especially given Trump s claim to have "one of the great memories of all time" -- it would be difficult for a prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump did not in fact forget. It shouldn t be that easy to evade criminal liability, but sometimes "I do not recall" can be an effective legal cover. Robert Mueller bears some blame here; by accepting written responses from Trump rather than fighting for an in-person interview or grand jury testimony, Mueller left the door wide open for this facile dodge by Trump and his attorneys. Tony (Oklahoma): How does the burden of proof in an impeachment trial compare to that of both a criminal trial and a civil trial, and is hearsay testimony allowed in an impeachment trial? In a criminal case, the prosecutor must prove a defendant s guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt," which is the highest standard of proof in our legal system. In a civil trial, the plaintiff must prove the case by a "preponderance of the evidence," meaning proof that the allegations are more likely true than not true. Article I of the Constitution broadly gives the Senate the "sole power to try all impeachments." But the Constitution does not specify any particular standard of proof necessary for conviction. In the 1999 Senate impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, Clinton s lawyers made a motion to apply the criminal "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard, but those motions failed. So no particular standard of proof applies at all -- or, more precisely, each Senator can apply whatever standard of proof he or she feels appropriate. Three questions to watch 1. Will John Bolton come forward to testify, particularly about his one-on-one conversation with Trump about releasing foreign aid to Ukraine? 2. Now that a federal judge has ruled that former White House counsel Don McGahn must testify (which the White House surely will appeal), will the House Judiciary Committee call him as a witness and seek to include his information in an Article of Impeachment? 3. How will proposed Articles of Impeachment take shape in the House Judiciary Committee?
The title of today s column is inspired by “The Gulf Moment in Contemporary Arab History” by the Emirati researcher and political science professor at Emirates University, Abdul-Khalek Abdullah. Initially presented in a seminar in 2009, it was published as a research paper by the University of London in 2010. It subsequently appeared in book form in 2017, and then in an Arabic edition in 2018. It posits that the moment of the six states that comprise the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — started when they began to come into their own after Egypt faded from the regional scene following the death of Gamal Abdel-Nasser. Then, after a three-decade period of confusion and lack of direction (1970-2000), the Gulf arose to embrace a new historic moment. Their state-building processes were complete or nearing completion, oil prices stood at over $100 a barrel and surplus wealth had accumulated, modern technologies and processes had poured in and were taking root, education and health met the highest international standards, and military might was expanding. This latter moment would face a major test in second decade of this century, a point at which the “Arab Spring” delivered a debilitating blow to the Arab immune system. Abdul-Khalek Abdullah s thesis came up again for discussion in the Sixth Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate, hosted by the Emirates Policy Centre on 9-11 November. This year s conference was given the title “Old Power s Competition in the New Age” and the discussion in question occurred during the session on “The Gulf Region: Capabilities and Possibilities.” The Arab region and the Gulf are far from where they stood a decade ago when Professor Abdullah first introduced his concept and when many think tanks were contemplating the Gulf s rising star. During the past two years oil prices have plunged to half their level in 2009. Tests of military balances have resulted in brutal Iranian interventions in the region, active Turkish aggression and territorial occupation in Syria, and Israeli territorial expansion with the annexation of East Jerusalem, the Golan and, probably soon, more parts of the Palestinian West Bank. Also, divisions within the GCC have turned the “Gulf moment” into something less like a state of strength and more like a state of precariousness in which Qatar plays the Trojan horse. Meanwhile, the “US ally” is acting like a spectator who popped over to this region carrying invoices for services rendered and demanding pay. To conference participants from Egypt or the Levant, talk of difficult times in contemporary history, of states of frailty that court setbacks and defeats, or even of allies who proved not up to expectations in both responsibility and courage, was hardly new. But there was another note to the general sense of disappointment in Abu Dhabi, a notion that this difficult time had something to do with Egypt being “absent” or, in the words of one participant, “paralysed” or “semi-paralysed”. In Abdullah s original book, the “Gulf Moment” began 20 years after Egypt s Nasserist moment. There followed 30 years of confusion and lack of direction (as though the 1973 War had not occurred, Egypt had not recuperated Sinai and brought the first shrinkage in the Israeli empire, and Egypt and Israel had not signed the peace treaty that brought the first application of the principle of land for peace and that ushered in a new regional order). Then, since the beginning of this century, some decades after the Gulf countries won their independence and were now some phases into their modernisation processes, the Gulf soared to a new status in international and regional relations. If circumstances in the Middle East and the Arab region, in particular, had been propitious for the rise of the “Gulf Moment” around the turn of the millennium, the second decade of the 21st century showed little mercy for the region. It opened with a first wave of the so-called Arab Spring which culminated in an Islamist fundamentalist hegemony, as manifested in Muslim Brotherhood control in Egypt and Turkey, and the rise of their Shia counterparts in Iran, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen. The assault was vicious. It precipitated civil wars and threatened to wipe out entire national states across the region. The conflagration could have been even more horrifying than it actually was. Fortunately, the “Gulf Moment”, with its constituent parts, managed to buffer the GCC countries from the gale force hot and sandy winds of that “spring”. It then helped make resistance possible, as was first manifested in the 30 June 2013 Revolution, which brought the first major retreat of that wave. Soon followed an upsurge in genuine and radical reform processes in many Arab countries, foremost among which were Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as well as Jordan, Morocco, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman. As for the UAE, its drive to catch up with the modern age had begun well before this. More recently, before this decade drew to a close, a new wave of “spring” arose. This one, however, has conferred a stamp of “maturity”, in Lebanon and Sudan; stamps of the approaching delivery of the nation state into the modern age, not only intact but also with a system of government transformed from a sectarian/ethnic based quota system to a fully-fledged democratic civil state. To a certain extent, the “Gulf moment” was accompanied by an “Egyptian moment” that was different from its predecessors in modern Egyptian history. This one emanated from the age we live in, an age governed by different modes of international relations and new and different regional circumstances. But, if there are differences between the Egyptian moment and the Gulf moment, this is not the time to quibble between them. Instead, current realities dictate an urgent need for a new “Arab moment”, one that creates a new regional balance of powers and revives the immune system of the Arab order in order to safeguard it against the evils of the decade that is about to end. The key to the new “Arab order” is reform. Profound reform. This is what is in progress in Egypt which is shedding the shackles of an ancient bureaucracy and stretching its limbs from the narrow confines of the Nile Valley through vast desert expanses to the coasts in the framework of a policy outlook that has shifted from the management of poverty and its multifarious aspects of underdevelopment to the management of the wealth that lies both below the sands and above. In the framework of this decentralisation, reform is unleashing untold energies through the inclusion of broader segments of society and striking new and more powerful combinations of soft and hard strength. The Saudi process is no less important. There, reform means engineering a rapid breakthrough from an old world that had defied progress and modernisation to the current age in all its political, economic and cultural dynamics. The UAE appreciated the virtues of modern technologies early on in its “old era”. According to all known theories of progress, the newcomers to the latest levels of advancement stand to benefit once they excel in the skill to ride the highest waves. Whether for a single state or a group of them, reform is the key to ensure that the moment is not a narrow fleeting one fought over by prowling wolves and serpents, but rather a moment that opens its arms to the whole ancient nation. Unfortunately, there was not enough time in the conference in Abu Dhabi to get to that point. Still, this is a conversation with sequels.
