In the aftermath of the recent passing of the late sultan of Oman Qaboos bin Said, there is now time to undertake a thorough analysis of his legacy after almost five decades of his rule. This should be both at the domestic level and at the level of the foreign policy of Oman in the period and its interaction with sub-regional, regional, and international actors. This article will focus on only one aspect of the late sultan Qaboos s legacy, namely his handling of what could be called the Dhofar Question, which, although being primarily a domestic issue, had its own sub-regional, regional, and international ramifications. Historians agree that sultan Qaboos assumed power at a critical juncture in the history of Oman. The Sultanate was then amidst a fully-fledged civil war in the province of Dhofar. The rebels had formally declared that they aimed at achieving the independence of their province, meaning the dismembering of the Sultanate of Oman. In addition to its serious domestic implications, the war in Dhofar had its own sub-regional, regional, and international dimensions. At the sub-regional level, the rebels in Dhofar were strongly and actively supported by the then Marxist-Leninist government in what was called the People s Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen), either in an attempt to eventually merge with the province of Dhofar if the war there ended in the victory of the rebels and the separation of the province from the rest of Oman, or simply with a view to having the province as an ally of the struggle of South Yemen with its neighbouring conservative and pro-western countries in the Gulf region at the time. At the regional level, and similar to what had happened in the war in Yemen between 1962 and 1967, the war in Dhofar was a stereotypical manifestation of the division in the Arab region since the early 1960s, what the late US political scientist Malcom Kerr called the “Arab Cold War”. This meant that the region could be divided between those countries belonging to what came to be called the “progressive,” or “revolutionary,” or occasionally “left-wing” camp, on the one hand, and those belonging to what came to be known as the “conservative,” or “moderate,” or occasionally “right-wing” camp on the other. On the global level of analysis, the war in Dhofar was simply one more of the proxy wars that were taking place in the Third World between the two competing camps of the western camp led by the US and the eastern camp led by the former Soviet Union at the time. The war was a turbulent legacy that the new sultan had to deal with. Historians differ over the way he brought an end to the war in Dhofar with a favourable outcome for the government of Oman, particularly his dependence on the military involvement of the Iranian armed forces during the rule of the former shah of Iran, Mohamed Reza Pahlavi, which supported Omani government troops. There was a similar dependence on British military involvement, mainly in terms of the provision of military experts and their presence on the battlefield, as well as the flow of military equipment and ammunition to Omani government troops. Yet, in order to be objective, one has to recall that the conflict was taking place in the broader context of the Cold War between the capitalist and communist camps and at a time when the governments of the Arab states in the Gulf were clearly allying themselves with the western camp for a number of economic and geo-political as well as strategic and even probably ideological reasons. In addition, Iran at the time was widely perceived and explicitly described as the West s “policeman” in the Gulf region. It was in this context that the Omani leadership considered it only logical to seek military support from Iran and the UK to put down a rebellion supported by the then Marxist government in pro-Soviet South Yemen and through it the former Soviet camp in its entirety. But this is only part of the story of the handling of the Dhofar question, as the end of the war in the 1970s in favour of the Muscat government was not the end of the story. At one level, the late sultan clearly meant to attach more attention to the socio-economic developmental needs of the Dhofar province and its inhabitants. He realised that the disregard by the previous governments of Oman of the needs of the people of the Dhofar province had been one of the reasons for the revolt in the first place as well as for the sympathy of substantial segments of the population of the province with the rebels during the war. As a result, he was keen to personally supervise the giving of priority by successive Omani governments to both the living as well as the developmental needs of the people of Dhofar in order to enable a process of the smooth and successful integration of the province into the overall process of the equitable renaissance and development that Oman has witnessed under the rule of the late sultan. He also successfully integrated some of the leaders of the rebels in the Dhofar war into the political elite of Oman. This policy went far beyond the hopes and advice of some who were close to the late sultan, as their maximum aspiration earlier had been to pardon the leaders of the revolt in Dhofar. But the late sultan in fact appointed some of those leaders, after pardoning them, as ministers or ambassadors, thus wisely making use of their intellectual sophistication and expertise as well as the advanced political and cultural awareness of these figures to better serve the national interests of the Sultanate of Oman and its people.
Anyone who wants to know the future should start by reading history. I remember that in 1958, the year I started my journalistic career at Al-Ahram, I was assigned with a group of junior reporters to do a feature story on the 1952 Cairo fire. Until that date, no one had known who was behind this event, and this issue, which perplexed everyone, was of great interest to me personally. In 1962, an Al-Ahram editorial entitled A Salute to a Great People revealed the truth. In the article, which took up nearly the whole of the front page, the renowned journalist Mohamed Hassanein Heikal concluded that it had been the Egyptian public who had burned Cairo in protest against the injustice prevailing at the time. But even so, some historians tackling the event have not taken into account the data included in Heikal s article. This week marks the 68th anniversary of the Cairo fire on 26 January 1952. A fire of this magnitude hitting the capital of any country is no ordinary matter, though in Egypt s case it was not the first fire of this size to take place. There was a similar fire during the era of the Crusades and another in the days of the French Campaign in Egypt at the end of the 18th century when the Egyptians revolted against the invading French military leaders Napoleon Bonaparte and Jean-Baptiste Kleber, with the latter having no choice but to evacuate the country in the end. The Cairo fire signaled the end of the monarchy in Egypt and the beginning of the greatest coup in Egypt s modern history. Six months following the fire, the then king was ousted, and the republican system was established in the country. For nearly 5,000 years and before the 1952 Revolution, Egypt had been under occupation. The titles of the occupiers differed, and their leader was called either a pharaoh, a Roman emperor, an Abbasid caliph, a Turkish khedive, a sultan, or a king. None of Egypt s successive rulers was Egyptian, and Egypt had never been ruled by anyone from its own community. On 26 January 1952, the Egyptian people took everyone by surprise and rose up to protest against their despotic rulers. The king was hesitant to ask for the help of the army in putting down the revolt, fearing that the army might join hands with the people. However, this is precisely what happened, since the army saved Cairo from a conspiracy. Its patriotic role became clear when it supported the Egyptian people. On 23 July 1952, the Free Officers made their move and instigated the revolution. The 1952 Revolution came nine months after the cancellation of the 1936 Treaty with the British, when, on 8 October 1951, then prime minister Mustafa Al-Nahhas gave his historic speech before parliament announcing the annulment of the treaty amid the applause of all MPs. Al-Nahhas and his cabinet were greeted with cheers from his socialist opponent, the founder of the Misr Al-Fattah Party Ahmed Hussein. Crowds of people gathered at the headquarters of Hussein s party, later known as the Socialist Party, and asked him to take over the leadership, but hidden political discord directed the coming events. Before 26 January 1952, the opposition parties press enjoyed a limited margin of freedom. However, after this date the press exceeded such limits, and the paper of the Misr Al-Fattah Party pressed for revolution. In one famous edition, its headlines read “Revolution… Revolution… Revolution,” directly addressing then king Farouk in a challenging tone. Photographs in the paper focused on the suffering and misery of the Egyptian people, with images of people in poverty, children in shabby clothes, sick and homeless people, and a man dying of hunger. The captions read “You, the Egyptian Citizen, may also face this Destiny.” After this issue of the paper was published, the state prosecution arrested Ahmed Hussein and his companions and sent them to prison. It accused Hussein of inciting the public to revolt against the king and demanded his execution. The government of Al-Nahhas was facing a hard time. It was not easy to hold the stick from the middle, with the press opposing the government, the king acting in an irrational way, and British forces taking hold of Ismailia and trying to impose their control over the Egyptian police there. The government started taking steps to foil any possible revolutionary moves. Volunteer camps were cancelled, political parties were banned from collecting money, and the Shaab Party (socialist in tendency) was not allowed to hold meetings. The period before the 1952 Revolution saw a particularly tense climate. On 8 September 1950, a heated article published in one opposition newspaper threw new light on the government s relationship with the British occupiers. The article, entitled “The Negotiations have Failed,” noted that the government has accepted all the British demands and that the negotiations between the two sides had been held in a friendly atmosphere. It said that the British did not intend to leave Egypt and added that they intended to do everything they could to defend British interests if a war was waged. But to return to the events that preceded the Cairo fire. The police were angrily demanding overtime payments, and protestors were heading towards the cabinet building. All attempts to calm the demonstrators were in vain. Hussein Sobhi, in charge of security, urged the necessity of restoring calm, but in the confusion Cairo was set on fire. Ahmed Hussein was referred to trial on several charges of his alleged involvement. Hussein and his colleagues were not able to appear before the court, as the session was not held owing to the Revolution, and the case was delayed until 30 July 1952. Hussein was released, along with Ibrahim Shukri, a prominent socialist figure. During the rule of former president Anwar al-Sadat, Shukri became governor of the Al-Wadi Al-Gedeed governorate in 1974 and agriculture minister two years later. The first cabinet following the Revolution was led by Ali Maher, one of the ousted king s supporters. The Revolutionary Command Council that was later to take control of the country was keen not to interfere in government affairs until things got settled. In 1953, Egypt became a republic, and the controversy about the Cairo fire continued to intrigue public opinion.