As had been expected by analysts and economists, the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) decided Thursday to cut interest rates for the fourth time this year. The committee cut the overnight deposit rate, overnight lending rate and the rate of the main operation by 100 basis points to 12.25 per cent, 13.25 per cent and 12.75 per cent respectively. The discount rate was also cut by 100 basis points to 12.75 per cent. The decision came on the back of inflation reaching new lows. Annual headline inflation fell to 4.8 per cent in September 2019 and fell further to 3.1 per cent in October 2019, the lowest rate since December 2005, according to the CBE. With this latest cut the CBE is progressively returning to pre-2016 interest rates. Across the year, the CBE has cut rates by 4.5 per cent. In the months following the floatation of the pound and the $12 billion loan agreement made with the International Monetary Fund in 2016, interest rates were increased by seven per cent. Now, economists believe the interest rate cuts will positively affect investment, providing impetus to revive economic activity in addition to reducing the government debt service bill significantly. Experts have also ruled out that interest rate cuts could affect foreign investment in the domestic debt market, especially after the monetary easing by the US Federal Reserve in late October, and considering the continued strong yield on the pound against the dollar. Businessmen have long called for the reduction of interest rates. Reducing the interest rate will have a positive impact on the long run, encouraging companies to expand their investments, which eventually affects employment, increases production and thus increases the supply of various goods, which would accordingly reflect in a decline in prices. A decrease in interest rates lowers the cost of borrowing and makes it cheaper to set up projects or expand existing ones. By cutting rates, depositors may also find it more worthwhile to invest, such as in the stock market or setting up new projects. But while interest rates are important for investment, they are not the only factor in an investment decision. Though the government has already done a lot to attract investment, including floating the currency, introducing value added tax and various new laws to facilitate investment. Egypt ranked 114th among 190 countries surveyed by the World Bank s annual Doing Business Report this year, six places higher than last year. It also introduced regulatory reforms that have facilitated various aspects of doing business. These include starting a business, getting electricity, protecting minority rights and ease of paying taxes. For example, it takes 5.5 procedures and 12 days to start a business in Egypt, compared to six and 19 on average for the Middle East and North Africa. Nonetheless, challenges remain. The Doing Business Report showed Egypt still underperforms in the areas of trade across borders and resolving insolvency. And foreign direct investment remains below targets, coming at around $6 billion in 2018-2019. More needs to be done to encourage domestic and foreign investment if Egypt is to realise GDP growth targets of around six per cent for the current fiscal year, and creating some 700,000 jobs needed annually amid a growing population.
Recently, we at the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies finished a project about using the concepts of human security to counter radicalisation and violent extremism in Egyptian society. The project took three years of work and reached results on multiple levels. Since the final report is now out, a brief summary of three years of work by a team of researchers is perhaps necessary. Many studies have been done on terrorism in the Arab region, specifically on countries that have witnessed political tensions in recent years, like Syria, Libya, Iraq and Egypt. But what needs to be noticed is that there is a major difference between terrorism and radicalisation, and both should be handled with appropriate attention by research. At the start of the project, a differentiation between terrorism and radicalisation was supposed to be made, taking into consideration the Egyptian context. Sometimes, there is confusion between the two terms, and at other times they are described in the abstract without looking at the overall context of the case being studied with its various dimensions. One of the primary purposes of the project was to draw a distinction between these concepts in the Egyptian context. Terrorism can be described as the sum of actions and operations that aim to create public fear, inflict collective harm to the state and society, and create a feeling among citizens that there is not sufficient security to secure their daily lives. In today s fourth-generation warfare, these are the main objectives of terrorism. Despite the fact that territorial terrorism, in which a group of terrorists takes control of a geographical area, has become widespread in the Arab world recently, Egypt has experienced the operational pattern of terrorism rather than the geographical one. A geographical pattern evolved in Sinai, but it was never able to materialise on the ground in the same manner that has happened in both Syria and Libya. Radicalisation is something quite different because it involves a multitude of factors within its internal context. It is difficult to come up with a definition of radicalisation, but it is easy to make a comparison between radicalisation and terrorism. Radicalisation is a multi-platform process in which different variables come together to create a tendency towards violence, both psychologically and operationally. The creation of this condition later on breeds terrorism, but the reasons and causes differ between the processes. Radicalisation is a process that works on changing a mentality towards more violent forms of action, but terrorism is a matter of logistical and organisational capacities. Attention was also directed towards those who had returned from involvement with the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria, Libya or Iraq. A major question was posed about the reaction of the Egyptian state towards such returnees. The mere fact that such individuals are present on Egyptian soil, with their organisational experiences in IS and their operational background, could lead to a new wave of radicalisation. Hence, strategies need to be developed by the state in order to absorb those who return from IS experiences. The different divisions of IS across the region saw many Egyptians who could stir up a new pattern of violent extremism in case of their return. Here, and for the purpose of countering this potential danger, we need to consider the two dimensions of hard security and human security. Hard security is the best tool to counter territorial terrorism. The situation in Sinai, for example, is being faced by hard security as a main tool in countering it, due to the pattern of terrorism which has proved to be dominant there. Human security, on the other hand, needs to be applied to different parts of Egyptian society and implemented by diverse tools. Infrastructure investment, citizenship rights, political openness to the institutional system and elaborate programmes for the rehabilitation of returnees are crucial factors for countering violent extremism. No one can deny that hard security is required in times of political tension, but if a merger does not develop with other means of human security, the results will likely be sub-optimal. The state has adopted various attempts to counter radicalisation, with the youth forums and the insistence on the demand for the renewal of religious discourse being among the most important of these. But concerns have been raised about the ability of the youth forums to induce change, as well as the insufficiency of the tools to renew religious discourse. Tools of human security are being introduced into the overall context, but they still lack the proper means of implementation. The project concluded that terrorist activities over the past three years have declined, but while the numbers are in favour of the course of action that has been adopted the strategies are not. Egypt is in need of a comprehensive counter-terrorism and counter-radicalisation strategy. While there is a lot that is being done, better coordination between the different actions and policies is required. Countering terrorism and radicalisation is something that requires a diverse platform of actors from various sections of society and the state. At the moment, this platform is largely absent in Egypt s confrontation with radicalisation and terrorism.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi last week and their conversation dealt with the present situation in Libya. Chancellor Merkel, who will be hosting this month in Berlin an international meeting on Libya, shared with the Egyptian president some ideas concerning the best avenues to broker a ceasefire in Libya in order to move forward with the United Nations initiative that the UN Security Council unanimously adopted two years ago in a special summit meeting on Libya. The Egyptian president, according to a declaration by the presidential spokesman, reiterated the known Egyptian positions in this regard; namely, the disbanding of armed militias and the restoration of state authority. The phone call aimed at soliciting Egyptian support for an immediate ceasefire around Tripoli, and the withdrawal of the forces under the command of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who has laid siege to the southern approaches of Tripoli since April. From a military point of view, his forces have failed so far to break the defences of the city. And there are no indications that these forces will enter the capital anytime soon. Such a military stalemate makes the implementation of the UN peace plan all the more difficult. The German chancellor would love nothing more than Egypt to contribute to the successful conclusion of the upcoming Berlin meeting by persuading Haftar to end his offensive and to begin withdrawing his troops from around southern Tripoli. From an Egyptian point of view, the most important imperative is the defence of our extended borders with Libya, so as to deny terrorist groups from infiltrating our country. Egypt stands to gain diplomatically if it succeeds in persuading the Libyan Field Marshal to implement an immediate and permanent ceasefire. Pulling his troops could come at a later stage, or as a gesture of good will towards the Germans and the Europeans. Such a change of direction on the part of Egypt should be introduced in the framework of a larger reassessment of Egyptian foreign policy in the Arab world during the last eight years. For long, the country has adopted subdued positions vis-à-vis key questions, like how to deal with the Syrian government (until this day, diplomatic relations have not been restored with Damascus; nor has Cairo any open contacts with the Libya’s Government of National Accord, the internationally-recognised government). A point of departure could be a public position by the Egyptian government on the explicit American call on the “Libyan National Army” to end its “offensive on Tripoli”. This call was made last week in after the United States and the Government of National Accord in Tripoli held the US-Libya Security Dialogue on Thursday, 13 November. In the joint statement dated 14 November, the State Department said bringing an end to the attacks against the Libyan capital “would facilitate further US-Libya cooperation to prevent undue foreign interference [in Libya], reinforce legitimate state authority and address the issues underlying the conflict”. These aims don’t contradict some of the objectives that Egypt has espoused all along. Egyptian support of such a call would send a clear signal to all Libyan political forces that Egypt is ready to help significantly with its international and European partners such a necessary turnaround. In other words, Egypt should do its best to end the military stalemate around Tripoli and join international efforts, under the United Nations, to move forward. In the medium and long-term, it is in Egypt’s national interest to stabilise Libya, all the more so after the dramatic political developments in Tunisia in the post-Essebsi era during which Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria saw almost eye-to-eye on how to deal with Libya. The three countries who share geographic borders with Libya had common interests there. However, with the election of two leaders from Al-Nahda, Tunisia’s Muslim Brotherhood (to the speakership of the representative assembly and the other to form the government), the Tunisian position towards Libya has become problematic to say the least. One thing is certain. Egypt can’t afford not to have a second look at its present declared policy in Libya. If left unchanged, this policy would become neither effective nor credible. And I would also add, nor sustainable in the long run. The trip that the Egyptian president made to Abu Dhabi 13-14 November could have provided Egypt and the United Arab Emirates the occasion to address the Libyan question anew in light of recent developments. The Berlin meeting on this question will doubtless prove an unmistakable signal that the UN plan should be implemented, after two and a half years of procrastination. The new hoped-for Egyptian position should be Arab-inspired and Arab-based, to be effective. Egypt should work through the Arab League, on the one hand, and bilateral diplomatic channels on the other, to push for a united Arab position on Libya. That would render Egyptian influence on later internal political developments in Libya more forceful and determining. The policy of choosing sides amongst various Libyan parties is no longer tenable. The Middle East and North Africa are undergoing deep changes that, when consummated, would be a radical departure from the Middle East and North Africa of the post-World War II era. Egyptian diplomacy should necessarily take this into account. In transformative periods, countries need to be alert to impending changes and modify their foreign policies accordingly.