The term “cold war” is curious because it connotes all the tensions of warfare, but without its concrete consequences. Since World War II, battles in which not a single bullet was fired epitomised relations between the USSR and the US: the two sides brandished all sorts of weapons but knew just how far they could go. Today, it looks like the end of the cold war in the British royal house between Queen Elizabeth and her grandson Harry and his wife Meghan has heralded the wane of other cold wars. When Prince Harry and his wife decided to relinquish certain royal duties, they effectively declared war against the outworn traditions of Buckingham Palace. They did not want to endure the experiences of Princess Diana. Their decision to take their baby, Archie, with them to Canada seemed like a form of calculated escalation in their campaign. The queen responded not with a counter-escalation but by summoning her grandson to a private meeting the substance of which remained private but the evident consequence of which was a solution all could live with. The royal family had no desire to relive the abdication crisis of the 1930s when King Edward VIII married an American divorcee, or the 1960s crisis of Princess Margaret and her photographer husband, or the experience of the “People’s Princess” that was Lady Diana. So, the latest crisis, a kind of cold war that threatened to shake the status and prestige of the British monarchy when the queen would no longer be able to wear the crown, had to be resolved quickly and in a way that would bring a happy ending. As no international power wanted to revive the crisis ridden decades of cold war between Moscow and Washington, the cold trade war between Washington and Beijing lasted less than four years. Not surprisingly, therefore, the crisis between the queen and her grandson lasted less than four weeks. Something of this sort has occurred in the Middle East. The latest US-Iran storm ended after the two sides tacitly agreed to close off the avenues to mutual strikes. Almost simultaneously, the military confrontation between the Libyan National Army (LNA) and the militias fighting for the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) came to a halt. In both the Gulf and Libya, tensions subsided, allowing the key players to reassess their calculations free from the pressures of looming conflict or forthcoming negotiations. Moreover, on the very day that Washington signed the first stage trade agreement with Beijing, bringing that cold war to a close, it was announced that Cairo, Khartoum and Addis Ababa had reached an agreement over the essential points in their negotiations over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and that the final text of the agreement will be announced 28 January. Thanks to the foregoing developments, by the midpoint of the first month of 2020, the world could finally breathe a bit easier. The parties that had drawn so close to the precipice had receded from the brink, and the clouds of war, both cold and hot, receded. The world is better off than it was when the year started and the British royal family has once again merrily settled into the ways of life commensurate to the age we live. The most complicated of the foregoing developments was the US-China agreement which marked a breakthrough in a trade war that was fraught with much of the trepidation that preceded World War II when international powers entered a fierce race of protectionist customs tax hikes which historians believe was one of the causes of the war. In the aftermath, therefore, the international community not only created the United Nations but, along with it, institutions designed to sustain the economic health of its member states in order to allay aggressive tendencies. Following the creation of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the US worked to bring all other countries under its umbrella, especially China and Russia. The idea was that this would generate a degree of mutual dependency that would stave off the evils of war and conflict. Oddly, this did not keep President Donald Trump from heaping curses on the WTO and mutual dependency. This was not because he felt the US could not compete commercially with China but rather because China took advantage of the benefits granted to developing countries and fiddled with its currency rates in order to acquire an edge in world markets and attract international firms. This triggered a trade war and, as mutual accusations and recriminations escalated, a political cold war which, in turn, was translated into a series of tit-for-tat targeted customs duties and tax hikes. Naturally, such a development between the two largest world markets and in their bilateral trade can send tremors across international trade and global economic growth. So, when these two economic giants removed their coats and prepared to tangle, all other countries in the world caught a cold. It is hard to know what happened in the trade war or how it evolved into a cold war, but what appears certain is that the mutual dependency between the two economies was of a sufficient magnitude to furnish the necessary antibiotics. These involved sorting their mutual differences into stages, making possible to handle them clearly and frankly, to compensate the injured party, and to defer the more complicated and intractable problems to a later stage. The first stage agreement that was signed 15 January provided that China would purchase $200 billion in US products, including $50 billion worth of agricultural products. Trump wanted to kill two birds with one stone: to reduce the US trade deficit with China and to make a come on to US farmers in the form of a major bribe a few months ahead of the presidential elections. Trump was not going to leave anything to chance, even if all the signs and stars point to a second term as president, and even if the Republicans hold the majority in the Senate making the result of his impeachment trial a foregone conclusion. True, there remain many pending issues to be resolved between Beijing and Washington. Among them are the questions of intellectual property rights, the role of state-owned companies in China and the benefits they receive from the state — all thorny issues that are best handled slowly and with care and by a president who no longer has to deal with the problem of re-election. But what we know already is that the agreement has yielded immediate positive results worldwide, to which testify the rise in international stock markets, including the US stock exchange. With this, plus the state of the US economy and Washington’s handling of the crises in the Middle East, Trump’s rivals won’t stand a chance in the next election.
The Senate is poised to conduct a trial of President Donald Trump to determine whether he failed to faithfully execute the duties of his high office and committed impeachable offenses. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has publicly declared that he has no intention of acting with impartiality. Moreover, he believes the Senate should not allow any additional witnesses to testify or permit more documentary evidence to be presented to Senators. In his opinion, the case for impeachment is closed. But thanks to a small group of Republicans led by Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, who seem open to going against McConnell s wishes, it appears that some of the witnesses and documents withheld from the House investigation may be produced during the Senate trial. While few believe that the Senate will convict the President of wrongdoing and expel him from office, it remains critically important for the Senate to exercise its power and responsibility to ensure that all relevant evidence be released so that the American people can be fully informed of actions of the President that directly affect not just our national security but also our national honor. The facts currently before the Senate are not in serious dispute. In a phone call on July 25, 2019, to Ukraine s President, Volodymyr Zelensky, President Trump indicated that he was willing to help Ukraine in its war with Russia, but wanted a favor in return -- one that specifically involved Ukraine investigating former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, for possible corruption. Shortly after the call, the congressionally appropriated assistance to Ukraine was withheld. Multiple witnesses testified under oath that the assistance was not to be released until Zelensky publicly announced that he would open an investigation into the Bidens. President Trump has insisted that the phone call to Zelensky was "perfect," while his political supporters claim that his call and actions were entirely appropriate -- or, if inappropriate, imprudent at worst. In judging whether the President s request -- and intent -- was innocent or corrupt, senators should consider the President s past behavior. When Sally Yates, a career Justice Department official, warned the President that Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn had serious conflicts of interest and should not be appointed to serve as national security adviser, she learned that in Trump s world, no good deed goes unpunished. The President hired Flynn and soured on Yates, soon firing her for failing to defend his travel ban executive order. When then-FBI Director James Comey refused to say publicly that Trump was not a target of the Russia investigation, the President fired Comey. When then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions refused to "unrecuse" himself from the investigation into the President s contacts with Russia so that he could fire former special counsel Robert Mueller, the President fired Sessions. When former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats refused to endorse Russian propaganda that it was Ukraine -- not Russia -- that attacked our democracy during the 2016 election and presented factual intelligence assessments that contradicted the President s public statements on Russia, North Korea and Iran, the President criticized Coats. Coats then resigned rather than continue to be undermined and belittled. When distinguished diplomat Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was seen as an obstacle to securing President Zelensky s compliance to what former National Security Adviser John Bolton suggested -- according to former top Russia expert Fiona Hill -- was a political "drug deal," Trump fired Yovanovitch. Our Founding Fathers knew what it meant to live under the boot of imperial rule. They also were students of human nature and knew that unrestrained ambition in a free society would lead either to anarchy or to tyranny. They understood that power must be entrusted to someone but that no one could be trusted with power. President Trump is surely the type of person the Founders had in mind when they granted the power to Congress to hold an abusive president -- one who insists that he cannot be indicted for criminal activity or investigated for Constitutional misbehavior -- in check. The Senate may try to quickly dispose of the Articles of Impeachment, and offer multiple justifications: the House investigation was unfair; the evidence obtained is insufficient to prove any wrongdoing; abuse of power and obstruction of Congress are not defined in the Constitution as impeachable offenses; and that it would be unfair for the Senate to take any action to remove the President with the presidential election just 10 months away. Central to our existence as a democratic country is the rule of law, the precept that declares that no one stands above its prohibitions and no one falls below its protections. The rule of law must be more than a mantra that we repeat but do not respect. It is the invisible thread woven into the Constitution that binds a diverse people together in the cause of protecting our collective security and preserving our personal freedoms. The American people have the right to elect a president who is crude, cruel and amoral, but Congress has the power and the duty to remove one who has corrupted his office by using it to serve his private ambitions.
The Berlin conference was held in an attempt to resolve the conflict in Libya. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council participated in addition to Egypt, Turkey, Algeria, the United Arab Emirates, and Morocco – which had hosted the Skhirat Conference aiming to reach a political solution which the parties in the conflict have not committed to. Tunisia was also invited at the last minute at the Berlin Conference and apologized for not participating, despite its long borders with Libya. Certainly, the reasons for the Skhirat agreement s failure remain as it is. The parties to the conflict changed only in their relative weights, i.e. the success of Haftar s forces in controlling about two-thirds of the Libyan territory and about one third of the population, while the Government of National Accord (GNA) controls one-third of the land and two-thirds of the population. Libya s crisis is basically internal (even if it is invested by foreign countries) and is due to the fact that it is not just a conflict between the political or armed factions, who are required to agree and sign a peace agreement, but rather comes from the absence of state institutions. There are no police except for the militia, nor professional institutional army (although the Libyan National Army is closest to that) and there is no independent or independent judiciary. Therefore, any political agreement comes with no mechanism to implement on the ground as the law enforcement powers are mostly dominated by the militias. We must know that the number of Libya s main militias is 30, and that within each of them are dozens of factions and groups – with some estimates at about 1,600 – most of them in Tripoli. And this isn t even without taking into account the extremist Syrian militias sent by Erdogan s government, estimated by the British Guardian newspaper to be at about 2,000 fighters. Tripoli includes dozens of main militias, such as the Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade which is deployed in the east and center of the capital, and the Special Deterrence Force which includes Salafi forces and is also stationed in the east of the capital, playing the role of police there. There is also Libya Dawn, a Muslim Brotherhood militia which includes the Central Libya Shield militia, the Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room, and other brigades from Misrata. Some neighborhoods are also under militia control, for example the Abu Salim Battalion, which controls the Abu Salim neighborhood south of the capital, and the Nawasi Islamic Brigade which controls the naval base. The Berlin conference s final draft statement includes six items related to economic and security reforms, along with a ceasefire and the application of an arms embargo, obliging representatives of more than ten countries invited to participate in the conference to return to Libya s political process and adhere to international humanitarian law, and regarding the National Oil Corporation (based in Tripoli) as the sole entity responsible for selling Libyan oil. The draft final statement also indicated the need for militias to surrender their weapons, and it s here the question arises: to whom will these weapons be surrendered to? The Libyan National Army? Unthinkable. To international forces? Unlikely. The Berlin conference is an opportunity for a political solution after previous political and military agreements faltered. Will this conference be invested by everyone?
Japan and the world as a whole recently lost a prominent Japanese woman who had had a national and global impact for over five decades in the person of the late Dr Sadako Ogata who has passed away at the age of 92. I had the great privilege of getting to know Ogata personally and working closely with her both in Geneva when she was serving as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as well as in Tokyo when she was serving as the president of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Ogata has left behind her a lasting legacy on both the domestic Japanese scene as well as on a world scale. This was a result of her outstanding achievements in all the posts she served in throughout her long academic and professional life. She played an instrumental role in a critical period of world history and more specifically in post-Cold War affairs in an era characterised by unprecedented tragedies since the establishment of the post-World War II world order. Not only did she serve as UN High Commissioner for Refugees for a decade, but she also served at a later stage for almost the same period as the president of the JICA. In her later years, she was a senior adviser to the JICA and a member of the advisory board for the organisation of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The links between Ogata and the public life of her country started early, as her grandfather had been a prime minister of Japan. She was the daughter of a Japanese diplomat, and the fact that she moved with her family to different countries throughout her childhood exposed her to different cultures and civilisations from an early age, enriching her perspectives and broadening her horizons for the rest of her life. Her academic career was equally cosmopolitan and distinguished. After receiving her BA from the Sacred University in the Japanese capital Tokyo, she pursued her graduate studies at Georgetown University in Washington DC. She later received a PhD in political science from the University of California. Soon afterwards, she became an associate professor at the Christian University in Tokyo and then a full professor at Sophia University, also in Tokyo. Her stay at Sophia University proved to be long-lasting and increasingly substantial, and she later chaired the International Relations Institute at the university and in 1989 became dean of foreign studies, becoming the first person in Japan to introduce a “model UN” to an academic institution. Her long career in international diplomacy also started early, and in 1968 she was invited to join the Japanese delegation to that year s session of the UN General Assembly. In 1976, she was the first woman to serve at the level of minister plenipotentiary at the Japanese Permanent Mission to the UN in New York. Between 1982 and 1985, she represented Japan on the UN Committee for Human Rights, which later became the UN Human Rights Council. Between 1991 and 2000, Ogata served as UN High Commissioner for Refugees for two terms. Not only was she the first Japanese national to assume the post, but she was also the first woman and the first academic to hold it. In this capacity, she had to deal with multiple crises and conflicts, particularly of an ethnic and sectarian nature, in different areas of the world. The most serious were those related to the wars in Bosnia Herzegovina, the Great Lakes region of Africa (Rwanda and Burundi), and the Gulf region in the aftermath of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. All these conflicts resulted in the outflow of refugees and miserable living conditions that threatened the lives of millions. Ogata demonstrated exemplary leadership qualities in handling these critical and dramatic human crises. She was keen to travel to the areas in person in order to show her engagement and dedication to helping the refugees. She became so popular that many refugees named their daughters after her. After completing her two mandates at the UNHCR, and prior to being appointed as the president of the JICA in 2003, Ogata served as special envoy of the Japanese prime minister for coordinating Japanese aid in the reconstruction of Afghanistan following the fall of Taliban rule in late 2001. In her capacity as president of the JICA until 2012, she showed her support for Egyptian efforts to promote economic, social and cultural development. This was particularly demonstrated through the vital role she played in ensuring Japanese approval for the Egypt-Japan University for Science and Technology (E-JUST), inaugurated in 2010, and the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), scheduled to be inaugurated soon. In addition, she supported many other projects that were taking place in partnership with Egypt, including new and renewable energy projects, particularly in wind energy and solar energy, and projects aimed at improving the living conditions of the lower socio-economic strata, such as improving sewerage and water systems, particularly in rural areas, and the treatment and management of waste. There is no doubt that Ogata will always serve as a model for all those committed to public service, particularly at the international level, as well as for Japanese women who have long been very proud of her and have sought to emulate her in their own lives or to bring up their daughters in her footsteps. Sadako Ogata will be greatly missed, including among her many friends in Egypt.
The year 2020 started with a vengeance. According to some pundits, the Middle East has been teetering towards World War III, with the Iranian-US conflict triggering this terrible prophecy. But let s go back a few decades and open Pandora s Box to reveal something of the strife between Iran and the US. The two states have not seen eye to eye since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979 followed by the attack on the US Embassy in Tehran when US diplomats were held hostage for 444 days. Many years later, former US president Barack Obama s efforts to appease Iran were shunned by President Donald Trump when the US exited the Iran nuclear agreement and imposed crushing sanctions on Iran. However, Trump did not retaliate after Iran downed a US drone in June last year or after it attacked Saudi oil facilities in September. More recently, the crisis became more acute. In Iraq, Iranian-backed militiamen killed an American contractor and wounded others in rocket attacks. This time, the US retaliated by ordering strikes in Iraq and Syria, killing 25 militia fighters. Iraqi protesters then rallied outside the US Embassy in Baghdad, got inside the compound and set sections of it ablaze. Using a drone strike, the US killed Qassem Suleimani, the commander of the Iranian Al- Quds Force who had played a pivotal role in attacks in many countries in the region, including Lebanon and Yemen. From the Iranian perspective, Suleimani was a heroic figure, and ironically his death united a disgruntled people and a government facing internal dissent against the US, that is until the gunning down of the Ukrainian passenger plane. Those who have been against Trump in the US were quick to reject Suleimani s assassination. On the US TV channel CNN, journalist Fareed Zakaria said that Suleimani was regarded “as a completely heroic figure, personally very brave,” while journalist Anderson Cooper, again on CNN, compared Suleimani to former French president Charles de Gaulle. Those who have supported Trump hailed his actions. US journalist Thomas Friedman writing in the New York Times pointed to Suleimani s work with Iranian proxies across several countries. “Hizbullah in Lebanon and Syria, the Popular Mobilisation Forces in Iraq and the Houthis in Yemen – these created pro-Iranian Shiite states-within-states in all of these countries. And it was precisely these states-within-states that helped to prevent any of these countries from cohering, fostered massive corruption and keeping these countries from developing infrastructure – schools, roads, electricity,” he said. A tit-for-tat conflict between Iran and the US brewed. Trump warned in a tweet that “should Iran strike any US person or target, the United States will quickly & fully strike back & perhaps in a disproportionate manner.” He even threatened to attack Iranian cultural sites, an unheard-of approach that is totally unprecedented from a developed country. Iran responded swiftly by firing a dozen missiles at two US military bases in Iraq. It threatened “more crushing responses,” but the attacks resulted in no casualties, which was a great relief. A day later, small rockets pelted the diplomatic area in Baghdad s heavily fortified Green Zone. The Iraqi parliament voted to expel US forces from the country after Suleimani s death, causing Trump to threaten to impose sanctions against Iraq. Speaking to reporters on the US president s jet Air Force One, he said that “if they do ask us to leave, if we don t do it in a very friendly basis, we will charge them with sanctions like they ve never seen before ever. It ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame.” That was not all, as at the same time, and minutes after take-off, a Kiev-bound Ukrainian 737 Boeing plane departing from Tehran Airport went down killing the 176 passengers onboard including 63 Canadians who were mostly of Iranian descent. After US and Canadian officials announced that investigations had proven that the plane was shot down by surface-to-air missiles, a statement on Iranian TV acknowledged that Iran had “unintentionally” shot down the Ukrainian passenger plane. Until a few days ago, war seemed imminent as the rhetoric and aggression surged. Then things took a surprising turn. In a speech following the Iranian missile attacks on the US bases, Trump preferred to de-escalate hostilities rather than to escalate them. He signalled that no new US strikes would follow, and in an astonishing change in tone he also said that he was “ready to embrace peace with all who seek it,” when just a day earlier he had said that “if Iran does anything that they shouldn t be doing, they re going to be suffering the consequences and very strongly.” He also called for negotiations towards a new agreement with Iran. Iran took the same approach, seemingly uninterested in a wider confrontation and satisfied with the effects of its limited retaliatory measures. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that his country had “concluded proportionate measures in self-defence,” adding that “we do not seek escalation or war.” Both the US and Iran may have realised that this is as far as things should go and that further military force would be more damaging than beneficial. A war would put pressure on Trump domestically who had earlier campaigned in the US presidential elections on a promise to remove the US from further “endless wars.” Moreover, the consensus on Suleimani s assassination was that it was illegal, and Trump may have deemed US allies unsupportive and reluctant to support another war. According to US journalist Alex Ward writing on the US news website Vox, a war would have meant “a deadly opening attack. Nearly untraceable, ruthless proxies spreading chaos on multiple continents. Costly miscalculations. And thousands – perhaps hundreds of thousands – killed in a conflict that would dwarf the war in Iraq.” “The ripple effect would likely have reached the far end of the world with skyrocketing oil prices, attacks against American and allied targets anywhere around the world, and no backing down on either side leading to disastrous consequences.” Regardless of whether the Iranian and US approaches constitute appeasement, backing down or playing things right, the world is now breathing an overwhelming sigh of relief.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry — before the Egypyian-Ethiopian-Sudanese meeting in the US — dotted all the necessary in the statement it released following the last round of talks in Addis Ababa in which Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan failed to reach an agreement over their pending differences on the rules and principles governing the filling of the reservoir and the operations of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). The fault for the failure is certainly not Egypt s. Egypt s guiding principle throughout has been that any agreement should ensure the interests of all parties. Egypt has no problem with the construction of the Ethiopian Dam as long as it does not jeopardise Egypt s water rights, which is why it has engaged in so many rounds of negotiations in recent years. In March 2015, Cairo, Addis and Khartoum signed the agreement on the Declaration of Principles, outlining 10 major principles to which the signatory parties committed themselves. Egypt s stances and demands have remained consistent with these principles in all the negotiating rounds ever since. When negotiations broke down earlier this year, seven years after they had begun, Egypt felt compelled to appeal to the international community to intervene, which President Al-Sisi did in his address to the UN General Assembly in September. When the US offered to help, Egypt accepted willingly. It then welcomed the outcome of the US-sponsored negotiations and faithfully adhered to the terms of the agreement that was reached in Washington on 6 November. There followed four negotiating rounds between the three countries technical committees, during which Egypt worked as best as it could to overcome the impasses. Afterwards, Egypt was forced to announce that the negotiations did not produce results commensurate with its demands, initiating a new phase in a process involving a life and death issue for the Egyptian people. The spokesman for the Egyptian Ministry of Irrigation said that the negotiations showed that Ethiopia had no sincere desire to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement and that Addis was actually bent on acting unilaterally in filling the reservoir and operating the dam, in violation of international law. He stressed that Egypt cannot accept this and that it remains determined to safeguard its quota of Nile waters as stipulated under previous agreements. Contrary to the Ethiopian claim, Egypt has not insisted on a specific number of years for the filling of the GERD reservoir. But it does oppose Ethiopian attempts to impose a de facto reality, to assert its control over the Blue Nile, and to fill and operate the dam without concern for the welfare of downstream nations, and Egypt in particular, the last country on the Nile before it reaches the Mediterranean. Ethiopia should not be allowed to treat the Blue Nile like the other transboundary rivers it has sought to control to the detriment of neighbouring countries. Over a year ago, Cairo, Khartoum and Addis agreed that the filling of the GERD reservoir should proceed in stages based on the annual flow of the Blue Nile. Egypt has proposed that this process should take place over six to seven years in the event of average or above average flooding levels, so as to avoid harm to downstream nations. It also proposed that, in the event of significantly lower than average flows from the Blue Nile headwaters, Ethiopia could reduce electricity production at the dam to 80 per cent of its capacity, meaning that Addis would only have to shoulder a minor burden due to the drought. Regardless of whether the next round in Washington produces positive results, or whether Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan agree to extend negotiations for another limited period, or whether they opt for an international mediator, Egypt will continue to insist on its full and undiminished rights to Nile waters, on the principle of avoidance of harm to any party, and on the need for a consensual mechanism to operate the new dam. These principles are not negotiable. No country can stand by while its main source of water is exposed to risk, jeopardising the lives of over 100 million people. Ethiopia is now trying to buy time and gain an edge over the other parties by spreading falsehoods to the effect that Egypt is intransigent. Such behaviour is indefensible and does not stand to reason in light of the constructive and flexible approach that Egypt has consistently brought to the negotiating process, to which there is ample testimony.