It was not new for an Egyptian to win a world squash championship — what was new this time was the love that gave him strength, hope and joy on and off the squash court. Tarek Momen, winner of the 2019-20 PSA Men s World Champion, was preceded by Karim Abdel-Gawad, who proved victorious during the 2016 PSA Men s World Champion, Mohamed el-Shorbagy, who won in 2017, and Ali Farag, who came out on top during the 2018 championship. This year, it was love that motivated Tarek Momen to dream and pushed him to refuse to surrender until victory was his. Egypt had already taught the world a lesson in excellence in the game of squash with its world-renowned men, women, and young male and female players, and it was now time that Egypt give the world of squash the romance that it deserves. New world champion Tarek Momen is married to Raneem el-Welily, herself a squash player who won the world championship in Manchester, England, in 2017. Thus, for the first time in the history of squash there exists a husband and wife who have both secured world championships. Theirs is a story of friendship that began inside the squash courts and developed into a love story. The couple tied the knot five years ago, and love remains their motivation to work toward seemingly impossible dreams, regardless of who wins or loses on the court. The world squash arena witnessed the couple s bond the moment Raneem won the World Championship in Manchester in 2017. She left everything — the court, the audience, the cameras and the media — and rushed to the stands to embrace her husband Tarek, who had lost during the third round of the same tournament, only to take on the role of a spectator keen to encourage his beloved wife as she went on to win the world championship. It was not the first time that Tarek cheered on his wife from the sidelines, as he used to travel to attend his wife s tournaments to encourage her — Rameen always needed to see her husband while playing in tournaments and in case she won. Two years after the extraordinary scene in Manchester was captured on camera, Raneem and her husband switched roles, with Raneem sitting among the other spectators and cheering on Tarek as he finally triumphed during the 2019 world championship. A long-deserved tournament championship was finally secured by Tarek with the help of a little love in the squash courts.
As the saying goes “the World is a small village”, but how is that village shaped by the hyper-globalization of the wild-untamed neoliberalism? In today s globalized economy, the polarization between the rich and the poor intensifies, not only between the North and South countries, but also within each country. This polarization is driven by wealth and capital flows from South to North, at rates are faster than those experienced during the old days of outright colonialism. For sure, for the countries of the North, the process of capital and wealth flows has become much more sophisticated, more deceptive and less costly than mobilizing the colonial armies that may provoke military confrontations among themselves, and provoke the nationalist sentiments among the peoples in the South. Our small village has reached this level of unbalanced and unequal "globalization" after four decades of economic policies and legislations that cemented the neoliberal philosophy. This reality has been established as many developing countries have been subjugated to the terms and conditions of the IMF, World Bank, and WTO obligations as well as the obligations of bilateral investment and trade agreements (an agreement between a single developing country and the 28 member countries of the European Union is also called "bilateral"). One of the most influential conditionalities of the IMF and World Bank that shaped today s globalization is the law of central banks, specifically the establishment of the fully open capital account in developing countries. This simply means that there are no regulations to control international capital movement, especially out of the country. Remaining restrictions on capital mobility are often eliminated by bilateral investment and trade agreements between countries of the powerful North and the weak South. Laws have also been enacted to encourage the so-called “financialization”, which promotes rent seeking, monopoly, speculation on everything and transformation of everything with benefit to humanity (even if it is non-tradable good such as real estate) into a monetary value that surges with speculation. Thus, with excessive financialization and open capital accounts, the flow of wealth and capital from the South to the North has become faster and easier. Nonetheless, while capital is encouraged to freely flow South-North, all restrictions are put in place to prevent the flow of people in the same direction; to the extent that some of the South countries are pushed to guard the borders of the North. Last September, the UN released its annual Trade and Development Report, entitled "Financing a Global Green New Deal ". According to the report, the uncontrolled private capital flows can lead to the transfer of resources and wealth from developing to developed countries. Increased financial integration, in a globalized environment, has exposed developing countries to global financial turbulence. In response, central banks in many developing countries are forced to accumulate foreign-exchange reserves by short-term borrowing of foreign currencies in large quantities at high interest rates. This of course leads to capital outflow from the developing countries, at least equals to the value of interest paid on borrowed funds. Recent analysis by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) indicates that in 16 developing countries, over the period 2000–2018, this resource transfer amounted to roughly $440 billion a year, or 2.2 per cent of the GDP of these countries (almost double the size of the Egyptian economy). Another channel through which capital flows South-North is the tax-motivated illicit financial flows of multinational enterprises (MNEs). These enterprises attempt to maximize their profits globally while avoiding paying taxes in the countries where they generate profits by considering the affiliates of MNEs in different countries as independent entities and treat taxable transactions between these entities as unrelated and independent. UNCTAD estimates that the MNEs illicit financial flows deprive developing countries of up to $200 billion annually in fiscal revenue. The digital economy is another source of South-North capital flow. International internet companies usually do not have a physical or legal presence in the countries of the South, and do not pay tax to developing countries on the increasing number and values of digitalized transactions in the South. These companies deal with transactions in hundreds of billions of dollars, may sell a product of a developing country to a consumer from the same country and take a significant commission on each transaction (Egypt domestic tourism is an example). This naturally leads to the outflow of money out of the South without even paying any tax on the profits of the digital company to the governments of producers and consumers in the developing world. To address these problems; it is proposed to move towards a unified international tax regime that recognizes that the profits of the MNEs are generated collectively in a group of countries. The revenue from these taxes could be distributed among the countries where the profits are generated. The current international standards and norms of corporate taxes should also be reviewed to determine the jurisdiction that has the right to tax; the treatment of cross-border transactions between the entities of an MNE; and the measurement of value creation when intangible assets and data accumulation and acquisition is the source of value. Tax equity in the digital economy needs to apply a new concept that does not necessarily depends on the material presence of sales or commercial transactions. If the World is serious in its efforts to achieve the sustainable development goals, control over capital mobility should be considered as an essential economic policy instrument. Such control should be put in place at both senders and recipients of capital, rather than firmer controls at just one end. Furthermore, provisions on “open capital account” should not be part of regional and bilateral trade and investment agreements, or at least these agreements should include some mechanisms to allow countries the right to manage capital flows in times of crises. UNCTAD estimates South-North capital flows from the aforementioned sources at about $680 billion per year (slightly less than three times the size of the Egyptian economy). Instead of leaking to the North; these funds could finance the Global Green New Deal as well as efforts for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in the South.
Egyptians have always had a reputation for their light and witty sense of humour. Even today, it doesn t take much to see that the Egyptians like to make jokes and see humour in any situation or event. As Egyptians, we believe that this light-hearted approach to life was passed down to us from ancient Egypt. We have a great number of jocular drawings shown on the wall reliefs of Egyptian tombs and on papyri, as well as on ostraca. It is astonishing that these humorous drawings, or “picture jokes”, were produced by Egyptian artists who left us the same great work attested to in tombs and on papyri. We can see that the ancient Egyptian artist used his spare time to draw these jokes on ostraca. The drawings are witty scenes that the artist worked on in order to express sentiments about developments and faults in society. These scenes might also touch upon more personal or unique experiences that the artist experienced. He might have wanted to express his opinion on it all while transferring it to a bigger audience in the form of humour. The drawings are also sometimes similar to what we call today the art of caricature. One of the most important of the jocular scenes shows a group of rats forming an army attacking a fortress of cats. We can see the rats shooting arrows towards the fortress, and we see another group walking in a military march. Each rat holds an axe and a shield as it makes its way towards the fortress leading an army of rats. The army is led by a large adventurous rat, and he rides a chariot drawn by two dogs. The leader rat shoots arrows at the cats in the fortress. The rats have also brought a ladder to use to climb into the fortress. On the other hand, we see that the cats are terrified and remain afraid inside their fortress, with no possible solution to stopping the attack of the army of rats. This humorous drawing could explain what happened in Egypt during the Intermediate Period when foreign armies entered the country and became powerful inside Egypt. They began to act as if they owned the country, and the Egyptians clearly were represented as “weak” cats. In this case, the artist used symbolism to express the political situation that the country was facing. Even today, we are all too familiar with this method of implicitly alluding to difficult circumstances, as this type of art can be seen in many countries that do not let the artist freely express his or her opinion. The impression of Egyptians no longer being the rightful owners of their own home is repeated in other ostraca. In another scene, an artist shows how the society he was used to has changed. He depicts a foreigner, shown to us as an old, foreign rat wearing expensive clothing and sitting on a beautiful chair. Behind him stands a cat, clearly representing an Egyptian. The cat is combing the foreigner s hair, while the rat is holding a glass of liquor, also offered to him by an Egyptian cat. Here, the idea of foreigners enjoying wealth while Egyptians serve them is quite palpable. In another jocular scene with the same meaning as the previous ones, an artist draws an old female rat trying to show off as young. She has placed flowers on her head and wears a nice dress. She sits on a comfortable seat and is drinking milk or liquor from a small vessel served to her from a cowering Egyptian cat. This cat is also serving the foreign mistress a fat goose to eat. The Egyptian cat looks hungry and cannot have a taste of the goose that she is offering to the rat, thus once more highlighting the Egyptians inferior position at the time. One of the best scenes of a critical nature appears on an ostracon showing a rat that has become a judge and is shown barking out orders. In front of him is an Egyptian young man, human this time, who is beaten by a cat according to an order from the rat judge. In another scene, we see a donkey as a judge. His doorkeeper is a violent ox, and the suspect is shown as a cat in a subservient position. All of the scenes show how Egypt was weak at the time and how foreigners had become stronger. Emboldened by their victories, the foreigners eat from the wealth of the country. The Egyptians cannot defend themselves. Even if art was done for the sake of art in ancient Egypt, it very often served a purpose, which is the reason why the artists indicated how the society was changing, with Egyptians becoming foreigners in their own land. Sometimes, the artists exaggerated these realities and conjured up impossible scenarios, such as in the following scenes. One artist depicts a group of geese impossibly protected by three cats. One cat happily eats one of the geese, and another greedily eats and drinks what the goose was consuming. The last big cat, the leader, walks quietly behind the goose and looks at the latter as if he is ready to eat it. Another scene shows a group of rams protected by two wolves. One is walking, with its food over its shoulder, similar to what a shepherd does; he is playing the flute, acting as a shepherd but clearly set on doing harm. Sometimes the artists moved beyond illustrating politics in favour of representing everyday scenarios. In one such scene, an artist represents his experience attending a musical party where he listened to a troupe. He was not happy with the performance, so he drew a scene showing a donkey and a lion. Both are singing. The donkey is playing a harp and the lion is playing a flute. A crocodile is also seen playing a flute, as well as a monkey. The artist most likely meant to show that the music was bad, and he showed the musicians as if they were animals. My last scene is one of a hippopotamus climbing a tree in an attempt to rob a bird s nest. We see the bird who is the owner of the nest use all his power to defend it. The hippo wants to have this house that is clearly not suitable for it, or perhaps it is trying to steal the eggs. Is this drawing, then, a commentary on theft and injustice? Such joking was a major aspect of ancient Egyptian society, and in all the bad times that Egypt has faced we always see Egyptians make jokes of their lives, their society, and their leaders.