In an effort to show that Egypt is a land of tolerance and the cradle of Abrahamic religions, Tourism and Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Anani conducted a four-hour tour on Friday, during which he inaugurated the historical al-Fateh Mosque in Abdeen Palace and visited the St. Mark s Church in Alexandria, the oldest Church in Egypt, before crossing the street to attend the main event of the day — the unveiling of the Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in Alexandria after three years of restoration. Speeches from attendees at the event, which included Anani and the Director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Mostafa El Feki, confirmed the importance of religious tolerance in Egypt and stressed the lack of religious discrimination throughout Egypt s history, despite the presence of various religious sects living in close quarters, in an attempt to send a message to the world that Egypt is the cradle of civilization and a country of tolerance and acceptance. Perhaps this is the main message of organizing the three events in one day, but I see another goal behind opening more than just the Jewish synagogue last Friday — it represents a preemptive response to any attack on spending approximately LE65 million on the restoration of a synagogue that will not host religious rituals regularly, because there are not enough Jews in the city and in all of Egypt to justify regular religious services. Anani s response to such criticism was clear when he said: “This is a message to the world that Egypt cares about its entire heritage, whether it is Pharaonic, Islamic, Coptic or Jewish.” Those who attack costly restoration work on the synagogue forget that it is part of Egypt s heritage, and the temple not being used for prayers does not mean it should be neglected. This synagogue and the other 11 synagogues in Egypt could serve as tourist attractions that document an important part of Egyptian history. These criticisms reminded me of what happened during the tenure of Farouk Hosni as Egypt s former Culture Minister, when he began the restoration of the Maimonides Synagogue (Rav Moshe Synagogue) in Cairo. A similar attack campaign began, with critics expressing doubts about the feasibility of restoration at the synagogue and slamming the allocation of funds to such a project. But Hosni, known for his daring leadership, was not satisfied with the restoration of one synagogue, calling as well for the establishment of a museum documenting Jewish heritage in Egypt. The Minister s ambitions caused the attacks to increase, with critics saying that Egypt does not have enough relevant antiquities to justify establishing a museum dedicated to Jewish heritage. With the opening of Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue, I see it s now time to revive Hosni s idea. I have spoken with members of the Jewish community on the sidelines of the opening of the synagogue, and they confirmed that there exist rare books and other relics that could form the basis of a museum dedicated to Jewish heritage, which could be built in the basement of the synagogue located in Adli Street (Sha ar Hashamayim Synagogue). I believe that the establishment of such a museum would serve as an eloquent response to critics of the synagogue restoration project, as the museum will draw visitors to the country and place Egypt s synagogues on the global tourism map.
Amid growing rifts within Ethiopia s ruling elites on whether to stay as federalists or to join the ranks of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed s centralist approach, Jawar Mohamed, the most popular Oromo activist and founder of the powerful Oromo Media Network, has become a member of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC). The move has ended speculation among Oromo nationalists and others in the ruling elites on whether Mohamed would align himself with Ahmed s new Prosperity Party. Right from the beginning, Jawar, who has led an effective campaign in exile against the former Tigrayan hegemony over the Ethiopian polity, has blatantly opposed the incumbent Ethiopian prime minister s “Medemer” philosophy that is bent on marginalising the regions power in favour of an all-powerful centralised government. His objection to Medemer (Amharic for “synergy”), which Ahmed heavily promoted in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, was the first nail in the coffin for this philosophy among his fellow Oromos, particularly as Jawar explicitly accused Ahmed of being “authoritarian” and showing early signs of “dictatorship”. Ahmed now has to face the music as the defiance coming from Jawar, given the latter s popularity in Oromia, threatens the young leader s political career. While Ahmed was a member of the now-defunct Ethiopian People s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) cabinet under former Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn, Jawar was engaging in active mobilisation among his fellow Oromos in exile against Tigrayan rule. Jawar s bold actions against the Ethiopian government under strongman former prime minister Meles Zenwai and the ineffective Desalegn also gained him publicity beyond measure among his fellow Oromos and within other nationalities that suffered under EPRDF rule. Having joined the OFC, Jawar will run for a seat in the upcoming general elections in Ethiopia slated for May this year, and if his party gains a majority he may be picked as the head of the next government, as stipulated in the country s constitution. In practice, the OFC has plans to field candidates in all 180 of the registered constituencies in Ethiopia — in other words, it will challenge the incumbent prime minister s new party across the country, particularly as the OFC is expected to form a coalition with another federalist Oromo party, the Oromo Liberation Front, once labelled a terrorist organisation under the EPRDF-led government. Ahmed has presented himself to the West as a reformist leader who has freed prisoners, tolerated dissent, and empowered women to the extent of picking a woman as president for the first time in the country s history, let alone allowing for the freedom of expression and leaving no journalist behind bars. Such a recipe has appealed much to Western circles, and it secured Ahmed the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize, even if it has fallen on deaf ears in Ethiopia itself. Decades of ethnic politics have put down roots in the Ethiopian community, and the kind of paradigm shift that Ahmed wants cannot happen overnight. It is true that the EPRDF s notion of federalism was more a matter of form than of substance, as the leaders of the regions were picked based on their allegiance to the former ruling coalition, and the regions influence in decision-making never crossed the role of yes-men. But it is also true that the regions adherence to staying as federalists can be traced back to their panic at the prospect of returning to the old days of Ethiopian history under the rule of the former emperors when they had almost no say in their country s political structure and only slight representation in the government. Above all, introducing a federal system to Ethiopia in the wake of the demise of the Marxist-led government of Mengistu Hailemariam did, except in the Eritrean case, maintain the lesser evil, namely the façade of a united and undivided Ethiopia, though one that had a restive and turbulent shape. Mohamed, on the other hand, has based much of his confidence as a potential successor to Ahmed on the fact that his defence of federalism as the administrative structure of Ethiopian politics appeals to nationalities that are afraid of losing their gains, particularly autonomous rule, in favour of Ahmed s centralised form of governance. Jawar s appeal also goes beyond his home Oromia region as he has deftly embraced people in Amhara through a reconciliatory discourse, in Afar when he visited the region wearing national dress, and even stretched hands as far as archrivals the Tigrayans, who, like Jawar, defend federalism, though for different purposes. Jawar s main objective remains in harmony with that of the Oromos: greater self-rule through which the Oromos can have wide control over the wealth that is abundant in their region and that has been used to sustain the federal republic but not the Oromos themselves. He is widely seen in the region as a messiah who can spread Oromisation in its broader sense, socially and culturally in particular. Such an ideology appeals to average Oromos who have been neglected for decades and have sustained one blow after another, particularly after their leaders collaborated with Zenawi in the guerrilla warfare against the Marxist government of Mengistu Hailemariam, dreaming at the end of an independent state just like current president of Eritrea Isaias Afwerki did with his country following the collapse of the Derg (Amharic for “committee”) regime in Ethiopia in 1991. But the Oromos request was then met with a resounding refusal, and they saw their leaders scattered in exile or labeled as terrorists, or, in the best-case scenario, being spared only to be sentenced to long terms in prison or vaguely “disappeared”. This was the time in which Mohamed was raised, and it was also the time when every Oromo bore the brunt of a ruthless campaign, both in the media and among the community, that Oromia wanted the disintegration of a happy and stable Ethiopia. No wonder, Jawar s tone looks to some as ultranationalist, something he does not conceal, particularly as the Oromos believe it is now or never if they are to flex their muscles over the political and administrative system in Ethiopia. At first, the Oromos were jubilant when one of their own reached the helm of politics in the country, and they all, including Jawar himself, did provide support for him. But Ahmed has been busy turning his dream as a seven-year-old boy into reality: getting to the palace, as he said his mother predicted he would, and embarking upon imperial-like rule. The Ethiopian nationalities, small or large, have legitimate concerns that Ahmed will turn into a dictator and that they will once again lose what they gained with sweat and blood. By joining the Oromo Federalist Party, Mohamed has reshuffled the cards, particularly as another close ally of Ahmed, his defence minister, has left him between the devil and the deep blue sea by standing alone on his new political agenda. Should Ahmed manage to win the next elections and get the popular mandate he seeks, Ethiopia will enter into a new era of “Abiyism” by introducing amendments to the 1995 constitution and changing the country s political system into a presidential one. But things will surely not be better if the other camp wins the race, because then secessionist calls could ruin an already ailing building.
As we approach the end of 2019, we need to take a look at politics in Egypt during the year and try to arrive at a cumulative analysis of the political scene. 2019 was the year that witnessed the beginning of the second term for the president after the elections in the summer of 2018. This meant that there had to be a course of action undertaken during the first year in order to inform citizens about upcoming plans, both politically and economically. The government tried throughout the year to take measures to inform citizens of the projects being implemented for the future. However, we need to differentiate between domestic aspects of politics and regional or international ones. And we also need to pay attention to the need to counter terrorism, which constitutes a major part of Egyptian politics. On the side of domestic politics, few things changed. First of all, there was a state of inactivity or even absence for the political parties, either those who support the regime or those who oppose it. Egyptian politics saw a falling back in the performance of the political parties. These are present in parliament, but they have no real existence on the ground or in the streets of the country s various cities. In parliament, the political parties did not come up with political or socio-economic initiatives but were rather more concerned to discuss bureaucratic legislation without actual contact with the public. The internal challenges that the political parties face have led to a phase of stagnation within Egyptian politics, which could lead to parliament itself losing credibility because of its non-engagement with society, with the same thing applying to the political parties since the majority of them cannot recruit new members. We can conclude that 2019 saw a state of de-politicisation, with a lot of the youth who were politicised in 2011 after the 25 January Revolution turning away from political activity. The government also had a hard time during 2019. The agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has forced it to cut what it pays out in the form of subsidies, including on food, oil and electricity. The IMF agreement has also caused inflation and a depreciation in the value of the Egyptian pound. However, it cannot be ignored that the US dollar decreased in value against the pound in 2019. In 2018 one dollar was worth almost LE18, but today it is worth almost LE16, which should be considered as an achievement for the government. However, there are still problems between citizens and the government, largely owing to the continuation of inflation. This will mean that new political strategies need to be developed and a new phase of contact begun in 2020 to explain further the economic reforms being undertaken in the current phase. Still on the domestic level, some demonstrations with limited participation broke out in 2019 due to the YouTube videos published by the expatriate figure Mohamed Ali. Those who took to the streets were very few in number, which reflects the fact that Ali does not have any significant influence in mobilising the streets, specifically since he was never part of them and has never played a role in the public sphere. However, through his stories that lack any proof and his failed attempts to make Egyptians take to the streets, he managed to create a new lobby of opposition, specifically outside of Egypt, which we may call the diaspora opposition. In my opinion, Ali is not significant enough to induce unrest in Egypt. However, he does constitute a form of negative influence on some citizens. On foreign policy, Egypt was quite active during 2019. The revival of Egypt s role in Africa through leading the African Union and using its tools of soft power to expand its influence in the continent were among the main gains Egypt managed to secure in foreign policy. The president made visits to several African countries in 2019, and he managed to renew relations that had become inactive. Such acts prove that Egypt is starting to have a longer-term vision of its presence in Africa and the range of influences it has with the African countries. The real challenge now is how these efforts can be used to secure Egypt s interests regarding the building of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in Ethiopia. Water security in Egypt is theoretically under threat, and this will be a paramount priority for Egyptian foreign policy in 2020. There are also regional issues in the Arab world that Egypt is engaged with. Libya is at the top of the list due to its proximity to Egypt as a neighbouring country and the security threats this could pose in the context of the ongoing military confrontations. Egypt s position towards the Libyan conflict did not change in 2019, and it is governed by principles that also determine its wider foreign policy. These principles are opposing any international intervention in the Libyan crisis, insisting on a Libyan-Libyan solution, and keeping up communication with all the legitimate parties in the conflict. The agreement signed recently between Turkey and the Libyan National Accord Government regarding Turkey s intervention in maritime and land security will indeed bring potential threats for Egypt in 2020. Egypt does not want to see any military escalation within the Libyan conflict through the involvement of foreign forces, and certainly it does not want to see a Turkish military presence on its western border. 2019 was rather a year for instilling and implementing existing policies than for creating new ones. This concept could be applied to the strategies used for countering terrorism, which did not really change this year, though the level of activity and the frequency of operations did increase. It is true that the threat of terrorism is not over, but there is a committed political will in Egypt to counter terrorism through policies that have been formerly developed. Perhaps the last question we need to raise here is how politics in Egypt can perform better in 2020 compared to 2019. The government is indeed required to perform a better role next year than it did in 2019. New state policies must be implemented, or at least conceptualised, in order to counter the negative effects of the economic reforms on the middle and lower classes. Bringing back the political parties to the public sphere, meaning the legal and institutional ones, could also help in creating further cooperation with civil society. A lot of decisions that have to do with foreign policy remain vague, specifically where the zones of conflict will likely be, and these will remain a challenge for foreign policy in 2020. The situations in Libya, Syria, Yemen and Sudan will have to be closely monitored in the coming year. 2019 witnessed gains for Egyptian politics, but that does not mean that a lot does not still need to be done in 2020. There are plans afoot for both political and economic reform, but these need to be more vital and better explained to citizens in 2020. *The writer is director of the Programme for the Mediterranean and North Africa Studies at the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.
Hardly had the new year begun when the clouds of war began gathering over the East Mediterranean and Gulf waters. On 2 January, the Turkish parliament approved the deployment of Turkish forces in Libya in the context of the highly controversial memorandum of understanding on security and military cooperation signed on 27 November in Istanbul between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and head of the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), based in Tripoli, Fayez Al-Sarraj. Late in the evening of 2 January, an American drone targeted Iranian General Qassem Suleimani, commanding officer of the Quds Force, an elite military formation that has carried out foreign military operations in Arab countries, to provide advice, training and assistance to pro-Iranian armed militias like Lebanon s Hizbullah, Iraq s Popular Mobilisation Forces, and the Houthis in Yemen. This elite force has been engaged in proxy wars against Sunni regimes, particularly Saudi Arabia, throughout the last three decades. Until his assassination, Suleimani seemed untouchable, He had been everywhere across the Middle East, especially in Syria and Iraq, ascertaining and deepening the Iranian presence and role in leading Arab powers. His role had been amplified many-fold by Arab paralysis that provided Iran with enough space to expand regionally. The assassination was a very serious blow to the Iranian regime, not because its regional strategy will change, but because Suleimani demonstrated Iran s political reach in the Middle East. Taking him out means the United States has raised the stakes in its confrontation with Iran, a confrontation that had gotten worse with US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the nuclear accord between the P5+1 group and Tehran), a withdrawal that US President Donald Trump announced in May 2018. Ever since, the present US administration has imposed severe economic and financial sanctions on Iran in the framework of its strategy of “maximum pressure” so that Iran would accept to renegotiate the nuclear accord of 2015, and stop its “malign activities” — quoting American terminology — across the Middle East and the Gulf. The Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, said last week that his country lost $200 billion because of this strategy. On 3 January, Iran s Supreme National Security Council convened in an emergency meeting presided over by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He vowed “forceful revenge”. The whole Middle East is on heightened alert for Iranian retaliation, and the American response, if any. On the other hand, the United States has deployed 3,000 additional troops in the region on top of 750 Special Forces that were dispatched to secure the US Embassy in Baghdad, after its outer perimeter was stormed by pro-Iranian militias last week. Last Saturday, the US president warned Iran against retaliation. He said: “Let this serve as a warning that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have targeted 52 Iranian sites… and Iran itself, will be hit fast and very hard.” However, this stern warning will not prevent Iran from some sort of retaliation to save face before its Middle Eastern proxies, within Iran s Islamic Revolutionary Guard, and before Iranian public opinion. Farther west, the decision by the Turkish parliament to deploy Turkish forces in Libya has inflamed not only North Africa but also the East Mediterranean, pitting Turkey against a host of Arab and regional powers, Egypt foremost. The presence of those forces a few hundred kilometres to the west of Egypt s borders with Libya, and the establishment of a permanent military base to house the Turkish troops, amount to a casus belli from the standpoint of Egyptian national security interests. The same day parliamentary approval was given to the Turkish government to send forces to Libya, Egypt s National Security Council met, presided over by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. According to a statement released by the Egyptian Presidency, the meeting agreed on a set of measures, not elaborated, to defend the nation against any attempt to attack Egyptian security interests. Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry released a statement in which Cairo called on the international community to shoulder its responsibilities and work for the preservation of peace and security in the Mediterranean area. The statement reiterated Egypt s right to defend its national security interests. International reactions to the Turkish move were both ambiguous and ambivalent. The common denominator was that there is no military solution to the ongoing armed conflict in Libya, and to call on the Libyan warring parties to resume negotiations to carry out the United Nations peace plan. The two superpowers are reluctant to antagonise the new Turkish Sultan, Erdogan, who has successfully — at least so far — blackmailed both Washington and Moscow. He is supposed to receive Russian President Vladimir Putin on 8 January to talk about the situation in Libya. Ten days ago, and in an attempt to justify beforehand the sending of forces to Libya, he had said that his country cannot stand by while “foreign mercenaries” are fighting in Libya in support of the Libyan “National Army”. He had also talked about what he termed “old geography”, in reference to the Ottoman occupation of Libya for three centuries which, apparently, gives him the right to intervene militarily in the old Libyan colony of his predecessors centuries ago. He even claimed, ludicrously and stupidly, that there are one million Libyans today who have Turkish ancestry — a claim answered with disdain by Libyans on Twitter. Whether the Turkish army would be effectively deployed in Libya remains to be seen. If it happens, Egypt will not stand idly by. It is its national security interests that will be directly challenged by a wayward Turkish government that has destabilised the Middle East for the last 10 years. It is a government, like the Iranian regime, that has Arab and Muslim blood on its hands. To show its military preparedness to deal with future threats from Libya, the Egyptian navy held manoeuvres on 4 January, to demonstrate its amphibious capabilities. The message is one of deterrence. The year 2020 seems, from the very beginning, challenging and interesting to watch. It is probably the denouement of the last decade that ended with the demise of 2019.
It wasn t just me, or at least that s what I assume, that thought our feelings while following the Golden Globes ceremony were all positive – similar to our experience with football, where we consider every victory achieved by Mohamed Salah as a victory for us all. Though he plays at the English Premier League, Salah has become our representative even though his home country didn t help him much at the start. Whenever he did play with our national team, Salah encountered a lot of mistrust and even legal troubles forcing him to make a strongly worded speech against them. Everyone is aware that had Salah continued to play football in Egypt, amid the old regulations of the Egyptian Football Association and the struggles and hits below the belt they exchange, he would have often ended up on the bench. The global opportunity saved him from this painful fate, and despite that Salah remains the joy of Egyptians, and indeed all Arabs. They regard Salah as their football ambassador to the world. We have a precedent in scientist Ahmed Zewail, the Noble prize laureate – could he have accomplished anything in Egypt? He would have been chased on accusations of thinking out of the box, and he might have been excluded from a dispatch or a post, given instead to the son of a university professor. Magdy Yacoub is another clear model of the Egyptian genius searching for a healthy work environment. All these successes made by Egyptians across different fields such as sport, art, science and medicine is due to the availability of an environment suitable for creativity. I am absolutely proud, as an Egyptian, that we have three stars who are compassionately eager to publicize their identities, and I don t mean the passport they hold, which is often American. My point is that they cherish their genes and declare them with every success they achieve. Ramy Youssef was preceded by Rami Malek, and Mena Massoud; Malek when he received the Oscar for the Best Actor last year for the movie “Bohemian Rhapsody” (2018), and Massoud after his movie “Aladdin” (2019) made one of the highest revenues in 2019. When Massoud came to Egypt at the invitation of the El-Gouna Film Festival in September, he spoke in the Egyptian dialect, and chose Abdel Halim Hafez as an influential figure he wanted to play in a drama work through his new company. The emotional connection with these wonderful people is the depth of the story. We watched Ramy Youssef ascend to the stage at the Golden Globes ceremony with the music of Hani Shenouda, which composed 40 years ago in the Arabic note Longa playing in the background. Youssef embraced the golden award and expressed his happiness with “Allahu Akbar” (God is great). His series “Ramy”, which the Egyptian actor stars in, is about an Arab Muslim who lives abroad and wants to become part of his new society, far from looking at as a threat. These three stars deserve our hospitality so they remain at the forefront of our attention. We must search for an attempt to involve them in a festival officially bearing the name of Egypt, by which I mean the Cairo International Film Festival – and this is a proposal to Mohamed Hefzy (the president of the festival), I hope that he will start from now communicating with our Egyptian stars so they illuminate with their presence our hearts thirsty for joy!