Dedicated to preserving Egypt s historical water quota from the River Nile, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi signed the Declaration of Principles on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on 23 March 2015, along with the then leaders of Sudan and Ethiopia. In 10 Principles, the agreement stated, though not explicitly, Egypt s historical rights to the river s water. “Where significant harm nevertheless is caused to one of the countries, the state whose use causes such harm shall, in the absence of agreement to such use, take all appropriate measures in consultations with the affected state to eliminate or mitigate such harm and, where appropriate, to discuss the question of compensation,” reads Principle III of the agreement. Unfortunately, this agreement has nevertheless been branded by some for the sake of argument as the cause of the deadlock in the GERD talks. Yet, the simple facts show that the Egyptian negotiators, here citing the English text of the agreement itself, have done their best to ensure that no harm whatsoever would be inflicted on Egypt during the filling or operations of the dam. Here one must cite some studies done by Ethiopian researchers on the agreement. Endalcachew Bayeh from the Department of Civics and Ethical Studies at Ambo University in Ethiopia has produced a study entitled “Agreement on the Declaration of Principles on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Project: A Reaffirmation of the 1929 and 1959 Agreements?” The title of this may give a clear-cut response to those vehemently criticising the agreement on the Egyptian side. In this study, dated 13 April 2016 which has received over 250,000 readings since it was first published, the researcher argues that the incorporation of Principle I of the agreement, sub-article 2, which reads “to cooperate in understanding upstream and downstream water needs in its various aspects” “will bind Ethiopia to consider such water demands of Egypt in its utilisation of Nile waters, thereby putting Ethiopia in a disadvantageous position.” More importantly, he goes on to say that “the treaty seems to be an instrument for securing and maintaining the water needs of Egypt. All the foregoing elements of the principle affirmatively work for Egypt. This, in turn, keeps Ethiopia loyal to the water interests of Egypt, thereby compromising its domestic interests.” His remarks in that department tell everybody concerned with the agreement that the Declaration of Principles was not a go-ahead for Ethiopia to proceed with the dam s construction and that it was not the means by which Egypt legitimised this huge project, as some who have talked to hear the sound of their own voices have claimed. Instead, it, as best as it could be at the time of signature, was by far in favour of Egypt. Moreover, on the operation and filling of the GERD, the researcher says that the above article “shows the deterioration of an ownership right of the Ethiopians. This is due to the reason that the agreement subjects the dam to the joint management of the three countries.” The flawed and ineffective rhetoric that the agreement on the Declaration of Principles was in breach of the very principles of preserving Egypt s water rights is thus ridiculous, to say the least. Even though they talked until they were blue in the face, those who opposed the agreement seemingly had not read its articles, or in the best-case scenario, never showed a proper understanding of it. Another study by three Ethiopian academics led by Minga Negash, the holder of a PhD in economics from the Metropolitan State University of Denver in the US, has suggested that the Declaration of Principles bypasses the Cooperative Framework Agreement reached in Entebbe, Uganda, in May 2010 for a new distribution of the waters of the Nile. According to a lengthy study entitled “Ethiopia: Perspectives on the Declaration of Principles regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam,” the phrase “principles of international law” in Principle I of the Agreement “neither implicitly nor explicitly recognises the existence of the Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement.” The three researchers also argue that the above-mentioned principle was in complete harmony with the “spirit of the framework for cooperation that was signed between Egypt and Ethiopia in 1993,” referring to the agreement signed under former leaders of Egypt and Ethiopia, Hosni Mubarak and Meles Zenawi, respectively. The study also asserts that the intention behind the invocation of Principle I was to cite “the UN Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses” adopted on 21 May 1997. In other words, this means that the aforementioned phrase is another assertion of Egypt s water-rights based on international criteria, given that the 1997 UN Convention stresses the infliction of no significant harm by upstream countries on downstream ones. The most important principle enshrined in the Tripartite Agreement between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan remains that “the purpose of the GERD is for power generation,” as stated in Principle III. Here, the study points out that the text of the agreement left no room for Ethiopia to utilise the Nile waters for any purpose whatsoever other than generating power. In reality, this article has prevented now and in the future any use of the waters around the dam for “fishing, recreation, education and small-scale industrial and irrigation projects,” as the study reveals. On the equitable utilisation of the Nile, Principle IV of the Agreement details the means of equitable distribution of the Nile waters, leaving no room for any speculation in that department either. The principle states that the equitable and reasonable utilisation of water has to consider, among other factors, the “existing and potential uses of the water resources” for the three nations. Moreover, the sub-articles attached to Principle IV “legitimise the increased demand for water by downstream countries,” as the study by the Minga Negash-led team elaborated. In other words, Egypt s historical 55.5 billion cubic metres of Nile water and even any future demands are reaffirmed in the agreement. Thanks to Principle X of the Tripartite Agreement, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan did find a way out of the current stalemate. The principle on the peaceful settlement of disputes stipulates, in case the three nations are incapable of resolving their disputes, that they may request “mediation”. Though it was not clearly announced that the meeting held this month in Washington DC was based on invoking Principle X, it remains effective towards that end. Upon an invitation from US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the foreign ministers of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan met in Washington in a bid to break the deadlock. In reality, the Trump administration sent a letter dated 21 October 2019 to the three nations to settle the standoff. The meetings, in which the World Bank participated, did outline a precise timeframe-based roadmap to end the dispute, something which Cairo has repeatedly requested and has now at last become a reality. The three nations agreed on the completion of a binding agreement by 15 January 2020, adding that should no agreement be reached by the deadline, Principle X of the Declaration of Principles on international mediation should be invoked. In effect, the agreement on the Declaration of Principles has been a win-win one, as it recognises the rights of all the signatory parties. Ethiopia will utilise the Nile for power-generation, without the use of waters around the dam for any other purpose. Egypt has reasserted its position on its historical quota of the Nile water and showed a good spirit in order not to stonewall development in the upstream nations. After seven years of building up tensions over the GERD, a binding and viable agreement looks attainable for the betterment of all the peoples living along the Nile.