A decades-long war Why? Because the war between the United States of America and Iran has been underway for more than 40 years. None of this is a secret. It s just that most Americans don t know they ve been at war with Iran. It s been out of their sight and, so, out of their minds. Friday s drone strike that took out Soleimani is but merely one more bump on a well-worn, long, and winding road of a conflict that s been killing people for generations. It is a war with an origin story that dates all the way back to 1953. That s when the Iranians believe America truly picked this fight. For, in 1953, the US staged a coup d etat in Iran to take down a popular, secular and nationalist prime minister, only to put an indulgent monarch, known as the Shah, in charge. It s that American coup that led to the 1979 revolution that placed an ayatollah on the throne and the rule of the mullahs still in power today. The very same mullahs that the now-dead General Soleimani served. When the Iranians revolted against the Shah, they overran the US Embassy in Tehran, taking dozens of American diplomats and Marines hostage, parading them on international television, as seen in the 2012 Hollywood movie "Argo." That is when this war began. Not with this week s drone strike. In 1983, Iran blew up a Marine barracks at the US Embassy in Beirut, killing dozens. President Ronald Reagan abandoned Lebanon and it appeared Iran had chased the US out of the region. That same year an Iraqi man called Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis car-bombed the US Embassy in Kuwait. Though he escaped, with Iran s help, he was sentenced to death in absentia in Kuwait for the bombing. It s believed he then went on to help hijack passenger planes. Western intelligence agencies also accuse him of involvement in the hijacking of a Kuwaiti airliner in 1984 and the attempted assassination of a Kuwaiti prince. Do you want to know who was in the same convoy as General Soleimani on Friday when that drone missile struck? It was that same car-bomber, al-Muhandis. Al-Muhandis, also known as Jamal Jafaar Mohammed, was twice elected to the democratic Iraqi Parliament the US created after the fall of the dictator Saddam Hussein. He was Soleimani s number one man in Iraq. In Parliament. Right under the noses of the US military. It was CNN who revealed al-Muhandis identity. At first, an unwitting US government did not believe CNN. But when the US government checked, and confirmed the bomber of their embassy was, in fact, in parliament, al-Muhandis fled Baghdad for the border crossing to Iran. Al-Muhandis was there to greet Soleimani on Friday at Baghdad airport in Iraq -- a country the Iranian general virtually ran and controlled. Soleimani s plane had just landed and he was with al-Muhandis in the convoy leaving the airport when the drone struck, killing them both. A killer, but not a terrorist Make no mistake, Soleimani was a killer. A calculating, patient, sophisticated killer. He was, most surely, plotting the deaths of many Americans. But, despite what President Trump says, he was no terrorist. He sponsored them. He trained them. He armed them. But Soleimani was a military man to his bootstraps. He fought in the horror of the 1980s Iran-Iraq war. The modern world s version of World War I; chemical gas attacks, suicidal human wave assaults, and a bloodletting we should hope the world never sees again. Soleimani rose up the ranks of the military until he came to head, arguably, the most elite special forces outfit in the region, if not the world, called the Quds Force, which translates as the Jerusalem Force. Iran has two armies, navies and air forces. One, to protect the country. The other, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Force (IRGC), to protect the country s religious revolution. And among the IRGC the Quds are the elite of the elite. Its members speak multiple languages. They are spies, soldiers and technical experts. In Western terms, they are a hybrid of Green Berets, SAS commandos and Delta Force operators all fused into one. And Soleimani was their commander. For more than 20 years. And he ran rings around all of us: Americans, Arabs, Israelis, Brits. Let us be very, very clear: this man was opposed to America and absolutely everything it stands for. He ached to destroy Israel itself, to take it out of existence, and he was opposed to the current balance of power in the Middle East. His entire life was devoted to bringing all of it, and us, down. If you doubt Soleimani s significance, his very assassination should tell you differently. Washington understood his value, that is why President Trump ordered the drone strike. Soleimani did more to shape then re-shape the region than any king or prince or sultan or president or prime minister. The man, quite simply, was a force of history. He just wasn t on our side. Will his assassination alter Iran s strategic ambitions? No. Will it slow them down? Maybe.
The 2019 Nobel Prize in Economics was awarded last month to three of the world s leading economists “for their experimental approach to alleviating poverty.” This experimental approach is gaining popularity in the MENA region, and holds the potential to impact the lives of millions of people. In 2018, nearly 23 percent of young job seekers in MENA were without a job. Slow economic growth in the region further limits employment opportunities for youth. And a recent report by the International Monetary Fund cites unemployment and lack of economic opportunities as drivers of unrest in several countries in the region. The experimental approach practiced by this year s Nobel winners, known as randomized evaluation, breaks down these overlapping issues and sheds light on answers to specific questions. And we have lots of questions: Are there enough quality jobs available? Do job seekers skills align with the skills employers are looking for? Can employers accurately assess the quality of candidates? Are young people well informed about economic opportunities when making educational choices? Governments, NGOs, and other practitioners around the world invest lots of resources into labor market programs in an effort to connect people with jobs. Often times we rely on intuition and assume that these programs work. Randomized evaluations can help us test these assumptions, sometimes with surprising results. In 2007, I started working with 2019 Nobel laureate Esther Duflo and other colleagues toevaluate the effectiveness of a career counseling program for young, college-educated job seekers in France. The program intended to improve employment rates for those who received the intensive job search counseling. We found that the program helped participating job seekers find work sooner, but it did not translate into a long-term increase in their employment rates. What s more, the program actually created worse employment outcomes for those who did not receive the counseling. Particularly in places with more competitive job markets, those who did not get access to the program were worse off—presumably since their peers who got the program were now more able to outcompete them for a limited number of job openings. This highlights why randomized evaluation is so important: Sometimes policies and programs have unintended effects. We re expanding our efforts to bring this experimental approach to address such issues in the MENA region through a new partnership between the American University in Cairo (AUC) and J-PAL, the organization founded by the Nobel laureates. A great deal of this work is focused on the labor markets sector. One example of this new research in the region is a study that looks at how young people in Egypt search for jobs. Throughout Egypt, there is high youth unemployment, and yet there are also many unfilled job vacancies. Our research focuses on job fairs. While they are a way to connect young people with many available quality jobs, attendance to job fairs tends to be very low. There are several potential reasons for this low attendance. It could be because of high transportation costs to travel to the fair. It may also be because youth have misperceptions about the types of jobs available at the fair. To better understand and address these potential barriers, Adam Osman, Mona Said, and I, in partnership with Egypt s Micro Small and Medium Enterprise Development Agency (MSMEDA), designed a randomized evaluation. Some youth were given information about what type of job opportunities are available at the job fair, some were given small amounts of cash to offset costs of attending the job fair, and some received both information and cash. We re now analyzing the results; the government will be able to use this data to inform their decisions about how to make job fairs more effective. J-PAL and our partners have 18 additional ongoing and completed studies evaluating various types of programs and policies throughout the region that address other important social issues. Our partners, including AUC, Community Jameel, and the Sawiris Foundation, are helping make this work possible. We are working with the Sawiris Foundation on a number of exciting projects, including a study in Upper Egypt on capital assistance to sustain self-employment projects showing large impacts for women. We are also working with Egyptian partners to adapt and test programs proved to be highly efficient elsewhere. The 2019 Nobel prize recognizes the innovation, importance, and urgency of this work. This is an important start, but there is so much more to learn. Governments and other organizations in MENA seeking to reduce poverty can look to this important research to inform their decisions about which policies and programs to implement and fund. Of course, policy changes driven by research alone will not completely solve the problem of unemployment and slow economic growth. But evidence from randomized evaluations gives us a rigorous framework to find solutions to some of our most pressing challenges.
Former Vice President and current Democratic front-runner Joe Biden is a good guy. In fact, that s his primary argument for why he deserves the presidency: He s America s Uncle, a literal regular Joe who wants to bring respectability back to the Oval Office, uniting the warring houses of red and blue in the common goal of mopping up the toxic sewage pouring out of President Donald Trump s White House. It s a heartwarming aspiration, on the face of it. But Biden s statement Monday that he d be open to choosing a Republican running mate -- as offhand or pandering as it may have been -- underscores just how much of his appeal is rooted in made-for-TV fantasy like "The West Wing," rather than modern political reality. In an Exeter, New Hampshire, town hall, Biden told the crowd he s willing to keep the option open, even if he couldn t name a worthy cross-the-aisle veep candidate offhand. "There are some really decent Republicans that are out there still!" he said. "But here s the problem right now: They ve got to step up." Here s the real problem: "Decent" Republicans have had countless opportunities to "step up," beginning long before Donald Trump was elected. But those who stepped up to criticize him have fallen in line, rendering their criticism hollow. They could have condemned the racist "birther" slurs Trump used to slander his predecessor, Barack Obama. They could have rejected his public history of gross misogyny and alleged sexual misconduct. Their leadership could ve called out the lies and xenophobia embedded in his campaign rhetoric, and that still define many of his policies as president today. Rare exceptions aside, the mainstream GOP has remained aligned in its support of Trump. But rather than stepping up, they ve knelt down -- to pledge fealty to a President who has embraced some of the viewpoint of white nationalists, elevated kin to the highest of offices, drained America s coffers into the pockets of his fellow billionaires (and his own, of course), corrupted our essential civic institutions and sold out long-standing foreign policy norms and goals. Naturally, Biden made clear that he expected his running mate, regardless of party, to be in lockstep with his priorities. "We could disagree on tactics, but strategically we d have to be in the exact same page," he said. But how could such strategic alignment even be possible given the that the singular priority for most of today s Republican Party seems to be defending their leader s use of the powers and resources of the US government in a concerted political attempt to destroy Biden himself? Biden s persistent bright-eyed attempts to push bipartisanship aren t evidence that he s a relic of the past, because the past was never particularly bipartisan. Contrary to Biden s cheery anecdotes of Senate collaboration with former segregationists, legislative compromise comes from genial backslaps and warm hugs less often than a campaigning candidate would like to admit; more often it has emerged from one dominant party slamming through its preferred agenda, and the other grinding it into a more acceptable shape. History shows successful bipartisan executive leadership a lot less often than Hollywood likes to. The only "unity ticket" ever to win the White House came about in 1864 in the throes of the Civil War, and it arose from Abe Lincoln s Hail Mary decision to join with Andrew Johnson, Democratic governor of Union-occupied Tennessee, to run for reelection under the hastily created and short-lived National Union Party banner. The true inspiration for Biden s bipartisan framing might be most evident in a fundraising pitch his campaign sent out in September under the name of Richard Schiff -- the actor who played White House communications director Toby Ziegler in Aaron Sorkin s seminal political drama, "The West Wing." "During this dark Trump era, it is easy to find yourself wishing we could be led by President Bartlet instead," wrote Schiff. "Sadly, President Bartlet is just a TV character. But luckily, Joe Biden is real, and he is running for president." Joe Biden as Jed Bartlet? It makes sound campaign sense, given how "The West Wing" has become such a beloved text for Democrats (and a handful of independents and Trump-averse conservatives) seeking hope -- or escapist relief -- in the post-Obama era. As the New York Times wrote on the very day Biden made his willingness to consider a "unity ticket" known, the show has become "something more than just a nostalgic drama ... For many in the Trump era, the show is an idealistic alternative reality, an escape from the vitriol and ill-will that they see coursing like poison through contemporary politics." West Wingers are drawn to the way that the series portrays politics as a pragmatic arena inhabited by passionate idealists. But they also delight in the way it embraces a noble version of bipartisanship, in moments such as President Bartlet s decision to voluntarily cede his office to the Republican House Speaker when his daughter is kidnapped by terrorists; his hiring of staunch right-winger Ainsley Hayes as deputy White House counsel; his nomination of a conservative justice to the Supreme Court as a complement to his choosing a liberal judge as the court s first female Chief Justice; and Bartlet s presidential successor Matt Santos naming his Republican presidential opponent as his new Secretary of State. But on "The West Wing," bipartisanship works because its left and right politicians are true believers who strategically want what s best for the nation, even if they "differ in tactics." Disagreements invariably end in begrudging compromise, or with one party -- whichever one is in the wrong -- shamed or exhausted into submission by a rousing monologue. There is no self-dealing or double-dealing; no collusion, no obstruction. That s not our world. We exist in a timeline where "The West Wing" has been preempted by "The Celebrity Apprentice," and bipartisanship is both a myth and a trap. Joe Biden may actually believe he s a Bartlet pair, all the way down to the initials; or he may be cynically seeking to fly "West Wing" nostalgia all the way to the White House. In either case, for a 77-year-old Democratic frontrunner for president to blithely suggest that he might put a Republican a heartbeat away from the Oval Office is disheartening at best -- and disqualifying at worst. Let me end this piece with a "West Wing" quote, a parable famously told by the show s beloved White House chief of staff, Leo McGarry: "This guy s walking down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep, he can t get out. A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, Hey you, can you help me out? The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along, and the guy shouts up Father, I m down in this hole, can you help me out? The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by. Hey Joe, it s me, can you help me out? And Joe jumps in the hole. Our guy says, Are you stupid? Now we re both down here. Joe says, Yeah, but I ve been down here before, and I know the way out. " The point being: We don t need a president who jumps into the Republican hole. We need one who ll dig us free of it.
A TV host at the MBC Masr channel, Yasmeen Ezz, asked me which of the ministries that I had anticipated would change in the recent cabinet reshuffle did not change at all. I immediately answered: the Ministry of Health! While answering the question on the “Hadith al-Masaa” show, I said that had the decision-makers seen that Health Minister Hala Zayed deserved a second chance, then this is their constitutional right, no doubt. But it is also the right of the people to see the ministry change its performance, even if the minister stays the same. To put it clearly, this change can come in the way they work, the way they deal with the ministry s issues, and how they handle patient issues; these matter more than changing the minister. A change there is required all the time, and it remains and lasts with the practical outcomes directly reaching the citizens! No one can deny that Zayed is following the comprehensive health insurance program with apparent seriousness. She heads to Port Said (northern Egypt) where the program begins, then travels to Luxor in southern Upper Egypt and later South Sinai (eastern Egypt) in no time! She must be credited for this effort, as well as her efforts in the “100 million healthy lives” initiative – which seeks to declare Egypt free of Hepatitis C by the next year! The problem is, the ministry is broader than just these two accomplishments. The minister hardly sees other programs and initiatives despite their importance, and how millions benefit from them and in the future! It s fortunate that the president gives these two projects personal attention, and that he doesn t stop following new ways of making them achieve their ultimate goal! Presidential impetus, it can be said, is sufficient enough to accomplish these projects in due form, and so the minister should give more attention to other projects – such as doctor retention, which was raised during the previous period and still remains an issue. There is also the issue of public hospitals and the extent to which they are ready to receive poor patients; the issue of young doctors complaining about a host of problems standing in their way; and the lack of public spending on health, determined by the constitution as a percentage of the gross national product and bent to the government! And still, there are many other issues. If we look to an expanded investigative report published by al-Akhbar newspaper a few weeks ago, we find that while it monitored good performance in two issues: health insurance and Hepatitis C, it detected poor performance in seven other areas, mentioned one after the other! The citizens are waiting for a change in the ministry s performance, as the minister hasn t changed!
For the past few years, Russia has been playing with some asymmetric advantages -- on- and offline. While investing in costly conventional assets to increase its military edge, such as a new hypersonic weapon, Russia has also mobilized aggressive assets in cyberspace. Its cyberwarriors have penetrated some of the United States most critical pieces of infrastructure, from election systems to nuclear power plants and electric grids -- as well as private homes. In addition to hacking into key infrastructure, Russia has also used its cyberwarriors to engage in a sophisticated information warfare campaign with a broad target audience -- the American people. And while President Donald Trump promulgates Russian propaganda about the 2016 election -- giving Russia s information operations a major boost -- he has also given members of his team the authorization to chip away at Russia s online operational advantages, as well as those of other foreign countries. Though Trump may continue to spread Russian conspiracies in the year to come, we must hope he also continues to prioritize offensive cyber operations as part of a key strategy to deter Russian aggression. Prime time coverage Senior US government officials have publicly stated under oath that Russian efforts to interfere in our elections are ongoing. Despite efforts to punish and deter foreign election interference, we have not succeeded in changing the cost-benefit calculation for the actors involved in directing or participating in these attacks. As we head into an election year, we should expect countries such as Russia to kick their operations into high gear. 2020 is prime time for Putin -- his internet trolls and bots have endless, divisive content to amplify online, unless we figure out a way to stop them. Cyberspace force Defending our interests from cyberattack -- and also deterring them before they happen -- is a complex undertaking, and the Trump administration has thankfully streamlined the resources we have available. The administration elevated Cyber Command (CyberCom) to a unified combatant command in 2018 with a mission to integrate and conduct "full-spectrum cyberspace operations, electronic warfare, and information operations, ensuring freedom of action for friendly forces in and through the cyber domain and the information environment, while denying the same to our adversaries." In other words, CyberCom s mission expressly fits within the Defense Department s larger cyberstrategy, which specifically calls out persistent campaigns by Russia to influence Americans. The United States has engaged in information operations and overt public diplomacy in the past, using both civilian and military assets. But by giving CyberCom the ability to integrate and conduct these operations online, the administration took an important step to modernize our information operations and protect our democracy. And Trump s decision to delegate decision-making authority to the Pentagon for offensive cyber operations has probably made the approval process faster because decisions do not necessarily have to be vetted through an interagency process and get the sign-off from the President each time. With the authorities and resources available to launch calibrated attacks for both defensive and deterrent purposes, our cyberspace force has gone to work and may up the ante in the run-up to the 2020 election. Since the 2018 midterm election, the administration has engaged in offensive online operations aimed at influencing specific target audiences -- namely Russians involved in interfering in our elections. CyberCom reportedly took the Internet Research Agency -- a Russian troll farm that the administration has accused and sanctioned for interfering in our 2016 elections -- offline to prevent it from spreading disinformation during the midterms. And The Washington Post reported that CyberCom also engaged in calibrated online information operations -- known as cyber psyops -- sending direct messages to Russians working at the agency, telling them Americans know who they are and are tracking their work. We don t know whether any of those targeted stopped working at the Russian agency, but new reporting suggests CyberCom may be broadening its target list to include members of the Russian security apparatus and Russian oligarchs. Leveling the playing field While stepping up online information operations, the administration has also tried to level the playing field in other ways, including through offensive cyber operations against Russian electric grids. Our cyber operations are likely intended to send a warning that the United States is poised to inflict damage on these grids if necessary, including if Russia takes action against our own infrastructure here at home. And since Russia has placed itself in a similar position with respect to our key infrastructure, the risk of engaging in a tit-for-tat escalatory cycle is high. US cyber operations against specific Russian targets are a drop in the bucket when compared to the information warfare campaign that Russia has and is engaging in against Americans. But they are an important step toward signaling to Russia that its actions have consequences -- and that its asymmetric advantages may be eroding. If integrated into a broader deterrence strategy and properly calibrated, these cybercampaigns are an appropriate step toward modernizing the tools in our toolkit -- and better protecting American national security interests.
Some interpreters of the Holy Quran say that the city of Iram, “which had lofty pillars, the likes of which had never been created,” is the city of Alexandria in Egypt. Others say that it was a tribe or city in the Arabian Peninsula. Iram was a city with lofty pillars and towering buildings; the New York of its age. This city s inhabitants deviated from God s path. God s punishment, as mentioned in Surah Al-Fajr, was the destruction of the entire city. Several legends surround Iram, to the extent that the “lost city” became a source of interest for historians. Years have passed and big cities were constructed from Baghdad to Timbuktu, all of which are civilisational layers and astonishing monuments that capture hearts and minds. These civilisations remnants stood as a witness to what innovators had achieved in bygone eras, which is not easy to accomplish nowadays. The new generations of cities, with their architecture resembling the “lofty pillars” of Iram, were not fortunate. Invasion and wars led to the destruction of many of them. The Mongols were behind one of the worst civilisational catastrophes and one of the biggest instances of destruction of human heritage. Again, years passed and the Islamic world became half-safe until terrorists came… the new Mongols. Palmyra (Tadmor in Arabic) was one of the beautiful remnants of ancient civilisation that fell into the hands of the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group. Its ancient Roman amphitheatre was a symbol of joy and sophistication, but it became the backdrop of execution verdicts. Supported by a number of extremist groups and perhaps international parties, IS began what it called “cultural cleansing.” It carried out an operation of destruction against the fabulous civilisational monuments; deeming them “idols.” The word Tadmor in Aramaic – the old Syriac language – means “the invincible city.” It was the capital city of the Tadmor Kingdom, one of the prestigious kingdoms of the Levant. It was also an important city along the Silk Road between Asia and Europe, and it flourished in the first century BC, rivalling Rome. Mr. Khaled Al-Asaad, author, historian, researcher and curator of Tadmor monuments, was fluent in the old Tadmorian language and conducted several distinguished studies. When IS entered Tadmor, the curator, who was over 80, refused to leave the city. He insisted on remaining to protect what he could of this magical historical city. The terrorists drove the elderly archaeologist to the heart of the archaeological site and a rabble was gathered. The criminals asked the scholar to guide them to the hoard of gold in “Ali Baba s cave”. He replied: “There is no gold here. Here, there are monuments; pillars, arches, temples and amphitheatres.” After a brief discussion, the man was slaughtered. IS bombarded Tadmor Castle with mortar shells and homemade rockets, then it headed to the Triumphal Arch, which dates back to 200 BC, and demolished the great hallway leading to it. It also transformed the National Tadmor Museum into a prison and chose the Roman Amphitheatre as the site for carrying out execution verdicts. The entire city of Tadmor seemed as if it were the new Iram, “which had lofty pillars.” However, its destruction was at the hands of humans, who struck out against believers who had not committed any sin. There is another “Iram” eastward… the city of Mosul. The ancient city and its museum were damaged in unimaginable ways. The Al-Nouri Mosque was demolished along with its minaret, which had survived for eight centuries. Following in the footsteps of their spiritual ancestors, the Mongols, IS burned down the Mosul library and destroyed thousands of books and manuscripts. They also demolished the statue of the great Abbasid poet Abu Tamam. Mosul became the ruins of a civilisation. The destruction was coming from every place and every direction. In one month of the conflict, the US-led coalition forces in Iraq dropped more than 4,000 bombs. The UN estimates the weight of the debris to have been more than 8 million tonnes. The criminals attacked the grave of the Prophet Jonah, may peace be upon him, and desecrated the Shrine of the Forty in Tikrit, which includes the remains of 40 soldiers of the Caliph Omar Ibn Al-Khattab. The Green Church in Tikrit, which was built 1,300 years ago and endured the Mongols, did not withstand the new Mongols. The city of Timbuktu in Mali is also a new Iram and without sin. In 2012, a terrorist organisation calling itself Jamaat Ansar Al-Din ("Defenders of the Faith") controlled the north of Mali. A terrorist named Abu-Turab, head of the Hesbah (the moral brigade), received permission from his superiors to demolish Timbuktu s Islamic monuments. The Yahya Mosque along with 10 other archaeological shrines and historical buildings were demolished. In the 14th century, the city of Timbuktu was a centre of science and trade, and in the 21st century it was transformed into a hub of ignorance and poverty. The UNESCO filed a lawsuit before the International Criminal Court, accusing terrorists of destroying world heritage. Abu-Turab was tried in the Hague and he said: “I was a miscreant. I am really remorseful and I really regret all the damage that my actions have caused”. Timbuktu will not benefit from the imprisoning of Abu-Turab for nine years, for he has transformed a glorious history into a heap of dust. The Hague Convention for the protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflicts guarantees trial for the attackers. However, international law does not go beyond the moral role of condemnation, while the landmarks of civilisation have exited history. There is no use in dialogue with the new Kharijites, for with the death of every one, another one is born. After every extremist passes away, another emerges. Using force is the solution. There are ways out of economic and political crises, but the crisis of state collapse has no way out. In contemporary conflicts, a moment of collapse can wipe out tens of centuries. The most important fact of the 21st is: the present is history and the state is civilisation.