There has hardly been any positive news coming out of Iraq in nearly four decades and after the bloody eight-year war with Iran (1980-1988) that left millions of Iraqis killed, injured or missing in one of the bloodiest and longest wars of the 20th century and with enormous economic losses for Iraq alone. That war was followed just two years later by the invasion of neighbouring Kuwait by former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the military campaigns that were then launched against the country to force it to liberate it followed by a decade of economic sanctions left Iraq battered on all levels. However, as disastrous as the 1991 war on Iraq was, it was nothing compared to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and what followed. Mayhem has been reigning in the country up until the present day, and this has included sectarian violence, terrorist attacks and the rise of terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS). One thing that has characterised the Iraqi political spectrum over recent decades has been the fact that the fate of the Iraqi people has not been decided by the Iraqis alone even with the tyrant Saddam Hussein in power. Their fate has usually been decided in Moscow, Washington or Tehran, with both Turkey and Saudi Arabia attempting to influence the political players on the ground or through military incursions in the Turkish case. It is high time that the fate of Iraq was restored to its own people to decide. The current uprising of the Iraqi people may be unprecedented in its magnitude and momentum. The demonstrators are calling for massive changes to the political system that has established sectarianism within the country and become a stepping-stone for regional political influence. Many Iraqis believe that the Iranian regime s greedy eyes have been targeting Iraq for decades to avenge its losses during the Iraq-Iran War and expand its influence in the region. With Shia Muslims a majority in Iraq, the Iranians have not held back in infiltrating the political spectrum of the country, especially after the US-led invasion of Iraq that was a blessing in disguise for Iran. The Iranians have managed to keep their economic, political and military influence in Iraq at the highest levels. Their infiltration became open during former Iraqi prime minister Nouri Al-Maliki s time in office (2006-2014), with his ties to the Iranians dating back to the Iraq-Iran War. Al-Maliki s Islamic Daawa Party backed the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and even went as far as to back Iran s former leader Ayatollah Khomeini during the Iraq-Iran War. The party still receives financial and political support from Iran. This bizarre behaviour has cemented sectarianism within Iraq, making the Iraqi government become a puppet regime controlled from Tehran. Sunni Islamists and terrorist groups capitalised on this unholy alliance between the former Iraqi prime minister and Iran. They managed to recruit and rally many Sunni Iraqis to their vile cause, and the rise of the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq and Syria was merely a by-product of this policy. Iraq thus became a hotbed for sectarian terrorism for over a decade, with Iran-backed militias such as the Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi or the Popular Mobilisation Force (PMF), founded by Al-Maliki, being comprised of over 40 predominantly Shia Muslim militias. While the PMF helped to fight the likes of Al-Qaeda and IS in the country and curb the expansion of these terrorist groups, it was also seen by many observers to be applying its own version of atrocities in Iraq, including ethnic cleansing against the Sunni population in the region of Tikrit. These accusations were filed by the international rights group Amnesty International, and the Iraqi government vowed to investigate them but without any results thus far. Concerns at the growing size of the PMF have grown recently, as the powerful militia has been growing in influence and still retains its allegiance to Iran. Eye-witnesses report that the group is being used to quell the current uprising across Iraq, including by violently attacking, kidnapping, torturing and killing the protesters. The group is thus mimicking the influence exercised by the Shia group Hizbullah in Lebanon, which was once called the “resistance” against the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon, but after the Israeli withdrawal in 2000 continued to expand its activities and became a political player that pledged allegiance to Iran and thus became a parallel army and a state within a state in the country as a whole. Both the PMF in Iraq and Hizbullah in Lebanon are similar to the Iran-backed terrorist group the Houthis in Yemen, which was instrumental in igniting the current civil war in that country. Meanwhile, the Iraqi protests have taken a violent turn, with over 260 protesters reportedly killed and thousands of others wounded in clashes with the security forces across the country. Internet services have been cut by the Iraqi government, and while it was reported that these services resumed last week, reports of erratic services are ongoing. The protesters are demanding improvements in public services in Iraq, including in healthcare, electricity provision, transportation and education, all of which have reached an abysmal state due to the decades of war and civil strife that have struck the country. This time around the Iraqi protesters do not seem ready to relent from their demands, and they have been escalating their protests by the day. While Iraq has witnessed many uprisings over the past decade, the 2019 protests seem to be the most persistent and violent the country has yet seen. The Iraqis do not wish to see their country become a battlefield for regional and international proxy wars, or a hotbed of sectarian violence and terrorism. There are now two generations of Iraqis who have not witnessed a day of peace since they were born. This country with its great history, economic potential and strategic importance can and ought to do much better. For the past three decades, Iraq s enormous oil wealth has been a target for regional and international powers that have left no stones unturned in their desire to control it. Iraq can still be a massive oil-producer and a leading country in the region. However, its lack of a unified national leadership and the regional and international interventions in its domestic affairs have hindered and still hinder the great potential of the country. This time around, young and older Iraqis have had enough, and they all wish to restore their country s stability and build a new Iraq that will truly fulfil its potential. It is unlikely that the older politics and the older political figures who have failed their country and its citizens for decades will have a place in the future Iraq. But they will likely take desperate measures before they capitulate to the demands of the Iraqi public. There are no signs that the protests in Iraq are on their way to fading out, and the attempts by the Iran-backed militias and the Iraqi authorities to crush the rebellion will only lead it to grow and become more violent. Only massive concessions by the current government and the establishment of a new republic in the country will save Iraq from descending into further chaos and repeating the vicious cycles of violence that it has suffered over the past four decades.
For a history lesson: look up America s finger in the pie regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dame (GERD), in light of US President Donald Trump hosting the Egyptian, Ethiopian, and Sudanese delegations in Washington. Unfortunately, this matter is not only about one dam, as the United States previously suggested to Ethiopia in 1964 to build 33 dams, not just the GERD, on the basin of the Blue Nile river. What are the details? As soon as Egypt and Sudan signed an agreement to divide the Nile waters between them in 1959, and as a joint Ethiopian-American response to this agreement at the request of Ethiopia, the US Land Reclamation Office was commissioned to prepare an optimal study utilize the waters of the Blue Nile Basin. The US rushed – it was in a hostile against Egypt during that time- in preparing this study, which lasted until 1964 to develop a comprehensive vision for the development of this basin. This means that the hostility was a joint Ethiopian-American affair. The American study included 33 dams or projects published in full by Professor Rushdi Said in his important book “The Nile River: Geology, Hydrology and Utilization,” published in 1993. The list of these projects has been fully published on page 304 since 26 years ago. But we – as usual – are people who do not read and if we read, we don t take it seriously. So don t be surprised by the American role, which is back in the matter once again. We started negotiations because of the GERD reservoir s increased storage capacity. This capacity was limited, as per the American point of view in the past, to 11 billion cubic meters and 74 meters only used just to generate electricity,as there was no land suitable for agriculture except at the border area with Sudan, and the goal was to generate only 7,290 kWh. By the way, the dam s name was initially “the Ethiopian-Sudanese border project” and then named the “Millennium Dam”, before settling on the “Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.” But the real issue came once Ethiopia decided to raise the project s capacity – in February 2011 – to 74 billion cubic meters. Ethiopia s hostility was clear, as this was a time when Egypt was in a state of instability from the revolution, and was helpless do a thing. All of these projects have been proposed to be implemented on the Blue Nile Basin, or whatever stems from Lake Tana. The Karadobi Dam is perhaps the largest of these projects, and I saw the process of building it on one of my visits to Ethiopia. Some also wonder about the presence of a representative of the World Bank at the Washington meeting, and the answer is because the World Bank has approved the establishment of the Fincha Dam in 1969, built in 1972, and reserves of 400 million cubic meters south of Lake Tana. Then comes the role of Italy, which built the Beles Dam, and also the European Economic Community, which contributed to increasing its capacity, and also contributed to the development of the Baro River up to at the Sobat River at Gambela Region, which I ve visited also, though this was for agriculture. Could you imagine 33 dams in the Blue Nile basin, while in Ethiopia there are dozens of other rivers? This is where the danger lies.
For a growing number of Americans on both sides of our ever-deepening political divide, the 2020 presidential election has become a critical contest about the future of our country. While so many significant policy concerns are at stake in November 2020, this will be an election about Donald Trump and what he has done to our politics. There can be no doubt that, by any measure, Donald Trump has been the most outrageous president in our history. In fact, it is a role he appears to relish. It isn t just the policies he has pursued. It is the way in which he has exacerbated the polarisation of our society and coarsened our political discourse. Ever the performer, he has used his rallies to incite against his opponents, resorting to name-calling and even vulgarity to denigrate them. In addition, he has used his tweets and engagements with the press to the same end. Despite the discomfort this has brought to more staid members of the Republican establishment, they have, for the most part, held back from criticising his behaviour, in part because they fear incurring his wrath and/or ridicule. It s important to understand, however, that there is method to this madness. What Trump has intuited is the anger of a significant portion of the American electorate that has been squeezed by a changing economy, threatened by cultural forces beyond their control, and ignored by political elites in both parties. Whatever they are called, whether it s the white middle class or white working class, this is the base to which Trump has played. And he has played them well. He has condemned both trade deals that he maintains have sent their factory jobs to Mexico and China in search of cheaper labour, and environmental regulations he claims have cost them their mining jobs. He has railed against immigrants whom he says have displaced hard-working Americans, and the “coastal elites” who have looked down their noses at ordinary folks, scorning their values and ignoring their aspirations. And he has preyed on people s fears and insecurities by scapegoating Mexicans and Muslims. When Trump says he ll “Make America great again” (MAGA), his base understands this as recapturing the country s lost glory, while at the same time evoking a romanticised past of quiet middle class neighbourhoods free of crime, where work was plentiful, and opportunities were available to all who “played by the rules”. There are, to be sure, problems galore with both this messenger and the message. If anything, Donald Trump is the embodiment of the very “coastal elites” he derides. His business practices, values and lifestyle are not those of his base. His bankruptcies have left tens of thousands out of work and his resorts have regularly hired undocumented cheap labour. His and his daughter s product lines have moved their operations overseas. And the policies he has pursued have benefited the wealthy and only increased income inequality. But none of this has mattered to his base, because he speaks directly to them and has convinced them that he alone understands them and will fight for them. Hungry for a saviour, they have latched onto him as their “last, best hope” to improve their lot in life. As a result, they see attacks on his presidency as threats to their future well-being. The dilemma now confronting Democrats is how to respond to this Trump challenge. On this, the many 2020 candidates and the party, itself, are not of one mind. All are agreed that Trump s behaviour is to be condemned and that moving forward with impeachment is a national priority and a constitutional imperative. But what about the divide and how to relate to Trump s base? Here there are divergent views. Some appear to see no need to address this concern. They simply want to defeat the man, send him packing and restore a Democrat to the White House. Others believe that the way forward is to heal the divide by preaching a message of unity and civility. But while winning will obviously be an important goal for Democrats, governing in a post-Trump America is a critical concern that cannot simply be pushed aside. We have seen the dysfunction created by hyper-partisanship. When either party has controlled both the legislative and executive branches of government, bills get passed, but rancour only grows. Recall the “Tea Party” reaction to Obama and the “Resistance” that greeted Trump. Winning, by itself, won t do the trick. Changing our politics and the governing coalition is what is required to move the country forward. What polling makes clear is that our political divide isn t just partisan. It s really demographic. For too many election cycles, political consultants using advanced data mining have identified target constituencies and directed their messaging and outreach efforts to reach them. For Democrats this has meant focusing on what has become known as the “Obama coalition,” including young voters, “minorities,” educated professional women, etc. Republicans, on the other hand, have directed their outreach to their base: the wealthy, of course, and white, “born again,” non-college educated and rural voters. Democrats condemned inequality, promoted diversity and tolerance, and proposed a range of social programmes designed to meet the needs of the most vulnerable. For their part, the Republican mantra has been “smaller government, lower taxes,” coupled with a number of social issues (from abortion to anti-gay rights) to appeal to their voters. In all of this, white working-class voters were left behind. The Democrats, who had been the champion of the working class, appeared to abandon them with their focus on a “liberal social agenda”. Meanwhile, Republicans worked to lure them away from the Democrats by denouncing that same “liberal social agenda.” What Trump did was couple the traditional Republican message with an appeal to the left behind middle class. He spoke to their anger and frustration and turned them into his MAGA movement. If Democrats are to not only win, but erase the divide and change politics, they must break from their narrow focus on their base and speak to the crowd that Trump has co-opted. The strategy they have pursued of focusing exclusively on increasing the voter turnout of their base, and directing their anger at Trump, may win an election, but it will do nothing to change and expand the governing coalition. They need to be able to continue to appeal to their base, while also speaking directly, as Trump has done, to the anger and frustration of the left behind working class of all races. Winning and transforming American politics means adopting a “both/and” instead of an “either/or” approach to politics. Ignoring or just trying to get more votes than the “other side” will only perpetuate the divide. And lame calls for unity and civility fall flat when people are hurting, frustrated and mad. Only by recognising that hurt, acknowledging that frustration and sharing that anger can voters become unified around an agenda that speaks to all Americans across the divide. Maybe then we can begin to heal.
Perior to the cross, the Virgin Mary was hearing howling of the daughters of Jerusalem mourning the young man presented as a silent lamb. She was standing as the sword was passing through her soul and Jesus Christ was condemned and defamed. Yet, the women loved and followed him, even if they didn’t realize that resurrection was at hand. We also stand in solidarity with those who were wounded for us, and were con