The United States acknowledges that the east-west railroad network marked the beginning of the development of the Midwestern United States, followed by the west and the west coast, with the railroad becoming the star of the American economic renaissance. Russia also recognizes that extending railroad lines to Siberia represented the most significant conquest in Russia s long history, since the days of the Czars and throughout the Soviet era. Before the arrival of the railroad, Siberia had been too cold and inhospitable for human settlement. Even in Saudi Arabia, there exist those who ask: How, in the era of rockets and planes, does Saudi Arabia decide to restore life to the railways — not only to link the cities of the Hijaz, but also linking Jeddah on the Red Sea, and extending to the eastern region of the Arabian Gulf. Is this a setback?!. Likewise, we have proposed establishing a national project to connect all of Sinai via railway network, which will allow us to finally end the separation of Sinai — by land — from the Nile Delta. Such a railway network does not only revolve around economic goals, though those goals are certainly critical. Most importantly, a railroad network linking Sinai with the rest of Egypt ends forever the region s isolation and solves the problems inherent in commuting from East Delta to Sinai. It would help us to forget that the Sinai peninsula is a triangle of land located between the Gulfs of Suez and Aqaba. Sinai, no longer an isolated peninsula, would be opened. The central Sinai region is the most sensitive, because the enemy — any enemy from the east — can launch its weapons east of our borders, reaching the coast of the Suez Canal within 6 hours at Umm Khushayb. The weak point in this is central Sinai, a region with which the majority of Egyptians are unfamiliar. North Sinai is well-known around the world, and South Sinai is famous internationally for vacation spots along the Red Sea like Sharm el-Sheikh and other touristic attractions. Central Sinai, however, is the most beneficial region, economically and in terms of human capital. I admit that we have neglected central Sinai frequently for decades — its oases, olive trees, agricultural wealth, and mining resources. Ask the scholars about the mineral and marble wealth in this area – even the soil there is rich with clay needed to manufacture cement. ■ ■ Do not ask, however, how much this vital project will cost. Instead, ask about its impact, and Sinai will become a land opportunity. The western area of Sinai on the Gulf of Suez is our most important source of oil, but central Sinai is the real treasure, and studies have confirmed that. This will not be achieved now through the implementation of scattered projects here or there, but rather through a single national project that incorporates and achieves all these goals — railways.
The second decade of the 21st century showed little mercy for Egypt, its Middle Eastern environment and the world. It opened with the tumultuous events called the “Arab Spring”. Egypt s share of this “season” was the January 2011 and June 2013 Revolutions, in between and after which development ground to a halt, infrastructure deteriorated, and terrorist groups were spurred into action under Muslim Brotherhood rule and remained a severe threat that only began to subside as this decade drew to a close. Elsewhere in the region, “revolutions” led to civil wars and intensive foreign intervention. In the process, oil prices soared and then plummeted, rocking the Egyptian economy in both cases. Regional powers, such as Iran, Turkey and Israel, grew more aggressive in their interventions and expansionist designs, while the Palestinian cause encountered major setbacks. Ethiopia grew less cooperative in the management of Nile waters and initiated construction of its Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. The world as a whole was not much better off. The influence of international organisations and multilateral agreements waned as nationalist trends gained ground over pro-globalisation outlooks. Xenophobic ultra-right movements proliferated as they fed on and furthered racist stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims as religious fanatics, terrorists and illegal migrants. Meanwhile, the trade war between the US and China and political rivalry between the US and Russia hampered global economic growth and undermined the efficacy of the UN and other international organisations. Nevertheless, the halfway point in this decade brought some positive developments in the form of sweeping reform drives in Egypt and other Arab countries in response to difficult challenges in the region. As we cross the threshold into this century s third decade, the cumulative changes of the second will carry with them Egyptian and Saudi developmental visions that were formulated in 2015 with their sights set on 2030. In a study published in the November 2019 edition of The Egyptian File, published by Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, Hoda Youssef, an economic researcher for the World Bank, described the state of the Egyptian economy at the end of this decade as follows: “Although the economic reform programme that the Egyptian government initiated in 2016 in collaboration with the IMF succeeded in achieving stability and boosting confidence in the economy, it had negative social and economic impacts. While the targeted social protection measures that were taken to counter these impacts managed to alleviate the effects on some of the targeted sectors of society, the measures were inherently limited and restricted to their range of coverage. In addition, they failed to address the harm the middle class suffered due to the erosion of its real income levels. It is therefore necessary to proceed to the second generation of reforms which focus on structural problems, remedy the foundations of the economy and clear the way for private sector participation so that the improvement can be felt positively and tangibly across all social classes, age groups and professional categories, as well as across all geographical areas. This entails unleashing Egypt s export potentials as a basic engine of growth, and establishing rules for competition and equal opportunity for businesses in a manner that ensures that rules apply equitably to all companies, regardless of whether they are owned by the private or public sector. Above all, it is essential to invest in human capital which is the sine qua non for the efficacy of all other reform processes.” Actually, Egypt accomplished much more during the second half of the outgoing decade. It succeeded, firstly, in routing terrorism, and secondly, in building an extensive infrastructure linking the Nile to Egypt s Red Sea and Mediterranean coasts through a network of roads and transportation facilities. It followed through on a moderate foreign policy based on upholding the peace with Israel, resolving Egyptian-Ethiopian differences through peaceful means, working to promote regional stability and forging a large network of cooperative relations with other Arab countries focused on the regional and international benefits to be had from serving the processes of domestic development in Egypt. In this framework, the delineation of maritime borders between Egypt and Saudi Arabia has cleared the way for the development of the Red Sea region and Sinai. In like manner, the maritime borders agreement between Egypt and Cyprus has made it possible to exploit offshore oil and gas resources and to found the Easter Mediterranean Gas Forum which regulates the processes of natural gas production, liquidation and use in Egyptian industries. Egypt will also enter the third decade of the 21st century with its balance of trade tipping in favour of exports and the highest growth rates in the Arab region and Africa, a trend that is expected to continue during the coming decade due to the newfound wealth of fossil energy resources on top of growing renewable energy resources. Egypt will also enter the next decade spurred not only by the upswing in exports but also by other drivers of nationwide development: encouraging the capital accumulation needed for 100 million Egyptians; stimulating the human resource factor through education, health and culture; advancing the legislative revolution needed to ensure Egypt s advancement on the ladder of business practices; and restructuring the Egyptian administrative map to enable “decentralisation” and “local government” to take the lead in driving investment and mobilising local and national resources. This Egyptian dynamism at the turn of the third decade of the 21st century will face difficult domestic challenges and just as difficult external challenges. Egypt will be crossing the decade threshold with a population that has crossed the 100 million mark (of which 10 million live abroad). It is expected to climb another 20 million by 2030. This population is afflicted by three harsh realities. Some 32.5 per cent of it are poor, 26 per cent are illiterate and there is a sharp economic growth disparity between northern and southern Egypt. To address this triple challenge, the current economic growth rate of around 5.6 per cent will need to rise to eight per cent. The dilemma, here, is that economic growth frequently brings inflationary pressures which affect the middle class which, in turn, requires remedies to safeguard against the political consequences. With regard to external challenges, firstly, the countries that have been the most violently shaken by the Arab Spring revolutions remain weak, weary, fragmented and plagued by chronic instability. Iraq and Syria stand out foremost in this regard. As a result, they are likely to remain vulnerable to further Iranian, Turkish and Israeli interventions. Secondly, although the Egyptian-Ethiopian water crisis that persisted throughout the outgoing decade appears likely to be resolved, the 2020s may usher in quite a number of other crises due to Israel s undermining of all opportunities for a peaceful settlement to the Palestinian cause, Iranian revolutionary expansionism in the Gulf region and Turkish designs in the Levant. Thirdly, the possibility of war between Iran and the US, due to the collapse of the 2015 Iranian nuclear agreement, could precipitate a larger war in the region. The global environment will continue to pose equally tough if not tougher challenges to Egypt in the coming decade. As a consequence of global warming, there has emerged a rival to the Suez Canal in the Artic Circle. While the construction of the second Suez Canal and the development of the Suez Canal Corridor give Egypt a competitive edge, the repercussions of climate change, apart from the damage they inflict in Egypt, will affect the levels of international trade that passes through Suez. Secondly, although the ongoing US-Chinese trade war has abated somewhat as we enter the new decade, it could resurge, especially in light of the decline in the European role following Britain s exit from the EU and the repercussions of Brexit. No less demanding a challenge will come from the increasingly fast-paced changes in global technologies related the fourth industrial revolution. Egyptian economic capacities and its international economic standing will come under heavy pressures unless Egypt takes quick action to catch up and keep pace with the technologies required to enhance its competitiveness. Lastly, the surge of “identity” politics, the rise of extremist and ultranationalist trends and the decline in the role of international organisations and multilateral agreements will make the world that Egypt has to deal with in the next decade more difficult, complex and puzzling. This said, Egypt has just emerged from the difficult and complex circumstances of the outgoing decade with its head held high. Armed with the abovementioned drivers and resolve, Egypt will be much better poised to deal with the new challenges.
Jesus Christ was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River in wonderful humility, among the crowds of penitents. Yes, he didn t commit any sin, but he was baptized in order to explain to us our faith in the Holy Trinity and the sacrament of baptism. HG Bishop Bakhomius, former Acting Patriarch, in his article Baptism and the Theophania , explained the faith in the Holy Trinity and the sacrament of baptism th